If you love watching kickers line up for field goals, then you were a big fan of the San Francisco 49ers’ red-zone offense in 2011.
For everyone else, the Niners’ offense inside the 20-yard line often had little to offer except frustration.
Though San Francisco was 13-3 last season, won an NFC West title and advanced as far as the NFC Championship Game, the team’s red zone offense was perhaps its weakest link. Only two teams were worse than the Niners in scoring touchdowns inside an opponent’s 20-yard line in 2011, with San Francisco converting opportunities at a 40.7 percent clip – just 22 touchdowns in 54 red-zone drives.
While kicker David Akers prospered, breaking NFL records for field goals made (44) and attempted (52), and San Francisco failed to score points on just four trips inside the 20, the 49ers’ failure to come away with seven points while settling for three often was costly.
Now, with training camp under way and the team’s first exhibition game scheduled for Friday against the Vikings, the 49ers are spending plenty of time addressing their red-zone difficulties in scrimmages at their Santa Clara facility.
The Niners are hoping the addition of wide receiver Randy Moss, a tall target (6-foot-4) with good leaping ability, will be a big help in red zone situations.
“With a guy with his height and talent, you can throw it up and he can get it,” center Jonathan Goodwin told reporters.
But the team also has added big running back Brandon Jacobs, whom they hope can be a force in short-yardage situations, and wide receiver Mario Manningham and quick rookie running back LaMichael James, as well. Last year, it seemed as if quarterback Alex Smith’s options were few in the red zone as defenses tightened up and wideouts Joshua Morgan (injury) and Braylon Edwards (injury and then release) disappeared.
“We scored a lot of field goals, and that’s nice, but we’re leaving four points on the table,” Goodwin told the Bay Area News Group’s Cam Inman.
Offensive coordinator Greg Roman, who’s been overseeing more red-zone work this training camp, attributes some of the troubles in 2011 to the lockout-shortened offseason workouts and study sessions.
“We didn’t have enough time on task last year to be where we wanted in the red zone,” Roman told Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle. “It was a matter of execution more than anything. Last year, we had this much time and what are we going to be good at? What’s going to help you win? Where are you going to allocate your resources, allocate your time?”
Moss could pair with tight end Vernon Davis to give Smith a pair of big targets in the end zone. As Branch noted, when Moss set a league record with 23 touchdown catches in 2007, 14 of those were from inside the red zone.
Roman believes the offense will improve in this area in 2012. One thing the offense has going for it is the fact it has to play against San Francisco’s defense every day, a unit that was one of the best red-zone defenses in the NFL in 2011.
“It’s the old saying, ‘As iron sharpens iron, one man sharpens another,’ ” Roman told reporters recently. “When you play against our defense – from the front to the edges with our (outside linebackers) and our secondary and how they play and how they disguise – it just provides a great challenge and makes you better.”