Inside the 49ers

The 49ers' offense has struggled mightily this season, and things show no signs of getting better with the NFL's third-ranked defense next on the schedule.

How anemic have the 49ers been this season?

--- They have been held without an offensive touchdown in five of their eight games.

--- They have started four quarterbacks this season, and the only one who has thrown a touchdown pass has not played since Oct. 2, after which he was benched and subsequently traded.

--- The 49ers average just 110.5 net yards passing a game, but have managed a total of just 234 yards passing in their last four games.

--- Their highest-paid offensive lineman was placed on injured reserve this week, and their best lineman - center Jeremy Newberry - likely will need to take at least this week off to let his various crippling injuries rest.

--- The 49ers, who went 30 offensive possessions earlier this season without scoring a touchdown, are currently on a streak of 26 possessions without reaching the end zone.

"Really, it's the lack of consistency," 49ers coach Mike Nolan said. "You have to do something right before you get it in the end zone. It's not just getting in the end zone.

"It's a process that we need to get consistency with our guys. Getting in the end zone is first getting in the red zone so you have opportunities. We haven't been in the red zone a tremendous amount, and that's where a lot of your scores come."

Quarterback Cody Pickett will make his second start in a row Sunday against the Chicago Bears. He never really had a chance in his first career start, which came last Sunday against the Giants. One-third of the 49ers' offensive snaps took place with more than 10 yards to go for a first down.

The 49ers' offensive line committed eight penalties, and tight end Trent Smith dropped a pass deep down the field that would have put the 49ers inside the Giants' 20-yard line, if not resulted in a touchdown, on the first play of their second drive of the game.

"We have to do a better job than that," Newberry said. "The defense is starting to play well, and we have to hold up our end of the bargain. In the games we've won, we've been a lot more productive on first and second downs."

Pickett said he is confident entering his second start. He is just getting back into the swing of things at quarterback.

Late in training camp, Pickett started playing special teams. As the team's No. 4 quarterback, he did not get any snaps in practice at his chosen position. Instead, he played receiver and free safety on the scout team.

When the 49ers dealt Tim Rattay, who began the season as the starting quarterback, Pickett moved up to No. 3 on the depth chart. He spent one game there until Alex Smith sustained a knee sprain.

Then, when new starter Ken Dorsey was sidelined with an ankle sprain, Pickett got his chance to play. Things are wide open as to who will be the 49ers' quarterback for the remainder of the season. Smith, the top overall pick in the draft, might not be back for another two or three weeks.

"When Alex gets well, I don't want to rule him out," Nolan said. "It has a lot to do with how they're playing. If Cody's playing well next week, then he deserves the opportunity to stay in there. Right now, we'll just take it week by week."

Pickett said he was disappointed in his one interception, when he threw ill-advisedly late in the first half against the Giants. At the time, the 49ers were trailing 3-0. On a third-and-33 from near midfield, Pickett tried to throw across his body to Arnaz Battle. Instead, Giants defensive back Brent Alexander made the interception and the Giants eventually scored a touchdown in the final seconds of the half for a 10-point lead.

"I just have to try to be patient," Pickett said. "I can't try to force the issue like I did on that one play last week. As hard as that is, I have to be patient and take what they give you.

"We just have to execute better. We have to be better with our pre-snap penalties and things like that. We can't put ourselves in first-and-long, second-and-long, and third-and-long opportunities. We have to keep our down and distance a little bit shorter than that."

NOTES AND QUOTES

--- Linebacker Julian Peterson, who has been tagged as the 49ers' franchise player two consecutive seasons, wants to have some certainty about his future. He would like the 49ers to award him a long-term contract or let him go so he does not have to live year-to-year again.

"I've been in the same spot for a while, so I want to know if I can make this my home or not," Peterson said. "Last two years, I don't know what's going to happen. I'm just waiting patiently.

"If they say, 'You had a great time here, be gone, we've enjoyed your time here,' that would be fine with me. I just don't want to be put up in the air and be on the waiting game."

Peterson said he fears being in the same position as defensive tackle Corey Simon, whom the Eagles made their franchise player. During Simon's holdout, the club released him and he became a free agent when a lot of clubs had already spent their cap space for the season. Simon ended up with the Colts.

Peterson said he isn't panicking yet. The second half of the season will determine what the 49ers decide to do with him.

"It's still early," Peterson said. "Our head coach (Mike Nolan) is pretty much the GM and he's dealing with getting the team together. Contracts are the last thing on his mind."

--- Quarterback Ken Dorsey has eight career starts but none of them have come against the same team. He had an opportunity this week for a repeat performance against the Bears, but Nolan opted to go with Cody Pickett instead.

"There's a lot of advantage to it," Dorsey said, "but probably more of it if you're playing the team twice in the same year. The Bears are a little better than they were last year, but there is still some carryover on what they're doing."

