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Evaluating The SUccess Of A Season Part 4 - By Bryan Hersh

In the fourth installment of the Evaluating the Success of a season series of articles I will take a look at how an improvement on third downs and in the redzone on both offense and defense is a good way to measure the success of this season. Unless you have been living in a hole somewhere for the past few seasons, you should know that the 49ers third down offense and defense has been dismal. The team’s performance in the redzone has been only slightly better. Short drives and settling for field goals on offense, coupled with long sustained drives and few defensive stands on defense do not make for good football. As the 49ers enter the 2004-2005 season an improvement in these two areas has never been more critical. In the long run, a better performance in these two areas should bring more wins, but in the short run, it will help build team character and get the team to rise to challenges it faces.

There is an old saying in football, that good teams find a way to win, and bad teams find a way to lose. Often a key turnover is the difference maker in these tight games. In the new parity stricken NFL though, where tight games occur now, more than ever, the good teams can no longer rely on one or two players stepping up and making a key play. Instead, teams have to consistently achieve throughout a game in order to win, and that means long drives, that keep the opponents off the field, and that end in touchdowns.

Predictability, most prominently on offense the last few years has allowed opposing defenses to stifle the 49ers offense on third downs and in the redzone. It is especially hard to be successful in the NFL, when the opposition knows what you are going to do before you ever do it. That is exactly the problem the 49ers have had to face the past several seasons. And as a result, the team was constantly running three-and-outs on offense or settling for a field goal even after turnovers. It will be a marked improvement and certainly a factor of success if the 49ers can abolish the predictability on offense, thus allowing the team to sustain long drives that end in touchdowns. Eliminating predictability is key here, but certainly, so is the elimination of dropped passes, blown blocking assignments and fumbles late in the game or in key situations. These are all areas that the 49ers will have to focus on in order to improve and achieve success this season.

On defense, the problems of third downs and redzone defense have more to do with a lack of a pass rush and inadequate coverage on the corners. Quite often over the past two seasons the 49ers have forced third and long situations, sometimes even third and very long. Yet invariably it seemed, the longer a distance teams had to convert a third down, the better they were at doing so. I shudder at the thought of the opposition converting third down and 30+ yards, but they did it. Why? No pass rush, and over the top ‘prevent’ style coverage is simply no match for speedy consist ant receivers. It is imperative that the team find a pass rush, and find stable pass defense (as detailed in the previous article) in order to achieve success this season.

Redzone defense seemed to have been plagued rather similarly in recent years. All too often it would look like the 49ers would be ready to make a key stand, and then a penalty, or a missed assignment would give the opposition the chance they needed to convert points. As important it is for the 49ers to start scoring touchdowns, the team also needs to get better at forcing field goals and keeping the opposition out of the endzone. Much of this improvement will come from not making critical errors on key downs.

There was a time when the 49ers would always find a way to win. Such is no longer the case. Certainly though, as the team tries to reclaim its glory, success can be measured in smaller goals. A big achievement this season would be to improve on third downs and redzone performances both on offense and defense.