Football Outsiders and the 49ers: Team Stats through Week 3

Welcome back for this week's look at how the 49ers' team stats rank in the NFL according to Football Outsiders (FO). As promised, I won't be describing FO's stats in detail here. If you don't know how any of the stats presented in this article are interpreted or how they were developed or why they're better than all other stats currently available online, check out my "Football Outsiders 101" treatment of these topics here. The only thing I'll remind you of this week is that opponent adjustments don't kick in until after this week's games. Therefore, like last week's, the stats I present today have been adjusted for all relevant factors (e.g., game situations) except what teams the Niners have played.

The Vikings game sure was a tough one to swallow. We've had 3 days to decompress and debate reasons for why our beloved 49ers lost, so I think, at this point, everything's been hashed out in that regard. From a statistical perspective, I'm curious to know how drastically the following developments affected the Niners' FO team rankings:

  • The OFF's 0-fer on 3rd down
  • The DEF's relatively good performance against Adrian Peterson
  • The DEF's relatively good performance against "The F-Word" until that final drive
  • Percy Harvin's kickoff return TD
  • Andy Lee's inside-the-20 fails

So without further ado, let's check out the stats and rankings.

After the jump, I'll (a) present the overall team rankings; (b) break down the offensive and defensive rankings by down, distance, type of play, and field zone; and (c) break down the special teams rankings by FG, punt, kickoff, punt return, and kick return units... 

OVERALL RANKINGS

Last week, the Niners were 18th in Total (TOT) DVOA, 27th in Offense (OFF) DVOA, 8th in Defense (DEF) DVOA, and 4th in Special Teams (ST) DVOA. Below is a table showing how they stack up after the MIN game (bold = top 8 in the NFL; italics = bottom 8):

Total

Rank

Offense

Rank

Defense

Rank

Special Teams

Rank

-13.2%

22

-20.2%

27

-9.0%

10

-2.0%

20

From Total DVOA, we can see that the 49ers dropped 4 spots. More alarming though is that they went from a positive Total DVOA of 1.0% to a negative Total DVOA of -13.2%. In other words, their performance in the MIN game took them from a slightly-better-than-average NFL team to a below-average one with respect to play-by-play efficiency. Compared to the other 3 teams in the NFC West, they're 9 spots lower than - and 20.0% less efficient than - the Seahawks, they're 2 spots higher than - and 6.2% more efficient than - the Cardinals, and they're 7 spots higher than - and 33.3% more efficient than - the Rams. Finally, they have the 2nd-lowest TOT DVOA among the nine 2-1 teams (only the Bears' is worse).

The OFF DVOA continues to be - well - offensive, dropping 4.9% from it's already-low level from last week. MIN has the 4th-ranked DEF DVOA, though, so opponent adjustments might improve the Niners' OFF DVOA once they kick in. Nevertheless, which aspect of the OFF is the culprit thus far? Here's a pass vs. run OFF DVOA breakdown:

Pass OFF

Rank

Run OFF

Rank

-2.4%

26

-28.1%

29

Turns out the Niners' OFF has been woefully inefficient regardless of whether they're passing or running. You'd think that if Raye is going to be so stubborn about running the ball, it'd be because the OFF is actually good at it. Yeah; not so much. In fact, if we compare these stats to last week's, we find that it's the pass OFF (6.8% better than last week) that's improving, not the run OFF (10.0% worse).

Unlike the OFF, the DEF continues to play efficiently, with their DVOA only dropping 0.9% after the MIN game. Yes, they dropped out of the top 8, but the 8th-highest DEF DVOA belongs to the Giants at -12.8%, so the Niners' DEF would have had to have played considerably better against MIN to stay in the top 8. Here's a pass vs. run DEF DVOA breakdown:

Pass DEF

Rank

Run DEF

Rank

8.0%

14

-40.6%

3

Based on these stats, it's pretty obvious that the run DEF is playing lights out. If only MIN would have called for a draw on the last play on Sunday; iIf only. Compared with last week's stats, the pass DEF dropped 1 spot (3.5% worse than last week), while the run DEF jumped 2 spots (2.4% better than last week). All in all, we can say that the DEF is carrying the OFF thus far this season.

Finally, what really accounts for the Niners' drastic drop in TOT DVOA is their nosedive on ST. Specifically, they fell 16 spots - and 8.4% - from a 4th-best ST DVOA of 6.4%. In other words, their ST DVOA nosedive accounted for nearly 60% of their TOT DVOA decline. I'll break down the various ST units a little later, so stay tuned to find out the cause of the nosedive. I think you can probably guess already, though.

