There was a lot that went wrong with the 49ers on Sunday. All three phases of the game, in fact:

  • The defense gave up 161 yards and a touchdown on the ground.
  • Although the offense collected 314 total yards, those yards only led to 3 points.
  • Alex Smith threw three interceptions, all of which led to points for the Giants.
  • Smith was also sacked six times; meanwhile, the 49ers’ defense didn’t sack Eli Manning.
  • David Akers missed two field goals and the 49ers’ suddenly not-so-special teams unit gave up a 66-yard return.

But there was a fourth phase of the game that failed on Sunday – coaching. Normally, the trio of Jim Harbaugh, Greg Roman and Vic Fangio rarely get outcoached, and they didn’t necessarily get outcoached on Sunday. Harbaugh and Roman essentially beat themselves.

The curse of over-Kaepernicking

The proof of their mistakes is in the play-by-play: the 49ers ran 12 offensive drives against the Giants, none of which ended with a touchdown.

What’s interesting about the 49ers’ offense is how quickly things fell apart once Kaepernick came into the game. Here’s a look at the box scores for every drive that Kaepernick appeared in (his first appearance in each drive is highlighted):

Before Kaepernick: 3 first downs, 50 yards

After Kaepernick: 0 first downs, 0 yards, field goal attempt (no good)

Before Kaepernick: 4 first downs, 54 yards

After Kaepernick: 0 first downs, 6 yards, field goal attempt (good)

Kaepernick in on second play (false start penalty), 0 first downs, -1 yard, punt

Kaepernick in on first play, 1 first down, 36 yard pass, field goal attempt (no good)

 

Kaepernick in on second play, 0 first downs, 7 yards, Smith pass intercepted

Before Kaepernick: 1 first down, 56 yards

After Kaepernick: 0 first downs, 2 yards, turnover on downs

 

Before Kaepernick: 1 first down, 12 yards

After Kaepernick: 1 first down, 12 yards, punt

Kaepernick in to finish game, 2 first downs, 42 yards, turnover on downs

As the game wore on, neither quarterback got much of anything accomplished. The most telling drives, however, are the first two, when the offense was running smoothly under Smith and then fell flat with his backup’s appearance.

There has been a lot of talk this week about the 49ers’ excessive use of Kaepernick and the effect that it has on the rhythm of the offense.  When Harbaugh was asked if using him so much was obstructing the “flow of the offense”, the coach agreed that it may have been, saying “the plan wasn’t the best plan.”

Not only did the 49ers abandon the run (which was averaging 4.7 yards per carry) early on Sunday, but as the game wore on they seemed to abandon their starting quarterback as well. Although Smith played his worst statistical game since Harbaugh became head coach, he looked pretty good on his first two drives, which netted seven first downs combined.

Conversely, each drive that featured a play with Kaepernick stalled. The plays that followed his appearances only resulted in a total of 97 yards and four first downs, almost half of which came in the final drive of a game well in New York’s hands.

It’s as easy to criticize the 49ers for overusing Kaepernick against the Giants as it was to praise them when it worked against the Jets and Bills. It seems apparent, however, that switching quarterbacks had a negative effect on the way Alex Smith played against the Giants. If the plan is to get the backup as up to speed as possible for a real quarterback competition next year, perhaps they should tone it down. This team is built to compete for a championship this year and they can’t afford to drop games for the sake of experimentation.

The 49ers have a short turnaround before facing the Seahawks Thursday night – don’t be surprised if you see a lot less of the backup than we’ve gotten used to over the past couple of weeks.