The San Francisco 49ers 2009 season has been the tale of two quarterbacks. Through the first six games, Shaun Hill was the starter. Although Alex Smith nearly brought San Francisco back in the second half of Hill's most recent start, let's put the loss against the Texans on Hill's record.
Therefore, the dink and dunk, "no-arm" game-manager quarterback led the 49ers to a 3-3 record. Was he Joe Montana? No, but he wasn't exactly Ken Dorsey out there either.
But since the 49ers made the change to Alex Smith, the 49ers have subsequently gone 1-3.
Smith, the strong arm, big-play, no pocket awareness, interception prone quarterback may putting up "better" numbers compared to what his current back-up produced but he has two-less wins to show for it.
Putting the quarterbacks side by side, you'll see the following numbers:
Completions (87) Attempts (155) Percentage (56.1) Yards (943) YPG (157.2) TD/INT (5/2) Rating (79.6)
Completions (95) Attempts (155) Percentage (61.3) Yards (1035) YPG (207.0) TD/INT (9/7) Rating (81.5)
By taking a look at the raw numbers, the assumptions 49er fans had about the two quarterbacks have been proven true on the field.
Alex Smith may have the bigger arm and can make more plays down field and throw for more touchdowns. However, Shaun Hill makes better decisions with the football, limits the turnovers and keeps his team in ball games.
What does this mean you ask? That neither quarterback is the player to lead the 49ers back to the promise land.
What can all the top NFL quarterbacks accomplish? They can be both the big-arm quarterback who makes big plays down field and the quarterback who makes good decisions with the football that keep their team in games.
If only the 49ers could combine Smith and Hill into one person, then maybe they would finally have a good quarterback.
But since that is unfortunately not possible, the 49ers need to realize that since both have proven they will never be difference makers in the NFL, it is time to move on.
Alex Smith supporters can say all they want about the difficulty of five coordinators in five seasons but the truth cannot be denied that Smith does not have the necessary skills required to succeed at the NFL level.
You cannot teach pocket awareness and instincts and despite his athletic build, Smith clearly doesn't have the natural feel for the position.
He may be able to perform an excellent Tom Brady impersonation while in the shotgun formation and down 20 points, but there is no quarterback in the league that performs solely out of the spread formation.
Every offense in the NFL needs a quarterback to be able to take snaps from under center and make plays from inside the pocket. How many times does Smith have to prove his inability to accomplish this before his advocators realize his inability to play quarterback?
For the sake of the 49ers, making the switch at quarterback in the Houston game has actually decreased their chances at making the playoffs.
With the more athletic quarterback on the field, San Francisco has gone away from their bread and butter of running the football. Frank Gore is one of the top runners in all of football and the 49ers have neglected to utilize him as their best weapon.
When the Niners have handed the ball off to their best weapon more than 20 times this season they are 2-0. When they fail to get him 20 or more carries, they fall to 1-4.
In the most recent contest against Green Bay, Gore wasn't even given double-digit carries much less 20 or more and just barely reached double-digit touches with ten.
Yet the one game they have won since making the switch at quarterback, Gore ran the ball 25 times for 104 yards and a touchdown. And despite running 22 fewer offensive plays, the 49ers controlled the ball for 31:33 compared to Chicago's 28:27.
The offense may have not been pretty but just like they say in hockey, they don't ask how pretty, they ask how many.
Against Green Bay last week, Alex Smith may have had a prettier game. He threw for 227 yards, three touchdowns and just one interception compared to throwing for just 118 yards, zero touchdowns and one interception against Chicago. But his team beat the Bears and lost to the Packers. Part of the reason for the Green Bay loss was that the Packers held onto the ball for 41:39 to just 18:21 for the 49ers.
Losing the time of possession is not the formula for winning with the current crop of 49ers.
In all but one game this season, the team who won the time of possession battle went on to win the game. But even when the 49ers won the time of possession statistic against the Titans, they still lost that game because of Alex Smith's three interceptions.
But that is what makes the NFL great, wins are what matters, not statistics.
However, certain statistics like TOP and amount of Frank Gore carries typically prelude to whether the 49ers win or lose.
