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49ers continue their downward spiral

Oct 29, 2007 at 12:51 AM24

From the sound of the frustrated crowd at Monster Park on Sunday and from the chatter online, 49ers fans may no longer be "Rollin' with Nolan." It is obvious that there is something seriously wrong with this team. It is not just the offensive line. It is not just the quarterback. It is not just the running backs or receivers. It is not just the pass rush on defense. There is something terribly wrong with this team as a whole and fans are getting fed up with the excuses.

There is a problem though. It is difficult to pinpoint exactly what is wrong. The fans do not know. The players do not know. Even the coaching staff appears to not have a clue. They just keep telling fans that the problem needs to be worked on. What is the problem exactly? The problem may be too complex to simply point fingers at an single individual or group.

On Sunday against the New Orleans Saints, the team looked confident coming out onto the field. The play formations being called were a bit more ambitious than fans are used to seeing. It was a welcome sight to behold. However, the team's execution of the plays was horrendous. The 49ers simply looked unprepared. The mistakes that were being made were things that you would normally see in a young expansion team. Stupid penalties, blown coverages and misguided passes were a few of the errors. A game that could have been a key turning point for the 49ers turned into a 31-10 confirmation that this team is lost, and the season that was once full of hope and excitement may now be over.

The excuses

Alex Smith was clearly in pain the entire game. This was obvious as fans watched him nurse his right shoulder after every pass. Smith was able to release the ball a lot quicker than Trent Dilfer, but it was clear that he was trying to force many situations and that his throws lacked the zip they once had prior to his injury. Keeping him in the game after some devastating hits and after the 49ers were well out of reach of a win could have turned out a lot worse than it did. Fans still want to believe in Smith, but he has shown very little this season to give them hope.

Nolan mentioned that this was still a young team. That excuse may have been fine during his rookie head coaching season when he inherited a 2-14 team from Dennis Erickson. But in his third year, three drafts later and with expectations so high, it is no longer a valid point.

"We're at 2-5, same place as last year," coach Mike Nolan said after the game on Sunday. "It's not where we'd hoped we'd be. But as we did last year, we climbed back up to .500 and got back in the (playoff) race. I would hope for us to do the same thing this year."

Nolan said it as if this statement was meant to make 49ers fans feel better. Yes, this team was 2-5 at this point last season. Does this mean that fans should be happy with a repeat of last season's 7-9 finish? Does he really expect fans to believe that this team, the same embarrassingly bad team we have watched for seven games, to get into the playoff race? This team has more talent than last season and is a year more mature. They essentially have the same offensive line, the same quarterback (although more battered), the same running back who stunned fans with a 1,695 yard finish last season, what should have been an improved group of wide receivers, and a totally revamped defense anchored on the edges by two Pro Bowl cornerbacks. Given all of this, should fans feel better knowing that last season's team had the same record as this season's at this point in the year? That is not likely to happen. But hey, Nolan hopes that somehow everything is going to be fixed in a matter of weeks and this team is going to be back in the playoff race. Again, that is not likely to happen.

The offensive line has taken a turn for the worst. This is essentially the same offensive line as last season. It is the same offensive line that helped Frank Gore break team records. In fact, Joe Staley, the team's 28th overall pick in April's NFL Draft, has looked solid overall after replacing fan favorite (please note the sarcasm) Kwame Harris at tackle. So why is this offensive line so much worse? Has age caught up with guard Larry Allen and is he too slow now? Should he have been pulled in favor of someone younger? During a year when players normally excel, is guard Justin Smiley underperforming during his contract year? Have Eric Heitmann and Jonas Jennings slipped as well? On paper, this offensive line should be solid. Instead, it appears to be a liability. One which may, once again, get Alex Smith seriously injured.

Gore did not practice this past week. Fine. That would be a good excuse for this past game. However, he has not yet reached a single 100-yard game this season. How much of that is Frank Gore and how much of that is the offensive line? At times, you can see holes open up. Gore simply will not hit them as fast as he would last season. However, the underachievement by the offensive line likely has a good deal to do with Gore's lack of productivity as well.

