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DVOA and 49ers-Seahawks: When Life Gives You Lemons...

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As we all know by now, Mike Singletary is the new head coach of our San Francisco 49ers. In terms of what he brings to the table, everyone agrees that Singletary is a master motivator. He used to be a motivational speaker, and one of his main roles as assistant head coach was to motivate the players. Indeed, Singletary cited increased motivation as one of the changes we will see on Sundays. He’s not just whistling Dixie here. One of the many problems for Mike Nolan was that—except for a few games in 2006—his 49ers frequently underachieved: the offense performed below their talent level and the defense enabled opponents to perform above their talent level. Anyone who has played my Mike Nolan drinking game has probably ended up hugging the porcelain goddess on account of these types of underachievement. The relationship between underachievement and losing has been no more apparent than in games against Seattle. Not surprisingly then, underachivement is the focus of this week’s 49ers-Seahawks statistical preview.

Below are team efficiency (DVOA) matchups between the 49ers and Seahawks since 2005. Two things I should note before I expand upon the numbers.

(1)     DVOA values in the list are simple differences. Positive values mean that the 49ers were better, while negative values mean that the Seahawks were better.

(2)     The comparisons for offense were against the Seahawks’ defense, while the comparisons for defense were against the Seahawks’ offense.

The first group of matchups (BY SEASON DVOA) compares the 49ers’ efficiency to the Seahawks’ in terms of DVOA for that specific season.  Values tell you whether the 49ers performed better or worse than the Seahawks over the course of that specific season. The second group of matchups (BY GAME DVOA) compares the 49ers’ efficiency to the Seahawks’ in terms of DVOA for that specific game.  Values tell you whether the 49ers performed better or worse during that specific game. The third group of matchups (BY OVERACHIEVE/UNDERACHIEVE) compares the 49ers’ relative efficiency in a specific game to their efficiency during that season. It is just the difference between the BY GAME DVOA stats and the BY SEASON DVOA stats. This is the most interesting of the three groups because it tells you whether the 49ers performed better or worse than they should have in that specific game, given the matchup; in other words, whether they overachieved or underachieved in a game.

After the jump, I get into the meat of 49er underachievement and overachievement vs. the Seahawks, and extend the argument to the 2008 season. Also, I break down the situational stats to let you know what specific things to watch for on Sunday (besides losing), and give you my pre-prediction game prediction for the game.

BY SEASON DVOA

2008 – @ SEA – W, 33-30 (+12.5% OVERALL, -0.8% OFF, +11.0% DEF, +2.3% ST)

2007 – @ SEA – L, 0-24 (-49.6% OVERALL, -36.0% OFF, -17.1% DEF, +3.5% ST)

2007 – VS. SEA – L, 3-23 (-49.6% OVERALL, -36.0% OFF, -17.1% DEF, +3.5% ST)

2006 – VS. SEA – W, 20-14 (-6.7% OVERALL, -3.7% OFF, -0.4% DEF, -2.6% ST)

2006 – @ SEA – W, 24-14 (-6.7% OVERALL, -3.7% OFF, -0.4% DEF, -2.6% ST)

2005 – @ SEA – L, 3-41 (-82.8% OVERALL, -43.3% OFF, -41.4% DEF, +1.9% ST)

2005 – VS. SEA – L, 25-27 (-82.8% OVERALL, -43.3% OFF, -41.4% DEF, +1.9% ST)

Not too surprising here. The obvious things to get out of this list are that (a) the 49ers won when they performed better than or similar to the Seahawks throughout the course of the season, (b) the 49ers lost when they were an overwhelmingly worse team than the Seahawks, and (c) the inept offenses of 2005 and 2007 were the main culprits for the overall differences.

BY GAME DVOA

2008 – @ SEA – W, 33-30 (-19.7% OVERALL, -1.4% OFF, -4.6% DEF, -13.7% ST)

2007 – @ SEA – L, 0-24 (-81.6% OVERALL, -74.4% OFF, -30.6% DEF, +23.4% ST)

2007 – VS. SEA – L, 3-23 (-134.6% OVERALL, -138.4% OFF, -0.5% DEF, +4.3% ST)

2006 – VS. SEA – W, 20-14 (+83.4% OVERALL, +49.3% OFF, +32.4% DEF, +1.7% ST)

2006 – @ SEA – W, 24-14 (+97.3% OVERALL, +55.9% OFF, +51.4% DEF, -10.0% ST)

2005 – @ SEA – L, 3-41 (-241.2% OVERALL, -153.1% OFF, -80.4% DEF, -7.7% ST)

2005 – VS. SEA – L, 25-27 (+26.2% OVERALL, +63.4% OFF, -37.0% DEF, -0.2% ST)

This list is a little less straightforward than the last one. The general rule is that the 49ers won when they played better than the Seahawks, but lost when they played worse than the Seahawks. However, you’ll notice that the 49ers lost in 2005 despite playing better than the Seahawks, and that they won this season despite playing worse than the Seahawks. What do these two results mean? The answer reveals itself in the next list.

