This is my Sunday column.
The 49ers just finished dead week. These are their midterm grades.
Pocket proficiency: B. Was a C-minus last season. Completed just 57 percent of his passes and posted an 81 passer rating inside the pocket in 2013. Has completed 69 percent of his passes and posted a 90 rating inside the pocket this season. He’s finding the open receiver quickly and throwing the ball accurately. Most of the time. About once a game, Kaepernick drops back and throws a pass straight to a defender. It’s like Kaepernick forgets which team he’s on. Kaepernick has thrown four of his five interceptions from inside the pocket this season, and he threw 10 of his 11 interceptions (including playoff games) from inside the pocket last season.
Improvisational skill: A+. Near the top of the league in this category. A natural at throwing while running – he flicks his wrist and the ball explodes out of his hand. But he doesn’t force plays when he scrambles. He has thrown the ball away 11 times, thrown six touchdowns, just one interception and posted a 108 rating outside the pocket this season.
Running ability: A+. Near the top of the league in this category, too. Averaging 5.3 yards per carry, third-best in the league among quarterbacks and running backs.
Red-zone productivity: A-. When Kaepernick scrambles, defenders chase him and forget to cover receivers. Kaepernick is starting to use his improvisational ability to create throwing windows in the end zone. His passer rating in the red zone is 109.
Fourth-quarter productivity: F. Kaepernick seems to get worse as the game goes on. His passer rating in the first quarter is 114, in the second quarter it’s 104, in the third quarter it’s 88 and in the fourth quarter it’s 68. Kaepernick has thrown no fourth-quarter touchdown passes, led no game-winning drives or fourth-quarter comebacks.
First-down productivity: B. Dinking and dunking and hardly running. Tentative.
Second-down productivity: B+. More aggressive and more efficient.
Third-down productivity: A. Aggressive to the max. The most aggressive third-down quarterback in football. Averaging 9.8 yards per pass attempt and 7.3 yards per rush on third down – almost double what he’s averaging on first down. Knows he has the athleticism to pick up a first down at any time with his arm or legs and, on third down, he does not hold back.
Overall: B+. Draft experts compared Kaepernick to Randall Cunningham when he was coming out of college. Kaepernick is better than Cunningham. The flick throws Kaepernick makes while running to his left are unique. Only he makes those plays. But I’m not concerned about how many good plays a quarterback makes. I’m concerned about how many bad plays he makes. Kaepernick still makes at least one head-scratcher every game.
Running: B-. Frank Gore follows blockers well and runs through the holes they create. When there are no holes, he no longer has the power to gain much on his own. Carlos Hyde has power but does not follow blockers well and is averaging just 3.4 yards per carry.
Red-zone running: D. Kaepernick is the 49ers’ best red-zone runner by default. Gore is averaging 1.9 yards per carry in the red zone and Hyde is averaging 2.6. Sad.
Receiving: C+. Greg Roman rarely calls a pass for a running back. Gore has caught just four this season. But his 55-yard touchdown catch against the Eagles was one of the best plays of his career, outrunning 24-year-old safety Earl Wolff 43 yards to the end zone.
Blocking: B+. Bruce Miller is a great blocker. Gore isn’t any more. He has given up two sacks this season.
Overall: C+. Gore seems to be fading quicker than he faded last season, and Hyde hasn’t established himself. His longest run has been just 15 yards.
Hands: B-. Anquan Boldin has dropped three passes, including what should have been a touchdown this past Sunday against the Broncos. Michael Crabtree has dropped five passes this season.
Route running: B+. Crabtree ran one good route – the double post against the Rams which led to a 32-yard touchdown catch. Other than that, his routes have been lazy. The other receivers’ routes have been sharp.
Running after the catch: C. Boldin is averaging a measly 3.7 yards after the catch and Crabtree has been even worse, averaging 3.6 yards after the catch. Crabtree is not explosive anymore. In 2012, before he tore his Achilles’ tendon, he averaged 6.4 yards after the catch.
Red-zone receiving: B+. Stevie Johnson is the 49ers’ No.1 red-zone weapon. He can beat one-on-one coverage near the end zone and the Niners’ other receivers can’t do that consistently.
Third-down receiving: A. Everyone knows the ball is going to Boldin on third down and he still has made 11 first-down catches on third down. Clutch.
Overall: B. Crabtree is dragging down this group’s grade. He should play less and Johnson and Lloyd should play more.
Receiving: F. What happened to Vernon Davis? He is having the worst season of his career. He looks disengaged. Is there lingering animosity from his holdout this offseason? He wanted more money and didn’t get it.