The defense is on the field too long due to the offense's inability to sustain a drive. They are just way too tired to keep up. Is that why, during their first drive of the game, the Saints were able to easily move down the field for the score? In fact, Drew Brees' first pass of the game was a 43 yard completion to receiver David Patten, who made 49ers cornerback Nate Clements, the team's $80 million free agent signed during the offseason, bite on a fake outside. Maybe Clements was tired. The team's other Pro Bowl cornerback, Walt Harris, did not wow anyone with his play either as Brees was able to complete almost 80% of his passes for 336 yards and four touchdowns. Linebacker Patrick Willis, the 49ers' 11th overall selection in April, has been one of the team's few bright spots this season and consistently receives praises from the coaching staff and can be seen every Sunday chasing down ball carriers, even when he is tired and has been on the field too long.

According to Nolan, offensive coordinator Jim Hostler is calling the plays that need to be called. Ok, he has been a bit more aggressive in his play calling over the last couple of weeks, but he has had to become more aggressive due to the team's lack of productivity. Perhaps the players were not prepared for this type of change and the team's boring and predictable play calling earlier in the season may have hurt their ability to transition to a style of offense that was...well...more "offensive."

Nolan's support level may be falling

This is Nolan's team. This is the team that he has had three offseasons to build. Regardless of the reasons for the team's lack of productivity, Nolan will shoulder most of the blame. He is the head coach and it comes with the territory. He was once looked at as the team's savior. He was to be the man that was going to get the 49ers back to where they belonged; among the NFL's elite. While that may still happen, this season appears to be lost and most of that must fall on the head coach. Expectations were high and now fans are beginning to wonder if this team will win another game. While the 49ers are better having tackle Joe Staley on the team, fans are forced to wonder what might have been with the team's 2008 first round draft pick. The New England Patriots now own the pick in a move that enabled the 49ers to acquire Staley. It will be interesting to see if the Patriots can go undefeated and still make their first selection in the top five of round one come April.

Nolan's vision for this team is not working. However, it may be his own stubbornness that may be the cause for the team's lack of improvement. The team has weapons at its disposal. They just do not seem to be putting everything together and working off of the same page. The team has a deep threat in receiver Ashley Lelie, who has been watching most of the season from the sidelines. He may not be the best route runner on the team and may be out of place at times, but use his speed on the outside to stretch the field. Vernon Davis, who is one of the most physical players on the team was not targeted often enough early in the season prior to being injured. Now that he is back, see what he can do by getting the ball into his hands more often. His ability to catch the ball has improved as the season has gone on. The solution to the offensive problem may be to look even further outside of the box from what Nolan is used to or wants. If changes are not made soon, fans may begin to feel that the past three seasons have been a complete waste.

Maybe the team can rebound and end the season strong, but fans clinging to the hope of contending in the NFC West or making the playoffs are just kidding themselves. So as fans watch Tom Brady and his 2007 Patriots, who may be one of the best teams ever, easily handle their opponents just as 49ers teams from the glory years once did, they get to also suffer through watching a bad San Francisco football team. In fact, it could be one of the worst 49ers teams seen in almost three decades. This probably was not what owner John York envisioned when he sought out to reinvent his image, giving Nolan full control of the team and hoping to make fans happy again with a competitive San Francisco squad. The season can be resurrected, but one has to wonder if it is too late.

Do you have an idea why this team is underachieving or how they might be able to fix it? Submit a comment below.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


