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49ers-Rams Statistical Review: Hill vs. JTO

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In my 49ers-Rams, I used Football Outsiders' DYAR statistic to show why (1) Frank Gore is an indispensible part of the 49ers offense, and (2) the absence of Steven Jackson would not have much of an impact on the Rams offense. The stats from Sunday's game supported my conclusion on both accounts:

  • As I stated in the preview, Gore had been adding about 15 yards to the 49ers offensive totals above and beyond what an average replacement running back would have gained. In Sunday's game, he actually added 20 yards above replacement, raising his season total from 133 (14.8 per game) to 153 (15.3 per game).
  • The Rams' offensive DVOA for Sunday's game was -6.8%, or 6.8% less efficient than the league average. As their offensive DVOA was -21.9% going into Sunday's game, this means that the Rams actually performed better than expected despite Jackson's absence.

Coming out of the game though, the story wasn't Frank Gore; it was Shaun Hill and his "perfect" first half. The fact that Shaun Hill, of all people, was the first 49er ever to quarterback a perfect half of offensive football is absolutely mindboggling to me given the team's rich QB tradition and its dizzying array of poor QB play of late. Now, one perfect half does not a Hall of Fame quarterback make, and I'm not even going to argue that Hill's performance makes him worthy of quarterback-of-the-future status (though I'm beginning to lean in that direction for various reasons). Nevertheless, this unexpected turn of events got me thinking...Just how much has the replacement of JT O'Sullivan with Shaun Hill improved the 49ers' offense? Thankfully, the magic of statistics makes answering this question possible.

Let's refer back to our friends from the preview, DYAR and EYds. To refresh, DYAR is the amount of yardage a player has gained for his team above and beyond what the team would have gained if they replaced him with an average substitution at his position; the higher, the better. EYds is the player's actual yardage total after it has been adjusted for game situations; the more above his actual total, the better. DYAR tells you how valuable a player is overall, while EYds tells you how valuable a player is on a given play.

Below are the relevant stats for Shaun Hill and JTO:

Quarterback

Games

Passes

DYAR

Rank

Eyds

Actual Yards

Shaun Hill

3

88

71

27

573

593

JTO

8

258

-433

42

688

1,593

After the jump, I’ll put into words (and numbers) just how correct the QB change was, and see how the 49ers performed in the five crucial SVW situations…

This table provides some eye-popping support--pun intended--for Singletary's decision to switch from JTO to Shaun Hill:

  • The switch has made over 500 yards' worth of difference to the 49ers offense!!!
  • If you look at it on a per-game basis, Hill has added 23.7 yards per game to the 49ers offense above replacement, while JTO subtracted 54.1 yards per game. In other words, Joe the Replacement would have thrown for about 55 yards more per game than JTO, but about 25 yards less per game than Shaun Hill.
  • JTO is the 42nd-ranked QB in a 32-team league.
  • While Hill's actual yardage total is nearly identical to his EYds total, JTO's yardage total is more than double his EYds total. This means that JTO was super-efficient in pass-friendly situations (e.g., 2nd and short), but super-inefficient in pass-unfriendly situations (e.g., 3rd and long). In contrast, Hill has been mildly efficient in the full range of game situations. To me, this is a perfect representation of what the two QBs bring to the table from a nonstatistical perspective. One guy (Hill) is a low-risk, low-reward, steady-as-she-goes type, while the other guy (JTO) is a high-risk, high-reward, rollercoaster-ride type.
  • If you look at yards per attempt based on EYds as compared to actual yards, you see that Hill's yards per attempt slightly decrease after adjusting for game situation (6.7 vs. 6.5). In contrast, JTO's plummets from 6.2 to 2.7 after adjusting for game situation. In other words, if you dropped JTO out of the sky into 3 random NFL passing situations, he would throw for about 8 yards (2.7 each play), whereas Hill would throw for almost 20 (6.5 each play).

Clearly then, based on the stats, the least we can say is that Shaun Hill is a much better option at starting QB for the 49ers than JTO. Hill may not always be perfect, but he'll rarely be as imperfect as JTO.

THE DEVIL IS IN THE DETAILS

Just to refresh our memories, I identified the following strength vs. weakness (SVW) matchups for the 49ers in their game against the Rams:

Situation

SF Rank

ARI Rank

SF RUSH OFFENSE VS. STL RUSH DEFENSE

8

31

SF RUSH OFFENSE VS. STL RUSH DEFENSE ON 2ND DOWN

6

31

SF DEFENSE VS. STL OFFENSE ON 2ND AND LONG

7

30

SF PASS OFFENSE VS. STL PASS DEFENSE ON 3RD DOWN

31

7

SF OFFENSE VS. STL DEFENSE ON 3RD AND MID

25

7

So how did they do? Let's take each matchup one-by-one. Like last week, I'm going to assign success points using the following standards: Success on 1st down means gaining (or preventing if on defense) at least 45% of the yardage to gain, success on 2nd down means gaining at least 60% of the yardage to gain, and success on 3rd/4th down means gaining 100% of the yardage to gain.

Rush offense-The Niners could have done a lot better. They were successful on only 11 of 35 rushing plays, not counting the JTO kneel down at the end. However, if you consider they were basically in run-out-the-clock mode for the entire second half, it wasn't such a horrible performance. When the game was still a game, they were successful on 46.7% of their runs (7 of 15). Score: Par.

2nd down rush offense-This was a gold rush for the 49ers. They were only successful on 6 of 13 such plays, but 5 of those 6 successes (and 2 of the failures) included some really successful plays, either yardagewise or in terms of their outcomes: Gore 27 yards prior to fumble, Gore 2 yards on 2nd and 1, Gore 5-yard TD, Gore 10 yards on 2nd and 6, Gore 10 yards on 2nd and 9, Gore 8 yards on 2nd and 18, Robinson 10 yards on 2nd an 8. That's 72 of the Niners' 135 total rushing yards...on only 7 plays. Score: Birdie.

2nd and long defense-I have mixed feelings about the Niner D's performance on this one. On one hand, they were only 8 of 17 in a situation that called for much better. On the other hand, they got turnovers on two of the 2nd and long plays. Also, 6 of the 9 failures were on either running plays or short passes when the Rams were down by a huge margin. I mean, can I blame the Niners' D for not stopping a draw on 2nd and 10 when they're up 35-3? Probably not. Score: Par.

3rd down pass offense-Again, mixed bag with 1st-half macadamias and 2nd-half cashews. Hill went 2 for 2 with a TD, and then the Niners shut it down. The 2nd half saw a 1 for 5 performance including consecutive 3rd-down sacks. What I found most interesting, given that they scored 35 points, was that the 49ers had only 11 third-down plays, and passed on only 7 of them. To me, that smacks of offensive efficiency. Score: Birdie.

3rd and mid offense-They went 1 for 3 with a sack here, but that's a really tiny sample. Plus, all three 3rd downs between 4 and 6 yards occurred in the 2nd half, when they were up comfortably. Score: Par.

Using my golf scoring system, the Niners were 2 under par in 5 holes. Not bad, not bad at all. However, I do have the lingering feeling that they left a couple of birdies out on the course this past Sunday. I'm telling you, the Rams are that bad. Nevertheless, this is now the second week in a row where the Niners overachieved in their SVW situations. Praise has to go to the common denominators: Shaun Hill at starting QB, Mike Singletary at starting Head Coach.