Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

20 Jun 2007

The 2006 49ers: Really Lucky or Good Timing?

Here's an interesting little stat from the ProFootballReference.com blog, courtesy of Doug Drinen: "...the 2006 San Francisco 49ers had the worst point differential of any 7-9 team in history.... There has, in fact, only been one 6-10 team ever to post a worse point differential. And the 49ers compiled this differential against a weak schedule."

So, as Drinen writes, were the 49ers a really lucky 7-9, or just a "clutch team that played their best football when it counted the most?" (For 2006, FO had San Francisco with 6.2 estimated wins and 5.1 Pythagorean wins.) And more importantly, what does this mean for 2007?

Posted by: P. Ryan Wilson on 20 Jun 2007

62 comments, Last at 23 Jun 2007, 12:34pm by steelberger1

Comments

1
by Karl Cuba (not verified) :: Wed, 06/20/2007 - 11:18am

With regards to 2007, the niners are quite a different team, with as many as five new defensive starters, two new wide receivers a healthy Vernon Davis, a new right tackle and hopefully a more mature Alex Smith.

The horrendous point differential is partly due to a handful of games where the niners simply failed to be at all competitive (41-0 toKC, 48-19 to SD, 41-10 to Chicago in a four game span). The niners' defense tightened up considerably after Brandon Moore, Keith Lewis and Ronald Fields were added to the starting defense, giving it a physical edge that it previously lacked. Onlythe Saints really thrashed the niners after those changes were made, they were simply too fast on offense especially Reggie Bush) and the niners didn't have the ability to exploit the Saints' defensive weaknesses.

Additionally, the niners seemed to be a good second half team, possibly because they were often behind but they did seem to be in better physical shape than the Seahawks when they played at Quest field for example.

Didn't the niners exceed both the Pythagorian win total and the DVOA projection the previous year as well? If so then maybe it's the way Nolan calls a game.

2
by dryheat (not verified) :: Wed, 06/20/2007 - 11:18am

As a fan of the team holding their number 1 draft pick in 2008, I certainly hope it's the former.

I cannot believe that I still haven't gotten catholicmatchgirl as my anti-spam word

3
by Theo, Holland (not verified) :: Wed, 06/20/2007 - 11:31am

I read somewhere that if a team is behind, they tend to pass more. Additionaly, I read that the passing game was not the strength of the SF offense last year.

4
by ammek (not verified) :: Wed, 06/20/2007 - 12:16pm

I dunno, can you like a team that lost twice in one season to the Cardinals?

Three of SF's four out-of-division wins came at the expense of Oakland and Detroit (the league's worst teams) and a 9-3 victory over Brad Johnson's fading Vikes. That's unconvincing. Karl says only the Saints crushed them in the second-half of the year, but I watched the Green Bay game, and it wasn't ever close. The Niners' line, Kwame et al, was horrendous, as Aaron Kampman seemed to take up residence in the Niners' backfield.

Yet the picture is complicated by the season-ending win in Denver and those two Seahawks games. And if you factor into Drinen's similarity scores each team's record for the two previous seasons, the Niners come out looking most like the 1990 Cowboys. Young top-pick QB, RB with breakout season, Norv Turner at OC ...

5
by Karl Cuba (not verified) :: Wed, 06/20/2007 - 12:52pm

4: I agree that the Pack game wasn't very close but the Saints REALLY crushed us. Kampman was bound to destroy Harris, but Kwame has already lost his starting job to Staley and is probably behind Snyder onn the depth chart.

As for the Cardinals, we never had anything close to an answer for Fitzgerald, whichh is probably the reason we went so hard after Clements.

6
by navin (not verified) :: Wed, 06/20/2007 - 12:55pm

The estimated win total pretty much shows that the 2006 49ers had a ridiculously high variance. If not for the Jags, everyone would have been talking about how fickle SF was.

Someone already mentioned the blowouts to the Bears and Chiefs. The defense was horrendous to start the year, and improved at the end.

I'm slightly worried because they exceeded the expected wins, but it's not by a large amount, so the offseason improvements can conceivably get the team to 9-11 wins this year.

7
by navin (not verified) :: Wed, 06/20/2007 - 12:57pm

Also I believe that SF outplayed Arizona in both games according to DVOA. Fumbles definitely were the difference in the first game.

