Mike Nolan's Fatal Flaw: It's Not Just a River in Egypt

EDITORIAL NOTE: Danny is a new addition to Niners Nation.  I saw a comment he made on Maiocco's blog and wanted him to add it over here (the Nolan type drinking game, which will be a front page post soon).  As his background and the post indicates he's got a statistical background that I think could bring some interesting options to the site...


As my username suggests, my name's Danny, and I'm a life-long 49er fan from Florida. I'm currently a PhD student at the University of Florida in Gainesville. Without getting into too much detail, let's just say there aren't many Niner fans around here, so God bless NFL Sunday Ticket!


My specialties are in sport psychology and statistics, so my inaugural FanPost naturally focuses on what I think is the fatal flaw in Mike Nolan’s coaching tenure with the 49ers: his inability to accept objective reality when it’s staring him right in the face, otherwise known as "denial." Some of you might say that bad drafting, bad gameday coaching, bad game-planning, bad handling of players, or a combination of all four are his fatal flaw(s).


Some of you might also say that what he says in public isn’t what he says in private. You might be right, but all of those things are matters of opinion. There’s no denying (pun intended) that, at his press conferences, Nolan repeatedly says things that are easily refuted by looking at the stats. It’s a fact, and this week’s post-Eagles press conference provided compelling evidence. Therefore, what I’ve done here is 1) reference a Nolan quote from the press conference, 2) respond to that quote by demonstrating its incompatibility with the stats, and 3) show you the stats that prove Nolan is living in denial. Note: Times listed indicate the point in CBS5’s online video that Nolan said the quote.


Wrong Kind of Consistency


0:43 – "There are some other things though obviously that we need to work on that have lacked consistency. That is our ability to move the ball. We’ve lacked consistency with that. Last two weeks, we’ve had two or three series in a row where we’ve been 3-and-out, and defensively, again, has lacked consistency as far as getting off the field."


Look it. Lack of consistency has not been the problem, Mike. Your 49ers, especially on offense, have been amazingly consistent on 3rd down for the past four years; consistently horrible. If there’s been any inconsistency, it’s been that your 3rd down defense is decent when your overall offense is horrible (2005 and 2007), but horrible when your overall offense is decent (2006 and 2008). So basically, a Nolan defense is consistently better able to "get off the field" for a horrible offense than it is able to get off the field for a decent offense. Seems kind of backwards to me, Mike!



3rd Down Pct.



3rd Down Pct.



























1:30 – "We need to be confident in the things we’re doing, and that comes obviously with success. They did the same things a year ago."


Look it, Mike. Confidence does come with success, but "what we’re doing" has been unsuccessful both this year and last. If the same players see the same behaviors result in the same poor outcomes, increased confidence is not the likely result. It’s actually likely to decrease confidence. Need proof? Just notice the fact that your defense is much worse this year in points allowed. Oh wait, I forgot. Reality is in the eye of the denier.


2008—26th in yards, 28th in points allowed

2007—25th in yards, 19th in points allowed


17:15 – "We’re at 2-4. It’s early in the season. Last year, at 2-4, there was an awful lot of football left, and a lot of winnable games left. Not only were there last year, but it was a whole different football team last year with whole different issues than this year. We’ve definitely got winnable games coming ahead."


Look it. "Definitely" is a strong word, Mike. The problem is that, although you had the same record after 6 games last year, and were in the midst of a similar slide, you "definitely" had a much easier schedule the rest of the way than you do this year. It turns out that your blind optimism is actually less justified this year.


2008—2-4, 3-game losing streak, ??-?? rest of way vs. .540 opponent win pct.

2007—2-4, 4-game losing streak, 3-7 rest of way vs. .457 opponent win pct.


19:43 – "What we need to do is win. Whatever determines that we’re going to win, that’s what we need to do. [Asked to clarify] Which is what?...Like I said, it’s not as if we’ve been blown out the last three weeks. Two weeks prior to that, we won the football games. We’ve been in the games. We need to win. Last year we weren’t in games at this time when things like that occurred. Two years prior to that, we weren’t in games like this. We’re in these games."


Mike, look it. You’re right that your 49ers were historically noncompetitive in 2005. However, the losing margins for the games you’ve "been in" the past 3 weeks are actually nearly identical to last year’s losses, which you say you "weren’t in." So basically, what you’re trying to tell me is that a 12-point loss this year is not the same as a 12-point loss last year? Oh, and by the way, your 49ers have not been in any of their games the past 3 weeks if, as the NFL rules suggest, a "game" consists of 4 quarters. Under their real-world definition, the 2008 version of your 49ers have only "been in" three quarters of the Eagles game, one half of the Saints game, and one quarter of the Patriots game.


