Tag Archives: NaVorro Bowman

Most football analysis requires expertise. But some plays, even amid unknown audibles, blocking schemes, options, etc, are simple enough for the common fan (such as myself, or yourself) to understand. Sometimes it is clear that no matter what else was going on, player X beat player Y for a big play. Let’s look at two very similar, very big plays from the 49ers 23-10 victory over the Panthers in the NFC Divisional Round game from last Sunday.

Up 7-6 with 6:35 left to go in the second quarter on a first and goal from the 49er seven, Cam Newton rushes around left end before NaVorro Bowman tackles him at the one for a six yard gain.

Here is the scene at the snap. Bowman is the right inside linebacker on this play, next to Patrick Willis, their other inside linebacker, who is standing on the hash marks five yards behind the line of scrimmage. Nose tackle Glenn Dorsey is lined up in front of Willis, directly over center with his left hand in the grass at the line of scrimmage.

Screenshot (2)Three seconds later the Panthers have four blockers to handle the three 49ers on the left edge at the line of scrimmage, between the six and seven yard lines. Newton’s chances of reaching the end zone look good. Panthers guards Travelle Wharton and Chris Scott–numbers 70 and 75–are closing in on Bowman, number 53. Center Ryan Kalil has moved Dorsey–number 90–back a couple yards, but Dorsey is still upright and in pursuit.Screenshot (6)Wharton engages Bowman on the five yard line, just in front of the rushing Newton. Dorsey–number 90–has shed Kalil–number 67–but he likely will be unable to move his 297 pounds into Newton’s path in time; Scott–number 75–sees him coming into the play.Screenshot (9)Now Wharton is blocking air, and Newton–number one–is going down, grabbed by the mostly hidden Bowman. Scott has broken away from Bowman and moves to block Dorsey, number 90. This has all happened in one second, from 6:32 on the game clock to 6:31.Screenshot (11)And what just happened, exactly? Let’s take another look, Joe! This is another view from the instant replay provided by FOX.  Newton breaks around the edge as Wharton–number 70–moves to block Bowman.

Screenshot (49)Wharton engages Bowman. Scott–number 75–sees Dorsey coming in. The Panthers look all set to escort Newton into the end zone.Screenshot (51)Bowman starts to shed Wharton and clear his path to Newton, number one. Scott–number 75– breaks towards Dorsey, number 90.Screenshot (53)Bowman, having freed himself of Wharton, and with his teammate Dorsey occupying Scott’s attention, meets Newton head-on at the five yard line. Just from these screen shots, it seems that if Newton had cut left around Wharton, he would have scored. Watching in real-time reveals that Bowman purposefully sheds Wharton in this direction to meet Newton after Newton had already cut inside.1

Screenshot (55)And there is our hero, emerging triumphant from the pile at the one yard line. Dorsey himself ended up getting in there too; he is the horizontal 49er next to Bowman.Screenshot (58)At the time Bowman’s outstanding effort (along with the teamwork of Dorsey, not to mention the other nine 49ers out there) seemed trivial. The Panthers would still have second and goal from the one yard line. The 49ers defense, as indicated by plays such as this, and their previous goal line stand, is certainly good, but generally even bad offenses against good defenses are going to score a touchdown given second and goal from the one. Brian Burke, of Advanced NFL Stats, noted on Twitter that in the past two seasons, the 49ers had given up touchdowns on 10 of 15 plays from their own one yard line. But they did not this time. The held the Panthers through third down, and Ron Rivera quite unwisely2 opted for a field goal. Bowman’s tackle, aided by Dorsey’s continual pursuit, saved four points.

Up 13-10 with 8:59 left in the third quarter on a second and goal from the Panther four, Colin Kaepernick rushes around left end and scores a touchdown.

This is the snap. Panthers cornerback Drayton Florence is following 49ers wide receiver Quinton Patton–number 11– to the offense’s left side. Linebacker Luke Kuechly is lined up on the goal line just to the referee’s right; safety Mike Mitchell is at the near hash marks, on the goal line to the right of Kuechly. 49ers wide receiver Michael Crabtree is wide left, with Anquan Boldin in the left slot.

