2012 Pro Bowl: Which 49ers Were Snubbed
Every sport tries to show their appreciation for the best players. Unfortunately, more often than not the fans are left to decide who is the best. And because the fans are left in charge, the most popular are appreciated, instead of the best being acknowledged. This is no more evident in the NFL's attempt at appreciating their best players in the Pro Bowl. And this year has been no different, with many players deserving of a Pro Bowl berth being snubbed, including members of the 49ers. It is true though that I am a 49ers fan, and every fan believes at least one of the players on the team they follow was brushed off, and certainly some of the 49ers that are on this list are on it because of my 49er roots. I also have to consider that though the 49ers on this list had good seasons, other players simply had better ones.
49er roots or not, it is inexcusable that NaVorro Bowman was not elected to the Pro Bowl. Instead of Bowman, Brian Urlacher and Patrick Willis were selected. Don't worry 49er fans, I'm not about to say that Willis doesn't deserve a Pro Bowl spot, because he does. Despite missing five games, Patrick Willis was arguably playing the best football of his career before he got injured. Yes his tackle total wasn't as high as it was in previous years, but Willis has excelled in pass coverage, registering 12 passes defended, and was also responsible for three forced fumbles and two sacks.
Brian Urlacher on the other hand, is not worthy of a playoff spot. This is a case of it's not what you've done that season, but what you've done in previous seasons. Yes Urlacher will be enshrined in the Hall of Fame one day, but this is not the 2000-2010 Pro Bowl, it's the 2011 Pro Bowl. And in 2011, Urlacher did not have one of his better seasons—he did not record any sacks and his tackle total was its second lowest at 102. NaVorro Bowman on the other hand registered 106 tackles, including 11 tackles for loss and 2 sacks. He also was responsible for 8 passes defended while Urlacher only defended 6 passes. Another reason that Bowman deserves to be in the Pro Bowl is that he will most likely make the All Pro team. Just ask sportswriting guru Peter King, who had Bowman in his midseason All Pro Team.
It is true that Bowman benefited from sharing the middle linebacker position with Willis, as lineups would double team Willis, but it's not like Urlacher didn't have the benefit of playing next to a great linebacker (read: Lance Briggs) too. But the difference is that Bowman and Willis share a position, where as Briggs and Urlacher don't share the middle linebacker position, with Briggs being an outside linebacker. And whenever players on the same team share a position, it is rare that both those players are elected to the Pro Bowl.
Bowman and the rest of the 49er linebackers would not have been as successful this season if it wasn't for Isaac Sopoaga, another 49er that deserves to be in the Pro Bowl.
A nose tackle's job isn't pretty. They have perhaps the most physical job in the NFL, occupying as many blockers as possible, so that the linebackers can do their job. Because they're busy occupying blockers, they rarely get the sacks that get you recognition around the league. The lack of sacks and really any other statistic makes it hard to judge a nose tackle's performance. One way though, is to look at how well the linebackers have been doing their job. And as mentioned in the previous slide the 49ers have a Pro Bowl linebacker and a potential All Pro linebacker.
Another way to look at a nose tackle's performance is to look at how adept that team is at stopping the run. As we all know the 49ers run defense has been historic this season and went 14 games without surrendering a rushing touchdown. And that run defense wouldn't be as historic without Sopoaga filling up running lanes.
Instead of Sopoaga, B.J. Raji and Jay Ratliff were sent to the Pro Bowl. These selections are not as inexcusable as the Brian Urlacher selection because these players played at a Pro Bowl level. True, the defenses they played for weren't as effective as the 49ers defense when it came to stopping the run, but they still ranked in the top 15. And the defenses that these nose tackles played for weren't too shabby in the linebacker department either, including two Pro Bowlers, Clay Matthews and DeMarcus Ware. No doubt Raji and Ratliff were a big reason why Matthews and Ware were selected to the Pro Bowl, with Raji and Ratliff occupying blockers so that Matthews and Ware could get to the quarterback. These players also had more splash plays and sacks than Sopoaga, which as previously mentioned is hard for a nose tackle to come by.
Like the nose tackle, the offensive lineman does not get much credit for what he does. Which is why it will be hard for many to believe that Adam Snyder is the reason why the 49ers offense was successful this season. Without Adam Snyder in the lineup the 49ers offense was inefficient—Smith had no protection and Gore did not have any running lanes. The stats back this up, as without Snyder in the starting lineup against the Ravens, Smith was sacked nine times. Through the first two games without Snyder in the lineup, Gore only rushed for 106 yards and averaged 2.5 yards per carry. Gore ran for 100 yards in 5 consecutive games with Snyder in the lineup from weeks four to eight. The most telling statistic though, is that without Snyder the 49ers record is 0-2. With Snyder, the 49ers record is 13-1. And that one loss came when Snyder was not 100 percent.
