Sports

49ers hope to improve

SANTA CLARA -- It was "Victory Monday" at San Francisco 49ers headquarters.

So why did it feel as though the team was coming off a two-touchdown loss?

What's wrong with the passing game, coach? Is the offense too conservative? Are you building the 49ers in the image of, gasp, the Baltimore Ravens? Mike Nolan, whose team is 2-0 and sits alone atop the NFC West following Sunday's 17-16 win in St. Louis, seemed to have anticipated the barrage.

As far as his conservative streak, Nolan said, "I don't think I'm conservative at all," and then ticked off a half-dozen instances in the past two years in which he has called for onside kicks, fake punts and fourth-down conversions.

"From the standpoint of the way my mind works, I'm frequently trying to think outside the box," Nolan said. "I try to encourage our coaches and our players to do the same thing. But each game has its own personality. You do what you have to do in that game."

Nolan said the 49ers had -- or were about to have -- the lead when the game plan turned vanilla and that shaving seconds off the clock was more important at that point than piling points on the scoreboard.

The 49ers are last in the league in yards per game (190), yards per play (3.6) and third-down percentage (24 percent) heading into Sunday's game at Pittsburgh.

Nolan's biggest criticism is that the offense isn't taking advantage of the fact that defenses are loading eight men along the line of scrimmage to stop running back Frank Gore.

"That's where we leave some yards on the field," Nolan said.

And no, Nolan isn't trying to create a West Coast version of the Ravens.

The coach noted that he arrived in Baltimore a year after the team, notorious for its offensive futility, won the Super Bowl.

"We're not trying to build a football team like that at all," Nolan said. "We're not trying to build inconsistency, and we're not trying to build a run-only football team. I want to be very well-balanced."

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