NFC West: where they rank

Where playoff teams rank on offense

January, 6, 2013
1/06/13
12:00
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LANDOVER, Md. -- We follow up our earlier post on playoff defenses with a look at how NFC West teams and their upcoming playoff opponents fared on offense.

Where playoff teams rank on defense

January, 6, 2013
1/06/13
10:40
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LANDOVER, Md. -- The Seattle-Washington and Green Bay-San Francisco playoff matchups invite a look at where these teams rank in various statistical categories.

The chart provides some defensive rankings for these four teams.

Please enjoy responsibly.

2012 NFC West defense ranks thru Week 14

December, 14, 2012
12/14/12
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2012 NFC West offense ranks thru Week 10

November, 13, 2012
11/13/12
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Every NFC West offense but San Francisco's lags in league-wide rankings through Week 10 despite recent gains for St. Louis and especially Seattle.

The Seahawks have scored between 24 and 30 points in each of their past three games after doing so only twice in their previous seven. Quarterback Russell Wilson has ranked fifth in NFL passer rating (105.3) and sixth in Total QBR (79.1) among regular starters since Week 6. The St. Louis Rams' Sam Bradford has ranked 10th (92.2 passer rating) and 11th (71.6 QBR) over that time.

San Francisco's Alex Smith has ranked ninth in passer rating (96.0) but only 18th in QBR (49.8, which is right below the 50-point average) since Week 6. That is because his production against the New York Giants and Seattle Seahawks fell within that window, which I set more to measure potential improvement from younger quarterbacks than to analyze where the more established Smith stands at this point in his career.

With that, we follow up our look at defenses with a chart showing where NFC West offenses rank in various categories since Week 10.

One side note: The Rams' defense ranked seventh through Week 7 in the expected points category. That ranking has fallen to 24th after games against Green Bay, New England and San Francisco. That has raised concerns, but we should expect the ranking to improve following upcoming games against the New York Jets and Arizona Cardinals.

2012 NFC West defense ranks thru Week 10

November, 13, 2012
11/13/12
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Measuring NFL defenses by yards allowed will provide a general idea which ones have fared better than others.

Measuring them by points allowed can do the same.

Both measures have obvious limitations. Sometimes, yards allowed are meaningless. Points allowed fails to account for the situations defenses encounter for reasons beyond their control.

Expected points are a little tougher to understand at first, but worth the time for those serious about measuring teams for what matters:
"Based on statistical analysis of 10 years of NFL play-by-play data, ESPN has created a formula that assigns an 'expected points' (EP) value to the team with the ball at the start of each play based on the game situation. Expected points accounts for factors such as down, distance to go, field position, home-field advantage and time remaining.

"The value it puts out is on a scale from about minus-3 to seven, and it basically represents 'which team is likely to score next, and how many points?' It represents the likely points not just on the current drive but also on the next drive or any subsequent drive until the score changes or the half ends.

"A lower value indicates a more favorable situation for the defense (i.e. fourth-and-20 from your own 1-yard line could be close to minus-3 EP), and a higher value represents a more favorable situation for the offense (i.e. first-and-goal is generally worth 6 EP)."


The Chicago Bears (minus-110.9), Houston Texans (minus-92.0), Arizona Cardinals (minus-31.7), San Francisco 49ers (minus-24.4), Denver Broncos (minus-21.1) and Seattle Seahawks (minus-20.1) lead the NFL by this measure, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

That means those teams' defenses have allowed fewer points than expected given the situations they encountered.

For example, let's say one defense allows a 28-yard field goal following a 10-play, 65-yard drive. Let's say another defense allows a 28-yard field goal following a three-play, zero-yard drive. Both defenses allowed three points, but the latter defense did a much better job limiting its opponent to fewer points than expected given field position. The expected points metric recognizes this.

New Orleans (plus-96.0), Buffalo (plus-88.0) and Tennessee (plus-84.7) rank last in expected points allowed.

The chart shows NFC West defensive rankings for quite a few categories, with rankings for expected points in the bottom row.

