The 49ers have a lot of things they must correct, but improving this one stat in Week 8 versus the Bears should be a top priority.
The San Francisco 49ers have a lot of problems nearing the halfway point of the 2021 season, as a 2-4 record and a four-game losing streak may suggest.
There’s no shortage of blame to go around either. Head coach Kyle Shanahan is under scrutiny for some of his questionable play-calling efforts in recent weeks. Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, who still remains the starter, is being called out by all ranks from the fanbase, media and other players. Other players have either seemingly disappeared from the stat sheet or are causing more harm than good.
No, losing a lot isn’t fun.
Yet the Niners could be poised for a bounce-back game in Week 8 against the scuffling Chicago Bears, who have lost two games in a row and have forced rookie quarterback Justin Fields into a less-than-ideal situation under head coach Matt Nagy, who might not even be able to attend the game because of testing positive for COVID-19.
While the 3-4 Bears have plenty of their own issues to sort out when San Francisco comes to town, head coach Kyle Shanahan and Co. should worry primarily about this one particular issue that’s dogged them all year long.
Converting on third downs.
49ers must get right on third downs vs. Bears in Week 8
The 49ers’ issues are so widespread, it might seem daunting to find a place to start. But in those cases, it’s simply worth grabbing one particular piece and focusing on that, hopefully letting all other challenges fall into place.
In the Niners’ case, rectifying third-down offensive woes should be the top priority right now.
Entering Week 8, Shanahan’s offense is converting a mere 31.4 percent of third-down tries, which happens to be third worst in the league and only ahead of the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars (31.3 percent) and the hapless Bears (31.2).
During the 2019 season, Garoppolo actually led the entire NFL in third-down passes good for a first down, converting those tries 50 percent of the time. This season, Garoppolo is completing 36.1 percent of such passes, which doesn’t even rank in the top 20 of the league. What was an easy strength for him two years ago is turning into an elusive goal this season.
And San Francisco’s offense is hurting because of it.
49ers have context to improve on third downs vs. Bears
A week ago in the rain-soaked home loss to the Indianapolis Colts, the 49ers went a measly 1-of-11 on third-down tries, which unquestionably played a role in the team’s fourth consecutive loss.
The Colts, however, have done a good job defending on third downs, though, owning a first-down-allowed mark of 37.7 percent in these situations, which is good for 11th best.
If third downs are going to be a factor in Week 8, the Niners would appear to have a bit of an edge.
Neither San Francisco nor Chicago has been effective converting first downs, offensively. But the Bears also haven’t been particularly good at preventing third-down conversions, as opponents are getting the first down here 40.7 percent of the time, which ranks 18th.
Conversely, and despite their own woes, the 49ers’ third-down defense has actually performed well this season, currently ranking eighth in the league with an opposing conversion rate of just 34.7 percent.
So, while Chicago might continue having its own difficulties gaining first downs this Sunday, there’s a realistic shot Garoppolo and the Niners offense are able to improve upon what’s been a dreadful stat over their first six games.
San Francisco and Chicago kick off from Soldier Field on Sunday, Oct. 31 at 1 p.m. ET.