s
s
Sections
Sections
Search
Subscribe

Lowell Cohn: Colin Kaepernick needs to use his arm to beat Panthers


Colin Kaepernick had an impressive game against the Packers last Sunday and he was impressive at the end of the season, mostly against mediocre teams. He did not win the Packers game for the 49ers all by himself. The Niners' world-class defense won the game. But Kaepernick did his part and he was impressive.

It's important to define "impressive" in Kaepernick's case. He was impressive, but he was not Joe Montana impressive.

This is the essence of Joe Montana impressive. Drop back calmly. See everything there is to see. See it in a flash. Read your receivers in sequence, one two three, and throw the ball exactly where it has to go. Throw it to the receiver's numbers. Easy as pie for the receiver. Soft. Smooth. Lovely. If protection breaks down, move subtly in the pocket always keeping your eyes on the prize.

That is Joe Montana impressive.

Kaepernick does not do that kind of impressive. His passer rating against the Packers was 75.3. In most grading systems 75 is a straight "C." It's a passing grade but it's the essence of average or, if you will, mediocre. My mom used to call a "C" pedestrian.

It's unusual to think of Kaepernick as pedestrian when he's so great at running.

His greatest contribution against the Packers was his running, his legs. Running is how he impresses. He ran for 98 yards and kept drives going and, frankly, took your breath away if the savage cold had not already done that. He was that kind of impressive.

If he is that kind of impressive, why would anyone quibble or carp or complain?

Fair question. The answer requires a look at history.

When the Carolina Panthers -#8212; the 49ers' next opponent -#8212; came to San Francisco on Nov. 10, beat the 49ers in their own place, the 49ers scored nine points.

Certainly, the past does not predict the future, but it's not totally irrelevant, either. Kaepernick had a passer rating of "42." That doesn't even reach pedestrian. It's more like lying on your back in a semi-coma. My mom, an elementary school teacher, would have lectured him about his grade-point average and inspected his penmanship.

He completed only 11 passes for 91 yards -#8212; Wimp City -#8212; threw one interception, threw no touchdowns. Oh, and he got sacked six times. I don't mean to pile on, but there's more you need to know. The Niners converted 2 of 13 third downs. They scored zero points in the second half. To keep the school analogy going, that's remedial, that's stay-after-class stuff while you write 100 times "I must be a better quarterback."

You're thinking this analysis is unfair. Kaepernick is not THAT kind of quarterback, not some run-of-the-mill guy you measure by mere passing numbers.

He is so much more than that. The guy's a freaking phenomenon. Watch him run.

He certainly is a phenomenon. And anyone who saw him run away from the Packers last Sunday knows that. It's just that he hardly was phenomenal against the Panthers in November. He ran the ball four times. He gained 16 yards. That was it. He was Carson Palmer.

What was the difference for Kaepernick between the Panthers game and last Sunday's Packers game? Well, that's obvious.

The Panthers are the difference. They don't let Kaepernick run. They don't let Kaepernick be Kaepernick. They don't let him dash out of the pocket -#8212; Kaepernick running like a quarter-miler with that gorgeous high knee lift when everything breaks down.

The Packers, on the other hand, invited Kaepernick to run. They must be masochists. They never put a "spy" on Kaepernick, and when they tried to sack him, they foolishly left open lanes as wide as Highway 5 and Kaepernick cruised down the highway in fifth gear.

But the Carolina Panthers are into traffic control. They spy Kaepernick. They are so clever about it, Kaepernick sometimes can't tell who the spy is and who the decoy spy is. Lots of confusion in the Kaepernick noodle.

Kaepernick may beat the Panthers -#8212; this game will be close -#8212; but Kaepernick will not beat the Panthers with his legs, will not beat them scrambling. Forget about it.

It will come down to passing. If he beats the Panthers, he will beat them passing.

Is Colin Kaepernick a good enough passer?

This is what we know. He does not go through progressions. The Panthers' Cam Newton does. Niners offensive coordinator Greg Roman gives Kaepernick one target -#8212; say, Michael Crabtree. Everyone else is a decoy. Kaepernick drops back in the prayer mode: "Michael, please be open." If Crabtree is not open, Kaepernick does not scan the field for an alternate receiver. He gets the hell out of there and runs. Against Green Bay he ran like the wind.

Against Carolina that won't work. There will be nowhere to run. He will have to pass. If he's going to beat Carolina, he'll have to win from the pocket. The Panthers will make him into a pocket quarterback. They will make him into someone who must win with the usual skills, the conventional skills -#8212; seeing, evaluating, throwing. That's what they did to him last time. And he didn't win.

Does Kaepernick have the skills?

We will find out soon enough. Be clear about this. Sunday's game is a referendum on Kaepernick the quarterback. Is he a real quarterback or a track star who throws in spite of himself?

(For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at cohn.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn at lowell.cohn@pressdemocrat.com.)