49ers Bye Week Agenda

After a 2-0 start, the 49ers became a train wreck of problems that the team needs to work on during its bye week to get a promising season back on track. As the Niners hunker down at their Santa Clara facility over the next three days to conduct meetings and practices, here's a list of 13 things San Francisco needs to address before it returns to action Oct. 21 against the Giants in New York.

Protect the quarterback: When your starting quarterback gets injured and misses games because of a missed assignment along the offensive line, it magnifies how important it is to make sure that guy isn't exposed to open shots by frothing defensive linemen. The 49ers did a poor job protecting their signal-callers during the first five games of the season, with pressure coming consistently up the middle and occasionally from the edges. The 49ers have to get better along the offensive line at playing cohesively as a unit again and picking up blitzes and stunts. San Francisco quarterbacks were sacked eight times in the first five weeks of the season - one of the worst figures in the NFL - which puts the 49ers on a pace to allow 58 sacks this season, a number that boggles the mind.

Convert third downs: No wonder the 49ers spent the first stage of their season trolling at the bottom of the league in total offense. They are dead last in the league in third-down efficiency, converting a woeful 24 percent of those opportunities. That's only 16 conversions in 66 attempts, so offensive coordinator Jim Hostler has to start dialing up some better plays to use in those situations - and all situations, for that matter.

Get the ball to Vernon Davis: The talented second-year tight end was so underused in the team's first two games that he went to coach Mike Nolan's office and asked what he could do to get more involved in the attack. The 49ers started going to Davis in Week 3 with promising results before he was hurt. He should be ready to return after the bye, and as one of the team's top playmakers, he needs to see the ball in his hands, and he needs to see it there often.

Open the passing game: The 49ers are dead last in the NFL in passing offense, and they have to remedy that situation by spreading the field and flooding the airwaves more often. Their receivers need to do a better job reading coverages to find the soft spots in zones, and there needs to be more isolated plays dialed up to take advantage of the man coverage the team sees as opponents load the box to stop the run. Underused Ashley Lelie and recently re-signed Bryan Gilmore have the speed to go deep and stretch defenses, so perhaps the 49ers need to think about working one or both more into the attack.

Feed Frank Gore: The 49ers have been going to their meal ticket as much as possible in the early going, and now is no time to stop. Gore, in fact, has to start getting the ball even more as he was averaging just 19 touches per game through the first five games. Opposing defenses are out there waiting for him, so the 49ers needs to devise a few more innovative ways to get Gore the football to go along with the standard grinding between the tackles.

Find a No. 3 receiver: Taylor Jacobs reverted to his can't-get-it-done-in-real-games tendencies once the season began, and he was the only wide receiver besides starters Darrell Jackson and Arnaz Battle to record a reception through the first month of the season. Now that they've wasted their time with Jacobs, the 49ers seriously need to get a third receiver involved in the attack the rest of the way, whether it be Lelie, Gilmore or rookie Jason Hill. Gilmore got behind the Baltimore defense to reel in a 42-yard reception last week - San Francisco's longest passing play of the season - so the 49ers might want to think about getting him more involved.

Work on the red zone: When the 49ers get down inside their opponent's 20-yard line, they have to do a better job of punching it into the end zone rather than settling for Joe Nedney field goals. Since no NFL team averaged fewer trips inside the red zone than San Francisco during the season's first five games, the 49ers have to get premium results out of those opportunities.

Defensive ball drills: The 49ers are leaving way too many interceptions out there on the field simply because their defenders can't hold onto passes that are thrown right into their hands, or pretty close to it. Their linebackers in particular need to work on this, and their secondary can use a few extra sessions of tip drills. The 49ers had only three interceptions in their first five games, one by each of their top three cornerbacks.

More heat from the edge: Statistically, the 49ers are in the middle of the league in sacks per play, but most of their sacks are coming from defensive linemen. They need to devise some new wrinkles to unleash their edge rushers, who should be the team's leading sackers but aren't even coming close. Free-agent newcomer Tully Banta-Cain was supposed to add some significant heat from the edge this year, but the team was hoping for more than 1.5 sacks at this stage of the season.

Find ways to get Brandon Moore more involved: The team's leader in tackles and sacks last year is wasting away on the sidelines. He gets in on some regular passing-situation sub-packages, but the 49ers have to get him on the field more often to take advantage of the rugged skills he brings to the table.

Changes on offensive line: The 49ers have to at least start thinking about it. If guys such as Jonas Jennings, Larry Allen, Eric Heitmann and Justin Smiley don't pick up their play, guys such as Adam Snyder, David Baas, Tony Wragge and even Kwame Harris are waiting in the wings and chomping at the bit to play. The 49ers continue to support their starting line and are not putting the onus on it for the team's problems, but these guys should be put on alert that it's time to step up or step out of the way.

Healing time: That's what the bye week is all about, and it comes at a good time for a team that needs an extra week of healing right now for two of its vital offensive stars, not to mention several others.

Get the swagger back: The team's confidence seems to be rattled, understandably, by the offense's poor start and untimely injuries to key players. The 49ers seem to question their place in the NFL as true contenders, so they need to adjust their mindset during the break and realize that a playoff berth still is out there to be had in the wide-open NFC and there still is plenty of season left to grab it. Because, on both counts, that still is the case - even for this struggling team.

Niners Digest Top Stories