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Football Outsiders Stat of the Day: Blame the play-calling or the checkdown?

Fooch's Note: Make sure and check out our first mock draft (via a FanPost to be linked later) today at noon pacific, as well as our Shrine Game Thread at the same time.

Since the end of the season, Football Outsiders has been putting together a feature they call Stat of the Day.  They have compiled a whole host of information over the course of the season, some of which may never be used.  So, for every weekday until the Super Bowl, they'll be revealing a stat of the day.

In doing this, FO has shown some interesting numbers about some of our favorite 49ers.  Over the coming weeks we'll take a look at some of them, but I wanted to start today with a quick look at a negative statistic that can definitely be applied to a variety of discussions we've had here.

Alex Smith
On January 15, FO ran an interesting stat of the day titled Failed Completions.  For those that don't know, FO puts together measurements for "successful plays."  When it comes to passes, a successful play is one that gets 45 percent of needed yards on first down, 60 percent on second down, or 100 percent on third/fourth down.

FO put together a list of most failed completions and highest rate of failed completions with a minimum of 100 completions.   Alex Smith was lucky enough to appear in the rate category (not enough playing time to get in the total category), finishing third behind Trent Edwards and Jamarcus Russell.  Running a close fourth was Ryan Fitzpatrick.  Smith finished with a failed completion rate of 34.7%.  So, almost 35% of the time, his completions were "failures."

The 49ers offense seemed to find themselves quite often in less than ideal situations throughout games.  They'd struggle to gain early yards, and then found themselves in 2nd and 3rd and long with a passing game that was all over the place.  This statistic has me wondering whether it's the play-calling, or too much checking down by Alex Smith.  Was Jimmy Raye getting a bit too conservative at times, or was Alex Smith afraid to make the bigger pass?

I find that question a bit odd because Alex Smith could be all over the place on his passing in a given game.  There would be times he would check down to Gore or a tight end every other play, followed by a stretch where he'd try and thread the needle with a dart down the field.  Is it just a question of in-game decision-making by Smith?  Whatever the case may be, this statistic would seem to reinforce many pre-existing opinions about Smith's abilities in the passing game.