Singletary’s Formula for Success through 13 Games

AUTHOR'S NOTE: If you're interested, here is my statistical matchup review of the Cardinals game.

Welcome back for this week's look at how the 49ers are doing according to Mike Singletary's Formula for Success. For those that don't remember Singletary's Formula for Success, here it is:

  1. Total Ball Security
  2. Execute
  3. Dominate the Trenches
  4. Create Good Field Position
  5. Finish

After going through the stats, I'm of the opinion that Monday night's impressive victory provides Mike Singletary with a real opportunity to show just how great of a head coach he really is. The reason I say this is because, although the 49ers were clearly the better team on the field against the Cardinals, the Formula for Success stats show that they weren't the best team they could be.

In sport (and educational) psychology, there's a concept called goal orientation, which has two components: task orientation and ego orientation. When a player/team (or student) is high in task orientation, their primary goal is to be the best they can be; they tend to evaluate themselves in relation to their own past performances. When a player/team (or student) is ego oriented, their primary goal is to be better than other players/teams; they tend to evaluate themselves in relation to other players/teams. Although a healthy dose of ego orientation is helpful in ultra-competitive domains (e.g., professional sports), research tends to suggest that having a high task orientation is more predictive of success in the long run.

When you think about the greatest players/teams in various sports, high task orientation is a common thread. Listen closely to interviews with Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan, and Tiger Woods - of course, he may not be doing many interviews in the foreseeable future - and what you'll hear are statements like, "I didn't bring my A game today," "I left a lot of points out there on the court," etc. These are code phrases for, "I'm high in task orientation." Each - though obviously competitive - primarily evaluates themselves in relation to their own past performances, and is constantly obsessed with personal improvement.

One team example that hits very close to home is the great 49er squad of the 1980s, whose coach, Bill Walsh, was the poster boy for task orientation. Indeed, another code phrase for high task orientation is "attention to detail," and Walsh paid more attention to detail than probably any head coach before him or since. The next time they're on, watch the coaching videos of Walsh shown during the America's Game series on NFL Network, and notice how much of what he said (and did) focused on the team improving their performance from the previous play in practice, the previous game, etc. Sprinkled among his boxing analogies and "we're better than this piece-of-crap opponent" rhetoric was a constant pursuit of perfection. As I've said before, his genius was as much about having an innate (i.e., not book-learned) mastery of performance psychology as it was about having a mastery of Xs and Os.

Bringing things full circle, I raise this issue because recent Niner teams have repeatedly displayed a sense of "we've arrived" after performances like the one we saw Monday night. It's appeared that, rather than being motivated to improve on good performances, they've been satisfied with knowing they were better than their opponent. As I said, the former is better in the long run. So that's why I say this is a watershed moment - at least to me - in Singletary's tenure as head coach. Can he use his obvious skills as a motivator to have his team improve in areas where they're still mediocre-at-best or will the Niners - as has been the case for the past couple of years - once again be content with being better than their last opponent rather than on improving upon their performance in that win?

This is the topic I'll focus on in today's Formula for Success post: showing you that, despite their domination of ARI, the Niners still have a lot of room for improvement. It's up to Singletary and his team to finish the story.

After the jump, I make the seamless transition from psychology to statistics...

ADJUSTED BS RATES

Before getting to the 49ers' specific Formula for Success stats, let me first present this week's BS Rates for each NFL team. It's become a popular feature, so I'd be remiss to omit it.

Below you'll find Adjusted Ball Security (BS) Rates, Unadjusted BS Rates, Fumble Rates (FR), Interception Rates (IR), and Adjusted IRs for each NFL team through 13 games (Niner stats and top 8 for each category in bold; bottom 8 for each category in italics):

