It's hard to emphatically say that the 49ers are a better team in 2012 than they were in 2011, a magical season in a number of ways. Last year the team went 11 weeks before encountering their second loss. This season the team dropped a couple of early games and couple that with the lower turnover margins, it can be hard to see improvement.
Wednesday night ESPN's NFC West blogger Mike Sando tweeted out some key statistics that might help. All of them represented comparisons between the 2011 and 2012 seasons on a per game or per down basis. Here are the highlights:
- 49ers gaining 1.13 more yards per play in 2012 vs. 2011, second biggest gain in NFL (Broncos)
- Third-down conversion rate up 8.4%
- Rushing yards/game up 40.8
- Passing yards/play only up 0.85
- Red zone TDs are up 20.1%
- Pass yards allowed down 46.9 per game
- Pas yards allowed down 0.93 per play
Some of these improvements don't seem like much, but others are staggering...at least to this guy. The third-down conversion percentage increase is really encouraging after the struggles last season. Rushing yards per game up nearly 41 yards?!? That's incredible and a reason the team is able to truly dominate games, even without putting up 30+ points every contest.
On defense the secondary is really playing well, something we've all seen for the most part, and it's evidenced by the lower pass yardage allowed, despite the drop in sacks. The lower yardage per game despite a fairly similar yards per play would suggest teams aren't passing as much against the 49ers. In the two losses this was especially evident, and likely skews the numbers.
All-in-all these are solid improvements that show just how this team is getting better despite the lack of splashy turnovers and sacks. If they can keep it up, this is just the kind of team you don't want to face in the post-season: One who doesn't give you much and can run the ball down your throat with consistency, controlling the clock and field position.
Facing tough teams like Chicago, New England and Miami, as well as four more division games remaining, there are very few "gimme's" left on this schedule leading up to the playoffs.
While the players are off for six days during the bye-week, I'm sure the coaches will be continuing to work hard studying film and finding ways to further improve in all areas of the game.