Lost in the midst of the panic, euphoria, panic, euphoria of the Alex Smith saga (as well as the plain panic of the offensive line saga), is that the 49ers defense is actually better than advertised. More importantly, I think some of the rankings out there are misleading in a sense. Statistics may not lie, but they do need to be taken in context.
According to Football Outsiders defensive team efficiency ratings, the 49ers are 21st in Total Defensive DVOA, 23rd against the pass and 16th against the run. While I don't have a statistical argument to combat those rankings, I'd like to just use my own subjective analysis. When your offense is so awful (31st overall, 32nd passing, 18th rushing), your defense tends to spend a whole lot more time on the field.
I do recognize that we have some young guys on the defense and losing Manny Lawson was a big blow. While it's nice having a very solid defense, a major difference between this defense and a defense like the 2000 Ravens or last year's Bears is the ability to create turnovers. We have 3 interceptions and four forced fumbles. The Lions on the other hand have forced 20 (11 fumbles and 9 INTs)!!!! That can be attributed in part to luck, but good defenses know how to make game-changing plays.
The only reason I mention that issue is that if we're going to win games anytime soon, we're apparently going to need to some defensive scores. You don't want to rely on that, but sometimes you have to. The Ravens are coming to town this weekend and while they're not the big play defensive threat they once were, Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and company can still make plays. Speaking of the defenses, I came across an interesting quote. Mike Tanier, from Football Outsiders, does a rundown each week over at FoxSports.com and in his discussion about the 49ers-Ravens matchup, he had the following to say:
Before I post this, speaking of the secondary, I would like to throw one interesting little nugget out there. FO has a stat of DVOA vs. types of receivers. They have determined DVOA to date for each team versus other teams' #1 and #2 receiver, as well as other receivers, tight ends and running backs. The 49ers numbers aren't very pretty against #2 receivers (26th overall) or running backs (30th) or tight ends (30th). HOWEVER, against the #1 receiver? The 49ers are #1 in all the land. FO admits their selections of #1 versus #2 receivers is subjective, but nonetheless, all I have to say is Nate Clements is SOOOO money!