Last 3 weeks—12.33-point average loss, outscored 21-6 in 1st half @ NO, 23-7 after 1st quarter vs. NE, and 23-0 in 4th quarter vs. PHI

2008—11.75-point average loss

2007—12.73-point average loss

2005—17.00-point average loss


EDITOR'S NOTE: After the jump Danny looks at Frank Gore touches, the challenges and much more...

Under Pressure


5:16 – "We need to pressure. We do pressure. The one down the sideline on the explosive play was a pressure. We jumped offsides, so what you see is an explosive play. You don’t see the pressure because, when you jump offsides, what’s the quarterback going to do? He’s going to get rid of it quick because he’s got a free down."


Look it, Mike. Either you’re describing an alternate, invisible dimension, or we all must need to get our eyes checked. The problem isn’t what we don’t see; it’s what we do see. Namely, when an opponent’s QB drops back to pass, he reaps a bounty of passing yardage and rarely is sacked by said pressure.


2008—16.38 dropbacks per sack (16th), 6.38 pass yards per dropback (20th)

2007—18.52 dropbacks per sack (24th), 6.35 pass yards per dropback (21st)

2006—16.24 dropbacks per sack (20th), 6.47 pass yards per dropback (25th)

2005—21.57 dropbacks per sack (31st), 7.33 pass yards per dropback (32nd)


5:36 – "We pressure at least half the time on third down; some games more than that. You have to be able to get pressure both with four, five, and six players. We do pressure, but, like I said, pressure shows its ways. Sometimes it shows on a four man, sometimes it shows on a five. It doesn’t always show."


Look it. This one is a real gem, Mike. Your ability to ignore contrary evidence is unmatched. It is true that your defense seems to bring a good bit of pressure on 3rd down when the opponent’s QB drops back to pass. Unfortunately, the NFL rules also allow offenses to attempt a pass on 1st, 2nd, and/or 4th down. Therein lies the reality hiding behind your denial. On those other 3 pesky downs, your defense has sacked the QB less than 2% of the time. Perhaps that’s why they can’t consistently get off the field on 3rd down? Could it be that your opponents’ 3rd down plays too often require only a short-to-medium gain to achieve a 1st down? All I’m going to say is that maybe we "don’t see the pressure" because it’s not really there. Again, Mike, we’ve only seen "the pressure" 3% of the 402 times we’ve seen "the defense."


vs. PHI—0 sacks on 9 3rd down dropbacks (0 total sacks)

vs. NE— 4 sacks on 10 3rd down dropbacks (5 total sacks)

@ NO—0 sacks on 7 3rd down dropbacks (0 total sacks)

vs. DET—3 sacks on 10 3rd down dropbacks (4 total sacks)

@ SEA—1 sack on 8 3rd down dropbacks (1 total sack)

vs. ARI—3 sacks on 11 3rd down dropbacks (3 total sacks)

TOTAL—11 (84.62%) of 13 total sacks were on 55 3rd down dropbacks (20.00%), 2 (15.38%) of 13 total sacks were on 158 other-down dropbacks (1.27%). 55 (67.07%) of 82 total 3rd downs attempted by opponents involved dropbacks. 402 total offensive plays for opponents.




"The Challenge"


9:54 – "Sure. We’ve had a very good challenge system. Yeah, without question…We’ve been very successful in the past. Now, this year, I know there’s been a couple in there, but, again, I’ve got confidence in our challenge system."


Look it, Mike. This one’s beyond the pale. In our reality-based sports world, there are only a few skills for which a 40% success rate is labeled "very successful." Unfortunately for you, an NFL replay challenge isn’t one of them.


Fooch of NinersNation says Mike Sando of ESPN says Nolan is 12-18 on replay challenges.




Gore’s "Touching" Issue


12:41 – "I think that the balance of run pass was very good. As I always say, the issue with Frank is getting him touches as much as it is running the ball. Hindsight’s always 20/20."


It’s funny you should "always say" that, Mike. Look it. Even if we rational people over here accept that you try to target Frank’s number of touches, rather than his number of carries, 2 touches per quarter cannot possibly be the target. Touches on about 12% of the offensive plays can’t possibly be the target either, especially given the fact that Frank touched the ball on 45% of the offensive plays before the 4th quarter. Wait, maybe 12% was the target, and the 45% was actually way too high? We rational people never can tell in your world of make believe. Piece of advice, Mike:  "Always" is one of those words where the meaning is inflexible; kind of like "definitely." If you didn’t remind Martz of Frank’s "touching" issue during that 4th quarter debacle, then you don’t "always say" it.


# of 4th quarter offensive plays – 16 (60 total)

# of 4th quarter Frank Gore carries – 2 (19 total)

# of 4th quarter Frank Gore receptions – 0 (3 total)

# of 4th quarter passes intended for Frank Gore – 0 (4 total)

This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of Niners Nation's writers or editors. It does reflect the views of this particular fan though, which is as important as the views of Niners Nation's writers or editors.