Everybody knows the 49ers don't convert a lot of 3rd downs, right? The 3rd down conversion percentage was horrible last year and it is bad again this year.
Last Year: 28% Rank: #31 Second worse, barely over 1/4 converted, that is really bad.
This Year: 36% Rank: #19 Better, but still bad. More than half the teams in the league convert at a higher rate.
What does this mean and why is it supposedly bad?
Converting on 3rd downs means that drives continue. So not converting a 3rd down would indicate that drives are ending early. That is essentially a turnover. The team is giving the ball back to the opposition. If this is in the red zone or at least scoring range it means the team is trading TD's for FG attempts. Maybe that isn't a turnover but it is taking points off of the board.
I don't think it is as bad as it appears
First, let me say that it is a bad conversion rate and I agree with anybody that says that it would be better if it goes up. But, there are other sides to this story that I think matter.
The first part of the story is that the 49ers have the 2nd fewest 3rd downs per game, with an average of 11. They convert on average 4 of them per game (again, I agree bad percentage). That leaves 7 3rd downs a game that they don't convert. How does that compare?
Steelers: (#1 in conversion rate) 15.5 third downs per game. 8.3 converted. 7.2 not converted. The same (higher)as the 49ers.
Saints: (#2 conversion rate) 14.2 third downs per game. 6.8 converted. 7.4 not converted. The same (higher) as the 49ers.
Patriots: (#3 conversion rate) 15 third downs per game. 7.1 converted. 7.9 not converted. Higher then the 49ers.
A couple teams are a little better. Both Atlanta and Denver are at 12.5 3rd downs, 5.7 conversions, 6.8 not converted. Essentially the same as the 49ers but a bit better. They have a 45% conversion rate.
It would be nice if the 49ers would improve. But it doesn't need the drastic overall some fans think. If the 49ers would get 1 more 3rd down conversion a game it would put them in an elite status when it comes to drives not coming to an end. They are already good at maintaining drives. Defensive coordinators may want to get the 49ers to third down because of the conversion rate, but that is a lot easier said than done.
So that leaves the red zone. Another problem from last year. If you believe my stats from above then drives may not be stalling early but are they bogging down in the red zone? Not exactly. Again, something that could be improved but it certainly isn't bad. The 49ers convert 57% of their red zone visits into TD's. That is good enough for 12th. Not elite but above average. And a huge jump over last year (41% and 30th ranked).
A couple of other stats to end on:
Total Offense: #9
Time of possession: #8
Points per game: #16
1st downs per game: #13
TD's per game: #15
This offense is not elite. But it is above average this year in the NFL. And it is a big jump from last year. Considering the lack of TO's created by the defense this year compared to last year and the lack of special teams scores and big returns this offense has made some major strides. They are certainly good enough to win with this defense. I would expect the offensive stats to go down over the next couple of weeks as they plays the Cards and then the Rams twice and the Bears. However, in the middle of that run they play the Saints so things may average out. I would expect them to go down by the end of the year because of all the good D's that they play in the 2nd half.
But the only point I am really trying to make is that it isn't 3rd down that is the problem.