Koyaanisqatsi: Your 2009 San Francisco 49ers

Shaun Hill executes the short pass

Shaun Hill executes the short pass or the Riverdance

The Hopi people have a word that describes “crazy life, life in turmoil, life out of balance, life disintegrating, a state of life that calls for another way of living:” Koyaanisqatsi.  And while there isn’t a literal connection between the Hopi culture of Arizona and the 49ers of San Franciso, a life IN balance is key to the success of both.

Through two games, the 49ers have demonstrated a formula for success that strongly resembles the now famous words uttered at Mike Singletary’s first post-game press conference as head coach: “we go out…we hit people in the mouth.”  Despite being dominated in the running game in Arizona, the overall physicality has helped to win a battle of attrition in Week 1 and overwhelm an undermanned opponent in Week 2.  The key to success has been, is, and will be the running game and defense.

But all is not well.  The passing game ranks 30th in the NFL, and has failed to generate any sustained momentum.  And while Singletary and offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye may still harbor aspirations of having a 60/40 run/pass ratio, the passing game must hold up its 40 of the bargain. 

The questions are obvious:  does Shaun Hill have the arm strength to threaten down the field?  Does the offensive line offer the necessary protection to let plays develop?  Does the wide receiver corps hinder the passing game?  Did Michael Crabtree sign yet?  Remember that guy they drafted #1 overall to be a QB?

All of these play a key factor in the struggles of the passing game, but I think they can be traced back to an all-too-annoyingly familiar place.

The numbers on Shaun Hill have been regurgitated enough lately:  9-3 as a starter, 6-0 at home.  He has yet to throw an interception, and he has stepped up and made plays on crucial drives in the team’s first two games.  But his physical limitations are apparent and equally regurgitable (is that a word?):  a borderline hilarious lack of zip on his passes, below average pocket awareness, and possible hillbilly eyes syndrome (seriously, my girlfriend said he looks like one of the bad guys from Deliverance). 

The misconception about Hill is that he cannot throw the deep ball.  Take another look at the long pass to Isaac Bruce in Week 1, and you will see a pretty well thrown ball that hit Bruce squarely.  Go back to last season and you will see some of the same things…Hill has pretty solid accuracy on the deep ball.  His accuracy on short throws is well-documented and with good reason.  The problem lies in the middle.

The lack of zip on Hill’s passes can be masked on short throws and deep throws.  You can throw a deep ball with more loft and less zip if you throw it accurately and in perfect rhythm and timing.  What throws cannot be made this way?  NFL throws.  The deep out from the opposite hash (most would settle for the near hash at this point).  The dig into the middle of a zone.  The corner post.  The WR screen.  Hill has not demonstrated the ability to make any of these throws consistently because he simply does not possess the skills to do so. 

This inability has led to questions about the WR corps and their ability to make plays.  Veteran Isaac Bruce seems to be the only target in the passing game.  Wherefore art thou, Josh Morgan?  What happened to Arnaz Battle’s stellar preseason?  Did Michael Crabtree sign yet?

Morgan, in particular, has suffered through these first two weeks.  His blocking has been sensational, but he has been a complete non-factor in the passing game.  Some have questioned his effort to get open, but that seems an odd notion given his supreme effort in the running game.  

I have seen Morgan wide open three times thus far without being targeted.  It should come as no surprise that all three of the plays required “NFL” throws from the quarterback:  two deep outs and one deep in by my extremely unscientific count (without the benefit of having viewed the games a second time, either).  Does this mean that Morgan is constantly open and being ignored?  No.  But it does mean that he was open three times for potentially big plays and the play was not made each time.

The seemingly imminent return of Brandon Jones will give the 49ers another potential weapon outside.  The question becomes:  will defenses have to be accountable for him, or Morgan, or anybody else?  Right now, defenses don’t have to respect the passing game at all, so the continued 8 and 9 man fronts could become a major concern.  Not everyone tackles as poorly as a Jim Mora Jr. coached team.

The offensive line has also received its share of blame, and with good reason.  They have allowed eight sacks in two games, putting them on a pace for 64 sacks given up on the season.  The gaping hole at right tackle continues to be a huge problem (would anyone else like a do-over with that #10 pick and grab Michael Oher right about now?) with Adam Snyder failing to live up to his “stick me in one spot and watch me go” promise and Tony Pashos playing like a guy who was cut from a bad team.  The interior of the line played significantly better in Week 2, but still has a ways to go to be an effective unit.  Only Joe Staley seems to have produced positive results to this point.

