Football Outsiders and the 49ers: Team Stats through Week 10

 After a bit of a hiatus for the purposes of working on my actual dissertation (as opposed to my weekly Niners Nation ones), I'm back in the saddle for the rest of the season. To some of you, this will bring great joy; to others, great consternation. Either way, expect to be seeing a lot of posts from me for the next 7 weeks (and more?).

Before I get started with the team rankings, I just want to give you guys a heads up on my new and improved posting schedule, which results from (a) the fact that all of Football Outsiders' (FO) stats now have a high enough sample size to be considered trustworthy, and (b) trying to cut down on the length of my aforementioned dissertations. Here's the new schedule that will begin after this week's Packers game:

Day

Description

Stats Presented

Wednesday

Singletary's Formula for Success

  • Interceptions & Fumbles (Total Ball Security)
  • Total, OFF, DEF, & ST DVOA (Execute)
  • 1st Quarter DVOA (Execute)
  • OL & DL ALY & ASR (Dominate the Trenches)
  • Inside-the-20 DVOA (Create Great Field Position)
  • ST Units DVOA (Create Great Field Position)
  • DANLOLS (Create Great Field Position)
  • 4th-Quarter DVOA (Finish)
  • Late & Close DVOA (Finish)

Thursday

Team Stats & Rankings

  • Pass OFF & DEF DVOA
  • Rush OFF & DEF DVOA
  • Down, Distance, & Type of Play DVOA
  • Home/Road DVOA
  • Score Gap DVOA
  • Game-by-Game DVOA Chart

Saturday

Player Stats & Rankings

  • QB, RB, WR, & TE DYAR & DVOA
  • OL & DL Directional ALY
  • Secondary DVOA vs. Different Receivers

Sunday

DVOA Game Matchup

  • Strength vs. Weakness DVOA Matchups Against the Upcoming Opponent

As I said, this schedule begins next week. Hopefully, it'll accomplish my two stated goals of (a) providing you with more - and more-relevant - statistical information about the 49ers, and (b) cut down on the length of each individual post.

As for this week, I'm just going to do this team rankings post (without any of the situational splits) and the game matchup post (with some of the situational splits). The game matchup post will be up on Friday so you have two full days to argue about how the 49ers are going to win because of the matchups or how the 49ers are going to win despite the matchups.

OK, housekeeping is done. Vamos!

After the jump, I'll present the 49ers' stats and rankings through 9 games...

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

-0.8%

20

-12.9%

24

-13.0%

2

-0.9%

22

Total VOA

Rank

SOS

Rank

Variance

Rank

 

 

-5.9%

21

1.4%

14

9.4%

11

 

 

Since last we spoke (after Week 7), the 49ers have improved by 5.5% in overall efficiency. However, what might come as a surprise to you is that this improvement has come entirely on the back of the DEF, not the OFF. Indeed, whereas the OFF has actually gotten 2.0% worse since Alex Smith became the starter, the DEF is now 6.9% better than they were after 6 games. A lot of this has to do with the fact that the Smith-led pass OFF didn't do much of anything against the 22nd- and 28th-ranked pass DEFs in the NFL (Bears & Titans, respectively), while the Niners' pass DEF basically shut down the #4 pass OFF (Colts) and took care of business against the #22 pass OFF (CHI). So basically, strength of schedule (SOS) plays a big role here.

Speaking of SOS, you can see its recent effect on team efficiency via 2 other stats in the table. Directly, the Niners SOS has gotten more difficult since Week 7, going from an average of 0.5% to the 1.4% shown in the table. More indirectly, however, the effect of SOS reveals itself in the difference between TOT DVOA and unadjusted TOT VOA. Whereas SOS (and game situations) positively affected the Niners' TOT DVOA by only 2.7% after 6 games, there's now a 5.1% difference between their TOT DVOA and TOT VOA.

In other words, the Niners would be a better-looking team than they've shown - albeit still only an average one - if they'd been playing an easier schedule through their first 9 games. Don't fret, though. Help is on the way. According to FO, the 49ers' opponents over the remainder of their schedule currently average -5.0% in TOT DVOA, which gives them the 7th-easiest remaining schedule in the NFL.

Finally, in case you're wondering, the 49ers are ranked behind the Dolphins (13th) and the Jets (19th) among the five 4-5 teams. In addition, among NFC West teams, they're ranked below the Cardinals (10th), but above both the Seahawks (23rd) and Rams (29th).

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

-12.9%

24

-6.5%

23

-6.7%

26

4.4%

7

OFF VOA

Rank

Pass VOA

Rank

Run VOA

Rank

 

 

-8.8%

24

-0.7%

22

-4.6%

23

 

 

Overall, the OFF has pretty much remained a well below-average unit. However, what's most interesting about these stats is the seeming effect of Smith's ascension to starting QB. Namely, it's pretty clear from the stats that Smith has actually helped the run OFF more than he has the pass OFF: when compared to their stats after 6 games, the pass OFF is now 12.1% worse while the run OFF is now 14.2% better.

How can this be? Well, as reluctant as I am to do so, I have to give props to my you're-not-a-real-Niner-fan-if-you-draft-Cardinals-Seahawks-or-Rams-in-fantasy-football friend; the one I've mentioned before on NN with whom I have to sit through every Niner game (and dodge flying objects as they're hurled past me towards the TV screen). The whole time Shaun Hill was starting, he'd repeatedly tell me that the Niners couldn't run the ball because opposing safeties were giving no respect to the threat of a deep pass. He'd point out to me that opposing safeties were constantly lining up 10 yards or closer to the line of scrimmage because Hill couldn't throw the ball farther than that on any given play, and that that was the reason the OFF couldn't run the ball worth a damn. "Put in Alex Smith, already, so we get these safeties playing honest!" he'd say. "Brotha, it's just that the OL sucks!" I'd retort...

