In Arlington, Texas against America's beloved Dallas Cowboys, the 2009 San Francisco 49ers edged out a victory of 20-13 thanks to the second half heroics of the second team's athletes. The team executed well orchestrated drives under former Ball State quarterback Nate Davis and the eyes and legs of Purdue's premier running back in Kory Sheets. Unfortunatly, Shaun Hill's strained back did appear to play a role in this game despite a promising practice session prior to the start of this contest.
The recently anointed starting quarterback struggled against the Cowboys, completing just 9 of 17 passes for 79 yards and a 65.6% quarterback rating. Hill threw the ball high on several occasions and threw it short to a wide-open Isaac Bruce as well. It was not the crispness we 49er fans are used to seeing with Shaun Hill in command. In fact, Hill's performance felt similar Alex Smith's woefully tendencies of inadequacy.
Not to knock Shaun Hill down so much, but it was one disappointing drive after another after five straight offensive tries netted just three points. In my opinion, the lower back strain he suffered in practices affected his concentration and his versatility to avoid the pass rushes that the Cowboys sent in on him with reckless abandon. Even Mike Singletary noted to his quarterback's troubles, by stating that the injury was still wearing off but had lingering effects on Shaun's ability to be razor sharp. Fifth-round draft pick, quarterback Nate Davis, on the other hand, proved to be a worthy adversary for the Dallas Cowboys by orchestrating offensive drives that helped him net 10 of 15 completions for 132 total yards and a rating of 94.3%.
Please also remember that the 49ers were playing without right tackle Adam Snyder and left guard David Baas. Their absence, due to injury, seemed to allow an onslaught of Cowboys to easily apply pressure on Shaun Hill. It was a woeful reminder that the 49ers must establish depth at these critical positions, having passed up a legitimate shot at securing a prominent offensive tackle via the draft.
Unfortunately, instead of a coveted lineman we have a greedy wide receiver that is holding out at the behest of his manipulative agent to gain a bigger payday. Michael Crabtree has made a mockery of himself, and has created a media hailstorm that the 49ers must attend to almost hour on the hour. The anticipation of signing him before the regular season looks dismal based upon the rumors coming out of his own camp. All indications point to him looking forward to a paycheck rather than team camaraderie.
With nine-year veteran All-Pro right tackle Marvel Smith announcing his retirement, the 49ers are now forced to be satisfied with the likes of Barry Sims, Jacob Bender and Alex Boone, all of whom are woefully inadequate to fulfill anything long-term. When the 49ers signed the veteran free agent, they did so knowing that there was a real risk he wouldn't pan out to be what they had hoped for. He had played in only 17 games the past two seasons as a Pittsburgh Steeler, finishing out both seasons on the injured reserve with back problems. Had we not learned anything from the Jonas Jennings fiasco?
In this game against Dallas, the 49ers did have some shining stars. Parys Haralson generated some pass rush heat, Kory Sheets carried the ball 11 times for 42 total yards and two touchdowns, Mark Roman returned to fame with a 57 yard run back of an interception, and Arnaz Battle made a legitimate claim to that third-tier wide receiver position where there is a real battle raging.
In all, the 49ers generated 319 yards of total offense with 236 of those yards being accumulated through the air. Most of those came within the second half where fourth string quarterback Nate Davis made a play for the third-string slot, trying to displace Damon Huard who looked like he was under duress.
The famous "Taser," formation applied by offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye showed some promise within the game, but was overextended and ultimately snuffed out by the Dallas Cowboy defensive unit. Going for field goals instead of touchdowns, especially within a pre-season atmosphere, had some 49er fans fearing the Mike Nolan era had once again reared its ugly head.
With roster cuts already being implemented and many more to follow, Mike Singletary must look at putting more athletes in high pressure situations to analyze what they are made of. I'm not at all concerned that he hasn't done that already, but would like to see a bit more risk-taking. A hint of conservatism looms heavy over the team following this victory, but not so dense that the sun won't easily disperse it.
Beating the Dallas Cowboys inside their own multi-million dollar mansion whether it be a pre-season game or a live practice regimen is enough for me to celebrate that we can actually hang with the big boys out there now. We have a new step in our stride and a new gleam in our eye that shows self-confidence and self-worth. Mike Singletary and the coaching staff have instilled that into each and every player that is proud to be affiliated with being a 49er.
Second-year safety Reggie Smith showed he has what it takes to find the football after recovering a fumble that helped set up the San Francisco offensive drive that would ultimately overtake the Dallas scoring frenzy. Frank Gore, although used in a limited fashion, showed that his off-season work regimen is about to really payoff. And last but not least, we saw that the ball fits nicely in tight end Delanie Walker's hands, as when it is there he just makes things happen.
Looking forward to our last pre-season game against San Diego I am not at all concerned that Shaun Hill is in an actual rut. However I am very concerned as to the depth and status of the offensive line and its ability to maintain any kind of sustained continuity that has to be the foundation of our future success. Choosing Michael Crabtree over this glaring area of need may come back and bite us where it counts.
Sources of Information: Mercury News.com, SF Gate.com, Inside Bay Area.com, NFL.com and my own personal analysis and opinion.