Week 3 Quick Reads
by Vincent Verhei
By this point in his career, Colin Kaepernick should be peaking. He was drafted in 2011, the same year as Cam Newton and Andy Dalton, who between them have led the Panthers and Bengals to a combined 6-0 record with 13 touchdowns and only three interceptions. Kaepernick and the 49ers, meanwhile, sit at 1-2 with two touchdown passes and four picks.
It's an interesting comparison, because Newton and Dalton were both starters in Week 1 of their rookie seasons and have missed only two starts between them since, while Kaepernick spent a year and a half on the bench in San Francisco. He took over for Alex Smith in the middle of 2012 and took the world by storm, coming within a pair of failed red-zone drives of winning one Super Bowl and playing in another, finishing in the top 10 in DVOA both years. He was just mediocre in 2014 on an 8-8 49ers team, though, and now finds himself playing some of the worst football of his career. We could write that off as a small sample size fluke -- after all, it has only been three games. Unfortunately for Kaepernick, though, that performance looks less like a fluke and more like a natural progression. Kaepernick's passing DVOA was 25.8% in his first year as a starter, but has fallen every year since then, to 16.6% in 2013, -8.4% in 2014, and -36.8% through three games of 2015 (going into the Kansas City-Green Bay Monday nighter).
Kaepernick's statistical decline is evident, and if you watched the game last Sunday, you know that these numbers pass the eyeball test. Kaepernick's first throw against Arizona was a terrible interception, the kind of throw no quarterback with 48 total starts in the regular season and playoffs should make. The Cardinals, as they are wont to do, brought the heat, sending a six-man pass rush after Kaepernick on third-and-10, and Frostee Rucker and Calais Campbell both pressured the quarterback. Kaepernick responded to this pressure by throwing an awkward duck of a pass with neither foot set on the ground, then turtling to protect himself from Rucker's impact. He looked like a terrified free agent pressed into a starter's role, not a fifth-year pro who signed a seven-year extension worth up to $127 million just a year ago. Kaepernick's wobbly pass hung in the air before Justin Bethel, a fourth-year pro who has never started a game, jumped in front of Vernon Davis for the first interception of his career and an easy touchdown.
A few plays later, Kaepernick did nearly the same thing. The 49ers had a second-and-9, and Arizona rushed five. This time the 49ers kept in seven blockers, which gave Kaepernick time to check his first and second reads, but both were covered. By that time Campbell was in his face again, and Kaepernick tried to sidearm a pass to Anquan Boldin while jumping backwards. That form is, um, not ideal. Tyrann Mathieu, despite giving Boldin a 14-yard cushion at the snap, had plenty of time to jump the route and intercept the ball for a touchdown that was nearly as easy as Bethel's had been.
Mathieu's touchdown put the Cardinals up 14-0 and apparently put the 49ers' coaching staff into panic mode. The next two San Francisco drives consisted of nine runs, zero passes, and two punts. San Francisco's defense was playing hardly any better than its offense, and Arizona responded to those punts with a pair of 81-yard touchdown drives. Kaepernick wouldn't throw another pass until the 49ers were down 28-0 -- and that pass was a 2-yard gain on third-and-20.
Kaepernick's performance hardly improved after that, and his final statline looks like something out of JaMarcus Russell's nightmares: 9-of-19 for 67 yards with no touchdowns and four interceptions. He's the first player to throw four or more interceptions while gaining less than 70 yards in a game since Luke McCown did it for Jacksonville in 2011, and just the fifth to do so since 1986. (Not surprisingly, games like this used to be a lot more common -- it happened three times in the 1980s, but 15 times in the 1970s and 18 times in the 1960s. John Hadl, Sonny Jurgensen, Dan Pastorini, and Milt Plum did it twice each.)
The splits for Kaepernick, if anything, are even worse than his raw numbers. He threw for only three first downs all day, just one after halftime. In one four-play stretch over the second and third quarters, he went interception, interception, sack, sack. His longest completion gained only 14 yards. He converted only one third down through the air, and that was a third-and-1 with San Francisco down by 40 points late in the fourth quarter. That play was also his only conversion out of seven plays with 5 or fewer yards to go. He only threw three deep passes that traveled more than 15 yards past the line of scrimmage; two were intercepted, and the other was incomplete.
When I saw that statline and those splits Sunday night, I immediately looked up the worst passing DYAR games of all time. I was surprised, though, that Kaepernick finished just 33rd.
|Worst Single-Game Passing DYAR, 1989-2015