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On Torrey Smith's weekly appearance on KNBR's Murph and Mac Show on Wednesday, he discussed the 45-16 loss to the Buffalo Bills. His comments about quarterback Colin Kaepernick's performance in his first start provided some valuable insight to Kaepernick, and what we might expect going forward from both Smith and Kaepernick in this offense.
"Before, it's been times I've been open, and the ball was gone before it got to my part in the progression," Smith explained. "Actually, [in the Buffalo game] the majority of the passes that I caught, I wasn't really the first read. So, he just went through and the ball happened to come to me this week which is always exciting to feel like you can get a look."
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One of the biggest criticisms of Kaepernick's game is the perception that he locks in on one receiver too often and can't read a defense. I've always believed that it's hard to know how well a quarterback is reading a defense when we don't know what he's supposed to be reading and what the proper progression is on a particular play.
Considering Smith's explanation that he wasn't the primary receiver on most plays when he was targeted, we can assume one of two things: Kaepernick is getting through his progressions well and doing a good job of identifying the open man, or he is strictly looking for the big play, and maybe missing some open receivers in the process on shorter routes.
I think it's very reasonable to assume the former: that Kaepernick is doing a good job in Chip Kelly's offense of getting through his progressions and finding the open man. This seems to be the case based on the fact that none of the passes to Smith were forced into coverages where the ball shouldn't be thrown. The only pass that was forced into a bad spot was the final throw of the game on 4th down, which was a desperation play when the game had long been decided. Other than that, all of his passes to Smith were in situations where they had Smith either one-on-one against a defender, or open in a hole in a zone defense.
Aside from the solid decision making, there were some obvious inconsistencies with Kaepernick's accuracy, especially in the second half. During the telecast, there was a lot of discussion about how severe the wind was in that game, and even though Kaepernick didn't use it as an excuse when discussing it, Kelly addressed it in a little bit more detail in his Thursday press conference.
"One of the things that's difficult in grading Colin just from the first game that he played in Buffalo…a lot of that had to do with the weather," Kelly explained. "Even the long throw to Torrey…he was afraid, I think, we were going with the wind, he was afraid if he let that thing go, how open Torrey was, we get nothing out of it so I think he babied that throw a little bit. There was a distinct wind and difference between going one way and going the other way...Hopefully, back here in the friendly confines of Levi, we'll be in a little bit better situation, little bit better weather in terms of us throwing the football."
Most observers of Kaepernick's return performance were impressed by the fact that, for the most part, he stayed in the pocket throughout the day and tried to make plays with his arm when the protection was there, but still made big plays with his legs when they were necessary. Now, Smith's comments speak even more to the fact that he was playing the position the right way from the mental standpoint, but was just unable to make the throws consistently that he needed to make.
It will be interesting to see how he performs Sunday with the pressure of the first game behind him, and without having to deal with a hostile road environment. Game #2 for Kaepernick should provide more definitive answers regarding how much of his inconsistency was rust, how much was the weather, and how much was simply inaccuracy.