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Kyle Shanahan assesses why 49ers have struggled in red zone

© Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

There is no shortage of talent on the 49ers offense.

Despite adding Christian McCaffrey and returning Elijah Mitchell to the ranks which already included Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk and George Kittle, though, the San Francisco offense struggled to score on Sunday against the Chargers, mustering just 22 points.

That 22-point mark is the team’s exact season average, which ranks 17th in the league.

It hasn’t been an issue with moving the ball. SF put up 387 yards of offense against LA, and their 360 yards per game ranks ninth in the league.

The issue is in the red zone. The 49ers were fourth-best in the red zone last season, scoring touchdowns on 64.41 percent of their opportunities last season. That number has shrunk to 54.84 percent this season, which ranks 17th.

That roughly 10 percent decrease is the clearest factor holding the offense back.

Kyle Shanahan acknowledged the issue on his Monday conference call with reporters.

“I think we need to be better inside the 10,” Shanahan said. “When you end up scoring only two times and you’re inside the ten five times, it’s tough to get more than 30 points.” 

So what’s the problem? Shanahan assessed Sunday night’s performance specifically. 

“One, we had a dropped touchdown,” Shanahan said. “Another, we had second-and-goal from the eight I thought we should have scored on a run. One, we threw a bubble and I think we shouldn’t have, which got us in the third-and-goal from the eight, that was the one that we dropped.

And at the very end of the game, I wanted to make sure they used that timeout. Probably would’ve a better chance of scoring if we threw it from the two there on third-and-goal from the two. I didn’t think that was worth the risk. I wanted to make sure regardless of what happened that they had no timeout, so that was the decision there, but I would say those three things.”

He pushed back on the idea that the offense isn’t clicking, saying the struggles are more specific to their red zone efficiency.

“When you ask what’s going on with an offense, why we’re not clicking, that was the answer. I think it comes to points,” Shanahan said. I think when you’re over whatever we were on third down, which is 50% or something, I think that leads the league by a ton. I think we ran for 150 yards, I think we threw for 250. I’d love to have that turnover back that we had.”

He didn’t have an exact answer on the overarching problem with their red zone struggles, indicating each game is distinct.

“But I do think there were a lot of things clicking, but you’re not going to get points if you move it and can’t score inside the 10,” Shanahan said. “You’re not going to get enough points, that’s for sure, but if you want to go to a different game, I can answer those too, but usually, it’s hard to just put it in a sentence because it does come down to football plays. It comes down to how you execute them, how you do things, how you play, it’s everything.”

Monday Night’s matchup against the Cardinals in Mexico City looms with substantial NFC West ramifications. A win would ensure the 49ers at least split the season series and end, at worst, with a 4-2 divisional record.

A win would make it exceptionally difficult for Cardinals (currently at 4-6) to find their way into the playoff picture, and would keep the 49ers at worst a half-game back of the Seattle Seahawks, who play the 2-7 Las Vegas Raiders this weekend.

If SF improves its efficiency in the red zone and continues to move the ball like it has been — with a Mexico City crowd expected to be overwhelmingly in support of the 49ers — it would be exceedingly difficult for the Cardinals to beat them.


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