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Sizing up 49ers' offense with Smith, Hill

10/28/2009

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

The 49ers diversified their offensive personnel use once Alex Smith replaced Shaun Hill at quarterback against the Texans in Week 7.

San Francisco was trailing by three touchdowns when Smith took over, a factor that surely led San Francisco to become more aggressive. But the team also made changes that might have had less to do with situations.

  • Before I continue, feel free to download this file breaking down the 49ers' personnel use by quarterback, across downs, for the game overall and for the regular season to date.

The 49ers used two tight ends on first down far more frequently once Smith took over after halftime. Smith averaged 12.1 yards per pass attempt with two touchdowns on seven plays featuring one back and two tight ends. Hill averaged 2.7 yards per attempt on three passes from this group.

The matchup against the Texans marked the second consecutive game the 49ers trailed by at least 20 points at halftime. With Hill at quarterback against the Falcons, the 49ers used one back with one tight end more than 60 percent of the time in the second half. With Smith at quarterback against Houston, the 49ers used that group only 31 percent of the time in the second half.

Smith was most effective in the second half using two tight ends. Sometimes the tight ends lined up as wide receivers. The 49ers even lined up fullback Moran Norris wide to the right on the play featuring Smith's first touchdown pass, a 29-yarder to Vernon Davis. The team used two backs, two tight ends and only one wide receiver -- Josh Morgan -- on that play and the next two they ran.

Overall, I think the 49ers were less predictable from a personnel standpoint once Smith entered the game, almost as though offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye had more confidence in Smith than he had in Hill. Whatever the confidence level was starting out -- note that the 49ers actually opened the game with three consecutive three-receiver plays for Hill -- Raye's confidence in Smith surely grew as the 49ers enjoyed success.

Week 8 will present a whole new level of challenges because the Colts will have significant personnel advantages against the 49ers' offensive line, particularly at the guard and right tackle spots. The 49ers will have to account for those mismatches and that will affect how the offense looks.