  • jesse scott
    The 49ers are struglling offensively because inconsistent run blocking and pass protection joe staley is a good pass protector but he is not a strong run blocker kwame harris was a great run blocker an average pass protector but the key is the 49ers offense is running the football the only change on the offensive line is joe staley he is a rookie a like david bass he should of sat a year or two before starting last year offensive line to its credit was dominant in the running game frank gore 1700 yrds and alex smith did not miss a game to injury no way should the starting offensive line from last season not be given a chance to defend nfc rushing title also the wide receivers are below average we should have kept antonio bryant he still a free agent maybe we should pick him up he had 700 yrds and a great rapport with alex also he was good downfield blocker we miss him as a deep threat and ashley lelie is never on field to use as deep threat so our receivers are slow and injury prone darrell jackson to think we could have traded for randy moss that why they stack the box with eight man and shut down frank gore running lanes also an experienced offensive coordinator would not hurt
    Nov 1, 2007 at 11:41 AM
  • kevin m.
    whatever hapend to the day's of, if you hit my QB i'm going to drive yours into the ground?the next time( rag doll )errr.. alex smith, gets pile driven by a 300 pound lineman i would like to see some reaction from someone.this niner team does not apear to care about anything. it's like they just wait for pay day and thats good enough. maybe its just that i grew up in the 80's and remember a team with passion.(wheres ronnie lott when you need him?) i will alway's be a niner fan, but c'mon guys,my 10 year old son wants to be a packer fan,help me out would ya....
    Oct 31, 2007 at 11:44 PM
  • to lazy nolan
    his attitude toward the players is well if you screw up you beat yourself attitude should be do your job or i will can you what is with this people not practicing bull play practice or your out and what about this spoiled brat smith he should have been caned long ago and dilfer a quarterback commands the team not tries to improve you got to be good from the start natural you don't have it you cant force it guys screw up make them do laps in front of there pears this is high school stuff scream Nolan get tough Nolan work this lazy defense into winners and pull out walshes old play book and don't leave your office till you learn it get tough get mean this is not for pritty boys this game is for animals
    Oct 31, 2007 at 8:51 PM
  • Mike Hall
    The problem with my san francisco 49ers is all of the above but to me, the real problem starts at the top with ownership. John York and Denise DeBartolo-York do not have a clue as to how to effectivly run this team. True, we got back into good salary cap shape but at the expense of getting rid of many good players, letting them walk and not getting nothing in return? It is clear that if we(the san francisco 49ers)want to get back to the glory days of years past, ownership needs to change hands, with someone who knows what they are doing, because john york, denise debartolo-york and general manager terry donahue don't have a clue!!!!!
    Oct 31, 2007 at 5:17 PM
  • Pablo Morales
    I really don't understand why Hostler still our Offensive Coordinator is very clear that he does not have a clue about Offense. I believe that is the biggest problem. Even both Rams and Dolphins are 0-8 I think our 9ers are the worst team on the league at this moment, Don't waste any more time fire Hostler immediately.
    Oct 31, 2007 at 12:35 PM
    I just think their is a lack of trust between the players and the coaches but I thinnk if the players become a solid group not just on offense or defense but together everything else will fall in place
    Oct 31, 2007 at 10:46 AM
  • BW
    The answer is coaching. To illustrate: Lombardi's first season with the Packers was a stunning success, turning that 1-10-1 team of 1958 into a 7-5 team in 1959 and picking up unanimous Coach of the Year honors in the process. In 1960, the Packers won the Western Conference title, going 8-4. That brought Lombardi to his first NFL Championship game, which the Packers lost 17-13 to the Philadelphia Eagles at Franklin Field. Two years. No free agency as we know it. Rules that favor big offense like today were non-existent. Lombardi was also the Packers GM and ran his own draft, pre-computers and instant information. Time to find another head coach.
    Oct 31, 2007 at 10:12 AM
  • Rick Reulecke
