It appears that the San Francisco 49ers may have ushered in a new quarterback era in their victory against the New Orleans Saints yesterday. The 31-21 victory may have just been the next step in the evolution of the 49ers franchise. The win takes the 49ers record to 8-2-1, and puts a greater distance as the division leader between them and the Seattle Seahawks, who lost their Sunday game against the Miami Dolphins. Although the victory against the high powered Saints was more a testament to the play of the talented 49ers defense, the headlining story was the play of second year quarterback Colin Kaepernick. And what his talents and his in game execution might mean for the future of an already well-rounded team.
Kaepernick again played with the poise of a seasoned veteran as he completed 16 of his 25 passes for 231 yards, one rushing touchdown and one passing touchdown, and one interception. As expected, Kaepernick stayed very elusive in the backfield, never allowing himself to be sacked during the day. His strong arm and his maneuverability have apparently won him the starting job for the 49ers. A decision that he was made aware of by coaches in the waning hours of Saturday night.
What does this mean for previous starter Alex Smith? A class act, maybe to a fault, Smith does not look like he will see the field once again this year. During the game against the Saints, Smith was seen numerous times patrolling the sidelines with his helmet on. Giving the illusion that the 49ers just might have room under center for the both of them. Unfortunately for Smith fans, that did not turn out to be the case. It looks as if the concussion that Smith suffered in week nine just might have closed the door on his career in San Francisco.
And although the 49ers came out of the Superdome with a victory, there is a lingering negative effect that this type of quarterback change can produce. Frank Gore did end up carrying the ball 19 times for 83 yards and one receiving touchdown. But in all likelihood, Kaepernick’s ability to run the ball may take away from the touches that Gore gets. And although Kaepernick moved the ball around to a multitude of different receivers, a majority of his passes went in the direction of players that seldom receive passes. Fullback Bruce Miller caught three passes, Gore caught two, and Delanie Walker caught three. It’s great that he finds those guys, but that he finds those as bail out passes is an indication that he is not letting routes develop before he commits to a check down pass or decides to run the ball. Vernon Davis did not record a single catch during the game against the Saints, even after all the praise he showed Kaepernick following the Chicago game.
What that means is, that despite the 49ers hoping to keep defenses on their heels with their quarterback that can hurt you with his running ability, and their hopes to move past an offense that they think might be one dimensional. It still can eliminate big portions of the offense, making the team multi dimensional, but with less threat in those dimensions. Michael Vick of the Philadelphia Eagles has found himself in the same situation with his wide receivers. His number one wide receiver DeSean Jackson, would be the number one wide receiver on nearly every other team in the NFL. But because of Vick’s ability to run the ball and his propensity to check the ball down to his bail out receivers, Jackson does not even crack the top thirty in the league in catches. And the same goes for other running quarterbacks like Cam Newton of the Carolina Panthers and Robert Griffin III of the Washington Redskins. They too both have Pro Bowl caliber wide outs on their team, but they too don’t throw the ball to them on a consistent basis. It’s the only evil of having a running quarterback; it can hurt the passing game substantially.
What really won the game for the 49ers was again their rough and tough defense. Regardless of the quarterback situation, it will be the defense that ultimately takes them to the top. Against the Saints, they sacked Drew Brees five times and intercepted him twice. Both interceptions were run back for touchdowns as well. What’s more, they nearly eliminated the effectiveness of both tight end Jimmy Graham and wide receiver Marques Colston during the game. The 49ers really set a standard for the league in this game, relegating the highest ranked passing offense to only three touchdowns is quite an accomplishment. They have a couple more very tough games ahead of them, but with a defense like this, there is no reason that can’t win the rest of their games.
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