Football Outsiders and the 49ers: Player Stats through Week 5

Welcome back for another look at Niner player statistics and rankings as published by Football Outsiders (FO). As the title of this post indicates, I'll be presenting 49er player stats and rankings through Week 5. So nothing you saw yesterday (or the day before) is included in anything I talk about in this post. I think that's the cleanest way to proceed given that the 49ers' aggregate (i.e., non-per-play) stats will otherwise have been disadvantaged by their bye week. 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.

This week, QBs need a total of at least 50 passes to qualify as having valid FO stats, RBs need at least 40 carries, WRs need at least 20 targets, and TEs need at least 10 targets. Therefore, the players I'll be breaking down this week are Shaun Hill, Glen Coffee, Isaac Bruce, Josh Morgan, and Vernon Davis. I'll also, of course, be presenting FO stats for the OL, the DEF front 7, and the secondary.

Just a word of warning. This is going to be ugly. Starting with...

QUARTERBACKS

Here are Shaun Hill's stats through 5 games (bold = ranked 8th or better [top 25% of starters]; italics = ranked 25th or worse [bottom 25% of starters]):

DYAR

Rank

DVOA

Rank

Rank

EYds Per Pass

Rank

-78

33

-19.4%

30

29

4.04

31

YAR

Rank

VOA

Rank

Rank

Yds Per Pass

Rank

-50

28

-16.4%

27

27

5.05

27

What a difference a week makes. Compared to his stats prior to the Falcons game, Hill's DYAR and YAR both decreased by about 100 yards, his DVOA and VOA both decreased by about 12.5%, and his EYds Per Pass decreased by nearly a full yard. Essentially, what happened here is similar to what I discussed in the team rankings post. Hill's stats took a major hit due to his poor performance while getting blown out during the 2nd half last week. He couldn't play efficient QB even when ATL didn't care if he was successful or not. If you're a QB, and you can't matriculate the ball down the field while getting blown out, then you're probably not a good QB. Hill's stats reflect that reality, especially with respect to the situational efficiency stats, DVOA and EYds Per Pass.

Bottom line here is that, whether in terms of value or efficiency, Hill is one of the worst 5 QBs in the NFL so far this season. Somewhere, Mike Martz is laughing.

After the jump, I'll present and discuss the rest of the stats, and offer my two cents about the recent news regarding Josh Morgan's demotion. Be prepared to shield your eyes. This could get ugly...

RUNNING BACKS

With Frank Gore's 39 carries now failing to qualify him for the rankings, Coffee is the only 49er RB to make the charts this week. I kind of wish he didn't. Here's why (bold = ranked 8th or better; italics = ranked 25th or worse):

DYAR

Rank

DVOA

Rank

EYds Per Run

Rank

-111

37

-49.0%

38

0.79

38

YAR

Rank

VOA

Rank

Yds Per Run

Rank

-92

36

-41.8%

37

2.58

37

There's barely a nickel's worth of difference here when compared to last week. Coffee is still the worst-rated RB according to DVOA and EYds Per Run, and is in the bottom 3 of every category displayed in the table. Needless to say, Gore can't come back soon enough.

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

-31

66

-25.9%

67

4.93

65

YAR

Rank

VOA

Rank

Yds Per Target

Rank

-29

63

-25.2%

65

5.76

58

Ugh. Bruce's freefall continues; with each passing week, it becomes more and more apparent that he's no longer a starting-caliber NFL WR. After the ATL game, Bruce's stats took an especially big hit in the (in)efficiency department.  Specifically, his DVOA decreased by over 10%, dropping him 10 spots in the rankings (i.e., out of the top 64), and his EYds Per Target decreased by over a yard-and-a-half, resulting in a similar rankings descent.

What's also becoming more and more apparent is Morgan solidifying his spot as the 49ers' best WR. Here are his stats through 5 games:

DYAR

Rank

DVOA

Rank

EYds Per Target

Rank

50

29

17.2%

20

9.64

20

YAR

Rank

VOA

Rank

Yds Per Target

Rank

56

28

20.3%

16

9.18

18

While it's true that Morgan's efficiency-based stats were adversely affected by the ATL game, his DYAR basically remains unchanged. And given that last week's stats were based on only 13 targets, it's not altogether surprising there's some volatility in his stats. Nevertheless, I think the important points here are threefold: (1) Morgan had 9 targets vs. ATL, while Bruce only had 4; (2) Morgan is over 40% more efficient than Bruce despite having 7 fewer targets this season; and (3) Morgan is in the top 32 WRs according to all FO stats, while Bruce isn't even in the top 64 for any of them. Taken together, these comparisons suggest that Morgan is emerging as the 49ers' go-to WR.

