In 2018, the San Francisco 49ers were the worst team in the red zone in the NFL. They only converted 41% of their drives into touchdowns. Those struggles continued Week 1 against Tampa Bay, as the Niners offense stalled each time going 0-3. Jimmy Garoppolo and company bounced back in a major way Week 2, going 3-5 in the red zone. One of those attempts came on a two-minute drive towards the end of the half. Let’s take a look at their red-zone possessions and see why the 49ers were able to be successful.
Players, not plays
So many offensive coordinators get too cute on the most critical downs. Football is simple. Give the ball to your best player, and trust that he will put you in the right situation. That’s what Kyle Shanahan did on the 49ers’ first red-zone possession. It’s 1st & 10 from the 15-yard line. Nothing fancy, a simple play-action pass where George Kittle sneaks behind the offensive line. Kittle caught the pass at the 15-yard line and ran nine yards for a first down. The Bengals linebacker didn’t stand a chance to keep up. It was an easy pitch and catch, and now the 49ers had 2nd & 1 from the six-yard line.
Jeff Wilson, who is apparently the team’s goalline running back, scored two carries later. That was easy.
Picks and Rubs
On the next red zone possession, the 49ers have the ball on the Bengals 16-yard line going in, and it’s 2nd & 1 after a Raheem Mostert nine-yard run. Shanahan stays in 22 personnel, but he goes empty. Here’s the route combination.
That is Kyle Juszczyk lined up in the slot to the top of the screen next to inline tight end Levine Toilolo, and Mostert to the top of the screen. So the Bengals are in their base defense. At this point in the game, Cincy’s linebackers look like they’re running through water trying to keep up with the 49ers skill players. This play is a simple design to run off the coverage and get Mostert in space. Juice takes an outside release and tries to initiate contact with any defender that stays with Mostert, and this is how it turns out:
The defense runs with the four verticals, leaving Mostert with all the space in the world underneath. Let’s skip to two plays later, when it’s 2nd & 2 from the two-yard line.
Marquise Goodwin is going to run a curl route, but he’s purposely trying to pick off Deebo Samuel’s defender. The Bengals have a mix-up, and Deebo Samuel finds himself wide open for his first career touchdown.
The execution was quite a bit better Week 2 for the 49ers.
Close, but no cigar
The other 49ers’ possession in the red zone came on a 3rd & 2 from the 20-yard line. That was the out route to Richie James, who was open, but Jimmy was a half count late, and that’s all it took. The ball placement was perfect. If you want to play Monday Morning quarterback, he should probably throw this to Deebo for his second touchdown of the day.
My only issue is not going for it on fourth down, but that’s an entirely different discussion.
The final red zone possession came late in the third quarter, following a 20-yard run by Mostert that put the Niners on the Bengals 13-yard line. Two runs later, and Wilson scores again. When the offense executes and doesn’t shoot themselves in the foot with a penalty, they’re going to be tough to stop this year.