3rd down defense? Might as well be first down

Over the last week I've been checking out Football Outsiders' Premium Stat Database.  They're eventually going to start charging for it, but for now, the Beta version is free.  Through it, you're able to check out DVOA rankings for various situations and in various parts of the field.  I used the database earlier this week for the analysis of red zone efficiency.

In the Melvin Oliver diary, sfgfan made mention of the potential improvement of our 3rd down defense.  Looking at the statistics, it shouldn't be too difficult to improve from last year.  The database ranks each team overall and according to 3rd and short (1-3 yards to go), medium (4-6 yards to go) and long (7+ yards to go).  The 49ers 2006 rankings were as follows:

Overall: 22.2% (27th overall)
Short: 9.2% (22nd)
Medium: 29.4% (27th)
Long: 44.1% (22nd)

Considering the lack of depth last season, it's very easy to see why the team struggled.  We had talented guys but no depth and especially young players like Manny Lawson and Brandon Moore, among many others.  The extra year of seasoning will obviously improve the youngsters.  Adding in Clements, Willis, Banta-Cain, Franklin and Lewis will obviously benefit the defense.

In reading what people were saying, I'm intrigued by the lineup we'll field in the nickel and also the potential for a 3-3 type of nickel along with a more traditional 4-2 nickel.  You could go big with our defensive linemen, or even go with a smaller, speedier line with some of our outside linebackers down low.  When Julian Peterson was around they moved him all over the field creating a variety of mismatches.  Manny Lawson is a different type of player than Peterson, but he can show versatility.  

Losing Melvin Oliver definitely hurts the situation, but it will certainly make things more interesting with Joe Cohen, Rayburn and others.  Consider it a crash course for them.  I was a little down on Cohen initially, but I'm certainly open to seeing how he performs.  And if things don't work out with the defensive line, I wouldn't be surprised to see us go defensive linemen in the first round next year.  I guess we'll see.

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