49ers Blog and Q&A

News, notes and reader questions about the San Francisco 49ers

October 31, 2008
49ers quarterly report (Spoiler alert: It's not good)

It's that time again, 49ers shareholders. I've been crunching the numbers and, well, you took it on the chin again this quarter. Not good. Short of a buyout - don't hold your breath, York haters - the best you can hope for is that Mike Singletary's soaring rhetoric starts to sink in and that Shaun Hill's right arm is more stout than advertised. Here's the report for the last four games starting with offense and defense ...

Offense: At the end of the first quarterly report, we mused whether Mike Martz's offense was giving off a Lions like vibe. That is, it was gobbling up lots of yards through the air and putting points on the board. But it also was giving up too many sacks and J.T. O'Sullivan was throwing too many interceptions. Like the Martz-led Lions, the 49ers weren't winning consistently, either.

The likeness grew stronger over the last four games - all losses - until Mike Singletary gave O'Sullivan the hook before halftime on Sunday. The move wasn't just a rejection of O'Sullivan, who leads the NFC in interceptions and the NFL in fumbles and sacks, but also of Martz's high-risk approach.

The buzzword now is "game management" and that's Shaun Hill's forte. Consider him the John Stockton (Ok, the John Crotty) of offense: Smart and efficient, but there won't be a lot of slam dunks. The risk of going with Hill is that defenses no longer will fear the downfield pass. They'll crowd the line of scrimmage, gang up on Frank Gore and the offense will relapse into its newborn-horse-learning-to-walk form from 2007.

Here are two reasons why that won't happen. The main one is Martz. If the brilliant offensive coordinator is indeed hoping for another head-coaching gig, consider the first half of the season a flop. It was further evidence that the high risk vs. high reward approach may work in spurts but fails over the long haul. The Greatest Show on Turf has become a second-rate attraction. The Vegas days are over; it's playing Tahoe now. But if Martz can adjust to a more conservative system with a quarterback with a limited arm, he will have broader appeal. Martz's creativity will be tested by Hill's hesitancy to throw downfield. If he succeeds, the "genius" label will live.

The second reason for hope is Hill. Last year, he was 2-0 as a starter while playing with a broken and very swollen forefinger on his throwing hand. Next to the thumb, that's the most important digit for a QB (We're looking at you, Tony Romo). That finger is back to normal now. No one should look to Hill and the 49ers to blow anyone away over the last half of the season. But the days of catastrophic fourth-quarter disasters probably are over, too. Grade: D.

Defense: It's not the Yorks' style, but a gallon of Breyer's vanilla would have been an appropriate going-away present for Mike Nolan. The defense, which steadily had been gaining big, expensive pieces for three years - Manny Lawson, Nate Clements, Patrick Willis, Justin Smith - has been as riveting as a Ken Burns miniseries on the history of yeast. Over the first eight games, the unit has had one big play, Willis' interception return for a touchdown.

One of the problems is that the defense has shown zero ability to stop opponents when they have to. Sunday against Seattle, for example, the offense showed signs of crawling back into the game in the second half. Every time the 49ers scored, however, the Seahawks answered with a Seneca Wallace-to-Leonard Weaver touchdown. Brady to Moss or Manning to Harrison is excusable. Wallace to Weaver is ridiculous.

The 49ers need an identity. As has been written before, the problem is that after four seasons under Nolan and Scot McCloughan, the 49ers still don't have the personnel to be a true 3-4 or 4-3 team. Instead, they're some amorphous half man, half horrible beast. Singletary spoke the other day of moving talented Ahmad Brooks to defensive end. It's a nice idea, but it sounds like so many other 49ers' schemes over the years that involve switching a player to a different position. How many have been a success?

The 49ers need to ask themselves a question in the offseason: Are we a 3-4 or 4-3 team? If it's the former, they need a nose tackle and a pass-rushing linebacker. If it's the latter, then they need a stud defensive end. And, oh yeah, they should think about a play-making free safety in either case. Grade: D

Next: Special teams and an overall look at the team.

-- Matt Barrows


Matt was born in Blacksburg, Va., and attended the University of Virginia. He graduated in 1995, went to Northwestern for a journalism degree a year later, and got his first job at a South Carolina daily in 1997. He joined The Bee as a Metro reporter in 1999 and started covering the 49ers in 2003. His favorite player of all time is Darrell Green.


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