Why I Won’t Blame Kaepernick

Nov 12, 2013 at 11:17 AM42


What did you think of the Niners' first flight?

Yes, it was bad. Catastrophic, in fact. Everything had been nearly perfect. We were hot, rested, and healthy at last. The Panthers were on a roll of their own, but there was just no way that we'd stop here. After winning all those games with one hand tied behind our back, now was the time—to become the team we're supposed to be.

Instead, of course, we delivered our very worst game of the year. And everything is now in doubt.

As we've discussed, to beat good teams, you need to pass. With Mario Manningham coming back, we were finally supposed to be able to do so. Yet, instead, the roof caved in.

46 net passing yards: the fewest since Alex Smith's first start, more than eight years ago. Think about that for a second. Think of who we've seen since then. Shaun Hill, J.T. O'Sullivan, Chris Weinke. Jim Hostler, Jimmy Raye, Mike Johnson. And, of course, several years of Smith himself. Yet not once, in all that time, was our passing-game as bad as this.

Oh, wait. Isn't there another name that should be on that list?

Ah, yes. The immortal Trent Dilfer.

I know, I know. Dilfer now works at ESPN, where Everyone Spouts Predictable Nonsense. Still, as infuriating as our passing-game was, Dilfer's "expert analysis" was 10 times worse.

According to Dilfer, when Colin Kaepernick's first read is covered, he becomes "remedial."

Before I reacted, I wanted to make sure that I understood what Dilfer had said. "Remedial," like most words, has various meanings. Fairly certain that Dilfer is not an avid reader of the OED, I skipped the conventional sources and went straight to the "Urban Dictionary," which, though not written in the King's English, seemed to be precisely on point.

"[A] synonym for stupid[;] pointing out [that] someone is remedial rather than callin [sic] them stupid ensures [that] you look anything but remedial." Or, perhaps more bluntly: "remedial means you retarded [sic]."

And there you have it. To commoners like you and me, the issue might seem complicated, but that's just because we're not "experts" like Dilfer. Dilfer knows what our problem is, and actually it couldn't be simpler: when Kaepernick's first read is covered, he becomes stupid.

Enough now. Enough of this.

Dilfer's "analysis" was not only insulting—though it was certainly that—but of course it was also short-sighted and wrong. Off the top of my head, I can recall a touchdown pass that Kaepernick threw to his third read. I remember it because it was memorable, and what made it memorable was that he threw it during his very first start. Isn't it amazing, we all marveled, that such a young kid can be so brilliant?

So Dilfer's theory is that Kaepernick, though brilliant before, is stupid now.

Naturally, that's preposterous. But I'll acknowledge this much: you can certainly seem like a one-read QB, if you never have time to reach your second.

At pass-blocking, this offensive line has always been questionable—remember the "We Don't Suck" campaign?—but its showing on Sunday was simply absurd. Kaepernick was sacked six times, four of which came without a blitz, and he was pressured on virtually every play. Perhaps he could've better avoided the pressure, but that's a very different criticism than the one that Dilfer had the audacity to make. For Dilfer to watch the Panthers' assault, and assert that Kaepernick just needed to hang in there and go through his progressions—it simply defies belief.

But Dilfer did more than ignore the obvious. He compounded that ignorance with a dubious assumption: if Kaepernick had gone through his progressions, even with all the time in the world, he would've found an open man. An extremely dubious assumption indeed.

Though he was certainly rusty, Manningham helped; in fact, he was our leading receiver. But his arrival was countervailed by the prompt departure of Vernon Davis. Without Davis (or any wideout) to take the lid off the D, the passing-game had no room to breathe. One press-box reporter saw nobody open from halftime on. But come on, Kaep: just go through those progressions, man!

Then again, it isn't just the receivers' fault. I know we don't have Rice and Owens out there, but still....

If Jim Harbaugh's so smart, why can't he get anyone open?

Now that the great Bill Walsh is gone, Sam Wyche is perhaps the foremost authority on the original concepts of the West Coast Offense. In Walsh's first years with the Niners, Wyche was his top offensive assistant. Wyche was there to watch each step, as a towering genius invented fire.

