Alex Smith

49ers’ red zone problems prove costly in Arizona

First, that was a weird game. Since when do the officials go under the hood and come back to the field to report that the replay equipment doesn’t work? I’m not even sure I believe that story, but it doesn’t matter. The 49ers lost their third game of the season, and their air of near-invincibility has decreased to an air of pretty-goodness.

San Francisco now finds themselves tied with New Orleans at 10-3 for that No. 2 seed, but even with the 49ers’ Conference record tiebreaker (49ers are 8-2 against NFC opponents; Saints are 6-3), their grip on a first round bye is tenuous at best. The Saints head to Minnesota next week before home games against Atlanta and Carolina. Unless the Saints lose their first home game of the season in Week 16 or 17, or Joe Webb leads the Vikings to a miraculous upset next Sunday, they’re going to win out.

The 49ers looked like they were a near-lock to go 13-3 before Thanksgiving when they were 9-1, and now winning in Seattle seems like a tough enough hill to climb, let alone winning next Monday against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

So what happened? I’m still not even sure, but here’s what we noticed at Casa de Rent Control, otherwise known as our apartment. That’s where we watched this less-than-stellar game with friends and family while celebrating my buddy Sean’s birthday (today) and mine (in a few days).

Passing game = failing grade

— The 49ers’ offense isn’t ready for prime time. Scrap that — their passing offense isn’t ready for prime time, mid-day or early in the morning.

— I would have to get my Singletary on and watch the film to know for sure, but I have a hard time remember an Alex Smith completion that traveled 10 yards or more downfield (in the air).

— Did the 49ers give Braylon Edwards a playbook this season? It’s hard to tell which is slower, Edwards’ routes or his thought process while “running” said routes.

— You know how when people watch the Saints or Packers and marvel at how many weapons they have to throw to? The Niners looked like the opposite of that in Arizona. Their weapons through the air included Michael Crabtree, Kyle Williams and not much else, and Crabtree and Williams were like weapons with silencers attached.

— Smith had several problems this game:

  1. He was sacked 5 times and hurried/hit on several other occasions.
  2. Again and again, Smith either has passes knocked down at the line or scrimmage or his throwing motion’s altered by oncoming pass rushers.
  3. Avoiding interceptions is great, as long as you muster at least 5 yards per pass attempt (Smith averaged 4.7 Y/A on Sunday).

Red zone trauma

— According to Team Rankings, the 49ers are now the worst team in the NFL at scoring touchdowns after reaching the red zone.

— It’s a strange problem for the team, since Jim Harbaugh and his staff are thought to be an infinitely more creative group than their predecessors on the offensive side, and the Niners have two above average receiving tight ends that should give Smith some targets to work with.

— But every time they get in 1st-and-goal range, it seems to go like this: they throw it to one side of the end zone to a wide receiver’s back shoulder on first down, then call a running play that goes nowhere before throwing a fade to the other side of the end zone from where they threw it on first down. Where are the tight ends when the 49ers get close to paydirt?

— We’re at the point now where it isn’t a joke to complain about stuff like Ted Ginn returning a punt to the 4-yard-line or Dashon Goldson (who made a huge error trying to fight Larry Fitzgerald for a “three flies up” kind of pass, which is Fitzgerald’s specialty) taking an interception to the 16. C’mon guys, you’re our only hope! Take it to the house! It’s not funny because it’s true…

Credit where it’s due

— Just to get this out of the way, even though the 49ers suffered through some strange officiating decisions and the defense missed a few tackles without Patrick Willis, the Cardinals’ defense has become pretty, pretty, pretty good.

What’s going on with Gore? 

— Only 10 carries, even though he gained 72 yards (going over 1,000 for the year) and ran for a 37-yard touchdown. Tim Kawakami tweeted something even scarier than 3rd-and-goal for the 49ers after the game:

(Small caveat: I’ve seen Gore limp off the field after practice, so maybe he limps around like that whenever he doesn’t have the rock in his hands.)

Defending the defense and special teams

— Sure, John Skelton showed off a side of his game Niners fans haven’t seen before (in disbelief, I started calling him “Productive” John Skelton during the second half), and indeed he threw for 282 yards and 3 touchdowns. However…

— The 49ers held the Cardinals to 3-of-14 on third down conversions (which only looked somewhat reasonable because the Niners’ offense went 3-for-17).

— The Cardinals gained 2.4 yards per carry.

— Aldon Smith sacked Skelton once, and almost had him a second time. He also showed off his patented “non-celebration celebration,” so you’d have to call this game a success when it comes to the Defensive Rookie of the Year race … except Von Miller had a sack against the Bears in a game way more people watched.

— The 49ers forced 3 turnovers.

— Ted Ginn was great on returns and the 49ers’ coverage teams were downright amazing against Patrick Peterson, who in his rookie season looks like a bigger Devin Hester. Andy Lee’s net average on 7 punts: 46.9 yards per punt. Wow.

