49ers Defense Is Even Better Than You Think

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49ers Defense Is Even Better Than You Think
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

One of the pleasant surprises of the NFL season so far has been the play of the San Francisco 49ers.  Coming into this season, many believed that the Niners had a lot of talent but would be undone by the play of quarterback Alex Smith.  Smith has been surprisingly efficient, and they are a Week 2 overtime loss (to the Cowboys) from being undefeated.  However, Alex Smith is not the reason that the Niners are the clear-cut favorites in the NFC West.  San Francisco has hung its hat on a physical approach and a very stout defense.  Led by Patrick Willis, they are currently ranked 11th in defense according to the NFL statistics.  The problem is - the NFL's system of ranking defenses simply needs to be updated.  The 49ers' defense is 8th in sacks, 6th in turnovers generated, 3rd in 3rd down conversion percentage allowed, 2nd in rushing defense, and 2nd in points allowed.  Because of this balance, the 49ers are even better than their official statistical ranking and are number 2 overall in Aggregate Defensive Ranking.  They would be even closer to challenging the Ravens for the top spot if not for their 20th ranked pass defense.  The Aggregate Defensive Ranking measures points allowed and yards allowed against 3rd down conversion percentage, sacks and turnovers generated.  I believe that the most important thing a defense can do is get the ball back for its offense.  Getting off the field on 3rd down and generating sacks and turnovers do just that.  With that in mind, here is this week's ADR:

2011 NFL Aggregate Defensive Rankings
               
Rank Team ADR Total Pts. / Gm Sacks Turn-
overs
3rd Down Conversion % Total Yards / Gm NFL Ranking
1 Baltimore Ravens 13.1 13.8 19 15 30.0% 272.7 1
2 San Francisco 49ers 18.0 16.2 17 14 31.0% 335.7 11
3 New York Jets 19.6 21.7 18 16 32.0% 323.6 9
4 Washington Redskins 19.6 19.3 21 8 31.0% 335.8 12
5 Houston Texans 19.9 18.7 19 12 32.0% 302.9 8
6 New York Giants 20.4 24.5 21 13 34.0% 373.5 22
7 Detroit Lions 20.8 19.6 17 15 31.0% 334.0 10
8 Cleveland Browns 22.8 20.0 16 8 34.0% 291.0 4
9 Dallas Cowboys 23.4 21.3 17 12 42.0% 300.5 7
10 Philadelphia Eagles 23.6 24.2 18 9 34.0% 341.2 13
11 Cincinnati Bengals 23.8 18.5 14 9 36.0% 278.5 2
12 Green Bay Packers 32.0 20.1 17 16 43.0% 391.0 27
13 Chicago Bears 32.0 21.4 15 12 36.0% 380.6 24
14 Jacksonville Jaguars 32.2 19.9 14 8 37.0% 299.7 6
15 Pittsburgh Steelers  32.2 17.4 17 3 36.0% 279.6 3
16 Minnesota Vikings 32.6 25.4 21 9 43.0% 362.7 19
17 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 33.7 24.1 12 13 34.0% 391.1 28
18 Seattle Seahawks 33.9 21.3 13 8 37.0% 354.7 15
19 Denver Broncos 34.2 25.8 16 8 41.0% 366.0 21
20 Atlanta Falcons 38.8 23.3 13 13 44.0% 364.0 20
21 New Orleans Saints 39.4 22.6 15 7 39.0% 349.3 14
22 Oakland Raiders 39.5 25.4 16 11 44.0% 382.9 25
23 Arizona Cardinals 40.1 25.5 13 7 38.0% 388.3 26
24 Miami Dolphins 42.2 24.3 15 4 39.0% 377.0 23
25 San Diego Chargers 42.7 22.7 10 7 44.0% 297.3 5
26 Buffalo Bills  44.7 24.5 4 16 39.0% 420.5 31
27 New England Patriots 45.5 22.5 10 11 42.0% 423.7 32
28 Kansas City Chiefs 48.9 25.0 6 11 42.0% 361.3 18
29 Tennessee Titans  49.5 22.5 11 8 48.0% 358.0 16
30 Carolina Panthers 52.9 26.1 12 8 46.0% 358.4 17
31 St. Louis Rams 54.6 28.5 11 7 43.0% 410.3 29
32 Indianapolis Colts 74.0 32.1 11 7 50.0% 416.0 30
               
Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

There are three things that jump out to me. 

One - the Ravens' defense is great, no matter what metric you want to use.  Their just needs to be a way they can sue their offense for non-support.  That's an old and tired topic in B'more though. 

Two - The Chargers' NFL defensive belies their overall effectiveness.  Allowing a 44% conversion rate on 3rd down does not a great defense make.  Maybe now we can see why they're always ranked near the top of the league on defense but never appear to be dominant when you watch them play.

Three - The defense of the Indianapolis Colts.  Has there ever been a team more built to play downhill?  Their awful performance so far this season (and especially on Sunday Night) makes me think so much less of guys like Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis.  It just makes me want to go back and snatch all those Pro Bowl votes from them. 

Trending downward:

The Redskins.  They dropped from 2 to 4 this week, which is not terrible.  However, they've given up a ton of rushing yards in the last 2 weeks, and they'll probably be on the field a lot more because of their injury-riddled and talent-starved offense.  Look for the 'Skins to keep dropping in the ADR.

Trending upward:

The Jets.  They appear to be getting it together finally.  "Gang Green" is ranked number 3 for the second week in a row.  The weather is getting colder, and the field should be shrinking due to the winds of MetLife Stadium.  The Jets will be running the ball a lot more in the upcoming weeks, forcing fewer opportunities for opposing offenses and more chances for turnovers.

Biggest move of the week:

The Jaguars.  Already underrated as a defense, the Jags threw a gem last night against Baltimore - holding Joe Flacco and the Ravens to zero first downs and 16 total yards in the first half.  On the strength of this impressive outing, the Jags move from 23 to 9 in the ADR.

See you next week with a brand new ADR!

 

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