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When trying to understand what the 49ers passing offense was in the 2013 regular season, the numbers show a team that minimized it's chances through the air and stuck to it's power running game to help move the chains. San Francisco attempted the fewest passes of any team in the NFL with 417. Considering that fact, it's no surprise they also completed the fewest passes (244) and were 30th in the league with 2979 total yards passing. The Niners converted the fewest first downs through the air with 148 but were fifth overall with 115 first downs obtained on the ground. The team ran the ball 505 times over the course of the season which was good for third most behind only the Seattle Seahawks and Buffalo Bills.
When you consider the situation the franchise was in, these numbers make sense. The 49ers were playing out the year with a quarterback who, despite his early success, had only started 10 games in his career. It was unrealistic to think that this player would not have some growing pains or that he would be the undisputed center of the offense with so little experience. San Francisco is as complete a team as there is in the league. Because of that, they are able to win games both because of and despite of their quarterback. But just how did Colin Kaepernick perform in 2013?
When looking at Kaepernick's season as a whole, it's the tale of a young quarterback going through a learning curve in the NFL. His Week 1 performance against the Green Bay Packers appeared to be an aberration and possibly set a standard he had no way of living up to in the games that followed. The 49ers offensive philosophy does not allow quarterbacks to have many games where they complete 27 passes and throw for more than 400 yards, nor is Kaepernick the type of quarterback who can do that on a consistent basis at this point in his career. For the season, Kaepernick attempted 27 or more passes in just nine of his 16 games. He only completed or more 20 throws in two games all season (the previously mentioned Week 1 and Week 17).
In the contests that followed Green Bay, the 49ers passing offense lost it's way. In games 2-10, Kaepernick would only complete 53.7 percent of his passes and average a league low 154 yards passing a game. He would throw seven of his eight interceptions on the season during this span and only strike gold on eight touchdown passes. Most importantly, the 49ers record in those nine games was a mere 5-4. Whether it was Kaepernick not seeing the whole field, a lack of receiving options, the questionable play calling of offensive coordinator Greg Roman, or a mix of it all, the Niners needed to make adjustments.
Games 11-16 would show the signs that Kaepernick and company were beginning to see the light of day. In 2013's final six matchups, Kaepernick started to look more comfortable and it showed in the numbers and in the win column. Kaepernick's completion percentage in the six games jumped to 61.8 percent and his yards per game to 232. He threw 10 touchdown passes and only one interception as the 49ers finished the season on a 6-0 run. There is no doubt that the return of Michael Crabtree in Week 13 helped open things up for the offense, but Kaepernick was still the one who needed to pull the trigger on it all and he did that.
For the season, the numbers ended up looking impressive and possibly better than the quarterback actually performed for much of the year. Kaepernick threw for 3197 yards and 21 touchdown passes. In addition to that, he ran for 524 yards and four more scores. He only turned the ball over 12 times all seasons (eight interceptions and four fumbles). The most important stat, however, was that his team finished 12-4.
Moving forward, there is definitely room for improvement as there generally is with any inexperienced quarterback. Kaepernick still lacks pocket presence at times and will look to run if his first read is not there instead of going through his progressions. An example of Kaepernick's tendency to lock onto one receiver is the fact that two players (Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis) accounted for 2029 of his 3197 passing yards and 20 of his 21 touchdown passes. Crabtree has alleviated that some, but wide receivers other than Boldin (and later Crabtree) were virtually non existent all season accounting for only 29 catches. There is also the issue of far too many drives stalling, forcing a field goal attempt. That may have more to do with the play selection than Kaepernick himself though.
While the 2013 regular season has finished it's final chapter, the book on Colin Kaepernick is far from complete. There were enough high points to think that the team has found it's franchise quarterback for the foreseeable future, although it may not have come with the prolific statistical outputs some assumed it would. Regardless, the 49ers are right where they want to be. In the playoffs with a chance to make another run at the franchise's sixth title with a starter behind center that looks to be intact for the foreseeable future.