Our look at NFC West quarterbacks in the red zone leads naturally to an examination of third-down production.
A few notes in relation to the charts as they pertain to the most relevant NFC West quarterbacks:
2012 Playoff QBs on 3rd Down
That represented a massive jump from 10 sacks on 151 third-down dropbacks during the regular season. Sacks aren't entirely on the quarterback, of course, and the Total QBR numbers reflect shared responsibility. Seattle took a bad one on third-and-goal from the Atlanta 11 right before halftime of the team's 30-28 playoff defeat. Wilson produced very well on third down during the regular season, particularly late in the season. He did nearly all of his damage in the playoffs on early downs.
Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco 49ers: The first chart shows Kaepernick excelling on third down during the postseason. He made his most meaningful third-down contributions of the postseason with his legs. That included a 20-yard touchdown run on third-and-8 against Green Bay in the divisional round. Kaepernick's QBR score on third-down pass plays was 7.4, down from 73.6 on early downs. Third-down sample sizes in the playoffs are small, of course. Kaepernick's third-down QBR score on regular-season passing plays was 53.7, pretty close to his 59.9 for all third-down play types. I would expect his third-down completion percentage to rise from the 52.5 rate Kaepernick posted during the regular season.
Alex Smith, 49ers: Smith had the division's highest third-down completion rate for the regular season. However, he also took sacks on 13.2 percent of third-down drop backs, about twice the rate for Wilson and Kaepernick. He also did not provide the rushing threat those quarterbacks provided. As a result, the 49ers were better off on third down with Kaepernick in the game. A case could be made that Smith would have been better suited at this stage of his career to handle the goal-to-go situation against Baltimore in the final minutes of the Super Bowl. I'm not 100 percent sold on that idea. However, the winning 14-yard touchdown pass Smith threw to Vernon Davis against New Orleans in the playoffs one year ago came on a third-and-4 play when San Francisco needed to hit a quick timing throw.
Sam Bradford, St. Louis Rams: In breaking down Bradford's season into four-game quarters, I noticed his third-down completion percentage (66.7), NFL passer rating (102.2) and Total QBR (44.0) were strongest during the Rams' first four games. His third-down production plummeted from there and never recovered. The injury Danny Amendola suffered affected the Rams' passing game. The Rams averaged an additional yard per play and 1.1 yards per pass attempt on third down when Amendola was on the field, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Bradford had two touchdown passes with one interception on third down with Amendola on the field. He had one touchdown pass with three interceptions on third down without Amendola.
Kevin Kolb, Arizona Cardinals: Kolb took sacks on 15.2 percent of third-down dropbacks. His third-down QBR score would jump from 19.2 to 60.8 if we eliminated sacks from the equation. Sacks are a big part of the equation, however, and Kolb has taken too many of them. The Cardinals' problems on the offensive line are obviously a factor. Again, though, the QBR formula shares blame for sacks between the line and quarterbacks. Arizona must determine moving forward to what degree Kolb can produce for the team under better circumstances. His third-down passer rating (95.6) was second-best in the division.