8
by Joe T. (not verified) :: Wed, 06/20/2007 - 1:06pm

ammek - SF almost looks like the '90 Cowgirls, except Turner is now the HC in San D. Hard to believe. Maybe for that reason they are in better shape than Dallas was.

Is Frisco the new "armchair expert's" perennial sleeper candidate to win the division that consistently doesn't crack a .500 winning percentage (like Arizona has been the last five seasons)?

9
by Pat (not verified) :: Wed, 06/20/2007 - 1:38pm

It's not just one or two games.


DVOA Record Avg. Pt. Diff.
1-10 0-4 -24.5
10-20 2-3 -11.25
20-32 5-2 +4.14

It's all about the schedule.

10
by Pat (not verified) :: Wed, 06/20/2007 - 1:50pm

Onlythe Saints really thrashed the niners after those changes were made,

Of course, the Saints were the only team in the top 10 that the 49ers played in that span. The second-best team they played were the Packers, who beat them by 11, and were obviously far worse than the Saints were.

More specifically, since you suggested defense, it should be noted the only above-average offenses that they played were Philly, New Orleans, San Diego, St. Louis, and Kansas City. That's it.

10 of their 16 games were against below-average offenses.

11
by TBW (not verified) :: Wed, 06/20/2007 - 2:21pm

It seems like they were both lucky and unlucky last year, with the "lucky" winning out in the end.

The difference between their estimated wins and their Pythagorean wins would seem to indicate that they were unlucky in translating their effectiveness into actual points. But, they were very lucky in translating those points into wins. In fact, they were so lucky in that respect that they even outperformed their estimated wins.

What does this mean for 2007 ? I guess you might expect that regression to the mean would lead to them to have Pythagorean wins more closely track estimated wins or perhaps even exceed them. But on the other hand, they will probably not be so fortunate in exceeding their Pythagorean wins.

If I had to make a prediction I would say that SF will be a popular dark horse on the basis of last year's record and their off season moves, but they will fail to live up to the expectations and have what will be perceived as a disappointing year even though I bet they show real improvement in terms of DVOA. Then in 2008 they break through and contend for the playoffs.

12
by Jacob Stevens (not verified) :: Wed, 06/20/2007 - 2:38pm

Good work, Pat, thanks.

Note that their schedule figures to be slightly easier, this year. We'll see how that pans out though, because I'm expecting the AFC North to turn out surprisingly competitive all around.

I'd just like to add a few things...first, you better hope historical worst point differentials are not just how "Nolan calls the game." Sounds to me like even 7-9 is unsustainable at that pace.

They definitely are a substantially different team, though. And they did seem to be a good second-half team (185-161, which by itself isn't all that impressive, but such a substantial improvement from the 2nd half is encouraging and should carry over to this year, with the exceptional performance (most likely source of regression to the mean) being in the 1st half).

So, they are probably rightfully highlighted by so many as poised for making the postseason, this year.

Those Seahawk games were close til the end, though. The Seahawks got run over by Frank Gore! Still, they were driving on their last possession, and if they didn't make a mistake, they score and still win.

The Qwest Field game, the 9ers started out 1 for 11 on 3rd down conversions. They kept the Hawks out of the end zone, though, and it was a 4 point game til the end when it was blown open.

Part of their being a good 2nd half team is the size of their interior line (particularly when the Seahawks were without Marcus Tubbs, and the division really wasn't fielding very large or very good DTs. Exception Arizona, this year...)

That figures to remain this year, as well, but if the Hawks have Tubbs again, when the games were still so close at the end despite Frank Gore getting over 400 yards from scrimmage in those two games combined, a sweep of the Hawks is not a good indicator of success for this year; they STILL didn't have a winning record in the division, and at the least their record against Seattle figures to regress back to the mean.

They'll probably make a run for the title or the wildcard. Their December could turn into an absolute cakewalk. I don't see them advancing at all in the playoffs.

13
by DWL (not verified) :: Wed, 06/20/2007 - 2:57pm

"With regards to 2007, the niners are quite a different team, with as many as five new defensive starters, two new wide receivers a healthy Vernon Davis, a new right tackle and hopefully a more mature Alex Smith."

As is every other team in the league

"185-161, which by itself isn’t all that impressive, but such a substantial improvement from the 2nd half is encouraging and should carry over to this year, with the exceptional performance (most likely source of regression to the mean) being in the 1st half)."