Instead of Snyder being elected to the Pro Bowl, Carl Nicks, Jahri Evans, and Davin Joseph were picked. Let's look at the seasons they had. According to football outsiders, Carl Nicks and Jahri Evans were a big reason why the Saints run offense ranked 1st in terms of run efficiency, which was measured by ALY (adjusted line yards), as the Saints ranked 1st in ALY in runs from the middle or guard position. The 49ers on the other hand ranked 30th in ALY in runs from the middle or guard position. Carl Nicks and Jahri Evans were also part of a line that ranked 1st in adjusted sack rate. And though the Bucs struggled running the ball, being ranked 22nd in ALY, they didn't have trouble running the ball through Davin Joseph, being ranked 10th when running the ball from the middle or guard position.
Though Snyder was a stabilizing force for the 49ers offense, the 49ers offense is underwhelming compared to the Saints unstoppable offense, and as the data from football outsiders suggests, one of the reasons this offense was so explosive was great run blocking and pass protection from their guards.
Regarding Joseph, this is a case of a good player sticking out on a bad team. Not to take anything away from Joseph as the number suggests he was playing at a high level, but would he have stuck out on a team that surrounded him with the likes of Nicks or Evans? Still, Joseph deserves credit for playing at the level he did even when his team floundered, as it can be easy for a player to check out under those circumstances.
Now these are the 49ers who no doubt had a good season, but I wouldn't say they were snubbed from the Pro Bowl roster.
Lets start with the starting quarterback for the 49ers, Alex Smith, who finally did enough to avoid hearing the boo birds at Candlestick. Second to Aaron Rodgers and tied with Tom Brady and Drew Brees, Smith had the best win percentage for starting quarterbacks. He also tied the record for fewest interceptions thrown in a season and had a career high in passing yards with 3,150 yards. Even with all he's achieved though, it's no match for what the other quarterbacks elected to the Pro Bowl achieved. Drew Brees broke Dan Marino's record for yards thrown in a season. Aaron Rodgers threw 45 touchdowns. Eli Manning staged five comebacks and broke the record for touchdowns scored in the fourth quarter. What's also worth noting is that all of these quarterbacks' teams are in the postseason because of them. And the 49ers aren't exactly in the playoffs because of what Smith has done, it more has to do with what Smith hasn't done: turn the ball over. And not turning the ball over is not enough to make the Pro Bowl in this passing league today.
Another 49er who was not exactly snubbed from being left off the Pro Bowl roster, but could be snubbed from winning defensive rookie of the year is Aldon Smith. Aldon Smith was responsible for 14 sacks and was one sack short of breaking Jevon Kearse's rookie sack record. And he did all of this is on a limited basis. But like Alex Smith's situation, the guys who were elected to the Pro Bowl roster instead were more productive. Jared Allen was within a sack of breaking Michael Strahan's record for most sacks in a season, while Jason Babin was responsible for 18 sacks, and Pierre-Paul for 16.5. Also some will see the fact that Aldon played on a limited basis as a reason why he shouldn't be in the Pro Bowl, as he had less responsibilities than other defensive ends. It is worth noting that this could hurt him in winning defensive rookie of the year, as his competition, Von Miller, who even though registered three less sacks than Aldon, played a higher percentage of snaps.
And all of this talk about defensive linemen reminds me of the season that Ray McDonald had. Yes Ray McDonald only registered 5.5 sacks, but that's a lot for a 3-4 lineman. You have to remember that he's a 3-4 lineman, and in the 3-4, the linebackers get the sacks, not the lineman. He also is responsible for a bunch of qb hurries. You can't give all of the credit to Isaac Sopoaga for the 49ers run defense being stout, as McDonald certainly did his part to make it nearly impossible for opposing RBs to find the end zone. But 3-4 lineman are usually categorized as 'interior linemen' in Pro Bowl rosters, and the 49ers already have one 'interior linemen' elected to the Pro Bowl roster, Justin Smith. And like with Navarro Bowman, players that play the same position, or in this case categorized by the same position, and play on the same team are rarely both elected to the Pro Bowl.
As mentioned previously, every fan feels like the team they follow wasn't properly represented in the Pro Bowl. Sure enough as a 49ers fan I feel like the 49ers weren't properly represented. But I have to remember that before this season the only players that we could bet on being elected to the Pro Bowl were Patrick Willis and Andy Lee. This season though we have eight 49ers selected to the Pro Bowl. And more could be on the way if other players withdraw from the game. But I think I speak for all 49er fans when I say that I wouldn't have a problem with seeing none of the 49ers in the Pro Bowl, and rather in the Super Bowl.