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In our latest Round Table, our staff was asked if San Francisco 49ers quarterback Blaine Gabbert should be benched following three weeks of play. Gabbert has completed 55.2-percent of his passes and averaged 177.3 yards, a touchdown, and an interception per game. That's an average passer rating of about 69.4.
A lot of people had hope for Blaine Gabbert to come out strong this season after his showing in 8 games last year. However, he's pretty much the same guy that he's been his entire career: inaccurate, inconsistent and unable to make all of the throws. Gabbert is the 3rd worst rated quarterback in the league, has the third worst completion percentage and is spearheading an offense that leads the league in 3 and outs.
Gabbert is consistently missing open receivers, and when he does find them, the ball is often off target. He's unwilling to push the ball down the field and he's not a threat to run like he was last year. Basically, he's playing nothing like the guy he was in 2015. You can't be boring and bad.
The alternatives aren't great, with Colin Kaepernick and Christian Ponder, but Kaepernick possesses a bigger skillset which will allow Chip Kelly to use his entire playbook. Right now, the play calls are so vanilla that it looks like a preseason game. Kaepernick may not fare better but at least we can see him be successful in a Chip Kelly offense. It'll either boost whatever trade value he has left, or it'll show what he has left in the tank. Probably both.
Chip Kelly keeps mentioning that Colin Kaepernick isn't 100 percent healthy yet. I think, if you read between the lines, this is telling you everything you need to know. Kelly is just biding his time until Kaepernick is ready, and when he is that's when a change will most likely happen. There's no way the 49ers can keep playing offense they way they are, as their passing game is really hurting the team. San Francisco is last in the NFL with 5.5 yards per passing attempt, and if you take out the 75-yarder in Week 2, that number goes to an unbelievably bad 4.7. Kelly is calling games like he's afraid to let Blaine Gabbert do anything, and that's a recipe for disaster. So I think the change will happen, eventually, but for now we just have wait and hope Gabbert can improve a bit over the next 2-3 weeks until Kaepernick is ready to go.
Stewart M. Cockrell
The short answer is No. It is hard to really judge the first three weeks because the 49ers have played Carolina and Seattle in back to back weeks. I think that Gabbert really will play until at least after the 10/6 game against Arizona simply because that will give the team time to judge if Kaepernick is ready to take over as well as give them a long week to prepare him to take on the Bills. Assuming the 49ers can go 1-1 over the next too games the season isn't out of control. Assuming the 49ers defense can stop giving up cheap easy scores, I think the 49ers can beat Dallas this weekend and we can go into the Bills game at 2-3.
That all being said, Chip Kelly isn't doing Gabbert or the team any favors in the play calling arena. Yesterday after Seattle's first score, the the team should have ran a more traditional offense to at least let the defense to have a chance to shake off being shell-shocked from such a fast score. Instead, three and out and the route was on.
The long answer is Yes! In a passing league, the 49ers have not addressed the QB position well at all. The team thought they had hit on Kaepernick and in the short term that was correct. But that clearly isn't the case anymore. Our QB situation is dire to say the least and it is going to end up costing Baalke his job. I'm a fan on winning in the trenches, but at some point we are going to have to take a QB in the 1st round just to interject some better talent into the team. After just three weeks it is painfully obvisous that we don't have a franchise quarterback on our current roster.
This one is kind of a coin-flip for me. Benching him now would be done with the notion that this season could result in meaningful December games and I'm just not feeling like that's plausible based on the first three games we've seen. Seattle and Carolina are just so much more talented and experienced than this roster that it's not really as though you can blame Chip Kelly's and Jim O'Neil's game plans, yet.
That being said, I don't really see any reason to stick with Gabbert either. He's got the look of a career-backup at this point and although he's probably a safer bet he's proving all his doubters to be right in as much as he looks too timid to be a big-time starter in the league. So if we're going with the assumption that this is just one long pre-season campaign, with the purpose of Chip finding out what he's got to work with, then nobody should be on too long of a leash that they're safe from getting benched for poor play. Blaine's play has been all kinds of poor so with that line of thinking, they should go with Kaepernick.
When you mix in the public support for him being as strong as it probably can be, that pushes me over the edge to say that yes, let's get #7 back on the field, if for no other reason than to see if he's still in the team's plans beyond this season and to throw the fans a bone who support what he's doing.
Not yet. I think we should give him until the Week 8 bye then reassess. The reasoning for this is twofold: First, Gabbert has faced three top 10 defenses in Los Angeles, Carolina, and Seattle. It wouldn't be fair to give up hope unless he plays a real stinker against Buffalo and Tampa Bay, who are below average defenses. Yes, you do need to perform well against top flight defenses in order to have success in this league, but remember, Gabbert is not our long term solution, and I don't think anyone who knows football really thought he was going to be our franchise guy...maybe surprisingly above average, but that's about it.
The second reason is the more Gabbert is out there, the less likely the chance that Kaepernick gets injured and has his guarantee kick in. Other than QB, this team needs some major upgrades at WR, TE, DB, S. We may even need a new NT depending on Williams' health next year. We could sign a Pro Bowl caliber player at any position for his cap hit. We need to get his contract off the books ASAP, even if that means he doesn't see the field at all this year.
