49ers report card: Season grade after 5 games
PASSING OFFENSE: F -- Quarterback Alex Smith has taken over for ineffective Tim Rattay, but that position is just one aspect of this team's problems with their air attack. The passing game lacks a go-to target, and the offensive line has not protected either Rattay or Smith. The 49ers have dropped back to throw 150 times through the first five games and they've been sacked 17 times and thrown 10 interceptions. So once every 5.6 times the 49ers try to pass, something bad has happened. The team's passer rating is a lowly 54.2, with Smith checking in with a lowly 12.5. The rest of the season will be judged on how well Smith, the future of the franchise, performs in his role as the starting quarterback. RUSHING OFFENSE: C -- The offense has looked inept, having gone its last 28 possessions without a touchdown. The running game has shown some progress in recent weeks, but they still have been unable to grind things out on the ground to the point where they've controlled a game. Keven Barlow and Frank Gore have shown to be a decent 1-2 punch. Barlow is a power runner who does a bit too much dancing for the team's liking, and Gore is a hard-nosed runner who has proved to be a good complement to Barlow's style. After a slow start, Barlow has rushed for 265 yards and one touchdown on 64 carries. PASS DEFENSE: F -- The defense should be the strength of the team, but they are surrendering 451.8 yards a game. The 49ers have not been able to stop anyone through the air. Marc Bulger, Donovan McNabb, Drew Bledsoe and Josh McCown torched the 49ers' pass defense. Their best game came before the bye against the Colts' Peyton Manning, of all quarterbacks. Opposing quarterbacks have compiled a 105.3 passer rating, and have averaged 343.6 yards passing per game. It also has not helped matters that the 49ers have played recent games without four of their top five cornerbacks. But they were bad even before the injuries. On a bright note, DE Bryant Young ranks among the league's best with six sacks. RUSH DEFENSE: B-minus -- The run defense has been good, but teams have had great success against the 49ers through the air. The opposition is averaging just 3.6 yards a carry, as ILBs Derek Smith and Jeff Ulbrich have been solid plugging things up in the middle. However, the 49ers will play the remainder of the season without Ulbrich, who underwent season-ending surgery on his left biceps muscle last week. SPECIAL TEAMS: B -- The 49ers have gotten good production from their special teams. Kicker Joe Nedney has been called on for only three field-goal attempts, making each of them. But he has also had two successful onside kicks. Punter Andy Lee has a solid net average of 38.7 yards. The return game has not been much since Otis Amey returned a punt 75 yards for a touchdown in the first game of the season. COACHING: C -- Through the first five games of the season, the 49ers have looked a lot like the Dennis Erickson-Terry Donahue club of last season. In fact, the 49ers have been much worse in some cases than the team that went 2-14 a year ago. First-year coach Mike Nolan has made some rookie mistakes, such as the handling of the Jamie Winborn situation. His biggest blunder during a game was settling for three points from the 3-yard line with 18 seconds remaining in the first half of a game they eventually lost to the Cowboys by three points. But Nolan has seemed to instill a belief within the team that things are going to get better. Keeping that optimism when things look so bad will be a huge challenge for the coaching staff in the second half of the season.