Tonight the San Francisco 49ers square off against the San Diego Chargers in a huge game for both teams as each is a game out of first in their respective divisions. This is arguably more of a must-win for the Chargers particularly since they're sitting as nine point favorites. The 49ers could really use a win but a loss doesn't put as big a hole in their playoff chances as it would for San Diego.
We've discussed everything from injuries affecting special teams to the 49ers necessary offensive game plan to how to stop the Chargers potent offense. There are numerous areas the 49ers will need to find some level of success if they're going to pull off what would be a sizable upset. However, if I had to pick one area in which the 49ers would really need to find success it would be the turnover battle. I would actually break that down even further into both forcing turnovers and converting those turnovers into points.
The Chargers have 26 turnovers on the season with 16 of those turnovers occurring in their six losses. They've lost the turnover battle in wins, but never won the turnover battle in losses. They are actually 25th in the NFL with .169 turnovers per drive. Of course, as that link shows, the 49ers defense is 21st in the NFL forcing .127 turnovers per game.
The problem for Chargers opponents in San Diego wins has been an inability to turn those turnovers into points. This past weekend the Chargers turned the ball over twice but still routed the Chiefs 31-0. The two turnovers occurred after the Chargers were up 21-0 so that is certainly an important context. Nonetheless, in both instances the Chargers forced a quick three and out to minimize the damage.
The 49ers offense cannot afford to leave points on the board. 49ers punts, field goals, or turnovers always hurt, but will hurt even more so against such a prolific offense. The 49ers defense is a bit banged up which doesn't help matters. In almost every post where I've focused on the 49ers offense or defense, it's almost always come back to the other unit. The 49ers defense needs to force turnovers and contain the Chargers attack. At the same time, the 49ers offense needs to be converting turnovers and punts as frequently as possible. I realize it's not quite so simple, but the truth in this matter is fairly straightforward. The 49ers know exactly what they need to do tonight. Now they just need to execute accordingly.