Statistics Through Week 6
Points per game: 24.2 (#13) previous week: 22.6 (#18)
Yards per game: 332.7 (#23) previous week: 321.8 (#25)
Passing yards (per game): 191 (#30) previous week: 181.6 (#31)
Rushing yards (per game): 141.7 (#4) previous week: 140.2 (#6)
3rd-down conversion rate: 35.37 percent (#22) previous week: : 36.76 percent (#18)
Red zone scoring rate (TDs): 50 percent (#15) previous week: 56.25 percent (#13)
Points per game: 19.7 (#9) previous week: 19.6 (#12)
Yards per game: 319.2 (#9) previous week: 302.4 (#5)
Passing yards (per game): 206.3 (#6) previous week: 188.8 (#2)
Rushing yards (per game): 112.8 (#20) previous week: 113.6 (#20)
3rd-down conversion rate: 33.33 (#5) previous week: 32.39 percent (#6)
Red zone scoring rate (TDs): 72.22 (#30) previous week: 68.75 percent (#28)
Turnover margin: +2 (13 takeaways, 11 giveaways) previous week: 0 (9, 9)
Penalties per game: 7.7 (#28) previous week: 8.4 (#29)
Penalty yards per game: 65.2 (#25) previous week: 71.2 (#27)
NFC West Standings
What It Means
After a turbulent start saw the San Francisco 49ers lose two of their first three, they reeled off three-straight wins and find themselves with a comfortable record at 4-2. They're right where they want to be considering the myriad of issues they have dealt with early on.
And as the injuries continue to stack up, it looks like reinforcements are on the way.
Glenn Dorsey is the latest 49er defender to go down. He suffered his hamstring injury early in the 32-20 win over Arizona. The 49ers have become very thing on the defensive line, especially nose tackle, after losing starter Ian Williams with a broken ankle in Week 2.
Ray McDonald's right biceps injury has zapped his upper body strength and it's unclear how effective he will be going forward. He didn't register a tackle Sunday for the first time since Week 5 of 2012.
The theme of the season to this point has been the depth stepping in on defense, but not on the offense. The team has struggled to replace Michael Crabtree, Mario Manning and to an extent, Delanie Walker. But Manningham is due to begin practicing this week, which will be important for San Francisco's passing offense that ranks 30th in the league.
But as Jim Harbaugh and Greg Roman would say, looking into the overall yardage statistics is the "low hanging fruit." The 49ers are passing the ball just under 48 percent of their plays, a rate that's the second lowest in the NFL. If there's a silver lining in the passing game, the team is averaging 7.1 yards per attempt, good for No. 12, thanks in part to Sunday's explosive 180-yard performance from Vernon Davis.
The running game has been San Francisco's lifeline. Frank Gore and company have rushed for 182 yards per game during the three-game streak, a mark that would put them at the very top of the NFL for the season (the Eagles have the league's top rushing attack, with a clip of 178.5 yards per game).
The running game and defense are the obvious strong points for the 49ers, as they have been since Harbaugh took over. But despite putting up pedestrian numbers, Colin Kaepernick has played well when he's needed during the team's three-game winning streak.
When the 49ers needed a scoring drive late in Sunday's game, Kaepernick helped orchestrate the 18-play, 89-yard drive that made it a nine-point game in the fourth quarter, putting the game out of reach for the Cardinals. He completed three key third-down throws, two of which moved the chains. The third was a nine-yard completion to Vernon Davis that set up Bruce Miller's three-yard run on 4th-and-1. He completed 4 of 6 passes for 36 yards on that decisive march downfield.
Defensively, the team's numbers would look better if the offense was more apt at limiting turnovers. But even while dealing with 11 giveaways through six games, San Francisco's defense ranks ninth in the NFL in both scoring and yardage. They are allowing 4.9 yards per play - seventh-best in the league.
Special teams have continued to thrive, particularly in kick coverage. Behind another strong season from Andy Lee, the 49ers are fifth in average net yards per punt attempt. The Texans and Cardinals' average starting field position was their own 21-yard line over the last two weeks.
Areas to Improve
It might be a product of the sample size, but the 49ers' defense is allowing opponents to score touchdowns at a 72-percent clip, which is the third-worst in football. It's a puzzling statistic considering how good the unit has been on third downs, allowing conversions just 33 percent of the time. Usually a defense would tighten up in the red zone and benefit from the condensed field.
The numbers from the first three games against the Packers (4-4 in the red zone), Seahawks (3-6) and Colts (3-4) make up 14 tests of the 19-case sample. Since those games, the Rams, Texans and Cardinals have combined to go 3 of 5, in line with the overall better play of the defense that hasn't allowed teams to get deep into the 49ers' side of the field as often.
Offensively, the 49ers converted just 5 of 18 third downs Sunday, which actually lifted their season average of to 35 percent. It's been area affected greatly by the lack of weapons on the outside. They did not get a first down or touchdown in the first quarter, despite starting two of their four drives on the Cardinals' 7 and 11-yard lines.
There isn't much separating teams as far as third-down conversion rates go. There are 19 teams converting third downs between 35 and 46 percent of the time. If Manningham returns this week, look for San Francisco's 35 percent clip to jump marginally.
Third-down conversion rate is a decent indicator of the overall functionality of an offense. With the success the running game has had, the 49ers would benefit from having more 3rd-and-shorts with another receiving threat on the field consistently. San Francisco was 22nd in the league last season, converting third downs nearly 37 percent of the time.
The 49ers will travel to Tennessee Friday and then head straight to London following the game where they will conduct practice all week before playing the Jaguars at Wembley Stadium Oct. 27.
They will then have their bye week before hosting the 2-3 Panthers, who were impressive in Sunday's 35-10 win over the Vikings. Carolina will play the Rams, Buccaneers and Falcons before traveling to San Francisco Nov. 10.
The 49ers have benefited from a soft spot in their schedule after playing four playoff teams in their first five weeks. But things start to heat up after the bye. After Carolina, they will have two-straight road games on the other side of the country when they will return to New Orleans for the first time since February's Super Bowl to play the one of the conference's best teams in the Saints.
This weekend, the Titans will be without Jake Locker for a third-straight week. They are 0-2 with Ryan Fitzpatrick under center, but they've played both the Chiefs and Seahawks reasonably tough considering the circumstances. We'll have more on the Titans later this week in our next installment of Knowing Your Opponent.
*Statistics from Pro Football Focus were used in this report*
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