As most of you know, I've been steadily reviewing the 49ers game film week-by-week. And in this extended process of analyzing, it's become overwhelmingly apparent that San Francisco could not put the ball in the end zone in goal situations.
In 2011, kicker David Akers connected on 44 field goals in 52 attempts (85%), which was a league-high. Akers made 11 more field goals than even second place (Mike Nugent, CIN - 33). Both his attempts and field goals made led the NFL; not exactly what coaches hope for -- they'd much rather prefer an abundance of PAT's.
Last year the 49ers offense simply couldn't score in the red zone, but they seemed to get there an awful lot because of the opportunities provided to them by the defense and special teams.
But there were just games where San Francisco had a 9-0 lead that should have been a 21-0 lead. Or they were in tight games where if they put the ball in the end zone rather than settling for a field goal, the game would've been over. And like I prefaced, they just had so many scoring opportunities that they weren't far off from manifesting blowouts by-weekly.
They showed that when firing on all cylinders, they are a unit capable of scoring points in a hurry. Take a look at how quickly they took over the game when Tampa Bay visited The 'Stick. Check out the second half of the road game against the Eagles, when the team scored 21 points in the second half after putting up only three in the first 30 minutes. Alex Smith led two drives of 77 and 80 yards in the 3rd quarter, capping them both off with touchdown passes to put San Francisco back in the game.
This offseason, the 49ers front office placed heavy emphasis on the offensive side of the ball. They went out and got themselves Randy Moss, Mario Manningham, Brandon Jacobs, A.J. Jenkins and LaMichael James; all of whom are scoring threats - some more proven than others of course.
With new weapons, an improving Alex Smith, developing chemistry and continuity in the offensive system, the 49ers have a lot of elements to combat last season's red zone woes. And according to reports out of Santa Clara, Jim Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman are "stressing situational football."
Daniel Brown reported from the San Jose Mercury News:
As the 49ers opened a three-day mini-camp Tuesday, the focus was on improving what offensive coordinator Greg Roman called "situational football." That means more work on red-zone plays and third-down conversions -- two problem areas that plagued the 49ers even during a season that took them to the brink of the Super Bowl.
Roman also went on to say that the offense is "not even close" to where they were last year, now given a full offseason with more time be hands-on, add and install. As a fan base, we've seen San Francisco continuously ascend since Jim Harbaugh's arrival, and there is no indication of a stall or regression any time soon.
The situational issues in 2011, namely the red zone and third down, will be much improved this coming season. Don't believe me? Just ask Bucky Brooks who reported from Niners camp last week, and sent me this:
@DeSimone80 Very impressed by the execution in practice. Balls didn't hit the ground and the chemistry between Smith and WRs stood out— Bucky Brooks (@BuckyBrooks) June 16, 2012
I understand that I can be viewed as an optimist, but logically speaking, this offense could turn into a top-10 unit in 2012. They've got the tools, they've got the pieces in place and they've got the focus. When they want to get better at something, they do. The entire offense will be strong this year, but the red zone issues should be noticeably better.
And with that in mind, with the scoring opportunities that offense is provided with regularly, the 49ers could be blowing teams out in 2012. There could be a couple games where they just come out fast and steamroll teams with the league's No. 1 defense that is now properly complemented with a proficient offense.
The ceiling is high for this team, so with hope for a strong training camp and overall improvement, the 49ers could suddenly become a powerhouse offense in the NFL.
Follow me on Twitter: @DeSimone80