CHFF Game of the Week: San Francisco-Detroit
By Kerry J. Byrne
Cold, Hard FootballFacts Potentate of Pigskin
The 4-1 49ers visit the 5-0 Lions Sunday in a game that pits a pair of budding NFC dynamos. Few would have highlighted this mid-October clash as must-see TV back in September. But it’s easily the great statistical showdown of Week 6 – and our Game of the Week. Like the Lions, we have our own 5-0 streak on the line: we have a perfect record this season with our Game of the Week picks.
Here are three Cold, Hard Football Facts you need to know about San Francisco-Detroit before kickoff:
1. Somebody notify the Vatican: Jim Harbaugh is performing miracles in San Francisco
The miracle in San Francisco is not that the 49ers are suddenly a stout 4-1 with a shutdown defense under rookie NFL head coach Harbaugh. The miracle is that Harbaugh has righted the Goodship San Francisco with former Grade A bust Alex Smith at quarterback.
The 49ers are suddenly a force on offense, especially in the all-important passing game. Here’s a quick look at how they stack up in several key indicators of success against the anemic 49ers of 2010.
|Scoring offense||24th (19.1 PPG)||7th (28.4 PPG)|
|Real QB Rating||21st (82.0)||6th (92.2)|
|Passer Rating||21st (79.4)||3rd (104.8)|
|Passer Rating Differential||25th (-10.6)||2nd (+29.4)|
The improvement in Passer Rating Differential is the most encouraging sign for 49ers fans who pine for the Joe Montana-Steve Young-Ronnie Lott glory days.
After all, PRD is the “mother stat” of football analysis: 60 percent of all NFL champions finished the season No. 1 or No. 2 in this indicator, including the 1981, 1984, 1989 and 1994 Super Bowl-champion 49ers.
Those dynastic 49ers won for the same reason almost all champs win, because they dominated the skies over NFL battlefields on both sides of the ball. And right now, the 2011 49ers are dominating the skies over NFL battlefields, too, as evidenced by the No. 2 ranking in PRD.
Smith, meanwhile, has blossomed into the passer that San Francisco hoped he would become when the organization drafted him No. 1 overall in 2005. After years of poor, inefficient play, Smith is suddenly a legit threat at QB and on pace to set career marks in every single indicator, including completion percentage, yards, touchdowns, yards per attempt and passer rating.
In fact, his passer rating here in 2011 of 104.1 is 22 points better than his mediocre previous best (82.1) set just last year.
Harbaugh is the same guy who helped turn Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck into the expected overall No. 1 pick in the 2012 NFL draft; now he’s helped revive the career of former No. 1 Smith.
But Harbaugh’s impact extends far beyond the quarterback. The 49ers are a much smarter, more efficient team in all aspects of the game, a club that has shown extraordinary skill in what’s known as “situational football.”
We track the offensive and defensive efficiency of every team with our Scoreability and Bendability Indices. And the 49ers right now are No. 1 in both stats – something we’ve never seen since introducing the indicators back in 2004.
Scoreability tells us that the 49ers require just 74 yards of offense to score the equivalent of a touchdown and extra point. In other words, there’s not a lot of wasted motion in the 49ers offense. They're not the most explosive offense (1,501 yards). But they take advantage of almost every opportunitty presented them to put points on the board. (For comparison, the explosive Patriots have nearly 1,000 more yards of offense in five games, but have scored just 23 more points than San Fran.)
San Fran opponents, meanwhile, require 153 yards of offense to score the equivalent of a touchdown and extra point, as measured by the Bendability Index (our successful effort to quantify the bend-but-don’t-break phenomenon). That's more than twice as many yards than the total needed by the San Fran offense to put a TD on the board.
In other words, San Francisco’s opponents spend a lot of time spinning their wheels – churning out yards, yes, but wasting their time with little to show for it on the scoreboard.
San Francisco’s dominance in both indicators tells us that the team is playing well on special teams, taking advantage of red zone opportunities, forcing opponents into bad situations and winning the turnover battle. Put another way: the 49ers are doing all the little things right, and doing so better than any team in football.
In each instances, it’s the sign of a smart, well-coached, efficient team.
