Niners getting burned in red zone

The 49ers have staggered after getting off to a fast start this season. Through the first three games of the season, most of the 49ers' concerns have been on the offensive side of the ball. And if there has been one theme for the 49ers'offense this season it has been their inability to stick the ball in the end zone when they had been presented with golden opportunities.

The 49ers are second in the league at forcing turnovers this season, with 11 takeaways in three games. But the offense has little to show for the great field position.

"We all saw the opportunities that we had offensively throughout the whole game in the red zone," 49ers coach Dennis Erickson said of his team's 13-12 loss to the Cleveland Browns. "We just didn't execute like we needed to. It's a number of different things. It seemed like there were breakdowns in several different areas, it just wasn't one thing.

"We are just not making plays. We will make a play and then we won't make a play. Consistency is the best way to put it. We are breaking down when we get a rush on us or we do something in the running game, whether we miss a hole or a block, or whatever the case may be. Something just seems to breakdown and we have to become better in running the football down there."

The 49ers will have to turn it around Sunday when they enter the Metrodome to face the surging Minnesota Vikings, who have opened the season with three consecutive victories.

In an environment such as this, where the 49ers will be limited in their ability to change the play at the line of scrimmage, the team will have to find a way to get the ball into the end zone rather than always settling for field goals.

The 49ers have attempted 11 field goals on their 20 trips inside the opponents' 30-yard line. They have made 10 of those field goal attempts, scored just six touchdowns and been kept off the scoreboard four times.

Receiver Terrell Owens complained after the 49ers' latest loss that he is not getting enough opportunities to make plays in the red zone. He has caught just one touchdown pass this season, while leading the 49ers with 20 receptions for 244 yards.

But when asked if Owens had a case, 49ers quarterback Jeff Garcia dismissed his teammate's complaint. "No," he said flatly.

"There were plays that we called but based on the defensive coverage .... it's not like you can just call a play and say, 'We're going to throw it to T.O. in this situation.' You also have to consider what the defense is doing," Garcia said. "Unfortunately, they had the right calls for what we wanted to do and it didn't allow us to throw the ball in the end zone to T.O."

Garcia certainly has not ignored Owens this season, as 35 percent of his 105 passing attempts has been directed at the 49ers' superstar receiver. But Owens has been partly responsible, too. He has dropped some passes and seemed to back off at least four catchable balls.

The theme of not being able to convert in the red zone has been prevalent since the opening week of the season, when the 49ers blasted out of the gate with a 49-7 victory over the Chicago Bears.

Although it produced a huge offensive performance, the 49ers settled for field goals on five of their nine trips inside the Bears' 20-yard line.

Their problems reached the boiling point on Sunday when they were stopped on unsuccessful third- and fourth-down runs at the Cleveland 1-yard line on the opening drive of the game. Later, they settled for two Owen Pochman field goals on trips inside the red zone.

That ineffectiveness by an offense that was expected to produce big results this season has sent Erickson and his coaching staff scrambling to come up with answers. The 49ers generally spend a good deal of their practice time working on red zone situations, both offensively and defensively.

"I think anytime that you are not as successful as you need to be in any area of the game, you have to sit down as coaches and evaluate what you are doing," Erickson said. "Are you doing the right things, should you change some things, not change the offense, but look at what is going to be good for us down there (in the red zone). Then it is a matter of executing and we feel that we didn't execute like we needed to."

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