--- The only holdover among position coaches and coordinators from last year is special-teams coordinator Larry Mac Duff. Nolan retained Mac Duff and fired the rest of Dennis Erickson's top assistants.

"Special teams was probably one of the strongest assets we had last year," 49ers linebacker Brandon Moore said. "Coach Nolan's decision to keep him (Mac Duff) around was a great move."

The 49ers rank third in the NFL in kickoff coverage, and their opponents' net punt average is worst in the league. The 49ers have gotten strong play from their specialists, as kicker Joe Nedney is having a solid season and second-year punter Andy Lee has done a good job in one of the most difficult stadiums in the league to perform his task.

"It's been big to keep the continuity from last year," Lee said. "We are building on what we did last year. Everybody trusts everybody else to do their jobs."

Nolan and Mac Duff coached together more than 20 years ago at Stanford, which might have helped Nolan decide to entrust one of the staff's most important jobs to a holdover from the previous staff.

"It's always a difficult time when there's a change like that," Mac Duff said of the coaching shakeup after last season. "I knew Mike Nolan and some of the guys who were going to be new members of the staff, so I was excited about the possibility of staying."

--- The 49ers had their hearts set on Alex Smith with the top overall pick in the draft, but they still interviewed Kyle Orton, who has led the Bears to a 5-3 record as a rookie starter as a fourth-round draft pick.

"We liked him going into the draft," Nolan said. "I remember interviewing him. He had these big cowboy boots on, trying to be as tall as he could in the interview. A lot of guys, if they're 6-3, they want to be 6-5 or 6-6. He did a good job in the interview. He was articulate and bright. He had a lot of confidence. I think he's got a good mind and toughness. He went about where we thought he'd go in the draft."

--- Prior to facing the Eagles earlier this season, 49ers linebacker Derek Smith referred to former teammate Terrell Owens a "bad apple." He said it was only a matter of time before Owens' selfishness spoiled things for the Eagles.

Is Smith surprised with the recent developments?

"Not at all," he said. "It was just a matter of time."

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

The 49ers awarded left tackle Jonas Jennings a $12 million signing bonus in the off-season. He played only three games in his first year with the club before seeing his season end due to shoulder surgery this week.

Also, the club's best lineman, Newberry, was downgraded to doubtful on San Francisco's injury report and likely will miss this week's game against the Bears due to a chronic knee problem that is getting worse and worse. Newberry also is playing with two separated shoulders.

This might be the time for the 49ers to begin looking at some of their younger players. If Newberry sits, the 49ers could start second-round draft pick David Baas at center. Or, they could go with Eric Heitmann at center and put Baas or Adam Snyder at right guard. Nolan said Heitmann likely will start at center, but he did not say which of the rookies would start at right guard, saying he will use a rotation to keep everybody on their toes.

Snyder is also beginning to see some work at left tackle, where Anthony Clement has played since Jennings was first sidelined for the Oct. 2 game against the Cardinals. "Anthony needs to step up his game," Nolan said.

Clement was called for two holding penalties last week against the Giants, including a costly one that nullified a spectacular Brandon Lloyd catch that would have placed the ball at the 2-yard line.

PLAYER/PERSONNEL NOTES

--- CB Ahmed Plummer returned to practice this week after missing five games after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his left ankle. Plummer might have left the field as a starter, but it appears Bruce Thornton has replaced him. Nolan said Thornton will continue to start this week and he wants to see to see if he could get Plummer involved as a nickel back.

--- RB Frank Gore, who led the 49ers with 33 yards rushing on seven carries last week, missed Wednesday's practice with a foot contusion but returned to practice Thursday and will be ready to play against the Bears.

--- OL David Baas will likely get his first significant action of the season against the Bears. Baas could start at center or guard, but more than likely will enter the game at some point for considerable playing time as a reserve at either or both positions.

--- WR Otis Amey is expected to return to action after missing three games with a high ankle sprain. If Rasheed Marshall is unable to play due to a thigh contusion, Amey will be back returning punts.

--- LB Derek Smith is on pace for another 100-tackle season. Through eight games, Smith has recorded 68 tackles to lead the team in that category. Smith has led the 49ers in tackles each season since he joined the Niners in 2001.

--- DE Bryant Young is second in the NFL with eight sacks, his best season since recording 9.5 in 2000. Young also leads 49ers defensive linemen with 25 tackles.

SERIES HISTORY VS. BEARS: 59th meeting. The 49ers lead 30-27-1, with the Bears winning two of the last three meetings. Last year, the Bears defeated the 49ers 23-13 at Soldier Field.

BY THE NUMBERS: Since Tim Rattay was benched and subsequently traded, the 49ers have gained just 234 net yards passing in four games, an average of just 58.5 yards per game.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's obvious to me we're behind schedule as far as the goals for the team go. We're on track with what we're trying to do for the future and what we're trying to build." - 49ers coach Mike Nolan, assessing his first season with the 49ers after a 2-6 beginning.


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