Nolan expects different kind of passing game

After a miserable passing performance in last week's loss at New Orleans, coach Mike Nolan expects to see a different 49ers passing game when the club returns to action Sunday against the Green Bay Packers.

"What I always do when there is a bad day, I look for all of them to step up the next week and perform better," Nolan said one day after the 49ers' failed to take advantage of opportunities and get anything going through the air in their 34-10 loss to the Saints.

"Typically a good player, a competitive athlete, will do exactly that. Everyone gets in slumps, but you like to be able to correct it," Nolan said.

Quarterback Alex Smith struggled mightily against the Saints, as he completed 14 of 28 passes for 171 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions. It was his worst game in more than two months. But Nolan did not place all of the 49ers' difficulties onto his quarterback's shoulders.

"Alex was hurried on some of them," Nolan said. "When you're shored up and you have a two- or three-man route, Alex shouldn't be back there maneuvering. At the same time, he had some people he could've hit, and sometimes there were route-running issues. The truth of the matter is it was clearly evident on the film that it was a collective issue."

The disappointment for the 49ers is that there were opportunities for big plays in the passing game because the Saints loaded up the box to stop running back Frank Gore, a strategy that clearly paid dividends. Gore, the NFC's leading rusher with 1,217 yards, was held to a season-low 40 yard on 13 carries.

But Nolan said the Saints' strategy was nothing new.

"(Opponents) have been doing it the entire season, even in the course of three games we won," Nolan said. "It's not like we haven't proven we can run against it. But (the Saints) were more effective than we were. At same time, we did not capitalize on the opportunities down the field."

Nolan said San Francisco's receivers also had to take some of blame as their routes had a tendency to break down on occasion.

"The game is made of human error and success," he said. "Typically, somebody is not right, and that's why you can coach somebody on every play. What's bad is when it's all at the same time. That's the thing that happens when you really don't play well. You have two or three guys that do it. I would say there were missed opportunities for different reasons, for routes, for protection, and for the vision."

Smith has slumped recently after displaying dramatic improvement over his rocky rookie season during the first 11 weeks of the season. Nolan continued to stand behind his young quarterback, the No. 1 overall pick of the 2005 draft, saying Smith hasn't stopped progressing at this point in his development.

"As part of everyone's maturity, there are bad days you hope you can learn from," Nolan said. "Not everybody performs at their highest level in their second year as a quarterback in the NFL. Week in and week out there is a growth and a maturity that goes with them, and the difficulty this year is different from last year.

"Last year, his surrounding cast made it more difficult for him to do things. This year, the cast is upgraded, but you have to keep your expectations in check. The best definition that I can give you is that it (the passing problems last week) was collective. It would be a lot easier to correct if it was one."

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Nolan was irate in the first quarter when the officials inexplicably picked up a flag after it had been thrown for pass interference on the Saints.

When asked what explanation he received from referee Mike Carey, Nolan said, "No good reason."

The 49ers have felt that they have been on the short end of a lot of officials' calls this season. Nolan has failed on five of his six replay challenges this season. Several other close calls went against the 49ers on Sunday.

"I've been part of teams when you get them and you thank God every day that you got them," Nolan said. "Then there are days when you don't get them, and I don't know who to thank for those."

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The 49ers played a lot of 3-4 defense in the first half against the Saints after being primarily a 4-3 team in the first 11 games of the season. Newcomer Hannibal Navies, signed in the middle of last week, got the start at outside linebacker. He was credited with six tackles in the game.

The new look paid dividends in the first quarter when the 49ers allowed just one first down on the Saints' first three possessions.

"It was very successful in the first half," Nolan said. "We didn't use it much in the second half because it became a running game."

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It might as well have been high school again for Smith, except his former Helix High (La Mesa, Calif.) teammate Reggie Bush was on the other team, and his prep coach was seen cheering for the opposition.

"I've seen all those moves," Smith said of Bush, who had four touchdowns against the 49ers. "That quick jab and burst and the suddenness ... He makes guys miss in the hole and come up with nothing but air."

Smith's high school coach, Gordon Wood, got a lot of TV time, cheering wildly for Bush on his breakout day.

"He did have our high school shirt on, and that happens to be black, so I'll let him off the hook for that," Smith said.

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OT Adam Snyder is out for this week's game against the Packers with a high right ankle sprain and a knee sprain that could threaten the remainder of his season.

Snyder had seen significant action in recent games as he rotates into the action with starting RT Kwame Harris. He has started this season at both left guard and left tackle, though the team has had him focusing on playing tackle since left guard Larry Allen returned to action in late October.

Linebacker Derek Smith also is out for Sunday's game against the Packers. Smith, San Francisco's leading tackler each of the past five seasons and again this year, has a left hamstring strain that could keep him out beyond this week's game.

Tight end Eric Johnson will miss at least another week with an MCL sprain in his left knee. Johnson did not play last Sunday against the Saints.

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