Football Outsiders and the 49ers: Player Stats through Week 4

Fooch's Note: Make sure and check out our game-day thread now up.

Welcome back for this week's look at Niner player statistics and rankings as published by Football Outsiders (FO). If you're unfamiliar with FO's player stats (i.e., DYAR, individual DVOA, and EYds) and line stats (i.e., ALY and ASR), or if you need a refresher course, take a look at my explanations here and here.

This week, QBs need a total of at least 30 passes to qualify as having valid FO stats, RBs need at least 32 carries, WRs need at least 13 targets, and TEs need at least 6 targets. The only Niner that qualifies this week, but didn't qualify last week is Josh Morgan, presumably because Jimmy Raye and Shaun Hill decided last week to starting throwing the ball to other WRs besides Isaac Bruce. Therefore, the players I'll be breaking down this week are Hill, Glen Coffee, Bruce, Morgan, and Vernon Davis. I'll also, of course, be presenting FO stats for the OL, the DEF front 7, and the secondary.

Two more things I'd like to mention before I get the party started. First, as I said in this week's team rankings post, all FO stats are now adjusted for opponents. In that case, I'll be presenting YARs and VOAs (i.e., stats that aren't defense-adjusted) alongside DYARs and DVOAs (i.e., stats that are defense-adjusted) to gauge the effect that strength of schedule (SOS) has had on 49er player stats. Second, I won't be presenting cumulative stats (i.e., passes/runs/targets, actual yards, and EYds) because bye weeks mean more opportunities for some players to accumulate them than others.

QUARTERBACKS

Here are Shaun Hill's stats through 4 games (bold = ranked 8th or better [top 25% of starters]; italics = ranked 25th or worse [bottom 25% of starters]):

DYAR

Rank

DVOA

Rank

EYds Per Pass

Rank

29

22

-6.9%

22

4.96

26

YAR

Rank

VOA

Rank

Yds Per Pass

Rank

49

22

-4.1%

21

5.12

27

Compared to last week, Hill's DYAR and DVOA rank 7 spots higher, thereby vaulting him out of the bottom 8 starting QBs. However, he's still in the bottom 8 with respect to both actual yards per pass and EYds per pass. On the bright side, though, at least the gap separating his EYds per pass and actual yards per pass decreased by 63.6%; to the point that there's only a negligible difference between the two.

Looking at the effect of opponent adjustments, it's clear from Hill's stats that he's been throwing the ball against weaker pass defenses. Specifically, strength (weakness?) of schedule has accounted for 20 YAR and +2.8% efficiency.

After the jump, I'll present and discuss the rest of the stats, as well as introduce you to the 49ers' new dynamic duo. Oh, and also, look closely for the hidden, real-life Billy Mays (RIP) gem...

RUNNING BACKS

Frank Gore's still out, so my "Ignore Gore" policy remains in effect. Here are Coffee's stats, now based on almost 60 carries (bold = ranked 8th or better; italics = ranked 25th or worse):

DYAR

Rank

DVOA

Rank

EYds Per Run

Rank

-115

43

-58.2%

43

0.22

43

YAR

Rank

VOA

Rank

Yds Per Run

Rank

-98

43

-51.0%

43

2.34

43

You probably don't know this, but 43 RBs qualified for FOs rankings this week; so the fact that he's ranked dead last in each of the above stats is literally as bad as you can possibly get. Hey, at least there's nowhere to go but up!

Two things are worth discussing here aside from just sitting back and marveling at Coffee's (im)perfect rankings. First, even if we don't adjust for opponents, Coffee is still nearly 2 yards per carry worse than the average backup (i.e., -98 YAR divided by 59 carries). Second, and more vomit-inducing is that, based on the difference between his EYds per run and actual yards per run, opponents and/or game situations account for nearly all of Coffee's run yards. In other words, if it weren't for the fact that he's run against relatively weak defenses and/or run in relatively easy situations, it would almost be in the 49ers' best interest to simply forfeit the down rather than hand the ball to Coffee.

WIDE RECEIVERS

Here are Bruce's stats (bold = ranked 16th or better; italics = ranked 49th or worse):

DYAR

Rank

DVOA

Rank

EYds Per Target

Rank

-5

58

-15.1%

57

6.24

57

YAR

Rank

VOA

Rank

Yds Per Target

Rank

-2

56

-13.6%

57

6.68

48

All of these stats and rankings are basically the same as last week. The one thing that has changed is the gap between Bruce's EYds per target and actual yards per target. Namely, it shrunk by 48.8%. However, about 3/4 of the decrease was due to a drop in his actual yards per target, meaning that it was only minimally impacted by opponent adjustments and the situations he encountered during the STL game. In other words, it's not like his receiving yards are any more efficient.