It’s way too early to put Harbaugh on the path to NFL sainthood. But somebody should notify the pontiff of pigskin that miraculous events are underway by the bay.
2. With that said, Jim Schwartz’s Lions are kings of the statistical jungle
San Francisco’s sudden rise is impressive. But you can argue that nobody since Vince Lombardi a half century ago has turned less into more faster than Jim Schwartz has in Detroit.
Lombardi, football historians may remember, inherited a Green Bay team that had gone 1-10-1 in 1958. It was the worst record in Packers history. They were champs in 1961.
Schwartz inherited a Detroit team that had gone 0-16 in 2008. It was the worst record in NFL history. They have the look of champs here in 2011.
We’re not ready to put the Lions in the Super Bowl just yet. Remember, there are still two holiday showdowns to come with the mighty Packers on Thanksgiving and New Year’s – and perhaps a third meeting in January. San Fran will be a tussle, too. And we certainly do not want to rush to judgment on Schwartz so early in his career.
But the fact remains that the 0-16 Lions of 2008 are now the dominant statistical force in football through the first five weeks of 2011.
We chronicled Detroit’s skyrocketing statistical fortunes under Schwartz back in May, declaring the Lions a contender at that early date. The one fear was that Detroit might plateau here in 2011. But it has not. Instead, the amazing across-the-board improvements have continued.
Here’s how the Lions stacked up in numerous CHFF Quality Stats and other commonly used indicators in 2009, Schwartz’s first year, in 2010 and through the first five weeks of 2011.
|Defensive Passing YPA||32nd||21st||5th|
|Offensive Passer Rating||31st||19th||6th|
|Defensive Passer Rating||32nd||23rd||7th|
|Passer Rating Differential||32nd||20th||3rd|
|Offensive Hog Index||31st||8th||17th|
|Defensive Hog Index||31st||15th||10th|
|Quality Stats Power Rankings||32nd||17th||1st|
Basically, the Lions were the worst team statistically in football in 2009; they pounced past about half the league to join the middle of the pack in 2010. And now they’ve pounced past the rest of the league to become kings of the statistical jungle here
It’s mind-blowing to see a team improve so dramatically across the board in almost every single aspect of the game in on year alone, let alone to watch them repeat that Great Leap Forward two years running.
One number leaps off the board and drives home the drama of the turnaround in Detroit: Defensive Passer Rating.
Other than points allowed, Defensive Passer Rating in the single most important statistical measure of a defense, because it correlates so strongly to wins, losses and even championships.
Year after year, champions are dominant in Defensive Passer Rating – including the top-ranked 2010 Packers. (We simply apply the formula used to rate quarterbacks to defenses.)
At the other end of the spectrum, teams that perform poorly in Defensive Passer Rating simply cannot win games.
Consider the 2008 Lions. They were the first 0-16 team in history. And the reason they were the first 0-16 team in history is because they fielded the single worst pass defense in history (110.8). Put another way, the 2008 Lions made every QB look like 2010 NFL MVP Tom Brady (111.0 passer rating). No wonder why they couldn’t win a game.
The 2009 Lions, under Schwartz, were barely any better in terms of record (2-14) or in terms of Defensive Passer Rating (107.6). The 2011 Lions are No. 7 in Defensive Passer Rating at 79.5 – more than 31 points better than the unit they fielded back in 2008.
It’s a lot easier to win games when the opposing quarterbacks have trouble getting the ball down field.
3. We may be looking at the best two teams in football
We size up each NFL team in more than a dozen different Quality Stats – these are stats that have a direct correlation to winning football games. Basically, we tell you which stats win and lose football games and then prove this correlation with empirical data.
For example, we track the all-around performance of quarterbacks (passing, running, sacks, etc.) with what we call Real Quarterback Rating. It proves that success in the NFL is all about play at that position. Teams that win the Real QB Rating battle are 63-14 (.818) in 2011. It’s also an incredible 51-26 (.662) predicting winners. That's right: we have one single indicator that predicts winners all by its lonesome about as often as Vegas favorites. In both cases, Real QB Rating is the most accurate stat in football.
