In the 49ers’ season opener, Colin Kaepernick threw for more than 400 yards. In the second game, he was totally lost, throwing three interceptions and unable to get the Niners into the end zone.
Which is the real Kaepernick? Niners fans naturally hope the first example is the real thing. I think the second game is more indicative of what will happen this season.
Kaepernick is very talented physically, but he has shown that he can panic when things are not going well. Even in that first game, throwing against a Green Bay secondary that had two starters out, there were plays on which he was truly confused by what the Packers were doing on defense.
When he replaced Alex Smith as quarterback last season, Kaepernick had games where he dazzled opponents who could not keep up with his speed when he ran nor stop his passes to Michael Crabtree, Mario Manningham and Vernon Davis.
He also had games where he was obviously baffled by the defense. One of them was in the Super Bowl. Niners fans like to think of that as a game their team nearly won but, in fact, the Ravens were on their way to a blowout win when the power went out. During that unscheduled break, the older Ravens players obviously stiffened up and didn’t play well the rest of the game. But when the game was on the line at the end, they realized Kaepernick would be going to Crabtree so they blanketed him and forced three straight incompletions to win the game.
The 49ers’ opponents this year have all been studying the videos from their games last year to devise ways of stopping Kaepernick. None will be as successful as the Seahawks who have the best overall defense in the league and an enormous advantage in their noisy home stadium. But the remaining teams, including the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday at Candlestick, will be playing Kaepernick and the 49ers much tougher than last year.
The 49ers’ offensive problems are complicated by the fact that they’ve been unable to get their running game going. Last Sunday, the Seahawks put eight men in the box but a more significant number for the Niners is 30 — Frank Gore’s age. That’s a definite sell-by date for an NFL running back, even one who has been as good as Gore. Until LaMichael James is fully recovered from a knee injury, they don’t have a breakaway threat to the outside.
They still have a stout defense, though lack of defensive line depth is a problem, and I think they have more than enough to beat the Colts, who are really an average team with an exceptional quarterback in Andrew Luck.
But the future does not look bright for the 49ers. The NFC West, once a pushover, has become very strong. Seattle seems to be the top team in the division, and both the Arizona Cardinals and St. Louis Rams are much stronger — and the Rams played the 49ers very tough last year. Every divisional game will be a real battle.
So, their season will basically depend on whether Kaepernick can handle the mental pressure. Frankly, I don’t think he will.