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49ers Red Zone Efficiency...or lack thereof

First off, to be perfectly honest, I got the idea for this post from Turf Show Times.  His title was a little more original, but I think we'll survive here.  You always hear how important red zone efficiency is, so let's take a look at the 49ers red zone results and what to look for in 2007, courtesy of Football Outsiders.

Football Outsiders uses their traditional Defense-adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA) to break down each team's performance across various portions of the field including the red zone.  In 2006, the 49ers red zone performance was mediocre at best.  The team's overall DVOA in the red zone was -15.1%, good for 22nd overall and last in the NFC West.  Their DVOA when it came to red zone passing was -6.4% (15th overall).  When it came to red zone rushing, it was -20.5% (27th overall).

Considering the 49ers lost 3 games by a touchdown or less, improved red zone efficiency will probably be one of the differences in 2007 between making the playoffs and sitting at home again in January.  Clearly the team is improved from last year, but it's still a bit disconcerting that the running game ranked so low in the red zone.  Is that where the lack of running back depth hurts us?  The top teams in red zone rushing DVOA were:

  1. San Diego
  2. Jacksonville
  3. New Orleans
  4. New England
  5. Houston
  6. Cincinnati
  7. Tennessee
  8. New York Giants
Of those 8, all but Houston and Tennessee roll out a serious run game.  Jax, NO, NE, Cincy and the Giants roll out a serious 1-2 punch at running back, something the 49ers clearly do not...And I'm really not sure how Houston ended up on this list, but we'll just ignore them for now.  Feel free to comment on the Texans ranking if you want.

Will a combination of Hicks, year 2 of the Robinson project and Thomas Clayton be enough to bump up the efficiency?  It's too early to tell but I'm not holding my breath yet.  Unless Robinson makes a solid leap this year, I'd expect it to be at least a year before the depth becomes truly established.  I bet that equally as important is if the passing game develops further in the red zone.  If teams are forced to play DJax an our TEs more honestly, the running game could be opened up further.  Jackson, Lelie and Hill are great for stretching the field, but will be key components in the red zone.