DOWN-BY-DOWN BREAKDOWN

Just a reminder for this section: "Short" means 0-3 yards, "Mid" means 4-6 yards, and "Long" means 7 or more yards. Also, because teams go for it on 4th down only a small percentage of the time, such plays are included in the 3rd down DVOA stats. Below are the 49ers' Down, Distance, and Type-of-Play DVOA rankings through Week 3 (bold = top 8 in the NFL; italics = bottom 8):

1st Down

Offense

Rank

Defense

Rank

Overall

9.7%

15

-6.3%

11

Pass

9.5%

22

18.6%

17

Run

15.4%

9

-39.4%

3

 

2nd Down

 

Offense

Rank

Defense

Rank

Overall

-63.6%

32

-28.5%

6

Short

-47.3%

28

-12.9%

14

Mid

-71.1%

29

88.0%

32

Long

-67.0%

31

-67.7%

2

Pass

-56.5%

31

-1.7%

13

Run

-58.4%

31

-62.4%

3

3rd Down

Offense

Rank

Defense

Rank

Overall

-13.4%

24

10.3%

15

Short

-10.9%

21

28.7%

24

Mid

5.0%

12

-72.5%

6

Long

-30.7%

26

62.0%

25

Pass

32.8%

14

4.1%

12

Run

-115.9%

31

64.7%

27

First, let's take a look at the DEF. Compared to last week's stats, the DEF DVOAs are pretty much the same for 1st and 2nd down. Third down is another story altogether. The Niners' D dropped from 9th to 15th overall on 3rd down by virtue of the MIN game, going from an above-average -14.5% DVOA to a below-average 10.3% DVOA. And where is the bulk of the decline? 3rd & Long of course. After Week 2, the DEF's 3rd & Long DVOA was an 8th-ranked -60.7%. After the MIN game, it's a 25th-ranked 62.0%. That's a penthouse-to-outhouse type of relocation if I ever saw one. It's only 1 game of course, and opponents adjustments might change things, but letting MIN convert 5 of 8 3rd & Long situations - all via the pass - will do that to your team stats.

One last thing I'll point out about the DEF's decline in 3rd Down DVOA is the effect of the last play. Being that it happened on 3rd & 3, it had no effect on the above riches-to-rags story on 3rd & Long. In other words, it was only 3rd & 32 for our intents and purposes, not for DVOA's. However, it did have an effect on the DEF's Overall 3rd Down DVOA. Specifically, although 3rd & 32 up 4 points with 8 seconds left in the game would be the easiest possible 3rd down situation for a DEF, 3rd & 3 up 4 points with 8 seconds left is not too far behind. So, based on the DEF's drop in 3rd down DVOA, we see that having an epic fail in a child's-play-easy situation can really take its toll; which is exactly what a valid measure of performance should show. According to NFL stats, that was a run-of-the-mill 32-yard TD pass, being just as important as a 32-yard TD pass thrown in the 1st quarter of a scoreless game. No matter the situation, SF's DEF would have taken the same 32-passing-yard hit on their NFL stats, which tells you nothing about how bad they were on that play. According to DVOA, on the other hand, taking the ultra-low-difficulty situation into account, we accurately see just how much of an epic fail the DEF committed on that 3rd down play.

OK, now for the OFF. It's pretty obvious from the table that 2nd down continues to be their Achilles Heel: no matter the 2nd down distance or type of play, the 49ers' OFF ranks no better than the 28th-most efficient OFF in the NFL through Week 3. Furthermore, they're at best 47.3% worse than the average NFL team on 2nd down no matter the distance or type of play. What's interesting to note - and what might be fodder for the "Let Shaun Hill throw the damn ball" supporters - is that the only 2nd-down stats that improved after the MIN game were 2nd & Long plays and 2nd-down passes. Presumably, their improvement at these two situations was related because, even in a Raye OFF, teams tend to pass the ball on 2nd & Long.