2012 NFC West offense ranks thru Week 3

September, 28, 2012
9/28/12
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A periodic look at where NFC West offenses rank and potential areas to address:
  • Arizona Cardinals: The Cardinal are averaging 2.8 yards per rushing attempt, down from 4.2 last season. That number figures to improve eventually, even with Beanie Wells out until Nov. 25. In the meantime, the team faces a Miami defense allowing 2.4 per attempt, tied for best in the NFL.
  • St. Louis Rams: It's tough to pump up a team's red-zone touchdown percentage without reaching the red zone. The Rams had zero chances against Chicago in Week 3. That happened to them only once during their 2009 season, when the team went 1-15.
  • San Francisco 49ers: The 49ers have four giveaways in three games. They had 10 in 16 games last season. They are even in turnover differential after going plus-28 last season.
  • Seattle Seahawks: A No. 32 ranking in yards per pass attempt is one price for ranking so high in fewest giveaways. Seattle has only two.

Stacking up against Super Bowl defenses

February, 2, 2012
2/02/12
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INDIANAPOLIS -- Significant defensive improvements have given the NFC champion New York Giants a boost during their run to Super Bowl XLVI.

AFC champion New England has fared better in scoring defense than by traditional yardage measures.

Overall, however, NFC West defenses compare favorably to those for the Super Bowl participants this year.

After looking at offensive comparisons, I've put together a chart stacking up the defenses.

Among the stats standing out: The Giants and Patriots have both allowed 86.1 NFL passer ratings to their opponents; Arizona and St. Louis compare favorably in sacks per pass attempt; San Francisco, Seattle and Arizona were about the same in yards per play allowed; the Patriots allowed a high yards per pass attempt; Arizona picked off too few passes (10 all season); Arizona was best in third-down percentage allowed; and the 49ers' scoring defense was miles better than those for the other teams listed.

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INDIANAPOLIS -- The San Francisco 49ers came oh-so-close to reaching Super Bowl XLVI.

Their 20-17 defeat to the New York Giants in the NFC Championship Game, though most directly related to a special-teams turnover in overtime, reflected shortcomings on offense.

The chart shows how the 49ers and the other NFC West teams compared statistically to Super Bowl participants New England and New York.

Check out the numbers for passing yards per play. The Patriots and Giants far outrank the NFC West in that often telling category.

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The New Orleans-San Francisco divisional playoff game Saturday pits strength against strength and weakness against weakness.

I've followed up charts from an earlier item with two showing how each team's offense and defense stacks up against the other in 2011 NFL rankings.

The biggest ranking disparities between the Saints' offense and 49ers' defense favor the New Orleans passing game (setting aside fourth-down conversion rate, which suffers from small sample size).

The Saints rank first in third-down conversion rate, sacks allowed per pass attempt and passing yards per game. The 49ers' defense ranks outside the top 10 in those categories. The rankings are quite similar across most categories, however, and disparities provide only a general picture.


The second chart shows rankings for the Saints' defense and the 49ers' offense. If these units hold to form, the 49ers' Alex Smith will not suddenly start throwing interceptions. But neither will San Francisco suddenly improve its third-down conversion rate.

The 49ers' red zone offense, though ranked only 30th, scored six touchdowns in nine chances over the 49ers' last three games. The Saints' red zone defense fared well against Atlanta twice and also against Houston, but not against the rest of the league. New Orleans ranks 28th in red zone touchdown defense. The Saints allowed four touchdowns in four red zone possessions against Detroit in the playoffs and still won 45-28.

The San Francisco 49ers and New Orleans Saints were both 13-3 this season. They will both spent Saturday afternoon at Candlestick Park in a divisional-round playoff game. Most of the similarities end there.

I've put together charts showing differences in where these teams ranked on offense and defense, with a few special-teams categories mixed in. These charts compare offenses to offenses and defenses to defenses. I'll compare offenses to defenses in a separate item.

The first chart shows where the 49ers and Saints finished in the NFL rankings for offense, sorted by spots between rankings.

