The San Francisco 49ers were one of the hottest teams at the beginning of October, starting 5-0 before losing three consecutive games ahead of their bye week.
Now standing at 5-3, the 49ers are tied with the Seahawks atop the NFC West, although their divisional record provides them the tiebreaker currently.
San Francisco has been a second-half team in each of the past two seasons after slow starts. How do they need to improve after the bye week?
To put it frankly, the 49ers need to score more points.
They’ve scored 17 points in each of their last three contests and that just won’t cut it, especially given their talent offensively.
After struggling offensively against the Cleveland Browns, the 49ers put up 325 and 460 yards against the Minnesota Vikings and Cincinnati Bengals, respectively, but only scored 17 points in each game.
Now, turnovers have been an issue during the losing streak, but another problem has been the run game, which hasn’t been executed to the same level as the first few weeks.
Let’s look at the last two weeks statistically, as Christian McCaffrey and Deebo Samuel were both injured against the Browns, changing the outlook of the run game.
Against the Minnesota Vikings, San Francisco had just 65 yards on 22 carries, with McCaffrey earning just 45 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries.
Against the Cincinnati Bengals, the 49ers’ rushing numbers may look good on the forefront, but are heavily inflated by Brock Purdy’s scrambles.
Instead, the 49ers only ran the ball 15 times with their running backs, where McCaffrey and Elijah Mitchell combined for 56 yards on 15 carries.
That volume against poor run defenses isn’t what you’d like to see from the 49ers and head coach Kyle Shanahan even acknowledged that the team went away from the run at times.
The 49ers led the league in rushing percentage at over 50 percent over the first five weeks. Since then? That number has dropped to 42.7 percent, more along the middle of the pack.
Defenses are adjusting to combat the 49ers electric rushing attack, but they’ve also been worse on the ground during the losing stretch, which needs to change.
Against the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 10, the 49ers will hope to return left tackle Trent Williams back into the fold, while providing McCaffrey with an extra week of rest for his oblique and rib issues during the bye.
However, San Francisco will be without Aaron Banks, who will be out a few weeks with turf toe.
Third down defense
Defensively, the 49ers have seen multiple issues arise over their losing streak, with defensive coordinator Steve Wilks being highlighted publicly.
While Wilks needs to improve with some schematic issues, he hasn’t been the only problem; execution levels have dropped for the 49ers defense, and it’s not only in one area.
A part of those execution and schematic woes stems from the inability to get off the field on third down, which is the main area where San Francisco needs to improve defensively in the second half of the season.
Currently, the 49ers rank 21st in opponent third down conversion rate, and the issue has really been highlighted in recent weeks, as San Francisco has allowed an average time of possession of 33:07 over the last three weeks, the fourth-worst rate during that span.
To improve their metrics in the second half of the season, the 49ers defense, quite frankly, has to just get off the field.
That starts with improving on third downs, as well as making it harder for teams to convert those situations.
As I said above, the 49ers are undoubtedly one of the most talented teams in the NFL.
However, they’ve also been one of the most undisciplined teams in the NFL, racking up nearly seven penalties a game, the sixth-worst rate in the league this season.
To make matters worse, those penalties come with a ton of penalty yards, as the 49ers rank in the bottom three of the NFL, allowing nearly 60 yards a game off penalties.
In their three losses, both of those numbers have been above their season averages, further pointing out how undisciplined they’ve been and what the cost has been.
Penalties have been consistent drive-killers for the 49ers offense or chain-movers for the defense, taking away opportunities on both sides of the ball.
For penalties to be a consistent issue is a reflection of the coaching staff, and San Francisco will need to find ways to shore the problem up if they want to turn it around in the second half.