The curious case of the 49ers and third down

One curious stat from yesterday’s dominating win over the Green Bay Packers: The 49ers offense converted just 2 of 9 third downs – 22 percent. That’s worse than their average last season – 28 percent.

Granted, the two third downs they converted were impressive. One was a 20-yard completion to Michael Crabtree on third and 8, and the other was a touchdown to Vernon Davis on third and goal from the 4 yard line.

Greg Roman has been saying the third-down offense will improve due to more “time on task,” but so far that hasn’t happened. It seems like the Niners’ strategy is to avoid third down as much as possible.

That strategy worked against Green Bay. The Niners managed 22 first downs – one more than the Packers did.

The Niners’ offense thrives on first down when the defense doesn’t know whether they’re getting a run or a pass. Third down is typically a passing down, so it makes sense the Niners would try to avoid it.

This is a very intelligent strategy, given the 49ers’ continuing struggles on third down. And it is encouraging that, when the 49ers absolutely needed to convert two third downs early in the third quarter, they did. Still, they’re going to have to improve in this area, because they can’t avoid third downs 19 straight weeks.

Their third-down production continues to bear watching.

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