SANTA CLARA -- How is it that the 49ers are so bad in the red zone and they're still NFC West champions with a 10-3 record?As bad as they are on offense, they've been that good on defense. The 49ers own the league's best red-zone defense."We've done a good job of playing the run," 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said. "Most good red-zone offenses start with a good running game and we've been able to play the run down there well. And then when it comes time to pass, we've done a good job with covering up the receivers and getting some good rush. It's just a combination of good players doing the right thing."The 49ers' defense inside the opponent's 20-yard line is the major reason the 49ers left Philadelphia with a 24-23 victory on Oct. 2. The Eagles got inside the 20-yard line seven times and came away with only two touchdowns. The run defense has led the way, allowing just 1.99 yards per rushing attempt in the red zone. The 49ers are the first team since the 1920 Decatur Staleys to not allow a rushing touchdown in the first 13 games of a season.The 49ers have allowed the opposition to enter their own 20-yard line just 28 times. The defense has given up just 10 touchdowns for a league-best defensive percentage of 35.7. Opponents have settled for 13 field goals.Most of the attention has gone to the 49ers' failures inside the red zone. And that's where the 49ers turned a lot of their own attention this week as they prepare to face the Pittsburgh Steelers on Monday night. On a typical week, the 49ers spend time in two practices on their red-zone game plan. This week, they spent three days working on it, 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said.No team in the NFL is worse than the 49ers inside the opponents' 20-yard line. The 49ers have gotten into the red zone 45 times. They've scored just 16 touchdowns -- for a lowly 35.6 percentage. (The league average is 52 percent.) But with 25 field goals, the 49ers have actually scored 91.1 percent of the time they get that far. That's tied for fifth-best in the league.Some might wonder if the 49ers' offense works against the 49ers' defense during practice. The answer is no. Once the regular season begins, the first-team offense does not go up against the first-team defense. Coaches have determined it is much more beneficial to prepare for the upcoming opponent with "scout" teams comprised of backups and practice-squad players that try to replicate what the opposition will try to do.
The 49ers on Thursday released nose tackle Ian Williams off the reserve/non-football injury list with an injury settlement.
The move, which was disclosed on the NFL, daily transaction report, is a procedural move, according to sources. It allows the 49ers to provide Williams with more compensation than he would have received if he had remained on reserve/non-football injury for the entire season. The move does not preclude the 49ers from re-signing Williams in the future.
The 49ers originally agreed to a five-year contract extension with Williams in the offseason. However, the contract was amended to a one-year deal after he underwent a team physical after undergoing surgery on his left leg.
Williams, 26, is a five-year NFL veteran. He originally signed with the 49ers as an undrafted rookie from Notre Dame in 2011.
He played his first 16-game season in 2015. He ranked third on the 49ers with 85 total tackles, according to the stats compiled by the coaching staff.
Williams took over as the 49ers’ starting nose tackle in 2013 after the free-agent departure of Isaac Sopoaga.
But he started just 10 games over the next two seasons due to two fractures of his lower leg.
Chip Kelly's offense with the 49ers is his slowest-paced version of his four NFL seasons.
“I think that’s what fits with this group of guys we have on the offensive side of the ball,” Kelly said this week.
Kelly did not expound on that thought. But it could be safe to assume his thinking is the same reason why it does not make sense to enter a Ford Pinto to race against pro stock dragsters.
The 49ers’ offense is running more plays this season. The 49ers snap the ball every 24.4 seconds on offense. That’s down from 26.1 seconds last season, and 29.7 seconds in Jim Harbaugh’s final season in 2014.
Last season in Philadelphia, Kelly’s team snapped the ball every 22.6 seconds. In Kelly’s final season at Oregon in 2012, the Ducks snapped the ball every 20.5 seconds.
“I don’t think we’re playing fast right now,” Kelly said. “So if someone said, ‘How are you playing offensively?’ I don’t think we’re playing fast offensively. I think we’re just not going back (to huddle). We’re saving seven yards of run time for our offensive line because they don’t have to run back in the huddle, get a play called and then do it.
“We’re just calling it at the line of scrimmage. So I think it’s a lot of what Denver used to do when Peyton (Manning) was there. But there’s a lot of times that we’re under 15 seconds when we’re snapping the ball and getting the play off. So we’re not playing fast and we’re not calling tempo-type plays in those situations. We’re just calling plays.”
Kelly said part of the problem is that the 49ers are not converting third downs. The team has a 36.3 percent success rate on third downs, which is actually an improvement over the 30.5 percent success of last season.
But the 49ers’ overall lack of offensive success this season cannot be camouflaged.
The 49ers are averaging just 4.5 yards per play. The 49ers have not averaged fewer than 5 yards per play since 2007, when Alex Smith sustained a shoulder injury and was replaced by Trent Dilfer.
While the 49ers are running more offensive plays than it has in the past, so is the opposition. The 49ers have averaged 64.3 plays per game. The 49ers have defended 69.9 plays per game – only 2.3 more plays than last season but 8.1 more plays than in 2014.
The biggest problem for the offense has been its run defense. The league’s worst run defense has surrendered 185.1 yards per game and is on pace to give up 2,962 yards this season, which would be the most in the NFL since the 1980 New Orleans Saints yielded 3,106 rushing yards.