Just a couple years ago removed from leading the San Francisco 49ers (7-5) to the Super Bowl, many Forever Faithful have been calling for 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick’s head. A player who was once considered the poster boy for the storied franchised, his play this season has many fans wondering if he can actually lead the team back to the promise land.
Whether getting negative criticism from the fans or former players such as TE Brent Jones, I don’t believe it’s fair to shoulder the majority of the Niners offensive woes on Kaepernick. After all this is a team sport. The offensive line needs to give Kaepernick time in the pocket, the wide receivers need to run crisp routes and catch the ball, while the coaching staff needs to dial up a successful scheme. So why do I have so much faith in the franchise quarterback? Because he has the most potential of any quarterback in the NFL.
As I said earlier, the offensive line needs to provide Kaepernick time in the pocket to go through his progressions. An area where I admit, Kaepernick needs to do a much better job in, it’s the responsibility of the offensive line to do their part first in anchoring the point of attack. Kaepernick nor any quarterback for that matter can be successful if his goons up front don’t provide time inside the pocket. And with the team ranking tied for 3rd worst in the NFL as they allowed 38 sacks thus far, it’s no wonder Kaepernick is having a sub-par season. How can a quarterback be successful if his line can’t pass protect? And for all the fans that are saying bring back Alex! Are you kidding? The sack number would have been astronomically worse had it not been for Kap’s pure athleticism to evade pressure. Which brings me to my next point. The 49ers are built to run not pass, therefore some of the blame clearly falls under OC Greg Roman and head coach Jim Harbaugh.
Why Harbaugh you ask? Because he is the one responsible for the play-calling. Roman calls the plays from up in the press-box, but it’s Harbaugh who has final say on the play call as he relates it to Kaepernick. When GM Trent Baalke drafted two first-round studs in 2010 with LG Mike Iupati and RT Anthony Davis, he had a vision that RB Frank Gore would be the focal point of the offense and everything would be an extension of him. Iupati and Davis were both known as maulers in the run-game rather than finesse pass-blockers, so why the 49ers neglect the run week-in-and-week-out is beyond me. The 49ers offense is used to imposing their will despite playing against a stacked box, so why the change now is anyone’s guess but this clearly falls blame on the coaching staff. Which leads me to my final point, the wide-receivers.
The 49ers have a stable of talent at the receiver position with WR Anquan Boldin, WR Stevie Johnson, and TE Vernon Davis, but yet their stats don’t reflect it. Davis has been a ghost and is on pace to statistically endure his worst season of his career, while Boldin is doing his best to find soft spots in zone coverage. Roman who admittedly said this is the best receiving core he’s had since he’s been here, has somehow screwed up along the way in utilizing the talent.
In any scheme you need continuity. Every player has a defined role on the team game in and game out. You know who is going to get the lion’s share of the targets or carries, and for the most part you know who will be your third-down back and go-to receiver in the clutch, if all else fails. So why can’t the 49ers identify their true No. 1 and No. 2 receivers? Because all of them are very similar. They are all possession receivers. The 49ers do not have a true burner on the outside. Some might say Vernon is that guy. But Vernon is not lined up outside, he can only stretch the field so much on the seams.
Defenses realize this and as a result play more single-high safety (Cover 3) than I have seen in year’s past. The cornerbacks allow a cushion taking away the deep balls on the outside while the free-safety plays centerfield. They are basically daring Kaepernick to beat them deep. But if no receiver can consistently stretch the field, this makes life difficult for the quarterback, as he then forces the ball on those quick slants, comebacks, hitches, and digs. And who knows if the players will catch the ball as WR Michael Crabtree has been hands of stone this season. I’m not saying it’s all on the receivers because one thing Kaepernick can work on is his ‘touch’ but playing against a Cover 3, week in and week out with no deep-threat can be a hard matchup for anyone. Even Jones admitted that the 49ers need a deep-threat for Kap.
While from a fan’s perspective it’s easy to point to Kaepernick as the scapegoat. “He’s not studying on the sidelines like the greats, therefore that’s the reason he’s not successful. He’s too into himself with his endorsements, tattoos, and marketing opportunities.” I heard all the reasons why Kaepernick isn’t successful but does anyone know how hard Kaepernick actually works? He’s one of the first ones in and last ones to leave. How do I know this? Because I see it with my own eyes. So while everyone is blaming Kap, I can assure you the problem runs much deeper than just one person.