A couple of years ago, Wyche was asked to describe Walsh's essential vision, and specifically why it made for such successful quarterbacks. Here's what he said: "Quarterbacks love it because of the design of the routes; someone should always be open. You create a triangle downfield with three receivers. You're controlling linebackers with underneath receivers and as soon as the deep guys are covered, the short routes are open. When the defense drops down to cover the underneath stuff, you stretch the field. The defense responds to you and it's like an accordion."

Upon his arrival, Harbaugh promised to "install the West Coast Offense in San Francisco," thus returning the light to the darkness. Early on, when Harbaugh's offense looked nothing like it, he explained that "the West Coast is a big, big system. It can encompass the talents of your players to be used in a variety of ways." That explanation was met with some doubts, but those doubts were overwhelmed by 2012's read-option explosion. Now, though, we're back where we started.

On Sunday, that wasn't the West Coast Offense. Absolutely no way at all. A "triangle downfield"? "Underneath receivers" and "deep guys"? An "accordion"?! There were none of the above. And there were virtually none of those other famous hallmarks: the slants, the quick outs, the three-step drops. Instead Kaepernick was sent on deep drops time and again, looking for receivers left on their own to navigate a crowded secondary, all while the rush bore relentlessly down.

The West Coast Offense is genius. That offense on Sunday? Now that was "remedial."

Predictably, some observers have suggested that Harbaugh should've stuck with Smith, the supposedly "efficient" passer whose efficiency rating is lower than Kaepernick's. Some others have even likened Kaepernick to Tim Tebow, who flashed in the pan before being unofficially retired. All of this is sheer insanity. Kaepernick is still what he was: the perfect blend of brains, guts, and utterly jaw-dropping physical skill. After his second start, I called him the league's most spectacular young QB. After his tenth, I wrote that I wouldn't trade him for anyone else. Say what you will—and I know that you will—but both declarations are still true today.

Yes, it was bad. Catastrophic, in fact. Last week it looked like we'd roll past Seattle and go on to the end. Now the end is completely in doubt. The Niners have some serious problems, in places we'd never begun to suspect.

But make no mistake. Colin Kaepernick isn't one.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


