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San Francisco 49ers need to shore up red zone work ahead of Week 2 home opener against Lions

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Minnesota Vikings' Mike Hughes breaks up a pass intended for San Francisco 49ers' Pierre Garcon in the third quarter on Sunday, Sept. 9, 2018 at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minn. The incomplete pass forced a field goal. (Brian Peterson/Minneapolis Star Tribune/TNS)

By C.J. Peterson
Special to S.F. Examiner

SANTA CLARA — Moving the ball up and down the field was not a problem for the San Francisco 49ers during their season-opening loss to the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday. Scoring in the red zone, however, was.

In three trips inside of the Minnesota 20-yard line during Sunday’s 24-16 loss, the 49ers came away with only six points, leading to criticism of the team’s short-field offense.

“It gets tougher down there,” head coach Kyle Shanahan said on Wednesday, ahead of Sunday’s home opener against the Detroit Lions. “And when you have an opportunity and you miss it you will not have a good day in the red zone.”

Shanahan’s analysis of the team’s red zone woes isn’t far off base as the 49ers did, in fact, have a multitude of missed opportunities deep inside Vikings territory that, if capitalized on, could have changed the game’s final outcome.

Starting with their first red zone appearance, down 10-3, running back Alfred Morris fumbled on the 1-yard line which led to a Vikings recovery.

On their next trip, Pierre Garçon dropped a touchdown pass on the left side of the end zone forcing San Francisco to settle for a field goal.

To go for the hat trick of whiffs, the 49ers’ third visit saw Jimmy Garoppolo overthrow tight end George Kittle in the back of the end zone with no one around him, resulting in another field goal.

“I think if we make all three of those, which we’re very more than capable of making the higher percentage of the time than not, then we had a great day in the red zone,” Shanahan said. “But that’s the entire NFL.”

For all of the things that went wrong at the end of those trio of drives, the 49ers say they remain confident that their mistakes are all correctable with some attention to detail.

“It’s the little things,” Garoppolo explained. “We keep saying that it’s the little things that we need to correct and get right in a short time-period.”

Last season, Shanahan’s first as a head coach, the 49ers ranked 27th in the NFL in terms of red zone efficiency, scoring touchdowns on only 47 percent of their trips.

While that number was a drop off from 2016, when the 49ers scored on 68 percent of their red zone appearances, there is some evidence to suggest that Shanahan could re-establish that kind of success this year.

In 2016, while serving as the offensive coordinator for the NFC champion Atlanta Falcons, Shanahan’s offense scored on 64 percent of it’s red zone appearances to rank eighth in the league.

During the 2012 season, as the offensive coordinator in Washington, Shanahan had his offense ranked fourth in the league by scoring touchdowns on nearly 62 percent of their appearances.

Clearly, Shanahan has the ability to get the ball into the end zone, but due to the lack of attention to detail, as he described it, reaching pay dirt has not been easy in San Francisco.

According to Shanahan, he won’t be changing things up much in preparation for Detroit, who gave up 48 points to the New York Jets on Monday night.

“I’m not going to reinvent the wheel,” Shanahan said. “But we’re going to try and get better at that stuff.”

Injury Report:

• The 49ers have placed inside linebacker Brock Coyle on injured reserve after being diagnosed with what Shanahan called a “T-4 compression fracture” in his back.

Coyle was initially reported to have sustained a concussion against Minnesota but later tests revealed the back injury.

According to the 49ers, Coyle’s type of injury typically takes six to eight weeks before clearance for any contact.

• Offensive guards Joshua Garnett (toe) and Mike Person (foot) and wide receiver Marquise Goodwin (quad) are still listed as questionable for Sunday and did not practice on Wednesday.

• According to the 49ers, the team has reached an injury settlement with wide receiver Aaron Burbridge (hamstring).

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