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The second chart shows similar information for defenses. The rankings come from the NFL and reflect categories the league tracks through its Game Systems Information System.

The differences will come into clearer focus from a matchup standpoint in a future item. The 49ers' ability to hold the Saints to field goals instead of touchdowns is one obvious key given disparities in red zone touchdown percentage.
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Where NFC West teams rank: Week 14

December, 14, 2011
12/14/11
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The San Francisco 49ers have a 10-3 record despite ranking 31st in sacks allowed per pass, 31st in third-down conversion rate and 32nd in red zone touchdown percentage.

That No. 32 ranking in the red zone means the 49ers are looking up at the No. 31 St. Louis Rams, No. 30 Kansas City Chiefs, No. 29 Indianapolis Colts and No. 28 Cleveland Browns in that category. Those teams have combined for one more victory than the 49ers so far. They are 11-41 and have already fired one coach. They lag in most offensive categories.

The 49ers have quite a few things going for them. They rank third in time of possession, seventh in rushing yards per game and 12th in points. But to treat the team's struggles in the red zone as an outlier would ignore those No. 31 rankings in sacks allowed and on third down. It would excuse No. 26 rankings in yardage and first downs.

Overall improvement on offense will show up in the red zone as well.

Four of the top five teams in red zone percentage rank seventh or better in points. Three rank seventh or better in yards per game. Three rank first through third in passing yards per play. Three rank among the top five in fewest sacks allowed per pass. All have winning records: Green Bay (16-0), New England (10-3), the New York Jets (8-5) and Giants (7-6), and Tennessee (7-6).

The charts show where NFC West teams rank on offense and defense after Week 14.

On offense, the 49ers fell four spots in yards per pass play, six in Total QBR and two in points per game following their 21-19 defeat to Arizona. The Cardinals fell four spots in rushing yards while climbing five in passing yards. Seattle dropped five spots in red zone touchdown percentage during a 30-13 victory St. Louis. Sounds like it's time to break out a separate item looking at the Cardinals' defensive improvements.

The Seattle Seahawks improved two spots to No. 10 in points allowed per game. They ranked 25th in that category last season.

A look.

The 49ers continue to lead the NFL in fewest points allowed, but they fell one spot to No. 2 in most takeaways.

The Arizona Cardinals climbed four spots in passing yards allowed per play, four in Total QBR allowed and three in sacks per pass attempt. They dropped six spots in takeaways, beating the 49ers despite losing the turnover battle. They climbed two more spots to No. 3 in third-down conversion rate allowed.

Since Week 9, the Cardinals have improved seven spots in yards allowed, eight in yards per pass attempt allowed, six in sacks per pass attempt, five in red zone touchdown percentage allowed, 10 in passer rating allowed, seven in QBR allowed, five in takeaways and five in points allowed.

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Where NFC West teams rank: Week 13

December, 6, 2011
12/06/11
3:50
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Notes on where NFC West teams rank in various statistical categories through Week 13:
  • Arizona Cardinals (won vs. Cowboys): on offense, improved four spots to 20th in yards per pass attempt, rose three spots to 27th in NFL passer rating, dropped five spots to 32nd in sacks allowed per pass play; on defense, improved four spots to 16th in sacks per pass play, rose two spots to 19th in point per game allowed, fell three spots to 22nd in takeaways.
  • St. Louis Rams (lost at 49ers): on offense, dropped six spots to 27th in rushing yards per game, dropped four spots to 22nd in fewest giveaways; on defense, rose six spots to 10th in red zone touchdown percentage allowed, rose three spots to second in sacks per pass play, fell three spots to 22nd in most takeaways.
  • San Francisco 49ers (won vs. Rams): on offense, rose four spots to 13th in yards per pass attempt, rose one spot to seventh in NFL passer rating, rose two spots to 19th in Total QBR, dropped five spots to 31st in red zone touchdown percentage; on defense, rose three spots to No. 4 in yards allowed per game, rose five spots to 16th in sacks per pass play.
  • Seattle Seahawks (won vs. Eagles): on offense, rose five spots to 22nd in rushing yards per game, rose three spots to 24th in NFL passer rating, rose five spots to 17th in fewest giveaways; on defense, rose six spots to 11th in NFL passer rating allowed, rose nine spots to No. 4 in takeaways (they had been tied for 13th with multiple teams), rose three spots to 12th in points per game allowed.