In all, the 49ers’ template (win the turnover and field position battles) worked out rather nicely, and until a strange sequence of plays (the negated fake FG, David Akers’ miss, then a quick TD pass to Early Doucet) it looked like the 49ers were on their way to another Akers-led victory. One could either look at this game as a harbinger of doom (the Saints are coming; the Niners can’t score touchdowns or protect Smith) or a necessary wakeup call.

This game gives the 49ers no excuses, because playing without stars like Patrick Willis is part of the deal in the NFL. They didn’t have a short week, a long flight or a mighty team on the other sideline. The Cardinals are clearly on the way up (winning five of their last six), but after knocking out Kevin Kolb on the Cardinals’ first series this game was set up on a tee. There’s still a lot of work to do — and now part of the fun of this shockingly satisfying season will be in seeing how the 49ers rebound from their first bad loss.

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12 Comments on "49ers’ red zone problems prove costly in Arizona"

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Sports Girl Liz
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Member

God likes Akers just as much as Tebow!

Stan
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Stan

When your hip is sore BASG-you walk gingerly. Look-I “outed” Huff and beer,Tim and his weight issues..and poor Russell..who I knew was a troubled soul. And you know ,I hate that these franchises -for gain- hide serious problems those athletes show.
And like I said..Harbuagh aint dealing with a chimp here when he repeats my sarcastic “Gore must be Superman”..
When Frank is 48 and needs a hip replacement..lets see Jim make a joke about that.

Stan
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Stan
Alex Smith? If the team needs three TD’s-he gives then two,etc,etc. Always has been that way. The only change so far is..no turnovers. That’s a good thing. The Raiders?..just a disaster. Without their best..the fill’ins can do nothing on offense. Bresnehen seems to get no respect from the players..he talks and talks on the sidelines..and Raiders CB’s STILL give huge gaps in coverage. Rolando?..no Butkis. Big,fast and ..lost. He goes left,the Pack went right-lol. Nope,Bresnehen knows football..he doesnt know how to teach discipline. One last of wisdom…Al’s love of big and very VERY fast?..He should have loved durable and skilled.… Read more »
Stan
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Stan

I have to laugh-Hue and coaches treats the players with kid gloves..and Then you see mighty Tom Brady getting cursed at -in public during the game- by some nitwit assistant coach!
A HoF’er..leading another win!..getting chewed out!
Hue should watch that-many times.

InquisitaB
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InquisitaB
This game was tough to watch. It seems to me that the play calling has been very strange recently. Was I the only one who thought that passing the ball on that last third and one was an odd choice? I understand that time was of the essence but it was strange to me that we didn’t try to run for that yard. I guess Gore may not have been 100%. Also, why when we run straight ahead do we not give defenses more looks before doing so? Where are the shifts? The motions?
Stan
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Stan

The special teams coach is sharper then the OC.
Alex for his career too-terrible red zone record. Either you have it or you dont at QB..Alex at his very best only has some of it.

topraman
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topraman

Its like Jimmy Raye is calling the plays again…

topraman
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topraman
End results are we still sit at 10-3, 1-2 in the last 3 games. We have won our division, finally, after numerous years of being a non factor. These games happen to the best of them. Look at New Orleans or Baltimore. Many teams get snake bit by lesser teams. The fact is The Niners ARE headed to the playoffs. If we don’t get the playoff bye its not a deal breaker. We have already shown we can win on the road. This team is still learning. It took Rogers 3 years of riding the pine before he got his… Read more »
Stan
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Stan
I think the general feeling is…Alex peaked and is now playing down-minus turnovers,and good for him- to what we have seen for six years. Look-I knew Sanchez would rise,and Alex would -if slowly- fall back to Earth..I said it and its just old guy’s wisdom. NOW-Alex has done what he’s done for longer then I thought,and if he ‘s 80% of that for the rest of the year,the niners could win a playoff game..N.O. isnt the best on the road..and after that..? A miracle is always possible with a strong defense having a great day. Hey,better chances then the Raider’s… Read more »
InquisitaB
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InquisitaB

Good points, topraman, however the team’s struggles are concerning. Even my girlfriend (who isn’t that NFL saavy) was noting that the Niners offense wouldn’t get us very far in the playoffs. She was very excited when a few plays later the commentators echoed her comments.

Stan
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Stan

At todays presscon-the reporters WANTED to say “Stan says Frank’s hip is the cause of his problems”…they settled for asking if Frank is “well”..and unlike when he mocked me..Harbaugh had no smile and said Frank “has problems”.
I would say a bad hip for a running back is serious problems..a problem that won’t go away. If he plays past this year-be surprised.
NOW you know why Frank held out on his contract.

devnull
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devnull
Apparently the Cardinals took a page out of the Ravens defensive playbook; or maybe the 49ers O-line & extra blockers simply can’t deal with a quick blitzing defense. To be fair, Staley wasn’t in so they had to use backups, but most teams are this time of year. Alex could have helped the cause by getting rid of the ball sooner, but it seemed like coverage was decent downfield much of the time too. The Cardinals have gotten their act together somewhat. I’m concerned about the Niners receivers — Crabtree has his moments, but not that often. Edwards may still… Read more »
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