Statistics Through Week 11
Points per game: 24.7 (#12) previous week: 25.2 (#10)
Yards per game: 309.0 (#30) previous week: 321.6 (#22)
Passing yards (per game): 168.0 (#32) previous week: 173.9 (#32)
Rushing yards (per game): 141.0 (#5) previous week: 147.7 (#4)
3rd-down conversion rate: 37.78 (#17) previous week: 37.5 percent (#18)
Red zone scoring rate (TDs): 61.29 percent (#5) previous week: 60.71 percent (#9)
Points per game: 17.8 (#4) 17.2 (#4)
Yards per game: 326.6 (#9) previous week: 316.8 (#6)
Passing yards (per game): 222.8(#10) previous week: 211.4 (#9)
Rushing yards (per game): 103.8 (#12) previous week: 105.3 (#12)
3rd-down conversion rate: 34.97 percent (#6) previous week: 34.11 percent (#7)
Red zone scoring rate (TDs): 59.26 percent (#22) previous week: 63.64 percent (#28)
Turnover margin: +6 (21 takeaways, 15 giveaways) previous week: >+4 (18, 14)
Penalties per game: 6.4 (#16) previous week: 6.9 (#19)
Penalty yards per game: 53.8 (#14) previous week: 54.8 (#14)
NFC West Standings (record, division)
Seattle Seahawks (10-1, 3-0)
San Francisco 49ers (6-4, 2-1)
Arizona Cardinals (6-4, 0-3)
St. Louis Rams (4-6, 1-2)
NFC Playoff Standings (record, conference)
1. Seattle (10-1, 7-0)
2. New Orleans (8-2, 6-0)
3. Detroit (6-4, 5-2)
4. Philadelphia (6-5, 5-2)
5. Carolina (7-3, 6-2)
6. San Francisco (6-4, 3-3)
In the Hunt
7. Arizona (6-4, 4-4)
8. Chicago (6-4, 3-4)
9. Dallas (5-5, 5-2)
10. New York (4-6, 3-4)
What It Means
The last time the 49ers lost two-straight games, they went on to win five-straight by double digits for the first time since 1995 in Weeks 3 through 8. With the Redskins (3-7) and Rams (4-6) coming in the next two weeks, they have an opportunity to regain the traction they had before the bye week and their two losses to Carolina and New Orleans.
Most troublesome for Jim Harbaugh's team through the season's first 10 games has been their record against teams .500 or better: 2-4. In the previous two regular seasons combined San Francisco went 10-6 against such opponents and 3-2 in the playoffs.
On the surface, their record against quality teams this season should be cause for concern considering the wins against those opponents in 2013 have come against the Packers (5-5) and Cardinals (6-4). But they did beat the Packers with Aaron Rodgers playing, who have lost three-straight with the former 49er QBs Seneca Wallace and Scott Tolzien taking his place while he recovers from a broken collarbone.
But not all things that happen in the regular season are true indicators of what's to come in the playoffs.
The Ravens went on to win the Super Bowl last season despite losing four of their last five games, all to teams over .500. They handled the upstart Colts in the divisional round, then beat the Broncos and Patriots in dramatic fashion on the road before escaping New Orleans with the win over the 49ers. The 2011 Giants – who beat San Francisco on the road in the NFC title game – went just 9-7 in the regular season before winning the Super Bowl.
Sunday's loss in New Orleans put a third-straight division title out of reach, barring a catastrophic turn of events for Seattle. While San Francisco faces just two teams over .500 over the season's final six weeks, the Seahawks have three (Saints, 49ers and Cardinals) with two of them coming in front of the raucous 12th Man. They host New Orleans after this week's bye in a game that will go a long way toward determining home-field advantage in the NFC.
With the Panthers beating San Francisco and New England in consecutive weeks, they have put themselves in the driver's seat for at least the No. 5 seed in the playoffs. Two of their final six games are against the Saints, however, whom they trail by just a game in the standings. But no matter who wins the NFC South, it appears the 49ers will be unable to get the fifth seed, unless they finish with a better record than both New Orleans and Carolina (who would own the head-to-head tiebreakers).
