Have the 49ers morphed into the 2006 Raiders? All the significant characteristics are the same. To wit:
» Offensive game plans straight out of the early 20th century: Even in the 49ers’ first two games, both wins, their offense was mostly still-born because of the bad game plans. In Sunday’s game against the Baltimore Ravens, it was even worse. The only time the Niners broke out was on consecutive big pass plays in the third quarter which resulted in their only touchdown. That should have told Mike Nolan and offensive coordinator Jim Hostler something, but the 49ers went back to the same deadly Frank Gore-up-the-middle strategy that had them bogged down earlier.
I blame Nolan primarily for this. Nolan’s tendency is to be very conservative on offense and, in this case, it was intensified because he knew the Baltimore defense is very good. When Norv Turner was offensive coordinator, Nolan backed off, but Hostler doesn’t have the experience and credentials to challenge Nolan. Playing not to lose, as Nolan is inclined to do, is a sure way to lose in the NFL.
» Inadequate quarterbacking, in this case, with Trent Dilfer backing up Alex Smith: Dilfer was brought in to mentor Smith, with little thought that he might actually have to play; last year, Smith took all the snaps. Dilfer has been a fine mentor, but he was a marginal quarterback in his prime, which is in his rearview mirror now. There are always experienced quarterbacks floating around the league. Nolan and personnel chief Scot McCloughan should have signed one in case Smith was injured, as he was in the third game against Seattle. Instead, the 49ers have only Shaun Hill, who has been in the league six years but played in only one game, behind Dilfer.
» Offensive line problems: This one has been a puzzle because the 49ers had a good offensive line last year and should have been better with rookie Joe Staley replacing Kwame Brown at right tackle. Instead, it’s collapsed in the middle. Nolan specifically excused Larry Allen from blame last week.
Justin Smiley has had his problems but the biggest culprit seems to be center Eric Heitman, a top performer until he broke his leg late last season. Perhaps he hasn’t recovered his full range of motion, and his decline is critical because he also calls blocking signals for the line.
The combination of offensive problems has made the Niners almost unwatchable. The game against Baltimore was reminiscent of their worst season in 1978, the year before Bill Walsh arrived — and of the 2006 Raiders.
The 49ers have one advantage: They’re playing in a weak division that could be easily won, if they play at the level that was expected before the season started.
To do that, they have to use the bye week to make some important changes.
Perhaps they’ll have to make changes on the offensive line, putting Tony Wragge in at center and David Baas at right guard. For sure, they have to get more aggressive on offense, utilizing speed receivers Bryan Gilmore, who had a great catch on the 42-yard completion that set up the touchdown on Sunday, and Ashley Lelie.
The 49ers have a solid defense, but that’s not enough to win without a good offense. Just ask the 2006 Raiders.