  • sam
    Kap will be a great QB if he learns how to read defenses and stand tall in the pocket and go through his progressions and hit the open man instead of telegraphing his passes and running after the first read. He also points to the receiver intended with the other hand, it is like telling the DB I am throwing toward you. He needs to watch a lot of Brady and Peyton tapes and learn how they stand in the pocket and move a little to avoid sacks and still find the open receiver.
    Jan 30, 2014 at 7:52 PM
  • niner
    not rocket science here. we have tons of probowlers but we are last in passing efficiency, red zone, and third downs over the past 3 years. The rules are clearly slanted toward passing. no team has won leading the league in rushing since emmitt smith, no team has won a super bowl after being last in passing to my knowledge. Kap doesnt throw to open rbs. we lost all of our last 3 games of the season with pitiful throws. it's time the coaches take some responsibility!
    Jan 30, 2014 at 3:00 PM
  • Andy P
    How about blaming the Defense. 4th and 7, Seahawks score a touchdown. If that doesn't happen, the second half is a different game.
    Jan 21, 2014 at 9:48 AM
  • Mike S
    WTF?? I loved Roman when he got here. Still has potential to grow I believe. I.E. learn & get creative with the PASSING GAME! I've never heard of ANY NFL OC who ONLY OR PRIMARILY RUNS THE RUSHING PLAYS. You have to be COMPLETE. Blows my mind that an NFL OC focuses only on HALF the game. Unbelievable! We're lacking bigtime in having a more explosive creative passing game! Running is needed & is complementary esp in closing games. This is a PASSING LEAGUE & you have to be very good to elite here to be a champion & win SB's!! Memo to Roman: If you want to be an NFL top-notch OC start studying, developing, & putting your focus on learning the passing game, scheming, & creating effective routes to attack the weaknesses of defenses. Really it's unbelievable & I can't understand why you focus on only half the Offense. It's unheard of!
    Nov 24, 2013 at 9:32 AM
  • Paul
    Kaepernick can be crazy explosive. I feel like they are forcing him to stay in the pocket. I don't feel like keeping Smith was the answer (he is too limited). I don't feel like the 49ers' receivers are this weak. The QB has to shoulder a lot of the blame. Manning rarely gets sacked and can barely move. Russell Wilson is smaller and weaker, but escapes the rush and throws plenty of long passes. The defense has been very good lately. Harbaugh has got to calm down (two bad challenges, etc.) and take a note from his brother.
    Nov 18, 2013 at 5:30 PM
  • Danny
    This article is hard to take seriously in hindsight. But another problem us fans are having is where to place blame. We know our defense is good, but other than that, we're too divided and it ends up being a mixture of injuries, coaches, and Kap. I think Kap is very much to blame, as I was one of the people who felt he was overrated. I simply do not understand the chunk of 49er fans so willing to right his wrongs.
    Nov 18, 2013 at 1:27 AM
  • Chanto
    Jeff, after today's performance you should change your article's title and seriously criticize kaepernick for his terrible showing. I remember you crushing Alex Smith for not throwing more than 150 yards per game... Take a look at kaepernick's stats this season, especially these last games, they suck. You will very likely blame the receivers, Alex Smith had no better, 80 percent of the teams have no better receivers. Why dont you, a good writer and I think a good analyst as well, put as much blame and pressure on Colin as you did with Alex? The niners' offense is a shame, starting with Roman and Harbaugh, poor play calling, horrendous challenges, but kaepernick has a good part of the blame. Playoffs are on the line.
    Nov 17, 2013 at 5:13 PM
  • Darren
    Kaepernick needs to stop 'Kaepernicking' and do more quarterbacking as there's nothing worse than a prima donna QB that showboats first, then tries to be something he's not. How can any writer suggest that 200 yards for a QB is better than the 300, 400, or even close to 500 yard passer? You seem to indicate that anybody who throws beyond 300 yards is not a good QB. Well I guess Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Russell Wilson or other QBs must be suspect and need to be like Kap. I can assure you that Sunday Night and Monday Night football would be a flop if a QB couldn't be allowed to lead his team. The 49ers to me handcuff their own team. Kap is not looking for WR 2, 3, or 4, or even his double TE set. QBs like Peyton Manning DO NOT rely on one WR or one TE to win the ball game. The 49ers lack playing as an offensive team. The offense doesn't play off the team effort on defense to stop a QB, to stop a RB, stop a WR. I'm not ready to embrace CK as the future and no, I'm not the 'whining Alex Smith' fan. I know who and what a QB is and the ones we had were a lot better than Kaepernick though they never kissed their bicep or did Hulk Hogan wannabe or Kurt Angle wannabe posing.
