I don’t need to remind you that the 49ers are Super Bowl bound. Nor do I need to remind you that Colin Kaepernick is largely responsible for this. He broke records against Green Bay and overcame a 17-point deficit in Atlanta. Neither can be diminished for obvious reasons, but they can be investigated.
Specifically, I wanted to know how well Kaepernick is performing as a passer — which I realize is only a small portion of what he actually does. So I compiled his stats, as I’ve done before. What the stats suggest runs counter to what I had expected. That is, Kaepernick as a passer is mostly performing worse in the playoffs than he did in the regular season. And yet, the offense as a whole is far more successful.
Explanatory Note: Most of these stats are taken from TeamRankings.com. Others I calculated.
Explanatory Note: These stats, unless noted otherwise, are provided by Pro Football Focus (PFF). Also note that I’ve provided three different quarterback ratings. The traditional NFL model, which most agree is flawed (Read about it HERE). ESPN’s rating, which ”is a statistical measure that incorporates the contexts and details of those throws and what they mean for wins,” (Read about it HERE). And PFF’s rating, which is takes the traditional NFL formula and changes the statistical inputs (Read about it HERE). Also, playoff rankings are scaled from 1-12. So, if Kaepernick ranked ninth in a particular category, he’d be close to last.
The offense is averaging more than one full yard more per play, they’re picking up an exorbitant amount of first downs, and they’re scoring touchdowns on nearly all red-zone attempts. It has just been plain good. But Colin Kaepernick hasn’t been. Well, at least not relative to how he was performing in the regular season.
Aside from yards per attempt — which may be the most important stat — Kaepernick has regressed. Though he has a slightly higher completion percentage, Kaepernick’s accuracy percentage (which accounts for throw aways and drops) has declined significantly. This by itself isn’t alarming, but the trend it follows is: Kaepernick has also been far less accurate while throwing deep and while facing pressure.
Now, all of this isn’t to say that Kaepernick has been bad. His Total QBR rating suggests as he has been anything but. This is to say, however, that his effectiveness might be owed to reasons other than his ability as a passer. The 49ers’ run game, to be specific, was one of the main contributors to the 49ers comeback last Sunday.
This begs the question of what happens if the Ravens defense is able to stop the run game — as they have done all season. Will Kaepernick be up to the challenge as a pure passer? If what these stats reveal is true, I’m not confident.
Granted, stats from the past two games are just that. That is, they don’t represent the same breadth of information obtained from Kaepernick’s seven career starts. But this ultimately is the nature of the playoffs. We don’t have the luxury of large sample sizes. The player either performs, or goes home. To his credit, Kaepernick has performed, but he’s largely done so as a runner, not as a passer. And this is the reason for concern. The Super Bowl hopes of the 49ers rest in Kaepernick’s ability to perform as the latter. While he must do so against a Ravens team that isn’t nearly as formidable as it once was, he also must do so against the same team that ousted Andrew Luck, Peyton Manning, and Tom Brady from the playoffs.