WASHINGTON — The “What’s up with Colin Kaepernick?” talk becomes all relative when compared to the trials and tribulations of his counterpart in the nation’s capital.
Neither Kaepernick nor Robert Griffin III has recaptured the magic of their breakout 2012 seasons, when they were two of the young, agile, zone-read quarterback supposedly about to transform the game. Defenses have adjusted. Their weaknesses have been diagnosed.
The difference is Kaepernick’s slide has lasted all of two games as the San Francisco 49ers have dropped to 6-4 after a five-game winning streak. That’s enough to raise alarm bells for a club that made the Super Bowl last season, but the team remains firmly in the hunt for a playoff berth.
Griffin would take that scenario any day. He and the Washington Redskins (3-7) are all but written off in their quest to repeat as NFC East champions. He had to defend himself this week against a charge he doesn’t adequately own up to his mistakes, with teammate Santana Moss suggesting Griffin say “I” and “me” more often when things go awry.
When the NFL’s prime-time schedule was released in the spring, a late-November Kaepernick-Griffin matchup looked like can’t-miss viewing. Now both will be trying to stay relevant when the 49ers visit the Redskins.
“For us, there was a lot of expectations coming into this season,” Griffin said, “and we just haven’t lived up to them. And that’s unfortunate.”
Here are five more things of note for Monday’s game:
OPPOSITE PLANS: To stop Kaepernick, play the run and dare him to throw. To stop Griffin, put more defenders into coverage and take away the easy routes.
That’s an oversimplification, but defenses this year have shown there are multiple ways to exploit inexperience. The zone-read can only take a quarterback so far: At some point, you have to drop back, scan the field and find the open man.
“I think he feels very natural with the zone-read and some of the play-actions off of it,” Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said. “Some of the drop-back passing attack will take a little time.”
Shanahan was talking about Griffin, but he might as well have been referring to Kaepernick. Both teams’ strong running attacks are struggling to compensate for tumbling QB ratings: Kaepernick is down from 98.3 in 2012 to 81.8, while Griffin has dropped from 102.4 to 83.6 — and Griffin has already doubled his interception total from five to 10.
HOLD UP YOUR END: Maybe it’s not open revolt, but the 49ers’ offensive struggles are starting to test the patience of a defense that’s one of the best in the league. San Francisco scored 31 or more points during the five-game winning streak, but has put up just 29 in the last two weeks combined.
“When you’re on the sideline, of course there’s frustration,” cornerback Carlos Rogers said. “You’re sitting back there asking what’s going on. You know, ‘Move the ball, put some points on the board,’ especially if you’re playing real good on defense.”
HOLDING IT TOGETHER: Again, such 49ers angst doesn’t hold a candle to the drama that is the Redskins. They’re on pace for their fifth last-place finish in six years. The homestretch could determine whether Shanahan returns for the final year of his contract. If the team is going to splinter, this is when the fissures would start to show.
That said, with the notable exception of Griffin, the locker room actually appeared loose this week, as if the burden of expectations had been lifted.
“From here on out, you miss 100 percent of the shots you never take,” fullback Darrel Young said. “So at this point we have nothing to lose. Just go out there and have fun.”
49ERS FILL-INS: San Francisco could have at least one new starter on each side of the ball. Cornerback Tarell Brown took a blow to the ribs last week, which means Tramaine Brock could move into the lineup and Eric Wright would take on a bigger role as the No. 3 cornerback.
Meanwhile, left guard Mike Iupati, who has started every game since being drafted 17th overall in 2010, will sit out with a sprained left knee. Adam Snyder will take Iupati’s place.
“He’ll be fine,” running back Frank Gore said. “But we will miss Mike.”
Also, 2012 leading receiver Michael Crabtree could be back. He returned to practice Nov. 5 for the first time since tearing his right Achilles tendon in May.
THANKS FOR DROPPING BY: Two years ago this month, Rogers returned to Washington to face his former team for the first time after joining the 49ers.
Rogers was a No. 9 overall pick who had eight interceptions over six seasons in the nation’s capital, but he was best known for the ones that went through his hands, including a certain pick-6 in a playoff loss at Seattle. Redskins fans are still befuddled that the player with hands of stone was able to intercept six passes in his first season in San Francisco. He has one this year.
“It’s still my old team, my old players, my old coaching staff, same ownership,” Rogers said. “I look it as it ain’t about me. It’s about this team trying to find a way to win no matter who we play.”