Red zone offense is 49ers' top problem

You can look at number of different areas where the 49ers offense is struggling. But the key statistic most emblematic of their struggles have been their inability to score in the red zone, where they rank last in the NFL.

SANTA CLARA, Calif. - The 49ers have been the NFL's worst team in the red zone and it cost them dearly Sunday. They were unable to punch the ball in for a score in the final seconds of their loss to the Rams that put them at 4-4.

With the exception of the passing game, which is being used at a greater volume thanks to the influx of new receivers, San Francisco's offense has been worse than in 2013 in virtually every other area, including the red zone.

The 49ers scored touchdowns on 53 percent of their red zone trips last season. That rate is down to 40 percent this year. They have been dreadful in Levi's Stadium, converting just 29 percent (4 of 14).

Here are a few reasons why:

--Vernon Davis led San Francisco with 13 touchdown catches last year, including 9 that came inside the red zone. This season, Davis has just 2 touchdown catches, both coming in Week 1 against the Dallas Cowboys. One from 29 yards out, the other from the 2-yard line.

Davis has been battling back spasms and an ankle injury for most of the season that he says will stay with him for the remainder of the year. On the 49ers' passing play just before Colin Kaepernick's fumble in the end zone Sunday, Davis was left in as a decoy run blocker on the play-action call and did not run a pass route.

Side note: Davis is averaging less than 9 yards per reception since suffering his ankle injury in Week 2's loss to the Bears. He was the 49ers' most potent deep threat last year, averaging 16.3 yards per catch.

--The 49ers have just 3 rushing touchdowns through half their schedule, putting them on pace for a whopping 6.

In 2013, they finished with 18.

Frank Gore has 1 TD, Carlos Hyde has 2, Kaepernick: 0.

Last year, all four of Kaepernick's rushing touchdowns came inside the red zone. Seven of Gore's 9 rushing TDs came inside the 3-yard line. Gore's lone rushing score came from eight yards out in Week 2 this year. Gore was not given a rushing attempt in the final moments of Sunday's loss to St. Louis.

--The 49ers were tied for 6th in the NFL in red zone attempts per game last year (3.6). That number is down 14 percent to 3.1, good for 17th.

They are not getting to the red zone enough, despite their overall yardage numbers being up from last season.

--After starting the season 6 of 6 in goal-to-go situations, the 49ers have scored touchdowns on 2 of their last 7 tries.

On a positive note for San Francisco: The New Orleans Saints defense is allowing touchdowns on 58 percent of opponents' red zone trips.

Next story:

49ers defense has a tough task against the Saints

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