Screenshot (19)Kaepernick breaks left, following Patton. But left tackle Joe Staley is down on the goal line after having missed his block on Luke Kuechly, now at the two yard line on the far hash marks and breaking into the play. The corner Florence, originally chasing Patton, is now a yard deep in the end zone, also unblocked, and seemingly in good position to stop Kaepernick. The safety Mitchell is moving in from the two yard line on the near hash marks. Patton is now Kaepernick’s only blocker for the three Panthers.Screenshot (21)Patton engages Mitchell, but Kuechly is covering the lane to Kaepernick’s right, and Florence the lane to the left.Screenshot (22)Kaepernick (or “Fleetfeet”, as is about to become appropriately apparent) breaks left. Mitchell–number 21–has released off of Patton and is closing in. Kuechly–number 59– has come around them both and is also closing in. Florence is also closing in–wait, no, he is heading up field and taking himself completely out of the play, unless merely brushing Kaepernick with his outstretched hand will suffice. Boldin and Crabtree, in the lower left, finish their blocks on the outside.Screenshot (25)Kaepernick dashes past Florence and Mitchell, and Kuechly reaches out with his right hand…Screenshot (26) …and gets nothing. Kaepernick strides into the end zone.Screenshot (27)Touchdown 49ers! Screenshot (28)None of the three Panthers–not Florence, not Mitchell, not Kuechly–even register a missed tackle, because they do not even get close enough to attempt one. But all three of them miss Kaepernick, Florence by far the hardest of all. His poor angle, combined with Kaepernick’s speed, were enough for a touchdown, despite the fact that the 49ers blockers were outnumbered.

The Panthers are a very good football team. These two plays show how the 49ers beat them.3 Being a little bit stronger, a little bit faster, and making better snap judgements (whom to block, what angle to take) a little more quickly is often all the difference in the NFL.

  1. Unfortunately video of the play, outside of NFL Game Rewind, seems to be unavailable. 
  2. Personally, I have never been so delighted to see my team’s opponents kick a field goal in my entire life. I am not even going to break out Brian Burke’s fourth down calculator and check to see what the baseline percentages for going for it are. Remember that earlier 49ers goal line stand? Remember how when the 49ers offense took over the ball on their own half yard line, they were so concerned about a safety/blocked punt/etc that they ran a quarterback sneak on first and ten? Remember on when Colin Kaepernick almost threw an interception inside his ten yard line? Remember when Andy Lee punted after the three and out and Ted Ginn Jr. returned the ball to the 49er thirty-one yard line, and the Panthers scored a touchdown on the next play? Remember how seven points is more than twice as many as three? Even if the Panthers had not converted yet again, they would still have been in great shape. 
  3. There were some questionable calls by the referees. They seemingly missed catching the 49ers with 12 men in the huddle; however, apparently they did notice this, but as they had not marked the ball as “ready to play” this did not warrant a penalty. More outrageously, they did not call Anquan Boldin for a headbutt, despite calling Carolina’s Captain Munnerlyn4 for one earlier. And there was also a questionable unnecessary roughness call on the 49ers’ first drive. But then, there was also one on a terrific Dan Skuta sack of Cam Newton. And they let four extra seconds run off the clock on Vernon Davis’ end-zone-catch-eventually-ruled-touchdown, which would have robbed the 49ers of a final chance at a touchdown if the call had gone the other way, so… maybe this is not the big conspiracy theory Panthers fans have been calling it? 
  4. Inception footnotes! Captain Munnerlyn is his given name. He is not one of the Panthers’ captains. 

With Texans-Jaguars, or “The Rabid Feces in a Deep Fryer Bowl” as dubbed by Cousin Sal on this week’s B.S. Report, beginning the final quarter of the NFL season tonight on Thursday Night Football, it is time to move on with my continuing series, Economics and Sports Management Presents: The Search for the Best (& Worst) Contract in Football. Today I will investigate linebackers, grouping them (per Pro Football Focus) into three groups: outside linebackers in a 3-4, outside linebackers in a 4-3, and inside linebackers.

These are the Top 5 performing 3-4 outside linebackers through Week 13, who’ve played 25% or more of their teams’ snaps (PFF grade in parentheses):

  • 1. Justin Houston, KC (31.8)
  • 2. Elvis Dumervil, BAL (23.1)
  • 3. Robert Mathis, IND (23)
  • 4. Brian Orakpo, WAS & Trent Cole, PHI (16.2)

Also of note, despite missing six games in the middle of the season when he voluntarily entered a drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility, Aldon Smith of the San Francisco 49ers is tenth with a 10.3 grade. And these are the Bottom 5:

  • 37. Andy Mulumba, GB & Barkevious Mingo, CLE (-7.2)
  • 39. Quinton Coples, NYJ (-7.3)
  • 40. Mike Neal, GB (-8.6)
  • 41. Brooks Reed, HOU (-17.6)

Houston is firmly alone at the top, Reed is firmly alone at the bottom, and the average grade is a 4.2, with a standard deviation of 10.35. Here are the Top 5 paid 3-4 outside linebackers (average annual salary from, in millions of dollars, in parentheses):

  • 1. Mario Williams, BUF ($16 million)
  • 2. Clay Matthews, GB ($11.628m)
  • 3. Tamba Hali, KC ($11.5m)
  • 4. Terrell Suggs, BAL ($10.417)
  • 5. Lamarr Woodley, PIT ($10.25)

