Kaepernick got the Niners to the Super Bowl and Smith would not have taken them to the Super Bowl. It's just that Kaepernick has been shaky this season, has not won games through sheer heroism as most people thought he would. He was a hero last season, but the hero went away.
I always thought Harbaugh and Trent Baalke were right to choose Kaepernick over Smith. I still think they were right. This is not a dump Kaepernick column or a dump on Kaepernick column. But I'll tell you this, if Smith were the 49ers quarterback, they would have just about the same record they have now.
The 49ers are 9-4. The Chiefs are 10-3. Pretty close. Smith could manage the 49ers' offense as well as Kaepernick. Oh, let's not mess around. He could manage it better. With Smith under center, there wouldn't be all those delay-of-game penalties or the quarterback frantically calling time out with one second left on the play clock because there is so much to do and so little time to do it, and the quarterback — Kaepernick — feels his brain cells overloaded and misfiring. None of that would happen with Smith.
The issue for Harbaugh, why he chose Kaepernick over Smith, was about dynamism. Smith was not dynamic enough, was too calculating and didn't make enough big plays. Smith's analytical, conservative, managerial style was not what Harbaugh wanted. When the opportunity presented itself, Harbaugh went with Kaepernick, who has the "gunslinger" style Harbaugh craved.
It's just that Gunslinger Colin disappeared. He hung up his six-shooter and boots and saddle, gave up the whole cowboy shtick and went to business school for an MBA focusing in managerial studies, and now he's QB as manager. He's become Alex Smith without the charm.
How did this change come about?
For this you must know how the NFL works. When Gunslinger Kaepernick burst onto the scene last season in that electric game against the Bears, the league didn't have a book on him. Opponents didn't know what to do with him, with his running and that read-option razzmatazz. In the offseason, reputable sports magazines were saying the Niners' new offense would revolutionize offenses all over the NFL.
That didn't happen.
Here's what did happen. The league had a chance to study the 49ers' offense, a chance to study Kaepernick. Every team — believe me — studied the Super Bowl film. They learned what Kaepernick does well and what he doesn't do so well. But it's more than that.
They learned what plays he likes — and what plays Harbaugh likes to use with him. This season, when teams see the Niners lining up for those plays, they sometimes show defenses that can beat those plays. That forces Kaepernick to call an audible. Sometimes, that audible is what the defense wants and can defeat. Sometimes, Kaepernick doesn't look like such a gunslinger.
Defenses are not always reactive. Good defenses can force an offense away from the plays it likes to run.
Carolina did that to the 49ers. Seattle did it until Frank Gore's great, game-winning run. Defenses routinely have forced Kaepernick away from his preferred plays. Like the read-option. He almost never does that anymore.
You may sense a subtext in what I'm writing. Well, two subtexts. I'm saying Alex Smith understands defenses better than Kaepernick, would not be blocked and confused the way Kaepernick gets blocked and confused. But there's something even more important.