The San Francisco 49ers are 2-2 a quarter of the way through the season. Before the year started, the expectation was that the team would cruise through the first four games on their way to 4-0. That’s not how the NFL works. In our poll this morning, 32% of you believe the Niners will win nine games this season, while 23% of you still feel the 49ers will win more than 10 games.
After four weeks, Football Outsiders adjusts their stats for the opponent. The 49ers offense ranks 15th in DVOA and are 16th against the pass and eighth against the run. Last year, the offense led the NFL in explosive passing plays. Through four games, the Niners are ranked 21st in that same category. They’re 11th in explosive running plays, but those have been hard to come by without Raheem Mostert.
As you may have guessed, it’s challenging to get the ball down the field when you can’t block. No team has allowed more QB hits this year than the Niners offensive line. The 49ers quarterbacks have been hit on 28% of their dropbacks. That number his higher than all but three team’s pressure rate this season. Yuck. The 49ers are 31st in adjusted line yards this season and 21st in adjusted sack rate. The line has struggled, but that sack rate tells you that the quarterbacks are holding onto the ball as well.
The advanced stats have the 49ers slightly above average as well. San Francisco is 12th in EPA per play, 11th in dropback EPA, and 14th in rushing EPA. Success rate isn’t as kind as that stat measures how effective you are on a down-to-down basis. Overall, the 49ers are 17th in success rate, ranking 10th against the pass but are 26th against the run. There were a few carries from Jerick McKinnon on Sunday where he cutback when he didn’t have to and put the line in a bad spot. We know the line’s deficiencies have hurt more than anything, though.
The numbers above won’t be where the 49ers finish the season, and it’s unlikely they’re anywhere near 26th in success rate when we do this again halfway through the season. Adding your quarterback, running back, receiver, and center will be a significant boost. The execution has been off, and that’s to be expected with backups. The 49ers will be better, but they’ll have to be if they want to make the postseason.
The 49ers defense has been hit hard with injuries, but they’ve played about as well as you could ask all things considering. The 49ers are sixth in defensive DVOA, ranking sixth against the pass and eighth against the run. The long passing touchdown allowed Sunday night have been few and far between as the 49ers are one of five teams that have allowed single-digit pass plays of 20 yards or more. The schedule doesn’t hurt, but they’ve executed, and that’s what you’re supposed to do. San Francisco is tied for second in the NFL for allowing the fewest explosive passing plays. They’ve allowed the 11th-most explosive running plays, so that’ll be something to keep an eye on during the next quarter of the season.
Give credit to the defensive line, which relies on the likes of Dion Jordan playing quality snaps, yet, the Niners continue to get after the quarterback. The 49ers are second in the NFL in pressure rate at 30.9%. It’s one thing to get in the backfield, but it’s another thing to affect the quarterback. The defense is knocking down the QB 11.4% of the time, which is fifth in the NFL so far—living in the backfield as often as they have generally indicates that the sacks are soon to follow.
The defense hasn’t truly been tested, and the advanced stats reflect that. San Francisco is third in EPA per play, eighth in EPA per dropback, and third in EPA per rush. The defense is fifth in overall and dropback success rate and 11th in rushing success rate.
They’re in the top-15 in yards, points, plays, and time of possession per drive. It’s just a matter of whether Ryan Fitzpatrick will turn it over. We’ll see Sean McVay, Josh McDaniels, Russell Wilson, Aaron Rodgers, and Drew Brees after Fitzmagic. The next month or so will tell us everything we need to know about the 49ers’ defense.