It this referring to the 2nd half of the season (essentially scoring 3 points more per game than their opponent) of 2nd half of all 16 games (essentially scoring 1.5 more points in the 2nd half than their opponents)?

"Part of their being a good 2nd half team is the size of their interior line" - Again 2nd half of season or game?

14
by Jacob Stevens (not verified) :: Wed, 06/20/2007 - 3:03pm

13: those both meant, 2nd halves of all 16 games. Which, compared to 113-251 in the 1st half, is more impressive, as a 2nd half improvement, than simply a 2nd half point differential (in which it's marginally above average).

15
by ammek (not verified) :: Wed, 06/20/2007 - 3:05pm

Pat says it's all about the schedule. And he's right - except that to go 2-3 against middling teams with an AVERAGE point differential of -11.25 suggests a large element of fluke (albeit on a small sample size). The average NFL game is won or lost by seven points (give or take) so you'd expect a 2-3 team to have an average point differential of about -1.5.

16
by Pat (not verified) :: Wed, 06/20/2007 - 3:28pm

#15: Whoops, divided the 10-20 bracket by 4, rather than 5. Should be -9, not -11.25. And that is entirely borked by the KC game - without that, they've got a 2-2 record with a -1 differential.

Basically, what this says to me is that the 49ers belonged somewhere in the low 20s. It also says that they're completely incapable of playing with the big boys.

17
by navin (not verified) :: Wed, 06/20/2007 - 3:51pm

If SF went 5-2 against 20-32, doesn't that mean they belong in the high twenties to low teens? That seems to jive well with a 7-9 record in a bad NFC West. They also went 2-3 against the 10-20 range, which means they are competitive with the mediocre teams.

After this offseason's improvements, I'll stand by my prediction of 9-11 wins in a weak NFC West. And no, not everyone improved in the offseason.

18
by Mr Shush (not verified) :: Wed, 06/20/2007 - 3:58pm

#13 (DWL) - I think it's fair to say that the '9ers have had a more radical off-season overhaul than most teams. I don't think it's unreasonable to think there's a good chance they could be a substantially better team this year than last. What the numbers above suggest is simply that they'll have to be a substantially better team to even have a shot at the same record. The only team this is more true of are the Jets, who the mainstream media are also over-hyping like crazy.

19
by David (not verified) :: Wed, 06/20/2007 - 3:59pm

Basically, what this says to me is that the 49ers belonged somewhere in the low 20s. It also says that they’re completely incapable of playing with the big boys.

Whoa, there, future tense boy.

What is says is that they *were* completely incapable of playing with the big boys. The niners are definitely an improving team (yes, unlike all other NFL teams, some of whom are on downward spirals due to, for example, age, or coaching changes).

Personally, I'm a bit worried about all the attention being paid to San Francisco. I'd rather we were running under the headlines a little more, as we were last year. Mostly, improvement this year depends on Alex Smith. Last year was a quantum leap, but only as far as "replacement level". He really needs to at least be hitting top 15 kind of status

20
by ammek (not verified) :: Wed, 06/20/2007 - 4:03pm

So, in fact, excluding the five blowouts against playoff teams (including KC) the Niners went 7-4 with a perfectly normal points differential.

Hmmm. Might this have a strategic explanation? Realizing their team to be inferior, might the 49ers' coaches have played high-risk high-reward ball against the upper-tier teams, knowing they didn't have much to lose in any but pythagorean terms?

I've no evidence to say they did - I don't follow the Niners. But I remember the Packers called deliberately high-risk plays in the first half of a postseason game against the greatest-show-era Rams in 2002, on the basis that it gave them the best shot at victory against an obviously superior team.

21
by James G (not verified) :: Wed, 06/20/2007 - 4:07pm

17 - I know I make typos all the time, but I must continue my English crusade against people using the word "jive" when they mean "jibe." However, it's probably a losing battle. "Jibe" will banished and "jive" will have a new dictionary definition in no time.

FWIW, I'll go with lucky. But they did make some significant changes to their WR corps. Still, I'll guess 6-10 this year.

22
by navin (not verified) :: Wed, 06/20/2007 - 4:11pm

Eagles

DVOA Record Avg Pt Diff
1-8 0-3 -11
9-20 5-1 +10.5
21-32 5-2 +5.9

After doing the same thing for the Eagles, it seems that their 11.6 expected wins is high. Good teams beat teams worse than them, as the Eagles did with the 9-32 ranked teams.

