Shaun Hill and the offense looked awful to begin today’s game. Wait, let me correct myself. Shaun Hill and the offense WERE terrible to begin the game. From the very first play, Hill set the tone for the day. He took a simple three-step drop and tried to force the ball to Michael Crabtree. With Mario Williams in his face, Hill didn’t try to avoid the rush, or look for his outlet receiver, he tried to look around Williams and pass to Crabtree, only to be sacked. Hill’s poor day assisted in the 49ers quick 21-0 deficit at halftime. It wasn’t all his fault, a muffed Arnaz Battle punt return played a big part, but Hill did not seem to have a grasp on the offense today. He finished the half 6-11 for 45 yards. The offense in total had 50 yards for three first down. Pathetic. After a bye week, the team falls down 21 points and expect to compete with only three first downs? That is unacceptable.
Fortunately, Mike Singletary pulled the struggling HIll and Alex Smith came out firing. Smith provided a spark to the offense immediately and added a new dynamic they were sorely lacking. His arm and apparent studying of the playbook showed an instant improvement. As we all knew coming into the season, Hill was considered the better leader, decision maker, and overall winner. Smith however, was viewed as the superior athlete and it really showed today.
Smith surpassed Hill’s statistics in two passes. In his first series, he went 2-2 for 46 yards and a touchdown. What looked like a rout, Smith was able to turn into a winnable game, but fell just short of an amazing come-back.
What’s most important about Smith’s emergence is how good the offense looked. He finished 15-22 for 206 yards 3 touchdowns and that game-ending interception. Vernon Davis obviously benefited the most with Smith at quarterback. His seven receptions led the team, as well as his 93 yards receiving. Davis was also on the receiving end of all three of Smith’s touchdowns. This firepower was greatly needed and Smith came in and provided the 49ers with the offense it needed to keep up with the high scoring Texans.
There were a lot of positives to take away from the game. The best is how this loss doesn’t leave a sour taste in the team’s mouth. Fighting back from a 21 point deficit to have a chance to win, on the road, speaks volumes about their will to win. The defense gave up their share of points and plays, but still gave the offense a chance to win the game in the end. This loss could and was going to be much worse, but it’s a loss that doesn’t demoralize the team like last week. Now for the bad news. Next week the 49ers travel to Indianapolis to face arguably the best quarterback in the league in Peyton Manning. The Colts gave it to the Rams to the tune of 42-6. If the 49ers have any chance to beat the undefeated Colts, they are going to have to keep pace with that high octane offense. I don’t see the defense giving up many 40+ point games, but we know it’s possible. But Manning will throw for his yards and touchdowns. If the defense can hold the damage to a minimum, the offense must do their part and out score Manning.
Singletary faces a decision to make, and I don’t think it’s a hard one. Hill performed how we all thought he was going to. He passes for short, high completion passes, didn’t turn the ball over, but showed no big play ability. When facing an offense that can move the ball, shots downfield are necessary. If your quarterback is unable to throw the deep ball, well, you usually see a 6-11 for 45 yard day. I don’t think there should be any hesitation to name Alex Smith the starter. I am not being premature after one game by Smith. We had six games to see the ineptitude Hill shows at quarterback. And after losing three of the past four games, changes must be made, especially in a team that showed promise at the beginning of the season. I expect Mike Singletary to keep his decision a secret until closer to game-time, but will be surprised if he doesn’t name Alex Smith the starter.