Don't blame the defense for the loss in Houston. The defense was not stellar - but they were good enough to win. They held Andre Johnson, arguably the leagues best receiver, to two catches. Steve Slaton had a mere 67 rushing yards. Yes, Owen Daniels absolutely gashed the defense, but the team, only allowed 3 points in the second half.
Quite simply the loss falls on the offense - specifically the first half offense. Hill completed 2 passes on third and long that wouldn't have resulted in a first down if it was 3rd and 4. On the first third down of the game on 3rd and 14 Hill threw a short pass to Vernon Davis that fell incomplete. Part of this is due to Hill's propensity to check down. Perhaps he already has a case of the "David Carrs": feeling pressure when none is there and throwing the ball away to the closest player who will catch it.
But the largest part of the offensive ineptitude falls squarely on the shoulders of the offensive line. The right side of the line is a serious weak-spot. Chilo Rachal has painfully slow feet when trying to protect the quarterback. At the end of the first quarter, 39-year old (no, that's not a typo) Jeff Zgonina simply beat Rachal off the snap and got to Hill. Rachal knew the snap count - Zgonina did not. Hill had decent protection from the rest of the line and might have been able to make a play.
Tony Pashos, the starting right tackle, has a potentially serious injury to his shoulder further testing the already talent-starved line.
And yet, there is a bright spot, if you are one of those eternal optimists. Vernon Davis seems to finally be coming into his own. He has 6 touchdowns over 7 games - and is on pace to eclipse 900 receiving yards for the season. He is the #1 red-zone target and is a leader in the locker room.
Alex Smith, in limited duty, finally flashed some of the skills that made him the #1 overall pick. He was remarkably decisive. He eluded pressure with his athleticism. And perhaps most importantly, he made the right reads on almost all of his passes. Smith should be the starter in week 8, no question.
Much of Smith's success is due to two factors. Offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye, more than likely due to the score, called for a bevy of shotgun passes. Of 20 attempts (not including scrambles), 14 of them were from the shotgun. Smith posted an impressive quarterback rating of 113.4 from the shotgun. Even under center, Smith posted a rating of 151.3 on 6 passes. Overall, Smith made a convincing case to remain as the starter for the duration of the season.
And finally there was Michael Crabtree. Matt Maiocco said earlier this week on his Twitter that Crabtree just "looked different" than the other wide receivers and Crabtree confirmed that against Houston. Of four third-down completions, Crabtree was responsible for three. Another first down would have been earned had a 17-yard reception not been nullified by penalty. He exhibited powerful hands, literally snatching passes out of the air. In one game, Crabtree may have erased any ill-feelings lingering from his extended hold-out.
Quite simply, the 49ers need an offense that can rack up more than 50 yards in a half. Alex Smith and Michael Crabtree will certainly move the team in the right direction. However, Jimmy Raye and head coach Mike Singletary will need to make more adjustments in order to keep the team in the hunt for the NFC-West title.