This Week in Advanced Stats: Back to Winning Ways

Wesley Hitt

The San Francisco 49ers have put their slow start to the season behind them and are back on the right side of the win column in recent weeks. What do the advanced stat sites have to say about the squad?

The 49ers have flown to London (and, boy, are their arms tired!) for this Sunday's contest with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

While Jacksonville carries with it a 7 game losing streak, San Francisco, believe it or not, has done something they failed to do all of last year: win 4 in a row.  The only team matching that right now is, of course, Kansas City, who has won all of their first 7 outings.

As a result, the advanced stat websites, which had no choice but to frown upon a stagnant San Francisco offense through the first quarter of the season, are now placing Colin Kaepernick and company in the top 10 (almost) across the board.

Have I told you lately...

Advanced NFL stats has the team ranked 3rd, with the offense 8th and the defense 6th.

Football Outsiders has the team as a whole ranked 10th, with the offense 9th and defense 12th.  While Kaepernick has moved up to 7th in ESPN's QBR and 12th in FO's DVOA.

Even pro-football-reference's Simple Rating System has the San Francisco offense and defense in the top 10.

The only place still lagging on the good vibes is Pro Football Focus.  They have The Kid ranked way down near the bottom of their QB chart.  In fact, he currently sits with the 36th ranked passing grade at -8.8. As you will recall from elementary school, there are only 32 teams in the NFL, so that's pretty bad.

Indeed, PFF offered their "3 to Focus On" pre-game analysis of our match in London and had some damning things in the forecast for Colin:

"If the third-year quarterback can't get back on track this week, it may not happen at all this season."

Ouch.  Why the hate?  Well, as they note, outside of a positive passing performance in Week 1, Kaepernick has graded a -11.3 since.

I do not quite share their bleak glimpse of the future, given that both Mario Manningham and Michael CLUTCHtree are returning soon enough to save the day; but I do understand the general concern.

Part of the problem has been consistency.

Jekyll and Hyde

The 49ers have brought their boom-or-bust offensive style to a whole new level in 2013.  It's almost like the worst aspects of Greg Roman out-thinking himself and Jim Harbaugh's stubbornness have combined with Kaepernick's inexperience to create a volatile, unpredictable, high-variance monster.  Where is the buoy for this great vessel?  Where is the anchor?

Oh, that's right: Frank Gore.  The problem with "mad scientists" is they always want to invent Frankenstein's next monster when the old Frank is a beast still scary enough to drive the local villagers into mob-like frenzies.  The team has got back to its winning ways by getting back to its running ways.  The San Francisco rushing attack in 2013 ranks 3rd in total yards, 1st in touchdowns, and 10th in yards per attempt.

That, in part at least, explains some of the variance in offensive point distribution.

Behold, ye cowards, ye petty townsfolk: the Inconvenient Truth! -Mary Shelley in Frankenstein

In the team's 5 wins, the offense has put up at least 30 points in each game.  In its 2 losses, the offense scored 10 points total.

Altogether, the 49ers join some of the worst units in the league -- Jacksonville, the Giants, Houston, and the Rams -- in losing at least 2 games by 20+ points.

On the flip side, San Francisco joins some of the best teams -- New Orleans, Seattle, Denver, Kansas City, Indy, and Carolina -- in winning at least 2 games by 20+ points.

Our Niners are the only team, other than Baltimore, to appear on both lists. Maybe it's a sign of an otherwise-talented squad working through some kinks?

That might certainly be it in the case of Colin Kaepernick.  Only 11 games this year have featured Adjusted Yards per Attempt averages over 12, and The Kid netted one of them against Green Bay. Conversely, only 4 quarterbacks have posted a number below 1.  Kaepernick joins that list, too.

Whatever the reason, the 49ers appear to have worked through it, for now.  A lighter schedule has helped the team along, and that trend shows no signs of bulking this Sunday.

That's because only 7 games this year have ended with a 26+ point deficit, and the Jaguars were on the wrong side of 3 of them.

If any kinks remain in the San Francicso 49ers, they will likely not reveal themselves in London.  And while this is surely not a "do or die" game for Colin Kaepernick -- I will disagree with PFF on that -- it would still be a perfect time for the second-year starter to get back on track.

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