Football Outsiders and the 49ers: Team Stats Through Week 7

Welcome back for this week's look at how the 49ers' team stats rank in the NFL according to Football Outsiders (FO).* If you want a less stat-intensive look at 49er rankings, check out Fooch's weekly post on how the team stacks up against the rest of the NFL according to the internet punditocracy.

Two things have happened since the last time I posted 49er team stats and rankings. First, they had a bye, meaning that some of their DVOA rankings changed simply by virtue of the NFL average for specific game situations changing during their bye week. Second, and much more important, the Niners played a really weird game against HOU in which the offense (OFF) couldn't move the ball with Shaun Hill at QB, but moved it pretty easily with Alex Smith during the 2nd half, and the defense (DEF) couldn't stop the Texans at all during the 1st half, but held them to only 3 points in the 2nd half. Because of these two circumstances, the 49ers' team stats and rankings according to FO have actually changed quite considerably. I'll try to flesh things out as best as I can.

TEAM RANKINGS

Here are the 49ers' overall team DVOAs and rankings (bold = top 8 in the NFL; italics = bottom 8):

Total

Rank

Offense

Rank

Defense

Rank

Special Teams

Rank

-6.6%

21

-10.9%

21

-6.1%

10

-1.8%

22

Total VOA

Rank

SOS

Rank

Variance

Rank

 

 

-9.3%

22

0.5%

13

10.3%

14

 

 

Despite the fact that the Niners lost @ HOU, and had practically no OFF during the 1st half, their Total (TOT) DVOA actually improved by 3.2% behind the strength of an OFF that improved 5.1%. This must be attributed, at least in part, to the dominance of SF's OFF during the 2nd half of the game. As I've said all week in various threads, we need to keep the OFF's 2nd half performance in perspective. Nevertheless, it appears from these stats that Smith and company outperformed the NFL average in the relatively easy game situations they were presented with during the 2nd half of a blowout.

On the defensive side of the ball, that unit dropped out of the top 8 for the first time this season thanks to a 3.0% decline in DEF DVOA. With respect to special teams (ST), the unit somehow improved by 1.1% despite Arnaz "The Blackmailer" Battle's muffed punt.

A couple of interesting changes in the above stats regard DVOA Variance and DVOA Strength of Schedule (SOS). Specifically, the 49ers actually moved up 8 spots in the Variance rankings, suggestive of increased week-to-week consistency, which is probably due to the fact that they've displayed the same relatively mediocre performance for the past 3 games. In terms of SOS, the Niners have now played a schedule so far that's above the league average in opponent difficulty. With games against the Vikings, Falcons, and Texans, along with the Cardinals' re-emergence as a high-DVOA team, it's evident that the Niners have played a reasonably difficult schedule thus far this season. And it doesn't get any easier this week with their trip to Indy (42.4% TOT DVOA, 2nd).

Finally, in case you're wondering, the 49ers' TOT DVOA ranking puts them behind ARI (22.0%, 10th) and SEA (-2.9%, 19th) among NFC West teams.

After the jump, I'll present the rest of the 49ers' stats, rankings, and situation splits...

OFFENSIVE RANKINGS - OVERALL

Here' how the offensive rankings look overall and by type of play (bold = top 8 in the NFL; italics = bottom 8):

OFF

Rank

Pass

Rank

Run

Rank

Variance

Rank

-10.9%

21

6.6%

20

-20.9%

27

3.0%

3

OFF VOA

Rank

Pass VOA

Rank

Run VOA

Rank

 

 

-7.2%

21

11.6%

17

-18.4%

26

 

 

The changes here are pretty staggering. Because of one half-long aerial display, the OFF is now 5.1% more efficient overall, and 15.2% more efficient in the passing game. Going from -8.6% (26th) in Pass OFF DVOA to 6.6% (20th) is one incredible leap in efficiency. What's even more impressive is that their unadjusted VOAs improved 7.0% overall and 17.3% via the pass. To put an exclamation on this, the 49ers' pass OFF was 132.0% more efficient against HOU than it was against ATL (71.4% vs. -61.6%). Whatever it is they did during the 2nd half of the HOU game, they need to bottle it and drink it before each game for the rest of the season. With these differences, it's kind of hard to argue against the reality that "Starting QB Alex Smith" is what needs to be bottled.