Now for the sake of this season, leaving Hill at quarterback would have given the 49ers a better shot at the playoffs. Fans would much rather watch a performance like San Francisco gave against the Vikings where they played solid football the entire game and would have won if not for a miracle play, then have to pray for a late fourth quarter comeback to be completed after witnessing horrendous football for the entire first-half.
With Hill running the show, winning the TOP battle and utilizing Frank Gore early and often was a staple of the offense. Therefore it is no surprise why three of San Francisco's four victories came with Hill at quarterback and why all four victories have come with either Hill/Gore or both as key contributors.
But either way, 49er fans and hopefully the 49er coaching staff has realized that neither quarterback is "the guy".
If Hill had led the 49ers to the playoffs it would have been a great underdog story, a team without a true quarterback managed to play well enough to defy the odds and make the post-season.
However, it also may have given fans and coaches false hope that Hill could actually lead the squad to a Super Bowl.
Considering that there are just six games remaining and the 49ers are three games behind the division leading Arizona Cardinals, San Francisco needs to see what they have with rookie quarterback Nate Davis.
Am I saying that the rookie can play at McNabb's level? No, of course not. But as the phrase goes from many NFL coaches, "he gives our team the best chance to win".
Alex Smith clearly doesn't give the 49ers the best chance to win, he is 1-3 since taking over as a starter and his constant mistakes hinder his team's chances to win.
Shaun Hill allows the 49ers a better chance to win but with Michael Crabtee added to Vernon Davis, San Francisco now has multiple down the field weapons. Hill doesn't have the arm strength to get these guys the ball when the 49ers need a big throw.
Nate Davis on the other hand looked extremely poised during his extended look during the pre-season, and if inserted into the lineup, he would have do little more but hand off to Frank Gore.
However, when a pass is needed, a play action pass down the field to Crabtree or Vernon will be well well in the capability of Davis who has incredible arm strength.
Being new to the league, Davis will be able to pick and choose his throws and won't put his team in a bad situation.
The issue that currently kills San Francisco is that Smith is over-confident. He thinks he can fit throws into windows that don't exist and it leads San Francisco into a whole heap of troubles.
If Davis were put on the field, San Francisco would finally be able to put together the balance of run and pass they were looking for at the beginning of the season.
Now perhaps the rookie quarterback will struggle since he has yet to take a regular season snap but even if he does, at-least he offers something new, something refreshing, something different from the other two quarterbacks.
Smith and Hill are exactly who we thought they were. But Nate Davis could be a diamond in the rough.
He has the raw skills and physical prowess to be a play maker and putting him on the field could jump start this 49er offense.
The Cardinals have at the red-hot Titans next week, and home against the Vikings in two weeks.
There is a good chance that the 49ers could be sitting at 6-6 three weeks from now and the Cardinals could be sitting at 7-5.
What happens three weeks from now? The 49ers get the Cardinals in San Francisco on Monday Night Football.
If everything goes according to plan, a victory on Monday Night could give the 49ers sole possession of first-place via the head-to-head tie breaker over Arizona.
However, so far this season nothing ever goes according to plan with the 49ers.
Assuming the 49ers continue with with Alex Smith at quarterback, their woeful offensive performances will continue and they won't be able to win their next two very winnable games causing the Monday Night contest against Arizona to be a wash of a football game.
The only way leaving the 49ers win the next two games with Smith at quarterback is if they get back to running the ball with Gore.
Unfortunately, with Smith in the lineup, offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye is unbelievably pass-happy. I can just see it now how Smith goes leads the 49ers to numerous three-n-out possessions and Jaguars stud running back Maurice Jones-Drew controls the clock and eats up the 49er defense for multiple scores.
Putting Nate Davis in the game will shift back the focus to Gore, and allow the 49ers defense rest on the sidelines because these continual three-n-outs with Smith are causing the 49er defense to spend way to much time on the field.
The 49ers still have a chance at the post-season, hopefully they will figure out that chance runs through Gore, not Alex Smith.
But as we know, the 49ers are going need to pass in certain situations even with Gore as the focus, and Smith cannot throw from under center to save his life.
That's where Davis comes in and allows the passing game to flourish when called upon.
It's worth a shot but it has to happen now. The 49ers cannot afford to lose any more winnable football games.