I could spend an entire day questioning the offensive strategies that the 49ers used when they clearly had a chance to beat Arizona. From a fantasy perspective, though, I was thoroughly impressed by the obvious adjustments made to the game plan. Mike Martz finally relented and tailored his attack to the strengths of his players instead of expecting them to adapt to an offense not suited to their skills. Of course, with Mike Singletary pointing that classic intense stare in his direction, Martz really didn't have any choice other than to be more flexible.
The Niners' offense centered around the running game, with Frank Gore leading the way (99 yards on 23 carries). That's no surprise to any fantasy owner, as Gore is an elite running back. What was more of a revelation was Martz's willingness to change the approach to better suit new starting quarterback Shaun Hill, who lacked significant experience in Martz's 70-step drop, force-the linemen-to-block-forever and look-for-the-bomb approach.
It's a system designed for a star quarterback and standout pass-catchers, and San Francisco doesn't have either. That has taken Martz long enough to realize, possibly even in time to save his job with the 49ers. Singletary may be around for awhile, and it's not smart to challenge his desires right now. Even a defensive-minded guy like him could see Martz was living in 2001 and not cognizant of the fact that he no longer has top-level players to suit his schemes.
Hill performed adequately, and while he threw 40 times, he often combined deep drops with quick-hitters, trying to take what the defense gave him. He also focused on making many short and mid-range throws. Hill finished with two touchdowns and two interceptions, although he could have had more picks if not for penalties, and he also lost a fumble. His flip to Gore late in the game with the RB not even looking his way was one of the worst decisions I've seen this year, and in a long time for that matter. Hill looked very shaky, even though he didn't have the pressure of adapting to Martz's true offensive desires. If I don't see improved play from him very quickly, I don't even want Hill on my roster as a backup.
Young wideouts Jason Hill (seven catches, 84 yards) and Josh Morgan (four catches for 54 yards, including a 31-yard TD) were San Francisco's leading pass-catchers. Hill displayed a knack for making key possession grabs, and Morgan again flashed the playmaking ability that made him generate buzz as a possible sleeper during the preseason. The pair could be the true future of the team at wide receiver. They seem to complement each other well and fit nicely with aging Isaac Bruce, who still commands defensive respect. Bruce caught just one ball for 12 yards and is no longer worth a spot on fantasy rosters. You should certainly pick up Hill and/or Morgan if you need more quality receiving depth for the stretch run.
Vernon Davis got back on his coach's good side with his first TD reception of the season, a picturesque 18-yard grab. It was his only catch of the game, though, and Davis has to string together a few good fantasy performances before owners even consider adding him again. As we start getting closer to the fantasy postseason, you don't want to gamble on a possible Davis "comeback" when you just might get burned by him again. Overlooking "teaser" performances will be among the topics covered by me in the fantasy playoffs primer at RotoExperts.com's new Roto University.
There weren't many surprises from Arizona, as Kurt Warner (328 yards, three TDs, no interceptions) delivered another stellar performance. Warner is playing so well he can now be considered the top quarterback in fantasy football, having surpassed Drew Brees, at least for now, as the New Orleans QB had a spotty performance in a loss to Atlanta. Warner is making second-year man Steve Breaston look like the best No. 3 WR [on his team] to use in fantasy since the days when Chris Henry was relevant. Breaston led the Arizona wideouts with seven catches for 121 yards, and Anquan Boldin's return has not cut into his numbers at all.
My one major concern coming out of Monday's game was Tim Hightower. He totaled 22 yards on 13 carries and added 28 receiving yards on six receptions. He didn't look like a player who was ready for his recently expanded role. He didn't make defenders miss and didn't break tackles with regularity. With time to prepare for him and the knowledge that he would be the main ball-carrier, the Niners appeared to be able to defend him rather easily.
There is no doubt that Hightower is a good short-yardage runner, but he may need to share time with another RB again to truly be effective. Additional playing time may not provide the expected major boost to his fantasy production, and his owners may be better off wishing that he returns to a part-time role. That could mean the return of Edgerrin James (four yards on two carries) to a more prominent role in the offense, although we all know he'll be mediocre for fantasy purposes.
Don't get any ideas about J.J. Arrington (one carry, one yard) seeing more quality playing time. Smaller running backs who aren't consistently elusive don't become major cogs in their team's offensive plans.