Stats & Info: Aldon Smith

Stat your case: 49ers units as a concern

September, 26, 2013
Each week, the Stats & Information Group will look at a noteworthy discussion topic and debate the possibilities that come from it, using data to back up their points.

This week’s topic is “which 49ers unit is more cause for concern - the offense or defense?”

The Offense

While the 49ers defense hasn’t been the same unit as the one that has ranked in the top four in terms of expected points added allowed over the past two seasons, it’s the offense that is the larger issue.

The loss of Michael Crabtree to a preseason injury has seemingly unhinged the unit. Once Colin Kaepernick took over as the starter in Week 11 of 2012, the 49ers had only two games for the remainder of the regular season where their team offensive EPA was negative (Week 13 at Seattle and Week 16 at Seattle).

After a stellar game against Green Bay in week 1 this year, the offensive unit has cost the 49ers nearly 28 expected points in the two games since, the worst offensive EPA in the league over the last two weeks. This has been mostly due to turnovers and setting the defense up in bad field position.

A large contributor to the 49ers’ negative EPA on offense has been turning the ball over. Over 17 percent of the 49ers offensive drives this season have ended with them turning the ball over, ranking the 27th in the league (league average is 12.7 percent). This coming just a season after turning the ball over on 7.3 percent of their offensive drives with Kaepernick as a starter in 2012.

Their failure to come up with a sustainable offense that contributes points to the scoreboard rather than taking them off, combined with their inability to retain possession of the football, is the 49ers larger issue.
--Hank Gargiulo

The Defense

The 49ers defensive unit has struggled so far this season and is the main reason why San Francisco is off to a 1-2 start.

Last season, the 49ers defense allowed 17.1 points per game, second only to the Seahawks. This season, the ‘Niners are allowing 28.0 points per game, the eighth most in the league.

The 49ers have allowed a league-high 14 drives to reach the red zone this year, 10 of which have resulted in touchdowns, which is also the most in the league. They allowed 22 such scores during all of last season.

Unlike last year, the 49ers have been unable to shut down opposing rushing games. In 2012, the Niners allowed the fourth-fewest rushing yards per game (94.2) and the fewest rushing first downs per game (4.5). This season, San Francisco ranks 29th in opponent rushing yards per game (139.7) and is tied for 29th in rushing first downs per game (8.0).

Another issue has been the uncharacteristically undisciplined play on the defensive side of the ball. In Jim Harbaugh’s first two years as head coach, the 49ers averaged 2.3 defensive penalties per game. This season, they have 13 through the first three games (4.3 per game). Only the Detroit Lions have more.

It will be difficult for the 49ers to turn their defense around significantly at this point, especially with All-Pro linebacker Aldon Smith out for an undetermined amount of time.
--Mike Bonzagni

Top things to know: 49ers defense

January, 29, 2013

Chris Graythen/Getty ImagesThe 49ers' defense has had a lot to celebrate this season.
Earlier Wednesday we shared some of the top stats to know about the Baltimore Ravens' defense. In the interests of equal opportunity, let's do the same for the San Francisco 49ers'.

The 49ers' defense has ranked among the best in the NFL over the past two seasons. But what else should you know about it?

The 49ers have stayed together
The 49ers have had nine players play at least 90 percent of their defensive snaps this season. No other team had more than six.

All four members of the 49ers' secondary (Carlos Rogers, Donte Whitner, Dashon Goldson and Tarell Brown) have played between 97 to 98 percent of their snaps this season.

Defense fuels offense
The 49ers allowed only 26.4 yards per opponents drive in the regular season, the sixth-best performance in the NFL.

Including the playoffs, the 49ers' average drive started at their own 31-yard line. Their opponents' average drives started at their own 24. The field position margin of plus-7 yards ranks best in the NFL.

No arm tackling
The 49ers are a team that finishes hits.

The 49ers led the NFL in fewest yards after contact allowed for a second straight year in 2012, allowing just 909 rushing and receiving yards after contact (56.8 per game).

San Francisco has allowed 112 yards after contact in its 2 playoff games (56.0 per game).

The 49ers allow an average of 1.2 yards after contact per rush, the best rate in the NFL.

The 49ers have allowed the fewest yards per rush after contact this season (including playoffs), and have now led the NFL in three straight seasons. The Ravens rank 12th this season with 1.6 yards per rush allowed after contact.

Aldon Smith needs Justin Smith
Aldon Smith has 35.5 sacks in his first two seasons, but none this postseason.
Despite his recent sack drought, his 33.5 regular-season sacks through two seasons are the most by any player since the NFL started tracking sacks in 1982.