OFFENSIVE RANKINGS - SITUATIONAL SPLITS

Here are the OFF's pass and run DVOAs by down:

Down

OFF

Rank

Pass OFF

Rank

Run OFF

Rank

1st

8.8%

15

32.9%

14

-7.0%

18

2nd

-35.6%

30

-35.4%

28

-29.1%

28

3rd

-11.5%

22

17.3%

15

-54.4%

31

For the Niners' OFF, 2nd and 3rd down stats remain pretty similar to what they were going into the bye. In contrast, they've improved to an almost-absurd degree on 1st down. Specifically, their overall 1st Down OFF DVOA is 10.9% better this week, and their 1st Down Pass OFF DVOA is - I'm not kidding - 34.5% better. The cause of this is clear: All 3 TDs thrown by Smith to Vernon Davis against HOU came on 1st down. Combining these stats with the OFF's below average efficiency on 1st down runs, I think there's a pretty strong argument in favor of passing the ball more on 1st down. Indeed, at least a part of this improvement was probably due to play-calling that went against their previously established tendencies.

Here are the OFF's down splits by distance (Short = 0-3 yards; Mid = 4-6 yards; Long = 7+ yards):

Distance

OFF

Rank

Short

Rank

Mid

Rank

Long

Rank

1st

8.8%

15

N/A

2nd

-35.6%

30

-29.4%

25

-40.3%

29

-35.7%

27

3rd

-11.5%

22

9.3%

16

-55.8%

28

9.6%

17

There's nothing really to see here. The Niners' OFF remains abysmal on 2nd down from all distances, ranks near the bottom of the league on 3rd & mid, and is middling on 3rd & long. However, one stat that did take a big hit this week was 3rd & Short OFF DVOA: The 49ers dropped from 29.7% (8th) to 9.3% (16th). Looking back at the play-by-play, the Niners encountered three 3rd/4th & short situations, with each coming during the 1st half and resulting in an incomplete Hill pass.

So I think we've established that inserting Smith improved the 49ers' pass OFF. As many have argued, Smith's skill set allows for a more wide-open OFF, with relatively frequent 3-or-more WR formations and increased use of shotgun. Good thing we have their shotgun splits through 6 games:

% of Plays

in Shotgun

Rank

Shotgun

DVOA

Rank

Non-Shotgun

DVOA

Rank

Difference

Rank

34.7%

21

2.5%

20

-16.1%

23

18.6%

14

As has been the case all season, the Niners' OFF performs more efficiently in the shotgun. We have to believe that this bodes well for the rest of the season if Smith remains the starter. Basically, if they're already almost 20% more efficient in the shotgun with a traditional passer like Hill, the sky's the limit with a spread-bred QB like Smith.

Finally, let's take a look at the OFF's red zone efficiency:

Red Zone

Rank

Red Zone

Pass

Rank

Red Zone

Run

Rank

Goal-to-Go

Rank

16.8%

7

82.6%

3

-21.6%

23

10.3%

16

Although the Niners have vaulted themselves back into the top 8 in overall and passing Red Zone OFF DVOA, don't let it fool you. They had only 1 red zone snap against HOU, which resulted in one of VD's TDs. So I guess that's about as efficient as you can get; it just doesn't carry much meaning because of the small sample size.

DEFENSIVE RANKINGS - OVERALL

Here' how the offensive rankings look overall and by type of play (bold = top 8 in the NFL; italics = bottom 8):

DEF

Rank

Pass

Rank

Run

Rank

Variance

Rank

-6.1%

10

2.8%

13

-17.6%

7

7.2%

23

DEF VOA

Rank

Pass VOA

Rank

Run VOA

Rank

 

 

1.1%

16

19.5%

25

-22.5%

5

 

 