    I don't care what the freaking problem is! I am sick and tired of excuses. Notice to ALL media...STOP having post game interviews with the players and coaches. We as the "Fan" are sick and tired of it! I have been a fan for over 20 years, and it is sad to say, I am as accustomed to our team loosing as I was accustomed to them winning in the 80's and 90's. I can't even talk football anymore with my friends...I get LAUGHED out of the room! We were doomed when debartalo left...period. I am sick of watching this team loose and I have officially turned my back on them since they felt it prudent to turn their backs on their fans. This team is a F*&^ing JOKE. If it were up to me, I would cut 51 (and ALL coaches) men from the roster, and keep one...Patrick Willis...and build around him, as he is obviously the only one on the team with a Champions heart. Get bent 49ers, get bent Nolan, get bent Alex. I'll see you in 2009 when we MIGHT get a first round draft pick, since we coughed up our first round pick this year...GREAT! Way to go Coach....did I mention to Get Bent? Do us a favor...just finish out the year and don't talk anymore to the media. We are tired of listening to you!
    Oct 31, 2007 at 8:38 AM
  • marco barontini
    There is a reason why no one had ever hired Nolan to be a head coach until York was sold a bill of goods. Everything that is wrong with the 49ers has to be traced to coaching. Parity is the name of the game in the NFL, with the exception of the Patriots, Colts, and maybe the Chargers, the difference between 4-12 and 9-7 is COACHING! This team is very lucky to be 2-5. Look at Nolan's record after bye weeks, 0-3. Against the Giants, coming off a bye week, 13 penalties. That is a COACHING problem! All rule changes over the last 20 years have been enacted to favor the offense, and that being said, Nolan's team is having trouble averaging 200 yards of offense per game. This is a COACHING problem! Nolan was an average defensive coordinator who was able to sell himself to a neophyte owner, experiment over! There is enough talent on this team, properly deployed, to compete in the parity league, but it starts with Coaching! Nolan and his staff HAVE to go!
    Oct 31, 2007 at 6:35 AM
  • niner fan
    You know what why don't we stop bashing nolan and the team and be a little more patient. If you really look at the nfc west its week the niners are 2 games back of 1st place in the division. Seattle will hopefully choke and arizona has kurt warner at qb and hes injured. I think the team will rebound and come out of this starting vs Atlanta. This team will win the division this year.
    Oct 30, 2007 at 7:04 PM
  • Syed Ahmad
    Losing Norv Turner hurt more than I realized it would. I didn't know how well Hostler would be at play calling coming into the season, assuming he'd consider keeping most of Norv's playbook I know better. Is it just me or is the coaching staff treating Alex Smith like a rookie again? You know, calling "safe plays" that you'd typically see called with Rookie QBs? Despite what anyone says, Smith's play improved last season in a huge way and SHOULD'VE continued this season. But its that "safe" approach that bothers me so much. Nothing wrong with playing smart, but to be so timid, in such a weak division no less, is both laughable and depressing. Maybe the 2008 season will be the golden year?
    Oct 30, 2007 at 11:59 AM
  • ceresbrad
    I am tired of hearing about zip on the ball.We have all recently been confused by the strong arm quarterback.Ill tell you the problem it is pass accuracy....We have protected smiths confidence long enough,he knows it now, by the boos. that is the best thing that could happen to him baptism by fire. Now nolan and hoss have to take the trainig wheels off. Nolan is a great coach but he needs to stay away from the offense.Pass accuracy will cure all of our ills. I hope your listening alex F**k that zip on the ball s**t hit the open reciever in stride.As niner fans we all know Smith is young and we all have been patient.HIT THE OPEN RECIEVER IN STRIDE BEFORE HE IS OUT OF BOUNDS. And Im tired of hearing noone gets open,in the nfl a step away is open.We waited to long to figure this stuff out. The secret is there is no secret Do five pass plays really well theres a start..........
    Oct 30, 2007 at 11:50 AM
  • Martin Jacobs
    Sorry to say, Nolan has become a victim of circumstances. Alex Smith has'nt panned out and might never will. The team lacks speed on offense. If you watched the Packers on Monday night, they make our WR look like they are standing still. The team needs further upgrading--an experienced OC; another QB (sad to say); more help on offensive line; a GM for this team; and where is Thomas Clayton, the RB who looked so impressive in pre-season???
    Oct 30, 2007 at 8:48 AM
  • rikstr
