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49ers fans were shocked this morning to read that Alex Smith has been ruled out of tonight's game against the Bears. Make no mistake: This is a HUGE game because of its playoff seeding implications. If we win the game the 49ers hop right into the driver's seat of the First Round Bye Express with the NFC's second best record. Oh, and did I mention we're talking about Monday Night Football here? Yeah, the pressure is definitely on Kaepernick.
If you listen to my podcast or follow me on Twitter (@49WZ_Oscar) you know I'm not sold on Kaepernick being the savior right now. Quite simply he is not as polished as he needs to be, which is entirely expected. He has some lows, which he needs to correct. But he also has some unquestionable highs that excite anyone with a heartbeat. Those highs and lows are due to a few keys specific to Kaepernick's play-style.
1. When pressured, Kaepernick sometimes reverts to a "one-read-and-run" mentality.
The biggest transition for any quarterback to make is the speed of the game. Kapernick is a talented runner no doubt, but he can sometimes take off too soon. If I were Chicago I might even play with a QB spy to limit Kaepernick's damage in the run game. If Kaepernick is constantly pressured he's going to feel the need to pull the ball down and run, sometimes unnecessarily. If Kaepernick can't move through his progressions effectively he makes it really easy for an elite Bears defense to play dictate terms to the offense.
2. Kaepernick doesn't protect the ball well when he runs or scrambles.
Take a look at the first picture above. As a runner he holds the ball like tucking it causes him physical pain. He's already fumbled once on a QB run against the Bills and with experienced strippers like Lance Briggs, Brian Urlacher, and Charles Tillman bearing down on him, tucking the ball becomes even more important. (There's a sentence that sounds off out of context).
In the pocket, Kaepernick doesn't keep two hands on the ball when he moves. He holds the ball low, exposing it to potential tacklers. Look at Peyton Manning when he moves in the pocket. He has two hands on the ball and holds it high to protect against fumble-inducing swats. Looking at the second picture you can see the problem clear as day. On the play pictured Kapernick was sacked and he fumbled the ball. Had Bruce Miller not jumped on the ball the Rams game ends very differently.
3. Kaepernick can sling the ball downfield despite a messy pocket.
This is the most exciting aspect of Kaep's game. In the third picture you can see Kaepernick's first completion of the 4th quarter against the Rams. Kaepernick has players falling all around him, but he climbs the pocket and slings the ball on an out route right before getting hit. I added a line to show you how far the ball travels. He releases the ball at the 18-yard line and Manningham catches it on the 38-yard line. That's a 20-yard out route thrown with precision. Earlier in the game The Kaepper threw a dart to Vernon Davis with Kendal Langford draped around his midsection.
These are the kinds of plays we rarely see Alex Smith take. Smith is adept at minimizing risk where as it seems like Kaepernick has a little more of a gambler's streak. Thanks to fellow Webzone contributor Diego Del Barco (@DiegoDelBarco) we know that 6 of the 49ers 7 turnovers have come in their 2 losses. If the Kaepernick is able to protect the ball and continue to sling the ball the 49ers will not only be on their way to a high playoff seed, but they may also be on their way into a quarterback controversy a little earlier than anticipated.