Red zone a dead zone?

After one quarter of the NFL season, the 49ers have the No. 5-ranked offense in the league. They are moving within striking distance of opposing end zones more often than just one other team. But they have just one victory to show for all of it. What's up with that? Coach Dennis Erickson and offensive coordinator Greg Knapp have a pretty good idea.

Knapp quickly points to one factor why the struggling Niners are not producing results representative of their lofty offensive ranking.

"Scoring in the red zone," Knapp said. "We have to get better on offense in the red zone."

No kidding. The red zone has become a dead zone for the Niners, who have failed to score a touchdown the last five times they've ventured inside their opponents' 20-yard line.

That covers a two-game span that resulted in a humiliating defeat at home against the Cleveland Browns and a lopsided loss to the Minnesota Vikings last week.

Against the Browns, the Niners settled for four field goals and lost 13-12. Against the Vikings, San Francisco had 372 yards total offense but only a meaningless fourth-quarter touchdown to show for it in a lopsided 35-7 defeat. The Niners converted just one of four fourth-down attempts in that game.

San Francisco had 19 offensive possessions inside its opponents' 20-yard line in September, just one fewer than NFL leader St. Louis. But the Niners scored only seven touchdowns in those trips. Their 36.8 touchdown percentage in the red zone ranks 27th in the league.

That trend contributed to a dramatic decrease in scoring ouput during the month. After scoring 49 points in their opener, the 1-3 Niners scored 24 points the next week, then 12 and 7 the past two weeks.

"Obviously, our red zone performance has been a factor in that," Erickson said. "Points is kind of the most important thing. All that other stuff (offensive statistics), it doesn't make any difference. You have to get in the frickin' end zone. We have to score points. We haven't been efficient in a lot of areas offensively."

Knapp spent an evening earlier this week watching the latest re-run of his unit's inability to produce touchdowns as it approaches the opposing end zone. He reached several conclusions.

"I watched it and evaluated it play by play," Knapp said. "Part of it's scheme. Part of it's execution. And part of it's change in lineup. We've had quite a few bodies up front and a new tight end (due to injuries). It's part of what we need to get better at. It's really a reflection of evaluating ourselves, not so much what the defenses have done to us."

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