I've been saying this for 3 weeks, so I won't harp on it today. By NFL standards, Bruce - at least in Raye's offense - is more of a borderline #2 WR than he is a #1 WR. Thankfully, help seems to be on the way. Help goes by two names: Michael Crabtree and Josh Morgan. I'll get to Crabtree in a second, but here are Morgan's newly minted stats:

DYAR

Rank

DVOA

Rank

EYds Per Target

Rank

43

26

29.7%

8

11.23

8

YAR

Rank

VOA

Rank

Yds Per Target

Rank

47

25

33.2%

8

9.54

16

Granted they're based on only 13 targets, but these stats better resemble a #1 WR - both in value and efficiency. Whereas Bruce has played about as good (bad?) as the average backup WR, Morgan has averaged over 3 yards per target better than the average backup. Furthermore, unlike Bruce, Morgan is almost 2 yards better per target than his NFL stats would otherwise indicate. The difference between his EYds per target and actual yards per target is especially important because, based on the fact that caliber of opponent has had little effect on his YAR and VOA, this difference suggests Morgan's receiving yards are predominately coming in relatively important and/or relatively difficult game situations.

TIGHT ENDS

Here are VD's stats (bold = ranked 8th or better; italics = ranked 25th or worse):

DYAR

Rank

DVOA

Rank

EYds Per Target

Rank

51

9

25.4%

17

9.07

19

YAR

Rank

VOA

Rank

Yds Per Target

Rank

51

9

24.9%

17

7.81

18

With each passing week, VD is overtaking more and more TEs (pun obviously intended). As the table shows, he's now just outside the top 25% in DYAR and just outside the top half in DVOA. Considering where he was when I first started doing these posts, the rise of VD has been nothing short of pandemic (this is too easy). However, I'd just like to point out that VD looks to have an appointment with the urologist this week: the Falcons have the 10th best pass defense DVOA against TEs. You could say they're not like the cheap streetwalkers VD encountered the last 2 games (the Rams rank 31st vs. TEs; the Vikings rank 30th).

If VD continues his stellar play and becomes Crabtree's receiving mentor as much as he's been his fashion mentor, the 49ers might finally have the dynamic pass-catching duo they've been searching for since the days of Jerry Rice and John Taylor. If that happens, we'd certainly have to dub the dynamic duo with a nickname. The Dolphins had their Marks Brothers. The Broncos had their Three Amigos. Hmm..."Crabtree" and "Davis" don't really work for a name-based nickname. "Crabs" and "VD," however, are pretty amenable to both a name-based nickname and a punny nickname. My suggestion: The Tainted Twosome. Here's the Tainted Twosome getting ready to infect an unsuspecting houseguest (the "headgear" on VD and Crabs is obviously just for show):


Vd_and_crabs_medium

OFFENSIVE LINE

Here are the 49ers' OL stats through 4 games:

ALY

Rank

Power Success Rate

Rank

ASR

Rank

2.74

32

25%

32

11.5%

30

Actual YPC

Rank

Stuffed Rate

Rank

Sack Rate

Rank

3.92

20

22%

20

10.8%

30

Clearly, the 49ers' OL sucks. Failing to open up holes against the 18th-ranked defensive front 7 in ALY cemented them their place as the worst run-blocking OL in the league. That's not good. What's worse, though, is that their pass-blocking stats took a major hit after giving up 4 sacks in 28 dropbacks against the 23rd-ranked defensive front 7 in ASR. Specifically, after the STL game, the OL's ASR increased twice as much (2.1%) as did its actual sack rate (1.0%).

But let's get back to the run-blocking. Their ALY increased (thankfully) by over 1/4 of a yard, yet still ranks dead last in the NFL. In other words, they had - and still have - a long way to go to get out of the cellar. To put it in perspective, KC's is the only other OL with an ALY below 3.30 yards per carry. Therefore, the Niners' OL would have to increase their ALY by an additional half-yard per carry just to move up to 30th!

One other thing I'll mention is that Gore's absence is having a profound effect on the OL's yards-per-carry stats. Specifically, their ALY is increasing every week, while their actual yards per RB carry is decreasing every week. The dwindling impact of Gore's twin 80-yard TD runs has been a major cause of the latter, but has had no effect on the former because ALY is computed based on only the first 10 yards of a run; with 100% attribution to the OL up to the first 5 yards. In contrast, the reason ALY has been increasing since Gore's injury is because (a) it was so low prior to his injury; and (b) Coffee has a lot of 3- or 4-yard runs; which necessarily increase a sub-3.00 ALY, but not by much. In other words, the absence of long Gore runs is making the actual yards per carry stat nosedive, while the absence of intermediate-length runs by Gore is making the OL's abysmal ALY increase at a very slow rate.

Below is a chart displaying the OL's directional run-blocking performance:

 

2009_49ers_week_5_aly__ol__medium

To those hoping that the OL was at least good at blocking in a specific direction, you're out of luck. This chart displays nothing short of complete and utter epic fail. Specifically, the Niners' OL remains ranked in the bottom 5 of the NFL for 4 of the 5 run directions. For the remaining optimists out there, there does seem to be a silver lining though. Namely, the OL has improved at blocking in their most frequent run direction: their C/G ALY "jumped" 3 spots in the rankings this week.

