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By TED SILLANPAA

Two things can be equally true, but 49ers fans seem to want to insist that isn’t the case. Thus, to say second-year quarterback Colin Kaepernick isn’t ready to lead this 49ers team somehow winds up being twisted into a wild endorsement of Alex Smith.

The fact is that Kaepernick’s not nearly ready to quarterback an NFL team to the heights this 49ers’ team can reach. He put up some points against the Rams on Sunday, but for every play he made he made a mistake or an error in judgment. The 49ers can’t afford to find Kyle Williams left uncovered, literally, in the slot and not have the quarterback get him the ball as he runs all by himself down the field. Kaepernick didn’t see Williams in that situation on Sunday and, obviously, it cost an easy touchdown and a victory.

Kaepernick ran for a touchdown and made some plays with his mobility and speed. He also held the ball too long and ran into sacks that, more than anything, a team that chews up yardage in chunks like the 49ers can’t afford.

Kaepernick’s not ready and anyone who is even hinting that he should get snaps ahead of Smith doesn’t understand the 49ers or what they need right now from a quarterback. It is, though, understandably easy to call for Kaepernick to replace Smith because Smith still doesn’t make the flashy play very often and fans, especially 49ers’ fans, want the quarterback to be electric and making big plays all the time.

That reminds me, Joe Montana and Steve Young are not the benchmarks against which to measure Smith’s ability to win with the 2012 49ers. Bill Walsh built a dynasty. He did it in an amazing, exciting way that is different than how the current 49ers’ coaching staff (and front office) is trying to build a winning tradition. It would help us all if we put the Walsh era and those two Hall of Fame quarterbacks out of our minds when we think about this team at this time.

Jim Harbaugh knows his 49ers have a defense that can win a championship. He’s quite away that the offensive line and Frank Gore can put up points … if the quarterback hits open receivers more often than not and doesn’t take sacks trying to make a big play when simply avoiding a loss makes more sense.

There’s nothing appealing to me about a team that wins 17-14, 14-9, 20-10. It’s just not entertaining to me, but … those are scores that these 49ers can roll up to reach the Super Bowl. The defense is that good and the offense has proven that, typically, a mistake-free game will account for enough points to top the number the other team can manage against the Niners’ defense.

Kaepernick’s really raw. He’s got a great deal of athletic ability and he’s better than Smith was with an equivalent amount of experience in the NFL. It’s utter nonsense to call for Kaepernick to push Smith for snaps in a game, let alone to mull the thought of a brewing quarterback controversy. If you don’t go back and watch the game to see the mistakes and youthful errors in judgment, it’s easy to watch Kaepernick run around and throw it and say, “This guy’s way better than Smith!”

Jim Harbaugh’s plan is to be conservative, avoid mistakes and … just keep the ball moving and get points on the board, field goals if that’s all you can get. He’s willing to let this mind-blowing defense do the heavy lifting.

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27 Comments

  1. Matt Witthaus

    That’s sad. Very, very sad.

    November 13th, 2012 1:39 am

  2. overtime

    Matt…Nice to hear from you. Thanks. I’m willing to disagree with coaches who, logically, know their games very well. However, I’m absolutely confident that Harbaugh is using his quarterbacks in exactly the way necessary for this team, gifted all across the field, to win. People calling for Kaepernick like his blossoming talent, but … really seem to want to see more in him now because they don’t like what they see in Smith. I get it. And, I get that people who question Harbaugh are often folks who relished the Walsh years and are protective of the Walsh legacy. Harbaugh’s no threat to Walsh’s legacy … questioning Harbaugh’s ability to manage quarterbacks is just a way to pick at Harbaugh … when Kaepernick is ready, he’ll play. But, I just don’t think Harbaugh’s going to make that move until Kaepernick’s more experienced. I just don’t see the need to create a QB controversy when I saw judgment errors and stuff Sunday. Ted