None of these guys show up as worst performers, but none of them made the Top 5 either. As for the Bottom 5:

  • 37. Justin Houston, KC ($0.697m)
  • 38. Corey Lemonier, SF ($0.676m)
  • 39. Thomas Keiser, SD ($0.555m)
  • 40. Pernell McPhee, BAL ($0.546m)
  • 41. Andy Mulumba, GB ($0.497)

Houston, a third round pick in the 2011 draft, is one of the least paid outside linebackers among the league’s 3-4 defenses, yet has actually played the best this season. A good investment by the Chiefs. The average salary is $4 million, with a standard deviation of $3.845 million. Note that the $4 million average is about the same as the 4-3 defensive ends covered on Tuesday, who averaged $4.084 million, while 3-4 defensive ends averaged (“only”) $2.583 million.

You should not be surprised to see that as quarterbacks are the most expensive players, the most expensive defenders are those whose job it is to get to the quarterback. 3-4 linebackers, though they start the play standing up, have more in common with 4-3 defensive ends than with 4-3 outside linebackers. And among 3-4 linebackers, these are the Top 5 contracts (contract quality in parentheses):

  • 1. Justin Houston, KC (3.53)
  • 2. Brian Orakpo, WAS (1.68)
  • 3. Elvis Dumervil, BAL (1.51)
  • 4. Jerry Hughes, BUF (1.35)
  • 5. Jabaal Sheard, CLE (1.07)

And Houston leads by a mile! A second congratulations to Chiefs General Manager John Dorsey, who also has gotten the best fullback value this season out of Anthony Sherman. Brian Orakpo, on the last year of his rookie contract, also makes an appearance. The following are the Worst 5 contracts (so far):

  • 37. Barkevious Mingo, CLE (-1.12)
  • 38. Brooks Reed, HOU (-1.37)
  • 39. Paul Kruger, CLE (-1.52)
  • 40. Clay Matthews, GB (-2.35)
  • 41. Mario Williams, BUF (-2.49)

Mingo is a rookie, so he may improve, but he also comes pretty cheap, so it is discouraging to see him so far down. Most likely Clay Matthews would not be there if he had not missed four games in the middle of the season, but then in the eight games he has played he has only earned a 0.4 grade. Perhaps the injury is lingering. Mario Williams makes an average of $16 million a year. He does have the ninth best grade (10.7). Rams’ 4-3 defensive end Robert Quinn, excelling at a similar role, is worth approximately $19.5 million, based on his play this season. That is what you get when you outperform your position’s average grade by an incredible 52.56 units, and Williams needs to (out)perform at a similar level. A good, even a great performance just is not worth that much.

Moving onto the other defenses in the league, here are the Top 5 performing 4-3 outside linebackers:

  • 1. Von Miller, DEN (30.9)
  • 2. Lavonte David, TB (16.6)
  • 3. Vontaze Burfict, CIN (15.8)
  • 4. Malcolm Smith, SEA (10.9)
  • 5. James Harrison, CIN (10.2)

Von Miller missed six games with a suspension. In half the games, he has put up twice the numbers of second-best Lavonte David. Offensive tackles beware! But for that suspension, he might have challenged J.J. Watt for Mr. Being-So-Much-Better-Than-Everyone-Else. As it is, still an impressive season, with games remaining. Here are the Bottom 5 performing 4-3 outside linebackers:

  • 29. Bruce Carter, DAL (-8.6)
  • 30. JoLonn Dunbar, STL (-9.1)
  • 31. Philip Wheeler, MIA (-9.5)
  • 32. James Anderson, CHI (-12.1)
  • 33. Chad Greenway, MIN (-18.3)

The average grade is 0.8, with a standard deviation of 9.66. All positions have varied more in performance than pay, but that is some serious variation. Also, note Chad Greenway, who is comfortably the worst in the league. Just hang on to that for a moment, as we see the Top 5 paid 4-3 outside linebackers:

  • 1. Chad Greenway, MIN ($8.12m)
  • 2. Thomas Davis, CAR ($7.3m)
  • 3. Jerod Mayo, NE ($7.121m)
  • 4. Lance Briggs, CHI ($5.833m)
  • 5. Von Miller, DEN ($5.25m)

Yup, Greenway is right at the top, by a cushy $1 million (almost). Oh dear. Greenway is pretty interesting. His third year in the league, 2008, he was PFF’s fourth-ranked out of 55 4-3 outside linebackers. In 2009, he was ninth of 54; in 2010, fifth of 41; in 2011, 32nd of 45 and went to the Pro Bowl (I am not making this up); and before last season signed his current contract, the most expensive among all 4-3 outside linebackers, before ranking 21st of 43 and going to the Pro Bowl again AND making the All-Pro second team. (Seriously, not making this up. Look it up.) The Vikings surely got a great deal on his rookie contract before making him the top paid man at his position and seeing his play slip. There could be a lot of reasons for this, including the possibility that the Vikings are not overpaying him but are rather reaping other benefits (he must be popular after making a name for himself, still going to the Pro Bowl and all) from having him on their roster. But for now, only pay and performance matter.1 Here are the Bottom 5 paid 4-3 outside linebackers:

