Harbaugh's Choice: Which 49er Quarterback Will He Choose?
I wonder if Rex Ryan and Ken Whisenhunt are slightly jealous of Jim Harbaugh. They'd love to have this decision to make each Sunday - which winning quarterback do you start? The efficient, proven player who took you close enough to smell the Super Bowl or the young, tough rookie with a chip on his shoulder forcing him to play each game like he has something to prove? The choice between Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick is a tough one.
On Sunday, the San Francisco 49ers traveled down to New Orleans with the hot-handed rookie Colin Kaepernick at the helm and played a heck of a game against a surging Saints team that seemed to be landing solidly following a traumatic start to the season. Alex Smith was injured during the game against the St. Louis Rams. (You can't lose a job to injury right Bledsoe?) Kaepernick stepped in to finish - how fitting that the game would end in a tie. The next week Chicago rolled in with its brawny Bears defense. That didn't scare CK, not at all. He and his own defense sent the other backup QB Jason Campbell back to the midwest with a really bad memory of "The Bay."
Everyone jumped on the brewing QB controversy and Harbaugh made it even worse with the post-game comments. "We'll see," Harbaugh said. "Usually tend to go with the guy who's got the hot hand, and we've got two quarterbacks that have got a hot hand." There's nothing worse than a non-committal man!
Harbaugh kept his QB decision to himself until Wednesday when he named Kaepernick the starter for the game in New Orleans and it turned out to be a good one - but could he go wrong? The team is clicking on all cylinders right now and the SF defense sacked Drew Brees like he was 5 pounds of potatoes. Colin didn't play like a rookie in front of a raucous crowd that loves its team. He was poised and showed incredible promise. Perhaps Smith's health was still an issue for Harbaugh when he chose the backup, but now he's got added concerns. He's got two hot hands.
Kaepernick's stats were almost identical in his wins against strong teams: New Orleans and Chicago. The Bears defense is relentless and were only able to sack the rookie once. CK had a QB rating of 133.4 in a pivotal game on the 49ers schedule. An interception in the Saints game brought his rating down to 90.6 but his own defense went out on the next possession and returned the favor with a pick 6 off a Drew Brees pass. But that's only two and a half games. Alex's resume is longer and equally solid.
In his nine games as a starter, Alex Smith was on pace for a better year statistically than last year. He's shown consistent improvement over his already impressive play. He was more than efficient completing more than 70.0% of his passes averaging over 8.0 yds per play. He'd equaled last year's 5 INTs already, but three of those came in one very off game. His rating was 104.1 which Ryan and Whisenhunt could only dream about from their starters. (Arizona Cardinals' Ryan Lindley had a 47.0 rating on Sunday ... shivers.) For months I'd considered Smith simply a game manager, but I've come to respect his game more and I've grown to believe in him as a real starter vs. a plug and play short-pass kinda guy. Yeah, he's grown on me and I want to see him get a fair shot. [Here's what some Niners think.]
So what's Jim Harbaugh thinking now?
The upcoming schedule is fairly kind with a December 16th game at Gillette Stadium against a playoffs-bound Patriots team. There's nothing Belichick likes more than showing up the young bucks so he'll bring out an even tough defensive game plan. The Niners then travel to Seattle where the home field is more than favorable to its home Seahawks. The other three games against the St. Louis Rams, Miami Dolphins and Arizona Cardinals shouldn't be cause for much concern and San Francisco should have a strong finish to the regular season. But who's better for the games that matter even more? I guess we'll have to wait and see.
Tell me what you think about Harbaugh's Choice?
Mia M. Jackson • Sideline Pass • Sports from the female perspective!
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