    November 13th, 2012 1:50 am

  3. Matt Witthaus

    I understand. Most pundits seem to share this view. I simply disagree that a quarterback who doesn’t throw deep isn’t necessary to win big games against teams with better defenses than, say…the Jets or the Bills. Smith is accurate within twenty to thirty yards, and seems only to be comfortable with that approach, while the OL digs in and pounds away at Gore. This may work for awhile against lesser defenses. Eventually a good defense, like the NY Giants, will succeed in stopping Gore, while playing tight bump and run on the Niners’ receivers and take that short game away. They really have nothing to fear from Alex Smith in the deeper passing game. This makes the Niner offense unbearably predictable. I can’t help but think that it hacks off Manningham and Moss to be essentially used as decoys. And unconvincing ones, at that. At any rate, you are right. This will likely be the approach. But I don’t think that’s what the coaches or management had in mind when they signed those aforementioned players. The ALex Smith experiment, eight years long, to my mind, has already yielded its results. Kap may not be ready, but regardless, he will likely get the start if Smith cannot clear the battery of concussion tests he’s in for. Time will tell. I’ve come to terms with it, I suppose. Disappoints me, because I feel we will always come up just short.

    November 13th, 2012 8:21 am

  4. NorCalTDS

    This team is built to run with a “game manager” more than a quarterback. I think it’s partly a result of personnel but Harbaugh, while creative in some ways, isn’t running a very quarterback-centric offense where a lot is demanded of the qb. That’s why right now Smith>Kap. Long run though I believe they’re looking for a game manager who can also go scare somebody with a 60yd bomb when Moss gets behind the defense…

    November 13th, 2012 9:38 am

  5. james

    alex smiths injury was due to what harbaugh expects from his quarterbacks ie that when it get to crunch time a play is either called for the quarterback to run or they are expected to run if there is no easy pass available. This worked great at stanford with a physical specimen at QB but not so good in the pro game where you get hit harder. he is lucky that Kaepernick is not gone also from the hit he took near the goal line 2 games ago where he got tattoed good. It is an effective way to move the ball and very low risk which i’m sure he likes but short of carrying 4 qb’s a season it will eventually cost the team big time.

    November 13th, 2012 9:42 am

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    James…That makes sense. Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts. Ted

    November 13th, 2012 12:54 pm

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    Yep. If and when Harbaugh thinks he’s got a big play QB he can demand stuff from … I trust him to do it as he did with Luck at Stanford. TS

    November 13th, 2012 12:55 pm

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    Matt…Your opinion makes sense. And, you’re right … predictability is a problem. Harbaugh and the guys try to offset that predictability with lineman-eligible pass nplays, throwing Kaepernick in to do something he does well, etc. Ted

    November 13th, 2012 12:57 pm

  9. Abel

    I’m sorry sir, but i have to disagree with this article. Everything you said about Kap, you can say about Alex but the difference is Alex is in his 8th year STILL making these mistakes while Kap is in his 2nd year and first actual full game. Yes he missed Kyle Williams but he still hit a WR on the run and got the first down. It’s not like Alex didn’t miss Moss in the back of the end zone vs Seattle or Delanie Walker in the exact same play(opposite side of the field) in the same exact fashion vs Detroit this year.

    Kap holds the ball too long? Well what about Alex in his 18-19 “gem?” Did you forget he held the ball too long and took 3 sacks and put the 49ers in terrible field position when he should thrown the ball away? What about the Minnesota game? How quickly we forget that play where the defensive end of the Vikings raced at Alex from 10 yards DIRECTLY IN FRONT OF ALEX and instead of throwing the ball away, Alex held the ball and took a thunderous shot that probably should have knocked him out of THAT game.

    Kap already plays with more poise in the pocket and senses pressure in his first game better than Alex does in his 8th year. Kap extends plays with his feet while STILL looking down the field to make a throw. Once Alex tucks it, that’s it. The play is pretty much over.

    The fact is that you are being very short sided along with the rest of the Smith Sympathizers. I don’t mean that as an insult but it’s true. Kap is already at Alex’s “talent” level and can control this offense just as good if not better. Sure he’s going to make some rookie like mistakes but I would rather leave him in for the remainder of the season and let him learn from those mistakes while maybe sacrificing a game or two in order to get him ready for the post season.

