The San Francisco 49ers have plenty of areas where they’ll be seeking revenge in 2019. The most significant payback should come against the red zone. 41% conversation rate in the red zone last year was 32nd in the NFL, and 3% worse than the Blake Bortles led Jacksonville Jaguars. The season got off to a tough start. Against one of the top defenses in the NFL, the Minnesota Vikings, the 49ers went 1-4 in the red zone that game. Going back through and watching the game, I wanted to highlight just how correctable some of the team’s mistakes were last year.
Re-visiting the first red zone possession will make you want to pull your hair out. After a 9-yard screen to George Kittle, the 49ers took over at the 14-yard line. A couple of Alfred Morris 1-yard runs later, then on the third rush Morris coughs it up. The drive was over eight minutes. A 14-play trip with nothing to show for it.
The story of the season was the 49ers shooting themselves in the foot. Their first red zone possession was just that, a self-inflicted wound.
On the next red zone possession, the 49ers called a play-action pass that was well defended by the Vikings. Jimmy Garoppolo did an excellent job of turning the play into a positive gain. Kyle Shanahan liked what he saw so much that he called the same play. Same formation, same personnel, same everything. It was 2nd & 6, but Kyle Juszczyk couldn’t reel in a pass that would have likely gotten him to the five-yard line.
Third down featured a good play-call ruined by a wrong route. Here is the route concept:
Matt Breida is at the bottom of the screen. Judging by the route combination, you’d expect him to run a curl or a shorter route. That way Pierre Garcon, the receiver in the slot, has ample space. He did until Breida took his man into the play. Here’s the play at full speed:
Someone is wrong here. It’s tough to entirely blame Breida without knowing what the actual route was or if there was an adjustment that needed to be made, but another self-inflicted wound during the first game of the season. The 49ers shot themselves in the foot early and often this game.
Third times a charm?
After Dante Pettis broke the ankles of a defender and took off for 39 yards, the 49ers found themselves on the goal line soon after. Let’s fast forward to third down from the four-yard line. The Niners come out in an empty set and have the perfect play on. It’s Kittle 1-on-1 with Harrison Smith, one of the best safeties in the NFL. No matter who is on him, Kittle still has the advantage, as he showed on this play. Here it is:
That’s a throw that Garoppolo probably completes 9/10 times. He just happened to miss it on this throw. That throw was the 49ers 2018 season in a nutshell. The ball didn’t bounce their way. A great call, a great route, but the execution wasn’t there.
Fumbles, drops, throws that were off target, those are going to happen. The offense will naturally regress toward the mean with Garoppolo playing a full season, and having an improved offense. Finding consistency will be key in 2019.