After being just two seconds away from an undefeated 4-0 start, the 49ers came crashing to earth on Sunday as the Atlanta Falcons humiliated them 45-10 at Candlestick Park. For the first time this season, we were able to see what an outstanding job Mike Singletary has done to date with a team whose weaknesses were exposed for all to see.
Now facing a bye week ahead, and with the prospect of both the Arizona Cardinals and Seattle Seahawks returning to form, Mike Singletary is faced with some major decisions. On the defensive side of the ball, the 49ers are sound and talented. Manny Lawson has been inconsistent, and the secondary has had its good and bad moments, but the unit as a whole is among the league's upper echelon. Patrick Willis and Takeo Spikes have been sensational, and Justin Smith and Isaac Sopoaga have been staunch against the run.
Aubrayo Franklin, after an excellent start to the season, had a terrible game yesterday, and Dre Bly should be cut. His hot dog performance and insistence that "Dre does what Dre does," proves that he is an individual playing on a team and there is no room for that kind of childish behavior on a winning TEAM, With just a few adjustments, the defense will remain solid.
THE TEAM UNDER REVIEW
The fly in the ointment for the 49ers is the offense. That they have been able to go 3-2 with Jimmy Raye's plain vanilla offense is remarkable, but it's time to play PROFESSIONAL football and this offensive scheme may be fine for a Pop Warner league team lacking a good QB, but it has no place in the NFL.
Let's pick the offense apart. First, the offensive line is just that—offensive. To say that Shaun Hill has little or no time to pass is an understatement. Eric Heitmann and Joe Staley have been adequate, but the guard play of David Baas and Chilo Rachal has been very disappointing. Right tackle has been inconsistent with Snyder and Pashos both having mediocre performances. Elevating Alex Boone from the practice squad may be a good move as he will be a future starter and needs to get some reps.
At wide receiver, it is obvious that the Niners lack a breakaway man like they faced in Roddy White of Atlanta. Josh Morgan has disappointed, not only because he dropped a certain TD pass vs. the Rams, then made the excuse that the ball was "coming down like a punt," but because yesterday he was not running full out in an attempt to catch a pass. Anything less than 100 percent effort is unacceptable.
Brandon Jones has yet to set foot on the field and Jason Hill is apparently in somebody's doghouse but gives great effort on special teams and is, in my estimation, the best wide receiver we have active at this time. Arnaz Battle has never been great, and Isaac Bruce is ready for Social Security and shows it. The best receivers right now are the Tight Ends, Vernon Davis and Delanie Walker.
THE FORK IN THE ROAD -- SINGLETARY'S MOMENT OF DECISION
As someone who shares a birthdate with Singletary, I have insight into his thought processes. He's a Libra to whom balance is essential in life. Mike can see both sides of a situation and is motivated by fairness and discipline. His decisions are always made with the best interest of his team in mind and he will make sacrifices to see that his goals are met.
Now the 49ers are at a fork in the road. They are moving in the right direction with the Playoffs and eventually the Super Bowl as the goal. Yesterday's blowout exposed the weaknesses, and unfortunately, the biggest weakness is at QB. I love Shaun Hill. He is a leader, determined, and excellent game manager, and tough. However, he does not possess the passing skills to take an NFL team to a title. That fact became obvious to me yesterday for the first time. I wanted him to succeed badly, but he just doesn't have "it", and "it" is what is needed at the position to take the Niners to the next level. Continuing with Hill as our starting QB is only delaying the development of this team.
Mike is now faced with a dilemma. Shaun Hill is a serviceable quarterback, an excellent game manager, a fairly accurate passer with a soft arm, and a leader. Alex Smith came to the 49ers with great physical ability but no natural instincts for the position. Alex continues to take way too long to set up and deliver the ball. He makes very slow decisions which results in a very slow delivery. His passing is scattershot at best and while he has a strong arm, he is and continues to be very inaccurate. The game has never slowed down for Alex. He will NEVER be a top quarterback for the 49ers.
THE CRABTREE CONNECTION
As we enter the Bye week, the future of our receiving corps has come to camp. Michael Crabtree, if he is anywhere near as good as expected, will bring the excitement and explosiveness to the receiving corps that is needed. With Jones returning from injury and Jason Hill and Morgan ready to go, and with the return of Frank Gore, this offense should be ready to reduce the vanilla bean running scheme and go to the air with effectiveness.
Enter Nate Davis. In two preseason games he has demonstrated a rocket arm, and makes plays that the other two guys simply cannot; he is mobile and can make throws on the run the others cannot, and he makes excellent decisions. I don't care that he has only faced backups—his ability is right there for all to see.
Most important of all is his poise. In four years, Alex Smith has continually shown that deer-in-the-headlights quality that frustrates 49er fans. Many blame his failure to excel at QB on the 49ers. They say he has been ruined by them due to having too many offensive coordinators, a poor supporting cast, etc. I say that is baloney (bologna to my Italian readers). In reading the forums and comments of many of the newer and younger 49er fans who don't even have a clue as to our winning tradition, beg and plead not to rush Davis into the fray and ruin him like we did Alex. I read comments saying he's our QB for 2010, 2011, and even 2012.
Why wait? Do the names Flacco, Ryan or Roethlisberger ring a bell? All were highly successful in their rookie season.
If I were Mike Singletary, I would get Nate Davis and Michael Crabtree together and have them start working on their chemistry right now during the bye week. They are the touchdown combination of the future for the 49ers and it makes no sense to finish this season with either Hill or Smith since neither is the future of the 49ers.
I am now in my 64th season as a 49er fan, having seen every quarterback in Niner history from the great Frankie Albert up to not so great Alex Smith, and consider myself to be a pretty good judge of quarterbacking talent. Nate Davis possesses the most talent and ability to be seen in a 49er quarterback since Steve Young. It makes no sense to hold him back. The only way he is going to develop that talent is to PLAY. We discovered a gem, let's polish it and put it on display. It is time!