Taken together, it's becoming increasingly clear that the 49ers' offense has two major problems right now. One is that, either because Raye has been handcuffing him or he's just not that good, Coffee has been a massive downgrade from Gore. The other problem is that the OL can't run-block or pass-block. There's really no nice way to put this except to say that the offense has been getting by on smoke and mirrors for the past 2 games. The only thing that's saved them is that the OL's weaknesses - and there are a lot of them - just happen to be nullified in one very important area of the game: the red zone. Inside the opponent's 20, the OL doesn't have to open holes for intermediate-to-long running plays, and it doesn't have to pass-block long enough for intermediate-to-deep receiver routes to come open. All that's required in the red zone is run-blocking good enough for a 3-yard run and pass-blocking good enough for a 7-yard pass. Luckily for the Niners, that's their OL's raison d'etre.

DEFENSIVE FRONT SEVEN

Here are the 49ers' DEF front 7 stats through 4 games:

ALY

Rank

Power Success Rate

Rank

ASR

Rank

3.26

6

67%

22

6.9%

11

Actual YPC

Rank

Stuffed Rate

Rank

Actual Sack Rate

Rank

3.51

10

21%

14

6.6%

13

The 49ers' front 7 continues to be stout against the run, and their success rate on runs of 3rd & 2 or less improved 7 spots in the rankings. Where they've made considerable strides is with respect to rushing the passer. Specifically, they're now only 1 spot away from the top 10 in ASR. Honestly, going into this season, I was fully expecting the pass rush to improve, simply based on (a) their permanent move to a 3-4 defense, (b) having the OLB talent necessary to get pass rush from a 3-4 defense, (c) Greg Manusky not being handcuffed by Vanilla Mike Nolan anymore, and (d) actually having a starting FS who can cover someone. What I did not expect was this much of an improvement. "49ers front 7" and "top 10 in ASR" were two phrases I never thought I'd include in the same sentence this season. Kudos to them for outperforming my wildest expectations. Let's hope they keep it up.

Below is the DEF front 7's directional run-stopping chart:

 

2009_49ers_week_5_aly__dl__medium

Nate Clements and company continue to be beasts when it comes to stopping outside runs to the defense's left. Most everything else in this chart is relatively unchanged from last week. The one thing I will note, however, is that STL must have gotten wind of the Niners' ineptitude at defending runs behind LT. That's because the relative frequency of facing such runs doubled after the Rams game. The good news is that said ineptitude was a statistical mirage - the victim of sample size - and so STL's logical strategy backfired. To be sure, the front 7's ALY against runs behind LT is still not good. However, "4.88 yards allowed per carry" doesn't scream, "Hey! Over here!" to an opposing offense quite like "7.32 yards allowed per carry" does.

DEFENSIVE BACKFIELD

Finally, here's the chart showing stats for the secondary against various intended receivers:

 


2009_49ers_week_5_dvoa__vs

Defending passes to opposing RBs continues to be the defense's bugaboo: their yards allowed per pass attempt to a RB is basically the same as last week, and their DVOA vs. passes to a RB remains in the bottom 8 of the NFL. Two things that did change from last week were Clements' efficiency getting worse, and, more drastically, the secondary's efficiency against #3 WRs getting much, much better. I don't think this latter difference is due to opponent adjustments because the only good #3 WR the 49ers have faced is Steve Breaston (FYI...Greg Lewis has only been good on one suicide-watch-inducing play this year).

The stats in the above chart have clear implications for the ATL game today. First, the 49ers seem to have as good a shot as anyone at containing Tony Gonzalez. They're even better in yards allowed per attempt to a TE (ranked 2nd) than their top 8 DVOA vs. TEs. Second, if the Niners are going to slow down ATL's passing game, they're going to have to outplay their stats with respect to defending passes to RBs and #1 WRs. Unfortunately, the Falcons are pretty good at both of those spots with Roddy White and Jerious Norwood. What makes matters worse is that the secondary is unlikely to be getting much help from the pass rush this week given that ATL has the #1 OL in the league when it comes to pass-blocking: they give up less than 1 sack per 30 pass attempts, whether you adjust for situation and opponent or not.

BOTTOM LINE

OK, so through 4 games, we can draw the following conclusions about the 2009 49ers based on their player statistics thus far:

  1. Hill is improving, but still needs to throw (and complete) more passes downfield. Oh wait, the OL can't pass-block long enough for him to do that.
  2. Gore needs to start doing double doses of cortisone, stat!
  3. "#1 WR Bruce and #2 WR Morgan" seems backwards to me.
  4. Call the CDC! The NFL is getting infected by The Tainted Twosome.
  5. If the OL's dismal performance is a stain, then the red zone is OxiClean.
  6. It's getting increasingly difficult to run in any direction against the 49ers' defensive front 7.
  7. If Roddy White or Jerious Norwood have a good game this week, no big deal. On the other hand, if Tony Gonzalez has a good game, the 49ers are in trouble.

OK, that's it for this week. Go Niners!

 

**DVOA, DYAR, EYds, ALY, and ASR statistics used to produce this article were obtained from Football Outsiders.

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