The charts show current rankings, ordered by points per game.

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The 49ers continue to lead the NFL in fewest points allowed, no surprise after shutting out St. Louis.

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Where NFC West teams rank: Week 10

November, 15, 2011
11/15/11
12:15
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A few notes on where NFC West teams rank in various statistical categories through Week 10:
  • Arizona Cardinals (won vs. Eagles): offense rose five spots to No. 20 in yards per game, rose three spots to 21st in NFL passer rating, rose two spots to No. 27 in Total QBR, rose three spots to No. 8 in red zone touchdown percentage and dropped three spots to No. 31 in sacks allowed per pass attempt; defense dropped five spots to 21st in rushing yards allowed, rose three spots to 19th in passing yards per attempt and rose five spots to fifth in third-down percentage allowed.
  • St. Louis Rams (won vs. Browns): offense dropped two spots to No. 25 in yards per game, rose two spots to No. 16 in rushing yards and rose two spots to No. 28 in sacks allowed per pass attempt; defense rose eight spots to No. 17 in red zone touchdown percentage allowed and rose four spots to No. 25 in points allowed per game.
  • San Francisco 49ers (won vs. Giants): offense dropped two spots to 28th in third-down conversion rate, climbed three spots to No. 20 in Total QBR and moved up one spot to No. 1 in fewest giveaways; defense rose one spot to No. 1 in most takeaways, dropped two spots to No. 11 in yards allowed, dropped four spots to No. 10 in third-down percentage, dropped three spots in NFL passer rating and two spots in QBR.
  • Seattle Seahawks (won vs. Ravens): offense rose five spots to No. 20 in fewest giveaways, rose two spots to No. 27 in NFL passer rating, rose two spots to No. 26 in points per game and dropped eight spots to No. 25 in red zone touchdown percentage; defense rose three spots to No. 18 in passing yards allowed per attempt, rose seven spots to No. 15 in NFL passer rating allowed, rose three spots to No. 14 in takeaways, rose four spots to No. 18 in points allowed per game and dropped four spots to No. 31 in sacks per pass attempt.

The 49ers own six Top 10 rankings in the defensive chart. The gap between their offensive rankings in NFL passer rating and QBR has closed some, a reflection of meaningful improvement at quarterback.

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The defensive rankings, like the offensive rankings above, are ordered by points per game. Points scored and allowed on special teams are included.

Where NFC West teams rank: Week 5

October, 11, 2011
10/11/11
4:00
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The standings and our eyeballs can tell us the San Francisco 49ers are the best team in the NFC West right now.

Our weekly look at where division teams stand in various statistical categories drives home the point.

A look inside some of the numbers through Week 5:
  • First: Where the 49ers rank in red zone touchdown percentage allowed, and in fewest turnovers committed (giveaways).
  • Second: Where the 49ers rank in points per game allowed, and in turnovers forced.
  • Third: Where the 49ers' offense ranks in NFL passer rating, and where the Seattle Seahawks' defense ranks in third-down defense.
  • Fourth: Where the 49ers rank in NFL passer rating allowed and rushing yards allowed.
  • Seventh: Where the 49ers rank in points per game scored, and where the St. Louis Rams rank in fewest giveaways.
  • Ninth: Where the Seahawks rank in rushing yards allowed per game.
  • Tenth: Where the Seahawks rank in red zone touchdown percentage on offense.

I've added a column for turnovers this week.

The defensive rankings, like the offensive rankings above, are ordered by points per game.

Stacking up: NFC West vs. Super defenses

February, 6, 2011
2/06/11
11:15
AM ET
FORT WORTH, Texas -- How NFC West defenses measure up with those of the Super Bowl participants based on 2010 regular-season averages, ordered by yards per game:

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