I also think Chip deserves another year. You can't accurately judge a head coach who has this little talent to work with. Keep in mind, Chip made Nick Foles look like a Pro Bowler in Philly. The good news is that it seems Chip has a better rapport with the players here than he did in Philadelphia. We don't want to be one of these franchises like Cleveland, Jacksonville, and Buffalo that continuously fires its head coach. Continuity is such an underrated quality in good teams.
Three weeks may seem like an awfully short leash, but that's really all the time needed for Chip Kelly to asses what he has in Blaine Gabbert. I doubt Kelly believes Gabbert will improve as the season progresses, so the unknown potential of Colin Kaepernick as his starter will be more appealing then ever heading into Sundays matchup against the Cowboys.
Will he make the switch this week? I highly doubt it as a swap this early in the season would reek of desperation and a move that feels more indicative of a novice head coach.
Should he bench Gabbert? Yes. In three games, Blaine Gabbert has proven to have command of this offense, while playing as risk averse as possible. Those are solid traits for any quarterback to have, but this roster needs a starter who has the ability to be a difference-maker. Blaine Gabbert is not a difference-maker.
My concern with Gabbert is not merely the statistical data, which looks bad enough, but his clear inability to throw the ball accurately on a consistent basis. I honestly can't remember seeing an NFL quarterback miss throws as badly as some of his besides Tim Tebow, and he was quickly put out of the league because of it.
I think it speaks volumes that we have yet to see one deep pass attempt down the field to Torrey Smith in three games. Not one. We saw what Desean Jackson looked like in Chip Kelly's offense. Yet, we haven't seen one deep attempt. That doesn't add up. Also, we've seen Chip Kelly's pace get slower and slower and his playcalling become more and more conservative. I don't think that can be viewed as anything else but indicative of his lack of confidence in Gabbert. When the team went three and out on Sunday with three straight running plays, I was shocked. Who would think Chip Kelly would ever do that? I think Kelly has gotten to the point where he knows the defense is on the field too long, and is slowing the pace down knowing that he's going to go three-and out fairly regularly.
Also, Gabbert has been hesitant to keep the ball on zone read plays. That is a big part of the offense. If the defense doesn't respect that part of it, it will always be difficult for Hyde to get loose. We now Gabbert is athletic and fast, but that doesn't matter if it's not being utilized. You get the same effect as when Sam Bradford or Nick Foles was in the offense if you're not consistently threatening the defense. The zone read is natural to Kaepernick. He's very comfortable running it. Just because you're fast, doesn't mean you have the instincts and confidence to make that play work.
Finally, with the tremendous pass protection that the offensive line has been providing, it is inexcusable to not be able to make plays in the passing game. Regardless of how good your secondary is, if your pass rushers are not getting home, you always surrender plays in the passing game: unless you're playing against the 49ers. The last time we saw Colin Kaepernick play really well, he had the best offensive line in the league in front of him. Last year when we saw him play really badly, he had the worst offensive line in the league in front of him. Why not see what he looks like with a good one again?
So far, this season is unfolding much as I expected it to. I felt that the 49ers would beat the Rams on opening day, and face two really good teams on the road the following week. These were three really good defenses that they were up against, and based on our talent level on offense, the results were not really surprising. The WR corps is below average, the TEs haven't really shown much beyond a couple of explosive plays by Vance McDonald. Beyond Carlos Hyde, there really isn't much there for any of the QBs to work with.
I have always felt that Gabbert is the short term solution, and that hasn't changed. That being said, I really thought we would see a little better accuracy from him, especially over short to intermediate range passes. That simply hasn't been the case. I also hoped that we would see less passes thrown behind the line of gain on 3rd down, especially considering the solid pass protection he is being afforded. That also has not been the case. Too often, his first and only read on 3rd down appears to be the check down option. Part of that may be the aforementioned lack of talent at WR, but some of that is also Gabber not giving his WRs a chance to make the play.
Bottom line: I expected Gabbert to make it to the bye week as the 49ers starter, but honestly, if we see more of the same against Dallas, it may indeed be time for a change, sooner rather than later.
I am torn. Part of me would love to see what a little change might do for the offense because Gabbert's performances thus far have been disappointing. His play has been far too erratic this season – even worse than last season – and I am not yet convinced that he can carry the offense against any defense. While I don't believe Kaepernick to be a solution that will simply light up this struggling offense, I am curious about which Kaepernick would actually show up on the field.
Then you have his health. Kaepernick says that he is ready to go whenever the opportunity presents itself. He said that he is both physically and mentally ready to play. Chip Kelly has indicated otherwise. He said that, while Kaepernick is healthy enough to be the team's number two quarterback, he is not yet where the team wants him to be and is not physically ready to start. If that sounds confusing, it's because it is. Not only are the two contradicting each other, but Kelly is kind of contradicting himself. Apparently Kaepernick is healthy enough to play in place of a hypothetically injured Gabbert, but not ready to start a game.
If Kaepernick is not at 100-percent, then I believe Gabbert is the only option right now. Once Kaepernick is at 100-percent, it would be interesting to see what he brings to Kelly's offense. Kelly has never had a quarterback as athletic as Kaepernick leading his offense.
Regardless, I don't think either is a long-term solution for the 49ers. Bench Gabbert if he continues to struggle, but not until Kaepernick is at full strength. Once you make that change, it would be very difficult to go back and putting Kaepernick in there before he is ready would not really tell us anything. The 49ers average just 20.9 yards per drive, which is last in the league. Something needs to change.