49ers-Cardinals Statistical Preview: Laying the Foundation

This week's 49er opponent is the Arizona Cardinals, and-news flash-these are NOT your father's St. Louis/Phoenix/Arizona Cardinals. The unimpressive history of the Cardinals franchise can be summed up in two woeful coaching statistics: Don Coryell (1973-1977) holds the franchise record for wins with a mere 42, and the Cardinals have had only one winning regular season since his tenure ended. In comparison, the 49ers have had 19 winning seasons over the past 32 years, and have had 3 separate coaches win over 42 regular season games during that time (Walsh - 92, Seifert - 98, Mariucci - 57).

New Cardinals head coach Ken Wisenhunt seems poised to make a run at Coryell. Over the past two seasons, he's led the Cardinals to a 13-11 record, and, if nothing else, has awakened the franchise out of its decades-long hibernation. Although one might argue that an influx of talent has had as much to do with the Cardinals' resurgence as has Wisenhunt, this week's 49ers-Cardinals statistical preview will prove otherwise. Why am I going to focus on coaching yet again this week? It turns out that the Cardinals' house under Wisenhunt in 2007-2008 was built upon a foundation laid by Dennis Green from 2004-2006. One coach takes over a franchise in disarray, and lays the foundation for winning; his successor actually starts winning games. Perhaps there's a lesson here for our beloved 49ers?

SCOTTY, CAN YOU HEAR ME?

Below is a graph charting the Cardinals' overall team efficiency (DVOA) rankings from 2003-2008:

Dannygraph

After the jump, I'll tell you the hidden meaning of this graph, which provides a Cardinals-based clue about why the 49ers can't get over the hump. Also, I'll go over the relevant stats for this week's game, give you 3 bellwether game situations to focus on, and, of course, pretend I'm Nostradamus...

As is obvious in this graph, the Cardinals have shown steady overall statistical improvement for the past 5 seasons, starting during Green's tenure and continuing into the Wisenhunt era. In other words, the Cardinals' rebirth actually started when Green was hired in 2004. What's less obvious in the graph is that, while Green was in Arizona, the Cardinals' offensive and defensive units improved simultaneously only during his first season as head coach. This is shown by the trajectories of the green line and the red line. Except for when he took over the worst team in the league (2003-2004), the two lines went in opposite directions throughout Green's stay with the club. Contrast this with Wisenhunt's tenure thus far. As the graph shows, Arizona has improved each season on both offense and defense simultaneously.  Perhaps these differences explain why the Cardinals under Green were the perennial "sleeper" pick that couldn't quite get over the hump, while Wisenhunt's teams seem to have gotten over said hump. This, my friends, is what it looks like when one coach lays the foundation, and his successor builds the house.

Now, let's compare this analysis to the 49ers' current situation. Actually, I don't need to present any more fancy graphs because we all know that the parallels are obvious. Nolan took over the worst team in the league in 2005, and increased its win total for two seasons thanks to a simultaneous improvement in offense and defense. Over the past two seasons, however, in which the 49ers were a popular "sleeper" pick, the offense sucked while the defense improved (2007), and the defense sucked while the offense improved (2008). Nolan was fired because his 49ers couldn't quite get over the hump, but he laid the foundation of improvement for his successor (whoever that might end up being). Hopefully, the 49ers learn the same lesson that the Cardinals did, and they hire a coach that can get the two units moving in the same direction. Scotty, can you hear me?

49ERS-CARDINALS DVOA MATCHUP

Here's how the 49ers stack up against the Cardinals in terms of DVOA:

Team

Total DVOA

Rank

Offense

Rank

Defense

Rank

Special Teams

Rank

SF

-15.5%

26

-17.3%

30

1.2%

15

3.1%

5

ARI

21.1%

4

22.6%

2

1.1%

14

-0.5%

21

On the whole, it doesn't look like a very good matchup for the 49ers. They're 36.6% less efficient overall than the 4th-ranked Cardinals, which is slightly less than their previous disadvantages against the Giants and Eagles. We all know how those games went (By the way, you did read that right: The Arizona Cardinals are the 4th most efficient team in the NFL). In terms of the three team units, the 49ers are better than average only when matched up against the Cardinals' special teams (+3.6%). Against the Cardinals' defense, the 49ers' offense is expected to perform 16.2% worse than an average NFL team. Against the Cardinals' offense, the 49ers' defense is expected to perform 23.8% worse than an average NFL team.

THE DEVIL IS IN THE DETAILS

In my last statistical preview, I listed a plethora of game situations in which the 49ers and Seahawks played strength vs. weakness, strength vs. strength, or weakness vs. weakness. Looking back at it, even a stats guy like me started getting a little dizzy with all the numbers. Therefore, starting this week, I'm only going to focus your attention on the situations that involve strength (DVOA ranks  1-8) vs. weakness (DVOA ranks 25-32), which I'll call SVW for short (Hey, isn't that a Law and Order spinoff?). Aside from the matchup I already listed above (total DVOA), there are 3 SVWs to focus on during this week's 49ers-Cardinals Monday night matchup:

Situation

SF Rank

ARI Rank

SF OFFENSE vs. ARI DEFENSE DURING THE FIRST HALF

30

7

SF OFFENSE vs. ARI DEFENSE ON 2ND AND LONG

29

7

SF DEFENSE vs. ARI OFFENSE ON 3RD AND LONG

27

4

Again, this matchup doesn't look all that promising. The Cardinals aren't weak in any situations where the 49ers are strong. Uh oh. Well, I guess, on the flip side, there are only 3 SVWs in favor of the Cardinals. In any event, if the 49ers are going to keep this game close, they must perform better than expected in these 3 situations. Otherwise, this one might be over by halftime.

"WITH HIGH HOPE FOR THE FUTURE, NO PREDICTION IS VENTURED." - ABRAHAM LINCOLN

Given the statistical matchup between the 49ers and the Cardinals, but taking into account the fact that the 49ers will not be starting a turnover machine at quarterback, here's my prediction for this week's game:

San Francisco 49ers

17

Arizona Cardinals

31

**DVOA statistics used to produce this article were obtained from Football Outsiders.

X
Log In Sign Up

forgot?
Log In Sign Up

Forgot password?

We'll email you a reset link.

If you signed up using a 3rd party account like Facebook or Twitter, please login with it instead.

Forgot password?

Try another email?

Almost done,

By becoming a registered user, you are also agreeing to our Terms and confirming that you have read our Privacy Policy.

Join Niners Nation

You must be a member of Niners Nation to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at Niners Nation. You should read them.

Join Niners Nation

You must be a member of Niners Nation to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at Niners Nation. You should read them.

Spinner.vc97ec6e

Authenticating

Great!

Choose an available username to complete sign up.

In order to provide our users with a better overall experience, we ask for more information from Facebook when using it to login so that we can learn more about our audience and provide you with the best possible experience. We do not store specific user data and the sharing of it is not required to login with Facebook.

tracking_pixel_9341_tracker