SF beat the 21-32 ranked teams, which to me shows that they'd fit in nicely around #20 last year.

23
by ammek (not verified) :: Wed, 06/20/2007 - 4:13pm

navin, we non-niner-fans on FO have all given up making predictions. Remember a poster called Michael who used to come on here and proclaim San Fran would have 7 wins in 2006 - he was laughed out of the building, in part because he used raiderjoe-like analysis, but also because the 2005 DVOA was so dire that 7 wins seemed impossible.

And lo and behold...

One thing I will say: schedule. NFC West plus Falcons (Harrington?), Bucs, Vikes, Browns on the last day, Saints at home, Giants around the time things get testy with Coughlin and after a bye ... mmmmm!

24
by DWL (not verified) :: Wed, 06/20/2007 - 4:19pm

"I think it’s fair to say that the ‘9ers have had a more radical off-season overhaul than most teams. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to think there’s a good chance they could be a substantially better team this year than last."

Couldn't this be a negative? Did the '9ers (dropping of 4 saves no key strokes, in fact increases w/ addition of appostrophe, but as we read, sounds good in head) add "too much" and potentially affect chemistry (and did they add swagger). Is there reason to believe that the overall and mass addition of talent won't be problematic? When I hear about lots of additions I can't help think of the Redskins, rightly or wrongly.

25
by Karl Cuba (not verified) :: Wed, 06/20/2007 - 4:39pm

24: You are probably the only poster/pundit that does not think the niners have improved more than almost every team this last offseason. That alone doesn't mean it's true but don't you think that at least Clements was a good signing?

20: You might be on to something there, if I rememer correctly, the niners have kicked onside a very large number of times in the past two years (twice in a row against the Colts I think).

26
by Felden (not verified) :: Wed, 06/20/2007 - 4:44pm

Re: 24

Having watched 15 of the 49ers games last year (lousy NFL Network), I can certainly tell you that the defense couldn't get much worse, chemistry be damned.

27
by mawbrew (not verified) :: Wed, 06/20/2007 - 4:55pm

If the niners coaches regarded KC as 'clearly superior' to their squad, they must not have thought much of their squad. Going into that game KC was winless (0-2) and had scored a grand total of 16 points. Seems unreasonable to sugggest the niners were overly intimidated going into that game.

28
by ZS (not verified) :: Wed, 06/20/2007 - 5:16pm

In reference to a previous article, does this mean anything in the "Crush", "Skate", and "Domination" sense?

29
by DWL (not verified) :: Wed, 06/20/2007 - 5:29pm

"You are probably the only poster/pundit that does not think the niners have improved more than almost every team this last offseason. That alone doesn’t mean it’s true but don’t you think that at least Clements was a good signing"

I do not have the time to diligently track what is going on within the league for every team. I count on the intelligent posters on this forum to enlighten me (not being sarcastic).

Obvously, I have almost no knowledge re: the "9ers, nor an opinion one way or another, hence my questions. I'm essentially asking opinions to be better substantiated in order to be better informed.

That being said, the mere addition of talent does not guarantee improvement, and if I'm understanding some of the posts on this particular string, I sense some concern about Nolan as a coach(?).

I'm also doing my best to get to the "over" on number of posts before the string denigrates into some emotionally charged random esoterical free for all.

30
by Patrick (not verified) :: Wed, 06/20/2007 - 5:50pm

To me, San Fran's "luck" is that they play in a division where all four teams had negative point differentials, possibly the worst division ever.
However, unlike most things we normally attribute to 'luck', this factor is likely to carry over into 2007. I see 9 very winnable games, 4 lost causes, and a few in between.
Semitopically, how many teams have managed to go 8-8 with a -74 differential (tenn.)? How many managed to go 8-8 with a +97 (JAX)?
Record and team quality really didn't seem to go hand in hand in '06.

