Niners need extra push in red zone

AP file photoTake it all the way: Jim Harbaugh and the 49ers can’t continue to settle for field goals once reaching the red zone if they want to compete in the playoffs.

So the Niners are less than perfect in the red zone, which is football newspeak to describe when a team is within the opponent’s 20-yard line. And they rank 24th in the NFL in offense. Yet, only one team has a better record, so what’s the problem?

That they get field goals instead of touchdowns? When the other team doesn’t score, as the St. Louis Rams didn’t score Sunday, at the moment, that’s only a trifle. Now when they face the Packers …

Yes, that’s presumptive at the moment, since it wouldn’t be until the playoffs. Still, you have to think ahead, right? Especially since this weekend the team across the Bay, the Raiders, is going against the Packers in Green Bay, a game that should tell us more about the Raiders than the unbeaten Packers.

It would be more compelling if the 49ers played the Packers, but that will take another month, if indeed it is to occur at all. At Niners central in Santa Clara on Wednesday, there wasn’t a word about Green Bay or the postseason, only about the Arizona Cardinals, who San Francisco plays Sunday.

That’s for a second time this season, the Niners having smacked around the Cardinals, 23-7, only three weeks earlier.

“It’s my first experience doing this,” Niners rookie coach Jim Harbaugh said in reference to preparing twice for the same team in a matter of days.

He and his staff will figure it out. They’ve already figured out everything else. A 10-2 record, an NFC West Division championship and a rushing defense that statistically — and perceptively — is the best in the league.

Harbaugh was his normal mysterious and captivating self during the usual midweek session at which first he and then quarterback Alex Smith offered the standard “OK, we’re good, but not good enough” verbiage. No revelations. Some affirmations. A few chuckles.

“Don’t want to talk much about scheme,” Harbaugh responded when asked about utilizing the misdirection “fly sweep,” one of the plays which has enabled the University of Oregon to shock and awe, unless it was facing LSU or USC.

“It’s a way to attack the defense from the side,” Harbaugh said, “when they want to squeeze the gaps down on the tackles.”

Smith, the quarterback, can handle any offense, having run the spread at Utah and then under all those coordinators with the 49ers since 2005 learning whatever was required.

What he’s learned this season is success, a wonderful alternative to what he and the team had known — even when the Niners can’t get touchdowns. Funny, isn’t it, how the repetitive grumbling about Alex being the first player taken in the 2005 draft no longer is present?

He’s efficient — seventh in the NFL passer rankings; seventh among fourth-quarter passing leaders. He’s ahead of Ben Roethlisberger, ahead of Matt Ryan. The 49ers are ahead of all but the Packers.

“It’s frustrating, but it’s encouraging,” Smith said of a 10-2 record for a team unable to score in close games. “We’re kind of still scratching at it.

“There are lot of good things. I feel we’re kind of forming and becoming what our potential is, and that’s kind of encouraging as well. We’re getting better.”

That’s the whole idea.

 

Art Spander has been covering Bay Area sports since 1965 and also writes on www.artspander.com and www.realclearsports.com. Email him at typoes@aol.com.

 

GAME DAY

49ers (10-2)vs. Cardinals (5-7)

WHEN: Sunday, 1:05 p.m.

WHERE: University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Ariz.

TV: Fox (KTVU, Ch. 2)

RADIO: KNBR (680 AM), KSAN (107.7 FM)

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