San Francisco's fatal flaw

The 49ers' offense might improve if it turned to Alex Smith more in the red zone. Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

If you watched only the highlights of the Arizona Cardinals' 21-19 victory over the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday, and you saw Early Doucet and Larry Fitzgerald each score touchdowns of 40-plus yards, you could be forgiven for blaming the loss on the 49ers' defense. On the whole, however, the defense unit played well. The real culprit in San Francisco's defeat was an offense that again was at its worst in the most important part of the field.

Aside from the two long touchdowns, the 49ers' defense shut down Arizona's offense. The Cardinals finished with only 12 first downs. They went 3-for-14 on third downs, and San Francisco collected two sacks and three turnovers. San Francisco's defense repeatedly gave the offense good field position, but Alex Smith and company could do little with those opportunities.

San Francisco started four drives in Arizona territory and another at its 43. The results of those five possessions: one touchdown, three field goals and one missed kick. Three times the 49ers drove inside the Arizona 20, and three times they scored field goals instead of touchdowns. They tried three runs in the red zone for a total of three yards, losing yardage twice. Smith threw eight red zone passes. Six of them were incomplete, and the two completions gained only 12 yards. In a game that was ultimately decided by just two points, those failures loomed large.