The San Francisco 49ers are in search of their first road victory 13 weeks into the 2015 regular season.
San Francisco's 0-5 road mark has been a topic of discussion throughout the week as the club prepares to travel to the Midwest to face the Chicago Bears for a 10 a.m. PT kick-off on Sunday.
In particular, Jim Tomsula said the 49ers have discussed how to improve their intensity level in enemy territory. San Francisco has been outscored 176-81 away from Levi's® Stadium this season.
Tomsula told reporters on Thursday that the road performances were the opening topic covered in San Francisco's first team meeting of the week.
"First thing of getting anything corrected is identifying it," said Tomsula, who added that coaches and players were asked in the offseason for input on how travel schedules and pregame logistics could help the team perform better on the road.
Earlier in the week, the 49ers coach simply said the players have to be prepared to play.
"Maybe we need to sprint off the bus," Tomsula quipped.
There will be no stopwatches handy when San Francisco pulls up to Solider Field on Sunday. But there will be an emphasis on the team's first-quarter performance, a key culprit in the 0-5 mark. The 49ers have yet to score a first-quarter touchdown this season. Without an early, home-crowd-quieting spark, the team most recently fell behind 20-0 in a Week 12 road loss to the Seattle Seahawks.
To a man, the players recognized that something has to change for the final score to be in their favor on Sunday.
"For whatever reason we haven't (played well)," Torrey Smith said. "If we go out and execute and do our jobs, we'll be fine. If you don't, and you're out there making stupid mistakes, or not catching the ball, or missing your assignments, that has nothing to do with you being on the road, that's just you (not) executing."
The wide receiver commented that Chicago's home crowd will present a challenge, but ultimately, San Francisco has non-verbal communication in place to combat any difficult environment.
"I just feel like each week is different whether you are home or away," Smith added. "You have to go out there and approach it all the same. I don't think there's a magic formula. You just have to wake up and play well. It's really that simple."
On the flipside, Eric Mangini's defense will also be under the microscope against the Bears, who have won three of four contests, but have a 1-4 home record on the year.
While discussing his unit's performance at home compared to what they've displayed on the road, Mangini said he's been evaluating the group's preparation routines. The coordinator then shared the story of how one of his former players got ready for road games.
According to Mangini, former New England Patriots linebacker Roman Phifer used to write down meticulous notes ranging from regeneration habits to daily meal plans – anything that he could analyze and attribute to his weekly performance.
Mangini said Phifer's note-taking ability is something he often reflects on when speaking with his young players with the 49ers.
"What are you doing differently in your pregame preparation leading up to the game on the road that you aren't doing at home, or what are things that you did the last time on the road that didn't help you?" Mangini said of Phifer's unique approach. "What are things that you've done in the past on the road that have helped you? My experience is that it's not a one answer fits all type of situation.
"Each guy has to go through that and try something different."
Mangini said he didn't notice much difference in how the defense practiced in home and road scenarios, but he added, "We've addressed it before and it's obviously got to improve significantly."
Rookie Eli Harold didn't want to offer excuses for the defense's lack of success in road cities.
Instead, the third-round linebacker discussed how the group could build on its effort in last week's loss to the Arizona Cardinals, when they held the league's top-scoring offense to 19 points and kept Carson Palmer from throwing a touchdown pass for the first time this season.
"(The road) can't be an excuse," said Harold, who started his first NFL game last week in place of Ahmad Brooks, who has since passed the NFL's concussion protocol. "I'll just say, let's just turn it around this week. Let's go out and do what we did last week: set the edge and stop the run. … We have to bridge that gap."