Too conservative? Looking at three-WR use

The first two questions Jim Harbaugh faced after practice Friday suggested his San Francisco 49ers weren't using three-receiver personnel groupings enough.

San Francisco hasn't exceeded 209 yards in a game through the first two weeks, leading to questions about the need to "open up" the offense or become more aggressive.

With an assist from Hank Gargiulo of ESPN Stats & Information, I've constructed a chart putting the 49ers' personnel use in perspective. It shows the percentage of plays NFC West teams have used three or more wide receivers, by down.

Game situations sometimes dictate to what degree teams use additional wide receivers. Teams playing from behind will use more wide receivers than teams protecting a lead. The 49ers held double-digit fourth-quarter leads in both their first two games. But in looking at the 49ers' percentages for the first three quarters, the differences were minimal.

Every team in the division except Arizona has played without an injured receiver who started or was a primary contributor. The 49ers have sometimes played without two, Braylon Edwards and Michael Crabtree. They also have two tight ends with uncommon speed, allowing them to better approximate three-receiver personnel without three true wide receivers on the field.

Seattle has trailed by nine or more points on 82 of its 111 offensive snaps.


2011 NFC West: Pct. Plays With 3+ WRs