49ers replay: Unbeaten & looking for answers

The 49ers are 2-0 for the first time since 1998. They lead the NFC West after opening the season with division victories over the Cardinals and Rams. But not everything is perfect with the team. The 49ers' offense ranks last in the NFL, and they head to Pittsburgh this week in search of answers.

"I'm going to blame it on growing pains," 49ers tight end Vernon Davis said, "because I can't figure it out."

In the first season under offensive coordinator Jim Hostler, the 49ers have struggled in their first two games. With mostly conservative game plans, the 49ers have taken on the appearance of a team that is trying not to lose.

Trailing by two points Sunday against the Rams, the 49ers were content to set up a 40-yard field goal with more than three minutes to play. They went with a two-tight end formation and ran the ball on three consecutive running plays.

"I did instruct Jim that we are in field-goal position right now, so let's just continue to run the ball," 49ers coach Mike Nolan said. "If I had it to do again, I probably would have done something (different) on third down because we were already in field-goal position at that time -- maybe take a shot. But I'm glad we did what we did because we won the game."

The 49ers held on for a 17-16 victory. Now, they face the Steelers, who enter the game with a 2-0 record as well - but a much more impressive 2-0

San Francisco's first two opponents have keyed on the running game. Often placing eight defenders in the box to contend with running back Frank Gore, the 49ers have been unable to make big plays against one-one-one coverage.

Quarterback Alex Smith has thrown for just 252 yards in two games. Davis, expected to be a big-play threat this season, has just four catches for 27 yards in the first two games.

"I know we can be a lot better. I know it," Smith said. "I think everyone in there knows it. That is the scary thing. We're 2-0 and we have a lot of room for improvement."

Davis said the 49ers have been holding back a lot of the offense. Davis has been the primary receiver on a few plays, but he believes the ball should be coming to him a lot more.

"I should be the primary receiver on most of the plays," he said.

There is little doubt that Gore is the main man on the offense. Although the yards have not come easy in the first two games, Gore has rushed for three touchdowns. Smith has yet to throw a touchdown pass this season.

Gore ripped off a 43-yard touchdown run and scored twice against the Rams, as he played just four days after the death of his mother, Liz. Gore was scheduled to attend the funeral services in Miami before returning to the team on Wednesday to begin his preparations for the Steelers.

"Going 2-0 makes us feel good, but we're frustrated," guard Justin Smiley said. "It's ugly right now. It's sputtering for a lot of different reasons."

--- QB Alex Smith has not thrown an interception in 48 attempts this season, but he also has not thrown a touchdown. Smith has been sacked seven times. He has held the ball too long at times and has not seen open receivers down the field.
--- DL Bryant Young had a strong game against the Rams. He recorded two sacks, and leads the 49ers with three sacks in the first two games.
--- TE Vernon Davis has not been nearly as big a part of the offense as many had envisioned through the first two games. Davis caught two passes in each of the first two games. Davis has just 27 yards receiving.
--- RB Frank Gore has three touchdowns in the first two games. He is averaging just 3.6 yards a carry, as teams are loading the box to stop him. He will continue to see that kind of attention as long as the 49ers don't make opposing teams pay for it with a strong passing attack. Gore traveled to Miami after the game in St. Louis for his mother's wake and funeral. He will return to the 49ers on Wednesday, but it's uncertain whether he'll be back in time for the first practice to prepare for the Steelers.
--- CB Walt Harris, a Pro Bowl selection last season, had a difficult game against the Rams' Isaac Bruce, who caught eight passes for 145 yards.
--- WR Taylor Jacobs, the 49ers' No. 3 receiver, has not caught a pass in the first two games of the season. He took a handoff on an end-around and lost 8 yards.
--- WR Darrell Jackson leads the 49ers with seven catches for 97 yards. He had a chance to come up with a deep pass early in the game against the Rams, but failed to make the difficult catch.

Niners Digest Top Stories