Third downs are often cited as the critical plays in a football game, but that has not necessarily been the case for the 49ers this season.
It’s all about first downs.
That’s when the 49ers’ defense has been at its best, and that’s when the 49ers’ offense – save two long Frank Gore runs – has been at its worst.
Pay particular attention to how the 49ers and Falcons fare tomorrow on first downs. It’s vitally important to both teams to get good yardage with their run games on first downs.
The Falcons have run the ball 60.3 percent of the time on first downs (averaging just 3.04 yards a carry), while 49ers offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye has called run plays 61.54 percent of the time on first-and-10.
The 49ers’ success on first downs look a lot better because of Gore’s touchdown runs against the Seahawks, which covered 79 and 80 yards. Both of those runs came on first downs. If you take those two plays out of the equation – and, I’m sure, 49ers fans are wondering why that’s necessary – the club has averaged just 3.47 yards on first downs. The Raiders rank last in the league with a 3.95 average on first downs.
Moreover, other than those two Gore runs, the 49ers average 2.85 yards per rushing attempt on first down. Of course, Gore will be of no help today, as he sits out his second game with a bum right ankle. Rookie Glen Coffee takes a 2.3-yard average into his second NFL start.
On the other side of the ball, the 49ers’ defense has been excellent on first downs. The 49ers rank second in the league, surrendering, on average, 4.07 yards on first downs.
The challenge tomorrow will be to slow down Falcons running back Michael Turner, who presents the 49ers with another stiff test after they successfully defended Adrian Peterson and Steven Jackson in back-to-back games.
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