It would be difficult to determine if Shaun Hill is holding on to the ball too long BECAUSE of his inability to throw NFL passes;  not risking turnovers is far from a bad thing.  But there is no question that at least half of those sacks could have been avoided with better pocket presence, including one in which Hill literally ran straight into the warm embrace of Patrick Kerney.  He can’t feel the rush, but at least he can feel the love.

What, then, do the 49ers do about this glaring deficiency to make big plays through the air?  Continue to rely on yards after the catch.  Vernon Davis and Frank Gore will almost assuredly remain the prime targets (Davis needs to become target numero uno, though…he is STILL being underused), with Isaac Bruce catching the short passes on 3rd and 6 as per usual.

But, in the greatest Bill Walsh tradition that we have virtually no ties to any longer, the slant and hitch could and should be the routes du jour for this offense.  I cannot recall seeing the 49ers complete a single slant or hitch through the first two games, which is staggering.  If the routes are run with enough depth and precision, they should be able to get through the heavy run-stuffing fronts, leaving the wide receivers in single coverage without deep safety help.  And while Isaac Bruce, Josh Morgan, and Brandon Jones will not be bringing back memories of Jerry Rice, John Taylor, and Mike Sherrard anytime soon, they still have big play ability in the clear.

I like Jimmy Raye because he looks like a turtle character from a children’s movie, but the lack of creativity in the passing game is also to blame here.  Perhaps his creativity is stifled by the personnel, but without expanding things, the offense will never get off the ground, pun intended, I guess, since I already said it.

In sum:  the passing game will be just fine as soon as we get more creative playcalling, a legitimate big-play threat outside, better protection from the offensive line, and a quarterback with a quality arm who can make all the actual throws necessary, but still make good decisions (don’t you start with me, Alex Smith fans!). 

Oh God.

How’s that tampering investigation going? 



  • DcNinerFan

    Normally I tend to lean towards agreeing with you, but I do take issue with a few things. "…and has failed to generate any sustained momentum." I'd say, honestly, that that is a load of bunk. I feel that when it was needed Shaun Hill and the O were able to sustain momentum just fine. A nearly 13 minute drive against the Seahawks, an 8 minute drive against the Cardinals to win. Yes, our O isn't top 15, but hell, we don't NEED it to be with our D. We have a good if not great running game, and Shaun Hill can make smart completions when needed. He's not the long term answer, but who would you rather have, an unproven rookie who needs time, or an interception happy Alex Smith? Just curious.

    • NinerPaul

      I agree on most of the comments but Shaun can be the long term answer…..Look below to my comments…

  • krytoi

    How is his personal appearance relevant in any way? Who cares what you girlfriend thinks he looks like…That’s where I stopped reading.

    But I guess I shouldn’t expect much, this is the same blog that calls grown men Bitches when they compete against super people every sunday and don’t do that well.


    • Niner Pundit

      But yet you still took time out of your day to comment. Now that's laughable.

  • #1

    Well said DcNinerfan and Krytoi!!!!

  • CrackLaden

    “How is his personal appearance relevant in any way? Who cares what you girlfriend thinks he looks like…That’s where I stopped reading.”

    It’s called the rule of three, and it’s a writing device used humorously in this case to add a little fun to the observations of Hill. I could use it again in something like: krytoi has shown the ability to use the internet, post comments on blogs, and completely miss the entire point of this post. See what I did there?

    I never once said we had a personnel solution…we don’t. But I did suggest some solutions in the play calling…which I gather you missed because you chose to obsess over an ounce of humor. Well played, gents. Well played. You guys are the Shaun Hill’s arm strength of news readers.

