One of the running story lines late in the season was the struggles of the team when they got into the red zone. There was a stretch where it seemed like they should have just sent out the field goal unit as soon as they got there because nothing seemed to go right. In one brutal stretch they scored three touchdowns in 18 red zone trips.
However, over the last three games of the regular season, the 49ers have scored six touchdowns on nine red zone appearances. I can't say for certain what is the difference, but Coach Harbaugh did provide one possible explanation in his Monday press conference. He said that over the last three weeks, the 49ers offense was getting some work in against the 49ers defense in red zone practice sessions.
Normally the 49ers face the scout team, which is meant to simulate the upcoming opponent. In this case though, practicing against a solid red zone defense instead of just the practice squad might have been a key to improving. They did face the Rams this past week, but the Seahawks and Steelers are both in the top ten in red zone defense, so this wasn't just beating up on bad defenses.
As the 49ers head into the playoffs, red zone execution will remain key. Their three potential playoff opponents are an interesting bunch. The Atlanta Falcons are near the top in red zone defense, while the New York Giants and New Orleans Saints are near the bottom of the rankings. The 49ers will need to get it in gear no matter which of the three they play.