Breakdown at the bye: Offense
WHAT'S GONE RIGHT: Tim Rattay, the Comeback Kid, is the NFC's third-ranked quarterback with a passer rating of 92.5. That's either surprising or amazing, when you consider the injuries Rattay has dealt with in 2004, the transitional line he has blocking in front of him and the inexperienced group of receivers he has been working with. He led a spectacular comeback from a 16-point deficit with less than five minutes to play against Arizona in Week 5 to give the Niners their only victory so far. His top target, tight end Eric Johnson, leads the NFL in receiving and it's no fluke. Johnson, always a dependable outlet option, has displayed increased toughness and an ability to consistently elude linebackers in single coverage, forcing opponents to start giving him safety attention. That has provided more open space for the receivers, who were making more contributions as the bye week approached. Curtis Conway, Cedrick Wilson and Brandon Lloyd have combined for 64 receptions for 732 yards and four touchdowns while missing a combined three games. That's not spectacular, but it computes to 171 catches for 1,952 yards over the course of the season. Lloyd has come on after a slow start to make some of the big plays expected from the ostensible No. 1 target among wideouts. Arnaz Battle also has given a glimpse of big-play ability when given a chance. Kevan Barlow is eighth among NFC rushers and had a 114-yard, two-touchdown effort against New Orleans in Week 2. Fred Beasley still is one of the NFL's best blocking fullbacks. Jamal Robertson and Terry Jackson have combined for 134 yards while averaging 4.5 a carry while spelling Barlow. Brock Gutierrez has stepped in at center and done a respectable job in place of two-time Pro Bowler Jeremy Newberry. Scott Gragg has had his moments at right tackle, but Kyle Kosier perhaps has been the star of the line, holding up well at left tackle after being forced to move there from right guard after Kwame Harris was injured. Eric Heitmann hasn't received much notice at left guard, which probably means he's doing his job most of the time. Tight end Aaron Walker has been a top reserve. Guard Justin Smiley, who has started three games, is the only rookie to make a worthy contribution. WHAT'S GONE WRONG: Breakdowns along the offensive line - and they've occurred often so far - resulted in a separated shoulder for Rattay in the first half of the opener, forcing him to the bench for two weeks and shoving Ken Dorsey into the spotlight. Dorsey almost guided the team to a road victory at New Orleans in Week 2, but inexperience caught up with him a week later as the Niners suffered their first shutout since 1977 in an embarrassing loss at Seattle. The shutout skein extended to a team-record seven quarters the next week against St. Louis, a span that saw the Niners playing some of their worst football in recent memory - with every offensive unit contributing to the debacle. Injuries and turnovers were key factors to that dismal display. San Francisco's minus-12 turnover differential is among the worst in football, and at least four of the Niners' turnovers have had a huge impact on a San Francisco loss - perhaps even making the difference in those losses. The line lost Newberry - it's anchor and leader - to a possibly season-ending knee surgery after the season opener. The loss of Harris at left tackle caused more shuffling on an already fragile unit, and Harris wasn't playing very well before he was hurt. The line has fought through injuries and change but has struggled to open holes for the run game. Smiley has been schooled several times in pass protection, and he's not the only one. Lloyd was limited to just 36 receiving yards in the first two games, then missed the next two with a groin injury. He and Wilson have had their problems getting open on occasion, and all of San Francisco's wideouts have had trouble getting deep. Barlow has struggled to get untracked, and his lack of productiveness has prevented opponents from respecting the play-action pass, which has prevented the offense from becoming truly explosive. His 3.7 average per carry is down almost 1.5 yards from last year, when his play down the stretch convinced the Niners to give him the full-time job this season. He has not handled that role with aplomb so far. Except for some garbage time against St. Louis, first-round receiver Rashaun Woods has been a non-factor, and third-round receiver Derrick Hamilton has been inactive in each of the first six games. Backup fullback Jasen Isom, who started the opener, was lost to a season-ending Achilles tendon tear. WHAT'S NEXT: The bye will give the 49ers a good opportunity to finally get things settled on an offensive unit that actually showed some promise during the first six weeks, which is a real positive considering its horrible stretch between Weeks 3-4 and all the changes it has had to deal with because of injuries that hurt continuity. With Harris back, the line can hope to find some cohesiveness it has lacked through six weeks. If he holds up in pass protection at left tackle, and continues his solid play as a run blocker, the Niners could have a much more effective and productive unit. The play of Harris and Barlow both are huge keys to the 49ers continuing to get better on offense. Once Barlow gets a better feel for finding holes and following blockers, opponents will have to play San Francisco's run game honest, and that will make it even more difficult for opponents to defend a passing game that already is spreading the ball around very well. Opponents will look for more ways to pressure Rattay, but his accuracy and quick decisions should make them think twice about coming too often with all-out blitzes. San Francisco's passing game figures to continue its steady development now that all the parts are in place and they know their roles. The Niners also will try to find ways to get Woods in the mix, but he must perform to earn time ahead of the four receivers in front of him. If the run game comes around, the Niners will have a multifaceted offense that should be able to keep them in most of the remaining games on their schedule.
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