49ers Know Team Has Offensive Problems

Jim Harbaugh says team is working to get better.

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    Jim Harbaugh says he knows he has to get his team scoring more touchdowns and kicking less field goals.

    The San Francisco 49ers don't seem to have much momentum heading into the stretch run after losing two of their last three.

    What they do have is a growing list of concerns, most of them on offense.

    Running back Frank Gore is hurting, quarterback Alex Smith had his worst performance of the season in Sunday's loss to division rival Arizona and the offensive line has surrendered 18 sacks over the past three games.

    There are also the team's season-long struggles in the red zone, which proved to be the difference against the Cardinals as San Francisco drove inside the 10 three times only to settle for field goals.

    On top of that, the NFC West champs have a tough Monday night game against Pittsburgh coming up next.

    Suddenly, the 49ers' grip on the conference's No. 2 playoff seed isn't as strong as it once was, though coach Jim Harbaugh doesn't seem overly concerned.

    "Hey look, we know there's going to be criticism,'' Harbaugh said Monday. "We know there's going to be why's for what happened, for what took place. ... and we're not going to talk about it. We're going to talk about it to our players, to our team, and make a real effort as we always do to try to address (them) and get them fixed. We'll take on those problems.''

    At 10-3, San Francisco is tied with New Orleans for the second-best record in the NFC behind unbeaten Green Bay. The 49ers have the edge over the Saints in tiebreakers based on conference record.

    Any chance they have of securing a first-round bye, however, could dwindle if their red zone issues persist. San Francisco has scored touchdowns a league-worst 35.6 percent of the time (16 of 45) from inside the opposing 20. The NFL average is 52 percent.

    The problem has gotten worse as the season has gone along, too.

    In their last 19 trips inside the red zone, the 49ers have only three touchdowns with 15 field goals and one interception. That includes Sunday's 0-for-3 effort.

    Harbaugh acknowledged he's involved in the red zone play-calling but doesn't plan to take on a bigger role despite the problems.

    "Offensively we moved the ball and then didn't take as much of an advantage of the turnovers and the opportunities in the red zone that we could have. ...,'' Harbaugh said. "There was a lot of opportunities to win the football game and we did not get it done.''

    A handful of players trickled into the locker room on their mandatory day off, and only punter Andy Lee spoke to reporters.

    Injured linebacker Patrick Willis declined an interview request, saying he would speak once he's back playing. Smith walked through but did not stop.

    Even Harbaugh was tight-lipped when asked about Gore's disappearance in the second half against the Cardinals.

    San Francisco's career rushing leader, Gore had 10 carries for 72 yards and was virtually absent in the second half Sunday after scoring a 37-yard touchdown early in the third quarter.
    "I don't have an answer for you,'' Harbaugh said. "He's got some (health) things. He's not 100 percent.''

    The 49ers managed only 78 yards in the second half against Arizona while Smith struggled all day with his accuracy. The San Francisco quarterback, who has been stellar most of the season, was 18 of 37 for 175 yards but completed only 2 of 8 throws inside the red zone. He was also sacked five times.

    That was in stark contrast to the way Smith played two weeks earlier when the 49ers beat the Cardinals 23-7. In that game, Smith passed for two touchdowns, completed 17 of 23 passes for 274 yards and compiled a season-best 142.3 passer rating.

    Harbaugh doesn't expect things to get easier for the 49ers in the coming weeks as teams jockey for position in the postseason.

    "You're the hunted now, you're not the hunter as much,'' Harbaugh said. "You have a target on your back. That's raised. Not saying it wasn't like that before, but that expectation, that bar has raised.''