The greatest area of concern for the 49ers' offense this season is their abysmal second down performance. Time and time again, this offense has put themselves in extremely difficult spots on third down due to their inability to generate any kind of consistent success on second down.
The third-down conversion rates are typically what get scrutinized the most when a team is struggling to string together drives, but in the case of the 49ers this season, there is a clear correlation between their failures on second down and the inability to prevent drives from stalling out.
Heading into their Week 8 matchup with the Rams, the 49ers ranked in the bottom five in the NFL in success rate on second down. Success rate is defined as a play that gains at least 40% of yards-to-go on 1st down, 60% of yards-to-go on 2nd down, and 100% of yards-to-go on 3rd or 4th down.
Here is where the 49ers' offense ranked in success rate for each down through their first seven games:
1st down - 14th
2nd down - 28th
3rd down - 13th
In their Week 8 win over the Rams, they appeared to find a formula that worked, as their success rate skyrocketed to 76 percent on second down. The 49ers' offense had seven different plays go for 10+ yards on second down in this game and did a fantastic job of avoiding third down altogether by moving the chains on eight different second downs.
Jimmy Garoppolo and the air attack, in particular thrived, averaging 13.5 yards per attempt on an 83 percent completion percentage on second down in this one. Here are the numbers through the air on 13 dropbacks for the 49ers' offense on second down:
13.5 yards per attempt
1 sack allowed
That includes a 34-yard touchdown thrown by Christian McCaffrey to Brandon Aiyuk in the second quarter. Overall the 49ers' offense averaged 10.5 yards per play on second down in this game, a significant improvement in how they’ve performed in previous weeks. Keep in mind they accomplished this without the services of All-Pro wideout Deebo Samuel, who will likely return in Week 10 following the bye this week.
Executing on second down to make life easier on third down is a proven recipe for success, and it appears like the 49ers have all the ingredients to continue to make it happen as they head into the second half of the season.