Niners, Smith have gone south in second half

The 49ers have gotten off to good starts in each of the last three games quarterback Alex Smith has started. But then things have gone south in the second half.

In the last three games, the 49ers have gained 388 yards in the first half and 162 yards in the second half. Six of 16 first-half possessions ended without gaining a first down, while 13 of 19 possessions in the second half resulted in three-and-outs.

The 49ers will give it another try Saturday against the Rams at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis.

Part of the reason the 49ers might be getting off to strong starts early in games is the team's practice of scripting the first 15 plays. With a rookie quarterback like Smith, who has yet to get a firm grasp of the entire offense, he can feel comfortable with the plays he knows will be called early in the game.

"We're starting the games fine," 49ers offensive coordinator Mike McCarthy said. "Hopefully, we can continue that because you want to start fast. We're just hitting that lull and that wave of adversity that we're not getting over. You can't script the whole game."

Part of the adjustment is in handling the variety of blitzes that opposing defenses throw at the 49ers on a weekly basis. Because of an inexperienced offensive line and a rookie quarterback, defenses are blitzing much more than usual. The Jaguars blitzed fewer than 20 percent of the time heading into last week's game, but they brought pressure approximately 75 percent of the time against the 49ers.

"What's happening is we're seeing so much pressure and we're not holding up against it over a 60-minute period," McCarthy said. "That's our biggest challenge. You can dissect that as much as you want, but that's a key component.

"It's a matter of holding our level of execution. There's less room for error when they bring pressure."

PLAYER NOTES

--- RB Frank Gore is expected to start Saturday despite sustaining an injured left shoulder last week. He returned to practice on Thursday. He experienced problems with his right shoulder during training camp. Coach Mike Nolan said Gore will require surgery on both shoulders in the off-season.

--- DE Bryant Young will return to the team next season, if that's what he wants to do, coach Mike Nolan said. Young is scheduled to earn $4.25 million next season. But his salary will not be an issue for next season. Nolan said if Young wishes to play again, he will have a spot on the roster. Young was named the winner of the team's Len Eshmont Award, which goes to the most courageous and inspirational player. He has won the award six times.

--- RB Kevan Barlow is not expected to play Saturday because of a left knee injury. Barlow missed last week's game with a bone bruise. Coach Mike Nolan said he has been impressed with Barlow this season. He said he is running more decisively than a year ago, and his pass protection is the best of the backs.

--- CB Shawntae Spencer did not practice and is not expected to play Saturday against the Rams. Spencer missed last week's game against the Jaguars with a quadriceps strain.

--- WR Arnaz Battle will return to the starting lineup after missing three starts with a stress fracture in his right knee. Battle has been inactive for six games and his role has been limited in several other games because of his knee condition. Battle said he is close to signing a contract extension with the 49ers.


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