The 49ers have lost to two playoff teams by a combined four points following the bye. The margin of error in both those games was razor thin due to the offense's struggles headed by Colin Kaepernick.
San Francisco's defense has played playoff-caliber football all season, including the games against the Panthers and Saints. The 49ers held New Orleans to just 23 points after averaging 35 in their previous five games in the Super Dome. According to Pro Football Focus, Ahmad Brooks, Corey Lemonier, Aldon Smith and Dan Skuta have all graded out in the top-21 outside linebackers that play in a 3-4. Buffalo is the only other team with three.
San Francisco is also the only team with two safeties in the top eight of their rankings with Donte Whitner's No. 5 grade and Eric Reid at No. 8. Patrick Willis (2) and NaVorro Bowman (5) are also the highest rated duo of their positional group. At corner, Tramaine Brock is the only player in the top-20. Justin Smith and Ray McDonald rank 14th and 21st respectively.
Brooks' play has been especially impressive after he made his second interception of Brees in as many games against him. Brooks leads the team with 6.5 sacks and had a sack Sunday. He would have made the play of the game with his stip-sack late in the fourth quarter, but it was ruled a personal foul and became one of the season's most controversial calls.
Aldon Smith was reportedly ill Sunday, but still managed to play 44 snaps (64 percent). He did not register a sack, but did notch and hit and pair of hurries on Brees. As he continues to round into football shape following his five-week absence, look for the 49ers pass rush to become even more of a threat to opposing offenses with the continued emergence of Skuta and Lemonier.
Areas to Improve
During the five-game winning streak, San Francisco scored at least 31 points in all five games. But that has since been forgotten after the last two losses. The 49ers' offense has been fruitless, while the passing game went for just 161 net yards combined.
Kaepernick's play has been the target of many. After throwing for 200 or more yards in nine of his 10 starts last season (playoffs included), he has done so just twice through 10 games this year. The continued turnover at receiver hasn't made things easier, nor have the new looks given by opposing defenses in just his second season as a starter.
But while the offense was dynamic and multiple during last year's Super Bowl run, teams have found ways to slow down the running game to make the 49ers attack more predictable. San Francisco still leads the NFL in running play percentage (53.4 percent) and has struggled when is hasn't been able get chunk yardage on the ground.
Mario Manningham has just four receptions since returning from last December's gruesome knee injury and is still working his way back physically. He was officially listed as a limited participant in practice last week with a knee injury, although it wasn't specified if it was the same knee that required surgery.
Harbaugh said he believes Michael Crabtree is "close" to returning Monday, but the 49ers will likely be remain cautious considering the poor playing surface at FedEx Field. There's a chance of rain over the weekend, although the game will be played Monday.
The 49ers won't rush Crabtree back out of desperation. They still exude confidence in their current batch of receivers despite the lack of production in the passing game. Jon Baldwin nearly came down with a touchdown catch Sunday and will continued to be groomed as the No. 3 wideout in Greg Roman's system.
The Redskins have had a tough year. After last week's 24-16 loss in Philadelphia, Eagles players said they knew what plays were coming on both sides. That doesn't bode well for the long-term future of Mike Shanahan, who is 24-34 during his four-year tenure in Washington. Next season is the final year of the 61-year-old's contract. After winning the division during Robert Griffin III's rookie season, owner Daniel Snyder might not have the patience to give Shanahan another chance at an extension.
With six games remaining San Francisco is in no position to panic. The schedule will be favorable going forward, but they will likely have to win at least four of the remaining six games to get back into the playoffs for a third-straight season. They still have half their remaining division schedule left and can't overlook any of their remaining opponents.
We will have more on the Redskins later in our weekly "Knowing Your Opponent" series.
*Statistics from Pro Football Focus were used in this report*
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