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Here is a link to my Friday column about Colin Kaepernick. The full column runs below:

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 — the 49ers’ next opponent — 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 — Wimp City — 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 — 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 — this game will be close — 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 — 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 — 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.

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Comments

19 Comments

  1. Albert Park

    An excellent analysis, Lowell. Let us hope that Mr. Harbaugh has thought this through and come up with an appropriate game plan to deal with Mr. Kaepernick’s shortcomings. Otherwise, we’re toast.

    January 9th, 2014 11:06 pm

  2. PhD

    One thing is certain. Kaepernick must play substantially better than last time or this will be the last game of the season for his team. I believe he will.

    January 10th, 2014 2:12 am

  3. Streetglide

    And when he does throw, will he set himself up to be accurate? Or will he throw while his feet are doing the “mashed potatoes” and toss The Duke into the ground or five feet over the heads of receivers? Then there’s the issue of throwing bullets — 357 magnum suckers — at receivers 10 yards down range. Can he put some touch on the old pigskin or will he be in finger-breaking mode?

    Tune in Sunday…

    January 10th, 2014 6:29 am

  4. Sondra Byullotch

    Sometimes reading you and Grant on the same day can be massively disappointing. As in, you are both media men, both writing for my entertainment.

    And you appear to plagiarize one another on matters relating to Kaepernick especially. You’ve taken a new tack on how you represent Harbaugh to us, your readers, for which we’re grateful. But it is still painfully obvious that you and Grant are using a single mind to write about Kaepernick.

    From now on you guys should check with one another before going to publication, check to make sure that you’re not boh writing the exact same thing.

    On the merits, I would say Grant’s piece on Kaepernick (essentially the same as this one), is better than your piece here. Why? Because he explored the roles of Roman and Shula, explained how the Niners use decoys, then illustrated his main point by blaming the Tramon Williams INT on Anquan Boldin, the lazy decoy.

    Now, if you want to say the only difference between last week’s matchup and the matchup 10 weeks ago is the opponent, I would have to ask if you wrote this piece in a senior moment (we all have them). Because as has been well-documented, that game had no Davis, no Crabtree, and a vastly reduced Aldon Smith, and the Niners still should have won the game, would have won the game if their second round draft pick caught a ball that Kaepernick dropped Montana-like into his bread basket.

    Final question for you Lowell: Did you forget reality or just choose to ignore it in order to sensationalize the issue and be more Cohnish?

    January 10th, 2014 9:30 am

  5. Mark M

    I’m kind of surprised to see this myth perpetuated here. That being that Harbaugh needs to be Walsh caliber and Kap needs to be more like Joe for the Niners to win the Super Bowl.

    OK, that would be nice. It will never happen. Those were all time greats and I suppose it must be flattering to be held to that standard. But it is hardly necessary for the Niners to get a ring. Harbaugh isn’t the innovator Walsh was, but neither is his brother, nor any of the other more recent Super Bowl coaches. Maybe Belichik.

    Similarly, there is a big gap between Joe Montana and being good enough to win the big dance. Joe is arguably the greatest of all time. Plenty of lesser dudes have won rings. Joe Flacco????? C’mon. Kap has already proven he’s good enough to get there, and did it with a reeling defense that had forgotten how to stop the pass. This piece makes it sounds as if he’s accomplished nothing and has to prove his worth in this one game against the Panthers, or he’s a one dimensional track star with a strong arm. Pure silliness.

    The Niners can win the Super Bowl with a balanced attack with some big play capability and a great defense. That formula has won plenty of Super Bowls and Harbaugh and Kap are quite possibly good enough to achieve that formula, while still falling well short of the Everest size legacy of Walsh and Montanta.

    January 10th, 2014 10:35 am

  6. Max

    +1 @ Sondra. Continuing to go out on a limb, I would only add to her comment what I have said before: it is possible that we might be witnessing the development of a unique talent, witnessing a different way of getting the job done at the quarterback position, witnessing the Colin Kaepernick way. Lowell, you have used boxing analogies now and then to make your point. I used one in an earlier comment to make my point about Colin. Let me use it again: CK may turn out to be football’s version of Ali. Only Ali could do what Ali did – lean away from a punch rather than slipping or ducking it, counter-punch off-balance, box with a lowered guard. Many good boxers were ruined trying to imitate him precisely because he was inimitable. Ali was not Sonny Liston-impressive; he was not George Foreman-impressive; he was not Joe Frazier-impressive. In the same way, perhaps, Colin Kaepernick may not be Joe Montana-impressive. He may, however, turn out to be Ali-impressive. And it’ll take more than this Sunday’s play-off game to find out.

