San Francisco 49ers  

 

Colin Kaepernick or Alex Smith? Jim Harbaugh's right either way

The San Francisco 49ers lost last Sunday to the inferior St. Louis Rams, and young quarterback Colin Kaepernick didn't dazzle. Now the critics, the skeptics and the media elite are out in full force. They are wondering whether Niners coach Jim Harbaugh has control, whether he made the right decision in removing veteran signal-caller Alex Smith from the lineup. They whisper about the possibility that Harbaugh might cost his team a chance at winning the Super Bowl.

Get real.

The 49ers have as good a chance as any NFL squad to capture a title. The main reason why? Jim Harbaugh. He's the smartest guy in the room. Just ask him.

NFL Exposure

Jim Harbaugh through the years

Take a look at photos of Jim Harbaugh through the years.

Yes, the Niners stumbled in St. Louis. The Rams also got up for a home game against their NFC West rivals. Their defensive line played well. Their magical rookie kicker booted another big one to win it.

Meanwhile Kaepernick, Harbaugh's sudden flavor-of-the-month quarterback, was guilty of taking a safety in that matchup, failing to use his noodle when he incurred an intentional grounding call in his own end zone. Even more egregious was Kaepernick's wayward pitch to Ted Ginn Jr., which turned into a Rams touchdown.

Of Kaepernick's three starts this season, Sunday's was his worst. Yet, after the game, Harbaugh praised him effusively, stressing Kaepernick's knack for "handling himself well" and "giving the team the best opportunity to win."

Ah, the magical mind of Jim Harbaugh.

This, of course, is the same Jim Harbaugh who scolded the media for reporting that the Niners wanted to sign Peyton Manning in the spring -- which they did, in fact, have an interest in doing. He even called the reports "silly and phony."

This is also the same Jim Harbaugh who refused to call Kaepernick his starter after the youngster dismantled the Chicago Bears in Week 11 while subbing for a concussed Smith, even though everyone knew Kaepernick would be starting in Week 12.

For good measure, in true Harbaugh-speak, the coach also said that benching Smith, a model of efficiency who was a Kyle Williams fumble away from the Super Bowl, for Kaepernick would -- wait for it -- be "the opposite of a quarterback controversy."

It's like the old line from Seinfeld's George Costanza: "It's not a lie if you believe it."

It's Jim Harbaugh's world, and we're all living in it. He laughs at us mere mortals.

He also knows exactly what he's doing.

Last Sunday's loss to the Rams wasn't Kaepernick's fault. Why offensive coordinator Greg Roman called a play that required Kaepernick to toss the ball deep in his own territory was beyond me.

The 49ers have the absolute best defense in the NFL; it isn't even close. Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman, Justin Smith, Aldon Smith, Ahmad Brooks and company form a dominant, devastating unit that can change games. San Francisco still pounds the rock with authority via Frank Gore.

The old football adage holds that "if you have two quarterbacks, you have none," but Harbaugh actually believes he has two quarterbacks. And there's a lot of truth to that notion.

Kaepernick provides the pop and sizzle, the ability to stretch a defense and take off and run. Let's not minimize the 84 yards Kaepernick gained on the ground Sunday, which included a highlight-reel-worthy scamper of 50 yards. Kaepernick was great in the first two starts of his career, against the Bears and New Orleans Saints. Harbaugh picked Kaepernick in the second round of his first draft as Niners coach for a reason.

Meanwhile Smith, the first overall draft pick in 2005, finally reached his potential and became a great (I'm not just throwing that word around) player in 2011 under Harbaugh. He led the Niners to the NFC title game after beating Drew Brees and the Saints in the playoffs. This season, he beat Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers.

Smith is angry. And he should be. He was knocked out of a game because of a concussion and lost his job because the backup dominated in his absence.

Anyone who's been reading my columns and listening to my radio show on a regular basis knows I'm a gigantic Alex Smith fan. But I thought keeping Kaepernick in after his performance against the Bears was logical.

As a former NFL quarterback, Harbaugh must be able to appreciate Smith's frustration. Harbaugh was involved in quarterback controversies as a player with the Chicago Bears.

But here's the genius of the entire thing. Harbaugh has the locker room. The players play for him. He keeps the conversation on Jim Harbaugh. By lying, ranting, mocking, he wears the bulls-eye. All of the noise is about him -- always. All of the blame is on him. And he wouldn't have it any other way.

I think Kaepernick will continue to produce. He has a ton of skill. He will also, at times, look like the inexperienced player he is. And I think that if he struggles, Harbaugh won't hesitate to bring Smith back. He will say Alex is his starter. He will pump him up, and Smith will rise to the challenge.

This is nothing to Alex Smith. Smith has been through Mike Singletary's nonsense. I think the veteran will play again this year for the Niners, and he'll play well.

After that? Heck, Harbaugh might even go back to Kaepernick.

As George said when driving the parents of his deceased wife, Susan, to the "home" he'd lied about leasing in the Hamptons: "You wanna get nuts? Come on. Let's get nuts!"

Here's a fact: The Kaepernick-led Niners are the most complete and well-rounded team in the NFC.

Here's another fact: The Smith-led Niners would also be the most complete and well-rounded team in the NFC.

In another episode of Seinfeld, George turns his life around by doing the opposite of what his gut is telling him to do.

Like George, Harbaugh is doing the opposite of what most NFL coaches would do. It's an approach he can take all the way to the Super Bowl.

And he knows it.

Follow Adam Schein on Twitter @AdamSchein.

Headlines

The previous element was an advertisement.

NFL Shop

NFL News
CONTENT
15