When the three games in the late-afternoon block concluded today, we were left confused about how aging effects the bred of humans who play football, and our Colin Kaepernick man crush grew to the point that we’re likely ready to help him during his next move, or pick him up from an airport.
Serious steps indeed.
So Kaepernick wasn’t as good as Stafford, but he was still pretty alright
Somewhere on the Internet there’s someone who tracks my failed predictions. I’m completely sure of this, as I feel confident that I’m worthy of such regular ridicule. So when that person scrolls through the digital archives in this here writing space, they’ll see that earlier this week when Colin Kaepernick starting his second career game and replacing Alex Smith began to be a thing, I wrote that if you’re on the playoff fringe and you own Matthew Stafford you should bench him in favor of the Niners’ new cult hero.
Now we know the result of that call: failure, but only narrowly. Go ahead, grab your fish sticks or thumb tacks or whatever else you’d like to use while pelting the village fool, but to me that’s the greatest statement of all about Kaepernick’s performance today during San Francisco’s win over New Orleans, and his resulting fantasy value going forward. Despite Stafford’s 411 passing yards on Thanksgiving day, a quarterback who passed for over 5,000 yards last year finished with 25 fantasy points in Week 12, only marginally ahead of a quarterback making just his second career start, a start that ended in 20 points.
That’s the value of Kaepernick’s rushing ability, and the added production it brings. His first-quarter touchdown today along with his 27 yards on six carries added eight points in a fashion that few quarterbacks not named Newton or Vick or Griffin can imitate.
Overall little changed with Kaepernick, and the quarterback we saw Monday night re-emerged. He completed 64 percent of his passes, which is right in line with his overall completion percentage this year of 65.3. And to the surprise of no one, he continues to look most comfortable when he’s rolling out of the pocket. Those rolls resulted several long completions, with Kaepernick completing passes of 45, 40, and 25 yards, meaning he’s needed only 74 pass attempts this year to complete 11 passes for 20 yards or more.
Did we expect a fantasy point explosion that was slightly larger against the league’s worst all-around defense? Sure, but maybe that was our fault for getting lost in Kaepernick’s eyes Monday, and briefly forgetting the nature of this 49ers offense. The lean towards the passing game may grow a bit with Kaepernick aboard, but there was still an even 25:25 split between run and pass plays today, and that’s only if we exclude the six quarterback scrambles, some of which were actually designed runs.
You’re still looking at this year’s Tebow, complete with a better defense to consistently give him good field position, and the support of the league’s top rushing offense. Oh, and he can throw a forward pass. That helps.
Where you at, Vernon Davis?
Remember last week when Davis spoke of some kind of handcuff removal with kaepernick under center when he had 83 receiving yards on six catches with a touchdown? That yardage was more than his previous three games combined, and it made us all grow something in our pants while considering the possibilities that lied ahead for the Kaepernick-Davis tandem throughout the remainder of the season.
Today Davis was targeted just once, and he finished with zero catches. Yeah, he had a 15-yard catch negated by penalty, but if that play stood he still would have finished with his second lowest single-game receiving yardage total of the season. But instead now he has his second game this season with zero receptions, zero yards, and zero anything of any meaning whatsoever. It’s a new low, as throughout Davis’ career in which he’s slowly reaching the end of his seventh NFL year, he’s never been blanked in two games during a season.
Furthering the discouragement is another item on the boxscore. Delanie Walker led the Niners with 81 yards on three receptions, including the longest catch of the game by any pass catcher on either team (a 45-yard catch early in the first quarter). Walker, of course, plays tight end too, and prior to today he had only eight receptions for 98 yards. On the season.
Yeah, that means Davis was out-produced by someone at his own position, the same someone who had been averaging only 9.8 receiving yards per game. Fantastic.
And about those under-performing tight ends who now have little more than name value
We all understand that Antonio Gates is fading. Such is the nature of time, and its inevitable consumption of us all. But it’s still jarring when that fade is this abrupt.
Those who’ve purchased Gates on draft day in recent years did so knowing that they’re getting a damaged commodity, and he’ll likely miss a handful of games due to various nicks, bruises, and plagues. And that’s just fine, because Gates was also purchased knowing that when he’s healthy, he’s damn good. Take last year, for example. He missed three games, but in the 13 other games when he was able and willing he averaged 59.8 receiving yards per game, and he scored seven times. Sure, that average was down from the previous year (78.2), but it was still enough to solidly be in the second tier of the position.
Now? After just 13 yards on two catches today during San Diego’s overtime loss to Baltimore, Gates has only 30 yards over his last two games, dragging his per game receiving average down to 33.5 yards. He’s still retaining some value by scoring, with four touchdowns on the season. But we’re therefore slowly reaching the point where if Gates doesn’t score, his production hovers around replacement level.
Steven Jackson lives
Speaking of old guys (still), Jackson seems to be battling back to relevancy again. Dude just won’t die, and play to the script that says Daryl Richardson is supposed to take his job. During St. Louis’ 31-17 win over Arizona today that featured more crushing inadequacy from Cardinals quarterback Ryan Lindley (four interceptions) and by extension also awfulness from Larry Fitzgerland (three receptions for 31 yards), Jackson continued his rise from a deep grave.
He finished with 139 rushing yards on 24 carries, which including a 46-yard run, Jackson’s first run for over 20 yards since Week 4. Since the Rams’ Week 9 bye Jackson now has 348 yards from scrimmage over three weeks, with today’s rushing output a season high. The old man cometh indeed.
Meanwhile, Richardson only had seven carries, and during Jackson’s hot three-game stretch he’s out-touched Richardson by a wide margin, getting 70 touches to his backup’s 22. This all comes after Jackson eclipsed the very pedestrian 60-yard mark on the ground just once prior to that Week 9 bye.
Oddly, it seems rest does the body good.