Statistics Through Week 7
Points per game: 25.1 (#11) previous week: 24.2 (#13)
Yards per game: 335 (#17) previous week: 332.7 (#23)
Passing yards (per game): 191.7 (#31) previous week: 191 (#30)
Rushing yards (per game): 143.3 (#3) previous week: 141.7 (#4)
3rd-down conversion rate: 37.76 percent (#16) previous week: : 35.37 percent (#22)
Red zone scoring rate (TDs): 54.55 percent (#12) previous week: 50 percent (#15)
Points per game: 19.3 (#7) previous week: 19.7 (#9)
Yards per game: 326.1 (#8) previous week: 319.2 (#9)
Passing yards (per game): 219.4 (#6) previous week: 206.3 (#6)
Rushing yards (per game): 106.7 (#18) previous week: 112.8 (#20)
3rd-down conversion rate: 33.67 percent (#5) previous week: 33.33 percent (#5)
Red zone scoring rate (TDs): 70 percent (#31) previous week: 72.22 percent (#30)
Turnover margin: +4 (15 takeaways, 11 giveaways) previous week: +2 (13, 11)
Penalties per game: 7.3 (#25) previous week: 7.7 (#28)
Penalty yards per game: 61.9 (#23) previous week: 65.2 (#25)
NFC West Standings
What It Means
The San Francisco 49ers have reeled off four-straight wins and have the second-most in the NFC. The problem, of course, is the conference's best team also resides in the NFC West. But Jim Harbaugh's team has played well against inferior opponents allowing San Francisco to stay in the Seahawks' rear-view mirror.
The magic number is 30. The 49ers have scored at least 30 in all five of their wins and have outscored their opponents 132-51 during the four-game run. The offense is back to controlling the ball through the running game with a compliment of explosive plays to Vernon Davis and Anquan Boldin. Somehow, the lack of a viable No. 2 receiver hasn't hurt the offense too badly. Meanwhile, Mario Manningham is likely to return following the team's bye week after Sunday's game.
At over 54 percent, no team in the NFL is running the ball at a higher rate than San Francisco. It's paid off. Frank Gore is the league's fourth-leading rusher with 547 yards while the team has the third-ranked rushing attack.
And while opponents have had a hard time stopping the 49ers' traditional running game, they re-implemented zone read plays for Colin Kaepernick Sunday, en route to his 68-yard day on 11 carries that included a 20-yard touchdown scamper. With a win Sunday over the 0-7 Jaguars, San Francisco would finish its first half of the season at 6-2, putting them on pace for a 12-win season.
Following the bye, the 49ers have three tough games against NFC opponents that could have major ramifications on the playoff picture. After hosting the Panthers (3-3), they travel to New Orleans (5-1) in what should be the marquee game of the week. They travel back to the East Coast for Monday Night Football to face the 2-4 Washington Redskins, who have won two of three and are getting better play from Robert Griffin III.
There's a good chance that game in Washington has been circled on Michael Crabtree's calendar for a potential return. Harbaugh has already given a loose timetable on his top wideout, saying he expects him back in "mid to late-November." The Redskins game is Nov. 25 and a return then would give him two games to adjust to game speed before the Seahawks come to town Dec. 8.
San Francisco faces a number of difficult roster decisions upcoming with the pending additions of Eric Wright, Tank Carradine, Manningham, Crabtree and Aldon Smith. Quinton Dial's promotion of the reserve/NFI came at the cost of Chris Harper, who had not been on the active 46 since coming from Seattle in early-September.
The team's recent inactive lists are a good place to start when handicapping the potential roster moves. Sunday, McLeod Bethel-Thompson, LaMichael James, Quinton Patton, Nnamdi Asomugha, Marlon Moore, Jermaine Cunningham and Joe Looney were inactive.
Patton was seen around the team's facility in a walking boot and is likely a month away from potentially returning. The team has the option of placing him on Injured Reserve, which would end his season. The team already used its return designation on linebacker Nick Moody, who began practicing Wednesday. Moody is eligible to return at any point following the bye week.
If the 49ers deem Wright an upgrade from Asomugha, it's likely the 11-year veteran and former All-Pro is done with the team upon Wright's activation. Rookie and standout special teamer Darryl Morris has played too well on kick coverage to lose his place on the roster.
Carradine's status is much less certain.
