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Football Outsiders lists ‘19 49ers as the seventh-best defense of the decade

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The ‘11 Special Teams unit

San Francisco 49ers v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images

Aaron Schatz of Football Outsiders wrote an in-depth article on ESPN+ reviewing the top teams and players from the past decade. Schatz listed the top-10 offenses, defenses, special teams units, skill players on offenses. He also listed the bottom-five for each. Thankfully, none of the San Francisco 49ers made the former lists. The Cardinals offenses were three of the bottom five, including the worst in 2018. The Niners defense from last season found themselves seventh on the top defenses of last decade:

7. 2019 San Francisco 49ers (-21.1%)

Both the 49ers and Patriots defenses allowed 4.66 yards per play this season, but the 49ers fell behind the Patriots defense in DVOA because they weren’t as strong on third downs and didn’t have as many takeaways.

I hope history doesn’t look back at the 2019 season and forget how dominant the 49ers were on defense. San Francisco consistently generated pressure with four players, and that allowed them to leave seven players in coverage and be stingy against the pass. Their DVOA was still the seventh-highest of the decade despite playing December without Jaquiski Tartt, and the Falcons game without Tartt, Richard Sherman, and K’Waun Williams. There will be so many “what ifs” looking back in 2019, and the main one will be what if D.J. Jones and Dee Ford were healthy.

Football Outsiders’ special teams’ ratings combine measurement of all the kicking games. The five are field goals, kickoffs, punts, kick returns, and punt returns. Fans often overlook special teams, but coaches continue to harp that this phase is equally as important as offense and defense. The 2011 49ers special teams had the sixth-highest DVOA last decade:

6. 2011 San Francisco 49ers (+7.8%)

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-Pro, while Ted Ginn Jr. scored touchdowns on both kickoff and punt returns.

Akers made 84% of his field goals, including seven from over 50 yards. Akers actually had a higher percentage on kicks from 50 yards than he did from 40. Lee averaged over 50 yards per punt, which, man, what a luxury. He also led the NFL in net punting yards by nearly a full yard. Ginn finished fourth in the NFL in punt return average and third in kick return average. His world-class speed still makes a difference nearly a decade later.

No 49ers QB was listed for having the top-10 quarterback seasons, though Jared Goff in ‘16 (third-worst) and Josh Rosen in ‘18 (the worst) made the bottom-five. Surprisingly, George Kittle didn’t crack the top-10. Rob Gronkowski’s DYAR (yards above replacement) was 237 in 2010, which was good enough for tenth place. Kittle’s DYAR was 187 in 2019 and 180 in 2018.