After yesterday’s 49ers game, I sat at work pondering what direction this team is going. Despite being 8-2-1, the team may look great with the record but their quarterback situation still has me confused.
Granted, winning solves everything and I am pretty sure coach Jim Harbaugh has that all figured out in his head what to do with it, but is the answer so obvious that we are trying to ignore it?
If you saw the game yesterday, you saw Alex Smith with his helmet on essentially throughout the entire game. Smith stood on the sidelines ready to enter. It was clear that he was physically ready to play. And logic suggests that if your starting quarterback is healthy, you play him. That was the case but Harbaugh decided to give backup Colin Kaepernick another start. Now does that mean Kaepernick is #1 on the depth chart?
It’s a hard situation to figure out. Smith never lost his starting job to due to ineffective play. He was hurt and when he was healthy again, it’s assumed he would resume his position as the starter. But Harbaugh saw something that he liked in Kaepernick and started him. Was it the fact that Smith’s contract was so pedestrian that benching him wouldn’t hurt the team financially?
Could it be that Harbaugh finally had his opportunity to play the draft pick he hand-selected last year? Or was this Harbaugh realizing that Smith has taken the team as far as he could and it was time to turn to Kaepernick for the next level?
One thing to consider is the statistics. As you can see by the graphics, both quarterbacks are playing at a high level. Smith is more efficient but Kaepernick brings more offensive explosion. We know what we can get from Smith. Kaepernick is the wild card.
Either way, the 49ers are in a good position to win. Except Harbaugh has now put the team in a situation that only one way is the option: sticking with Kaepernick.
The message was made loud and clear when Harbaugh gave Kaepernick the start Sunday. It was a sign that he was committed to this new direction. Logic would suggest that Smith should have started. His last game against the Saints (that great playoff game) proved he can hang with this team. His experience and 20 wins in less than two seasons was enough reason to start him.
Yet Harbaugh still went with the inexperienced quarterback and stuck with him after a near disaster first half. There’s no way he turns back to Smith. Not now.
What Harbaugh has now put himself in is a situation where a flip flop will only hurt the team. There has never been a situation where an undecided quarterback dilemma was still in play this late into the season. Harbaugh knows now that he has to name one quarterback the starter the rest of the way. It would be smart to go with Smith, but now after two missed starts (and two wins), how can Harbaugh say no to Kaepernick?
I still think Smith is a quarterback that can lead the team back to where they were last year. Can Kaepernick get them over the top? I am not sure. But apparently Harbaugh is sure enough to put himself in a situation where Kaepernick is the only answer.
Going back to Smith could still happen. In fact, that’s what I hope happens. But that opportunity left when Harbaugh told Kaepernick to start this weekend. Harbaugh has apparently shown that he can praise Smith for so long before his real intentions of going with Kaepernick would show himself. Harbaugh was just waiting for that opportunity to arise.
So now we enter Week 13 with Harbaugh still saying he won’t name the starter going forward. But these past two weeks have said enough. The coach likes Smith, but not as much now as he did before. Harbaugh has thrown all logic out the window and now is ready to stick with his pet project Kaepernick from here on out.
One thing we can’t doubt is Harbaugh’s ways of operating. Feelings will get hurt and lies will be told. But the coach knows what it takes to win. Kaepernick, in his eyes, gets him those wins while Smith might be able to do the same. That’s why he started Kaepernick Sunday. That’s why he’s put the team in position to run with Kaepernick for the rest of the year.
Right move? Wrong move? Right now, Harbaugh just sees it as the winning move and that’s the direction the 49ers are going now. It looks like it’s the point of no return for the 49ers.