Aldon has recorded 34.5 of his 35.5 career sacks with Justin Smith on field. In the 141 dropbacks that Aldon Smith has seen without Justin Smith, he has only one sack.

They handle the deep throw reasonably well
The 49ers are reasonably well-equipped to handle Joe Flacco.

They have allowed only three touchdown passes against them this season on throws that traveled at least 21 yards in the air, tied for the second-fewest in the NFL.

Opponents are 21-for-72 on throws of that length against the 49ers this season. The 29 percent opponnents’ completion percentage ranked 11th-best in the NFL.

The 49ers' defense has allowed multiple completions on passes thrown more than 20 yards downfield in three straight games, with opponents going 7-of-13 on those throws, including Matt Ryan's first-quarter touchdown to Julio Jones in the NFC championship.

The 49ers didn’t allow multiple completions in back-to-back games the first 15 games of the season.

Stat to know: Defense wins championships
The 49ers finished second in the league in scoring defense in 2012, allowing 17.1 points per game. That is 10 spots better than the Ravens' defense.

Teams with top-two scoring defenses are 16-5 all-time in the Super Bowl when not facing another top-two scoring defense and have won eight straight.

Every one since the 1990 New York Giants has won.

The two for which defense played the biggest role were the 2000 Ravens (who did not allow an offensive touchdown against the Giants) and the 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (who had five interceptions in their win over the Oakland Raiders).

Biggest plays this season for 49ers

January, 25, 2013

John David Mercer/USA TODAY Sports
NaVorro Bowman (53) celebrates after breaking up a pass to send the 49ers to the Super Bowl.

For the San Francisco 49ers, what plays were the most important in winning games on their way to the Super Bowl?

Here are the 10 plays that most improved their chances of winning through the regular season the playoffs.

Later today, we'll have the list for the Baltimore Ravens.

1. NFC Championship at Atlanta
4th and 4, 1:13 left in 4th Quarter
NaVorro Bowman breaks up pass intended for Roddy White

With the Atlanta Falcons driving for a potential go-ahead touchdown, the 49ers' defense makes the biggest play of their season to essentially lock up a trip to New Orleans. Bowman's pass breakup resulted in a turnover on downs.

49ers' win probablility pre-play: 65.9%; post-play: 97.4% (+31.5%)

2. Week 12 at New Orleans
2nd and 10, 0:31 left in 2nd Quarter
Ahmad Brooks intercepts Drew Brees and returns it for a touchdown

Ahmad Brooks
Already trailing by a touchdown with the New Orleans Saints nearing field-goal range to potentially take a two-score lead into the locker room for halftime, Brooks picks off Brees' pass intended for Jimmy Graham and goes 50 yards for a tying touchdown.

49ers' win probability pre-play: 18.4%; post-play: 47.0% (+28.6%)

3. Week 10 vs. St. Louis
Kickoff with 8:40 left in 4th Quarter
Darcel McBath recovers fumble on kickoff return

Just after the 49ers had cut a 17-7 deficit to 17-14, they forced a fumble on the ensuing kickoff. Tramaine Brock knocked the ball loose from the St. Louis Rams' return man, Isaiah Pead, and McBath picked it up and returned it to the Rams' 20. One play later, Frank Gore took it the rest of the way to give San Francisco a 21-17 lead in a game that would ultimately end in a tie.

49ers' win probability pre-play: 31.3%; post-play: 57.1% (+25.5%)

The rest of the 49ers' top 10:

Colin Kaepernick
4. Colin Kaepernick's 50-yard scramble with 2:28 left sets up a game-tying FG vs. the Rams in Week 13 (+23.8%).

5. Kaepernick's 56-yard TD run vs. the Green Bay Packers in the Divisional Playoffs (+19.8%).

6. A 38-yard TD pass from Kaepernick to Michael Crabtree breaks a 31-31 tie at New England in Week 15 (+18.8).

7. Kaepernick's 49-yard pass to Crabtree swings the division-clincher vs the Arizona Cardinals in Week 17 (+17.1%).

8. C.J. Spillman recovers Marcus Thigpen's muffed punt in a Week 14 win over the Miami Dolphins (+17.0%).

9. Aldon Smith recovers Falcons' fumbled snap in the NFC Championship Game (+15.6%).

10. Donte Whitner returns an interception for a touchdown to give the 49ers the winning points against the Saints in Week 12 (+14.2%).

