There is a classic scene in the movie "The Godfather II" in which Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) attempts to dissuade his wife Kay (Diane Keaton) from leaving him and taking the kids with her. He looks her right in the eye and says, "I can change...I know I have the power to change". He knew he would never changehis philosophy, but to keep things running smoothly, he was willing to at least give the appearance of being capable of making important changes. We now have Mike Singletary in the role of Michael Corleone and 49er fans in the role of Kay.
Yesterday's embarrassing offensive performance against the Texans in the first half in the 24-21 loss, had to have made it very clear to Samurai Mike that his dream of having a team that goes out and hits them in the mouth applies only to his defense. His "smash mouth" power running offense that will dominate a team on the ground is only an illusion with this group. This 49er offensive line has made it abundantly clear that it is not physically capable of being a dominant power running team and pass protecting at the same time. It also exposed Shaun Hill's limitations within such a system.
So where does Singletary go from here? First, he must elevate Alex Smith, who gave his finest performance as a 49er QB to the starter position. But that is only the beginning. Not often is a team capable of changing horses in mid-stream in such a defining way. I have been a Shaun Hill supporter for a long time but it has become clear that his ability to move the team was more suited to a Mike Martz offense which also left him exposed to 7 step drops and mucho sacks. Unfortunately for Shaun, the vanilla offense Jimmy Raye developed for Singletary's dream became a nightmare and he looks nothing like the confident QB who played so well in the past.
Singletary must adapt his offense to the talents and abilities of his players and he is very lucky. This offensive roster is tailor made for a wide open spread formation that uses 3 and 4 receiver formations. Michael Crabtree is sensational and he and Josh Morgan could well be the star receivers of the future for this team. Getting Brandon Jones and Jason HIll off the practice squad and into their receiver roles is vital to offensive success. These four receivers should get the majority of playing time. Isaac Bruce is ready for Social Security and should be limited in his action in this his final season.
The tight end position is outstanding. Vernon Davis is turning in an All-Pro season, and Delanie Walker does everything well, from blocking to receiving to running back kicks. With these two guys performing so well, that makes six (6) very good receivers for Smith to choose from.
As to the backfield, we know that Frank Gore is a great runner who gives 100% all the time. Frank is also an excellent receiver out of the backfield, a role that both he and Michael Robinson can handle very well. Both are good blockers and top notch receivers. Last season, MIchael caught 17 passes for 201 yards for a 11.9 average per reception which was good enough for #3 in the NFL among RBs. Apparently, Singletary forgot to pass that message along to Jimmy Raye and this year the team has ignored Robinson much like Nolan did. Robinson did average 33 yards per kickoff return with a longest return of 40 yards, the best performance by a Niner return man this season.
In my opinion, Glen Coffee is only a decent runner who is a so-so blocker and who makes too many rookie mistakes. Glen needs to sit and watch and I'd put him in cold storage. A spread offense with Gore and Robinson as the featured backs utilized often as receivers and in the Wildcat role would be an ideal mix with and complement to the excellent wide receiver corps. Gore is already taking direct snaps and Robinson is a former QB who can pass and run the option. These two featured in such a way provide versatility and defensive problems for other teams expecting to face a smash mouth offense.
I was dismayed at Jimmy Raye's play calling until they replaced Hill with Smith and changed the offensive philosophy. It then became very apparent to me that Jimmy knows what he is doing and was only keeping the offense as vanilla as yogurt to please his boss. The 49er offense in the second half vs. Houston reminded me of the Niners of old, who would move up and down the field at will with sharp, crisp passing.
There is one more change Singletary must implement now. There is a kid sitting on the bench in Nate Davis, who has shown in what little time he was able to get on the field, the exact talents needed to run a successful spread offense. He has a rocket arm, yet has demonstrated the ability to take something off his passes. He has poise and confidence and may well be the future star at QB for the Niners. The team had no fear in getting the rookie Crabtree on to the field right away. Give Nate an equal opportunity. When Joe Montana was a rookie, Bill Walsh sat him for awhile, then he started inserting him in games with specific plays in mind designed to achieve success. Bill did this to build his confidence and prepare him for the next season when he knew he would be the starter. Alex Smith may well be the man to play the role of Steve DeBerg, who was a top passer but lacked the ability to pull off the big win.
Alex deserves his chance now, but Singletary needs to prepare for the inevitable and elevate Nate Davis to #2 QB. OK, Mike. The ball is in your court. You still have a smash mouth defense. It's time to show your gentle side and instead of running over your opponents, just slice and dice them. Do you have the Power to Change, Mike? The whole world is watching!