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49ers-Cardinals Matchup Preview: Will The 49ers Ever Enter The Red Zone Again?

Normally I'd suggest that one of the more interesting matchups of this Monday's 49ers-Cardinals game would involve the red zone. The 49ers red zone offense has been one of the lone bright spots for the team. Football Outsiders ranks the 49ers seventh overall in red zone offense thanks in large part to a No. 1 ranking in passing down there. They rank No. 19 in red zone rushing. On the other side of the ball, the Arizona Cardinals have put together a very strong red zone defense as they rank seventh overall down inside the 20 yard line. They are 15th against the run and 5th against the pass.

Normally I'd suggest this would be an interesting matchup to watch. Of course, the 49ers failed to even get in the red zone last week in the shutout against Tampa Bay. Their best drive got them to the Bucs 33 yard line early in the third quarter, at which point Coach Singletary decided to punt the ball away rather than risk the long field goal in windy conditions. The 49ers never got that close the rest of the game and were shut out.

The lone upside to never reaching the red zone is you can't really hurt your red zone offense. That's not exactly something to be proud of, but it's amusing enough. The question now is whether the offense will be able to rebound against a struggling Cardinals squad. I realize we've been focusing on the offense quite a bit but that's where a lot of the frustrations have been this season. The defense certainly has done its best to annoy us to no end, but I really don't think it's been quite at the level of the 49ers offense.

Now we get to see how the Troy Smith-led offense will rebound (or not rebound) following serious adversity. Although it would have been nice to see Smith excel throughout the season and grab firm hold of the starting QB position, there is some benefit to his struggles last week. The coaching staff has shown a glaring lack of ability to adapt to things around them, so maybe at least we can see if Troy Smith will adapt in his fourth start as 49ers QB. The ability to adapt to changing circumstances is just as important for a QB as anything else.

I know there are people who are not sold on Troy Smith as any sort of long term answer at QB. While he may not be the long term answer, situations like this are a nice way to at least get some more specific current evidence about him as QB. Even if the 49ers season is going down the tubes, there are still significant issues that can be assessed over the final six weeks of the season. One such issue is getting a clear idea of what Troy Smith is to this team.