It takes a deeper look to recognize something that's even more sinister with the OFF. Namely, just how inefficiently the Niners' OFF played on 3rd down in the MIN game. It's easy to look at "0 for 11," and conclude that the OFF sucked on 3rd down. However, as bad as that is, the devil is in the details. Try these on for size:

  • 3rd Down DVOA dropped 20.7% after playing MIN
  • 3rd Down & Short DVOA dropped 21.9% after playing MIN
  • 3rd Down & Mid DVOA dropped 23.6% after playing MIN
  • 3rd Down & Long DVOA dropped 17.5% after playing MIN
  • 3rd Down Pass DVOA dropped 20.5% after playing MIN

In other words, the only thing the 49ers did above "sheer suckitude" level on 3rd down vs. MIN was run the ball. Perhaps that's why Raye called a running play on 3rd & 6 with the game in the balance? Just kidding of course. If you want to see the anatomy of a 3rd-down collapse, here it is (in chronological order):

Distance

Yardline

Quarter

Time Left

Score

Type of Play

Direction

Play

Yards

22

SF 11

1

14:08

SF 0 - MIN 0

Pass

Short Left

Complete (Morgan)

1

1

SF 31

1

11:31

SF 0 - MIN 0

Pass

Short Right

Incomplete (Bruce)

0

1

SF 23

1

7:39

SF 0 - MIN 7

Run

Middle

Handoff (Coffee)

-1

5

SF 13

1

0:11

SF 0 - MIN 7

Pass

Short Middle

Incomplete (Coffee)

0

12

MIN 47

2

10:36

SF 0 - MIN 10

Pass

Short Middle

Complete (Davis)

11

9

SF 44

2

2:06

SF 7 - MIN 13

Pass

Short Right

Incomplete (Bruce)

0

2

SF 24

3

11:00

SF 14 - MIN 13

Run

Middle

Handoff (Coffee)

0

8

MIN 23

3

5:29

SF 14 - MIN 13

Pass

Short Right

Complete (Davis)

4

15

SF 32

3

2:50

SF 17 - MIN 20

Pass

Short Right

Complete (Robinson)

8

17

SF 20

4

4:22

SF 24 - MIN 20

Pass

Short Right

Complete (Davis)

8

6

MIN 49

4

1:41

SF 24 - MIN 20

Run

Right End

Handoff (Coffee)

2

Tallying things up, that's 11 3rd downs averaging 9 yards to go, with Coffee running 3 times for 1 yard (0.33 yards per carry), and Hill completing 5 of 8 passes for 32 yards (4.0 yards per attempt). In case you didn't notice, 4 yards per attempt on 9 yards-to-go per 3rd down leaves you an average of 5 yards short of the first down. Maybe a pass beyond short this and short that might work? Just saying.

There are two things I'll point out regarding the last 3rd down play, which many on NN have been lambasting. First, the 49ers had a very similar situation with 5:29 left in the 3rd quarter (i.e., the one in bold). The Niners had 3rd & 8 in MIN territory while protecting a lead. And what did Raye call in that situation? A pass, which ultimately was completed to Vernon Davis short of the first down. So I think it goes without saying here that Raye is more than happy to call a pass - to Vernon Davis no less - in situations very similar to the one encountered at the end of the game. Aside from needing 2 extra yards for the first down, there's really only two situational differences on that last 3rd & 6: (a) the 49ers weren't in FG range yet, and (b) the clock was a much bigger factor. The first point I'm trying to make here is that, even if you disagree with Raye's run call on that last 3rd down, you can't extrapolate that one call to an overall run-first mentality on 3rd down.

More to this point, here's the breakdown by distances:

  • 6 passes for 32 yards and 0 runs on 3rd & Long
  • 1 pass for 0 yards and 1 run for 2 yards on 3rd & Mid
  • 1 pass for 0 yards and 2 runs for -1 yards on 3rd & Short

Here's more proof that Raye is A-OK with passing the ball on 3rd Down. In fact, he even called for a pass on 3rd & Short, and, called for a pass on 7 of the 8 3rd downs of 5 or more yards prior to that last 3rd down play. So, again, the point here is that you can complain about that last call all you want; just don't attribute that one run to a general run-oriented play-calling philosophy on 3rd down. Now, as I said above, too many short passes on 3rd down is more likely the problem than too few passes. Of course, this might just as easily be Hill's fault as it might be Raye's. Is Raye calling for longer passes and Hill is checking down or is Raye calling for short passes and Hill is executing what's called? As we're not privy to the specific plays that were called, that's something we just can't know. Therefore, based on the evidence, it's probably best to at least give Raye the benefit of the doubt for the time being.

The second point I'll make in this vein is that, in the 7 passes Raye called on 3rd & 5 or more yards prior to that final 3rd down play, the Niners had 0 first downs and only 32 yards to show for it. So is it totally out of line - as Mike Singletary said in his Monday presser - for Raye (and Singletary) to think that their run call on 3rd & 6 at the end had a better chance of achieving the first down than did a pass? It wasn't like SF was burning it up on 3rd down passes the whole game. On the contrary, Hill and company were pretty inept when previously given the chance to pass on 3rd down. Now, granted, 3rd down runs were even less successful, so I'm not saying running the ball there was the right call (although unsuccessful runs came on the super-obvious run down, 3rd & Short). I'm simply saying that, given what transpired in the game on previous 3rd downs - not to mention the clock situation - running the ball in that situation wasn't the wrong call either. Raye could have called a run or a pass on that play, and it was unlikely to work either way given the 49ers' abysmal 3rd-down performance throughout the game.