We also size up each team across the board in all our indicators with our Quality Stats Power Rankings. It’s hugely indicative of postseason success. The 2009 Saints, for example, finished No. 1 in our Quality Stats Power Rankings. So, too, did the 2010 Packers, despite their humble 10-6 record and No. 6 seed.
Both teams won Super Bowls because they were the best in the NFL in all the indicators that ultimately win and lose championships.
That’s good news for the Lions and 49ers: right now, they are Nos. 1 and 2, respectively, in our Quality Stats Power Rankings.
Each team has weaknesses. San Francisco, for example, needs to do a better job protecting the passer. The 49ers suffer a Negative Pass Play (sack, INT) on 10.5 percent of dropbacks. Twenty-three teams are better. Sacks (14) have been the specific issue.
Detroit, meanwhile, can’t stop the run. They get gashed for 4.78 YPA every time an opponent runs the ball. Twenty-three teams are better.
But top to bottom right now, these are the two best, most well-rounded teams in football.
The Statistical Clash You Need to Follow
San Francisco’s Offensive Hogs vs. Ndamukong Suh and Detroit DL
San Francisco’s offensive line will be the weakest unit on the field Sunday.
The 49ers rank just 24th on our Offensive Hog Index and have struggled in each individual component of the indicator: No. 21 running the ball (4.01 YPA), No. 22 converting third downs (33.9%) and, as noted above, No. 24 protecting the passer, surrendering 14 sacks on just 143 dropbacks.
It’s not an encouraging match-up when Suh, the 2010 NFL Defensive Rookie of the year, and his mates will line up opposite them.
The Lions are not a dominant group of Defensive Hogs right now (No. 10 on our Defensive Hog Index), even if Suh brings star power to the unit. And, as noted, they struggle to stop the run. But stopping the run is wildly overrated. Just ask the 2010 Super Bowl champion Packers, who struggled to both run the ball on offense (25th in rush YPA) and stop the run on defense (28th in rush YPA).
But Suh and his mates are good at getting after the quarterback, forcing a Negative Pass Play on 9.4 percent of dropbacks. They’re also among the league leaders in third-down defense, allowing opponents to convert just 32.3 percent of opportunities.
The PickDetroit has been the slightly better team overall and they appear to have a little magic in them, too, pulling out big second-half comebacks in three of five wins this year.
They also possess the one statistical mismatch in this game of heavyweights: look for the Lions to force one more big play on pass defense than the 49ers, the one play that will prove the difference between victory and defeat.
Pick: Detroit 23, San Francisco 20
Season record: 5-0
Week 1 pick: Detroit 24, Tampa 20
Week 1 result: Detroit 27, Tampa 20
Week 2 pick: New England 27, San Diego 24
Week 2 result: New England 35, San Diego 21
Week 3 pick: New Orleans 30, Houston 23
Week 3 result: New Orleans 40, Houston 33
Week 4 pick: Detroit 26, Dallas 24
Week 4 result: Detroit 34, Dallas 30
Week 5 pick: Green Bay 34, Atlanta 24
Week 5 result: Green Bay 25, Atlanta 14
- Former Bears WR David Terrell Says He'd Cut Off His Balls To Play W Jay Cutler
- Roger Goodell Defends Redskins Name In Letter To Congress
- Video: Pat Imig's FN NFL Update June 09
- Chuck Norris: 'Clutch' Tim Tebow An 'Athletic Warrior'
- Congress Wants The Redskins To Change Name - I Want Congress To Change Its Name
- NFL Today: The Golden Age Of The Ground Game
- Wes Welker Excited About "Freedom" In Denver
- The 5.0 Club: Best Rushing Teams in NFL History
- Sieves: The Worst Run Defenses In NFL History
- 2013 NFL Schedule: The Year Of The Denver Broncos
- Monsters of the Midway: We Need The Chicago Bears More Than Ever
- The 100 Stingiest Defenses In Football History
- NFL Crown Rule: Will It Dethrone Rushing King Adrian Peterson?
- Big Tease: 2012 New England Patriots And NFL's History Of Offensive Failures
- Epic Fail: The Wide Receiver Draft Class Of 2012