BY OVERACHIEVE/UNDERACHIEVE

2008 – @ SEA – W, 33-30 (-32.2% OVERALL, -0.6% OFF, -15.6% DEF, -16.0% ST)

2007 – @ SEA – L, 0-24 (-32.0% OVERALL, -38.4% OFF, -13.5% DEF, +19.9% ST)

2007 – VS. SEA – L, 3-23 (-85.0% OVERALL, -102.4% OFF, +16.6% DEF, +0.8% ST)

2006 – VS. SEA – W, 20-14 (+90.1% OVERALL, +53.0% OFF, +32.8% DEF, +4.3% ST)

2006 – @ SEA – W, 24-14 (+104.0% OVERALL, +59.6% OFF, +51.8% DEF, -7.4% ST)

2005 – @ SEA – L, 3-41 (-158.4% OVERALL, -109.8% OFF, -39.0% DEF, -9.6% ST)

2005 – VS. SEA – L, 25-27 (+109.0% OVERALL, +106.7% OFF, +4.4% DEF, -2.1% ST)

Answer: In years past, the 49ers had to wildly overachieve just to compete with the Seahawks, while this year they won despite underachieving in the game. To me, that statement is a perfect summation for why Mike Nolan was fired. In previous seasons, the 49ers were so bad that they were expected to lose; competing against the Seahawks meant that they had to exceed expectations. This season, the 49ers are an improved team, yet they almost lost to an inferior Seahawks team. Further evidence of this "failing to live up to expectations" problem comes from applying the same kind of breakdown to the 49ers’ games so far this season.

BY SEASON DVOA

@ NYG – L, 17-29 (-49.8% OVERALL, -15.3% OFF, -35.5% DEF, +1.0% ST)

VS. PHI – L, 26-40 (-49.0% OVERALL, -32.2% OFF, -17.4% DEF, +0.6% ST)

VS. NE – L, 21-30 (-6.6% OVERALL, -3.9% OFF, +0.4% DEF, -3.1% ST)

@ NO – L, 17-31 (-20.7% OVERALL, -5.1% OFF, -17.0% DEF, +1.4% ST)

VS. DET – W, 31-13 (+33.5% OVERALL, +15.9% OFF, +19.4% DEF, -1.8% ST)

@ SEA – W, 33-30 (+12.5% OVERALL, -0.8% OFF, +11.0% DEF, +2.3% ST)

VS. ARI – L, 23-13 (-34.0% OVERALL, -16.7% OFF, -19.5% DEF, +2.2% ST)

This list is similar to the analogous Seahawks-specific list to a certain extent: The 2008 49ers have lost to superior teams, and have beaten inferior teams. Notice however that the 49ers are a clearly better team in 2008 than they were in years past. Unlike previous seasons, they’re actually better than two of the teams they’ve played (previously as rare as Big Foot), and they’re only slightly worse than two others (previously not as rare as Big Foot, but about as rare as a Mike Martz postgame availability).

BY GAME DVOA

@ NYG – L, 17-29 (-98.2% OVERALL, -101.1% OFF, +5.1% DEF, -2.2% ST)

VS. PHI – L, 26-40 (-68.1% OVERALL, -25.9% OFF, -48.4% DEF, +6.2% ST)

VS. NE – L, 21-30 (-24.2% OVERALL, -25.7% OFF, -4.1% DEF, +5.6% ST)

@ NO – L, 17-31 (-45.1% OVERALL, -24.8% OFF, -40.9% DEF, +20.6% ST)

VS. DET – W, 31-13 (+145.8% OVERALL, +73.7% OFF, +73.4% DEF, -1.3% ST)

@ SEA – W, 33-30 (-19.7% OVERALL, -1.4% OFF, -4.6% DEF, -13.7% ST)

VS. ARI – L, 23-13 (-35.7% OVERALL, -36.9% OFF, -4.7% DEF, +5.9% ST)

This list is much more straightforward than the analogous Seahawks-specific list. The general rule applies more consistently: Except for the Seahawks game, the 2008 49ers have lost when they played worse than their opponent, and have won when they played better than their opponent. Now, about that underachievement thing…

BY OVERACHIEVE/UNDERACHIEVE

@ NYG – L, 17-29 (-48.4% OVERALL, -85.8% OFF, +40.6% DEF, -3.2% ST)

VS. PHI – L, 26-40 (-19.1% OVERALL, +6.3% OFF, -31.0% DEF, +5.6% ST)

VS. NE – L, 21-30 (-17.6% OVERALL, -21.8% OFF, -4.5% DEF, +8.7% ST)

@ NO – L, 17-31 (-24.4% OVERALL, -19.7% OFF, -23.9% DEF, +19.2% ST)

VS. DET – W, 31-13 (+112.3% OVERALL, +57.8% OFF, +54.0% DEF, +0.5% ST)

@ SEA – W, 33-30 (-32.2% OVERALL, -0.6% OFF, -15.6% DEF, -16.0% ST)

VS. ARI – L, 23-13 (-1.7% OVERALL, -20.2% OFF, +14.8% DEF, +3.7% ST)

What you see above is an open-and-shut case against Mike Nolan: The 2008 49ers have been the embodiment of weekly underachievement. In the 49ers’ seven games thus far, they’ve failed to play up to their expected performance six times!!! The only exception was their thrashing of the Detroit Circus Lions. In the last couple of weeks, you’ve heard Mike Nolan say that "We’re close," Mike Singletary say that, "We’ve got something special," and Trent Dilfer say that, "They have the talent." What they’ve all been hinting at is that, although the 49ers are a better team this year, they have yet to become a "good" team.

