On Monday, Bill Barnwell published his argument for why the 49ers will regress in 2012. There are three pillars to his argument:
1. The 2011 turnover ratio is unsustainable
2. Alex Smith's interception ratio was the 5th best in NFL history and cannot be repeated.
3. The 49ers were 6-2 in close games - can't be repeated
First, the 49er defense's turnover ratio isn't that crazy. The interception rate was 4th in the NFL at 3.97%. The Packers, a team I don't hear any 'fluke' comments about, had an INT % of 4.87% -- that's more than two standard deviations from the mean -- a huge outlier. There's no reason to expect a major reversion to the mean here.
- Our forced fumbles per tackle rate was 2nd to Baltimore's (almost tied) -- we run the exact same defense and we're both elite...why the concern?
- On fumble recoveries per snap, we were #1 in the NFL..expect a reversion to the mean there.
Second, Barnwell states that Alex Smith's low INT% was a function of conservative play-calling, and that since they're going to open the playbook, his INT% will go up. OK, I COMPLETELY AGREE WITH THIS. But what the author doesn't say is that offensive production would go up too! If we open up the playbook and merely increase turnovers, its a massive fail and we go back to a conservative offense.
- We had the third-worst red zone percentage in the NFL last year. It was worse than 2010 - we scored only 8% more red zone touchdowns in 2011 than in 2010, which is amazing. Opportunities increased 27%.
- we had the most field goals per game last year...and the most field goal attempts. that should go down as red zone opportunities go up.
And finally, our record in close games. One could easily make the statement that the 49ers could just as easily go 2-6 in close games instead of 6-2, like the saints and patriots have in the past after good seasons (cited by Barnwell). However, I hypothesize that defensive teams with excellent special teams are more likely to win close games...they're geared to win by a field goal after getting good field position...it's what we do. If anyone has numbers to back this up, I'd appreciate it. We have the best punter in the league, an elite defense, and a pro bowl kicker...why shouldn't we win close games?
There is nothing that indicates a large regression for the 49ers, nothing. We will recover fewer fumbles, and that may cost us a game...that's it. Factors present in the regression of teams in the past are simply not present with the 49ers. This is a team that significantly under-performed in 2009 an 2010 .
The Niners can be compared to the late 1990s/early 2000s Titans/Oilers, who went 7-9, 8-8, 8-8, and 8-,8 from 1995 - 1998 before breaking out into back-to-back 13-3 seasons.