Crushed Optimists

We are twin brothers who grew up in Central Washington. This blog is devoted to the life of Seattle sports fans, as well as various other topics that we will espouse for your enjoyment. We could be called another OFFICIAL SEATTLE SEAHAWKS site, but we'll take our uneducated crack at the Mariners, Sonics, and Huskies as well. A Seattle Sports Blog? Must be the land... of crushed optimism!

Monday, July 31, 2006

Preseason NFL Power Groupings... Let the Fun Begin!!

Colin and I detest the whole Power Rankings setup... it is generally an excuse for Petey King and Petey Prisco to put the Hawks down after Miami and New England. Especially so early in the year it is a fairly stupid and pointless proposition. That's why we've decided to forgo specific slots in terms of the groups Colin outlined on Friday. So to us there's literally no difference between San Francisco and Green Bay. They both have as much chance of going to the postseason as Colin does of finding anyone who respects his chosen occupation.

This first group of complete ineptitude is the No F'in Way group, and I am pleased to present the first of our month long preview counting down to opening day (by the way, I am so friggin' excited about this season I'm already breaking out in chills even thinking about it... and that's getting ready to write about this team).

So... yeah... the San Francisco 49ers. Let's get jiggy.

2005 Record: 4-12
Points For: 239
Points Against: 428

The first, and obvious, statement about the 49ers is that their offense was absolutely dreadful. If we are going from a baseball Pythagorean method, the "run" differential of -189 was the worst in the entire league, even worse than the pathetic Texans.

Points For and Points Against are interesting statistics to look at in the NFL, but only as a first indicator. For example, say the 49ers had an awful offense (which they did, as we will continue to look at during this preview). That means they gave up a lot of turnovers (which they did, a whopping 27 of them) and had terrible time of possession (which they did, a putrid 27:18). In fact, the 49ers only even ran 865 total plays, 70 worse than the next team in the NFL (the Chicago Bears). Think about the number of additional opportunities that complete ineffectiveness grants to an opposing offense. Thus the Points Against differential, while bad, should be taken in light of the offense, and so any improvement the 49ers see in the standings has to be in the light of the offense. Even a middle of the pack group makes the 49ers a 7-8 win team and in the quick 16 game season of the NFL, a few breaks can make a surprise group. Unfortunately, the Niner offense does not have the tools this year to have a jump like that.

All in all, I think you could make a fairly simple statistical argument for the fact that the San Francisco 49ers were the worst team in the NFL last year and were burned to draft as late as they did (i.e. Vernon Davis << Reggie Bush).

Editor's Note: Football Outsiders is currently down, so I won't be able to provide DVOA numbers for each position, so my apologies.

As I wrote above, this was a year to forget for the San Francisco faithful. What can be done to right the ship? Well, it will definitely have to start with...

Quarterback: Alex Smith
Backup: Trent Dilfer
I have to give this to the Niner brass, the pickup of Trent Dilfer was the best they made all offseason. As we are well aware in Seattle, Dilfer is the prototypical backup quarterback, and we could definitely use him back here (see atypically reasonable Steve Kelley article today). Alex Smith was an overrated quarterback in an interesting collegiate Utah offense, and was part of a weak quarterback class (before the draft, both Colin and I wrote how Smith would be the 4th best quarterback in a normal draft... and then were proved right this year, as Leinart/Young/Cutler were all better talent). Now the 49ers are stuck with a giant question mark. Smith is talented, but is he at all ready to handle the type of consistent pass rush, and make good reads to questionable talent? In fact, will anyone ever get a true read on his talent while he is completely surrounded by mediocrity? I don't buy the "small hands" crap. That sounds like a made-up excuse by some overpaid hack like Petey Prisco.

Here's what it comes down to for me... even bad quarterbacks have more than one TD in 9 games. Even bad talent should be able to get a few tosses into the end zone (see: Michael Vick). So Smith has the fortitude of Joey Harrington with the accuracy of Vick (only a paltry 50% completion percentage). Not a good mix. I don't know if there was a single bright spot to be found out of that campaign. I would be quite concerned if I was a member of the 49er brass. Rookie QBs with talent have mental issues, lapses in judgement, but display undeniable talent. Even Matt Hasselbeck during the "Mike Holmgren is yelling at me again" years showed he had skills. Can Smith turn it around? Of course. Does it seem likely? Nope. At this point he is the equivalent of drafting a young starting pitcher who can throw 100 mph but doesn't have a good breaking pitch and misses the strike zone.

Running Back: Frank Gore
Backup: Kevan Barlow

I'm putting Gore here because I sure hope Mike Nolan isn't stupid enough to start Barlow again. Barlow was, to put it bluntly, godawful. An anorexic panda could have run better. Remember how I hate the whole yards per carry stat, especially when used to make Willie Parker look like the second coming of Jim Brown? Well, when your average is at 3.3 ypc, there is no argument from me. That's just bad. When your LONG for the year is 24 yards, that moves into awful range. At least Gore is young and has "upside". At least he can do better than 3.3 ypc. Also, Gore outgained Barlow with 50 fewer carries. He's a possible 1000 yard back (and an interesting fantasy sleeper). This is the most important part of getting that time of possession number back in the right direction. The running game has to be established. They can do it, against the Hawks last year they almost pulled out the upset because of that running game. Gore does need to get involved in the passing game (only 15 receptions last season) in order to give Smith another safety valve while the line breaks down yet again.

