Last year, his first as a starter, he was the toast of the NFL. He won games with both his feet and his arm, and he had a flair for big plays.
This year? Not so much.
To fans of the 49ers, the description fits San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick. To Redskins fans, it’s Robert Griffin III.
When the 49ers (6-4) meet the Redskins (3-7) Monday night, it will not only be a battle of two teams trying to get back on track and get some momentum for the final stretch of the 2013 season, but a duel of quarterbacks that have gone from hot to cold on the NFL stage.
The 49ers passing offense ranks last in the NFL, Kaepernick hasn’t taken over games as he did last season and his team has lost two straight games by scoring a total of 29 points.
Some are questioning Kaepernick’s decision making and ability to go to his second and third receivers. Some say the 49ers receivers don’t have the ability to get open. Others criticize the play calling. But whatever the reason, Kaepernick’s stats are way down this year. As a first-year starter his quarterback rating was 98.3. This year it’s down significantly at 81.8. After averaging more than 361 yards per game on offense last season, the Niners are down to just 309 this season.
Niners coach Jim Harbaugh continues to defend Kaepernick, saying he’s terrific and that film reviews of each game prove it. He doesn’t understand the criticism.
“He’s doing a heck of a job,” he told Steve Corkran of the Bay Area News Group this week. “I would be puzzled why people would think that. What’s more important is what we see.”
Still, the Niners go into the game as 3½-point favorites. Though Kaepernick and the 49ers have struggled, Washington and RG III have struggled more.
Griffin, so upbeat last season, has been more downcast this season while struggling. He’s still not completely healthy from offseason knee surgery and can’t run the way he did in 2012. That seems to have turned him into a much less effective player.
In leading Washington to the playoffs in 2012, Griffin had a 102.4 quarterback rating. This year, his rating is 83.6. Last season, he threw for 20 TDs against just five interceptions. This year, it’s 14 TDs and 10 picks. And, he’s completing just 59.7 percent of his throws this season after completing 65.6 percent a year ago.
Like Kaepernick, though, Griffin remains confident he can turn things around.
“Keep chopping wood,” he told reporters this week. “You’ve got to keep pushing forward. Once again, never change who you are.”
Yet, Washington’s troubles haven’t been all Griffin’s fault. The defense and special teams have faltered. Washington is last in the NFL in average starting field position (the 22.5-yard line) and last in punting. Plus, they’ve started slow in most games, being outscored 81-30 in the first quarter, forcing them to play from behind.
If Kaepernick and the 49ers can get a quick lead Monday night, that could force the Redskins to play catch up – and to make mistakes. That’s been something the 49ers have capitalized on. They lead the league with 105 points off turnovers.
Whatever happens Monday night, the eyes of a national TV audience will be focused on the two young quarterbacks. Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said this week that both are too good to be down for long. Both have talent and drive. He said second-year slumps are natural and just a normal thing to work through. Defenses will always catch up to a young quarterback. It’s then up to them to adjust and improve again.
“Whoever has been in those shoes realizes that it doesn’t happen overnight,” he said of success in the NFL. “It takes practice. It takes repetition, going against different coverages, understanding the strength and weaknesses and just becoming more comfortable in passing situations.”