Stats & Info: Patrick Willis

Matchups to watch: Seahawks at 49ers

December, 5, 2013

Harry How/Getty ImagesIn his return last week, Michael Crabtree, right, showed flashes of what Colin Kaepernick has been needing on the field.

With Michael Crabtree's return last week, and games remaining against the Buccaneers and Falcons, San Francisco's playoff chances look pretty good. At 8-4, the 49ers are a game up on the Cardinals, as well as the Cowboys and Eagles, who are competing for the NFC East crown.

The postseason scenario isn’t particularly complicated for Seattle -- a win or tie seals the Seahawks’ first NFC West title since 2010.

Since the start of 2011, the 49ers (plus-211.3) and Seahawks (plus-165.4) are the first- and second-best defenses in the league in expected points added.

Wilson vs. San Francisco’s deep-ball D
Of his throws at least 15 yards downfield this season, Russell Wilson has completed nearly 60 percent. That’s a higher completion percentage on deep throws than 11 qualified quarterbacks have overall.

Wilson is averaging two more yards per attempt on deep throws than any other quarterback.

On the other side of the ball is the best defense in the league at defending deep passes. Opposing quarterbacks have completed just 31 percent of deep throws against the 49ers, the third-best average by a defense in the past eight years (the start of Stats & Info’s video analysis data).

Crabtree vs. Seahawks' secondary
As most quarterbacks in his spot would be, Colin Kaepernick is a better passer with Crabtree on the field. After missing the first 12 weeks with an Achilles injury, the star wideout had mixed results in his return last week.

Crabtree was largely quiet (one catch for eight yards) in the first half, but showed the big-play ability that has been missing among San Francisco's wide receivers all season.

He had a 60-yard reception with 43 yards after the catch in the third quarter, both of which immediately set season highs for 49ers wideouts. And Seattle will be short-handed in the secondary on Sunday.

Gore vs. Seattle’s loaded box
The quality of Seattle’s cornerbacks allows defensive coordinator Dan Quinn to commit extra defenders to the box. The Seahawks have had 109 snaps this season with at least eight defenders in the box, fifth-most in the league.

Frank Gore

This is not a new strategy to Frank Gore, who has 92 rushes for 333 yards against eight or more defenders in the box this season (both second-most in the NFL behind Adrian Peterson).

His 3.6 yards per rush against at least eight in the box is eighth of 31 backs with at least 20 rushes, but both the Seahawks and recent opponents have stacked the box with success against Gore.

Seattle held Gore to 3 yards on six rushes against a crowded box in Week 2, while the Rams used the same technique to hold Gore to 14 yards on five rushes Sunday.

Lynch vs. 49ers' linebackers
Marshawn Lynch is 30 yards from being the only player in the league with 1,000 rushing yards and 10 rushing touchdowns in each of the past three seasons.
Marshawn Lynch

A quick glance at his numbers suggests a down season -- his 4.3 yards per rush average ranks 19th among qualified rushers. A closer look shows Lynch hasn’t been getting nearly as much room to run as he had last season.

He’s averaging 2.0 yards after contact per rush this season, seventh among qualified rushers and better than his average in 2012. Lynch is averaging a full yard less before contact this season (2.3 compared to 3.3 in 2012).

His dependency on yards after contact this year may not serve him well against San Francisco. Linebackers NaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis are elite run stoppers. Since Bowman joined Willis in 2010, San Francisco has averaged 1.3 yards after contact per rush allowed, fewest in the league.

Only Kiko Alonso (60) has more tackles within three yards of the line of scrimmage on running plays than Bowman (49) this season.

During Willis’ career (starting in 2007), only London Fletcher and Curtis Lofton have more of those tackles than Willis.

49ers have built success through the draft

April, 25, 2013

Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsThe 49ers have had success with a home grown team built primrily through the draft.
The San Francisco 49ers enter the 2013 NFL Draft with 13 draft picks, the most of any team. If they make all 13 picks, it will be the most for any team in the draft since the 2010 Philadelphia Eagles made 13.

Home Grown Team

The 49ers are looking to build on recent draft success and a mostly home grown team. Five of their 10 first-round selections since 2006 have made at least one Pro Bowl, tied for most in the league with the Washington Redskins. By comparison, 30 percent of the first-round selections by other teams since 2006 have made at least one pro bowl (An average of two per team).

