Complete Breakdown: Wilson vs Kaepernick

The Seattle Seahawks are surging into the playoffs playing their best football of the season, while the San Francisco 49ers are reeling following an embarrassing loss to the Oakland Raiders. The foes meet this weekend for a second NFC West showdown, but who holds the better franchise quarterback?

Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick are two of the most exciting young quarterbacks in the league today. Both possess strong arms, and are capable of extending plays with their feet. As first time starters in 2012, they’ll be squaring off against each other for years to come. How do their passing statistics compare? Rushing? Playoff performance? Let’s break it down.

Passing Statistics:

The first thing to note, is that neither quarterback is asked to shoulder the load on offense. Both manage the game well, and rely on the running game to move the chains. In 2014, as a team the Seahawks rank last in passing attempts and second in rushing attempts. Last year, they ranked 31st in pass attempts and 2nd in rushes. The 49ers are running the ball more this year, but have been a run first team over the last couple years. This year they rank 24th in pass attempts (high for them) and 10th in carries. Last year, the only team to run the ball more than the Seahawks was the 49ers. They were number three in rush attempts. Both teams use the run to set us the pass, making life easier for each quarterback.

What Wilson does especially well is limit turnovers. He never forces the ball into a tight spot to give the other team a short field to work with. He only has five interceptions on the season. Kaepernick, on the other hand, has regressed since his first season as a starter after taking over for Alex Smith. In Kaepernick’s fabulous second half of the 2012 season he threw for 10 TDs and 3 INTs. Last year he went for 21 and 8, and so far in 2014, 16 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. This displays a disturbing trend in the wrong direction.

Additionally, no one can blame the 49ers for neglecting to support their QB. Instead of focusing on other parts of the team, they have invested heavily on wide receivers and playmakers. Michael Crabtree is a number one receiver drafted in the first round. They traded for Anquan Boldin from the Baltimore Ravens for a 6th round pick. Many people thought he was washed up, but he has provided Kaepernick a safety valve by catching everything thrown his way (9th in receptions among wide receivers). Steve Smith is a solid number three and Brandon Lloyd provides a deep threat in spread formations. Frank Gore does most of his damage on the ground, and Carlos Hyde is one of the most dynamic backup running backs in the NFL. Let’s not forget Vernon Davis! He’s a beast and one of the best TE’s in the league. This has been a down year for him, but he finished 3rd in receiving touchdowns among all players last year. What a stacked team! Kaepernick has a ton of playmakers to spread the ball around to.

The 49ers were heavily criticized earlier in the year when they weren’t running the ball as much as previous years, but that was the plan all along for this year. They planned on Kaepernick making the so called “leap”. He has all the weapons he could want, but hasn’t taken advantage. He’s attempted a career high 31.5 passes per game for a personal best 223.8 yards per game, but for a career low 85.1 passer rating and 52.18 QBR. This is a scary offense on paper that hasn’t put it together on the field.

Speaking of weapons in the passing game, Wilson doesn’t have much. Doug Baldwin the number one receiver would probably be the 4th option on the 49ers team behind Crabtree, Boldin, and Davis. He’s made big plays this season, but is not a consistent threat game after game. Paul Richardson, drafted in the 2nd round this past year, is a burner but not a finished product yet. Jermaine Kearse made an incredible diving catch over the middle of the field last Sunday, but struggles to create space from defenders in man coverage. Marshawn Lynch has been used more in the passing game this year, which is not something he’s known for. Kaepernick has a significantly better receiving corps, however Wilson has remained more efficient and has done a great job avoiding back breaking turnovers. The Seahawks must prioritize giving him more weapons on the offensive side of the ball in the offseason.

It will take some time for Kaepernick to go from game manager to complete passer. He needs to improve his touch on passes. He has a cannon for an arm, but can do a better job floating the ball in certain situations. Remember Ben Roethlisberger? Early in his career the Steelers relied on their defense and strong running game to win Super Bowls. He wasn’t asked to do much, but now he has the ability to take over games with his arm. Kaepernick is obviously not there yet, and has been unfairly criticized this year.

As a first time starter with seven regular season games under his belt, he took the 49ers to the Super Bowl! Next year, he was one incredible defensive play away from the Super Bowl. People have a very short memory. That San Francisco has achieved a winning record this year is impressive. The defense has been decimated by injuries, legal troubles surrounded the team early in the year, and Jim Harbaugh has faced questions about his future all year. Under the circumstances, a 7-6 record in a loaded NFC West doesn’t look so bad. The fans obviously want more. If you feel frustrated with what the quarterback has done this year, imagine yourself as a Washington Redskins fan. That should make everything feel better.

Rushing Statistics:

These are two of the best running quarterbacks we have. Wilson has been incredibly efficient running the ball this year. He leads the league with 7.2 yards per carry and is 18th among rushers with 55.9 yards per game. As you can see above, he’s running at a career high level across the board. Gaudy stats, yes, but how has he gotten them? By scrambling for his life.

Behind an injury prone offensive line, he hasn’t been afforded enough time for plays to develop. Many times Wilson will scramble for first downs after not finding receivers down field. He does a phenomenal job of keeping his eyes downfield and using his arm to make plays, but has used his legs out of necessity more often this year. Fortunately, he still avoids big hits better than anybody in the league.

Kaepernick has seen his yards per carry drop in three consecutive seasons, but remains a big threat on the ground. The 49ers have gone away from the pistol formation that was so successful in previous seasons. As mentioned before, the 49ers are using him more in the pocket, which in turn has decreased his effectiveness running the ball. Similar to what has happened in Washington, however, that situation has much more to do with RG3’s injuries and declining explosiveness than anything else.

Playoff Performance:

Early in their careers, both quarterbacks have enjoyed playoff success. Kaepernick was a monster on the ground last year. 98 yards on 7 carries against Green Bay in the wildcard game and 130 yards on 11 carries against the Seahawks in the championship game. No one will ever forget his 181 yards against the Packers two years ago. Passing the ball, he’s been more turnover prone, with seven touchdowns and five interceptions in only six games. Unfortunately, Kaepernick hasn’t gotten over the hump. He’s put his team in position to win, but in the end has not delivered in key situations. The 49ers last two seasons ended in excruciatingly painful losses.

As in the regular season, Wilson has done a masterful job playing to his strengths and limiting turnovers with a 6 to 1 touchdown to interception ratio. During the playoffs last year, he was less reliant on his legs, only carrying the ball 11 times for 42 yards throughout the playoffs. But he was very efficient through the air, leading his team to a blowout Super Bowl win.

Times are tough in San Francisco right now, but their quarterback still has room to grow and develop. They signed him to a 6 year, 126 million contract last offseason. He is not going anywhere and we should expect much better play from him than the last two games. Wilson has been the NFL’s biggest bargain the last two seasons, but that will change soon. The Seahawks paid their defensive stars last offseason and Wilson will be next. This has a potential to be a great rivalry for years to come. Physical defenses, great young quarterbacks, and the NFC West on the line.

Can’t wait to watch the next installment on Sunday.

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