    We’ve all seen how shaky Alex is after Kap is inserted into the Wildcat and shows brilliance in ONE play. How shaky do you think Alex is going to play his next start after Kap has shown an entire game of brilliance? Alex can’t play when he has something to prove and that’s exactly how he’s going to come out and play. He’s reading these articles along with the rest of the world just like Joe Staley caught him reading positive Twitter feedback about himself after the AZ game.

    November 14th, 2012 3:07 am

  10. Abel

    I’ll sum up the biggest difference between them and why I prefer Kap over Alex.

    Vs the Rams, 3rd and 15. Kap makes a 14 yard throw IN THE AIR that gives the 49ers a chance to go for it on 4th and 1 and continue the drive that eventually led to a touchdown. He had the confidence and the arm to make the play. On top of that, he knew we needed the play so he took it upon himself to take the shot.

    VS the Giants, 4th and 14. Ball in the red zone and we are losing. Alex throws a 5 yard pass and the WR is tackled. This play exemplifies all that Alex is. Gutless. Even with us losing, 4th down and the ball close to our end zone…he refused to take a shot. Refused to risk a turnover when it wouldn’t have mattered anymore. This play is Alex Smith in a nut shell.

    I want a QB that plays without fear and with self confidence. That isn’t Alex Smith.

    November 14th, 2012 3:19 am

  11. Matt Witthaus

    Abel, now I don’t feel so lonely ;-)

    I don’t know about Kap and his destiny, but I like what I see so far. More importantly I DON’T see a reason to continue the Alex Smith experiment. The signing of Moss and Manningham this offseason led me and several others to believe that we would take more shots this year, and if Smith failed to do so, then the “results” would be clear. They are; Smith cannot run an explosive offense for all the reasons you state.

    What I hear from the throng “Kap is raw. He’s not ready. Look at the mistakes he made…yadayadayada, I don’t care. We have wasted at least four, maybe five years of developing a better option at the quarterback position. During that time, we either failed to attract a free agent with enough career left to make a run at a championship (Peyton Manning) and failed to draft a wunderkind who would be the undisputed future of the position. UNLESS, that player is Kap. Whatever the future holds, it’s time to move on.

    It won’t happen this year. If Smith can play, he’ll play, and we may even get to the playoffs. But I doubt we will repeat our juggernaut from last season. The defense is already human, so the brilliance referred to frequently regarding that unit is already dimmed a bit. We’ll be getting fewer opportunities from turnovers for Alex to fail to get points out of, so being kept in games by our ball hawking defense is less likely.

    True, Smith has more experience as a pro, and if you voluntarily -without being prompted by an injury- insert Kap over him the fans would probably revolt. We all want to see him develop, but if Kap takes over as a starter the likelihood we reach postseason diminishes. Forty-Niner fans are fickle. We want championships right now. Reality suggests if we start a backup we kiss the Super Bowl goodbye.

    So we’re stuck with #11, for now. It would be nice if everyone would at last admit -playoffs be damned- that he’s just not going to be the player we want him to be. That’s not his fault, but it is the reality. GO NINERS.

    November 14th, 2012 8:58 am

  12. overtime

    Abel…What did you think of the 2, 3 sacks Kaepernick ran into that … at this point in his career … would’ve been incomplete passes by Smith? It’s easy to focus on the complete passes, sure. Kaepernick can make plays scrambling and he can run into sacks in situations where, apparently, Harbaugh wants his QB to just throw the ball away. Ted

    November 14th, 2012 2:03 pm

  13. overtime

    Abel…This is the place to disagree. I appreciate you taking time to read. I don’t see the poise in the pocket and all that in Kaepernick yet. And…you did exactly what I explained isn’t necessary! I’m not a “Smith sympathizer.” I just see a 2nd year QB who is really athletic with a strong arm who misses an uncovered slot receiver, takes sacks trying to make a big play on every play, etc. That doesn’t mean I don’t think Kaepernick won’t be good or great. Smith suits what Harbaugh believes these 49ers need right now. Which, I guess, is obvious because Harbaugh’s starting Smith. You’re points are well taken and I appreciate them. TED

