We are just about a quarter of the way through the NFL season, so it’s a great time to gauge where things stand across the league. Let’s take a look at some of the stats that are worth focusing on to understand the 49ers 4-0 start.
DVOA stands for Defense-adjusted Value Over Average. It’s a metric that compares success on every single play across a league average, while taking into consideration the situation and opponent. It was created by Football Outsiders founder Aaron Schatz and is widely considered an excellent tool for measuring efficiency and predicting future success. You can read more about the basis for it here.
There are a lot of ways to look at what DVOA means, but know that a higher number for an offense is good, but a higher number for a defense is bad (meaning the defense is allowing opposing offenses to run efficiently.
San Francisco has looked like the most efficient team during their four game winning streak, and the stats back that up. The Niners are 2nd in offensive DVOA (36.1%), 7th in defensive DVOA (-9.5%), and 10th in special teams DVOA (2.0%). Overall team DVOA is 2nd (47.7%) behind Buffalo.
San Francisco is one of only four teams with top-10 DVOA on both sides of the ball.
There are four 2-way teams in the NFL right now (top-10 DVOA in both offense and defense):— David Lombardi (@LombardiHimself) October 2, 2023
Bills (#3 offense, #2 defense)
49ers (#2 offense, #7 defense)
Lions (#5 offense, #5 defense)
Eagles (#9 offense, #10 defense)
That number two ranked offense will face their toughest challenge yet this week in Dallas, who owns the number one ranked DVOA defense.
Another useful tool for evaluating team success is EPA (expected points added) or EPA/play. Expected Points has been a concept in NFL analysis since the 70s, but has only become widely utilized in the last decade amongst major football media outlets. EPA tells us how each play impacts the potential for scoring on a given drive. Like DVOA, a high offensive EPA = good, a high defensive EPA = bad.
Here you can see how teams stack up this season on EPA/play based on all plays through four weeks of the season. (courtesy of https://rbsdm.com/stats/stats/)
The 49ers are once again one of the best teams in the league when measured by this statistic. Only Miami has a better offense EPA/play. And while they aren’t at the top of the league in defense EPA/play like they were last season, they still land in the top 10.
Right now, the rushing defense is dragging their overall defensive efficiency down, as they find themselves in the bottom five in the league for rush EPA/play allowed. That’s particularly surprising given they have given up the third-fewest yards on the ground all season and their 3.9 yards allowed per carry is far from the bottom of the league.
There is rightfully some hesitation when it comes to using PFF grading system to accurately identify how players are fulfilling their job on a particular play, and how that stacks up over the course of a game and season. Even with that caveat, NFL teams regularly use PFF and its value is more than just producing media-driven numbers.
Behind the scenes at Pro Football Focus is a workforce attempting to determine how successful a player or team is on a down-to-down basis.
And to their credit, PFF has the 49ers as the number one overall team with a 92.3 grade. They are the only team over 90.0 The Dolphins (88.9), Bills (85.1), Cowboys (85.0) and Lions (84.3) round out the top five.
Offensively, San Francisco (81.2) is behind Miami (87.6) and they are the only two teams with grades over 80.0 on that side of the ball. The Niners are one of only three teams with a defensive grade over 80, leading the pack again with an 88.4 grade. Dallas at 88.3 and Baltimore at 83.2 are the other two teams. The special teams unit comes in at 20th overall, with a 66.8 grade.
Within those specific sides of the game, PFF thinks highly of the 49ers receiving and pass routes (88.5 grade, #1), tackling (79.0 grade, #1), and pass rush (90.6 grade, #1). However, San Francisco is struggling in pass blocking - their 53.7 grade has them slotted at 26th overall, behind teams like Washington (who have allowed a league-high 24 sacks) and Bears (17 sacks allowed, 30th in the league).
We know from the metrics listed above that the 49ers boast one of the best teams in this young NFL season. But let’s also give a special shout to Brock Purdy, who continues to defy the limitations of NFL pundits and media by producing at efficiency levels we haven’t seen in the Bay Area in a long time.
Here are some of my favorite stats that give context to Brock Purdy’s success so far this year:
- 59.3% Success Rate (1st in NFL)
- 0.47 EPA/Dropback (1st)
- 81.9% On Target Percentage (5th)
- 72.3% Completion Percentage (3rd)
- 7.4% Completion Percentage above Expected (5th)
- 5.1 Completed Air Yards per Attempt (3rd)
- 7.0 Completed Air Yards per Completion (6th)
- 9.1 Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt (2nd)
- 115.1 Passer Rating (1st)
- 84.6 QBR (1st)
Keep proving the haters wrong, Mr Relevant.
Want to see some more analysis regarding how the 49ers stack up to the rest of the league this season? I recommend checking out Ben Baldwin on Twitter. Here is his thread of advanced metrics recapping the first four weeks: