SANTA CLARA – Arizona Cardinals defensive back Tyrann Mathieu won NFC Defensive Player of the Week based on his mastery of the 49ers’ offense earlier this season.
Mathieu intercepted Colin Kaepernick on two occasions and returned one for a touchdown when the teams met Sept. 27. Afterward, Mathieu suggested he had his big day because the 49ers’ offense and Kaepernick were predictable.
On a conference call Wednesday with reporters who cover the 49ers, Mathieu did not back down from his critique of Kaepernick. And he offered praise for new 49ers starting quarterback Blaine Gabbert.
“That’s 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. “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.
“I think he gives them a better option going forward. It seems like the wide receivers are more involved. So it looks like they’re doing all right.”
Mathieu said he has not been able to figure out Gabbert to the point where the Cardinals’ secondary will be able to bait him into the kind of throws he said they were able to coax from Kaepernick.
“No, I don’t think so,” Mathieu said. “(It) seems like he takes care of the football way better. If he gets into a situation where he feels pressure, he’s not just going to give the defense an opportunity to make a play.”
Kaepernick completed just nine of 19 passes for 67 yards with four interceptions in the Cardinals’ 47-7 victory in Week 3. Kaepernick’s passer rating was 16.7. Those woeful numbers were not a coincidence, Mathieu said.
“We just knew Kaepernick’s tendencies,” he said. “We knew what he liked to do. We knew which way he wanted to roll out. We knew what side of the field he liked to read to.
“You don’t pick up those same things with Gabbert. He’s better in the pocket. He has a better feel for coverages. It seems like he can get to the line and see a coverage and then go to a different play. Or, see a coverage and not throw the ball. You can see Gabbert’s maturity and the different things he does well that Kaepernick doesn’t do well.”
Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said he had Gabbert rated as a good prospect when he was coming out of Missouri in 2011. But Gabbert flamed out with the Jacksonville Jaguars after being the No. 10 overall draft pick.
“You know the read option is still in the (49ers’) offense, but they seem to be a little more conventional,” Arians said. “He (Gabbert) is extremely mobile, accurate. I’ve always liked him. I really liked him coming out. I thought he was a heck of a prospect and got stuck in a bad situation like most young quarterbacks do.”
Through two games, Gabbert has completed 62.7 percent of his passes with three touchdowns and two interceptions. His passer rating is 88.9. Gabbert replaced Kaepernick who was benched before the Nov. 8 game against the Atlanta Falcons. Kaepernick had season-ending shoulder surgery on Tuesday.