    November 14th, 2012 2:07 pm

  14. Abel

    Ted, what do i think of the sacks that Kap ran into? I think that he did the same thing Alex does…held on too long and ended up taking a sack. But the difference is I expect that mistake from a “rookie” QB, not an 8th year vet. How can you say they would have been incomplete passes by Smith when they weren’t incomplete passes by Smith in the AZ game. He made the mistake you’re crucifying Kap for and he did it THREE times. I also noticed how Kap stepped up in the pocket to avoid the rush and made completions while still taking a hit or having a man in his face. Simple things that Alex just doesn’t do. When he does scramble, he scrambles with his head up giving his WRs time to get open because he wants to throw it to them. Once Alex tucks the ball, the panic sets in. Alex doesn’t even know how to slide correctly for Pete’s sake. Who leads with their BACK? If Harbaugh can get 13 wins out of Alex, imagine what he could do with Kap if he babysat him like he does Alex.

    November 14th, 2012 2:34 pm

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    Abel…So, you think Harbaugh is sacrificing victories intentionally by sticking with Smith? You’re suggesting Harbaugh doesn’t want to babysit Kaepernick and get, say, 14 wins … but, he’s willing to babysit Smith and get 13 wins?

    I’m not “crucifying” Kaepernick for anything.

    Every sack is different. I saw 2, 3 sacks the other day that Kaepernick ran into when he should’ve thrown the ball away. I’ll take your word for Smith doing the same thing in the identical situation 3 times against the Cardinals.

    How do you account for the Niners reaching the NFC title game and Smith’s performance against the Saints if he’s no better than a raw, inexperienced 2nd year QB?

    Finally, I get the idea that people who don’t like Smith and decided he wasn’t good enough to win are, in many cases, sticking with that belief in spite of what happened last year and in spite of the fact the team is among the favorites to win the NFC title this year with Smith at QB. I get that his career would drive fans to distraction. Totally.

    I’m missing any reason that Harbaugh would sacrifice wins to keep Kaepernick out of the lineup, that’s all.

    Ted

    November 14th, 2012 4:11 pm

  16. poogs

    Alex is and should be the quarterback for the Niners. Kaepernick is not ready. You can disagree as much as you want but replacing Alex with Kaep it is not going to happen anytime soon. The Niners are doing well right now. There is no reason to “fix” something that is not broken.

    November 14th, 2012 4:53 pm

  17. poogs

    Oh, the article was great, Mr. Sillanpaa. Thank you.

    November 14th, 2012 4:54 pm

  18. Abel

    Is Harbaugh sacrificing victories by sticking with Alex? No. The 49ers record at the end of the season would be better with Alex that it would be with Kap because even though Kap played a great game for a 2nd year QB, he still has some learning to do. He would make mistakes between now and the end of the season that might cost us a game or two but I think that would be well worth it to have him ready for the playoffs because regular season football and playoff football is different.

    Alex can thrive in the regular season “playing it safe” but in the playoffs you need a QB that can make plays and that’s not Alex. Sure you can throw his Saints game out there which was by far the best game of his career. It was the ONLY game in his career where he won the game with his arm and nothing else. The RB’s didn’t win that game, the defense didn’t win that game and special teams didn’t win that game. Alex carried the team. Sure I can point out that he was spotted 17 points in the first quarter and still almost managed to lose the game but that’s neither here nor there.

    But if you want to throw that Saints game as your defense of Alex then I’ll throw the following week against the Giants out as an indictment of Alex. The 49ers going 1-13 on 3rd downs falls directly on the QB. No one else. It’s his job to convert on 3rd down and he didn’t get it done.

    So Harbaugh may not be sacrificing wins in the regular season but he is sacrificing them in the playoffs.

    Whether Alex wins or not depends far too much on how the defense and special teams plays. If you’re a good QB, that shouldn’t be the case. Kaepernick got the team into winning situations twice DESPITE the defense and special teams. If not for Akers, Kap would have had a comeback victory in his first game.

    The 49ers are a team where the WRs have to make the QB better with YAC, not the other way around. That’s not a solution for winning in any book. Kap got WRs involved that Alex doesn’t such as Moss and Kyle Williams. We even saw the return of Vernon Davis who wasn’t even targeted by Alex in a game earlier this year.