  • NinerPaul

    Its obvious the “pass” play calling is not as often or creative as Mike Martz’s system. Shaun’s average last year was 227.3 yards a game >> This Year 176.5 Yards a game >>> for the difference of 50.8 yards a game >>> But I’m tired of you old school 49er fans…… Bringing up Montana, Young, Rice, Taylor, Sherrard, Supulo, Lott, Barton, all those great players, I grew up in that era too and fell in love with the 49ers and loved it when it was business as usual. But that is not the reality of the current football “business” landscape. All those great players would not of played on the 49ers under the current salary cap rules >> nor Dallas’s of the 90’s, Pittsburg’s dynasty of 70’s. The current dynasty of the patriots, Brady was playing for “back up” QB money in the biggining. You have to understand why all of a sudden, Boom, out of nohere the Rams who were crappy team for years win a superbowl???? But soon after now suck again??? The year was 1994 when the salary cap was introduced that change football. Now currently, coach Sing has earlier in his coaching career, coached with the Raven’s, so he has been brought up in the coaching side of the salary cap era. Good D, a smart effecient QB and somewhat of run game. Now day’s a football team needs to also have good coaching and a superior front office, not and endless checkbook to keep good players, like the pre salary cap years. And now also under the salary cap rules the word “team player” has been taken to a new level by veteran players taking pay cuts to be part of the team that potentially will take them to a championship. (Front Office skill’s) Example Patriots bringing in Rodney Harrison to help win there 3rd superbowl. Brian Cox, veteran, LB help them win there first. They brought in Seau in recent years. Or the flip side like Haynesworth “I’m outa here for more money” Our front office has to make sure we don’t jack our salary cap for extended years when we sign players (like we did in the late 90’s)(and using caution on the Crabtree Deal). Look up “salary cap nfl on wikipedia” it get’s complicated. Were talking financial modeling of the probability of player performance and the effect on the teams current and future salary cap. So there is much more to NFL football and the front office these days, than just a QB’s arm. Now let me explain why coach sing said, “our QB is good enough for the vision” A Championship… Because not of just the players, because he greatly believes in himself, not only in just football but understanding the business side as well. He understands that the NFL’s talent is for the most part pretty evenly spread out, because of the salary cap…. So what he has brought to the table is his “vision” a championship, and the “respect” that it deserves >> AKA “the hard work, grit, determination” Result >> a 2 and 6 team to now a 7 and 3 team under sing with for the most part all the same players and at the time a third string QB. Again, you have to understand the coaching and front offices play a bigger part now days not just hanging on the fact of one guy’s arm. Pay 11 good defender’s to beat the good QB’s and the offenses, rather than pay one QB if he gets hurt or doesn’t perform. Then what, all the defensive $ is gone and so is the hi level play. That’s the front offices identity right now as it is working with the personal we have ….. (FACTS) Ben Roth won the 06′ SuperBowl with 234 YDS a game and a 75.4 rating for the year and in 08′ with less yards a game 206 and a 80.1 passer rating. So understand when sing said “Our QB is good enough” the numbers don’t lie >> Hill in 14 games has 193.3 yards per game a 90.1 passer rating, and as a starter 9 wins and 3 losses …….. So please, please, people, get off the yester years where we just use to smoke people all the time. There will NEVER be a Superbowl win in the NFL anybody Like we did against Denver 55 to 10 with the current NFL Cap System. And I’m ok with that …. This is the last pure sport left…. Please NFLPA don’t be like the other Leages MLB and the NBA, and not have a salary cap, where some team at the top tier of salaries wins the championships……….. usually in the top ten of salaries ……. whats the point then …….. The pride of the rich and empty stadiums of small market teams I hope not…..

  • 9nerfan

    2-0, running game is going and defense is playing excellent. thats what i expected. i wasnt really excited about the passing game but who was. from the beginning sing said he wanted to run. and thats what they’re doing. i dont expect hill to put up pro bowl numbers. all i care about is him putting up wins and he is. plus he doesnt have an interception. what more can u ask from him. he doesnt turn the ball over. he does step up when he has to and WINS GAMES. i love it. hopefully the o-line steps it up in protecting hill then maybe he can put up better numbers.

  • 9nerfan, I couldnt’t have said it better myself. Amen, brother!

  • Joe Gomez

    NinerPaul, are you related to Hill? I swear you sound like his biggest fan. I like Hill too especially over Alex “what a waste” Smith, but he definitely is not the long term answer at QB. He can manage a game but there are way too many throws he can’t make. Nate Davis right now is a much better QB than Hill. With more experience Davis will make Hill look like a weak armed bench warmer. I would like to see Davis battle Colt or Sam next year for the starting QB position. 49ers deserve a Pro Bowl QB again. Hill will NEVER reach that level. That AZ game Hill looked like shit before the last drive. He missed his out routes big time. Wasn’t even close. Seattle game was all Gore. Without Gore, we lose that game. Once in awhile people come along and fall in love with mediocre talent. Hell, just last year I was bumpin heads with all the Alex lovers, just ask Pundit. Now we have you, the Hill lover. Again, he will do for now but he is most definitely not the long term answer.

  • Adam

    Shaun Hill doesn't need to throw for 300 yards a game when the defense is holding its opponents to and average of 13 points a game and the offense is helping gore run for 200+ yards. Shaun Hill has shown that he can manage a game and not make the stupid mistakes that my boy alex smith makes. We can win under Hill and thats all that matters.

  • Adam

    And also, im feeling that Rossum is gonna break a few this year and this Sunday would be a perfect time for a ST TD.

  • Josh

    I have to say that Hill looked better at throwing the ball last year than he has so far through the ptreseason and two games. I hope he starts throwing better, because Gore isn’t going to win all the games for us.

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