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San Francisco 49ers' Struggles In The Vernon Zone

One of the statistics we often hear is red zone success rate both on offense and defense. It's obviously a small sample size type of statistic, particularly on offense for the 49ers in 2010. While the 49ers have struggled overall, in the red zone they've actually been closer to the middle of the pack.

According to Football Outsider's premium content, the 49ers offensively rank 15th overall in red zone DVOA. They rank 15th in passing and 9th in rushing. Frank Gore has found some success when the 49ers actually get into the red zone both in rushing and receiving, but the 49ers are so rarely getting into the red zone that the numbers are fairly marginal overall.

One guy who has always been a big red zone threat for the 49ers is Vernon Davis. His size and speed make him an impressive threat and it has led to the creation of a Vernon Zone, which is generally around the 30-35 yard line and in. Last week in the red zone Davis had a nice run after the catch in which he dragged a defender as he reached across the goal line. This was Davis' first touchdown of the season.

After his impressive 2009 performance, he's certainly struggled to find pay dirt in 2010. And this is witnessed no further than in the Vernon Zone. Last year he and his QBs developed a nice rhythm on a seam route that resulted in numerous touchdowns. Vernon would line up at the edge of the offensive line and burst off the line towards the end zone. Whether the outside linebacker opposite him was covering or releasing, Davis would blow past him into the secondary. Alex Smith or Shaun Hill would then fire a pass towards the end zone. Davis would leap up and snag the ball generally amidst two different defenders. Safeties generally can't match up with his size and so he would come down with the touchdown.

Given the offense's overall struggles, it's not surprising that defenses have contained Vernon Davis. They've bottled up the middle of the field for him and he is doubled more and more frequently. A year after being a nice security blanket for Alex Smith, it's harder and harder to make things happen with him when the rest of the offense isn't opening up the field. As we roll through week two of the Mike Johnson era, maybe we'll see things open up a bit more for Davis this Sunday against the Eagles.