49ers' pass defense: 4 games, 0 interceptions

The 49ers played well against the run, but their pass defense was severely lacking against Chiefs quarterback Damon Huard in their 41-0 loss Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium, bringing back memories of last year's dismal performance, when San Francisco's defense allowed a franchise-record 4,427 yards through the air.

Huard, a backup making his second start of the season in place of regular Trent Green, completed 18 of 23 passes for 208 yards and two touchdowns. Huard had a passer rating of 133.3.

For the fourth consecutive game, the 49ers did not record a pass interception, leaving them with zero picks through the first quarter of the season.

It's a continuing problem for a San Francisco defense that lacks ballhawks and playmakers. The 49ers ranked 21st in the NFL last year with 16 interceptions, half of which came from cornerback Shawntae Spencer (4) and free safety Mike Adams (4), who each remain key starters in this year's secondary.

But 49ers coach Mike Nolan said his team's pass defense was really close to making a lot of those plays to get the ball back to the offense.

"Those are nice throws," Nolan said. "I guess if there's any surprise I didn't expect Damon Huard to make pretty nice throws.

"Those ones that were caught, we were right there," Nolan said. "We got to get in position to make the play or throw the timing off more or get the sack. There were two or three times where we come free and we don't make the sack and he stepped forward and stepped around and made the play down the field."

Spencer, a third-year veteran, was beaten on several occasions, including a pass interference call on Chiefs receiver Dante Hall in the end zone that resulted in an 18-yard gain to the 1-yard line. Spencer was also beaten on a double move from Chiefs receiver Eddie Kennison on a 34-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter.

Nolan said he has been impressed with the play from his cornerbacks, Spencer and veteran Walt Harris.

"They aren't (grading out) 100 percent, but they are competing," Nolan said. "Shawntae is really just learning how to play corner. Walt's been a great addition not only for this team but also to Shawntae. From a coverage standpoint, he competes all the way."

But after some solid performances earlier this season, that competing has not produced results over the past two weeks as a two-game losing slide has dropped the 49ers to 1-3 entering Sunday's Battle of the Bay against neighborhood rival Oakland.

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The 49ers after the game claimed they did not underestimate Huard, who went 2,135 days between NFL victories as a starter. Huard threw for 208 yards and two touchdowns against the 49ers to improve to 6-2 as a starter in his 10 NFL seasons.

Harris said the 49ers had a huge role in making Huard look so good.

"He's a veteran quarterback," Harris said. "I look at it as what we didn't do. No bashing on him, but there were things we just didn't do and I'm accountable for some of them."

The 49ers' biggest problems were on third downs. The secondary and pass rush took responsibility for the breakdowns, which allowed the Chiefs to convert six of eight third downs in the first half.

"We got to third down many times," Harris said. "The guys up front did their jobs stopping the run. And we didn't get off the field on third downs."

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Running back Frank Gore, awarded the starting job when Kevan Barlow was traded to the Jets in the preseason, has shown plenty of good and bad in the early season.

Gore has run the ball aggressively, but he has also fumbled in each of the team's first four games.

On Gore's second carry of the game, Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson jarred the ball loose from Gore for a turnover. The fumble led to a Chiefs field goal and a 10-0 lead in the first quarter.

"I was thinking too much," Gore said. "I was nervous. I was trying to not make mistakes and it happened. I wasn't myself at the beginning of the game. I just had to forget it and play football."

Gore fumbled on the goal line in the 49ers' two previous games. The 49ers have decided to go with Michael Robinson in short-yardage situations.

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Right tackle Kwame Harris struggled in pass protection against Chiefs rookie defensive end Tamba Hali. Coach Mike Nolan was asked about the possibility of benching Harris, the team's top pick from the 2003 draft who has been under the microscope for his inconsistent play since joining the team.

"We'll look at the entire roster," Nolan said. "We don't have a tremendous amount of depth on our football team. That's what we're trying to restore. If somebody's not giving their all, certainly they don't deserve to start, but I wouldn't say that's where we're at right now."

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The 49ers surrendered plays of 31 and 29 yards because of penalties tacked onto the end of Chiefs pass completions.

Linebacker Jeff Ulbrich was called for a 15-yard facemask penalty at the end of tight end Tony Gonzalez's 16 yard reception. Defensive lineman Bryant Young was slapped with a 15-yarder for a low hit on Huard after his 14-yard pass to Gonzalez. Young said he believed his hit on Huard was above the knee, which should not have warranted the unnecessary-roughness penalty.

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PLAYER NOTES
--- FB Moran Norris made his second consecutive start, as the 49ers decided to use him instead of Chris Hetherington because his blocking fit into the team's game plan against the Chiefs. Norris played 24 of the team's 51 offensive snaps. He did not carry the ball, and had one reception for minus-7 yards.
--- WR Antonio Bryant took part in every one of the team's offensive plays. He finished with just two catches for 29 yards, giving him 14 receptions for 310 yards this season.
--- QB Alex Smith struggled in almost every phase of Sunday's game. It all started up front with his protection. Smith threw for just 92 yards and two interceptions. Through four games, Smith has thrown for 906 yards, surpassing his 875 yards passing in seven starts a year ago.
--- CB Shawntae Spencer struggled in coverage in the first half against the Chiefs. He surrendered man coverage pass completions of 15, 12, 7 and 34 yards, the latter resulting in an Eddie Kennison touchdown. He was also called for pass interference in the end zone, an 18-yard penalty. The Chiefs scored their second touchdown on the next play.
--- LG Larry Allen, who has missed three games with a left knee injury, is expected to return to practice this week and might be available for Sunday's game against the Raiders. Allen will probably be listed as questionable Wednesday, when the 49ers must submit an injury report to the league office.


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