"He's looked OK," defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said of Carradine, who is participating in just his second week of practices as a pro. "I still think he's got to come a little bit more. But, I think he's there. I think getting him practicing the last two weeks helps. Giving him a measurement and us on exactly where he's at. And I think he'll eventually be able to get there."
If the team doesn't deem Carradine recovered enough in time to be added back on to the roster before the Panthers game, he would go on IR and be ineligible for the rest of the season. With Dial now in the fold, the defensive front is in decent shape considering the production of Tony Jerod-Eddie and Demarcus Dobbs behind Ray McDonald and Justin Smith.
The 49ers' offense hasn't been putting up prodigious numbers in any sense, but it's done enough to put 30 points on the board in each of their five wins.
The common thread in the three non-blowout wins has been punishing drives in the second half of games that break defenses while chewing the clock. In Week 1's win over the Packers, San Francisco drove 50 yards, took 4:26 and kicked a field goal to make it a 34-28 game with just 26 seconds remaining.
Against the Cardinals, the 18-play, 83-yard drive featuring 11 running plays made it a two-score game and ultimately put it out of reach for Arizona. In Tennessee Sunday, the 49ers opened the second half with a devastating 12-play drive (eight runs) ending in Frank Gore's second touchdown run. It pushed the score to 24-0.
As Joe Staley said after Week 6's win over the Cardinals, the running attack early in the game sets up the team's physical play in the second half by issuing "body blows." Even the league's better run defenses can only hold up so long. It's no coincidence that since Harbaugh took over in 2011, the 49ers have ranked toward the top of the league in rushing attempts.
Things should get even better for the offense.
The return of Manningham and Crabtree will help the running game in two different ways. First, outside receiving threats will prevent teams from stacking the box with eight or nine players. Second, both players are considerably better blockers in the running game than the other wideouts San Francisco has trotted out.
As evident in Sunday's game, Kyle Williams' inability to hold the edge on the outside could be one of the reasons the team has gone away from the read-option. Without the ability for Kaepernick to bust plays outside, away from linebackers, opposing corners winning the edge has been invaluable in preventing in the read-option from becoming viable for the offense again.
Areas to Improve
It's tough to judge the tangibility of the statistic considering the high level the defense has played as a whole. But the 49ers are allowing opponents to score touchdowns at a 70 percent clip in the red zone. The season's first three weeks saw a big sample (Packers, Seahawks and Colts combined to score touchdowns on 10 of 14 attempts). But even over the last four games, oppositions have scored on four of six red zone chances.
Each 49ers corner has allowed at least one touchdown on the year. Tarell Brown and Tramaine Brock have each allowed two. Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman have also allowed passing touchdowns in coverage. None of the team's four safeties have allowed a passing score.
It will take more digging to find out exactly why the defense hasn't been as good in the red zone as it should be. It's a strange number considering how well the defense has played on third down, authoring a 33.67 percent conversion rate to opposing offenses, good for fifth in the league. Perhaps offenses approach the team's defense differently in the condensed field.
As we've outlined earlier, the 49ers are due for an influx of talent at positions of need, highlighted by additions to the wide receiving corps and defensive front that's dealt with a myriad of injuries.
But with the regular season almost halfway over, it's a good time to begin projecting things going forward. Below is a look at the remaining schedule following Sunday's game against the Jaguars:
Week 10: vs. Panthers
Week 11: @ New Orleans
Week 12: @ Washington (Monday Night)
Week 13: vs. St. Louis
Week 14: vs. Seattle
Week 15: @ Tampa Bay
Week 16: vs. Atlanta (Monday Night & last regular season game at Candlestick)
Week 17: @ Arizona
We'll break the eight remaining games down to three categories: Assumed Wins, Upset Alerts and Playoff Tests. There are two Assumed Wins (vs. Rams, at Buccaneers), four Upset Alerts (vs. Panthers, at Redskins, vs. Atlanta and at Arizona), and two Playoff Tests (at Saints and vs. Seahawks).
Presuming the 49ers win both Assumed Wins, take three of four Upset Alerts and at least one of their Playoff Tests, they'll finish the second half of the regular season at 6-2 and head into the playoffs at 12-4.
Even if they beat the Seahawks in Week 14, it's unlikely the 49ers will catch them for the NFC West crown. Of Seattle's nine remaining games, only are against teams with .500 records or better (San Francisco and New Orleans). That means the team would likely have to play a road game in the wild card round against the division winner with the worst record, likely to come out of the NFC East or NFC North.
*Statistics from Pro Football Focus were used in this report*
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