In a division full of contenders, the San Francisco 49ers might be overly optimistic heading into the 2018 season. With the fast rising Los Angeles Rams and the always dangerous Seattle Seahawks, the NFC West is full of competitive teams lurking and waiting to take over the standings. While Jimmy Garoppolo clearly offers the 49ers something they haven’t had for a while, it might not be enough to declare themselves the kings of the West.
There has been a whole lot of excitement in San Francisco this offseason, and much of it has been for good reason. This team was so putrid before the trade that brought in Garoppolo last season, and we all witnessed the quick turnaround with our own eyes. But now that opposing teams around the league have had a full offseason to watch game film of the young quarterback and to adequately prepare for him, he could find the going much tougher this time around.
One of the most disturbing trends for the 49ers has been their red zone efficiency, which is a big issue for a team looking to make it to the next level. Even during Garoppolo’s five starts last year, the offense struggled to get in the end zone. They were pretty good at moving the ball and getting into scoring position on a consistent basis, but none of that matters if they continue to miss opportunities to score touchdowns. In those aforementioned five games, the 49ers had entered the opposing red zone on 24 separate occasions. They only scored touchdowns eleven times, which was only good enough to rank a lowly 20th among all NFL squads.
Unfortunately for the 49ers and their fans, this trend appears to be continuing into the current preseason. In the third preseason game, which tends to act as the regular season dress rehearsal, San Francisco had three more red zone opportunities, and they failed to score a touchdown on any of them. That’s right, they were 0 for 3. That’s simply not going to be good enough when the real games start in early September.
While statistics can only give part of the picture, this particular one should not be taken lightly. When the issue is a lack of efficiency in scoring opportunities, it means fewer points for the team and too many points being left on the field. That could often lead to a loss rather than a victory, and while that has obviously not been an issue to this point for Jimmy G, it could end up costing them a steep price in the long run.
There is no doubt that the 49ers are going to be a much better team than the one that took the field in Week 1 of the 2017 season. And with a full offseason under his belt, Garoppolo should have a better understanding of the team’s offense and personnel. Moreover, there are several other pieces that can helps them punch it in when they get close to the end zone. To be fair, their newly signed free agent running back Jerick McKinnon was not available to play in the third preseason game (or last season for that matter), and he definitely could be the x-factor in both the running and passing game out of the backfield.
But let’s not forget just how strong the opposition is in the NFC in general and in the NFC West in particular. If the 49ers want to live up to their lofty expectations, this is a key area they need to address immediately.