Field goals aren’t going to cut it for the Niners in the playoffs

AP file photoGo for it: Alex Smith and the 49ers need to convert TDs once in the red zone if they want to compete in the playoffs.

It’s time for the 49ers to raise the stakes, reduce the margin of error and find the efficiency.

When the Niners take the field against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Monday night, with a national prime-time audience looking on, they will have a stage that will provide them yet another chance to sharpen their ailing red-zone game.

The fact is the Niners really struggle scoring touchdowns.

They have 15 passing touchdowns, ranking 21st in the league, and 10 rushing touchdowns,
ranking 14th in the NFL.

The Niners have scored 28 touchdowns in all, which ranks 23rd among 32 NFL teams, while kicker David Akers leads the NFL with 36 field goals.

While all those points sound good, unfortunately, the ratio of 28 touchdowns to 36 field goals is not a good thing. It shows that the 49ers get into scoring position, but have to settle for a field goal more often than they score touchdowns.

And when it’s time to raise the stakes in the playoffs, the 49ers will not want to settle for three points when they have the opportunity to score seven. They can’t. There won’t be as many opportunities, and they’ll have to make the most of each and every one.

Think back to last Sunday when, time after time in the red zone, the 49ers were able to only come up with a field goal. The Cardinals hung in there, and when they did what NFL teams do — break off a big play — it came when they trailed 19-14 when their deficit could have been so much more.

In the playoffs, the Niners have to make the most of it if they barely get to sniff the end zone.

With Akers, they’ll definitely score the three, but they’ll need to put touchdowns on the board.

With Alex Smith, Frank Gore, Vernon Davis, Michael Crabtree — whatever the combination, the 49ers have to get the ball in the end zone. Then all they’ll have to do is let their defense play like it can.

It’s possible for the 49ers. The Faithful have watched all season.

It’s just a little bit further out there. That dropped pass? Has to be caught. That seven-yard gain on third-and-8 has to produce nine yards or more.

Between now and the playoffs, the 49ers are going to have more ups and downs.

This is the first year in a long time that the 49ers have been a good football team. They’ve got to get good at being good. And being good for 16 games.

If they’re going to learn how to make things easier on themselves in the playoffs, the Steelers offer the perfect opportunity at the perfect time.


Tim Liotta is a freelance journalist and regular contributor to The San Francisco Examiner. Email him at tliotta@sfexaminer.com.

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