Mike McDaniel has moved on from the 49ers’ Week 7 loss to Indianapolis, but that doesn’t mean it still doesn’t sting.
“When you make yourself vulnerable to not think about anything but victory and lose, it hurts,” the 49ers’ offensive coordinator said after practice. “It’s been hurting for about the last month.”
Which, not coincidentally, is about the time the 49ers went into the tank when it comes to converting on third down. It’s an area McDaniel and coach Kyle Shanahan hope to have rectified Sunday when the 49ers (2-4) visit the Chicago Bears (3-4) at Soldier Field.
As it stands, the 49ers are with the dregs of the NFL in that department, ranking 30th with a percentage of 31.4 percent (22-for-70), ahead of only Jacksonville and Chicago, which are both at 31.3. The last time the 49ers displayed any efficiency on third down was Sept. 26, when they were 7-of-11 in a 30-28 loss to Green Bay.
In three games since, the 49ers are 6-for-36, or 16.7 percent. They bottomed out with a 1-for-11 performance against the Colts, a game in which both of their touchdown drives came because they never had a third down on either of them.
That means 30 lost opportunities to extend drives over 12 quarters.
It’s not all Jimmy Garoppolo’s fault either, considering the 49ers were 3-for-11 in a 17-10 loss to Arizona with Trey Lance at quarterback.
Being (1-for-11) on third down, that doesn’t go away,” McDaniel said. “You’re thinking about it bed, you’re thinking about it all the time, so you try and get on top of it as fast as possible. It’s like everything else in football. When you’re not doing something well you try and fix it as fast as you can.”
While Shanahan calls the plays, it’s McDaniel that has a large role in making sure his plans are properly executed both in practice and in games. And the maddening part is there seems to be no common denominator for a quick repair.
“You can look at individual games where we’ve been over 60 percent on third down. You can look at stretches where we’ve been pretty productive,” McDaniel said. “One thing you learn in this business over time is nothing’s an absolute and you are what your next game is.
“It would be a lot easier if it was one thing. That would be a coach’s dream, because you’d just fix that one thing. But when you have multiple variables that are contributing to the overall outcomes, you really have to address one by one, OK, how do we do this?”
Even more perplexing regarding the 49ers third-down woes is they’ve done a decent job getting into positive down and distance. As reported by ESPN, the 49ers are converting only 15.4 percent of their third downs on between third-and-4 and third-and-6 — the worst figure in the NFL. They’re actually better on third-and-7 or more (29.7 percent).
The 49ers only conversion against the Colts came on a third-and-10 in the third quarter when Garoppolo hit Mohamed Sanu for a 16-yard gain.
One thing McDaniel isn’t getting worked up about is Garoppolo, who a fan favorite upon his arrival in 2017 but the target of boos in the loss to the Colts.
“This just in — the fans of the 49ers want the 49ers to win, and when we don’t they want something to change,” McDaniel said. “He doesn’t take it personal. You have to take praise in the same regard as criticism.”
As for the thought that Garoppolo at this point is irreparably broken, McDaniel isn’t seeing it.
“He was doing real well, then he got hurt, then he played one game,” McDaniel said. “You have to keep that in perspective. He was playing at a high level, got hurt, came back, didn’t play nearly as well as we wanted to. That has something to do with him, but when we look at as coaches, it has a lot to do with other people as well. Coaches included.”