It was the first battle in a season long war which should prove to be demanding and strenuous. The first battle in an attempt to return the San Francisco 49ers back to glory and the one which this team was looking towards the moment they knew they were going to be traveling to Glendale, AZ to take on their division nemesis.
The 49ers and Cardinals have faced off in the season opener four straight years now and over that time the teams have split the contests down the middle. Today might have been the best game of them all as it literally went down to the wire, ending as San Francisco defensive lineman Justin Smith flushed Cardinal quarterback Kurt Warner from the pocket and proceeded to throw him to the ground. Warner lost the ball on the way down and as it rolled out of bounds the clock ticked down to zero, 49ers win 20-16.
This game and the way it was won should be savored by both player and fan alike, however I am going to stand behind what I have been saying and thinking for weeks now. Shaun Hill is not the answer at quarterback, he is decent game manager. Nothing more, nothing less.
It will be when he begins to cost the team games with mistakes and attempting passes which he as has no chance of completing that I will be more ardent in making my opinion known. There were several passes in this game that were actually overthrown by Hill, two in the second half to tight-end Delanie Walker which should have been completed. I found it ironic in this game that Hill had any passes sail over his receiver’s heads at all. Oh he still produced his usual quota of throws which fell far short of their intended targets but there were times when it seemed to me that he was trying to put too much on his passes.
I almost have to believe that Hill stepped it up late in the game might have been because perhaps Singletary told him that unless he did so then Alex Smith was going to replace him. Perhaps that might be wishful thinking but I just don’t see Hill as being able to lead this team in the way that he needs to. I’m also not sure whether I see Smith as that man either but I do feel that we will find out one way or another some point in this season.
The running game certainly left something to be desired in this game and I have to say that I am somewhat worried about this offensive line. I understand that Arizona has a very good defensive front seven and they were focused on stopping the run all game however Frank Gore should have been able to find more daylight then he did and at least a few more holes to hit. At times I saw Gore go the wrong way or not see the break in the line to go through but for the most part the line simply didn’t do a good enough job in run blocking.
Play calling from offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye was for all intents and purposes predicable. Perhaps no more so then on a drive in the second half where Hill handed the ball to Gore on all three downs resulting in a three and out and forcing the defense to hit the field again after getting little rest. I have to believe that next week we’ll see a bit more disparity in the play calling, perhaps leaning more to the passing game.
The defense played a great game as they hurried Warner numerous times and even managed to sack the Arizona quarterback three times and linebacker Patrick Willis was his usual dominant self with a game-high 13 tackles and an interception. Cornerback Nate Clements also had an interception off Warner and the defense as a whole hit Warner eight times in the game.
This was the kind of team Singletary was hoping for, an offense that would manage the game when they had the ball and a defense that would not back down and would give it their all for a full 60 minutes. He got a little of the former and a lot of the latter. This defense could be a top 10 unit in the NFL this season.
All in all I would have to give the offense in this game a solid B- and the defense an A… they took on the defending NFC Champions and an offense that ranked fourth overall in 2008. They held Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin to a combined eight catches for 90 yards and a touchdown, stats which have become almost commonplace when these teams meet. Something I don’t think is being talked about enough was the play of Shawntae Spencer. The sixth year defensive back played well and was integral in helping to contain the Arizona offense.
The defense also wrangled in the Cardinals running game as Tim Hightower and Chris “Beanie” Wells combined for only 44 yards on 15 carries.
The 49ers home opener is next week against the Seattle Seahawks and while it should be another hard fought game, if the defense can come out with the same intensity then there is no reason that Singletary’s crew can’t start the season 2-0 against the most significant threats in the NFC West.