The folks over at Football Outsiders produce numerous stats, but one of my favorite sets of stats has to be their drive stats. They break down things like yards per drive, points and touchdowns per drive, turnovers per drive and average starting field position. All of this helps to determine drive success rate, which measures the percentage of down series that result in a first down or touchdown.
Over on Twitter, user grantmp pointed out some interesting numbers when we look at the 49ers offense at the midpoint of their 2012 schedule and compare it to the 2011 numbers. In 2011, the 49ers were 20th in drive success rate (.655), while in 2012, they are sixth (.729). The 49ers are improved in yards, points, touchdowns and punts per drive. They have seen a decline in interceptions and fumbles per drive, as well as average starting field position.
As Grant pointed out on Twitter, it is good news that the 49ers offense is scoring more touchdowns per drive in spite of not getting the same kind of starting field position from their defense and special teams. Last season, the huge number of turnovers and the strong special teams helped the 49ers dominate the field position battle. We have seen some improvement in field position in recent weeks, but the turnover numbers remain relatively low.
The improved play can be ascribed to a variety of things, although if I had to pick one particular group, it would be the offensive line performance. The 49ers are getting strong play at the skill positions, but the offensive line performance has helped boost this performance. The rushing game is thoroughly dominating, averaging 5.6 yards per carry. The passing game is improved from last year, with Alex Smith averaging a a career high 7.94 yards per attempt, as well as a very pertinent 4.3 air yards per attempt. The receivers are making plays as well, as we have seen Michael Crabtree looking incredibly strong on third downs.
All of this has helped the 49ers develop an offense that is more efficient than last season. It is still a work in progress and no doubt helped by the dominant offensive performances against the hapless New York Jets and Buffalo Bills. Nonetheless, things are moving in the right direction and the numbers bear it out to a certain extent.