    Problem>coaching.Everybody can see after the first 2 games which we barely won the offense was in serious trouble but yet it took Nolan 5 games to figure this out?Lelie should have started from day 1,Jason Hill was the second fastest player at this years NFL combine and he JUST caught his first pass in the 7th game of the season?Darrell Jackson and Arnaz Battle are pretty good,but I think they are possesion receivers.Did anybody notice during last weeks game(Giants)when Nolan brought in David Baas & Adam Snyder at the end of the 3rd qtr Dilfer(minus a corner blitz for a sack)suddenly had protection?And what of Tully Banta-Cain?He was supposed to be our sackmaster?His SLOW reaction off the ball simply is not getting it done.PLay Ray Mcdonald more!,alot more!!He was frequently in the backfield and being disruptive during preseason.I would start blitzing Willis too.The couple of times they did,he was back there in a hurry.Where is tarell Brown?He made some nice plays in preseason also.Nolans so called changes are too minimal.He is slowly losing that play not to lose scheme but it might be too late.Bring in Mike Martz!The coaching this year has been a JOKE!
    Oct 29, 2007 at 9:25 PM
  • niner
    Nolan again thinks his less than 200 yard line is "good". This unit ranked last 2 years ago, 29th last year and last again this year. No 100 yards for Gore and even thge announcers are crying out not to let Smith get beaten up anymore. These are the guys a TE said he wanted to play defense against so he could wack Smith. Nolan is absolutely without a doubt CLUELESS. Do they have to carry Smith out in a body bag for him to see a problem iwth the OL he put together?
    Oct 29, 2007 at 7:28 PM
  • Jeremy
    Concentration. Execution. Pride. Trust. Ring any bells? Well, when I look at this 49ers squad....I do not see anything relevent to those words. This team is not as bad as it shows. Finding their identity falls on the players, someone in that locker room needs to stand up and make a damn statement. Pissing and moaning and flipping off fans is not going to solve anything. These coaches, every one of them, needs to change could be something small, but it needs to happen. Stop judging every damn thing in practice (oh god, Ashlie Lelie went to get a drink of water when I told him not to for another five minutes....bench him!) These players have obviously lost a little faith in the coaching staff...and the coaching staff needs to figure that out. As far as I am concerned, there are no more excuses. Put up or shut up guys.
    Oct 29, 2007 at 5:15 PM
  • BJ
    It is the job of the coaching staff to get the most out of each player. The talent is there, on both sides of the ball. However, it is not manifesting. This can only be corrected by a coaching change. Furthermore, team morale is in the gutter and that adversely impacts team performance. I think whether or not Jim Hostler has been making good game plans is no longer relevant; for the good of this team, he has to go and real soon. This will help spark team morale and give the team hope on which to build their efforts.
    Oct 29, 2007 at 4:42 PM
  • Cal49er
    I live in Atlanta and I have been a 49er fan since I left the bay area shortly after graduating from Cal-Berkeley in the late 80's. Having said that, I am going to the Niner-Falcon game and I can't tell you how unexcited I am to go to a game. This has to be the most disappointing season in recent memory. The team looks unprepared, unfocused and to busy saying politically correct things instead of the truth. Here are few suggestions: 1) Rebuild the offensive line. Play Baas, Snyder and Wragge fire Warhop at the end of the season( See Parcells!). 2) Find an offensive system that fits Alex Smith because he looks bad in this system too. Fire Hostler and get an aggressive playcaller in the booth. 3) Wideouts, Wideouts, Wideouts!!!! Draft and sign wideouts that can make plays and have a history of making plays. 4) Start playing the younger guys and stop placating the veterans just because they used to be good. Larry Allen, Derek Smith and Bryant Young can't do it anymore and should be replaced. 5) Give Nolan one more year or else!!. I hope that things get better because I am a die hard fan. But the organization needs to face reality with this team and make changes.
    Oct 29, 2007 at 2:22 PM
  • Red Gold
