This post is sponsored by Comcast and their NFL RedZone channel. If you want to see every touchdown from every NFL game as it happens as well as live look-ins to all of Sunday's games in key situations hurry up and get yourself Comcast's NFL RedZone Channel.
We'll be using these weekly sponsored posts to take a look at some aspect of the 49ers red zone performance. The 49ers offense doesn't exactly get into the red zone all that often, but when they do get down there, they perform surprisingly well. Later today Florida Danny will be doing his weekly look at the 49ers DVOA rankings/performance through week 4. He provides the kind of detail I can only dream of, but I still occasionally enjoy looking at some small portion of DVOA rankings. I may not completely get the math behind it, but I know good rankings when I see them.
The 49ers red zone offense is one such ranking. Through four weeks, Football Outsiders ranks the 49ers 5th in total red zone offense. The team ranks 16th in red zone rushing, but more importantly, they rank 1st in red zone passing. No matter what the DVOA math tells you, that #1 ranking is certainly something to be pleased about.
DVOA takes into account a lot of variables in red zone success, but for now, let's go straight to what people are really concerned about: scoring touchdowns. Who has been scoring touchdowns in the red zone for the 49ers? One of the most controversial 49ers since TO: Vernon Davis. Davis has shown knack for getting past defenders and hauling down some tough passes in traffic. However, he's done it with the most precision down in the red zone.
One could even argue Davis might have a signature touchdown catch style. He'lll be lined up at the normal tight end position. On the hike he takes off for the end zone in what I guess could be called a fly or go pattern. He's going pretty much straight forward, so if you think it should be qualified differently, please let me know in the comments. The important thing in all of this is the way he automatically becomes a mismatch for whomever is covering him. Against the Rams, as he came off the line, James Laurinaitis had to pick him up in coverage. Simply put, there are very few linebackers who would be able to cover Davis in the red zone. The only example might be Julian Peterson of the Lions. When he was a 49er he shut down Tony Gonzalez in an epic matchup, although that was before his achilles injury.
In general though, linebackers don't have the speed to stay with him, even on those short routes. In the case of the Rams game, this gave him time to get a couple steps behind Laurinaitis. Shaun Hill lofted the ball into his outstretched hands and took us to the second advantage Davis has, particularly in the red zone. If he's being defended by a safety, Davis has the physicality to handle that matchup. In the Rams game, as he caught the ball safety Anthony Smith came in to deliver the big blow to potentially jar the ball loose. In this particular instance he was a second late and didn't get a big hit in. However, if you've looked at other Davis touchdowns, he's been able to hold onto the ball while getting cracked by a linebacker and safety. Result? Touchdown!
If the 49ers can improve their red zone appearances even just a little bit, Vernon Davis provides them with the ultimate Red Zone weapon. At some point teams will have to add a defender to him and that only opens more holes elsewhere on the field. And that is most definitely a good thing.