After their win against the Green Bay Packers in their NFC Wild Card game, I discussed one of the issues from that game that the San Francisco 49ers needed to address as they took on the Carolina Panthers. That issue was the need for the 49ers’ offense to have better red zone execution. In specific, I made the point of stating that instead of settling for three points they needed to find ways to score touchdowns in the playoffs.
Against the Panthers on Sunday, it appeared after the 49ers’ first red zone trip that it would once again be a situation where the team was going to be settling for field goals instead of touchdowns as they settled for a field goal to take a 6-0 lead at that time. What’s also noteworthy was that it appeared the 49ers were again going to fall into the trap of being too pass-happy once inside the red zone as none of their first three plays in the red zone was a designed run.
After that initial red zone drive that resulted in just a field goal, the 49ers would find a way to finish their red zone trips with touchdowns as they would score touchdowns on their next two red zone trips. This combined with what the defense was doing in taking over control of the game ultimately allowed the 49ers to enjoy a comfortable road playoff win. In their second red zone trip, while the 49ers were still pass-happy, Colin Kaepernick did a fine job of first throwing a pass which left the officials no choice but to throw a pass interference flag against the Panthers. On the following play, Kaepernick did a fine job of finding Vernon Davis in the back of the end zone for a touchdown.
In their following red zone trip during on their first offensive drive in the second-half, the 49ers’ play-calling finally took advantage of the team’s ability to run the football to score a touchdown and begin putting the game away. Even though there was a fumbled exchange on first-and-goal, the play-calling on second-and-goal, which resulted in Kaepernick scoring on a four-yard run, was an example of smart play-calling as they spread out the Panthers defense so close to the goal line and allowed Kaepernick to exploit a one-on-one matchup against cornerback Drayton Florence.
As they get ready to take on the Seattle Seahawks in their NFC Championship showdown this upcoming Sunday, the 49ers will need to continue to improve their red zone execution in a game where points will be at a premium and settling for three as opposed to seven could come back to cost a team later in the game. In addition to ensuring red zone trips finish with touchdowns, the play-calling must continue to be more balanced to increase the chances of success once in the red zone.