31
by Ilanin (not verified) :: Wed, 06/20/2007 - 6:07pm

I don't see SF going better than 7-9 again this season, possibly with a DVOA that better reflects their record:
3-3 in conference, best case 4-2
1-3 against the AFC North, which is loaded. Best case has them taking a game off one of PIT and CIN for 2-2.
2-2 against the NFC South, best case 3-1 (beat Carolina)
1-1 against NYG and MIN, best case 2-0
7-9 predicted, best case 10-6, but I really doubt it. I'm going to keep with picking Arizona for the NFC West as eventually I'll be right. By this time next year you're going to be absolutely sick of the comparisons between Arizona and Indianapolis (and Leinart and Manning).

32
by NewsToTom (not verified) :: Wed, 06/20/2007 - 6:25pm

Re #29
I agree that San Francisco has probably had the biggest talent upgrade of any team this past offseason. As others have noted, the defense scarcely could be worse (above-average SF defensive players last year: Walt Harris, Manny Lawson, maybe no more). The biggest 49ers question I have is whether, and how much, Alex Smith will continue to improve without Norv Turner. If he regresses, then the 49ers could be in for another very long season.

33
by NewsToTom (not verified) :: Wed, 06/20/2007 - 6:31pm

Re #30
Worst division of all-time is an interesting question. I suspect the 1985 AFC Central would rank highly.

34
by navin (not verified) :: Wed, 06/20/2007 - 6:34pm

Re #23,

Everyone makes predictions. Pacifist Viking was talking about his nine wins for Minnesota all of last year.

I think that the SF organization should go into this season with a goal of 9-11 wins. Eleven is definitely a bit on the high side, but the schedule should be easy again.

The Rams are still terrible on defense and will probably finish at the bottom of the West. I think Arizona needs another year to get used to the new system. Seattle does worry me. I think they'll bounce back after last season's bad luck. Hasselbeck will be better but the real key is Alexander. If he can be average, they should be a scary offense.

35
by Karl Cuba (not verified) :: Wed, 06/20/2007 - 6:48pm

31: In my opinion, the Giants will stink next year so I'd bet on 2-0 vs them and Minnesota. So that would be 8-8 with any other improvement coming from managing to do better than 3-3 in the division. I woud say that 8 or 9 wins is a reasonable prediction for San Fran.

I don't really get the comparison between the Colts and the Cards, I think that the Rams compare more closely the Colts. For one, the Cards have more defense.

36
by Karl Cuba (not verified) :: Wed, 06/20/2007 - 6:50pm

29: "I’m also doing my best to get to the “over� on number of posts before the string denigrates into some emotionally charged random esoterical free for all."

Eh?

What do you mean?

37
by jonnyblazin (not verified) :: Wed, 06/20/2007 - 7:00pm

When there isn't a big talent difference between the teams in a conference, it's usually a good idea to peg a 3-3 in-conference record.

I think it's fair to say that SF doesn't have the athletes to compete with BAL, PIT, CIN, and NO should be able to beat them, so that leaves them at 3-7. That leaves road games at NYG, ATL, CAR, and CLE. All of these teams except CLE was substantially better than SF last year, and CLE was roughly even with SF (and is supposedly "improved" like SF), so optimistically you can give them a 1-3 record vs those teams, even though at this point they won't be favored in any of those games.

That leaves home "wins" vs MIN and TB. 5 or 6 wins is a good bet in my opinion.

38
by jonnyblazin (not verified) :: Wed, 06/20/2007 - 7:10pm

Eh, their over/under is around 7 or 7.5 wins. Shows what I know.

39
by Yaguar (not verified) :: Wed, 06/20/2007 - 7:19pm

As someone with no strong feelings about the Niners or the NFC West in general, I'm just going to say that the thought of San Francisco winning 9 to 11 games next year is absurd.

I'm not saying it has no chance of happening, I'm just saying it's highly unlikely, in the same way that the Browns are highly unlikely to post a winning record.

Try six or seven as a mean prediction.

40
by NewsToTom (not verified) :: Wed, 06/20/2007 - 7:25pm

Best and worst divisions, 8-division era (2002-06).

Best, by DVOA (cumulative):
2004 AFC East, 77.9
2005 AFC West, 73.7
2002 AFC West, 62.3
2002 NFC South, 49.0

Best, by PythWins:
2004 AFC East, 39.3
2002 NFC South, 38.5
2005 AFC West, 37.9
2002 AFC West, 37.3

Worst, by DVOA (cumulative):
2004 NFC West, -95.7
2005 NFC West, -64.5
2006 NFC West, -57.1
2002 NFC North, -56.2

Worst, by PythWins:
2004 NFC West, 24.2
2006 NFC West, 26.5
2002 NFC West, 26.5
2002 NFC North, 26.5

The NFC West has been somewhat to really, really bad for 4 of the past 5 seasons. The gap in 2005 between #1 Seattle, 12.3 PythWins, and #2 St. Louis, 6.4 PythWins, is probably a record. Ditto 38.5% gap between Seattle at 26.2 and #2 Arizona at -12.3.

