The 49ers came into Sunday's game in St. Louis with the league's lowest-ranked offense both in scoring and yardage. Without Anquan Boldin and Carlos Hyde, who were out with injuries, the offense authored another no-touchdown performance for the second straight week against a divisional opponent.
The leader of that offense, without question, is quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
And because the offense isn't performing well, to say the least, questions are starting to arise about his long-term viability as a starter. Kaepernick signed a six-year extension before last season that allows the 49ers to move on from their franchise quarterback before the next league year.
Kaepernick was asked about possibly being benched in favor on Blaine Gabbert following Sunday's 27-6 loss to the Rams, when he threw for 162 yards on 20 of 41 completions. Kaepernick also led the team with 28 yards rushing while three of his best running backs were dealing with injuries before the game was over.
"To me, I’m doing everything I can to win games," Kaepernick said. "Whether they make that change or not is their decision. But I’ll give this team everything I have every week."
When asked about potentially benching Kaepernick after the game, head coach Jim Tomsula said: "We have to evaluate everybody on the field."
The 49ers offense lost a number of key players in the offseason, including offensive linemen Anthony Davis and Mike Iupati, while running back Frank Gore, receiver Michael Crabtree and receiver Stevie Johnson left in free agency.
Kaepernick enters his next game against the Atlanta Falcons 18th in passing yards, 28th in passer rating, and second worst in sacks taken.
Sunday, a play before the 49ers took a safety with 4:24 remaining in the first quarter, Kaepernick ran a running play while the Rams' corners pinched the edges, leaving receivers Torrey Smith and Jerome Simpson uncovered.
The running play went as scheduled, with rookie Mike Davis taking the run for a one-yard loss. Checking out of that play and hitting the receivers might have resulted in a huge gain, or perhaps a 98-yard touchdown. After the safety, the score was 3-2 before the Rams went on a 25-3 run.
"I didn’t see the corner close down on that. That’s something I should have been able to adjust to, get us out of that run play," Kaepernick said.
There are certainly a number of plays from this season Kaepernick would like to have back. But as the season goes on, the question facing the 49ers becomes whether or not they can find a better solution at quarterback if they elect to replace him. Or, the solution could be to improve the other players surrounding him.
In the case of Newton, Luck and Manning, their teams are playing considerably better than the 49ers, and are more talented. San Francisco will have upwards of $41 million in cap space next year, according to Overthecap.com.
When Kaepernick signed his six-year extension before 2014, he said the financial parameters were set up to help the team put the right pieces around him.
"Part of the way the contract is written and the way it was negotiated was so they would be able to sign other players," Kaepernick said in June 2014, the day the extension was announced. "That was something that my agents and the organization worked out and they felt like this was something they would be able to get other players with.”
So far, the only notable player the 49ers have signed amid all those losses is Smith, who inked a five-year, $40 million deal in the spring. Smith had two catches for 19 yards Sunday. Through eight games, he has 16 catches for 342 yards and two touchdowns, putting him on pace for 684 yards.
There are no silver linings for this 49ers team halfway through the year. Valid arguments can be made on both sides of the Kaepernick discussion. Is Kaepernick the right guy, or are his failings a product of an inexperienced coaching staff and decimated roster?
At 2-6 with half the season remaining, the evolving plot line surrounding Kaepernick certainly isn't done taking twists and turns.
Chris Biderman is the Editor-in-Chief of Niners Digest and covers the 49ers from their headquarters in Santa Clara. Chris has been writing about the team since the spring of 2013. The Ohio State alum received his Journalism degree in 2011 and has been working in sports media since 2008. Chris, a Santa Rosa, Calif. native, is also a contributor to the Associated Press covering sports throughout the Bay Area. You can follow Chris on Twitter here.
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