For the first time since I've been posting about the Niners' stats and rankings, their DEF is not in the top 8 of DEF DVOA. Of course, that's not altogether surprising giving the lackluster performances they've had the past 2 games. Where things get interesting is in the passing game. Namely, although still in the top half of the NFL, they're now a below-average pass DEF in terms of play-by-play efficiency. In addition, if you want a perfect example of why we must account for SOS when evaluating performance, look no further than the difference between the 49ers' DVOA and VOA in pass DEF. If you ignore SOS, the 49ers' are the 8th-worst pass DEF in the league, so you conclude that they suck. If you go by the NFL's pass DEF rankings, the Niners are 21st, so you conclude that they borderline suck. But, if you correctly adjust for things like, oh, I don't know, the fact that, except for the Rams, Niner opponents have an average pass OFF DVOA of 29.7%, then you end up with the more-valid conclusion, "The Niners' pass DEF is about average. They just look like they suck because they're playing really good pass OFF's every week." And, by the way, the Colts are currently #1 with a Pass OFF DVOA of 64.7%. Expect more of the same, then, in Week 8.

DEFENSIVE RANKINGS - SITUATIONAL SPLITS

Based on the above, we should expect for the splits to show increased inefficiency on pass DEF. Let's take a look. Here are the DEF's pass and run DVOAs by down:

Down

DEF

Rank

Pass DEF

Rank

Run DEF

Rank

1st

0.7%

15

28.7%

23

-23.1%

4

2nd

-30.2%

3

-37.1%

3

-21.8%

8

3rd

14.0%

20

12.9%

17

17.6%

24

Every week it's like whack-a-mole with the DEF's situational splits. Earlier in the season, their problem was on 2nd down. Last week, they had a huge decline on 3rd down. Now, this week, 1st down crops up as the new problem du jour. Specifically, the Niners' 1st Down DEF DVOA fell 6.4%, which dropped them from 8th to 15th in the NFL. What's worse, though, is that their pass DEF is now 18.0% worse on 1st down, which dropped them from the top 10 to the bottom 10 in that situation.

As I have a penchant for doing, I went back and looked at the play by play. Not surprisingly, it's instructive: On 1st down passes, Matt Schaub went 10 of 11 for 164 yards, 3 new 1st downs, and a TD. Furthermore, he started the game 10 of 10 on 1st down, not throwing an incompletion until there was only 3:38 left in the 4th quarter, and 3 of his 10 1st-down completions went for gains over 30 yards or more. For those of you who like the NFL QB Rating, that works out to a near-perfect rating of 149.1. To put it mildly, SF's 1st-down pass defense left something to be desired against HOU.

Here are the DEF's down splits by distance (Short = 0-3 yards; Mid = 4-6 yards; Long = 7+ yards):

Distance

DEF

Rank

Short

Rank

Mid

Rank

Long

Rank

1st

0.7%

15

N/A

2nd

-30.2%

3

10.1%

24

81.5%

31

-73.7%

2

3rd

14.0%

20

24.5%

22

-12.1%

19

27.8%

22

There are 2 changes in this table when compared to last week: (1) an improvement of 17.5% on 2nd & short, and (2) a decline of 11.7% on 3rd & long. Pretty much, HOU was a great passing team and crappy running team going into the game, and the 49ers' DEF didn't do much to change that during the game. Therefore, their efficiency on a running down (i.e., 2nd & short) got better, while their efficiency on a passing down (i.e., 3rd & long) got worse. Most likely, sample size is also a contributor to the huge swings on these 2 down-and-distance situations.

Here are the Niners' defensive shotgun vs. non-shotgun splits:

% of Plays

in Shotgun

Rank

Shotgun

DVOA

Rank

Non-Shotgun

DVOA

Rank

Difference

Rank

34.0%

21

-12.3%

6

-3.5%

17

-8.8%

5

HOU ran only 10 of their 59 plays from the shotgun formation (16.9%), so, as is to be expected, the 49ers' defensive shotgun rate fell considerably. Unfortunately, 3 of those 10 plays picked up a first down for HOU and another resulted in Steve Slaton's illegal-block-aided receiving TD. Therefore, SF's Shotgun DEF DVOA dropped 5.4%.