    Nov 16, 2013 at 3:01 PM
  • Shane
    That's right! I knew I heard that before. Thank you for the info! It's true that the "supervisors", if you will, are always the ones ultimately responsible but I just find it interesting that no one ever brings this up, especially since if Roman does leave, one of these guys would be a potential successor at OC. That cld be a big deal. Can't wait for Sunday! Thanks again Jeff.
    Nov 15, 2013 at 8:47 AM
  • Shane
    Thanks Jeff, I thought it was an interesting supplement to your larger point!....... I feel like I have overheard this before, but is there any truth in Roman creating the run-game plan and Chryst being the guy who heads the passing attack? I feel like Ive heard that before.
    Nov 14, 2013 at 8:52 PM
    Response: Actually, the report I've read is that Roman is the running-game coordinator and John Morton (the WR coach) is the passing-game coordinator, while Chryst is the red-zone coordinator. (Scott Tolzien said so, for what it's worth.) So perhaps Morton should be taking more heat. Then again, Roman's above Morton, and Harbaugh's above Roman, so ultimately they're more responsible.
  • mbniner
    Great offensive coordinators can scheme to get a player open anytime they want, see Bill Walsh. I have not seen this on a consistent basis with Roman. He is really good at the running game but is woefully over his head designing an NFL passing attack. Kaep needs coaching schemes helping him out in this early stage of his career. I don't see it happening. Also, last year he could come to the sideline after a series and Alex would tell him what he saw and give him advice. Who is that guy this year? It has to be a coach.
    Nov 13, 2013 at 5:24 PM
  • Shane
    Look at these QB numbers: 9/15 151 1TD/2INTs, 6/11 51 0/0, 23/41 222 1/2, 25/36 163 1/0. Not a guy u wld hang on to right? oh wait, that's Joe Montana's first year starting! 1988, a SB year, Montana in the prime of his career goes on a SIX game stretch of 1 TD and 3 picks with some of the best WRs in the game. Im not saying Kap is Joe or ever will be but lets not miss the bigger point, QBs struggle. I know the game's different, passing league, rules, blah blah, not the point. You can do this with any great QB, I just picked a 9er great. The problem is with radio, internet, ESPN, etc we redefine a guy's career on a week to week basis. It used to be a guy actually got a chance to develop. Now, Joe Montana struggles in his first starting season, gets called a bum and he's cut. The overall point is there is a lot of football to be played, we have a young QB who is 6-3 and had some ups and downs in his first starting season, let's not just jump ship on him yet. Just because he has a game like he did against GB doesn't make him Joe Cool, just like the panthers game doesn't make him Timmy T. Lets not speak too quickly and look as foolish as Dilfer!
    Nov 13, 2013 at 4:53 PM
    Response: Great work, Shane.
  • ttime
    If we did not witness Kaep balling as he did last year, then some of the arguments suggesting that he does not go through his reads or can't read defenses would have some credibility. But, we witnessed it. This suggests that the changes which have occurred from last year to this year are the reasons why he has looked as terrible as he has. The front office and coaching staff must be ultimately responsible. McDonald is NOTHING like Walker and it appears as though he is being asked to do some of the same things. Frankly, I don't see McDonald's skill set as much different than what they already had with Celek, and the staff had options to acquire a TE whose skills more closely matched those lost with Walker's departure. It not only chose not to do so, but spent a 2nd round pick to acquire McDonald. Getting a level of play expected from a 2nd round draft choice has not been automatic. The same applies to James who too was a 2nd round selection. He has a skill set that simply has not been incorporated into this offense. Why spend those valuable picks on players who the coaches can't coach is the ultimate question.
    Nov 13, 2013 at 1:49 PM
  • Shane
    BTW Dilfer is an ass-clown. I still have the sportscenter on my DVR of him talking about how Kaep will be in the MVP running and take this league by storm after the GB game. Now the guy cant get past his first read? Trent Dilfer=classic prisoner of the moment.
    Nov 13, 2013 at 12:32 PM
  • Shane
    Great article Jeff. First off mbniner, you echoed my exact thought. That's what makes this article so good. This offensive system sucks. Roman is simply not calling plays or designing plays that are getting ppl open. This looks nothing like the WCO. He needs to stick to the running game. Im sick of hearing how we don't have enough talent at WR. We are dead last in passing! That means there are a lot of other teams doing a lot more with less. I haven't watched all of the coaches film yet but I refuse to believe its just as simple as these WRs suck. There is a great article on ESPN that talks about Kaeps numbers with and without Davis. its embarrassing! one example: his QBR goes from like 85 to low 40s. NO one player shld make that much of a difference. Baldwin might be an underachiever but he caught 20 balls last year with a 16.3 avg on a 2-14 team with no QB. but he cant crack this lineup of "awful" WRs?? I agree Jeff, there is a lot of blame to go around here but the first place to look is not Kaep. a guy doesn't just go from looking great to cant complete a pass without VD overnight.