Week 17: One for the record books

December, 27, 2012
While Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson and Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson have commanded most of the attention to this point, they are not the only NFL players attempting to put a stamp on the record books in Week 17. In fact, there are several records that are much more likely to fall, both on the offensive and defensive sides of the ball.

Sacks: After sacks became official in 1982, Mark Gastineau established the standard with 22 in 1984. That mark stood until 2001 when New York Giants defensive end Michael Strahan broke through for 22.5. Two different players enter Week 17 with a chance to take down Strahan’s record – J.J. Watt of the Houston Texas and the San Francisco 49ers’ Aldon Smith.
Watt leads the NFL with 20.5 sacks this season and needs two sacks to tie Strahan, a number he has hit in six of 15 games played this season. Statistically, his Week 17 opponent should provide him the opportunity, as he’s facing an Indianapolis Colts team against whom he registered three sacks – tied for his most in any individual game this season – in Week 15.

Watt has also disrupted a league-high 35.5 dropbacks this season, the most in the NFL over the last three seasons. Working in his favor is the fact Colts quarterback Andrew Luck has had 135 dropbacks disrupted this season, 26 more than the next-closest quarterback.

Smith, meanwhile, remains at 19.5 sacks after failing to record a sack in either of his last two weeks. Smith needs three sacks to tie Strahan’s mark, something he’s done only once in a game this season (five and a half sacks against the Chicago Bears in Week 11). He registered two sacks against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 8, and working in his favor is the fact that the Cardinals have given up more sacks this season than any team in the NFL (56).

And while he may not end up with the record, no player in the last three seasons has had more success with the standard pass rush – four or fewer rushers – than Smith, who has recorded all 19.5 sacks this way, four more than Jared Allen compiled last season.

Touchdown passes by rookie: While Luck and Robert Griffin III have received the publicity, Russell Wilson is the one who needs a single touchdown pass to tie Peyton Manning’s rookie record of 26 touchdowns set in 1998. Wilson currently stands four touchdown passes ahead of both Luck this season and Cam Newton last season, and his 25 touchdown passes ranks ninth in the NFL this season overall.

Perhaps no quarterback has been as effective as Wilson over the last nine weeks, considering his Total QBR of 88.7 ranks first over that span, while he has also compiled a plus-14 touchdown-to-interception differential since the start of Week 8, second in the NFL to Tom Brady (+15). It’s not all roses, though – Wilson produced a season-low 16.8 Total QBR against the St. Louis Rams in Week 4, including three interceptions and no touchdowns.

Pass attempts: Barring an injury or an extreme shift in play calling, Matthew Stafford of the Detroit Lions will break Drew Bledsoe’s record for most pass attempts in a single season. Entering Week 17, Stafford needs to throw the ball just seven times to pass Bledsoe, who recorded 691 attempts for the New England Patriots in 1994.

49ers, Smith sack Bears in MNF rout

November, 20, 2012

Thearon W. Henderson/Getty ImagesThe 49ers had a lot to celebrate in their 32-7 win over the Bears on Monday night.
The two best defensive teams in the NFL were scheduled to play on Monday Night Football but only one of them showed up at Candlestick Park.

The San Francisco 49ers blew out the Chicago Bears, 32-7, holding the Bears to a season-low 143 yards of total offense. Chicago has scored 13 points in its last two games combined, after averaging nearly 30 points per game in its first eight games this season.

This dominating performance against the Bears in San Francisco is nothing new for the 49ers. They have won eight straight home meetings against the Bears, outscoring them 271-49 in those games.

Defensive Domination
Aldon Smith was the star on defense for the 49ers, setting the record for sacks on Monday Night Football with 5.5. The previous record was 4.5 by Jared Allen in 2009 against the Green Bay Packers.

Smith now has 29 sacks in his first 26 games, the most ever by any player in his first 26 career games.

Smith has 15 sacks this season, nearly twice as many as the eight sacks by the rest of the 49ers. All of Smith’s league-leading 15 sacks this season have come when the 49ers send standard pressure.

Against the Bears the 49ers averaged 4.5 dropbacks per sack when sending four or fewer pass rushers, their most effective four-man pass rush in the last five seasons.

Unlikely Star
Colin Kaepernick, making his first career start, picked apart the Bears secondary with 243 yards passing and two touchdowns. The 243 yards is tied with Jeff Garcia for the most ever by a 49ers quarterback in his first career start. Kaepernick had 241 yards passing in his career entering Monday night.