Biggest year-on-year change goes to AFC East, 2004 (best division of 8-division era) to 2005 (worst AFC division of same).

41
by bravehoptoad (not verified) :: Wed, 06/20/2007 - 7:29pm

re: 29

I don't know where you'd be getting doubts about Nolan as a coach. Since he arrived, the 49ers have outperformed their DVOA. There's a decent chance that's because of him. Of course another factor DVOA doesn't measure, besides coaching, is luck.

I'll throw out my prediction of 8-8 this year. I'm using the highly advanced metric I've been working on. I've got it written down on the stickey in front of me.

42
by Jason Mulgrew aka The Mul Dawg (not verified) :: Wed, 06/20/2007 - 8:15pm

Definitely good timing. They got Alex Smith and Frank Gore to break free on the path to football immortality. I tell you, if I wasn't an Eagles fan, I would ride this San Francisco bandwagon till the cows came home. Alex Smith is the next great QB. He'll go down as an all time top 10-20 QB. I told you people last July that Smith would be good. You laughed at me and in the end I was correct. Don't make the same mistake again.

43
by Yaguar (not verified) :: Wed, 06/20/2007 - 8:20pm

42: You weren't correct at all. Smith's DVOA was -12.5% and his DPAR was 1.5. That puts him slightly below Brad Johnson in both metrics.

He was an inefficient replacement-level quarterback. He will likely continue to improve, but just because he was abominably bad his rookie year doesn't mean we should praise him for being below-average in his second.

44
by Jason Mulgrew aka The Mul Dawg (not verified) :: Wed, 06/20/2007 - 9:12pm

Once again you are wrong. Alex Smith was good. I saw the games. I don't need to see DVOA numbers. he was good.

45
by Thad (not verified) :: Wed, 06/20/2007 - 9:36pm

"That Mike guy has to milk a cow tomorrow. Does anyone know if a clip will be available on You Tube? Unfortunately, I won’t be able to watch ESPN2 tomorrow morning."

No offense, but thats why we laugh at you.

46
by empty13 (not verified) :: Wed, 06/20/2007 - 9:53pm

My take is that they are improved, yet they won some games they probly should have lost in 06. Same in 05. They werent a 4-12 team in 05 imho. Still a 2-14 rig, despite what Parcells sez about a team and its record.

Now in 07 I expect they might actually bag another win or two. But they wont win a bunch of close ones. And I dont see them in the playoffs (I do see the Rams there.).

I see the season ending win over Denver as a negative referendum on Cutler's progress. Denver will still be a 9-7 playoff misser next year most likely also. They will gte nore sacks but give up 5 yards a carry, depressing sack oppos.

The "winning close games" stuff is cyclical for teams in transition.

In 08 I expect the Niners to be a solid team.

47
by Pat (not verified) :: Wed, 06/20/2007 - 10:21pm

#44: Once again you are wrong. Alex Smith was bad. I saw the games. I don’t need to see DVOA numbers. he was bad.

See how much fun it is to assert things with a simple declaration?

You might try stating things with less authority when you're not going to back them up in the tiniest bit.

48
by footballprofessor (not verified) :: Thu, 06/21/2007 - 12:14am

Somebody up there mentioned the whole "cyclical" thing, so I have to chime in.

Having done the research, I'm going to say that the whole "cyclical" thing is going to hurt the Niners in 07. It's VERY hard for any team to improve their record in three consecutive years, so if on the off chance the Niners do win a few more games next year they'd be hurting bad in 2008.

Regression to the mean baby!

49
by jonnyblazin (not verified) :: Thu, 06/21/2007 - 12:18am

Not that it's my intention to backup "the Mul Dawg" by any means, but I think it's fair to say that Alex Smith did pretty well considering his WR corps and O-line in front of him. Or, he outperformed his offensive enviroment. Losing Norv Turner is big though, since Nolan is a defensive guy.

