So what we have lost two in a row. So what if our only wins are against teams in our division. So what if the running game has been mediocre to bad thus far. So what. I can honestly take more positives away from this game than from any other game this year. Want to know what they are? Read on, then.
I don't know what to say about Shaun Hill. On the one hand, it did seem like he was running for his life half of the time but on the other I saw him missing plenty of open receivers for the second straight game. Anyone who reads my posts knows that I have been one of the most avid supporters of Hill for the past two seasons but he has just not played well in recent weeks. Alex Smith played fantastic today, though. His passes had a zip to them that we had not seen since his 2006 season and he had a decisiveness and leadership quality that we have never seen. I can say with 100% honesty that he played better today than any 49ers quarterback since Jeff Garcia. If he does not get the start against Indianapolis next week I would be surprised.
It is 100% not Frank Gore's fault that the running game is not playing well. Teams are stacking the box almost every play to stop him and he seemingly has to break at least one tackle in the backfield every time he touches the ball. Given the circumstances, he has been great this year. His blitz pick-up is amongst the best in the league.
Now for the best part of our offense this year, Vernon Davis. Wow. I can't believe that I just said that. I have never been a fan of Davis and I wrote him off as a bust this preseason but he has sure showed me. Davis' 3 receiving touchdowns today give him 6 on the year. Those 6 touchdowns do not only lead all tight ends but all players. His route-running has drastically improved since last year and his hands have as well, though he dropped a catchable ball today.
Michael Crabtree is the greatest wide receiver of all-time... :). Okay, that might be an exaggeration but when is the last time a rookie receiver had this good of a first game? I bet that receiver didn't miss training camp and the first 5 weeks of the season. Crabtree caught everything that he had a chance to catch, finishing with 5 catches for 56, and was opening things up by drawing the Texans attention. This attention allowed Josh Morgan to have a good game (4 catches for 62 yards), and I am personally convinced that these two should be our starting receivers with Isaac Bruce at #3. Who cares about Jason Hill, Arnaz Battle, and Brandon Jones.
The first sack of the game was all on Hill, if you ask me. He had a chance to get rid of the ball but did not because of his indecisiveness. The second one was just plain awful blocking by Chilo Rachal. Other than the sacks there was a little bit of pressure on Hill but not nearly as much as some fans are making it out to be. Rachal got beat a couple of more times, and so did Tony Pashos, but Hill was able to step forward on those plays. Smith also took some pressure but was able to avoid the rush much better than Hill. Eric Heitmann, David Baas, and Joe Staley all had solid games.
At this point, I feel there is very little for me to say about Jimmy Raye and his offensive "strategies" that I have not already said, but I will anyway. His offense is far too conservative, he calls way too many runs up the middle, and he plays not to lose instead of playing to win. After being down 21-0 at halftime, and with the stronger-armed Smith in, he changed up the gameplan a lot but we need that kind of mentality in the 1st quarter when he game is close, hot in the 4th when it is all but out of reach.
Offensive players not mentioned at all due to lack of contributions on offense:
Arnaz Battle, Michael Spurlock, Brandon Jones, Glen Coffee, Moran Norris, Delanie Walker, Jason Hill, Michael Robinson
Justin Smith had a particularly good game, putting two pressures on Matt Schaub and finishing with 8 total tackles (3 for <=0 yards). Aubrayo Franklin and Isaac Sopoaga once again held up the point of attack very well, other than the 33 yard run by Slaton where they were pushed way off of the ball, but got very little pressure on Schaub. Demetric Evans had his best game as a 49ers, racking up a couple of pressures on Schaub, but Kentwan Balmer played poorly and could not get off even one-on-one blocks.
Manny Lawson may never develop into a dominant pass rusher but if he plays like he did today he doesn't have to rack up the sacks in my eyes. ManLaw had 5 total tackles; coming for 0, 0, -9, -1, and 2 yards; one sack, and a QB pressure. That is a great game by any standard, even though I'll admit the sack was partly a coverage sack. Patrick Willis also had another great game, knocking away 2 passes, pressuring Schaub once, and racking up 10 total tackles. Takeo Spikes left the game early and Scoot McKillop had a solid game in relief. Parys Haralson pressured Schaub once early on but was otherwise almost non-existent while Ahmad Brooks made his presence known with a big sack. Brooks has played very well as a situational pass rusher and I think it is time we gave him a shot at Haralson's spot.
Nate Clements shut all the naysayers up. He blanketed Andre Johnson every time he was on him and I'm fairly certain that he did not allow a catch in man coverage, though he gave the inside to Daniels for a 9 yard gain in zone coverage once. He also missed a tackle on Slaton's touchdown catch that might have allowed us to hold the Texans to a field goal. Shawntae Spencer had another lights-out game, not allowing a single catch in man, and Dre Bly did not make any mistakes. Mark Roman was relatively solid by his standards but both he and Spencer had a chance to knock away Andre Johnson's big reception. Dashon Goldson had an awful game, being was out of position on the Daniels touchdown and the other long gain by Daniels as well as a couple of other mid-range gains.
I gotta hand it to Manusky this week because his defense successfully took one of the best receivers in the league out of the game. I do think that was more due to the player’s high levels of play than his schemes but the end result is the same. He dialed up a few blitzes, though not as many as I would like, as well. Overall, he called one of his better games of the season.
Arnaz Battle's muffed punt might have cost us the game but other than that, there is not much to say here. Andy Lee and Joe Nedney were both really booming their kicks and the coverage teams were excellent, and Michael Robinson looked pretty good on kickoff returns. Once we find someone who cans at least fair catch a punt, we will be fine here.
For some reason I feel like I am forgetting something, so if I am someone please tell me. Since I don't really feel like writing a summary, I will just list the best players of the game.
+ Alex Smith
+ Vernon Davis
+ Michael Crabtree
+ Patrick Willis
+ Manny Lawson
And this is comforting to me seeing as every one of them is 25 or younger.