Long list of offensive woes

One week after the 49ers gained just 113 total yards against the Seahawks, they managed 217 against the Jaguars. Although the output was nearly 7 yards better than the 49ers' season average, it still was 25 yards worse than the average of the Houston Texans, whose offense ranks 31st in the NFL.

"We have to stay on the path we're on, which I think is a path of improvement," 49ers coach Mike Nolan said in the aftermath of the 49ers' 10-9 loss to the Jaguars. "Alex (Smith) continues to grow and get better. He's growing up through this process."

Smith, the quarterback chosen with the first overall draft pick, has started five games and has compiled a 26.6 passer rating with no touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Smith has started the last three games after missing five games with a knee injury.

Oddly, in the last three games, the 49ers' offense has done much better work in the first half of games. The team has generated 388 yards of total offense in the first half, while accounting for just 162 in the second half.

The 49ers, whose 2-12 record is tied with the Texans for worst in the league, have failed to score an offensive touchdown in an astounding eight of their 14 games this season. They rank 30th in the NFL in scoring, averaging 13.9 points a game.

"We had some adversity along the way, but everybody does," Nolan said. "The most important statistics is the score and to score points. We've been very fortunate that we have an outstanding kicker in Joe Nedney, and he's a large reason we have the two victories we have."

The 49ers have problems across the board on offense, beginning with the instability at quarterback, where four players have started games this season. The 49ers have a young offensive line that is just starting to play well; they don't have anyone resembling a No. 1 receiver; their tight ends are not offensive threats; and the running game has not been a consistent threat.

"It's one thing when you can't identify what your issues are as a football team," Nolan said. "I think we can identify what our issues are and what battles we have to face."

--- The learning continues for Smith, who on Sunday made his fifth NFL start. He completed just 8-of-24 passing for 123 yards and an interception, bringing his touchdown-interception ration to 0:10.

"It was a great challenge against a team like Jacksonville and it was a good experience for me," Smith said. "It's a little frustrating that we came close. It hurts a little more. I learned a lot (Sunday)."

One embarrassing lesson Smith learned came at the end of the third quarter. Faced with a third-and-goal from the Jacksonville 18, Smith noticed the offense was lined up in the wrong formation for the play. Smith called a timeout with six seconds on the play clock. The only problem was that there were just three seconds remaining in the quarter. Obviously, the quarter would have ended before the play clock expired. Smith burned a timeout he could have saved for later in the game.

"My eyes were on the play clock and I didn't check the game clock," Smith said. "It's the quarterback's responsibility not to take a delay in the red zone."

--- Vice president of player personnel Scot McCloughan raised some eyebrows when he told the San Jose (Calif.) Mercury News that quarterback Alex Smith probably will not reach his prime for six to eight seasons.

In clarifying his remarks, McCloughan said the team did a study of Pro Bowl quarterbacks and found that those players generally had their best seasons between six and eight years into their careers.

--- With the results of Sunday's games, the 49ers' opponents for the 2006 season have been set. They will play their annual home and away games against NFC West opponents Arizona, St. Louis and Seattle. The 49ers will also have home games against the Raiders, Chargers, Packers, Vikings and Eagles. Their additional road games will be against the Broncos, Chiefs, Bears, Lions and Saints. The NFL will announce the dates and times for the games in the spring, though the 49ers expect to learn when and where they will play the Saints well in advance.

--- DE Bryant Young admittedly played a little tentatively in his first game back after missing three weeks with ligament and cartilage tears in his right knee. Young made just one tackle but coach Mike Nolan said his presence on the field served as inspiration to many of the team's young players.

--- CB Willie Middlebrooks was waived Monday for the fourth time this season. Middlebrooks was signed Saturday as an insurance policy because of Shawntae Spencer's injury. Middlebrooks saw limited action in Sunday's game. He has played in five games this season.

--- WR Rasheed Marshall has not shown any glimpses of the game-breaking ability the 49ers envisioned when they drafted the former West Virginia quarterback. Marshall returned two punts for 1 yard and fumbled a fair catch before recovering it. For the season, he has averaged just 4.6 yards on 16 punt returns. He has caught one pass for minus-1 yard and carried once for negative-7 yards.

--- P Andy Lee is within five punts of breaking the team record for most punts in a season. Lee has attempted 92 punts this season, averaging 42.3 yards with a 37.7 net average.

--- RB Frank Gore is averaging 1.4 yards a carry more than starter Kevan Barlow this season. Gore, who made his first NFL start Sunday because of Barlow's knee injury, gained 79 yards on 19 carries. Gore has 432 yards rushing on 92 carries this season.


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