This offseason, Pro Football Weekly (who are apparently not concerned with the value of its content) has been running a “Best Defense” competition. This competition is not based on statistics or rankings or common sense. Rather, it is centered on fan votes, which is problematic. Fans are hardly impartial judges, as every All-Star game ever has shown.
To the fans’ credit, the 49ers defense made it to the semi-finals, but, true to form, they deemed the Seattle Seahawks the better defense. That’s the 7-9 Seattle Seahawks. You know, the 0-2 against-the-49ers Seahawks of Seattle.
Obviously there is a large contingency of Seattle residents who used this vote as a means to distract themselves during the Seattle Supersonics Oklahoma City Thunder playoff run. In any case, the 49ers might not have the best team defense on the west coast, but they do have the best team defense in the Bay Area … or do they?
Team defense rankings aside, who’s got it better by position, specifically at defensive line?
Adjusted Line Yards (ALY): ALY is essentially yards per carry allowed by the defensive linemen. The staff at Football Outsiders has determined a way of assigning responsibility for gains on a running play. It is based on the following percentages:
- Losses: 120% value
- 0-4 Yards: 100% value
- 5-10 Yards: 50% value
- 11+ Yards: 0% value
Defensive linemen take all the credit and then some for lost yards, and get no credit for longer gains by a running back. For a more comprehensive understanding, go here.
Power Success: Percentage of successful conversions on third or fouth-and-short. Also includes runs on first or second-and-goal from the two-yard line or closer.
Stuffed: Percentage of runs in which the running back is tackled at or behind the line of scrimmage. Teams are ranked from least often (#1) to most often (#32).
|Team||Overall Rank||Adj. Line Yards||Power Success||Power Rank||Stuffed||Stuffed Rank|
The overall ranking is a bit misleading, as it relies solely on Adjusted Line Yards. But determining the worth of a defensive line by examining the gains of a running back is not an exact science. A number of factors can contribute to long gains by a runner, not just line play.
Still, given how ineffectively the 49ers were able to “stuff” runners, I’d say 4th is accurate. I know the knee-jerk reaction would be to argue that the team deserves a higher ranking because of the dearth of 100-yard games and touchdowns allowed. But while those two stats make for good bragging fodder, they are not accurate barometers of a team’s abilities.
The Raiders have some superb defensive linemen, and so, I wonder whether their numbers would have been helped by better linebacker play. One could only imagine how good the defense would be were Rolando McClain as tough on the field as he is off of it.
Football Outsiders also breaks down running back success by direction of run.
|LEFT END||LEFT TACKLE||MID/GUARD||RIGHT TACKLE||RIGHT END|
Based on the success running off right tackle, it would appear as though Ray McDonald were the weak link in the 49ers run defense. On the other hand, if opponent failure off right end is any indicator, Ahmad Brooks was the team’s best. I’m extrapolating here, but this is not beyond the realm of possibility.
As for the Raiders, these stats point to Richard Seymour, Desmond Bishop, and Tommy Kelly as being the proverbial chink in the Raiders run defense. But again, I’m sure Rolando McClain was of little help to his trench mates.
Adjusted Sack Rate (ASR): ASR is sacks divided by pass plays, including passes, sacks, and aborted snaps. It is adjusted for opponent quality, as well as down and distance. More here.
|Team||Rank||Sacks||Adj. Sack Rate|
Last year, this might have been a draw. The 49ers had dominant pass rushers in Justin and Aldon Smith, while the Raiders had a great team approach, accentuated by the pass rush acumen of Kamerion Wimbley and Tommy Kelly.
Alas, this year, I’m afraid Phillip Wheeler cannot replace the pass rush of Wimbley. As such, the loss of Wimbley means the loss of their best pass rusher. Sure, Matt Shaughnessy, who Seymour called “the best defensive end in the NFL for sure in terms of stopping the run,” could have a breakout season, but we can’t count our chickens before they hatch. The 49ers have proven rushers, and perhaps more importantly, they have a scheme predicated on freeing up defenders with stunts and twists. The Raiders, on the other hand, have a big question mark.
This is probably one of the closer competitions. The Raiders certainly have an above average defensive line, but the 49ers line borders on great. The 49ers defense has retained its system and starters. It would seem as though they are primed to build on last year’s success. With a rookie head coach and defensive coordinator, the Raiders unit is an enigma.
Who’s got it better at defensive line? Well, the Seahawks do, obviously. But, if not the Seahawks, then the 49ers—I guess.