It’s finally official. Sort of. Colin Kaepernick “is expected” start in New Orleans for the San Francisco 49ers. Alex Smith is active (as is Brandon Jacobs, interestingly enough), but it appears he’ll serve as Kaepernick’s backup this week and perhaps for weeks to come.
I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how many people have come out in favor of Smith this week — not because I wanted Smith to start (I’m in the “I’ll just go with whoever Harbaugh thinks is best” camp until further notice), but because Smith is finally receiving the kind of public support from fans and analysts that has been mostly lacking throughout his career. That being said, don’t bother paying attention when guys like Kurt Warner and Trent Dilfer complain about Jim Harbaugh’s decision — veteran quarterbacks stick together like veteran coaches, and they can’t understand how a fellow quarterback like Harbaugh could treat Smith like this.
Harbaugh doesn’t care. Smith might be a great guy, but Kaepernick is bigger, stronger, faster, less cautious, and Harbaugh hand-picked him in 2011. Harbaugh inherited No. 11, and after fixing Smith up as best he could, the 49ers head coach finally gets to go with his guy.
Harbaugh said there was no quarterback controversy earlier in the week, and he isn’t lying. In his mind, this was an easy decision. But even if the locker room is controversy-free, controversies are meant to exist in the hearts and minds of the people outside the organization who are obsessed with ratings, pageviews and gambling. Or, the people who are simply obsessed with being obsessed.
Kaepernick won many fans when he dismantled the Bears to the point of no return in the first half on Monday, but skeptics pointed to his lack of overall experience and how the 49ers caught Chicago off-guard when they named Kaepernick the starter that morning.
Think Kaepernick getting the start today means this controversy is over? Not quite.
If the 49ers lose: Many will point to Smith’s .769 winning percentage under Harbaugh.
If the 49ers win despite Kaepernick having a poor game statistically (say, under 200 yards and no better than a 1/1 TD-to-INT ratio): Many will point to Smith’s .769 winning percentage under Harbaugh and his 104.1 QB rating in 2012.
If Kaepernick wins and does well statistically: Smith’s backers will point to two things.
- Smith’s performance in the NFC Divisional Round game against New Orleans.
- The Saints’ defense — their pass defense is 31st in the NFL in yardage allowed per game (305), last in yards per attempt (8.5) and last in touchdowns allowed per game (2.1). Their rush defense is just as shoddy, allowing the most yards per game (157.8) of any NFL team. Pro Football Focus has the Saints’ defense ranked last in the NFL.
There is only one way this game could be considered a good “test” for Kaepernick — the crowd noise. There is a very good chance that Kaepernick performs even better in his second NFL start than he did against a superior defense in his first, but that doesn’t mean we’d be in for a week where the quarterback discussion goes quiet. The only way the argument will cool is if Harbaugh steps to the podium this evening or tomorrow afternoon and declares Kaepernick the unquestioned starter “going forward” (as everyone loves to say these days) and gives his reasons why.
And since Harbaugh waited until the VERY LAST MINUTE to let the world know what most of us thought we knew on Wednesday, it’s pretty safe to say he won’t be declaring anything anytime soon.