No. 2: Passing First Downs
San Francisco is still struggling to put it all together on offense, and third downs have certainly been a key problem.
But if there is a positive between last year and 2017, it’s on passing first downs.
A year ago, the Niners converted just 152 first downs through the air — good for 31st in the NFL and such a long ways away from the first-ranked New Orleans Saints, who had 165. Six weeks into this season, head coach Kyle Shanahan’s bunch has 73 aerial first downs, ranking 11th and more than other higher-profile offenses like those of the Los Angeles Rams (71) and Tennessee Titans (64).
It might be a category to reach for, to some extent, as the 49ers are passing the ball more this season — 214 to 197, whereas 2016 favored the running game.
Regardless, the Niners are experiencing some modest changes under center, giving C.J. Beathard starting duties in place of an ineffective Brian Hoyer. So we’ll see how that fuels this stat.
But at least the 49ers are picking up first downs through the air this season.