With that said, isn't it altogether ironic - not to mention, depressing - that the coaching staff has decided Michael Crabtree will take over Morgan's starting WR spot??? Here you have a situation where the 49ers have no downfield passing attack. Every stat points to them being the dinkingest and dunkingest of dink-and-dunk passing OFFs. So the solution - of course - is to keep as a starter the WR who averages about 5 yards per target, and bench the one who averages about twice that. Having Crabtree replace Bruce would provide an instant injection of downfield passing possibilities. Having him replace Morgan essentially keeps the status quo, except with an even less experienced starter opposite Bruce. Newsflash to the powers that be: Bruce owning naked pictures of Mike Martz doesn't count as starting lineup leverage anymore.

OK, that was a bit hyperbolic. From reading Maiocco's blog post, it seems that this will all work itself out in the long run (read: next season). Bruce will be gone, leaving Morgan and Crabs as the starting WRs. I sure hope it works out that way. What I don't buy for one second, however, is that it'd be impossible for the locker room to accept a Bruce demotion. Question: Would it be possible for the locker room to accept another season without making the playoffs? As far as Bruce is limiting the OFF's ability to complete a pass beyond 5 yards, and as far as completing passes beyond 5 yards is important for offensive football, and as far as offensive football is important for winning, and as far as winning is important for making the playoffs, it's likely that keeping Bruce in the starting lineup does more harm than any "preventing locker room mutiny" does good. In other words, if Crabs were to replace Bruce, and the 49ers subsequently won 7 or 8 of their last 11 games, I'm sure the locker room would be saying, "Isaac, who?" in short order.

Somewhere, Mike Martz is doing cartwheels.

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

28

20

4.6%

23

6.69

26

YAR

Rank

VOA

Rank

Yds Per Target

Rank

24

22

3.1%

26

6.72

25

If the Vikings and Rams games were VD's breakouts, then the Falcons game was his antibacterial ointment. Despite being targeted 12 times in the ATL game, VD dropped 10 spots in the DYAR rankings, is now over 20% less efficient, and saw his EYds decreas by over 2 yards per target. Saying that he and Hill weren't on the same page against ATL would be quite an understatement. If VD's going to continue to be the most-targeted Niner in the passing game, he's going to have to produce more with, and play more efficiently in, his numerous opportunities; especially if he's going to be one half of the Niners' Tainted Twosome. The good news is that his next game will be against the Texans, whose DEF is currently ranked 20th in Yards per TE Target and 16th in DVOA vs. TE.

OFFENSIVE LINE

Here are the 49ers' OL stats through 4 games (bold = ranked 8th or better; italics = ranked 25th or worse):

ALY

Rank

Power Success Rate

Rank

ASR

Rank

2.86

31

43%

30

10.7%

30

RB YPC

Rank

Stuffed Rate

Rank

Sack Rate

Rank

3.90

18

22%

23

9.9%

29

Move along. There's nothing to see here. The OL still sucks. Until it improves, the Niners' OFF will have a hard time doing anything successfully.

Somewhere, George Warhop is throwing a party.

Here's the OL's directional ALY chart:

2009_49ers_week_6_aly__ol__medium 

These stats and rankings are nearly identical to the ones I presented after Week 4. The biggest difference - and it's quite a peculiar one given how the ATL game went - is that the Niners' OFF ran the ball disproportionately up the middle, increasing their frequency from 67% to 69%. Obviously, this is not a meaningful difference in the grand scheme of things. However, when you consider the team was behind the entire game, it's kind of mind-boggling that they decided to run the ball up the middle even more often than they had been through 4 comparatively competitive games. I'm really starting to believe that there's no coincidence in the fact that the offensive play-calling duties in both 2007 and 2009 were handled by guys named James (no offense, Ninjames).

Somewhere, Jim Hostler is making it rain.

DEFENSIVE FRONT SEVEN

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

ALY

Rank

Power Success Rate

Rank

ASR

Rank

3.38

8

88%

31

6.3%

17

RB YPC

Rank

Stuffed Rate

Rank

Actual Sack Rate

Rank

3.68

10

24%

8

5.6%

20

There are a couple of peculiar things in this table for which I honestly don't have a good explanation. First, despite it appearing that Michael Turner and Jerious Norwood were constantly running through wide-open holes, it turns out that the Niners' front 7 didn't drop out of the top 8 in ALY. To boot, their ranking in Actual RB YPC Allowed didn't drop either, which means that this wasn't a situational thing. Your guess is as good as mine on this one.

What's way more dumbfounding - at least to me - is how the same front 7 can be 1 of the best 8 in the league at stopping runs for 0 or negative yardage (i.e., stuffing the run), yet also be 1 of the worst 8 at stopping runs on 3rd & 1 or 2 (i.e., limiting power-running success). I'm not a football coach, but I'm assuming that both of these situations require the DL to get good penetration at the point of attack. Why would the Niners' front 7 be getting good - no, great - penetration generally, but getting horrible penetration in short-yardage situations specifically? I remember Moose and Goose railing against the Niners' DL being in a standing position on short-yardage plays. Is that all there is to it? Are they telling me that the only adjustment required is to have the DL get in their normal stances? Or does this have more to do with an increase in the number of blockers on 3rd & 1 or 2, which makes it harder for the DL to get penetration? Or is this a defensive play-calling issue? Please advise.

