As the 49ers head into the playoffs for the third year in a row, the confidence level of their starting quarterback remains a question mark. In 2011, Alex Smith entered the postseason looking crisp. Last season Colin Kaepernick (outside a week 16 blowout loss in Seattle), was lighting up the NFL. This year however, Kaepernick hasn't been nearly as proficient.
The 2013 San Francisco 49ers enter the final week of the regular season riding a five game winning streak. It's a streak that if not for a one point loss to Carolina and a controversial three point loss to New Orleans, could even be a 12 game winning streak.
After starting the season 1-2, the 49ers have since won 10 of their last 12 contests and are clearly one of the top contenders in the NFC for the third straight season.
However, third year quarterback and second year starter Colin Kaepernick hasn't put together the same type of electric season that he did a year ago.
In 2012, the 49ers ranked 11th in the league in total offense, averaging 360 yards per game. Yet for most of 2013, San Francisco has been ranked amongst the bottom five teams and are currently sitting just 24th overall at 320 yards per game.
While their points per game have remained relatively the same, 11th overall last season at 24.8 and 10th this season at 25.5, the yardage numbers do lend significant concern.
Kaepernick's completion percentage is down four percent from last season, yards per attempt has fallen from 8.3, to 7.6 and his TD/INT ratio has taken a hit down from 3.33 to 2.38.
One could certainly argue that long term injuries to wide-receivers Michael Crabtree and Mario Manningham and short term injuries to tight-end Vernon Davis have been a big reason for Kaepernick's decreased performance.
However, even since Crabtree's return to action, Kaepernick's accuracy hasn't been the sharpest. His completion percentage over that span is a solid 61.6% on paper, but Crabtree and Anquan Boldin have consistently had to adjust to make phenomenal catches.
And in the one game over that span against a playoff opponent, Kaepernick completed just 51% of his throws for 175 yards in the 19-17 win over the Seahawks. In that victory, the 49ers offense managed just the one touchdown drive to go along with four Phil Dawson field goals.
Furthermore, Kaepernick's yards per rush are down from 6.6 last year to 5.7 this year. It may sound like an insignificant difference but clearly the 49ers have told Kaepernick to try and get down early to avoid taking the big hits. After all, Alex Smith is no longer the backup and there is a steep drop off to Colt McCoy if Kaepernick were to be injured.
But the problem here is that Kaepernick thrived last season when it looked as if he didn't care whether he passed or ran. This season he appears to be trying to become more of a pocket passer and he hasn't been as successful.
Last season Kaepernick finished with an impressive 98.3 quarterback rating. This season he is down to 89.9 and in the past three games against playoff caliber opponents (New Orleans, Seattle, and Carolina), Kaepernick has delivered ratings of 67.5, 72.9, and 42.0. The 49ers are 1-2 in those games, two of which came at home. And while No. 7 managed to come away with an impressive 108.6 rating in the win over the Falcons on Monday, his first half wasn't pretty.
Through 30 minutes, Kaepernick was just 6-11, had been sacked twice and led the 49ers to just a meager three points.
Of all the big names on the 49ers roster, Frank Gore, Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman, Justin Smith, Aldon Smith, Davis, Crabtree, Boldin and Kaepernick, it is the latter that has clearly struggled the most in recent weeks.
And considering the latter plays the most important position on the field, that has to be concerning for 49ers fans. If San Francisco is to get back to and win the Super Bowl, quarterback ratings under 75, simply aren't going to get it done.