Speaking of the offensive line...


When you're getting excited about adding The Player Formerly Known As Larry Brown you have some issues. When you're lamenting the loss of signing Chris Gray a year later you have some issues.

There are a pair of statistics I look at when determining the quality of the offensive line. 3rd down conversion rate and 4th down conversion rate. Seattle makes all of these because Shaun Alexander (properly motivated) only needed to run to where the line had already pushed the pile to pick up the last couple of yards. They also gave Matt Hasselbeck enough time in the pocket to make the correct read and for the receiver to make his break. The 49ers? Not so good...

3rd Down Rate: 24%
4th Down Rate: 5 of 8

San Francisco didn't even go for it much on 4th down, knowing it was already over. That 3rd down rate is simply abysmal and indicative of serious problems in the trenches.

There is one bright spot about this group. San Francisco was only penalized for 780 yards, 3rd best in the NFC behind Dallas and Carolina. That's actually impressive, but shows Mike Nolan has a decent coaching staff (even if the offensive coordinator than split for Green Bay).

Wide Receivers/TE

Much has been made about the addition to the team of Vernon Davis. I am still ruefully shaking my head about the decision to make him the highest paid TE in the entire league. What exactly did Davis do in college to warrant this uber-hype? It's almost like seeing another Jeremy Shockey or Kellen Winslow enter the league... oh... wait... we know how THAT turns out. If I was San Francisco, I would have been satisfied to have Eric Johnson, him of the 80+ catch year in 2004. That seems like a quality TE, and having two at the same time doesn't exactly strike fear into the hearts of opposing defensive coordinators.

San Francisco Fan: Yeah, we have Vernon Davis and Eric Johnson!
Defensive Coordinator: Yeah, I have two players I can cover with linebackers and safeties!

Much has also been made about the addition of Antonio Bryant. When you have an offseason like San Francisco, I guess you find excitement where you can find it, but if you genuinely believe Bryant is a #1 receiver, you have been spending way too much time on Hippie Hill (visited there a week back, not a big enough drum circle). Yes, he had 1000 yards. Yippee. He'll probably have 1000 yards again this year, because there is literally no one worthy of an NFL roster spot behind him. If he's such an incredible deep threat, how come he only had two receptions over 40 yards? Hmmm? Look, he's not a bad addition, but when that comes at the same time you're losing Brandon Lloyd, you're simply replacing similar talent. When your roster has as many holes as does San Francisco's, replacements don't exactly help.

Dang. This is getting long. I think Colin and I have missed the football season.


Defensive previews are always a big tougher, as there are fewer individual statistics to look at and review. It is a much better team effort (defensive tackles plug the line so linebackers can run free etc). As I wrote above, the fact the 49ers allowed so many points was partially due to the defense having to be on the field so much each time out and in such lousy field position. Still, they weren't exactly... say... good, like the 1992 Seahawks defense.

Against the Run:

The 49ers had a fairly respectable 3.8 ypc average against the run. If I had time, I would do research to see how many "burn out the clock" runs were a part of that, but that would take going through the play-by-play of 16 games to adjust the average. Let's just say I find the above statistic a little hard to believe, when you are losing so many games you have teams who simply quit passing and so you have to play the run. They did have some success against the Hawks in SF, but we ran through them like butter at home in that boring rout. When you have a playmaker like Julian Peterson, you have a better chance, but when you lose him in favor of yet ANOTHER North Carolina St rookie (Manny Lawson) it becomes a bigger question mark. Remember, Bryant Young had an insane year at his age and is only getting older. In fact, throughout this whole defense there isn't one player I would pick as a "star" or even an "almost star". At least we can say that San Francisco isn't awful against the run. They're mediocre.

Against the Pass:

Back to awful. Get this. The 49ers allowed a 64.9% completion percentage and averaged 276.7 yards per game. That's like facing a relaxed Peyton Manning each week. And you wonder why this team was 4-12. Those numbers are actually stunning in how bad they are.

How do you improve that? By making almost zero changes to the personnel. That's some serious faith Mike Nolan has in his team... and I would say misguided. How do you get to be that bad? I'm sure some of it goes to the poor defensive line efforts (not getting to the QB enough), but sheesh, some talent evaluator deserves a pink slip.

I don't think I can even write more about that. It speaks for itself. This was abysmal. It will be abysmal. Go hope.

Special Teams:

K Mike Nedney is really good. Who cares?

Look, the 49ers are going to be a bad team. There is no reason to expect much more out of Alex Smith for any reason other than he can't be worse. There is no reason to expect the pass defense to improve whatsoever. Another TE, a similar WR, and an aging guard will not improve this team enough. I wouldn't be surprised if they slid back to 2 wins.

To all those hopeful commentors on Football Outsiders. You are insane. Go away.

posted by Gavin @ 1:26 PM  1 comments


At 4:11 PM, Blogger NinersGear said...

"To all those hopeful commentors on Football Outsiders. You are insane. Go away."

I was going to post, but now I guess I have to leave...


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