Team

Adj BS Rate

Last Wk

W-L

BS Rate

Rk

FR

Rk

IR

Rk

Adj IR

Rk

1

MIN

98.73%

1

11-2

98.73%

1

1.24%

2

1.34%

1

1.33%

1

2

NE

98.48%

2

8-5

98.27%

5

1.50%

4

2.18%

8

1.58%

3

3

SD

98.28%

4

10-3

98.44%

2

1.49%

3

1.72%

5

2.20%

7

4

IND

98.26%

5

13-0

98.30%

3

0.99%

1

2.98%

20

3.10%

19

5

ATL

98.08%

6

6-7

97.84%

11

1.62%

6

3.22%

23

2.51%

10

6

DEN

98.07%

9

8-5

98.30%

4

1.52%

5

2.11%

7

2.82%

15

7

DAL

97.98%

8

8-5

97.99%

9

2.22%

19

1.58%

4

1.62%

5

8

NO

97.94%

10

13-0

97.84%

12

2.09%

16

2.31%

10

2.00%

6

9

JAC

97.90%

14

7-6

97.89%

10

2.41%

22

1.45%

2

1.40%

2

10

PHI

97.89%

7

9-4

98.07%

7

1.78%

9

2.24%

9

2.77%

14

11

BAL

97.89%

12

7-6

98.01%

8

1.73%

7

2.54%

12

2.91%

17

12

MIA

97.87%

3

7-6

97.49%

18

2.34%

21

2.90%

19

1.62%

4

13

HOU

97.85%

13

6-7

97.79%

14

1.76%

8

3.11%

22

2.91%

18

14

GB

97.84%

11

9-4

98.08%

6

2.08%

15

1.57%

3

2.32%

8

15

PIT

97.63%

20

6-7

97.84%

13

1.86%

10

2.80%

16

3.48%

24

16

CIN

97.60%

16

9-4

97.77%

15

2.11%

17

2.54%

13

3.12%

20

17

SF

97.58%

18

6-7

97.68%

16

2.20%

18

2.55%

14

2.85%

16

18

CLE

97.52%

19

2-11

97.41%

20

2.05%

13

3.78%

26

3.41%

23

19

NYG

97.49%

17

7-6

97.49%

17

2.51%

26

2.49%

11

2.50%

9

20

TEN

97.48%

22

6-7

97.42%

19

2.51%

25

2.75%

15

2.55%

11

21

STL

97.41%

15

1-12

97.40%

21

2.05%

12

3.74%

25

3.70%

25

22

WAS

97.26%

24

4-9

97.23%

23

2.73%

28

2.86%

18

2.76%

13

23

BUF

97.19%

23

5-8

97.10%

24

2.24%

20

4.44%

27

4.13%

27

24

CAR

97.11%

29

5-8

97.01%

27

2.08%

14

5.14%

29

4.82%

30

25

SEA

97.03%

25

5-8

97.24%

22

3.14%

32

2.02%

6

2.64%

12

26

NYJ

97.03%

28

7-6

96.74%

31

2.47%

24

5.52%

32

4.40%

29

27

KC

97.02%

26

3-10

97.09%

25

2.88%

29

3.00%

21

3.19%

21

28

ARI

96.93%

21

8-5

97.05%

26

2.99%

30

2.86%

17

3.22%

22

29

DET

96.92%

27

2-11

96.97%

28

1.86%

11

5.34%

30

5.49%

32

30

TB

96.82%

30

1-12

96.44%

32

2.60%

27

5.50%

31

4.35%

28

31

OAK

96.69%

31

4-9

96.82%

29

3.05%

31

3.49%

24

3.90%

26

32

CHI

96.59%

32

5-8

96.74%

30

2.47%

23

4.78%

28

5.23%

31

If you don't know what each of these stats mean, see my detailed explanation here.

This week, the top 2 teams remain the same (Vikings & Patriots), but there was quite a bit of upheaval for the rest of the Elite 8. The most notable change from last week was exhibited by the Dolphins, who dropped from #3 to #9 primarily by virtue of going from 14th to 21st in FR. Specifically, 4 fumbles in 78 fumbling opportunities against the Jaguars increased their FR from 1.99% to 2.34%. They also dropped from 1st to 4th in Adjusted IR, but that was primarily due to the strength of schedule (SOS) adjustment being weaker for all teams this week.

Other things worth mentioning are as follows:

  • Through 13 games, the top 8 teams in Adjusted BS rate have a combined record of 77-27, while the bottom 8 have a combined record of 35-69. Once again, that's pretty clear evidence supporting the utility of using Total Ball Security as an indicator of success.
  • The Falcons, Jets, and Cardinals all seem to have Adjusted BS rates that disagree with their records. In the offseason, I'm going to look at how teams who display this kind of discrepancy have tended to perform the following season. It could be that, like football's Pythagorean Theorem, teams that win more games than their Adjusted BS rate would predict tend to lose more games the following season, and vice versa.
  • Speaking of ATL, it's pretty obvious their season has collapsed because of problems at the QB position. An injury to Matt Ryan and an IR SOS that's 4th-toughest in the NFL have conspired to destroy their once-promising season.
  • And speaking of ARI, it's interesting that they're in 1st place in the NFC West despite being the worst team in the division when it comes to Adjusted BS Rate.
  • Another NFC West team, the Seahawks, also exhibits a peculiar ball security situation given that they're in the top quartile of the league when it comes to IR, but are ranked dead last in FR. In other words, their QBs are really good at avoiding interceptions, but their ball carriers have a serious case of butterfingers.
  • GB has the 3rd-lowest IR in the NFL, but it's been a byproduct of facing the easiest IR schedule in the league.
  • FR seems to set the top of the Adjusted BS Rate rankings (i.e., the top 6 are the same teams as those in the top 6 of Adjusted BS rate), but doesn't seem to set the bottom of the rankings. To me, this suggests that avoiding fumbles - not necessarily INTs - is one important thing that separates really good teams from everyone else.

