Niners' Efficiency is Best in the NFL

Sports Illustrated formula shows how team operates

By Doug Williams
|  Thursday, Oct 27, 2011  |  Updated 9:08 AM PDT
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By one formula, Jim Harbaugh's 49ers are the most efficient team in the NFL. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

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Six weeks into the NFL season, and the 49ers’ bandwagon has started to creak under the weight of more believers. 

At 5-1, San Francisco is the league’s biggest surprise.

Not only have the Niners knocked off the Lions, Eagles and Bengals on the road, but they’ve already built a big lead in the weak NFC West and appear to be almost a lock to make the playoffs as they come off their bye week and get ready to play the Browns at Candlestick Park Sunday.

In this week’s Sports Illustrated power rankings by Don Banks, the 49ers are now ranked No. 4 in the NFL, behind the Packers (7-0), Patriots (5-1) and Saints (5-2).

Meanwhile, one NFL analyst says there’s an explanation for the team’s turnaround under first-year head coach Jim Harbaugh and his new coaching staff.

In his Cold Hard Football Facts column for Sports Illustrated, Kerry J. Byrne says, “No coach has his team playing smarter or more efficiently than Harbaugh.”

In his column, Byrne measures offensive efficiency through a formula he calls “scoreability” and defensive efficiency through “bendability.” The formulas take into account stats that measure proficiency of special teams, field position, red zone offense and defense, penalties, third-down offense and defense and turnover differential.

The conclusion: the 49ers rank No. 1 in the NFL in scoreability and No. 1 in the NFL in bendability.

Byrne notes that since he started using the formulas in 2004, no other team has ranked No. 1 in both.

Some of the key points of Byrne’s analysis:

  • The 49ers have just 1,815 yards of offense, but have scored 167 points – an average of 10.87 yards per point scored. The record for efficiency is the 11.17 figure by the New England Patriots in 2007.
  • Defensively, 49ers’ opponents must generate 20.76 yards for every point, or 145.3 yards for every seven points.

Writes Byrne: “They have the best ‘bend-but-don’t-break’ defense in football. Opponents may generate a lot of yards, but they do very little with all that effort.”

So, while Alex Smith still has his critics – who still believe he can’t carry a team on his shoulders – the quarterback and his offense produce when opportunities to score are there, while defensive coordinator Vic Fangio’s defense gets stingy in the red zone and special teams continue to give the team great field position.

“Smart, well-coached teams maximize their production,” writes Byrne. “Harbaugh’s 49ers are getting the ball in good field position, they’re playing smartly in the red zone and on special teams and they’re not coughing up the football in bad situations.”

 

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