I’ve learned my lesson about predicting great things for the 49ers off of one game. Looking at just Gabbert’s stat line, it comes off as an unimpressive day. 15-25 for 185 yards, 2 TD’s and 2 picks. But ignoring the statistics and evaluating his game based on feel yields a different conclusion.
First, the 15-25.
Gabbert’s completion percentage for the day would have been much higher had his receivers, especially Jerome Simpson, shown any desire whatsoever to catch a football. One pass comes to mind in particular where Gabbert lasered in a perfect throw down the seam that hit Simpson in the numbers but popped up off of Simpson’s pads and into the hands of a Falcon defender. Boom, a 30 yard completion turned into an unsightly interception. That was only one of Simpson’s three drops on the day, and he finished with no receptions.
Secondly, Gabbert had many smart throw-away’s that prevented the Niners from losing yards. Unlike his predecessor, Colin Kaepernick, Gabbert showed classic QB intuition of the situation and parlayed that into a more impressive statistic: No sacks on the day. Behind this offensive line, that’s impressive. Had his receivers performed to an acceptable NFL level, he would have had perhaps four incompletions.
Gabbert’s quick release and strong arm were on display all day long as he fired serveral powerful throws in between defenders. But Colin Kaepernick can do that too. Where Gabbert really showed the difference between the two was his touch. Gabbert used his check downs often and efficiently, and showed nice touch on his second touchdown pass to Garrett Celek. He is also a far superior thrower of the back shoulder fade than Kaepernick.
Perhaps the most encouraging thing about Gabbert’s performance was his poise in the pocket. At Missouri and in Jacksonville, he was accused of being skittish in the pocket and therefore unfit to be an NFL quarterback. Gabbert had strong pocket presence and made some nice throws while under heavy duress. The other big knock was that he was simply too inaccurate to stick in the NFL, yet Gabbert dispelled the notion that he cannot be accurate on Sunday. It remains to be seen if he can be consistent.
It wasn’t a perfect day, but there’s no two ways about it. Gabbert was darned good. He even rushed for more yards than Kaepernick has in a single game despite taking several kneeldowns.
However, it’s unwise to put too much stock in Gabbert’s performance. After all, it’s only one game. Jim Harbaugh named Kaepernick the starter after only one game and that story had mixed results. The 49ers looked dominant Week 1 against the Vikings and have been lifeless since. Gabbert faces a far tougher test in Seattle, where he will be tested on the road against one of the best secondary’s in the league. That game will be far more indicative of what type of QB Gabbert really is.