With Carlos Hyde being ruled out for Sunday’s game, the 49ers will be forced to do something they’ve been unable to achieve all year: assemble a legitimate passing attack.
Not that anyone has been particularly fooled through the first six weeks anyways, but the absence of Hyde means the 49ers’ will be without their star running back to act as a smoke screen for what is an overall failing offense.
Instead, the 49ers will be forced to air it out on Sunday. And the ship will either sink, or troll along, by the captaining of Colin Kaepernick.
Last week was an overall failure for the first act of the Kaepernick experiment. The former Super Bowl starting quarterback sprinted out of the gate, but stumbled late in the game to finish with a stat line of 187 yards and one touchdown while completing 13-of-29 passing attempts.
A lot of hot takes and brash conclusions were formed immediately after the game, but it’s fair to say that Kaepernick’s “welcome back” party was more of a trial by fire rather than a legitimate way to compare him against Blaine Gabbert‘s previous attempts.
The Bills rank just outside of the top-10 in passing defense through six weeks, and have created hounding pressure on opposing quarterbacks with 20 sacks thus far. The fact that Kaepernick started in a hostile environment on the road didn’t make anything more comfortable either.
This week’s matchup against Tampa Bay will be devoid of nearly all those obstacles.
Tampa’s passing defense is currently ranked at a modest 20th overall, allowing 262.2 yards per game. They have generated the fourth lowest sack total in the NFL with just nine on the year, and Kaepernick will be at home in Levi’s Stadium, where the fans still cherish him.
Compounding Kaepernick’s fortunes, Friday’s injury report from Tampa Bay indicated that two of their top starters along the defensive line in defensive end Robert Ayers and defensive tackle Clinton McDonald are out for Sunday’s contest, while defensive tackle Gerald McCoy remains questionable.
With a slew of backups facing this revamped offensive line for San Francisco, one can assume that Kaepernick should have plenty of time to sit in the pocket.
Plenty of time in the pocket means plenty of time to push the ball down field.
And plenty of time to push the ball down field means that we might actually be treated to deep balls that seemed destined only for fans of those other teams in the NFL.
Even against the Bills’ formidable pass rush, we saw signs of life in that area. Kaepernick wasn’t completely effective with the deep pass, overshooting a number of receivers down the field for what could have been big gains.
And even though his biggest play of the day — a 53-yard touchdown to WR Torrey Smith — came on broken coverage, and was an otherwise uninspiring, underthrown ball, Kaepernick and head coach Chip Kelly showed no fear in letting the big-armed quarterback let loose down the field.
With more time to throw, one can only surmise that San Francisco will be even more eager to take their shots this Sunday.
Kaepernick also did something that Gabbert wasn’t particularly effective in, and that’s spreading the ball around to his receivers.
Sure, Jeremy Kerley still continues to be the most effective and reliable receiver for San Francisco, but Kaepernick also reminded everyone that Torrey Smith and Quinton Patton are also still receivers for the 49ers, something Gabbert tried his damnedest to make us forget.
Even Rod Streater got into the mix under Kaepernick’s watch, meaning that Tampa Bay will have to honor the threat from more than just Kerley and whoever is one yard in front of the sticks on third down this Sunday.
Stir all those factoids together, and Kaepernick has his first legitimate shot to prove he still has it in him to quarterback a team in the NFL.
This seems like good fortune for both Kaepernick as a player and the 49ers as a whole. But should Kaepernick fail with the chips falling his way…Well, there’s always Christian Ponder to dream about.