    November 14th, 2012 4:55 pm

  19. overtime

    Abel…Good stuff. I appreciate your thoughts and being willing to share them. TED

    November 14th, 2012 6:00 pm

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    Poogs…Thanks. Having lived through a few legit QB controversies … I think it’s wise to view the 49ers’ success in the last year-plus and use it as perspective when looking at the idea of changing quarterbacks right now. Ted

    November 14th, 2012 6:02 pm

  21. Ted

    Hey … Jim Harbaugh knows more about quarterbacks and what he wants his quarterback to do … so, in a hurry so that it doesn’t look like I’m ducking the piece where I said Kaepernick’s not ready to win in the NFL … I’m clearly wrong. He’s ready to do things Smith hasn’t done and, hey, if Kaepernick makes mistakes — I’m willing to yield to Harbaugh figuring he’ll make up for them.

    I was wrong. And, I’d have been wrong even without the 2 TDs by the defense that would’ve left the 49ers losing today!
    TED

    November 25th, 2012 10:44 pm

  22. poogs

    I am still not buying the switch. The 49ers defense won the game @ Superdome. We would have lost that game without the almighty 49ers Defense.

    November 27th, 2012 3:00 pm

  23. overtime

    Poogs…I couldn’t agree more with the judgment that the defense won the game. Fans and media types who’ve insisted they can’t win with Smith are making more of 2 good Kaepernick efforts than necessary. I like Kaepernick. I think Smith’s limited. That defense might well be best served by a quarterback who can be counted on to avoid making mistakes and who’ll play conservatively. Anybody beef if Alex Smith goes down in Super Bowl history with such past QBs who’ve won like Trent Dilfer and Brad Johnson? TED

    November 27th, 2012 6:24 pm

  24. Dale

    Conservative vs Mistakes? This whole line of thinking ignores the fact that you should win or lose with your best players on the field. We can all see who Harbaugh feels gives the 49er’s the best chance of winning.

    December 1st, 2012 7:43 pm

  25. overtime

    Dale…So, you think that Kaepernick will win MORE than Smith? That would mean you figure the 49ers would be virtually unbeatable with Kaepernick. They were 20-5 or something with Smith … within a couple muffed kicks of the Super Bowl. Kaepernick might be better but they were winning before Smith was injured. I’m glad my boss can’t replace me if I miss a day of work sick. TED

    December 1st, 2012 7:49 pm

  26. Dale

    Your point is well taken. Alex has not looked good in several games this year and is statistically putrid in passes over ten yards and third down. Many people point out the 18/19 but Alex would have been better off with a couple of incomplete passes that would have avoided losses from sacks.

    I think that Harbaugh intended all along to replace Alex with Kaep. The injury gave an easy way to do it. As far as the fumbles go if Alex had a better game vs the Giant’s than maybe we aren’t talking about the fumbles that ended up being the difference.

    December 1st, 2012 8:39 pm

  27. overtime

    Dale…You’re right about the notion that Kaepernick was in line to succeed Smith. The injury was a convenient excuse to make the change, but we wouldn’t be talking about Kaepernick if he’d played poorly…or, for that matter, if he’d turned in the performance he did against the Saints without the 2 defensive TDs that accounted for the victory.

    You realize that fans are picking nits to rationalize dumping Smith? They view his efforts of late through the prism of his horrendous efforts earlier in his career. He was 18-for-19 in a game … ranked among QB leaders in the NFL … and the team’s record with him at QB for Harbaugh has been outstanding. It’s hard to expect Kaepernick to be better than 20-5 (or whatever) or perform any more efficiently.

    As I’ve written, I’m fine with either guy and can see that Kaepernick’s got unique talent that might make the club better.

    Heaven help everybody involved if the 49ers lose or if Kaepernick plays poorly against the Rams. A QB discussion is one thing … but, if they lose with a guy who’d done nothing but play well for 1 1/2 seasons standing idle … then the controversy will really begin.

    Stay in touch. Great stuff.
    ted

    December 1st, 2012 9:06 pm

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