Kaepernick joins Philip Rivers (2006) and Aaron Rodgers (2008) as the only quarterbacks in the last 10 seasons to win on Monday Night Football in his first career start.

Kaepernick was excellent when the Bears sent four or fewer pass rushers, completing 10-of-14 passes for 143 yards and a touchdown.

He connected for two plays of at least 30 yards against a Bears defense that had allowed four such plays all seasons with such pressure.

Kaepernick finished with a total QBR of 97.5, the highest in a starting debut for any quarterback over the last five seasons.

Kaepernick’s favorite target on Monday night was Vernon Davis, who broke out with six catches for 83 yards and a touchdown. He had just nine receptions and 101 yards receiving with no touchdowns in his previous four games combined. Davis had a season-high eight targets, five of which were on throws further than 10 yards downfield.

Stat of the Game
The home team has won the last 11 matchups between the Bears and 49ers. The last road win in the series is by the 49ers in the 1988 NFC Championship game at Soldier Field.

49ers keys vs. Packers: Mr. and Mr. Smith

September, 7, 2012

US Presswire/Cary EdmonsonAldon Smith figures to be a key factor for the 49ers in 2012.

The premier matchup of Week 1 pits the San Francisco 49ers against the Green Bay Packers—the game that could have been the NFC Championship Game last season had the New York Giants not made their improbable Super Bowl run.

Let’s take a closer look at the statistical storylines tied to this contest.

Key matchup: Alex Smith vs Packers defense
If the Packers strategic approach mirrors that of last season, it will pose a formidable challenge for 49ers quarterback Alex Smith.

The Packers sent five or more rushers at the fourth-highest rate of any team in 2011 (46 percent).

Smith was sacked a league-high 26 times when the opposition sent at least five pass rushers.

But Smith had one of the best touchdown-interception differentials in the league, with 14 touchdowns and one interception against such pass rushes. In fact,

Smith’s differential was almost a near-match for the quarterback on the other side of the field in this game, Aaron Rodgers, as seen in the chart on the right.

Smith had the best season of his career in 2011. His five game-winning drives in the fourth quarter and overtime were tied for the second-most in the NFL, behind only Giants quarterback Eli Manning.

The other Smith is a difference-maker
49ers linebacker Aldon Smith had a significant impact in his first NFL season. He’ll be trying to match that in 2012.

The 49ers averaged a sack once every 12 dropbacks with Aldon Smith on field last season, but averaged a sack once every 23 dropbacks with Smith off the field. Smith was on field for only 48 percent of the 49ers’ defensive plays last season.

Keep in mind that if the 49ers defend passes in a similar manner to how they did so last season, it plays right into one of Rodgers’ (many) strengths.

The 49ers rushed four or fewer players on 82 percent of opponent dropbacks last season, the second-highest rate in the NFL.

But Rodgers completed nearly 70 percent of his passes against that kind of pressure last season, throwing 29 touchdowns and only four interceptions.

Though the 49ers didn’t pass-rush as aggressively as other teams, there were two things they did exceptionally well. They allowed only three rushing touchdowns, the fewest by any team since the 1971 Minnesota Vikings yielded only two.

They also defended longer pass plays with success. Opponents completed only 34 percent of their throws that traveled at least 15 yards in the air against the 49ers defense, the second-lowest completion rate against such throws in the league.

San Francisco’s 17 interceptions on such throws were the most in the NFL.

Notable trends
The Packers have won nine straight regular-season games vs the 49ers. That is tied for the longest active win streak by any team against a single opponent.

The last time the 49ers beat the Packers was Week 9 of the 1990 season. The nine-game win streak is the longest streak by either team in the history of the series.

Green Bay has won 13 straight games at home and 19 of its last 20 overall. The 13-game home win streak is the longest active home win streak in the NFL.

Stat of the Game
The Packers (15-1) and 49ers (13-3) combined for 28 regular-season wins last season. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that is tied for the second-most wins ever from the previous season in a Week 1 matchup.

Giants must stop 49ers golden pass rush

January, 17, 2012
AP/ESPN Stats & Information
Roll over each icon to see why the 49ers dominate 3+ wide receiver formations.
Key matchups to watch for in the NFC Conference Championship will be Eli Manning’s ability to handle the 49ers’ ferocious four-man pass rush and the 49ers’ efforts containing the Giants' explosive receivers. So which team has the edge in this battle for a ticket to Super Bowl XLVI? Let’s take a closer look.

