SANTA CLARA – The 49ers’ red-zone offense was among the worst in the NFL last season. It was seen as an obvious area in which the team could improve this season.
But things have only gotten worse, as the 49ers are settling for field goals with much greater frequency in close proximity to the end zone.
The 49ers rank last in the NFL as they’ve scored touchdowns on just 38.5 percent of their trips inside the opponents' 20-yard line. Last season, the 49ers were 29th, scoring touchdowns on 43.2 percent of their red-zone opportunities.
Quarterback Blaine Gabbert had a solid showing in his second consecutive start with the 49ers. He threw for 264 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions in the 49ers’ loss to the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday.
Yet, he did not hesitate to answer when asked how he evaluated his own performance.
“I think the biggest thing that stood out was we didn’t take advantage of our opportunities in the red zone,” Gabbert said.
On the 49ers’ first possession of the third quarter, they had a first-and-10 situation at the Seattle 16. They settled for Phil Dawson’s 27-yard field goal.
The 49ers trailed by 13 points when they next took over. They had a first-and-goal from the seven, but right tackle Erik Pears was called for a false start. Again, Dawson was called upon for a 25-yard field goal.
“Any time you take a penalty or a negative play in the red zone it makes it tough because then you’re in second-and-goal, third-and-goal from the 10-yard line,” Gabbert said. “That’s shooting yourself in the foot a little bit, but they’re things that we can correct, things that we can control and get better at.
“So that was a positive, how we got down there. But, once we got down there, everybody’s got to focus and execute at a higher level.”
Gabbert should have an opportunity to improve on the 49ers’ red-zone numbers in the final six games of the season, including Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals at Levi’s Stadium.
With a more compact area within to work, Gabbert’s skill set appears to be a better fit for the red zone. Gabbert has a quicker release than former starting quarterback Colin Kaepernick, and he seems to be more adapt at anticipating when his receivers will break open.
“I think that every team has their red zone concepts, their red zone plays, their red zone runs for that week and the mindset when you get in the red zone, everything does happen faster,” Gabbert said. “So everybody really has to be on top of their game because those are vital situations in the game because you need touchdowns, especially versus a good team like we faced last week.”
Interestingly, although the Cardinals’ defense ranks No. 3 overall in the NFL, their red zone defense is last. Arizona has surrendered touchdowns on 66.7 percent of the oppositions’ trips inside the 20-yard line.