    Nov 13, 2013 at 12:29 PM
  • Pmyster
    Another note is why dont the coaches exploit match-ups or weakness in D's at times. More timing pass plays to receivers would be good. Sort of understand what the defense is giving you. Install more curl patterns, sort of what Cam Newton did to win the game. If we connect on a few of those, game over.
    Nov 13, 2013 at 11:57 AM
  • Gonzola
    Excellent article Jeff. Could not have said it better... Go Niners! Keep the faith.
    Nov 13, 2013 at 9:37 AM
  • Dallas Niner Fan
    I totally agree with you Jeff. Good Article. I think another thing that is overlooked is that Kap has lost both of his major weapons. In two of our losses no Vernon Davis, and no Crabtree all season long. We also need to remember that Kap does not have a lot of starts under his belt, but he threw for over 400 yards in the first game of the season, so we know he has it in him.
    Nov 13, 2013 at 8:34 AM
  • Rodge
    Well, the recipe to throw Kap off is press man coverage with 1 safety and a spy. Seattle, Carolina, and Indy all did this defensively for the most part, and Kap seemed "off" in all those games. If Roman can't scheme around that coverage we're screwed. In these 3 extremely poor games played this year, we simply could not move the ball consistently, as that defensive look tests Kap to make a big play downfield and requires time to develop. There's no WR target to get open for that deep ball, and our O line isn't giving him enough time to make those types of plays. Roman needs a totally new passing scheme to counter that D as the blueprint is now out.
    Nov 12, 2013 at 11:53 PM
  • mbniner
    As I have reminded people many times before, Roman under Harbaugh at Stanford only designed the running offense. He was exceptional at it. But another assistant coach designed the passing offense. This shows a distrust of Roman's ability to design passing schemes. I think that what we have seen over the past three years is a lack of creativity in the passing game. I was really hoping that another team would hire Roman as their coach after last season. We need someone with a creative mind to compete in the high-powered passing game which is today's NFL.
    Nov 12, 2013 at 8:29 PM
    Response: I think I've come to agree with this.
  • Lucky Phil
    Ok, I'm back. We all know of the issues we have at WR, Roman's failure at developing a passing game. However, the overwhelming problem for this team from the front office, coaching staff, and players to the fans is we believe this is the best team in football. And instead of going on the field and proving it like we have needed to do in the past, this team feels they are the favorites to win every week. And that breeds complacency and we are seeing that with the GM and the coaching staff. They believe their formula works...it doesn't. We haven't proven anything. Every season is a new year and the fans should not call this a Super Bowl team until they earn it. We have had a very soft schedule this year. A 6-3 record does not mean we are the elite of the NFL. Far from it. We need to be realistic: unless Roman discovers a way to revitalize the passing game we are not going far in the playoffs. We have given Baalke a free pass since his first draft. His second yr. was abysmal. And since he failed miserably drafting a WR that yr. he was afraid to pull the trigger to draft a WR this year until Patton (last WR of any value, fell to late in the 4th rd). The fans' expectation and also the front office's that once Crabtree returns to the field the passing game will return is naive. This is another one of the big reasons this team has failed to improve this year. Instead of Baalke being proactive and making a trade early in the season to get Gordon from the Browns he waited and missed the opportunity. Crabtree is not the answer! Even if he comes back fully healthy. Here's why. We need a receiver that stretches the field, we know Crabtree doesn't do that. We know VD is the only player with the speed to stretch a D. Boldin was at his best when paired with a WR like Fitzgerald and T. Smith, two receivers that go deep. Crabtree is not that player and he doesn't complement the players we have. Unfortunately, the team and fans' expectations that when we get all these injured players back this year we will miraculously become a SB team are unrealistic.
    Nov 12, 2013 at 7:31 PM
  • Monsterniner
