There was plenty to be disappointed about on Sunday. The defense gave up some back-breaking scores, the punt return game was non-existent, and the offense struggled to get any semblance of a passing game going. If we want to focus in one particular problem, it might as well be their third down conversion rate. Last night I came to the conclusion that I'm way too happy right now and need to be brought down a notch or 20. So, I thought I'd take a look back at every 49ers offensive 3rd down (offensive is definitely the right word for it). The 49ers managed an impressive 0-for-11 showing on 3rd down conversions. They had 12 first downs, but one of them was converted on a defensive pass interference call, so it doesn't count in the stat.
I've posted each of the situations after the jump. The two similarities in all of them? The shotgun formation was used exclusively and the team never attempted to rush on third down. Of course, for the most part they were never really in a situation to run on these downs. Prior to the fourth quarter their shortest 3rd down attempt came on 3rd and 4, with the next closest being 3rd and 7. In the fourth quarter they did have a 3rd and 2 situation. Smith attempted a deep pass to Crabtree and got the PI call to convert, but given that they were down 2 touchdowns with under 7 minutes to play, it wasn't shocking to see them pass for it.
I'd say there are two problems in the third conversion issue. First is the issue that was driving Florida Danny crazy on Sunday: players (Josh Morgan in particular) running short of the first down marker, and thus coming up just short on conversions. The fifth 3rd down play was the first one in which a player held on to the ball and gained yards toward a first down. Crabtree made a catch on a crossing pattern (#5 below) and didn't appear to be expected to run the route anywhere but well short of the 1st down marker (it was 3rd and 14). However, Josh Morgan did make 3 appearances in this kind of situation. The first time (#6 below) he ran a kind of corner route and Smith had to throw the ball quickly, before Morgan had time to finish the route. The second time (#7), Smith again had a quick pass to him before he could pass the first down marker. The final time (#11) however was a clear cut instance of Morgan not running far enough on his route, leaving the 49ers a yard short of the first down. I'm not excusing prior instances of this, but this is definitely something Morgan has to work on in the offseason.
The other issue is the simple task of creating more manageable 3rd downs. Yes the team should be able to convert third and long situations, but a good team will create more manageable third and short situations. The team has a powerful weapon in Frank Gore, and third down is a such a huge situation. And yet, they were rarely in a situation to take advantage of Frank Gore as a running back. The team needs to do more on those earlier downs to put themselves in a position to succeed.
49ers third down attempts after the jump...
3rd down opportunities
1. 9:40, 1st quarter, 3rd and 4, PHI 33 - (Shotgun) Smith pass incomplete short right to Hill
2. 3:42, 1st quarter, 3rd and 8, SF 40 - (Shotgun) Smith pass incomplete short right
3. 7:36, 2nd quarter, 3rd and 9, SF 36 - (Shotgun) Smith pass short right intended for Davis intercepted by Samuel
4. 2:25, 2nd quarter, 3rd and 13, SF 37 - (Shotgun) Smith pass incomplete short middle to Davis
5. 12:54, 3rd quarter, 3rd and 14, PHI 47 - (Shotgun) Smith pass short left to Crabtree pushed OB at Phi 36 for 11 yards (went for and converted on 4th down on next play)
6. 10:47, 3rd quarter, 3rd and 7, PHI 11 - (Shotgun) Smith pass short right to Morgan to PHI 7 for 4 yards
7. 8:28, 3rd quarter, 3rd and 14, PHI 39 - (Shotgun) Smith pass short left to Morgan to PHI 30 for 9 yards (went for and converted on 4th down on next play)
8. 0:17, 3rd quarter, 3rd and 8, PHI 41 - (Shotgun) Smith pass incomplete short right
9. 11:20, 4th quarter, 3rd and 10, SF 33 - (Shotgun) Smith sacked at SF 25 for -8 yards
10. 6:40, 4th quarter, 3rd and 2, SF 21 - (Shotgun) Smith pass incomplete deep right to Crabtree (defensive pass interference, automatic first down at PHI 35)
11. 5:51, 4th quarter, 3rd and 6, PHI 31 - (Shotgun) Smith pass short middle to Morgan to PHI 26 for 5 yards
12. 3:54, 4th quarter, 3rd and 7, PHI 22 - (Shotgun) Smith pass incomplete short middle to Davis