- Mike Sando, NFL Insider
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The San Francisco 49ers have improved their offense through diversification.
That was the plan when the team added receivers Randy Moss and Mario Manningham as free agents. There was also some expectation, since realized, that the 49ers' offensive line would improve as young players gained more experience working together.
The 49ers have 16 touchdowns in 26 red zone possessions (61.5 percent). That is up from 22 in 54 such possessions (40.7 percent) all last season. Third-down efficiency has inched up from 29.4 last season to 35.6 so far this season. The team is averaging 6.0 yards per play, up from 5.0 last season. Rushing plays are producing 5.6 yards per carry, up from 4.1.
49ers Pass Targets by Week
It's looking like kicker David Akers and tight end Vernon Davis are paying a statistical price for broader team gains. Davis' decline in production as a receiver could also stem from the way defenses are playing the 49ers, or it could simply be by chance given the relatively small number of games.
As noted Tuesday, Akers' field goal percentage has dropped significantly in large part because the 49ers are finishing a higher percentage of red zone drives with touchdowns, leaving fewer short field goals for Akers to attempt. Despite some recent struggles, Akers is converting at about the same rate on kicks from 40 to 49 yards. His percentage on longer kicks is down from last season, which was a special one for Akers in that category, to a rate more in line with career averages.
Davis, meanwhile, has received high marks from coaches for his outstanding blocking. He was a big part of the receiving offense early in the season. Davis has largely disappeared from the stat sheet over the past four games, however. He has disappeared entirely as a player the 49ers target in the red zone.
The 49ers targeted Davis twice in the red zone over the first three games. Davis caught touchdown passes on both plays. He emerged from Week 3 ranking second behind Moss (three) in red zone targets among 49ers. Receiver Kyle Williams had the only other target in those situations.
Red zone targets since then look like this: Michael Crabtree 3, Moss 2, Manningham 2, Frank Gore 2, Delanie Walker 1, Williams 1 and Davis 0.
Davis finished last season with seven receptions on nine red zone targets. Crabtree was the only player on the team with more red zone targets (15). Braylon Edwards was third with eight. Davis is too talented to remain in the shadows for long, in my view. I would expect his target numbers to increase as the season progresses. But my preseason expectation for Davis to pick up where he left off in the playoffs has gone from spot-on through three games, when Davis had four touchdowns on 13 receptions, to the opposite of spot-on in subsequent weeks.
Overall, Davis accounted for 22.1 percent of the 49ers' pass targets last season. That has fallen to 16.4 percent this season. The 49ers are targeting wide receivers 59.9 percent of the time, up from 53.2 percent last season. The target percentage for tight ends has fallen from 29.9 percent to 25 percent.
Those figures are from ESPN Stats & Information.
5hJason Gibbs, Special to ESPN.com
6hJason Gibbs, Special to ESPN.com