San Francisco 49ers struggling to keep quarterback Alex Smith upright 

Opposing defenses have had their way with Alex Smith on the road, as the quarterback has been sacked 26 times this season away from Candlestick. - GETTY IMAGES FILE PHOTO
  • Getty Images file photo
  • Opposing defenses have had their way with Alex Smith on the road, as the quarterback has been sacked 26 times this season away from Candlestick.

Jim Harbaugh attempted to stay positive this week following the 49ers’ second loss in the past three games, but realizes his team still has much left to improve on.

“We didn’t take as much of an advantage on turnovers, opportunities in the red zone,” Harbaugh said of the team’s 21-19 loss to the Cardinals. “And we’ll address that with our guys.”

One issue that has reared its head of late is pass protection. Part of San Francisco’s struggles have come from its inability to protect quarterback Alex Smith on the road.

Smith has been sacked 39 times this season, and 26 of those sacks have come on the road, including five against Arizona (6-7).

Harbaugh has noticed teams have begun to collapse on the offensive line due to the early success of the running game.

“Teams are aware of our run game,” Harbaugh said. “They’re scheming, attempting to stop the run.”

The 49ers have not run for more than 100 yards on the road since Nov. 6 against Washington, and have not had consecutive 100-yard games in nearly two months.

Frank Gore, who ran for 72 yards on 10 carries Sunday, is not 100 percent, Harbaugh said, which limited his carries.

The red zone has been a continual problem throughout the season for San Francisco, which is the worst in the NFL, having only converted on 35 percent of its opportunities. In Sunday’s loss, the 49ers (10-3) forced three turnovers and failed to score on three red-zone trips.

“We’re going to talk about it to our players, our team and make a real effort,” Harbaugh said.

The 49ers have not scored a touchdown inside the red zone in more than three weeks.

On the flip side, the one thing the 49ers did well was limit the Cardinals’ running game.

“I thought our guys played extremely hard,” Harbaugh said. “Defensively, we played the run better than we did the first time.”

Arizona was only able to tally 55 yards on the ground after amassing 80 in its last game against the 49ers.

The added pressure of already being the division champions has changed the perception of the team around the league, Harbaugh said, and it is something new for his squad.

“You’re the hunted now,” Harbaugh said. “You’ve got the target on your back.”

The 49ers have two more on the road after they host the Steelers (10-3) on Monday night, their first Monday night game since last season against Arizona.

San Francisco is tied with New Orleans (10-3) for the second seed in the NFC, but the Niners currently own the tiebreaker with a better conference record.

 

GAME DAY

49ers (10-3) vs. Steelers (10-3)

WHEN: Monday, 5:30 p.m.

WHERE: Candlestick Park

TV: ESPN

RADIO: KNBR (680 AM), KSAN (107.7 FM)

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Zack Farmer

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