FIELD ZONE RANKINGS

Again, just to remind you, for the OFF rankings in the table below, "Deep" means inside SF's 20 yard line, "Back" means between SF's 20 and 39, "Midfield" means between SF's 40 and their opponents' 40, "Front" means between their opponents' 39 and 20, "Red Zone" means inside their opponents' 20, and "Goal-to-Go" means inside their opponents' 10. These are reversed for DEF rankings such that, for example, "Red Zone" means the opponent has the ball inside SF's 20 yard line. Here are the rankings:

Field Zone

Offense

Rank

Defense

Rank

Deep

-49.2%

29

-33.6%

6

Back

-18.9%

27

-9.2%

10

Midfield

-25.5%

31

-23.0%

4

Front

-14.8%

22

18.2%

20

Red Zone Pass

69.8%

8

4.5%

16

Red Zone Run

9.4%

12

7.2%

19

Red Zone Overall

17.1%

12

5.6%

17

Goal-to-Go

79.9%

8

40.4%

20

On OFF, the 49ers now are nearly as crappy from their own 20 to the opponents' 40 as they already were inside their own 20. The worst decline came between the 40s though, with their Midfield DVOA dropping 8 spots and 25.7%. An encouraging sign, however, is the pass OFF's improvement in the red zone. Specifically, they saw their ranking jump 13 spots and their Red Zone Pass DVOA improve by 99.9%. In other words, they're now twice as efficient at red zone passing than they were before the MIN game. This improvement had the pleasant side effect of taking the SF OFF from a below average red zone team to an above average one.

In a peculiar turn of events, the exact opposite thing happened to the DEF as compared to the OFF in the middle of the field. Rather than continuing to lay an egg, they've instead found themselves the golden goose. By "laying an egg" I mean their 25th-ranked 21.6% Midfield DVOA after 2 games, and by "golden goose," I mean their 4th-ranked -23.0% Midfield DVOA after 3 games.

Another peculiar turn of events is not so kind to the 49ers DEF. Specifically, they gave up 20 points to MIN's OFF despite MIN never snapping the ball inside SF's 20 yard line. To be honest, I was totally - and thankfully - unaware of this until noticing that the DEF's Red Zone and Goal-to-Go DVOA stats were identical after 3 games as they were after 2. So, yeah, that was quite a kick in the junk finding out that the Niners lost to a team whose OFF scored 0 points in the red zone. Further kicking ensued when I realized that one of the only ways a team can win a game like that is by having big-play capability in the passing game, which the 49ers' OFF clearly does not.

SPECIAL TEAMS RANKINGS

Below are the Niners' ST DVOA stats broken down by unit:

FG/XP

Rank

Kickoff

Rank

Kickoff Return

Rank

Punt

Rank

Punt Return

Rank

2.8

2

-4.3

32

-1.1

16

2.6

10

-2.1

25

Pretty much everything here is the same as last week except for one glaring difference: SF's kickoff unit went from 4th in the league, gaining 2.7 points per kickoff via field position, to dead last, giving up 4.3 points per kickoff via field position. Allowing a kickoff to be returned for a TD will definitely do that to your kickoff coverage stats.

And in case you were wondering, points per punt actually got better - moving up 1 spot - despite some complaints on NN and elsewhere that Andy Lee had an inefficient game.

Oh, and Allen Rossum still sucks.

BOTTOM LINE

OK, so through 3 games, we can draw the following conclusions about the 2009 49ers based on their team statistics thus far:

  • If it wasn't for the OFF, the 49ers' stats would qualify them as an above-average NFL team.
  • The DEF and ST have been carrying the team, but the MIN game exposed some chinks in the armor with respect to 3rd down and kickoffs. Only time will tell us whether the armor's truly been breached.
  • The only meaningful situation in which the OFF doesn't suck, and has in fact improved, is in the red zone.
  • Oh yeah. Did I mention that the OFF sucks?

Remember, though, the stats I've presented in this article have not been adjusted for opponent. We'll have a much better idea about how efficiently the 49ers have been playing once FO starts incorporating opponent DVOA adjustments after this week's games.

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

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