On paper, it looked like the San Francisco 49ers destroyed the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 33-14. Colin Kaepernick appeared to play great, throwing for 203 yards, two touchdowns, and running for another 39 yards. Michael Crabtree scored his first touchdown of the season, a welcome sign for a team that only had Vernon Davis and Anquan Boldin contributing in the passing game. But this game was very much in doubt because of the 49ers’ inability to score touchdowns in the red zone.
The 49ers were 1 for 4 in the red zone, settling for a Crabtree touchdown and three Phil Dawson field goals. The 49ers are barely over 50% in the red zone for the season, a puzzling statistic considering they have one the best running backs in the game, Frank Gore, a mobile quarterback, Colin Kaepernick and two quality receivers, Boldin and Davis. Crabtree should help in this area as well but in the last two games, the 49ers have settled for eight field goals. This is great for Dawson but the 49ers need to score more touchdowns, especially with the postseason coming in the near future.
This game was a one-possession game early in the 4th quarter against the inferior Buccaneers team, 20-14. The 49ers did not put the Bucs away until after Dawson’s third field goal and then the Buccaneers, inexplicably, ran a reverse on the kickoff. Eric Page fumbled, Kendall Hunter recovered and dove into the endzone to put the 49ers up 30-14. The only reason the 49ers dominated this game is because their defense and special teams were so stout.
The defense had four sacks and an interception, led by Aldon Smith. The special teams were just as good, kicking four field goals and forcing a fumble, resulting in a touchdown. The 49ers red zone offense was the problem on Sunday and has been a problem all season. The 49ers have shown no creativity in the red zone, usually running power with Frank Gore and throwing slants to their receivers. You never see Kaepernick running play-action or even designed runs, something he excels at in the red zone.
Many people have pointed out that the 49ers did not have the weapons earlier in the season for Kaepernick to excel, but with all of his weapons back, the 49ers continue to struggle in the red zone. Only Crabtree has contributed in the passing game with Boldin and Davis whereas Mario Manningham has been a ghost in this offense.
This is a huge problem for the 49ers heading into the playoffs and it won’t get any easier, losing fullback Bruce Miller for a season due to a broken scapula. Miller is Gore’s lead blocker and is one of the main reasons why Gore has had such a successful year. Losing Miller is a considerable loss and will force the 49ers to use more creativity on offense. More creativity will definitely help them in the red zone, which will be welcomed by all 49er fans.
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