The 49ers’ move from Colin Kaepernick to Blaine Gabbert received outspoken support Wednesday from a notable figure – Cardinals safety Tyrann Mathieu – who intercepted Kaepernick twice in an earlier meeting and then needled the quarterback afterward.
Mathieu continued that theme with 49ers reporters on Wednesday.
“Not to take anything away from Kaepernick, but it seems like Gabbert has a little bit better grip on what’s going on,” Mathieu said on a conference call. “If he gets in a situation, he knows where the ball needs to go. He’s a hell of a passer. I think he’s underrated when you talk about how well he can throw the football.”
Gabbert has only started two games vs. eight for Kaepernick, who was placed on injured reserve Saturday with a torn labrum. Gabbert has thrown three touchdowns and two interceptions and has an 88.9 passer rating. Kaepernick had six touchdowns, five interceptions and a 78.5 rating.
Mathieu had one of two interceptions the Cardinals returned for touchdowns in the 47-7 blowout of the 49ers on Sept. 27. Kaepernick finished with a career-worst 16.7 passer rating in the game and may have been so shaken by the outing that he played poorly the following week against the Green Bay Packers as well.
Both before and after the Cardinals game, Arizona defensive backs claimed they had both Kaepernick and the 49ers’ offense figured out.
“We had a bead on what those guys like to do,” safety Rashad Johnson said at the time. “... I think Kaepernick was a little bit uncomfortable all game. There were guys in his face and he was never able to step in and throw it. He was always a little bit behind on his throws.”
Said Mathieu after the game: “Their passing game has just simplified so much, it was easy to anticipate routes, get some good breaks on the ball today.”
Tight end Vance McDonald said there certainly was a lot of self-evaluation following a defeat like they had earlier but that the Cardinals couldn’t have known what was coming since new plays are added before every contest.
“There’s no credibility to that whatsoever,” McDonald said. In his previous five starts against the Cardinals, Kaepernick threw nine touchdown passes against one interception and had a 110.3 passer rating.
Asked about his team’s earlier comments on Wednesday, Mathieu said, “We just knew Kaepernick’s tendencies.”
“We knew what he liked to do; we knew which way he liked to roll out,” he said. “We knew what side of the field he liked to read to. And you don’t pick up those same things from Gabbert. Like I said, he’s better in the pocket. He has a better feel for coverages. It seems like he can get to the line, see a coverage and then go to a different play. ... So you can see Gabbert’s maturity and the different things he does well that, let’s say, Kaepernick doesn’t do well.”
The statements stand out in today’s NFL where players and coaches try their best to avoid provocative quotes and usually heap bland compliments on upcoming opponents.
But it fits the style of outspoken Cardinals coach Bruce Arians, whose team this season already has toppled what had been the two giants of the division, the 49ers and Seahawks.
“They probably get it from me,” Arians said with a chuckle when asked about his players’ swagger. “I don’t have a problem with it. I think sometimes they need to shut up and just play.”
When it was noted that his players backed up their brash talk in the earlier meeting, Arians agreed. But he and Mathieu also noted that they haven’t won on the road against the 49ers since 2008. Kaepernick was the starter in the Cardinals’ past three road losses.
“This is a big division game on the road and we haven’t won there in a long time,” Arians said.