Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Harbaugh's Heroes: Flacco vs. Kaepernick

Flacco vs. Kaepernick

by Dan O'Brien

As the drama unfolds this Sunday in the aptly named Harbowl, there is something fascinating brewing in the background, estranged match-ups that seem ripe for comparisons. Leading up to Super Sunday, we here at Empirical are going to provide our two cents about the marquee match-ups in this brother bowl. Joe Flacco has been called many things, chief among them "weak under pressure" and a "loser" for not making it to the Big Show. This has now changed, right before a contract year I might add, in that it certainly puts into perspective a winning quarterback who had yet to win it all. Colin Kaepernick was at the center of a QB controvery in the Bay that turned out to be less a controversy and more a misunderstanding by the public as to what was in the best interest of the team.

The proof, as they say, is in the pudding.

Joe Flacco

The 6’6” quarterback from the University of Delaware has over the course of his short career (starting in 2008) racked up some impressive statistics: an average completion rating of 60.5 percent; 102 touchdowns to only 56 interceptions. The worst season under Joe Flacco the Ravens went only 9-7, a telling statistics given the presence of a playoff wrecking ball like the Steelers being in the same division. What is most interesting about this run of winning seasons (every season since Flacco has started has been a winning season) is the lack of jewelry, the true testament to the efficacy and noteworthiness of a quarterback. Another notable Flacco fact, despite not appearing in the big game at season's end,  he does hold the NFL record for most playoff road wins. While his averages are striking when juxtaposed with the same quarterback class, which includes another perennial winner as-of-yet to make it to the most important Sunday of the season, Matt Ryan, is the criticism that he [Flacco] does not have what it takes to join other Super Bowl winners.

The more important and relevant statistic is how Flacco stood up this year. The Ravens went 10-6, though this seems better than the late-season lull in Baltimore right before Ray Lewis announced his retirement at the end of the season and the AFC juggernaut gathered steam. He completed 317 of 531 passes (59.7 percent) for 3817 yards over the course of 16 starts. (I realize that you know a regular season is 16 games, but it becomes important we when compare him to a fresher quarterback who started half as many games.) He was fairly efficient, throwing 22 touchdowns to only 10 interceptions. He had an 87.7 Quarterback rating; a statistic that I think has been given too much weight in the current NFL climate.

A pretty solid year for a consistent quarterback chasing greatness.

Colin Kaepernick

The 6’5” quarterback who came out of Nevada-Reno has been spectacular this year. There was some speculation about his game and field management when Jim Harbaugh first benched Alex Smith after a concussion. I would think that the doubters, for the most part, have been silenced by this point in the season. With Kaepernick at the helm, the 49ers were able to do what they could not do last year: make the Super Bowl. In the 7 games that Colin started, San Francisco went 5-2. He made 136 out of 218 passes (62.4 percent) for 1814 yards. He threw 10 touchdowns to only 3 interceptions. His QBR of 98.3 is impressive, but I do not think it is as telling as many people would like to believe.

Not bad for a second-year back-up quarterback starting for a team in the Super Bowl.

So What?

Looking at the numbers, you might shrug and say So What? The numbers are pretty close and if Kaepernick had played a whole season his numbers would be about the same or marginally higher. I could regale you with statistical analysis (but this is not ESPN and I do not get paid as much as John Hollinger), but needless to say a little goes a long way in terms of what is significant.

There is a key difference between these two quarterbacks that warrants mentioning: mobility. Both are tall and athletic, but Kaepernick has a very similar game to RG3, Russell Wilson, and Michael Vick. The threat of the Read-Option, even if it is only run three times per game, gives defenses the fits. Jim Caldwell calling the offense certainly gave the Ravens a much-needed boost in the passing game, but there are only so many times that you can Ray Rice the ball on a first down before a defense knows it’s coming and renders it ineffective. The 49ers have quietly created a three-headed monster with a dynamic passing game (with Michael Crabtree, Vernon Davis, and an aging, but spry, Randy Moss), a monster running game fronted by Frank Gore, and the late year brilliance of a young Kaepernick.

I think we might be in for a slugfest this Sunday after all….

More about the author: A psychologist, author, philosopher, freelance editor, and skeptic, Dan O’Brien has published several novels and currently has many in print, including: The End of the World Playlist, Bitten, The Journey, The Ocean and the Hourglass, The Portent, The Path of the Fallen, Book of Seth, and Cerulean Dreams

Follow him on Twitter (@AuthorDanOBrien) 

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