The evidence is right before our eyes in the above list. The 49ers are now good enough to destroy bad teams, but not yet good enough to beat good teams, with the reason being that this year’s team consistently underachieves. Mike Singletary has said that his task is to end this underachievement, and that his abilities as a motivator make him qualified for the task. The evidence of his success or failure will reveal itself in whether the 49ers outperform their DVOA advantages/disadvantages for the rest of the season. That’s what I’ll be watching.

Below is the situational DVOA breakdown specific to this week’s 49ers-Seahawks game. Among the plethora of comparisons that Football Outsiders provides, I’ve singled out the composite DVOA numbers, as well as how the 49ers stack up against the Seahawks in terms of each team’s DVOA strengths and weaknesses. For these comparisons, I defined "strength" as being in the top 8 of the league, and "weakness" as being in the bottom 8 of the league. Matchups in italicized, bold font represent strength vs. weakness or weakness vs. strength, and matchups in regular, bold font represent strength vs. strength or weakness vs. weakness.

 

TEAM UNITS

RANK

 

 

SF OFF

28

SF DEF

12

SF ST

8

SF TOTAL

24

SEA OFF

26

SEA DEF

26

SEA ST

20

SEA TOTAL

28

49ERS STRENGTHS

SF

 

SEA

2ND DOWN RUSH OFF

6

VS.

9

2ND & LONG DEF

6

VS.

12

3RD & MID DEF

3

VS

29

TOTAL ST

8

VS.

20

49ERS WEAKNESSES

SF

 

SEA

TOTAL OFF

28

VS.

26

PASS OFF

31

VS.

31

RED ZONE OFF

31

VS.

12

RED ZONE PASS OFF

32

VS.

23

RED ZONE RUSH OFF

25

VS.

4

2ND HALF OFF

32

VS.

25

LATE & CLOSE OFF

30

VS.

27

2ND DOWN TOTAL OFF

29

VS.

13

2ND DOWN PASS OFF

31

VS.

20

2ND & LONG OFF

29

VS.

15

3RD/4TH DOWN TOTAL OFF

30

VS.

29

3RD/4TH DOWN PASS OFF

31

VS.

31

3RD & SHORT OFF

32

VS.

9

3RD & SHORT DEF

25

VS.

3

3RD & LONG DEF

26

VS.

25

 

 

 

 

SEAHAWKS STRENGTHS

SEA

 

SF

3RD & SHORT OFF

3

VS.

25

RED ZONE RUSH DEF

4

VS.

25

 

 

 

 

SEAHAWKS WEAKNESSES

SEA

 

SF

TOTAL OFF

26

VS.

12

PASS OFF

30

VS.

10

2ND HALF OFF

26

VS.

11

LATE & CLOSE OFF

28

VS.

15

1ST DOWN TOTAL OFF

29

VS.

13

1ST DOWN PASS OFF

30

VS.

9

2ND & MID OFF

27

VS.

24

3RD/4TH DOWN TOTAL OFF

25

VS.

20

3RD/4TH DOWN PASS OFF

27

VS.

17

3RD & MID OFF

29

VS.

3

3RD & LONG OFF

25

VS.

26

TOTAL DEF

26

VS.

28

PASS DEF

31

VS.

31

1ST HALF DEF

25

VS.

22

2ND HALF DEF

25

VS.

32

LATE & CLOSE DEF

27

VS.

30

1ST DOWN PASS DEF

25

VS.

21

3RD/4TH DOWN TOTAL DEF

29

VS.

30

3RD/4TH DOWN PASS DEF

31

VS.

31

3RD & MID DEF

26

VS.

9

3RD & LONG DEF

30

VS.

20

 

As these situational DVOA matchups suggest, there are a couple of specific things to watch for in this week’s game beside the status of 49er underachievement. Not surprisingly, they involve how the 49ers play on 3rd down and in the red zone. First, on 3rd downs, pay attention to the distances the Seahawks need to gain for a 1st down. The 49ers have a great defensive matchup when the Seahawks have 4-6 yards to gain on 3rd down. They’re 3rd best at preventing 1st downs on such plays, while the Seahawks are 4th worst at converting them. Second, pay attention to how the 49ers call offensive plays in the red zone. Here’s a hint: They better be passing. That’s because the 49ers are 8th least efficient at red zone rushing, while the Seahawks are 4th most efficient at stopping red zone rushing.

OK. So given everything I've said in this preview, here's my game prediction:

Seattle Seahawks            17

San Francisco 49ers        27

Hopefully, my statistical preview has given you a more detailed look at the 49ers game this week. I’ll be moving from preview to review with a look-back article early next week. For the time being, all that’s left is to watch, and hopefully enjoy, the game. Go Niners!