Fifteen of the 49ers’ 22 offensive and defensive starters on last season’s Super Bowl roster were drafted by San Francisco, and seven of them were drafted in the third round or later. They have 10 picks in the third round or later this season.

Tough in the Trenches

The 49ers have built their team in the draft starting with the front lines. They started the same offensive line group in all 16 games in 2012 and were the only group to feature three first-round draft picks as their most frequent line combination (Joe Staley, Anthony Davis and Mike Iupati).

Don’t be surprised if the 49ers beef up their defensive line in this year’s draft. With Justin Smith suffering an injury late last season a lack of depth along the defensive line was exposed. The 49ers recorded a sack once every 16.2 dropbacks and allowed a 57.8 Total QBR with Smith on the field last season. With Smith off the field, the 49ers recorded a sack once every 29.4 dropbacks and allowed a 75.2 QBR.

Moving Up?

Will they move up in the draft order to secure one of this year’s top defensive lineman? San Francisco especially needs depth at the position after they lost starting lineman Isaac Sopoaga and backup Ricky Jean Francois in free agency (although they did sign Glenn Dorsey).

Trading up has worked for them in the past. The 49ers moved up in the 2011 Draft to the No. 36 pick and selected quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

49ers, Ravens run defenses dominate

November, 22, 2011
On the surface, the headline story of the Thanksgiving night game is San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh taking on his brother, Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh, the first brother vs brother head coaching matchup in NFL history. In fact, they're the only brother head coaching combination in NFL history.

But, once the whistle blows, the 49ers and Ravens game will feature two smashmouth teams on the field. If Thursday’s game comes down to running the football, both teams will be up against a stingy run defense.

The Ravens are allowing only 3.3 yards per rush, the lowest mark in the NFL. Meanwhile, the 49ers’ defense has the best EPA (Expected Points Added) rushing per 100 plays at -18.8. This adjusts for down/distance, field position and time remaining. (Note: only accounts for designed rushes, not QB scrambles.)

San Francisco is also one of three teams to not allow a rushing TD in its first 10 games since the merger, joining the 1997 49ers and the 1986 New York Jets.

While the Ravens have built a reputation as one of the toughest defenses in the league, the 49ers are more of a surprise. San Francisco can thank Patrick Willis and NaVarro Bowman, one of the best middle linebacker duos in the league, for their success.

Patrick Willis
With Willis and Bowman, San Francisco has one of the best rush defenses, relying heavily on their front seven to stop the run. The 49ers load the box, when the defense has more players in the box than the offense has available blockers, on only 8.6 percent of the opposing team’s plays, fewest in the league. Expect the Ravens to apply more pressure, as they load the box on 19.5 percent of the time.

Opposing running backs have a tough time breaking tackles against the 49ers, as their defense is allowing 1.55 yards after contact per rush, second-lowest in the league.

When it comes to short-yardage situations, both teams offer little real estate. The 49ers have allowed nine rushing yards on eight rushes (1.13 yards per rush) in goal-to-go situations this season, compared to 1.26 yards per rush allowed by the Ravens.

On third down rushes with three yards or fewer to gain, San Francisco has limited opponents 0.50 yards per rush on 10 rushes, while Baltimore allows only 1.46 yards per rush on 13 rushes.

You can't ignore the impact that Harbaugh has had on the 49ers in his first year with the club. The 49ers were coming off a 6-10 season and haven't made the playoffs since 2002. This year, Harbaugh had led the 49ers to a 9-1 start, as many wins as the other three NFC West teams have combined this season.

Harbaugh turning around a team isn't unprecedented. He took over a Stanford team that went 1-11 in 2006, and in each of his four seasons with the school, improved its record up to his final year, when he led the Cardinal to an 11-1 record and an Orange Bowl win over Virginia Tech.

San Francisco has won eight straight games since an overtime loss in Week 2 to the Cowboys. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that's the fourth-longest win streak by a rookie head coach since the NFL-AFL merger.

Should the 49ers win on Thanksgiving and the Seahawks lose Sunday, San Francisco will clinch the NFC West, just 11 games into the season. That would tie the mark for fewest games into a season to clinch a division title since 1978, last done by the 2009 Indianapolis Colts.