Niners in search of the Big O

It's out there. Mike Nolan knows it. The 49ers can feel it. Now they just have to go find it. We're talking here about offense. Lost offense. There is no offense more lost in today's NFL than San Francisco's. It's a punchless attack that has been kidnapped, blindfolded, then dropped off in some remote wilderness with no clue or sense of direction how to get back home.

The 49ers used to be the cutting edge of NFL offense. Now they're just cutting bait, fishing for points, lucky to hook a couple of first downs consecutively and string together enough forward-moving plays to get in position to unleash their most lethal offensive weapon, kicker Joe Nedney.

There was a three-game stretch during the turn of November when Nedney, the big-legged booter, accounted for every point the 49ers scored. That's right. Ten field goals in three games. Remarkably, that was enough for San Francisco to win once during that stretch, since five of them came in one game.

The 49ers can't count on that happening very often.

Sadly, they've had to count on Nedney to avoid round figures on the scoreboard far too often this season. He was the only San Francisco player to score in five of the team's first nine games.


But the 49ers already have gotten used to swallowing hard this year. It has been that kind of season as the team's offense repeatedly gets choked into submission by opponent after opponent.

The San Francisco offense can't get any worse than it is as it heads into Sunday's game against the Seattle Seahawks, and what a contrast that will be. The Seahawks lead the NFL in total offense.

The 49ers' offense is at the opposite end of the spectrum. It is on the verge of becoming historically bad, on a pace to set team records for futility, ranking 32nd overall among 32 NFL teams and 30th or worse in nine different offensive categories.

And it hasn't just been a sudden nosedive to the basement. The 49ers have been gradually building down to this. In their past 23 games entering Week 11, the Niners hadn't gained more than 200 yards of offense 11 times – including six times in their first nine games this year. In two of those other three games, they produced 217 yards or fewer.

For some perspective, consider that in the 26 years from 1978 to 2003, the 49ers failed to gain 200 yards in game just seven times.

It goes on. The same kind of haplessness can be pointed out in categories such as first downs and points scored, two primary indicators of offensive effectiveness. But you get the drift. The offense isn't just awful. It's awesomely awful.

But never fear, because Nolan and his merry band of offensive saviors are here.

As the season drives deep into November, Nolan claims the clean-up mission already has been set in motion. Things will get fixed, he promises, just like the 49ers have been able to fix some things on a defense that was equally as bad – perhaps even worse, statistically speaking – in the early stages of the season.

Nolan and crew were able to identify problems and deficiencies on that side of the ball and, pray tell, despite losing three defensive starters, the unit has been able to make a considerable turnaround to carry the team and keep it competitive while the offense needed a telescope to find the end zone.

"We still need to make changes on the offensive side of the ball," Nolan said earlier this week, "and that's what we'll do. I have a lot of trust in our offensive staff. We have a tremendous amount of experience in our offensive staff, and we have some outstanding coaches. What leads me to believe that we'll get things rectified is that most of these guys have been a part of building things from scratch."

Well, then, they're certainly in the right place for that.

But how do the 49ers build from what has to be the most hollow stretch of offense the franchise has ever seen when their prized left tackle is out for the season, their veteran center is playing with two bum shoulders and a toasted knee, their tight ends are invisible, their wide receivers can't get open, and their quarterbacks couldn't even hit them if they could?

How do they reconstruct with their quandary at the quarterback position, where four different players already had started by midseason, leaving a bunch of inexperienced young guns out there to misfire and get shot down by feasting defenses that always know what's coming?

Nolan, who's great at seeing things others don't on the surface, says that process already has begun. The coaches are making progress behind the scenes. The young players are developing and ready to hit their stride. To a man, everybody will get better on offense as the team moves forward. And in the offseason, reinforcements will be coming through the draft and free agency.

The 49ers know no other way to do it, other than to know it has to get done. No respectable team can go on like this.

Nolan truly believes, his subordinates and players ostensibly believe, and he asks you to believe, too. But there is only one way to make believers.

"It's just a matter of time," the coach said.

That time still appears well in the distance. And waiting is the hardest part.

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