After watching the 49ers offense bog down in successive losses to the Seahawks and Colts, head coach Jim Harbaugh said there was no single factor responsible.
“I’m not going to put it on one spot,” Harbaugh told reporters. “Precision offensively needs to improve. We’ll all have a hand in working on improving that.”
Though San Francisco rebounded with a 35-11 victory over the Rams Thursday night – rushing for 219 yards – the team’s overall offensive stats indicate the 49ers need to improve dramatically to achieve that “precision” Harbaugh is seeking. Even against the Rams, the 49ers converted only 6-of-14 third downs and committed 10 penalties.
And, for the season, the Niners have converted only 37 percent of third-down plays (21-of-57), have given up 12 sacks, are losing the time-of-possession battle vs. opponents (30:42-29:18) and are minus-4 in turnover ratio.
Those are uncharacteristic numbers for the 49ers since Harbaugh took command for the 2011 season.
But perhaps the biggest red flag has been this: according to ESPN.com’s Mike Sando, the 49ers have gone three-and-out on 43.1 percent of their offensive series, the fourth-worst percentage in the NFL.
The 49ers’ struggles offensively have put more pressure on the defensive unit, too. Though San Francisco’s defense has been strong, forcing three-and-out series 39.6 percent of the time, fifth best in the league reports Sando, the defense is wearing out later in games because the offense can’t sustain drives and keep defenders off the field.
As the 49ers (2-2) now prepare to face the Houston Texans (2-2) Sunday night, Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman are hoping quarterback Colin Kaepernick and Co. can build on the success against the Rams and operate with more efficiency.
Though the Texans have had their problems – including a come-from-ahead loss to the Seahawks Sunday – Houston’s defense has been stout. The Texans are allowing opponents to convert just 36.7 percent of third-down plays and rank No. 3 in the NFL, allowing just 59 first downs in four games.
In their victory over the Rams, the 49ers showed a desire to get back to basics. They ran more power plays, the offensive line was strong in its run-blocking and Kaepernick was much more careful with the football, committing zero turnovers after committing six turnovers combined in the losses to Seattle and Indianapolis.
The 49ers leaned on running back Frank Gore – who had 20 carries for 153 yards -- something they may do again on Sunday vs. Houston.
“It was a get-on-track game,” Gore said of the victory over the Rams. Added Gore: “Coach G-Ro went back to doing basic stuff. And we got it going.”
If the 49ers can continue to find success with that “basic stuff” and cut down on the number of three-and-outs, a lot of their early-season failures may soon be forgotten.
Said Gore: “As long as we be the 49ers, we’ll be all right.”