Last week we got through Jimmy Raye's overall approval rating and Mike Singletary's end of season game management rating. Today, I thought we'd wrap up the coordinators with a poll for defensive coordinator Greg Manusky. Over the course of the season, Coach Manusky maintained an incredibly high approval rating, wrapping up 2009 at 98%.
Although the 49ers defense gave up a lot of yards this season, I would argue the defense was much better than the traditional counting stats would indicate. The traditional stats state the 49ers finished 15th in total defense and 21st against the pass. Utilizing Football Outsiders defensive numbers, the 49ers are ranked 4th in total defense and 8th against the pass. Feel free to pick and choose the stats you want, but I could see arguments on both sides, as to whether the 49ers defense was good, bad, or in the middle. The good would include the low total points allowed and the high sack total. The bad would be the inability to make third down stops at big moments in big games. I think the bad is relatively limited in part because the defense spent so much time on the field thanks to a 3-and-out offense. So, one could argue the defense would improve with a more competent offense on the field.
I actually had a more specific issue I wanted to raise in relation to Manusky and the defense: the number of sacks and it's relation to the general pass rush. The 49ers defense finished with 44 sacks, which left them tied for third in the league. Since the Nolan era kicked off in 2005, the highest ranking before this season was 16th. In terms of totals, the highest sack total before this season was 34 in 2006. From 2005-2008, the defense averaged 30.75 sacks per season.
Parys Haralson was the big sack man last year with 8, followed by Justin Smith with 7. This season, the high sack man was at 6.5 (Manny Lawson), but there was a broader mix of solid sack numbers including Justin Smith (6), Ahmad Brooks (6), Haralson (5), and so forth. While it'd be nice to have a single guy rolling out 15-20 sacks during the season. At the same time, having a broad split like this would make it more difficult for an offensive line to prepare its blocking scheme.
So, does the increased team total show a broader range of talent, or do we think this is improved scheming from Coach Manusky? I'm honestly not all that sure. For example, Ahmad Brooks has always been considered highly talented, but wasn't reaching that potential. Who would get credit for his emergence late in the season? Brooks for his talent? Manusky for better scheming? Singletary for some motivational tool? Or maybe some combination of all that? How does this apply to the team defense as a whole?
The pass rush certainly had its inconsistencies and cost the team at times. However, given how the pass rush has been in the past, it definitely took a step forward in 2009.