THE REST OF THE 49ERS' FORMULA STATS

The following table displays the Niners' stats this week according to Singletary's Formula for Success, what those stats were last week, and what the extent of change was between this week's stats and last week's stats (top-8 in bold; bottom-8 in italics):

 

 

This Week

 

Last Week

 

Change

Formula Ingredient

Statistic

Value

Rk

Value

Rk

Value

Rk

Total Ball Security

Adj BS Rate

97.58%

17

 

97.55%

18

 

+0.03%

+1

Total Ball Security

BS Rate

97.68%

16

 

97.70%

17

 

-0.02%

+1

Total Ball Security

FR

2.20%

18

 

2.32%

22

 

+0.12%

+4

Total Ball Security

IR

2.55%

14

 

2.27%

10

 

-0.28%

-4

Total Ball Security

Adj IR

2.85%

16

 

2.71%

11

 

-0.14%

-5

Execute

Total

4.9%

18

0.6%

17

+4.3%

-1

Execute

OFF

-7.0%

22

 

-7.1%

21

 

+0.1%

-1

Execute

DEF

-11.8%

4

 

-7.2%

5

 

+4.6%

+1

Execute

ST

0.1%

20

 

0.5%

16

 

-0.4%

-4

Execute

1Q OFF

-32.3%

29

 

-31.9%

30

 

+0.4%

+1

Execute

1Q DEF

-11.7%

8

 

-6.8%

11

 

+4.9%

+3

Dominate the Trenches

OL ALY

3.42

31

 

3.23

32

 

+0.19

+1

Dominate the Trenches

OL ASR

8.1%

25

 

8.6%

27

 

+0.5%

+2

Dominate the Trenches

DF7 ALY

3.73

8

 

3.65

8

 

-0.08

0

Dominate the Trenches

DF7 ASR

7.6%

5

 

7.1%

7

 

+0.5%

+2

Create Great Field Position

FG/XP Pts

1.1

15

 

1.7

14

 

-0.6

-1

Create Great Field Position

KO Pts

4.1

13

 

3.9

12

 

+0.2

-1

Create Great Field Position

KR Pts

-3.0

16

 

-1.9

17

 

-1.1

+1

Create Great Field Position

P Pts

13.7

2

 

12.0

2

 

+1.7

0

Create Great Field Position

PR Pts

-15.5

32

 

-13.5

32

 

-2.0

0

Create Great Field Position

Own 1-20 OFF

-31.5%

30

 

-32.2%

30

 

+0.7%

0

Create Great Field Position

Opp 1-20 DEF

8.1%

19

 

19.5%

24

 

+11.4%

+5

Finish

4Q OFF

9.5%

13

 

6.4%

16

 

+3.1%

+3

Finish

4Q DEF

-1.0%

14

 

4.5%

15

 

+5.5%

+1

Finish

Late/Close OFF

-21.5%

27

 

-24.8%

28

 

+3.3%

+1

Finish

Late/Close DEF

-11.9%

7

 

-11.0%

7

 

+0.9%

0

Here's where we get to the task orientation part of the post...

As you can see from the week-to-week changes, the Niners did a lot of Formula-related things really well against ARI. Their DEF was awesome when the Cardinals were pinned inside their own 20. They only had 1 fumble in 85 fumbling opportunities, for a game FR of 1.18%, or about half of what it was going into Monday night. In addition, they certainly did finish well against the Cardinals.

Nevertheless, given that only 6 of the 26 rankings in the table above are in the top 8 of the NFL, there's clearly a lot of room for improvement. The first place to start would be the 6 areas in which they rank in the bottom 8 of the league: 1st-quarter offense, run-blocking, pass-blocking, punt returns, OFF inside their own 20 yard line, and OFF late in close games. What will tell me a lot about the improvement of this team, along with Singletary's skills as a head coach, is if they don't have epic fails in any of these 6 areas against the Eagles tomorrow afternoon.

Also, given that Alex Smith through 2 INTs against the Cardinals, which made SF plummet in the IR and Adjusted IR rankings, it's clear that this is an area that needs improvement as well. If the Niners are going to show me that they've broken out of their "we've arrived" mentality after big wins, they can't go into Philadelphia, and "throw" the game away - both literally and figuratively.

So, again, my main point here is that, although it was definitely encouraging to see the 49ers dominate the 1st-place team in their division, the most important thing for them going forward is to not think that they've "arrived." They have to realize that, despite playing so well in one game, their body of work suggests they have 20 Formula-related areas in which improvement is necessary; in 6 of these 20, it's really necessary. Essentially, the 49ers may have played like an elite NFL team this past week, but they're not yet an elite team every week, and they're by no means an elite team this season.

In other words, a healthy dose of task orientation - from their motivational-speaker head coach, no less - is definitely in order if the 49ers want to become a legitimately elite NFL team.

BOTTOM LINE

Based on Mike Singletary's Formula for Success:

  1. Total Ball Security - Please stop alternating games between fumbling and throwing interceptions.
  2. Execute - The DEF is definitely light years ahead of the OFF and ST.
  3. Dominate in the Trenches - They're continuing to improve on both sides of the ball.
  4. Create Great Field Position - The punt return unit continues to hold them back.
  5. Finish - They're still average, but are improving across the board.

Coming up tomorrow morning, the statistical preview for tomorrow's matchup against PHI.

 

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

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