50
by James C (not verified) :: Thu, 06/21/2007 - 8:18am

I agree with the posters who are giving props to Alex Smith. When I saw him play last year he looked poised and accurate and made good decisions. He was a lot stronger in the pocket last year (shrugging off arm tackles in an Elway-like fashion) and used his feet much better than in his rookie season. His WRs were marginal at best, Battle is a fairly ordinary possession receiver (although tough as nails) and Bryant disappeared half-way through the year. It didn't help Davis' development when he went down for half of the year either. It also didn't help Smith that his line is built for run blocking and that Harris was a swinging gate at RT.

Next year his line should block better against the pass (if only because Harris wont get on the field), Davis should step up a bit and his WRs should be quite a bit better. Smith should improve as well and in all the offense could be a lot better.

I think Smith suffers from the common assumption that any of Leinart, Young or Cutler would have gone ahead of him had they been in the same draft. I would agree that Young is a special talent, but I think Smith might be the second guy out of the four. He has a stronger arm than Leinart or Young, moves better than Leinart or Cutler, is more accurate than Young or Cutler (and possibly Leinart) and makes better decisions than all three. I can see myself taking quite a bit of flak here.

I fail to see how anyone can say that the Niners defense shouldn't improve next year. Adding Clements at LCB will have a trickle down effect at RCB, nickel back and should help the pass rush. It should also allow Lewis to play as a box safety most of the time which he wasn't too bad at in Philly, which should help stop the run. They added a couple of defensive linemen, but still need to add more to give themselves a shot at having a very good defense. In my opinion they are only a nose guard and a top pass rushing OLB away, but that may be their problem as those guys can be very difficult to come by.

51
by dryheat (not verified) :: Thu, 06/21/2007 - 9:36am

Jeebus...all we do anymore is talk about the 49ers. There are 31 other teams in the league you know. You're really showing your NFC west bias Aaron, and it's killing the site.

52
by DWL (not verified) :: Thu, 06/21/2007 - 10:10am

That's because anytime an article is posted about a team from east of the Mississippi, the discussion ultimately denigrates into a discussion of the Patriots or Colts.

With the 49ers there are more degrees of separation.

53
by Zac (not verified) :: Thu, 06/21/2007 - 11:09am

Re: 40. Seattle moving from the AFC West to the NFC West looks like a genius move right now. They go from arguably the toughest division in football to the easiest. They've made the playoffs 4 straight years because of it.

54
by Pat (not verified) :: Thu, 06/21/2007 - 12:32pm

He has a stronger arm than Leinart or Young, moves better than Leinart or Cutler, is more accurate than Young or Cutler (and possibly Leinart) and makes better decisions than all three. I can see myself taking quite a bit of flak here.

Oh, absolutely. It was a virtual lock that Leinart would've been taken first had he not stayed an extra year. Smith wouldn't've even been in the picture at #1 there.

Leinart faced much tougher competition than Smith in their last year, and put up basically comparable numbers to Smith. Leinart and Smith are both pretty much prototype quarterback molds, so no height issues (see Troy Smith) there.

55
by James C (not verified) :: Thu, 06/21/2007 - 1:04pm

"Oh, absolutely. It was a virtual lock that Leinart would’ve been taken first had he not stayed an extra year. Smith wouldn’t've even been in the picture at #1 there."

I know that this was the opinion thrown about during both drafts, but everything I have read since indicates that NFL scouts hadn't bothered to go through their tape on Leinart as he was staying in school, and that once they did he wasn't the prospect that he was rated by the pundits as being (hence the drop to 10). It was a case of the guy from USC putting up great numbers on a national championship team and everyone assuming that he was going to be the top pick in the draft, compared to the guy who went to Utah and put up amazing numbers and won nearly every game, but for Utah. Leinart played against better opposition but had much better players around him. Smith played against worse teams, but probably with less of a competitive advantage than Leinart. That USC offensive line would have been able to play in the NFL - most of it now does, and Baker will join them next year.

The one thing that links them? Reggie Bush made them both look good. Too good in Smith's case as playing with Bush took a lot of the lustre off Smith's high school acheivements as far as major colleges were concerned.

56
by Pat (not verified) :: Thu, 06/21/2007 - 1:43pm

I think you're not appreciating exactly how good the 2006 draft class was compared to the 2005 (and 2007, for that matter). That's really why Leinart dropped to 10. Mike Williams, Troy Williamson - those guys might not've been drafted in the first round in 2006.

