October 21 2002
By Bryan Hersh of 49ers Paradise
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Is there anything more frustrating to sitting back, and watching your team give up third down conversion after third down conversion regardless of the distance? By the fourth quarter, it didn’t matter if it was 3rd and 40, I was convinced that the 49ers wouldn’t be able to stop the Saints. And while the 49ers offense did pretty well on third downs themselves (they actually rank first in the league in this category), the goods didn’t offset that bads in yesterday’s bout.
The 49ers 9/12 conversions or 75% on third down was better than the 71% posted by the Saints on their 10/14 conversions. But are we serious here? More than 70%? Entering the week with the lead in this category the 49ers were under 50% on third down conversions. This was simply unbelievable.
The Saints were able to muster 27 first downs, one more than the 49ers, and as such they controlled the ball for a whopping two seconds longer. But their ability to convert on third and long, and I mean very long killed the 49ers.
The 49ers were unable to force one turnover on downs, not one punt and thus the Saints scored at least three points on all but one of their offensive drives (a fumble). This is now the third consecutive week in which the 49ers seem to fall a sleep on third downs.
The 49ers need to be able to hold their ground on third downs if they want to start winning games against good teams. Against the Saints, they allowed conversion of yardages of 7, 3 (which went for 15), 4 (TD), 15 (which went for 37), 7 (which went for 10), 9 (which went for thirteen), 10 (which went for 19), 14 (which went for 17), 6 (Pass interference), 12 (which went for 25), and 12 (which went for 17). If you are counting that’s nine third downs and long (6 yards or more needed) converted for first downs, and the worst part is, that the gains on third downs were not just enough to pick up the third downs, it wasn’t like the referees were using the measuring sticks all game. On the contrary, the third down gains were huge, accounting for a whopping 143 yards.
The 143 yards on third downs (not including yardage gained through third down penalties) accounted for nearly 34% of the Saints offensive yardage. That’s an astounding amount of offense considering that third downs accounted for less than 22% of the Saints offensive tries. The 49ers need to get better at defending on third downs. They are good enough offensive on third downs, providing they continue on the path they’ve started, but the team needs to step it up on third downs defensively - sooner, rather than later.