    January 10th, 2014 10:43 am

  7. Dennis

    There are a few things I remember about Joe Montana: he was great when he needed to be and they didn’t call him the “comeback kid” because he was ahead going into the 4th quarter.

    Kaepernick doesn’t look like Joe, doesn’t move like Joe and doesn’t throw like Joe. But Kaepernick is the only quarterback to win two road playoff games in 49er history, which includes St. Joe. It doesn’t matter how he does it, with his feet, his arm, his head, all he needs to do is win.

    Don’t get me wrong. I think Joe Montana is the greatest quarterback ever to play. But in the end it just comes down to winning. Kaepernick has a lot time to make his own history.

    January 10th, 2014 10:54 am

  8. Max

    BTW: Is it true that Green Bay’s head coach read your prediction column to the Packers at halftime?

    January 10th, 2014 11:13 am

  9. Stan

    Lowell,I always like to hear what the announcers doing PBP for the national scene say when Kap ISN’T playing well. The truths: “He doesn’t throw a tight spiral”…”He can’t seem to drop a ball over the DB and into the receivers hands”..”He holds on to the ball too long” “He doesn’t find open receivers when he scrambles”. ALL said in the GB game.
    So ,my conclusion is..he doesn’t have to be perfect to win a game.
    Just be good enough Sunday, Kap.

    January 10th, 2014 11:24 am

  10. htwaits

    Not to pile on, but “Go Sondra!”

    January 10th, 2014 11:31 am

  11. mendozaline

    Continuing Dennis’s thoughts.
    Montana was 1-3 in playoff road games in his career with the 49ers. His combined stats in those 4 road playoff games….

    78 for 137 for 1,029 yards 6 TDs 4 INTs.

    Let’s not bury Kaepernick if he has a bad road playoff game on Sunday. Remember 1/4/87..SF 3 NY 49.
    One of the things that the Walsh era 49ers were successful at was doing well enough in the regular season to play the majority of their playoff games at home.

    January 10th, 2014 12:27 pm

  12. Stan

    To all ALL. On those and any future Montana comparisons,a message from Stan:

    Somewhere in Pennsylvania a plumber is bragging that in Podunk High School he broke Joe Montana’s playoff passing percentage in under 40f weather games.
    Think about that.

    January 10th, 2014 3:58 pm

  13. Max

    @Stan: Let’s recruit that man! (But, on second thought: being a plumber he’d probably bust our salary cap.)

    January 10th, 2014 5:13 pm

  14. Stan

    Max,Joe’s own sons with J.Montana DNA,cant do what Joe Montana did.
    Stats,DNA….Only one Joe.

    January 10th, 2014 8:02 pm

  15. k.g.

    The “only” current quarterback that comes close to Joe Montana is Andrew Luck. This Guy is only going to get better as the years go by, imvho.

    January 10th, 2014 8:02 pm

  16. Mase

    Lowell 2014 just called , they said the Bill Walsh/Joe Montana era is over. Move on old timer.

    January 11th, 2014 6:08 pm

  17. Brady

    As much as I agree with nearly everything you said, passer rating is an absolutely horrendous “statistic.”

    However, if you’d like to actually put any stock in passer rating, that is your prerogative; but it would behoove you to note Joe Montana’s career number – 92.3 – vs. Colin Kaepernick’s . . . 93.8

    January 11th, 2014 8:41 pm

  18. hacksaw

    This longing for Joe Montana reminds me of the movie “Whale Rider” where an elderly Maori tribe chief desperately looks for the next leader among the young males, constantly overlooking the fact that the chosen one is actually is right in front of him, his granddaughter. She just didn’t fit the mold he had in his mind.

    Maybe Kaepernick doesn’t fit your “Montana” mold, but he may be still be completely awesome.

    January 12th, 2014 8:57 am

  19. Phil

    If he hasn’t convinced you by now he never will.

    January 12th, 2014 7:07 pm

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