Finally, let's take a look at the DEF's red zone efficiency:

Red Zone

Rank

Red Zone

Pass

Rank

Red Zone

Run

Rank

Goal-to-Go

Rank

8.6%

19

-48.3%

8

50.5%

32

102.5%

30

This week, the Niners' Red Zone DEF DVOA is 8.6% worse than last week's, their Red Zone Pass DEF DVOA is 29.4% worse, and their already-abysmal Goal-To-Go DEF DVOA managed - amazingly - to get 13.4% worse. Against HOU, the 49ers defended 8 plays in the red zone, of which 3 were the goal-to-go situations. Two of the 3 goal-to-go plays resulted in TDs, 1 via the pass and 1 via the run, so that explains the odds-defying Goal-To-Go DEF DVOA decline. Of the 5 red zone plays that weren't of the goal-to-go variety, the lone successful play for HOU was a passing first down.  Add these two things together, throw in a little sampling variation, and that's how we get the this week's red zone stats.

SPECIAL TEAMS RANKINGS

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

ST

Rank

FG/XP

Rank

Kickoff

Rank

Punt

Rank

-1.8%

22

-0.1

14

-2.7

26

7.4

3

ST VOA

Rank

 

 

Kickoff Return

Rank

Punt Return

Rank

-1.1%

23

 

 

-2.8

23

-6.0

29

Everything is pretty much status quo for the 49ers' ST this week. Andy Lee continues to be a hero, Joe Nedney continues to be an average kicker, and everything else pretty much sucks. However, it is worth noting that, despite a muffed punt by Battle, the punt return unit's field position points only decreased by 0.2, and the ST's Overall DVOA actually got 1.1% better. Here's hoping that (a) some Watergate-style operation separates Battle from his naked pictures of Scot McLoughan, and (b) Mike Singletary never again lists a backup TE as "primary kick returner" on the depth chart.

TONY ROBBINS SPLITS

Just in case you forgot, the 49ers' TR splits include net Inside-the-20 DVOA, net 1st Quarter DVOA, net 4th Quarter DVOA, and DANLOLS**, which is basically net average starting field position adjusted for opponent (Defense-Adjusted Net Line of Scrimmage). Below are the 49ers' OFF, DEF, and net TR splits:

 

DANLOLS

Rank

Inside

the 20

Rank

1st

Quarter

Rank

4th

Quarter

Rank

Avg

Rank

OFF

-0.48

19

-50.6%

32

-46.4%

29

25.0%

10

22

DEF

-1.58

10

-2.9%

14

-4.3%

14

19.5%

23

15

Net

1.10

16

-47.7%

28

-42.1%

26

5.5%

12

20

In terms of similarities, the 49ers' Inside-the-20 and 1st-quarter DVOAs continue to indicate that the team isn't using all of Singletary's Formula for Success, i.e., the OFF is not creating good field position for the DEF, and the OFF is doing a poor job of executing the 15-play script. Further evidence for the 49ers' growing inability to create good field position comes from DANLOLS: They dropped from 4th to 16th this week, a freefall most likely due to "The Human Roster Exemption," Arnaz Battle. Finally, the only thing that seems to be getting better with respect to the Formula is 4th-quarter DVOA. Namely, the HOU game showed that the OFF can, in fact, finish games well: They're now 14.2% more efficient than last week.

BOTTOM LINE

OK, so through 6 games, we can draw the following conclusions about the 2009 49ers:

  • Mediocrity rules the day, but offensive help is on the way.
  • The jury's still out in my mind, but, if the pass OFF continues what they did during the 2nd half @ HOU, the 49ers are likely to develop into a pretty darn good team this season.
  • Memo to Jimmy Raye: Passing on 1st down and using more shotgun makes your offense better.
  • The DEF, especially against the pass, has suffered from a treacherous schedule so far, but they seriously need to pick a down to suck at and stick with it.
  • If only Andy Lee could return kicks and punts, and bust a wedge on kickoff returns. If only Arnaz Battle didn't have those pictures.
  • The 49ers are playing like the Formula for Success was developed for quantum mechanics by a guy named Einstein rather than for football by a guy named Singletary. Memo to players: You don't need a PhD in physics to win football games.

Bright and early tomorrow morning, I'll break down the player stats and rankings. See you then.

 

 

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

**In the comments section, I've posted stats and rankings for every NFL team according to DANLOLS.

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