    They do not execute the plays and schemes efficiently. This is a lack of discipline- penalties, turnovers, dropped passes. Repeated mistakes should result in benchings. If the 31 guy fails to perform week after week, then play #2. Realistically there must be fall guys to send a message. The plays and schemes are unimaginative in that there isn't ANY play that they can rely on. Receivers are seldom wide open (Smith's too high passes aside.) It can't be that hard, almost every other team can do it- the opponents receivers are often wide open. There should be a few plays that they can execute as Walsh's teams ran the sweep, the screen and the slant almost at will. They aren't difficult plays, they are quick so the O line doesn't have to block for long, the slow down a rush, they are easy to connect on, save the QB. We never see any of them- even when Dilfer (totally imobile) was under fire. Nolan and staff don't get it- the time for "staying the course" with some grand, long term scheme is nearly over-or close to it. Maybe the people can't convince a president but the fans will soon convince York- produce some results, be decent, be competitive, professional- NOW
    Oct 29, 2007 at 1:27 PM
  • Mondoman
    Memo to Coach Nolan. You are in year three of your tenure and things were rolling along just fine. Until you lost Norv Turner and hired a new kid with very little experience. Your job is officially on the line now. You are losing your team and the confidence of your veterans. You are a building a solid defense but are you really going to put YOUR fate in the hands of your Offensive Coordinater? The offense is last in every category and something has to be done. You have talent on the offense...Norv moved the ball and scored with pretty much the same talent, if not less. You know what needs to be done Coach. Keep it in house and turn over the offense to someone else. Desperate times calls for desperate measures. You wouldnt keep a player on the active roster if he wasnt getting the job done would you?
    Oct 29, 2007 at 1:25 PM
  • Sabah
    I'm not saying it's as simple as I put it, because the niners often find themselves coming from behind so they are passing a lot! In the first game back against the Saints, Smitty threw 43 passes! Last year, Gore hit 21+ carries 7 or 8 times, thus far, he has yet to reach that many. One of the reasons may be his fumbling problem this year possibly due to his broken hand from preseason. Also, where has Ashley Lelie been? Wasn't he brought in to stretch the field like Bryant tried to do last year? He's been a bigger bust than any we've had in recent years. Nolan is right though, it's a young team. Alex Smith is still the youngest starter in the NFL. Honestly, I wouldn't mind bringing over Chad Pennington from the Jets now that they are going with Clemens. I think Pennington is a top 10 QB in the league, the team just couldn't support him in his attempts to save games.
    Oct 29, 2007 at 1:14 PM
  • James Carson
    Lets see it's 3 and 14 and they call a running play ..Gore up the middle. What message does that send to the players? I think when you are putting the shackles on your players your giving them the impression that maybe you don't trust them enough. Opposing defenses will of course sniff this out and pin their ears back. Offensive players are being distracted as they wonder in the huddle why the coaching staff has given up on them. So of course the result? Players begin to lose faith with the team, themselves and the coach.
    Oct 29, 2007 at 12:48 PM
  • twopennykenny
    I wish it were simple, but you're right. It isn't. It's lack of execution, as said by so many, and confidence from all around. Our team is not believing in itself. Fans, players, in their coaches and teammates and play. It's pitiful watching them self destruct and give up. It's uncharacteristic, and immature. I'd like to say that it's the new offensive coordinator not coordinating his players. I honestly believe that he's coordinating them, and that we are in an unspoken transitional phase right now. It's not an excuse. Just how it is, though. Our team should be better and can be better. Too much attention is going on press interviews with Coach Nolan and everyone is waiting for him to criticize his offensive coordinator for the set back. But when we can show the league we can post 300 + yards on offense and have a convincing win, the faith in ourselves and our play, coaches, players, won't be there. We can turn this thing around and it's not simple, and with any team struggling to find answers it always looks ridiculous after going through tough times, but our team has the talent, of course. Just needs to pull out one win against Atlanta to erased the stunned look.
    Oct 29, 2007 at 11:48 AM
  • Mike
    SF has been bad this year and they are getting worse. St. Louis must have the game in SF circled as the most likely day to avoid a winless season. Miami must be gazing longingly upon the schedule of the Rams. Miami still plays the Bills and Jets; both of which would likely demolish this pathetic Niner squad.
    Oct 29, 2007 at 9:13 AM

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