What happens when an NFL quarterback completes just 11 passes in a game for only 91 yards?
If your name is Colin Kaepernick, you suddenly become the focus of every NFL analyst from San Francisco to Bristol, Conn.
That’s been the case for the 49ers’ Kaepernick this week after he produced some of his worst numbers as a pro quarterback in a 10-9 loss to the Carolina Panthers this past Sunday.
The performance set off alarms across the media spectrum, because Kaepernick coming into this season appeared on the verge of becoming one of the league’s best. And, he came out firing in Game 1 of this season by throwing for 412 yards and three TDs in a 34-28 shootout victory over the Green Bay Packers.
But since then, Kaepernick’s season has been a tale of two quarterbacks. In the Niners’ victories, he’s been solid; in the team’s three losses – to Seattle, Indianapolis and Carolina – he’s been horrid.
So what’s the problem?
This week, as the 49ers (6-3) prepared to play the Saints (7-2) Sunday in New Orleans, a number of people weighed in, including:
* Niners head coach Jim Harbaugh, who said Kaepernick is just one element of the offense that isn’t clicking. He said the entire unit is to blame. “We’re not going to dissect, position-by-position, raking anybody over the coals,” he told the media. “We didn’t play championship football offensively.” Harbaugh said the unit had too many "negative plays," citing the six sacks on Kaepernick and other mistakes.
* Former NFL (and 49ers) QB Trent Dilfer, now an NFL analyst for ESPN, said he believes Kaepernick becomes “remedial” as a passer when his primary receiver on a play is taken away and he has to go through his progressions. When asked for his response to Dilfer’s comments Wednesday, Kaepernick questioned Dilfer’s evaluation, saying, “I think you should ask him if he knows what my progression is first before he says that.”
* Former NFL quarterback and current ESPN analyst Ron Jaworski has said he believes the main culprit for the 49ers passing woes rests with the receiving corps. Jaworski says the San Francisco receivers are the slowest in the league. They simply can’t get separation from defensive backs, leaving Kaepernick with no where to throw.
* Bucky Brooks, a former NFL player and scout who now does analysis for NFL.com, wrote a story published Thursday in which he came to several conclusions about Kaepernick and the passing game following film study. The bottom line, he says, is that Kaepernick’s dropoff in production in some games is due to a variety of factors. First, defensive coordinators have adjusted to Kaepernick, taking him out of his comfort zone. Defensive backs now play more press coverage on receivers, disrupting long routes and forcing receivers to the middle of the field. That’s forcing the QB to make more contested throws. Second, the wide receiver group lacks speed and explosiveness and, with more physical press coverages, those receivers just can’t get open. The return of Mario Manningham and (eventually) Michael Crabtree may help. And third, defenses across the league are playing better against the read option, taking away running opportunities.
* The San Francisco Chronicle’s Kevin Lynch offered an analysis after film study this week that corroborates Harbaugh’s assertion that the entire offense is to blame. He pointed to missed opportunities when receivers were actually open, Kaepernick not seeing secondary options on some plays, receivers being too close together on some routes or not being able to work themselves open on others. He particularly cited the chemistry between Kaepernick and his receivers, writing: “Their (receivers’) cuts appear lazy, their explosion off the line almost non-existent. It looks like they are not believing in the routes they are running, or maybe they think they will never get a pass. Kaepernick, meanwhile, doesn’t trust his receivers enough to ‘throw them open,’ meaning throwing before the receiver makes his break or turns around.”
Throughout this week, Kaepernick’s teammates keep saying they have faith in their young quarterback. His work ethic is strong and his skills dynamic.
Said Frank Gore: “Every year is going to get tougher. As long as he keeps standing in, manning up and giving his all, that’s all we want from him.”
Added linebacker NaVorro Bowman: “He’s going to prepare like no other, come out Sunday and put on a show for us. That’s just what we need.”