Blocking: C-. Vance McDonald is a decent blocker, but Davis has been horrible.
Overall: D. Two of the worst tight ends in football right now.
Run blocking: B. Still the best aspect of the 49ers’ running game. Mike Iupati is the best run-blocking offensive lineman in the NFL. But he’s hurt. Daniel Kilgore was a good run blocker, but he’s out for the season. Broken leg.
Pass blocking: F. Allowed 19 sacks, tied for fifth-most in the league. Joe Staley used to be one of the best left tackles in football but has given up four sacks.
Overall: C-. Alex Boone and Staley have regressed. Iupati and Kilgore are hurt. This line used to be the best in football. Now it’s not so good.
Run stopping: A. Do not run up the middle against the 49ers. Justin Smith, Ray McDonald and Ian Williams are three of the best run-plugging defensive tackles in football.
Pass rush: C. Slow. Smith eventually will hit the quarterback if he holds the ball too long.
Overall: B. Their No.1 job is to stop the run and they succeed. The pass rush mostly depends on the linebackers.
Pass rush: D. Aaron Lynch, the rookie fourth-round pick, has been the 49ers’ best pass rusher and he has only one sack. Ahmad Brooks has been the seventh-worst pass rushing outside linebacker in football according to Pro Football Focus.
Run stopping: C. Patrick Willis and Michael Wilhoite have struggled when opposing running backs have broken past the 49ers’ front line. Combined, Willis and Wilhoite have missed seven tackles. Ahmad Brooks has missed five.
Pass coverage: B. Willis has allowed a 58 passer rating. He is a great cover linebacker. Wilhoite is not. He has allowed a 105 passer rating.
Overall: C. All four linebackers made the Pro Bowl last season. Only Willis has a chance to make it this season.
Pass coverage: A-. The 49ers rank near the top of most pass defense statistics even though they’ve generated no pass rush. The 49ers’ defensive backs have played out of their mind, especially Perrish Cox. He was a bench player when the season began, became the Niners’ No.1 cornerback when Tramaine Brock got hurt, and has been one of the best corners in football. Cox has broken up six passes, tied for second most in the league.
Tackling: A-. Allowing just 4.3 yards after the catch on average. That’s good tackling. Antoine Bethea has been the 49ers’ best tackler in the secondary.
Overall: A-. Bethea and Cox are playing like Pro Bowlers. Excellent additions to the starting lineup. The secondary has been the strength of the 49ers’ defense for the first time under Jim Harbaugh.
Punting: B+. Andy Lee is one of the most powerful punters in football. Sometimes he’s so powerful he punts the ball past his coverage, and that’s not good.
Kicking: B+. When it comes to kicking long field goals, no one is better than Phil Dawson. But he missed a couple of short kicks this season.
Punt returns: C. Bruce Ellington is averaging just 7.6 yards per punt return. He replaced LaMichael James, who averaged 10.9 yards per punt return last season. The 49ers downgraded.
Kick returns: C+. Ellington is averaging 25.8 yards per kickoff return. James averaged 26.8 yards per kickoff return last season. Downgrade.
Punt coverage: D. Allowing 11.9 yards per punt return – fifth-worst in the league. Gave up an 82-yard punt return for a touchdown to Darren Sproles, and a 28-yard punt return to De’Anthony Thomas.
Kick coverage: C+. Special teams specialists Kassim Osgood, Nick Moody and L.J. McCray have been duds.
Overall: C+. Used to be dangerous when C.J. Spillman, LaMichael James and Ted Ginn were on the team. Now, the punter and the kicker are the Niners’ most dangerous special teamers.
Vic Fangio: A-. The superstar of the 49ers’ coaching staff. Even without Aldon Smith and NaVorro Bowman, the 49ers’ defense ranks second in yards allowed. If the 49ers keep that up, Fangio will be a top head-coaching candidate around the league this offseason.
Greg Roman: B. The 49ers’ running game is ranked in the top-third of the league despite 80 percent of the offensive line missing significant playing time. Roman is a good run-game coordinator. He just can’t figure out the red zone. The Niners scored touchdowns on 43 percent of their trips to the red zone, and that’s sixth-worst in football. Last year, the 49ers’ offense ranked 15th in the red zone.
Jim Harbaugh: B. Most of us expected the Niners to start the season 4-3 after NaVorro Bowman got hurt and Aldon Smith got suspended. Harbaugh is meeting expectations. But he could have exceeded them. The Niners should be 6-1. Harbaugh got outcoached by the Bears and the Cardinals and lost two games he should have won.
Grant Cohn writes sports columns and the “Inside the 49ers” blog for The Press Democrat’s website. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.