    Oh come on Jeff, I always enjoy your columns but this one was absurd. When a QB throws for 46 net yards the problem in that game was the QB, as simple as that. We can blame Greg Roman for his play calling that hasn't been the best in pass plays and we can blame the O-line all that we want but the reality is that Kaepernick hasn't been anything special this year. His footwork is horrendous (this has to do with Harbaugh though), his accuracy is below average, and when he runs for his life he never never never looks down the field like Russell Wilson does. We must admit it, Kaepernick is an incredible athlete but he is way far from being the QB that we all thought he was.
    Nov 12, 2013 at 5:44 PM
  • Lucky Phil
    Ok, Whose ass am I going to put my foot up this year? Whose ass is it gonna be? That's What I Want To Know! Harbaugh? Roman? Baalke? Which one of these men is gonna step up, bend over, and take responsibility for this! We started this year with 10 receivers fighting for 6 spots. And we have one with more than 10 catches this year. What The F#$K! Baalke, I will personally put my foot in your ass if next yr we have another group of guys as useless as this group. And Harbaugh at the end of the year, after we lose the first game of the playoffs, I don't want to hear a lot of "Harbaughisms." Just answer a f@%#ing question without "First and foremost I'm going to use a lot of words and say absolutely nothing of any importance," and when things go to crap, "I have nothing to add in this particular situation". I'll have more to say after I empty my bowels.
    Nov 12, 2013 at 4:59 PM
  • Sreese
    I say it EVERY Sunday Jeff, I scream it, I yell it at the TV!! WHY DO WE NOT THROW THE QUICK SLANTS?!!! It is actually the easiest damn pass to get yardage on, especially on first down! Rather then running Gore right up the middle on every first down (which every D knows is coming)...throw the quick slant for about 6 or 7 yards! Puts us in 2nd and 3 or 4 and THEN you can run Gore or playfake...like WTH?? I hate sounding like a Monday morning QB, but seriously...DEAD LAST IN PASSING?? I mean that includes Jacksonville!!!
    Nov 12, 2013 at 3:49 PM
  • Sash R
    I find it kind of funny that when A Smith was a Niner it was always his fault when there was a game played like this...now enter C Kaepernick and it's the coaching staff's fault...
    Nov 12, 2013 at 2:05 PM
  • charles
    nice article... but I do not agree that Kaepernick is the answer at qb, he is overrated and believes his own hype.
    Nov 12, 2013 at 1:58 PM
  • JT
    Interesting take. I have never been high on Kaep. My biggest concern was what would happen when teams figured this kid out. Well, teams have figured out how to stop... slow down the read option and Kaep has suffered ever since. Look at the teams we have faced this season so far. When faced with a strong defense, he melts. I would not go as far as Dilfer's comments though I don't think he meant stupid or retarded. I don't think Dilfer reads the urban dictionary. Bottom line, I find it comical how when Alex Smith was here and got no protection from his offensive line and his receivers were not getting open, he was lambasted and ridiculed but when the same happens to Kaep, it is all the offensive line and the receivers' fault. Imagine that...
    Nov 12, 2013 at 1:36 PM
    Response: Just speaking for myself here, but I think the record would show that I never blamed Smith for the lousiness of his teammates and coaches; I was more critical of our last head-coach than I ever was of Smith himself. My only serious beef with Smith was his unwillingness to throw the ball down the field, and that was definitely his fault; even this year, at nine-and-oh, Smith's deep-throw percentage ranks an amazing 41st out of 43.
  • Paul A.
    Jeff, So what do we have now? The coaching sucks; strange, I thought Mr. Harbaugh was the 9ers' savior, and make no mistake about it, it is Harbaugh not anyone on HIS staff. How about this, Kaepernick is not quite ready to lead this team to a SB victory. He now has a body of work, albeit small, that illustrates that point. I do know this, the window does not stay open for long!
    Nov 12, 2013 at 1:27 PM
  • Nick S.
    "Everyone Spouts Predictable Nonsense" - Gonna have to steal that. Thank you Jeff.
    Nov 12, 2013 at 12:58 PM
  • Andre
    I blame Greg Roman for not being prepared for this game and terrible play calling. It is disturbing that after 2 years the pass offense personnel and play calling is in this bad a shape. There are no screens, safety-net passing plays, rollouts, passes to backs or short quick passes to tight ends. Not running for the touchdown on 4th and one was as bad as calling a passing play on the goal line in the Super Bowl. But Kaepernick is playing terribly, holding the ball too long, not reading the defense well, focusing on only the initial read. Alex Smith was bad as well, as the Chiefs will soon find out when they require him to win a game, but I'm not sure Kaepernick is the answer and unfortunately after this year no team will take Greg Roman away from us.
    Nov 12, 2013 at 12:45 PM

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