And then Smith got put in against HOU. The effect was almost immediate. We literally watched as the Texans safeties started lining up the usual 15-20 yards downfield, and this phenomenon has continued for the past 3 games. Needless to say, I've eaten my share of crow on this one - in addition to the crow I'd already eaten for drafting Larry Fitzgerald. So, consider me a convert. I really believe that starting Smith, and changing the OFF to more of a Smith-friendly shotgun spread look, has opened up the running lanes for Frank Gore because (a) the safeties have to actually worry about the deep pass now, and (b) increased use of the shotgun formation has eliminated Jimmy Raye telegraphing Gore's carries. Now if they could just get the whole "passing out of a passing formation" thing down, they'd be on their way to GoodOffenseLand.

I know I said I wasn't going to include any situational splits in this post, but it's relevant to my friend's my argument here to show the shotgun vs. non-shotgun splits through 9 games, and see how they compare with the same splits through 6 games:

% of Plays

in Shotgun

Rank

Shotgun

DVOA

Rank

Non-Shotgun

DVOA

Rank

Difference

Rank

37.1%

17

-2.1%

22

-17.7%

28

15.6%

16

With Smith at the helm, the 49ers' OFF has moved up 4 spots in the %-of-Plays-in-Shotgun rankings, going from 34.7% to 37.1%. Furthermore, compared to their stats after Week 7, their Shotgun DVOA is now 4.6% worse, their Non-Shotgun DVOA is now 1.6% worse, and their Shotgun-vs.-Non-Shotgun Difference is now 3.0% lower. Although it might seem counterintuitive, these stats actually reinforce my argument: The Niners' OFF has used the shotgun formation a lot more with Smith, which has made the overall OFF worse, but only because it's the run OFF (i.e., the part of the OFF weighed less heavily in DVOA), not the pass OFF, that has benefitted from more cowbell shotgun. In the comments section, let me know whether you agree or disagree. Circle gets the square.

DEFENSIVE RANKINGS - OVERALL

Here' how the defensive 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

-13.0%

2

-7.2%

8

-20.4%

3

8.0%

24

DEF VOA

Rank

Pass VOA

Rank

Run VOA

Rank

 

 

-3.5%

11

9.6%

16

-20.4%

3

 

 

There are only a couple of bits of commentary required here. First, and most obviously, dang that Niner D is awesome!!!

Second, we can really see in this table how well the DEF has performed given the high caliber of opponents they've faced. Specifically, SOS has had a 9.5% effect on their DEF DVOA and a whopping 16.8% effect on their Pass DEF DVOA. Basically, the 49ers' DEF has played a killer schedule when it comes to defending the pass: their opponents' average Pass OFF DVOA this season is 20.6%, with an average ranking of 13th. Furthermore, they've played 4 teams (HOU, IND, Vikings, & ARI) that are in the top 8 in pass OFF efficiency, with an average Pass OFF DVOA of - totally not joking here - 46.6%!!!

My third comment has to do with the peculiar timing of the pass DEF's improvement. Basically, I have to wonder if it's a coincidence that, when compared to the first 6 games, the pass DEF has improved by 10.0% in the past 3 games, and that Nate Clements got injured in the Niners' 7th game. In other words, the pass DEF's improvement eerily coincides with Clements' being removed from the field. Now, I know it's way too simplistic to reduce the reasons for improvement down to only one thing, and I know my thinking is probably clouded by an anti-Nate bias over-reliance on statistical evidence, so I welcome your theories in the comments section.

Finally, looking at the table, dang that Niner D is awesome!!! Oh wait, I already said that.

SPECIAL TEAMS RANKINGS

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

ST

Rank

FG/XP

Rank

Kickoff

Rank

Punt

Rank

-0.9%

22

-1.2

20

-0.1

20

10.5

1

ST VOA

Rank

 

 

Kickoff Return

Rank

Punt Return

Rank

-0.6%

23

 

 

-4.1

24

-7.9

31

Since Week 7, the ST has improved slightly overall (+0.9%), and has improved a lot on kickoff coverage (+2.6 total points of field position). And, of course, Andy Lee - aka our hero - and company have retaken their rightful place as the best punt coverage unit in the NFL. However, a rash of missed FGs by Joe Nedney, a revolving door at kick returner, and having a punt returner that doesn't seem to want to actually, you know, return a punt, have all conspired to make the FG, kickoff return, and punt return units decline in recent weeks. I never thought I'd say this, but, I long for the days of Allen Rossum.

BOTTOM LINE

OK, so through 9 games, we can draw the following conclusions about the 2009 49ers:

  1. Mediocrity still rules the day.
  2. The biggest beneficiary of Smith's promotion seems to have been...Frank Gore.
  3. Dang that Niner D is awesome!!!
  4. The biggest side of effect of Clements getting hurt...improved pass defense.
  5. The Niners have played a brutal schedule thus far, but their remaining schedule is a piece of cake.
  6. Memo to Brandon Jones: You're back there to actually field and return punts, not watch them bounce and roll inside the 20.

Remember, game matchup post this Friday. Argue with Talk to you then.

 

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

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