The San Francisco 49ers defense has been inconsistent at best this season, but one area they have had tremendous success is on third and short. ESPN’s NFL Matchup program tweeted out the following stat showing the 49ers leading in smallest percentage of 3rd and 1 or 2-yard conversions given up.
I did some digging, and advanced analytics back this up as well. SB Nation’s Bill Connelly breaks down a host of advanced stats each week, and the 49ers defense ranks third in 3rd and short (1 yard to go) conversion percentage. Football Outsiders has a power success rate based on their adjusted line yards stat, that measures percentage of runs on third or fourth down, two yards or less to go, that achieved a first down or touchdown. It also includes runs on first-and-goal or second-and-goal from the two-yard line or closer. In that stat, the 49ers rank seventh.
The 49ers are not getting a consistent pass rush, but their run defense has been solid. This stat goes to that given the volume of rushing that occurs on those kind of short yardage situations. DeForest Buckner is a monster in the middle, but Arik Armstead is quietly putting together a strong season against the run. Pro Football Focus run grading has him 14th among all defensive linemen, and third among edge defenders.
If the 49ers can add a serious pass rush talent on the edge, be it Nick Bosa, Josh Allen, or Clelin Ferrell in the 2019 NFL Draft, or a big money investment in free agency, this unit could do some serious damage. It says something about the approach over the past four years that the line doesn’t have a big-time pass rush talent aside from DeForest Buckner, but it’s a step forward in one manner.