Return of Smith and Davis won’t fix all that ails offense

By Chris Cluff  |   Monday, October 15, 2007  |  Comments( 6 )

San Francisco 49ers
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San Francisco fans rejoice! The season is saved! Alex Smith and Vernon Davis are back!

OK, so the return of the 49ers' starting quarterback and tight end might not be the answer to the problems that have beset this offense -- both with them playing and without them. But when Smith and Davis take the field against the New York Giants on Sunday, the 49ers' offense should be different for reasons other than having the two former first-round draft picks in the huddle again.

Coach Mike Nolan and offensive coordinator Jim Hostler spent the bye week trying to figure out how to avoid becoming the second coming of the 1992 Seattle Seahawks, who were the worst scoring team in a 16-game season in NFL history. One of the things Nolan and Hostler determined is that they are not using all of their players properly. For one, receiver Ashley Lelie -- an excellent deep threat -- has been on the field for just 10 plays in the first four games. Nolan said that will change.

"The reason the offense looks like it does is a lot deeper than just play-calling," Nolan told reporters. "It's the way we're setting up. It's the personnel we're using. And when we do use the personnel, we have to be successful and make the plays."

So the 49ers will throw the ball downfield more, as Trent Dilfer did in the fourth quarter of the 9-7 loss against Baltimore in Week 5. And the 49ers might also let Smith play to his strengths more, rolling him out on bootlegs to utilize his mobility.

Nolan figures to get more aggressive if only to prove to critics that he is not just a conservative defensive coach without any offensive imagination. If being conservative were the problem, he said, that would be easy to fix. But being conservative is definitely part of the problem, and Nolan must fix that.

But how will he repair the running game? The offensive line has not been the same one that helped Frank Gore run for 1,695 yards last season. The only change has been at right tackle, where rookie Joe Staley replaced Kwame Harris, but the line has seemed to lack chemistry in both pass and run blocking.

The 49ers can help the running game by being more aggressive in the passing attack. And they can help the passing game if they move Smith around and let him throw the ball downfield to Lelie, Davis, Darrell Jackson and Arnaz Battle.

Yes, Alex Smith and Vernon Davis are back. But unless the 49ers change their philosophy, they will remain on pace to be the worst offense in modern NFL history.
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About Chris Cluff

Chris Cluff spent 10 years as an editor and sportswriter for The Seattle Times. He was a key figure in the newspaper's coverage of the Seahawks, particularly during their Super Bowl run in 2005. He also has written two books on the Seahawks: "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Heart-Pounding,...
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