49ers offense looks to get on track

Frank Gore has a straightforward offensive strategy: make positive yards every time.

That’s what the running back regularly reminds his San Francisco 49ers teammates about – small gains are better than no gains or negatives.

“We’re getting better,” Gore said Wednesday. “Like I keep telling my guys, ‘We’ve got to get positive yards every time we run the ball.”‘

Sounds simple enough, yet the 49ers have been inconsistent on offense all season and are still trying to find that identity repeatedly mentioned by coach Mike Singletary since the start of training camp. He is standing by coordinator Jimmy Raye, strong running game or not, spread offense or not, criticism or not.

The Niners (3-4) know they need to get the offense back on track in this Sunday’s home game against the Tennessee Titans (1-6), who snapped an eight-game losing streak by beating Jacksonville last week.

“We will,” Gore said. “As long as we do our job and everybody’s on the same page, we’re going to be a good offense.”

It hasn’t helped San Francisco’s cause that the offensive line has changed so much. Right tackle Tony Pashos went on injured reserve last week with a broken left shoulder blade, and left tackle Joe Staley is sidelined for six weeks with a sprained right knee that he hurt in last Sunday’s loss at Indianapolis. Staley will miss the first game of his career.

“We’re not down at all,” said tight end Vernon Davis, who has been a big bright spot with 32 receptions and an NFL-leading seven touchdown catches. “We’re just looking forward, trying to keep our confidence. We know we have a championship team.”

While San Francisco has had success in the spread offense the past two weeks, Singletary isn’t ready to make it his primary attack and put that kind of pressure on quarterback Alex Smith considering the former No. 1 draft pick has been back as the starter for only one game. He took over for the demoted Shaun Hill after halftime at Houston on Oct. 25.

San Francisco has lost three straight and is taking some heat about its offensive plan. Singletary is still focused on running the ball, but also wants more balance – and Smith has shown he can effectively throw the ball. The 49ers produced only 297 yards in a 24-21 loss to the Texans, then just 295 in an 18-14 defeat by the Colts.

Raye is the team’s seventh offensive coordinator in as many years, and Singletary insists it will still take time for him to get accustomed to just what he can expect from his players in various situations over the course of a game.

“I 150 percent back what he’s doing, absolutely,” Singletary said. “There’s not one iota that I’m wavering here or there, whatever. Jimmy knows there are some things going forward that he has to learn about our players, what they can and cannot do.”

The team passed on 36 of its 54 offensive plays against the Colts. A three-receiver formation worked well as the Niners tried to rally back from a 21-0 deficit at Houston, but late in the game last week it was primarily Isaac Bruce and rookie Michael Crabtree as the lone wideouts on the field.

San Francisco finished with 113 rushing yards, better than the 59 it gained against Houston.

“When you’re lopsided either way, I think it makes it easier on (the defense),” Smith said.

Singletary certainly believes in his personnel, with Smith, Gore and Davis leading the way – and top draft pick Crabtree making strides each week after missing 71 days during his contract impasse that ended Oct. 7.

Singletary never said a turnaround would happen overnight. He points to small improvements each game and finds plenty of encouraging signs.

Smith is “ahead of schedule” according to Singletary, and the coaches will keep adding to his offensive load as he gains more experience.

Smith isn’t picky about running or throwing the ball.

“Winning,” he said when asked what he favors. “Whatever it is, whether it’s Frank running for a bunch of yards, or us throwing for a bunch of yards or both. In the end, that is what is going to change things around here.”

Smith’s teammates have all the faith in him he can get this offense going and get the Niners back to winning.

“Right now we’re doing everything we can to get our playmakers the ball,” Davis said. “We’ve just got to take advantage of it.”