The pass rush
The San Francisco 49ers have a dynamic four-man pass rush and use it often. They sent four or fewer after the quarterback on 80.9 percent of snaps during the regular season, the second-highest rate in the NFL. They held opposing quarterbacks to the third-lowest QBR (49.9) and recorded 31 sacks (t-fourth in NFL) when dropping at least seven into coverage.

The 49ers tighten up even more when the opposing offense substitutes backs and tight ends for receivers. They posted 32 sacks (t-fourth in NFL) in formations that contained at least three wide receivers, with Aldon Smith (13.0), Justin Smith (5.5), Ahmad Brooks (4.0) and Ray McDonald (3.5) combining to record 81.3 percent of them. When sending four or fewer against such formations (83.8 percent of the time), San Francisco boasted the league’s second-lowest opposing QBR (32.8) and third-highest sack total (23).

Eli can hurt defenses with the deep ball
Eli Manning was a middle-of-the-pack quarterback this year when facing four or fewer pass rushers. His 64.4 QBR in such situations ranked only 16th among qualified passers, his 19.2 PAA (Points Above Average) ranked 14th, and his 67.1 PAR (Points Above Replacement) ranked 13th.

When Manning was under duress against minimal pass rushes his numbers became even more grim: 26.4 QBR (19th), -4.3 PAA (23rd) and 1.9 PAR (19th).

But given time to throw, Manning can hurt the 49ers, especially when throwing downfield. On throws of 15 yards or more when facing four or fewer pass rushers, Manning boasts a 97.0 QBR (11th), a 27.4 PAA (seventh), and a 39.2 PAR (seventh).

The numbers are even more gaudy when Manning goes deep with his three wide receivers on the field. With three wideouts on the field, Manning led the league in attempts of 15+ yards (96), completions (44), yards (1,234), and the second-most 30-plus yard completions (12).

Victor Cruz led all players in yards (1,064) in three wide receiver formations and was tied for the most 30-plus yard catches (8). NFC Divisional hero Hakeem Nicks recorded the eighth-most receiving yards (726) and five catches of at least 30 yards.

If the New York Giants are able to protect Manning and allow him to connect with his receivers, the 49ers will have a difficult time keeping up with this offense, but if Aldon Smith and company can get to Manning, the Giants could be in for a long day.

Kyle Terada/US PresswireThe 49ers' defense shut down the Steelers recording three sacks, a forced fumble and three Ben Roethlisberger interceptions.
The late Don Meredith famously sang in the Monday Night Football booth "Turn Out the Lights" and that is what happened in more ways than one in San Francisco Monday. After two delays because of power outages totaling more than 35 minutes, the 49ers shut down the Pittsburgh Steelers with a 20-3 win at Candlestick Park.

San Francisco forced four Pittsburgh turnovers all by Ben Roethlisberger who threw three interceptions and lost one fumble. It was Roethlisberger's first three-interception game since throwing three picks against the Baltimore Ravens in the season opener.

Roethlisberger completed only 28.6 percent of his passes on throws more than 14 yards downfield Monday, including all three of his interceptions. The 49ers' pass defense leads the league with 16 interceptions on throws of that distance this season.

Monday’s game was the ninth in which Roethlisberger started and the Steelers did not score an offensive (rushing or passing) touchdown, all of which have come since 2006. The Elias Sports Bureau tells us only two other quarterbacks have as many such starts as Roethlisberger over the last six seasons: Marc Bulger (12) and Derek Anderson (9).

It's the third time the Steelers have lost to a Harbaugh-coached team this season with two previous losses coming against John Harbaugh's Ravens before the loss against Jim's 49ers Monday. With the win, the 49ers improved to 11-3, their best start since 2001.

San Francisco still hasn't allowed a rushing touchdown this season, the first team in NFL history to not allow a rushing touchdown through its first 14 games.

David Akers kicked two field goals, breaking Jerry Rice's franchise record for most points in a season (138 in 1987).

49ers rookie Aldon Smith had 2.5 sacks, giving him 13 this season. Elias also says that’s tied for the second-highest total by any rookie since 1982, when sacks were first recorded for defensive players. Jevon Kearse had 14.5 for the 1999 Titans and Dwight Freeney had 13 for the 2002 Colts.

The Steelers had 11 drives, only one of which started beyond their own 20-yard line, and on which their average starting yard line was the 15.4.

Elias tell us over the last 15 years only two teams have had such poor average starting field position in a regular-season game. The Panthers did it against the Saints in 2005 (Carolina’s average starting field position was the 14.9-yard line) and the Falcons did it against the Dolphins later that season (Atlanta’s average starting field position was the 15.2-yard line).