San Francisco 49ers: How Can They Improve in the Red Zone?


Feb 3, 2013; New Orleans, LA, USA; San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Michael Crabtree (15) reaches for the ball on fourth down in the fourth quarter against Baltimore Ravens safety Ed Reed (20) in Super Bowl XLVII at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

The final drive for the San Francisco 49ers ended at the Baltimore Ravens’ 5-yard line. They had chances to punch the ball in for the go-ahead touchdown but unfortunately, things stalled in the red zone.

Michael Crabtree was the target on three straight attempts, but he will be gone for a good part of 2013. So, what do the 49ers need to do to improve in the red zone?

The absence of Crabtree means that someone else will need to step up. Anquan Boldin is the likely candidate but in the red zone, Vernon Davis is the one that will be counted on. The 49ers will need to line him up outside and let him get the defender on his back hip as he runs the slant route. He also can be a red zone threat from the slot.

Davis is very athletic and hard to cover when he gets position on a defender. He showed this in the Divisional Playoff game against the New Orleans Saints when he made the play known as “The Catch III.” He was able to get a free release and Alex Smith hit him just as he crossed the goal line. Roman Harper was not able to get around him to make a play on the ball. The end result was a game winning touchdown.

Another option in the red zone will be Colin Kaepernick and his ability to run. Obviously the read option is a threat to opposing teams. However, a good amount of Kaepernick’s runs came as a result of him being able to find a running lane when the pocket broke down. Teams can play the perfect defense and have all of the receiver options covered, yet still give up a significant run to Kaepernick. That is the threat that he brings to the table.

The red zone is a good place to get a specific package of plays for LaMichael James. These plays should focus on him running choice routes and screens. Both of these will get him isolated in space. As mentioned in a previous article, James can assume a Darren Sproles type of role with the 49ers’ offense.

The other option for red zone help will be the new tight end Vance McDonald. McDonald tested very well at the NFL scouting combine. His times in the three cone drill (7.08 sec) and the 60 yard shuttle (11.73 sec) led all tight ends. He also had the most reps on the bench by posting 31 reps. At 6’4″ and 267 pounds, McDonald is almost too big for most defensive backs.

While at Rice University, McDonald was in a spread kind of offense and worked mostly out of the slot position. He did an excellent job of breaking tackles and getting extra yards. He has a big body that will make it hard for defenders when he releases to the flats in the red zone. Look for him to be a factor in packages with Davis still in the ball game.

The red zone efficiency is an area for improvement for the 49ers. The way this team stalled in the Super Bowl was evidence of the shortcoming, but the ideas above are just some of the particular things that can be done to make the improvements.