The San Francisco 49ers of the early Jim Harbaugh era were known for a dominant defense and a great offensive line. One area that was a little all over the place was special teams. We saw Ted Ginn thoroughly dominate, we saw David Akers struggle, and of course, well, Kyle Williams is all I need to say.
Football Outsiders is putting together a look at the best teams of the past 30 years, and earlier this week, they ranked out the best special teams units during that period. FO uses DVOA as their measurement, and combines field goals, kickoffs, punts, kick returns, and punt returns. They offered these specifics:
We measure field goals by comparing each kick to the average expected value of a field goal attempt from the same spot. We measure the other four areas of special teams by comparing each kick or punt to the league average based on the expected point value of field position at the yard line where each kickoff/punt is kicked, caught and returned to. All of our special-teams ratings are adjusted for weather and altitude because it's easier to kick indoors or in the thin air of Denver.
The 2011 San Francisco 49ers ranked No. 22 on this list, and were the only 49ers representative. FO had this to say about the unit.
With a great all-around performance, the 49ers were worth at least 4.5 points over average in all five areas of special teams. Kicker David Akers and punter Andy Lee were both voted first-team All-Pros by the Associated Press, and Ted Ginn Jr. scored touchdowns on both kickoff and punt returns.
Most everything that could go well during that regular season did go well during that regular season. Andy Lee was booming punts. David Akers had two bad games against Arizona and Philadelphia, but otherwise was very solid. And Ted Ginn was fantastic as a return man, closing out what was looking like a close Week 1 matchup with the Seattle Seahawks with a kick return for a touchdown, and then a punt return for a touchdown shortly after.
Of course, I said “regular season” in that last paragraph because, well, I don’t have the heart to end this with a picture from that game.