Jim Harbaugh announced that he will go with Colin Kaepernick as the starting quarterback for this Sunday’s game against the St. Louis Rams. This will be his third consecutive start since taking over for Alex Smith.
In previous weeks, Harbuagh said he wants to go with the hot hand. Kaepernick did a good job in relief when Smith went down against the Rams in Week 9 and continued to flourish against the Bears and Saints.
“As a coach, as a team, we don’t fear any momentum or any circumstance or any man,” said Harbaugh. “Colin, we believe, has the hot hand. We’re going with Colin.”
This is the right move by Harbaugh and the 49ers’ coaching staff. If there was instability at the quarterback position for a second change this season, it would be disastrous for the team. The chemistry is coming together since Kaepernick took over. They don’t need to fix what’s not broken.
Kaepernick has improved the passing game more than Smith when he became the starting quarterback. Against the Chicago Bears, he thrived at setting the tone by throwing the ball more on the opening two drives. If this was an Alex Smith-led team, the 49ers would be running the ball majority of the time while Smith serves as a game manager. The balance of passing game and running the ball has become a better offensive threat than Alex Smith’s arm. Even though Smith has a 20-6-1 record under Harbaugh, the offense has a better flow with Kaepernick.
While Kaepernick’s playing career is just a sample size, he has shown he’s ready to be the starting quarterback. In only two games, Kaepernick has already matched Smith’s total on passing plays for 30-plus yards this season. Smith has six 30-plus yard pass plays on 214 attempts while Kaepernick only took 74 attempts to do the same. Since Smith was more of a game manager, the 49ers can’t depend on him to make the deep plays when necessary. With Kaepernick, there is a wildcard element where he possesses the tools and intangibles to make plays. His arm has a better zip on the ball as well as the ability to throw for a deep ball.
Kaepernick has been able to balance the passing game among receivers more than Smith. In the past, Smith’s favorite targets were Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree as they would lead the team in receiving yards and touchdowns.
When Kaepernick took over, he spread the ball around and made things less predictable. Kyle Williams and Mario Maninngham were involved more when Kaepernick was on the field. Manningham already has 114 receiving yards in the last two games. Against the New Orleans Saints, Delanie Walker started to get involved when he had three catches for 81 yards. On a third and two, Kaepernick was able to find Walker open for 45 yards and made a throw Smith probably wouldn’t have made. Rather than find a favorite target, Kaepernick has better vision to find the best receiver open in each situation.
Smith was averaging 192 passing yards per game before the injury while Kaepernick is averaging 237 yards per game. This opportunity for Kaepernick was perfect. General Manager Trent Baalke and Jim Harbaugh traded up in last year’s draft to take him in the second round with plans to make him the future starter.
Coming out of the draft in 2011 raw and unpolished, Kaepernick has shown Harbuagh he is ready to be that full-time starter. His arm and traits of elusiveness are more intriguing than what Smith brings to the team.
But Smith’s time with the 49ers may not be over. Smith will need to be ready if Kaepernick goes down with an injury. He still provides depth, knowledge and leadership for Kaepernick and the rest of the offense. Smith had his chance to retain the starting quarterback job this year, but this is Kaepernick’s time to shine.
Harbaugh might not have been wishing for an injury, but the opportunity to start the quarterback he drafted has come. He’s going with what he believes is the winning move.