Everyone examining the 49ers comes up with a cause of the team’s persistent cough and sputter.
It’s because the 49ers are trying to run a pass-first offense with a quarterback who is still learning to throw from the pocket, one expert says. No, the next one insists, it’s that the wear and tear of three consecutive runs through the playoffs finally has caught up with the 49ers.
Wrong, another guy says. The team is worn down, but it’s because 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh’s unrelenting intensity has caused cracks and fissures in the organization. There’s a reason he never stays more than four years in one spot.
The experts are right, of course, but not as right as they think they are. There’s no single reason the 49ers are wobbling at midseason for the first time under Harbaugh. Rather it’s a pileup of problems.
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Take sacks, for instance. The 49ers have allowed 14 in the past two games after giving up 13 in the first six. Why? Well, you literally can look right on down the line:
RT, Anthony Davis – He missed the offseason after having shoulder surgery in April. After returning to practice in late August, he immediately pulled his hamstring and then, in his first game back, injured his knee and ankle. Davis has played just two full games this season and has been rusty.
RG, Alex Boone – He missed the offseason because of a contract holdout. Like Davis, he has slumped this season. When you put two guys who didn’t practice from May to September next to each other on the line, it’s hard to expect cohesion.
C, Marcus Martin – The 20-year-old center started in the NFL for the first time last Sunday. Furthermore, Martin was hurt for a big chunk of the offseason, too. And he only returned to practice the week before the run-up to Sunday’s Rams game. Ominous sign: Martin has never played in a dome, and the 49ers play in the Louisiana Superdome on Sunday.
LG, Mike Iupati – He also is coming off an injury, a broken leg suffered in the NFC Championship Game in January. Iupati has said he is close to full strength. He may have been the team’s best lineman last Sunday, but even he has slumped.
LT, Joe Staley – The Pro Bowl player is one of the best offensive tackles in the NFL but hasn’t played like it this season. He has given up four sacks through eight games after allowing four sacks all of last season.
A team captain, Staley stepped forward Wednesday to address the offense’s issues. He said the 49ers don’t lack talent. They merely need to focus and execute.
It wasn’t Staley’s first stint as spokesman for a beleaguered offensive line. At the start of the 2011 season, the line was coming off a rocky preseason, one that included a blitzkrieg in New Orleans by the same defensive coordinator, Gregg Williams, who now runs the Rams’ defense. The 49ers had surrendered 11 sacks in the first three games of the regular season and were having trouble running the ball.
The offensive line was eyed as the chief culprit.
“Contrary to everyone’s belief, we don’t (stink),” Staley snapped at the time. “We’re good players, and we play well.”
He was right. Beginning with the next game, Frank Gore went on a streak of five games with at least 100 rushing yards, and the 49ers won eight in a row, the longest run of the Harbaugh era with the 49ers.
It will take a similar streak to make the playoffs this year. At 4-4, San Francisco probably must win six of the remaining eight games for a realistic shot at a wild-card berth.
The 49ers are more talented and certainly more experienced than their 2011 counterparts. But they also are carrying a weight and a weariness the previous squad didn’t have to lug around.
The question as they enter the back stretch of the season is whether they can shake that off and get on the same kind of roll they’ve had at the midpoint of preceding seasons.
If they can, all the little things that nag them now will vanish.
Read Matt Barrows’ blogs and archives at www.sacbee.com/sf49ers.