The Bay Area’s two NFL quarterbacks, Terrelle Pryor with the Raiders and Colin Kaepernick with the 49ers, have taken very different paths this season.
Pryor beat out Matt Flynn in training camp and it was obvious why when Flynn had to play against the Washington Redskins. Raiders GM Reggie McKenzie cut his losses by releasing Flynn this week.
Pryor has played very well, as shown again when the Raiders upset the San Diego Chargers in the late, late game on Sunday night. He has learned since he was signed as a supplemental pick in 2011, getting away from his college style, when he could win games just on his athletic ability. He has become an accurate passer and a dangerous runner, but he only runs when he can’t find a receiver and sees a running lane. He is playing under control, which his coaches doubted he could do.
Kaepernick has gone in the other direction. He followed an opening game against the Green Bay Packers when he threw for more than 400 yards with a dismal game against Seattle and subsequent games that could charitably be described as mediocre.
Part of his problem is that the 49ers are not running the “read-option” offense from which Kaepernick was effective for two good reasons: 1) They know that opposing defenses would be prepared for it this year; and 2) Coach Jim Harbaugh has had no confidence in the backup quarterback, whoever he is, as he’s shuttled quarterbacks in and out. Last year, he had a security blanket in Alex Smith, so if Kaepernick were injured, the 49ers could proceed without worry.
What’s going to happen the rest of the season?
The Raiders are a young team that is playing hard on both sides of the ball. That won’t be enough to get them a playoff berth this season and, probably, not even a winning record. But with Pryor continuing to improve and the young defense gaining confidence, I expect next season to be a breakout year for them.
The 49ers will make the playoffs, but it will be in spite of Kaepernick, not because of him. Their defense is still strong, despite injuries and what seems to be at least a season-long loss of Aldon Smith.
The 49ers’ great depth has allowed for them to make up for the losses of Smith and linebacker Patrick Willis, who should return this week. And after Sunday’s game against Arizona, another flawed opponent, they probably won’t be seriously tested until the Nov. 17 game against the New Orleans Saints.
But to get anywhere in the playoffs, they will have to get much better play from Kaepernick. Much has been made of his lack of proven wide receivers, except for Anquan Boldin, but the bigger problem is that he just locks in on one receiver, usually Boldin, and doesn’t look for another. Unlike Pryor, he hasn’t learned from his previous games and, unless he changes dramatically in the next few games, the Niners will go nowhere in the postseason.