It is take-stock time for the 49ers. As they approach Saturday's do-or-die playoff game against the Packers, it's time to answer two significant questions:
Was Jim Harbaugh correct to go with Colin Kaepernick over Alex Smith starting Nov. 19 against Chicago? And did Harbaugh handle the transition the right way?
The answers to these questions have significant implications for the Packers game.
Yes, Harbaugh was correct to delete Smith as his starting quarterback and insert Kaepernick. Many savvy football observers disagree with that assertion. All I can say is that a writer — me — is entitled to his axiom. And mine is that Kaepernick is a better quarterback than Smith, a pretty good quarterback himself.
Kaepernick runs better. The Niners can use the zone-read option with him, which means he can hand off the ball or keep it himself and run. This creates nightmares for the defense, as you have seen. He is a precise thrower in the short, medium and long range, and he consistently makes throws Smith never would attempt. The Niners have a better offense with Kaepernick.
Harbaugh showed vision when he made the change — he saw the truth. And he showed guts because many people disagreed with him. I would bet some of his own coaches disagreed and we know at least one player, Joe Staley, disagreed. I'm sure others did, too.
Harbaugh did what he thought was right and disregarded the turmoil he created. In this sense — an important sense — Harbaugh is a strong leader.
That takes us to the second question. Did he handle the transition the right way?
At his Monday news conference, I asked if he always planned to make Kaepernick the starter at some point this season, or if he decided to start Kaepernick only after Smith left the Rams game on Nov. 11 with a concussion.