The San Francisco 49ers, despite their struggles in the second half and overtime last week, had a chance to win the game. The game-winning throw was there for Colin Kaepernick to make, on a good play call against the defense the New York Jets ran.
What happened is representative of where he is as a quarterback now.
The Jets had a “man free blitz” called on a third-and-10, and Chris Harper was open on a quick slant. This should be an easy throw with a good possibility that Harper’s run-after-catch would have put the 49ers in field-goal position, and he had a chance to score a touchdown. You can see how open the middle of the field was. But Kaepernick’s poor ball placement prevented that. Harper stretched out for the catch instead of getting it in stride, got only 8 yards, the 49ers were stopped on a fourth-down run and the Jets won on their next possession.
Little things add up in the NFL and Kaepernick struggles with a lot of those little things, especially from the pocket.
Accuracy with ball placement is an issue. Late in the first half he had Jeremy Kerley wide open on an in-breaking route with a lot of room to run. Kaepernick threw the ball too hard and too high, and it fell incomplete. He struggles to make those throws that demand touch, pace and precise ball location.
There were other missed throws in the second half and overtime, when Kaepernick had 17 yards passing.
Kaepernick also has an issue with breaking down in the pocket when there’s no pressure. He anticipates pressure when it’s not there, and you can’t do that as an NFL quarterback. On a third-and-7 in the second quarter he briefly started to break down in the pocket in response to perceived pressure, then threw inaccurately when he tried to quickly reset.
On third-and-12 later in the second quarter he broke down and moved out of the pocket with no pressure at all, and missed that Garrett Celek was wide open on a crossing route beyond the sticks. It should have been pitch-and-catch for an easy first down. Instead, Kaepernick threw it away. Had Kaepernick stayed in the pocket – and there was no reason for him to leave the pocket – he would have had Celek for a first down.
These aren’t new issues that popped up against the Jets. Even when Kaepernick had 296 yards and three touchdowns against the Miami Dolphins in Week 12, a closer look at the tape showed there were still flaws.
Here’s one example. On an incompletion in the end zone, Kaepernick’s poor lower-body mechanics made the throw a beat late and put Vance McDonald in a position where Miami’s single high safety was a factor in the throw. Instead of planting and throwing and hitting McDonald with a timing throw, Kaepernick took an extra hop before throwing. It should have been an easy touchdown without the safety being a factor. Instead, the safety got to McDonald and knocked the ball loose.
In that game, and others, Kaepernick had a tendency to drop his eyes and read the rush when his initial read doesn’t show right away, something else an NFL quarterback can’t do. The longer Kaepernick is in the pocket the worse his vision of the field becomes. Add in very poor footwork and balance – that leads to some inaccurate passes, like we saw above in the Jets game – and we’re still not seeing Kaepernick show the necessary skills a quarterback needs to play from the pocket in the NFL.
Kaepernick can become a free agent after this season. He can opt out of his contract, or the 49ers can cut him. If he hits the free-agent market, teams will put on the tape and see a quarterback who still has serious flaws from the pocket.
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NFL analyst and NFL Films senior producer Greg Cosell watches as much NFL game film as anyone. Throughout the season, Cosell will join Shutdown Corner to share his observations on the teams, schemes and personnel from around the league.