Good news, bad news at the bye

Things promised to be a lot better for the 49ers this season after last year's 2-14 debacle. Coach Mike Nolan was hired, and after assessing the talent on his club, he proclaimed the team's goal was to take command of the NFC West. Through the first five games of the season, however, the 49ers look worse as they hit their bye Sunday than they did a year ago under the since-fired tandem of coach Dennis Erickson and general manager Terry Donahue.

Last year, the 49ers also started off 1-4. They were outscored 137-91 in those games. This year, they've been outscored 160-79.

The 49ers finished 26th in total offense and 24th in team defense. This year, they rank 31st in offense and last in the league in defense. They are allowing 109.2 yards more per game on defense than last year, while gaining 56 fewer yards per game.

The 49ers are also on pace to surrender a franchise-worst 512 points this season.

A year ago, the 49ers were decimated by injuries, and things don't look a whole lot better this year. Tight end Eric Johnson, the team's best offensive player in 2004, is out for the season with a foot injury. One of the 49ers' better defensive players, linebacker Jeff Ulbrich, is also done because of a torn biceps.

The 49ers' big free-agent acquisition, left tackle Jonas Jennings, might require season-ending surgery on his right shoulder. Linebacker Julian Peterson and cornerback Ahmed Plummer have also missed significant playing time with injuries.

Despite all those difficulties, the 49ers remain convinced that they will turn things around this season. Nolan said he expects the team to start showing dramatic signs of improvement after the bye week, as rookie quarterback Alex Smith gets more comfortable in his role as the starter.


In the final game before the bye, the 49ers' defense showed some signs of coming together in a 28-3 loss to the Colts. The 49ers showed a lot of enthusiasm despite playing with four of their top five cornerbacks out with injuries.

Cornerback Bruce Thornton, just up from the practice squad, shadowed Colts receiver Marvin Harrison and limited him to two catches for 17 yards. Thornton also had an interception, and may have worked himself into the role of the nickel back when everybody gets healthy.

Defensive end Bryant Young has been the rock of the unit, recording six sacks in his first five games, as the 49ers have struggled learning the new 3-4 scheme. But with all the injuries on defense, the 49ers will likely play the 4-3 more as the season goes on.

It can also be seen as good news that the 49ers have started to play for the future at quarterback. Smith has taken over the starting job from veteran Tim Rattay. Although Smith is expected to struggle immensely, at least it means that he's doing his learning now. The franchise should be better next season because of the lumps that Smith will endure as a rookie.


Nolan considers the offensive line and defensive backfield the two most important position groups on the team. However, those are spots where the 49ers seem particularly vulnerable.

In addition, the 49ers do not have any offensive playmakers. Receiver Brandon Lloyd has been the team's best offensive weapon, but he is still wildly inconsistent. He was held without a catch against the Colts after recording two straight 100-yard receiving games.

The 49ers are weak at tackle, as Jennings is out indefinitely with a shoulder injury that might require season-ending surgery. Veteran Anthony Clement, who hasn't played left tackle since his rookie season seven years ago, has struggled in the new spot. On the other side, Kwame Harris shows some signs of progress but then will have some stretches when he can't block anybody.

The line is serviceable, but center Jeremy Newberry is clearly not healthy. Newberry is playing on a bad knee. He has been called for three holding penalties this season, as his mobility is limited.

Defensively, the 49ers were not deep to begin the season in the secondary, and in the first five games, they've had four cornerbacks sidelined with injuries. They have not been able to stop anyone through the air, as opposing quarterbacks have compiled a 105.3 passer rating and are averaging 343.6 yards passing per game against the 49ers.

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