49ers' pass defense sags on third down

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- The San Francisco 49ers' defense has been strong this season.

It played well enough to win in the past two games, losses to Carolina and New Orleans by a combined four points. However, there is an area the defense has struggled in during the defeats -- passing defense on third down.

In Week 10, Carolina quarterback Cam Newton was 6-for-8 passing on third down in the second half. Sunday, at New Orleans, Drew Brees made some big third-down passing plays.

According to Michael Bonzagni of ESPN Stats & Information, San Francisco's opponents in the past two games converted a first down on 45.5 percent of their throws on third down. The percentage was 32.5 in the first eight games.

In the past two games, the 49ers converted first downs on 30.8 percent of passing downs.

Also, the opponents' yards per attempt on passing plays on third down were 8.6 yards in the past two games. On first and second down, the per yards average was 5.5 yards. Expect the 49ers' coaches to emphasize third-down improvement on passing downs.