In spite of the rather crushing loss, several positives came out of the game. These included the play of Jason Hill, the adjustments on offense behind Mike Singletary and of course some very solid special teams work. One guy who was the personification of this game (as far as the good, the bad and the ugly) was 49ers QB Shaun Hill. He had spectacular moments and he had some rather hideous moments. To get a better read on his performance I decided to go back and view the 49ers offensive possessions, and specifically when Hill was involved in the play (beyond just handing the ball off to Frank Gore).
I went through every single play, but I decided not to chart them all here. Rather I wanted to focus on specific aspects of Hill's game and how they relate to the offense going forward. Given the issue of turnovers with JTO and some of the turnovers and near-turnovers last night, I figure that's the first thing to look at. Shaun Hill finished the game with 2 interception, 1 fumble and three interceptions either dropped or called back, giving us 6 turnovers or near turnovers. For the Hill-haters that is certainly not a good string of numbers. So I went through and broke down each of the six plays.
1. 1st and 10 on first drive of second half - Throws in front of Isaac Bruce, Rodgers-Cromartie made dive to catch it but lost it when he hit the ground
2. 1st and 10 with 1:33 left in 3rd quarter - Overthrows Jason Hill and Antrel Rolle makes the easy pick, running it back for a TD. However, it's all nullified by defensive offsides on Adrian Wilson.
- One thing to keep in mind on this play: the INT occurred in part b/c Wilson (who was offsides) came down on Shaun Hill's right leg as he was throwing, which appeared to alter the trajectory of the ball - he might not have been in a position to do that if he wasn't offsides. Maybe it had nothing to do with it, maybe it did. Just something to keep in mind.
3. 1st and 10 with 44 seconds left in 3rd quarter - Hill fumbles, recovered by AZ. Slow motion replay shows the center made no mistake on the snap and Hill was the one who bobbled the ball initially. As Hill was trying to recover his handle on the ball, the pulling guard (Baas) ran into him, knocking the ball away.
4. 3rd and 4 with 6:11 left in the 4th quarter - Adrian Wilson intercepted Hill but it was a clear-cut defensive offsides by Dockett. Hill made a quick throw after seeing the jump offsides.
5. 3rd and 7 with 5:18 left in 4th quarter - Karlos Dansby picked off Hill pass that looked clearly underthrown to Jason Hill. Jaws said it was a very difficult play but it looked like he just needed a little more loft on the ball to drop it in behind Dansby to Hill. I know people complain about Hill's lack of arm strength, but given the touchdown to Morgan, Hill definitely could've made this pass if he had judged the distance better.
6. 3rd and 3 with 2:34 left in 4th quarter - Hill drops back with plenty of time. The right defensive end closed in on him, so he stepped forward and to the right and throws the under-handed shovel pass, which Adrian Wilson dives to intercept. In the press conference today, Mike Martz said that was not Hill's fault actually.
Although there was the one fumble, it was not a JTO style fumble where he dances around in the pocket and doesn't feel the pressure. In fact, earlier in the second quarter, on a 3rd and 9 play, pressure came on his backside and either he felt it coming or noticed it out of the corner of his eye, but he held onto the ball with 2 hands and stepped out of the way of the path of the defensive lineman. It was exactly the type of play that would've turned into a JTO fumble.
So there are some excusable errors and some inexcusable errors. However, there were also some positives. Hill was in rhythm with Jason Hill all night long, hitting him on a variety of routes, including a corner route, a couple crossing rights and a couple out routes. Speaking of the crossing routes, Shaun Hill appears to really excel with those types of passes. It seemed like most of his completions were on little drag routes across the middle of the field that allows for a lot of receiver YAC. Someone made a suggestion of going more straight-up West Coast offense in the future and I think Hill could be a solid QB in that kind of offense.
Although there is concern about Hill's deep touch, he seemed to make most of the necessary throws Monday night. His two biggest underthrows were actually necessary. He underthrew Vernon Davis at the end of the first half, which allowed Davis to jump up over two safeties to make his touchdown catch. A few plays before that, Hill underthrew Isaac Bruce in the end zone, but given the coverage it was actually necessary if he was going to catch it. And there should've been defensive pass interference on that play anyways.
So what do we know about Hill after MNF? Well, he's certainly a bad ass for getting 4 extra yards after losing his helmet. That's got to be a given. Throwing out the fact that this is just one game (and he's only started 3 now), I think he's the kind of guy who could run things this year and the next two while the 49ers draft and develop another young QB starting in 2009. Hill is signed through 2010, so it seems like an almost perfect situation. Draft a guy like Graham Harrell (or whomever...aside from Tebow!) and let him sit, learn the offense and learn what it takes to be an NFL QB. The Titans did that with Air McNair (man that was a long time ago), the Packers did that with Aaron Rodgers. Why not do it in SF? Yes the Packers had Brett Favre leading the way, but the Titans (Oilers at the time) had Chris Chandler, who gives off that Shaun Hill vibe to me (or maybe it's the other way around).
I am often the first person to throw out the small sample size argument, so this is more of a gut feeling. The good news, though, is that the 49ers can now afford to use the rest of the season to see what Shaun Hill can do. The argument last year was that he faced a TB squad that was resting their starters and Cincy was just as awful as us. This season, Hill could face as many as 5 teams (Dallas, Buffalo, Jets, Miami and Washington) in the thick of playoff races, desperately needing wins. I have to say that gives me reason to be happy with a tough schedule the rest of the way. I think we'll really be able to make a determination on whether Shaun Hill fits in the 49ers plans for the next couple of years.
Oh and for mikev (and others wanting to know), linebacker Clark Haggans (#53) clearly rips off Robinson's helmet by the facemask. When Robinson first runs into the pile, Haggans has him by the helmet, but above the face mask. As they push him back, Haggans hand slips down across the face mask, and then his fingers go into the face and he pulls. The only argument is that the play was over but Robinson hadn't been brought completely to the ground yet. Fitting end for the referees.