49ers look ahead to Lions, focus on solving red-zone issues

Matt Maiocco
NBC Sports BayArea

SANTA CLARA -- What you need to know about the 49ers' offensive efficiency – or lack thereof: The only time the team scored a red zone touchdown on Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings, they were not even in the red zone.

Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo escaped pressure, spinning to his left, then lofted a 22-yard touchdown pass to receiver Dante Pettis, who made a nice catch in the back of the end zone.

Because the 49ers had moved the ball to the Vikings' 17-yard line before a 5-yard sack, the offense was credited with a touchdown inside the red zone.

The 49ers ended up with just six points on their other three trips inside the Vikings' 20-yard line, reaching as far as the 1-, 15-, and 4-yard lines.

"It's just the same for every other team in the NFL, it gets harder the tighter you get. It always does. That's every team," 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said Monday, one day after his team's 24-16 loss at Minnesota on the first Sunday of the NFL regular season.

"Last year, I think we got better in the red zone as the year went, just like I think we got better on offense as the year went. Usually, a really good offense will do better in the red zone because they're really good. I think we've made a lot of strides, but it definitely does get tougher down there."

The 49ers return to action with a chance to solve their offensive issues against the Detroit Lions on Sunday at Levi's Stadium. The Lions were humiliated, 48-17, in the head-coaching debut of former New England Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia on Monday night. And the Lions could be without their best defensive player, pass-rusher Ziggy Ansah, who exited the game with a shoulder injury.

San Francisco faced a much more difficult task in the opener on Sunday. The 49ers were several missed opportunities away from showing they are a very good offense on Sunday against the defense that ranked No. 1 in the NFL last season in yards and points allowed:

--Running back Alfred Morris fumbled – he blamed his sweaty arms – at the 1-yard line to end one prime scoring chance in the first half.

--Pettis had his hands on what would have been a 43-yard touchdown pass, but Vikings cornerback Trae Waynes ripped the ball out before Pettis could secure it.

--Wide receiver Pierre Garcon made a leaping attempt and had his hands on the ball just as Vikings cornerback Mike Hughes bumped him to break up what would have been a 15-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter.

--Tight end George Kittle would not have scored a touchdown had he not misjudged an over-the-shoulder throw from Garoppolo early in the third quarter, but the play would have gained approximately 40 yards.

--On the next play, Kendrick Bourne ran the wrong route, and Vikings cornerback Mike Hughes made the easy interception of a Garoppolo's pass and returned it for a touchdown.

--Kittle had an opportunity to get into the end zone in the fourth quarter, but Garoppolo overthrew him on what should have been a simple 4-yard touchdown pass.

"I think it was very evident that there were a lot of opportunities we missed out there," Shanahan said. "I think the guys knew that before they saw the tape and after. A lot of that, you can feel two ways about it. You have mixed emotions about it because it's frustrating when you let opportunities go, but also when you come in feeling like crap after a loss like you always do, it's also good to see that you're capable of doing a lot better. We can see that and we've just got to do it."

The design of the offense appeared to allow Garoppolo and his intended targets some opportunities to capitalize with touchdowns. But the 49ers also could not cash in on four plays from inside the Vikings' 5-yard line, ending with Morris' fumble.

Shanahan said there are things everyone can do better, including himself.

"Every time you don't do well you look at," Shanahan said. "You try to get guys as open as possible. That's something I take very personally on every single play in the game. When people aren't open, I always look at myself.

"Yeah, you need guys to beat man coverage, and those are the type of guys we want here, and I think our guys have done a good job at beating man coverage. But we always look into that, for sure."

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