FanPost

Niners 3rd Downs: It ain't pretty any way you slice it

Fooch's Note: Interesting breakdown of the 49ers on third downs.

This is no secret; the 49ers were abysmal in 3rd down conversion percentage this season. Their 29.4% success rate was their lowest since 2005, when they were 32nd in the league at 28.5%. They haven’t been at or above 40% since 2003. I went ahead and looked at every third down play the 49ers ran this season and I’ll have some stats further in this post. The team was a little more successful at home than they were on the road converting 33% at the Stick, compared to 25.9% away from home.

Only once this season did the team manage to convert at least 50% of their 3rd downs, and that was week 2 against the Cowboys, as the team went 8 for 16. This followed their worst performance of the year (before they played the Giants) converting only 1 of 12 3rd downs in the opening game versus Seattle. The Seattle game was of no surprise as it was the team’s opening game, and Harbaugh’s first NFL regular season game, and the play calling reflected that as runs were called 67% of the time. As the season wore on the team moved away from running the ball on 3rd down. Against the Giants in week 2, Alex Smith had the only two runs, which were scrambles on pass plays where receivers were covered down the field and he felt pressure in the pocket. If we look closely however it is no surprise, as the Giants had the 49ers at 3rd and 7 or longer 70% of the time in that game. A similar trend turned up in the NFCCG, as 12 of the 13 3rd down situations were of 4 yards or longer, which is unacceptable since the team had 25% of their 3rd down conversion attempt at 3 yards or less on the season. Another pass heavy week was the week 14 loss to Arizona where Smith dropped back to pass on 16 of 17 3rd down attempts (once he scrambled for negative yardage, and twice he was sacked).

Only two other games in the regular season would we convert on at least 40% of our third downs, week 4 @ Philadelphia, and week 8 against Cleveland. We converted 3 or fewer 3rd down in half of our games, but lost the turnover battle only twice all season. One game we won, in Detroit with a turnover ratio of -2, and only being able to convert 2 of 14 3rd downs. The other was the loss in Baltimore, as were -1 and only converted 2 of 12 3rd downs (Smith was sacked 5 times).

Looking at the team I broke down the 3rd down situation into 4 categories: 0-3, 4-6, 7-9, and 10+ yards to go. The breakdown of plays that were run from each situation was fairly even, with 25%, 23%, 24%, and 28% respectively. In the running game, our worst yards/carry was in the 0-3 range at 2.1, which is inflated with a 24 yard run that Hunter was able to bust out in Seattle. Our highest was 5.8, in 7-9 yard situations, which is expected as teams are sitting back further and giving up plays underneath. As for passing on 3rd downs Alex had the highest Y/Att (7.6) in the longest situation, and also had his highest completion percentage of 69.2% with 10+ yards to go. In the 7-9 yard situation Alex only completed 45.5% of his passes, and had a Y/A of 5.0 (even lower than the running game). Beside short yardage situations, where he was only sacked once, Smith was sacked 7, 8, and 6 times in 4-6, 7-9, and 10+ yards to go situations. Here are our conversion rates by 3rd down situation, and run vs. pass tendencies:

Total

Run

Pass

Run Play

Pass Play

0-3

43.6%

40.6%

47.8%

58.2%

41.8%

4-6

34.7%

16.7%

37.2%

12.2%

87.8%

7-9

28.3%

41.7%

24.4%

22.6%

77.4%

10+

14.8%

0.0%

20.0%

26.2%

73.8%

Total

29.8%

28.8%

30.3%

30.3%

69.7%

The total % of 3rd down conversions is a little higher in this table as I removed the 3 failed rushing attempts that the NFL recorded for Alex Smith when he took a knee on 3rd down. We sure do throw the ball a lot on 3rd and 4-6 yards to go, perhaps because there isn’t much faith in our running game to get some of those first downs.

One thing that did jump out at me was that in the 4-6 yard to go situation, at home, Smith was his best completing 10 of 15 passes (only getting sacked once) for 151 yards and all resulted in first downs. Unfortunately that didn’t translate into the playoffs, as the 49ers were only 2 for 11 (10 pass, 1 run) on 3rd downs from 4 to 6 yards to go, and we failed to get ourselves into 3rd and short situations. Out of the 28 3rd down attempts that we had in our two playoff games, only 2 (or 7%) were from 3 yards or less, and that’s simply a recipe for failure.

Anyways, let’s move on to individual performances, first up Alex Smith, 70/128 54.7% 832 yards, 6.5 Yds/Att, 3TD, 2 INT, 46 1st Downs and sacked 22 times. Seems pretty average, all things considering, however he seems to be a little more risky at home than on the road, 39/66 59.1% 531 yards, 8.0 Yds/Att 3TD, 2 INT, 29 1st Downs and only sacked 4 times. Alex was sacked in every game on the road, including 5 times in Baltimore. Those yardage numbers are looking much better at home and a 41.4% success rate on 3rd down when calling passing plays is encouraging, especially since our running attack converted only 3 of 35 opportunities.

Here are our rushing leaders on third down:

Att

Yds

Y/A

1stD

TD

Smith

16

90

5.6

6

1

Gore

29

69

2.4

7

Hunter

14

44

3.1

3

Dixon

5

20

4.0

3

Davis&Walker

2

-5

-2.5

0

No big surprises here. Dixon at 4 yards a carry is a little surprising; he usually got into games when we were trying to run out the clock. Gore had converted 5 1st downs rushing after the first 3 weeks and than seemed to disappear the rest of the season. Hunter’s numbers are a little inflated with scampers of 14 and 24 yards, that leaves the rest of his runs at 12 carries for 6 yards.

Onto the Receivers:

Rec

Yds

Y/R

1stD

TD

Crabtree

22

261

11.9

14

Davis

17

155

9.1

9

1

Williams

8

131

16.4

6

2

Edwards

6

93

15.5

4

Ginn

6

65

10.8

6

Morgan

4

41

10.3

3

Hunter

2

24

12.0

1

Walker

1

18

18.0

1

Sopogoa

1

18

18.0

1

Gore

2

16

8.0

1

Swain

1

9

9.0

Dixon

1

6

6.0

Not many surprises here, healthy players lead the team. Of note, Kyle Williams seemed to really be getting into a groove with Alex Smith as 7 of his 8 catches occurred in the 3 week span that ended with the Steelers game, and resulted in 5 first downs. It seemed like Williams was really gaining Smith’s trust until he suffered that concussion.

Anyways, for next season it would be nice to see the team somewhere in the 35-37.5% success rate on third downs which would put us in the 12-16 range in the NFL. Don’t even get me started with the red zone stuff. Akers’ 32 FG attempts of 39 yards or fewer surpassed all but 10 other FG kickers’ total attempts for the 2011 season.

If you have any questions or want me to look at anything else just leave it in the comments section and I’ll address it as soon as I can. Is it free agency season yet??

This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of Niners Nation's writers or editors. It does reflect the views of this particular fan though, which is as important as the views of Niners Nation's writers or editors.

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