For the past week or two, the hot topic in the NFL has been the quarterback situation in San Francisco. Some think Alex Smith should start, while others think Colin Kaepernick should start. Personally, I don't think there's a wrong answer. I think the Niners would be perfectly fine with Smith starting. But with that said, here's the case for why Kapernick was the right choice.
For starters, a Niners blog post points out that "the 49ers have [had] fewer really bad plays – and more really good plays – with Kaepernick at the controls". One stat given in that blog post is that, in his two starts, Kaepernick has 10 completions of 20+ yard passes, while Alex only has 22 such completions in the eight full games he has played. This is reflected in Kapernick's 9.9 yards/attempt, compared to 8.0 yards/attempt for Smith. Here's some other stat comparisons of Smith's eight starts to Kaepernick's two:
Completion percentage- 70.0%
Third down efficiency- 38.0%
Touchdown percentage- 6.0%
Interception percentage- 2.3%
Sack percentage- 10.0%
Completion percentage- 66.7%
Third down efficiency- 40.0%
Touchdown percentage- 6.3%
Interception percentage- 2.1%
Sack percentage- 2.0%
People think Kaepernick was chosen because he's a high-risk, high-reward player; that he can provide the big plays that Smith rarely does. The thing is, he hasn't been high-risk (so far). Smith's calling card has been ball security. Kaepernick has been just as proficient in that area, but hasn't needed to take sacks or throw shorter passes to achieve that. Smith wasn't benched just because he was injured. He was benched because Kaepernick has been able to play Smith's style and more.
Of course one could (wisely) point out that Kaepernick's stats consist of a very small sample size. It's possible that defenses eventually adjust to him and that he becomes less effective. But here's the thing, if that happens, going back to Smith is easy. It's not like Smith is going to struggle if they go right back to him in three or four weeks. But on the flip side, what if Harbaugh had gone with Smith over Kaepernick and then there was a visible dropoff from Kaepernick? The media and fan base would be clamoring for a change. And if that happened, and a change was made at that point, then going back to Smith is completely off the table. Right now, Smith isn't benched because he was playing bad; he's benched because Kaepernick happens to be playing better. If you went back to Smith and then benched him, it would actually be an indictment of his play. And that you can't come back from. You can go from Kaepernick to Smith. But if you went from Smith to Kaepernick, you can't go back to Smith. In that instance, you're stuck with Kaepernick and would have to hope he really is good enough to win in the playoffs.
Which is better: going with Kaepernick and having Smith as the safety net or going with Smith and having Kaepernick as the safety net? Harbaugh didn't just go with the option that had the biggest upside, he went with the one that also had the safest plan B.