57
by Alex (not verified) :: Thu, 06/21/2007 - 2:18pm

#39: "I’m just going to say that the thought of San Francisco winning 9 to 11 games next year is absurd."

Maybe, but consider this: the last time the 49ers improved their DVOA by 30%+ from the previous year was in 2000. They went from -33.8% in 1999 to -1.5% in 2000, and improved from 4-12 to 6-10. Then, in 2001, they improved their DVOA to 20.5% (3rd in the NFL), and went 12-4.

Furthermore, there are usually at least one or two teams that make huge jumps in DVOA. In the last 8 years, 17 teams have improved their DVOA by 30% or more from the previous year. This year, three teams did it: Baltimore, New Orleans, and SF. In particular, New Orleans had about the same DVOA last year that SF had this year, and the Saints went from 3-13 to 10-6.

In light of that, it's not at all absurd to think SF might get 9-11 wins in a very weak conference.

#54: "It was a virtual lock that Leinart would’ve been taken first had he not stayed an extra year. Smith wouldn’t've even been in the picture at #1 there."

Like Reggie Bush was a lock to go #1 in 2005? Sorry, but I don't buy it. Maybe he would've been taken first, maybe not. But according to David Lewin, he had an injury that would've kept him from being drafted first.

Still, I do agree that Leinart will be a better NFL QB, when all is said and done.

58
by Karl Cuba (not verified) :: Thu, 06/21/2007 - 3:32pm

56: Pat, are you aware that Leinart had a shoulder injury that required surgery before the 2005 draft? There's no way he'd have gone above Smith, I've read this in so many places. Scouts were never as high on Leinart as fans or the media, a discrepancy that seems to occur quite often (Rodgers, Quinn)

59
by James C (not verified) :: Thu, 06/21/2007 - 4:51pm

"I think you’re not appreciating exactly how good the 2006 draft class was compared to the 2005"

I am perfectly aware of which players were in which draft. I didn't say Smith wouldn have been the first pick in the 06 draft. I didn't say he was the best QB out of the four, I just said that people who assume that had Leinart come out a year early he would have gone first are making a huge assumption, yet they always state this assumption as though it were fact.

60
by NewsToTom (not verified) :: Thu, 06/21/2007 - 5:26pm

Re #40
Ok, I was wrong.
1999 NFC West
#1 STL, 45.8% DVOA
#2 CAR, 2.1% DVOA
= 43.7% DVOA difference. I'd forgotten just how good those '99 Rams were. Alas, Carolina did manage 8.9 PythWins, a mere 4.9 behind those Rams.

Best and worst divisions, 31 team era (1999-2001). Note all numbers are based on 4-team divisions, so they're comparable to #40.

Best DVOA (cumulative):
2000 AFC East, 37.1
1999 AFC West, 27.3

Most PythWins:
1999 AFC East, 36.2
1999 AFC West, 34.4

Worst DVOA (cumulative):
1999 NFC West, -27.8
2000 NFC East, -24.2

Fewest PythWins:
1999 NFC East, 28.5
1999 NFC West, 28.9

61
by Brian (not verified) :: Fri, 06/22/2007 - 12:01am

Based on a regression model of basic performance (offensive and defensive passing efficiencies, running efficiencies, penalty yards, and turnovers per play) the 49ers earned 6.3 expected wins in 2006.

So it seems that although they were lucky converting points into wins, they were unlucky converting running and passing effectiveness (on both sides of the ball) into points.

Their most important improvement came in yards per offensive pass attempt. In 2005 it was 4.3 yds/att, which is 4th worse since the 2002 expansion. In 2006 it improved to 5.6 yds/att, which was near the recent league average of 5.94 yds/att.

Extrapolating last year’s efficiency stats into 2007’s schedule, the model predicts 7 wins for SF this year.

For more info on the models I use, check out the link behind my name above. The stats might be a little hardcore for most, but the predictions are scary-good.

62
by steelberger1 (not verified) :: Sat, 06/23/2007 - 12:34pm

Re 33:

That was a bad year.

I would have to go with the 2004 NFC West (only 25 wins, the 85 AFC Central got 27).

They did have one winning team though...I guess it's a toss up.