The San Francisco 49ers are no stranger to a lack of production in the red zone, it's been an issue for several years. In their game vs. the Ravens, the offense stalled out four times and settled for Phil Dawson field goals. We are all glad that Dawson has been so reliable over the past two plus seasons, but touchdowns would make everyone much happier. Note: only two of Dawson's field goals were made from the actual red zone, from Baltimore's 8 and 12 yard lines. The remaining two were slightly outside the RZ from their 24 and 35.
There wasn't much talk from players regarding the need to get seven points instead of three this week after finally getting a win vs the Ravens, but it's not a forgotten topic. In the loss to the Packers, the 49ers visited the red zone twice and only walked away with 3 points. Torrey Smith had this to say after that loss:
That's been our problem the past few weeks. We need to finish down there. There's no point of getting down there if you can't get touchdowns. We have to get better at that and execute.
In Week 5, the offense played much better and three of the four 49ers' red zone appearances produced touchdowns. Of course that field goal created the point differential that lost the game. If the 49ers had scored a touchdown, the Giants would have had to go for two at the end of the game just to tie.
Six weeks into the season the 49ers are ranked 32nd in points per red zone appearance according to Football Outsiders, and only Seattle has a lower percentage of touchdowns per red zone appearance. Surprisingly, the 49ers have the lowest percentage of 3-and-outs per drive in the league, so the team seemingly can move the ball in-between the 20s (We are ranked first in something!).
So what is it about the red zone that confounds the 49ers? The problem is, there's never really one thing to point a finger at. The difficulty with the red zone is a shorter field and the need to make quicker decisions by the QB, as well as tighter throws into smaller windows. There's less time to let a play develop and a much smaller margin of error. Everything must be precise and that is exactly what the 49ers are not, at least not yet. There is, however, hope. Colin Kaepernick, who after the disastrous Cardinals game, was hesitant to throw into coverage, did just that with his 51 yard throw to Anquan Boldin vs. the Ravens. Boldin was covered but Kaepernick put the ball exactly where only Boldin could get it.
With rushing attempts, it's about the battle at the line of scrimmage. It's about the push of the offensive line which we know has been a challenge. When I asked NFL Films' Greg Cosell what the 49ers need in the red zone he had this to say:
From a QB perspective, quicker decision making, willingness to make tight throws, precise ball ball placement. The run game is most often about physically moving people at the point of attack. That's not a 49ers strength right now.
As mentioned before, this is nothing new to the 49ers franchise. In 2011, Davis Akers attempted 52 field goals, 18 from inside the red zone. In 2012 he attempted 42, 10 inside the RZ. In 2013, Phil Dawson attempted 36, 13 inside the RZ. Any points are a help, but in order for the 49ers to win games, they need to convert drives into touchdowns and they'll need to do it against Seattle.