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Stat gurus at Football Outsiders predict rough 2009 for 49ers
Stat gurus at Football Outsiders predict rough 2009 for 49ers
If you want to provoke a guy, talk about his momma. If you want a woman mad, tell her those jeans make her look fat.
And if you want to insult an NFL franchise, compare them to the Detroit Lions.
The 49ers are the victim of that last zinger in the recently released book. Football Outsiders Almanac 2009 crunches the numbers – statistics are Football Outsiders specialty – and concludes that “the only difference between the Matt Millen-era Lions and the Scot McCloughan-era Niners is context and luck.”
Bill Barnwell, who wrote that line, happens to root for the 49ers. But he discovered that the statistics don’t justify much reason for optimism. He said the 49ers’ recent W-L record might look as bad as Detroit if not for the fact that San Francisco gets to play in the marshmallow-soft NFC West.
Is there hope for 2009?
Not much, according to Football Outsiders, which annually provides one of the most thought provoking season-previews on the market. A year ago, when the Cowboys were a darling pick, they said Dallas wouldn’t even make the playoffs. They also correctly forecast bounce-back seasons for the Panthers and Ravens, who indeed reached the postseason.
So, looking ahead now …
Turning aside all the hype surrounding the Mike Singletary regime, the 2009 guide gives the 49ers a only 10 percent chance of being a playoff contender (9-10 wins) and a 51 percent chance of sliding back into Loserville (4-6 wins).
“I don’t like to be the buzzkill,’’ Barnwell, one of the book’s co-authors, said during a phone interview. “But I was really shocked at how bad they are. Realistically, if they played in a worse division, they could be the Lions.”
The book notes that the 49ers have not had a winning record beyond Week 3 in five years. They haven’t scored 40 points once during that time frame. The current roster is a collection of mediocrity thanks to misfires in the draft and free agency.
Notably, even Shaun Hill takes a hit. The quarterback won over fans – and the locker room — with his gutsy play down the stretch, but the book writes:
Much has been made of Hill’s 7-3 record as the 49ers starter, but it is misguided enthusiasm. Two of his wins came against last year’s 2-14 Rams. Two more came against teams with nothing to play for, including the 2007 Bucca*neers, who were actively resting all their players. That leaves Hill with a win over the Bengals in 2007 and vic*tories over the Bills and Jets last year, in which the team scored a combined 54 points. Color us impressed.
Along with dousing Hill with cold water, the book urges caution regarding the 49ers’ recent knack for grinding out close games. The 49ers’ 9-5 record in games decided by three points or less should be reason for concern, not hope, Barnwell said.
“We haven’t found (winning close games) to be an indication of future success,’’ he said. “In fact, it’s the opposite: It’s the teams that really blow away the opposition that are poised for success.
“When a team is really dominating inferior opponents, that’s the best indicator of better days ahead.”
Football Outsiders, was created by Brown University graduate Aaron Schatz, with the goal of doing for the NFL what Bill James and others helped do for baseball. Namely, using statistics to support – or to debunk – traditional NFL wisdom.
For example, this year’s book dismisses the popularly held belief that Singletary had offensive coordinator Mike Martz dial back the offense by establishing a more run-oriented base.
That convention*al wisdom doesn’t actually fit reality. The team passed the ball on 53 percent of first downs when Mike Nolan was head coach, with that figure rising to 55 percent after Singletary took over in Week 8.
Instead of shifting to a ball-control approach, the team went five-wide more fre*quently, enjoying far more success in that set than they had over the first seven games of the season.
Among Football Outsider’s previous assertions about the NFL:
– Running backs usually decline after age 28, tight ends after age 29, wide receivers after age 30 and quarterbacks after age 32.
– A running back with 370 or more carries during the regular season will usually suffer either a major injury or a lock of effectiveness the following year, unless he is named Eric Dickerson.
– Rushing is more dependent on the offensive line than people realize, but pass protection is more dependent on the quarterback himself than people realize.
– Recovery of a fumble, despite being the product of hard work, is almost entirely random.
Relying on stats to tell the story in the NFL, of course, is a dangerous proposition. Compared to baseball, football is extremely difficult to quantify. Raiders cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, for example, barely gets any interceptions. But that isn’t because he stinks – it’s because he’s so great that quarterbacks rarely throw his direction.
Similarly misleading: Jon Kitna put up back-to-back 4,000-yard passing seasons. But that wasn’t because he was the next coming of Dan Marino. It was because Kitna was playing for a team that was usually hopelessly behind at halftime.
Recognizing the tricky nature of quantifying the sport, Football Outsiders makes sure they don’t rely too much on calculators. A staff of volunteers breaks down game film of every game and has created a data base of every play going back four years.
How often is a team using play-action? How accurate is a quarterback when he scrambles? How far was the pass? How far was the run after the catch? How often is a receiver an intended target?
“It’s actually really, really cool,’’ Barnwell said.
It’s also really, really ominous for the 49ers. Football Outsiders deemed McCloughan’s current roster to be generally lacking on both sides of the ball. There are a handful of star players and a whole lot of borderline ones. Here, for example, is the book’s appraisal of tight end Vernon Davis:
Davis’ skill set entering into his fourth season boils down to being a poor man’s Jim Kleinsasser. Davis was supposed to be a terrifying downfield threat against linebackers and safeties thanks to his 4.38 40-yard dash; instead, his NFL average of 11.0 yards per catch puts him behind such noted speed demons as Brent Celek and Des*mond Clark. On the bright side, he is just as muscular as when the Niners fell in love with him.
Overall, the team projection is similarly grim – much to Barnwell’s dismay. He said that if everything – everything — goes right, the 49ers could be in the mix for a playoff spot. But overall, the forecast looks like this:
2009 Mean Projection: 5.7 wins
On the Clock (0-3 wins): 15%
Loserville (4-6): 51%
Mediocrity (7-8): 22%
Playoff Contender (9-10): 10%
Super Bowl Contender (11+): 2%
Stat gurus at Football Outsiders predict rough 2009 for 49ers | 49ers Hot Read
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