One thing that's not at all peculiar in the table is the change in ASR ranking, which fell from 11th to 17th this week. If you read last week's post, you might remember me saying the following (emphasis mine):

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.

If you're wondering, yes, I'm going to copy and paste that quote every time someone says, "Stats don't matter." How many sacks did ATL's OL give up to the 49ers last game? 0 in 32 attempts - aka they gave up less than 1 sack per 30 pass attempts. Think that had any impact on the Niners' horrible pass DEF during the ATL game? Nah. Stats don't matter.

p.s. HOU, the 49ers' next opponent, is ranked 14th in ASR through 5 games, allowing about 1 sack every 20 pass attempts.

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

2009_49ers_week_6_aly__dl__medium 

Similar to what we saw with directional ALYs for the OL, the percentage of up-the-middle runs faced by the DEF front 7 increased after the ATL game. However, unlike the OL's increase, this one actually makes sense. Salting away a 25-point lead tends to involve a ton of clock-eating runs up the middle. See, James, that's how offensive play-calling is supposed to work.

Otherwise, there wasn't a lot of change in this chart when compared to last week's. The Niners still can't stop runs behind tackle. I wonder if any of that is due to this season's increased emphasis on pass rush for the OLBs. Could it be that Manny Lawson and Parys Haralson are taking themselves out of the run DEF by pushing too far up the field? I distinctly remember one Turner TD run that was the direct result of Lawson overcommitting to pass rush on bootleg action, thereby vacating the lane that Turner proceeded to run through untouched.

Two silver linings I should probably point out in this otherwise gloomy tale are that (a) Nate Clements and company actually ascended to the top of the rankings with respect to stopping runs to the defensive outside left, and (b) opposing OFFs still haven't figured out that the 49ers are horrible at stopping runs behind LT.

DEFENSIVE BACKFIELD

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

2009_49ers_week_6_dvoa__vs 

Back when I was a pint-sized math nerd (oh, wait, I still am), one of my favorite parts of Sesame Street was when they had 4 kids in 4 boxes on the screen, with 3 of the 4 doing the exact same thing. My job was to answer the question, "Which of these kids is doin' his own thing?" I'm reminded of this when I look at the above table. The Niners' secondary is in the top 8 at defending against #2 WRs, #3 WRs, and TEs. Hell, they've even moved up to 13th (from 27th) when it comes to defending RBs in the passing game. So, which of these kids is doin' his own thing? It's our old friend Nate Clements again.

Not only do #1 WRs perform 20% more efficiently than average when facing Clements, their 11.4 average yards per target is the best in the league. Turning that around, Clements is ranked 32nd (aka dead last) in terms of yards per target allowed. And don't think for one second that Clements is one of those CBs whose "shutdown corner" status results in so few pass attempts to his receiver that one big play (e.g., a 90-yard TD) skews his yards per target allowed. On the contrary, only 9 teams have faced more pass attempts to the #1 WR than the 49ers. So it seems to me that, rather than teams shying away from throwing in Clements' direction, they're throwing in his direction even more because he's, um, not that good. Oh, and if you're wondering if Clements shouldn't get the bulk of the blame because he's not always covering the opponents' #1 WR, take a look at that 90-yard TD by Roddy White. Clements was on the right side of the DEF, not his usual left side, because he was following White wherever he lined up.

Here's an idea. Given that Clements seems to be such a good run-stopper and such a bad pass-defender, along with the fact that Michael Lewis is old and now concussion-prone, perhaps the 49ers should consider moving Clements to SS next season. Obviously, in this mental exercise there's an element of, "there's no way Clements would agree to it." Just for the sake of argument, though, isn't this something Mike Singletary and Greg Manusky should consider?

BOTTOM LINE

OK, so through 5 games, we can draw the following conclusions about several players on the 2009 49ers:

  1. Hill is one of the worst starting QBs in the league.
  2. Coffee is one of the worst starting RBs in the league. O Frank, O Frank, wherefore art thou Frank?
  3. Bruce is one of the worst starting WRs in the league.
  4. Morgan is emerging as the 49ers' #1 WR...just in time to be benched for a rookie while one of the worst starting WRs in the league remains a starter.
  5. VD's taken 2 steps forward and 1 step back so far this season.
  6. The OL is one of the worst in the league.
  7. The DEF front 7 is good at getting penetration overall, but they're really bad in power-running situations, and their OLBs seem to be focusing too much on their pass rushing responsibilities.
  8. Clements is one of the worst "shutdown" corners in the league.

How's that for a rosy picture? Can't take any more can you? Well, I have just the remedy. Namely, I won't be doing player or team rankings through Week 6 because the 49ers were on bye. Enjoy your week off from "49ers Player X sucks."

 

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

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