  • 29. Jacquian Williams, NYG ($0.53m)
  • 30. Malcolm Smith, SEA ($0.521m)
  • 31. Joplo Bartu, ATL & Paul Worrilow, ATL ($0.495m)
  • 33. Vontaze Burfict, CIN ($0.48m)

The average salary is $2.242 million, with a standard deviation of $2.201 million. That is about half their 3-4 counterparts, as 4-3 guys are usually not responsible for generating a pass rush. And here are the Top 5 contracts:

  • 1. Vontaze Burfict, CIN (2.35)
  • 2. Lavonte David, TB (2.26)
  • 3. Malcolm Smith, SEA (1.83)
  • 4. Von Miller, DEN (1.75)
  • 5. K.J. Wright, SEA (1.3)

Congratulations to Bengals General Manager Mike Brown! He, too, has two players in the running for best value at their position, second-year man Burfict being alongside rookie running back Giovani Bernard. Note that despite his fifth highest salary, and despite missing six games, Miller’s contract is still a steal for the Broncos. Here are the Bottom 5 contracts:

  • 29. Lance Briggs, CHI (-1.46)
  • 30. Thomas Davis, CAR (-1.61)
  • 31. Philip Wheeler, MIA (-2.41)
  • 32. Jerod Mayo, NE (-2.89)
  • 33. Chad Greenway, MIN (-4.65)

Obviously, after pulling a Flacco, Greenway was destined for the bottom. In fact, Greenway is only the second player to pull a “Full Flacco” by being the absolute most paid and the absolute worst player on the field, among his position. Enough of that, onto inside linebackers!

Top 5 performing inside linebackers:

  • 1. Patrick Willis, SF (14.6)
  • 2. Stephen Tulloch, DET (13.3)
  • 3. Derrick Johnson, KC (12.5)
  • 4. Brandon Spikes, NE (11.1)
  • 5. NaVorro Bowman, SF (8.3)

As a 49er fan, I know Willis is our most expensive player, and Bowman is not far behind after signing an extension last season. I definitely recall a pundit or too wondering why the 49ers were spending so much at inside linebacker when, with the passing game still becoming more and more featured, rushing the quarterback from the edge seemed the way to adapt. Still, with the 49ers getting good value from their outside guys, if they are going to spend a lot on their inside guys, at least Willis and Bowman are the best in the league. Here are the Bottom 5:

  • 48. DeMeco Ryans, PHI (-15)
  • 49. Mychal Kendricks, PHI (-15.7)
  • 50. Moise Fokou, TEN (-15.8)
  • 51. Craig Robertson, CLE (-16.2)
  • 52. London Fletcher, WAS (-21.4)

The average grade is a -3.31, with a standard deviation of 8.03. That is the lowest average grade of any position so far. Apparently it has been a rough year for inside linebackers. Well, at least on the field. As for the negotiating room, here are the Top 5 paid inside linebackers:

  • 1. David Harris, NYJ ($9m)
  • 2. Jon Beason, NYG ($8.822m)
  • 3. D’Qwell Jackson, CLE ($8.5m)
  • 4. Lawrence Timmons, PIT ($8.333m)
  • 5. James Laurinaitis, STL ($8.3m)

So while the 49ers pay Willis and Bowman a lot (about $7 and $6 million, respectively), they somehow escaped making them the most paid, I suspect by resigning them in the middle of the season, well before their current contracts were up.2 Here are the Bottom 5 paid inside linebackers:

  • 48. Vince Williams, PIT ($0.56m)
  • 49. Jerrell Freeman, IND ($0.493m)
  • 50. Josh Bynes, BAL ($0.48m)
  • 51. Spencer Paysinger, NYG ($0.466m)
  • 52. Craig Robertson, CLE ($0.435m)

The average salary is $3.218 million, with a standard deviation $2.996 million. How strange, that is right in between the two types of outside linebackers. And who is getting the most value?

The Top 5 inside linebacker contracts (so far):

  • 1. Brandon Spikes, NE (2.6)
  • 2. Sean Lee, DAL (2.14)
  • 3. Josh Bynes, BAL (1.91)
  • 4. Daryl Smith, BAL (1.77)
  • 5. Kiko Alonso, BUF (1.76)

Congratulations to Bill Belichick, General Manager (and coach) of the New England Patriots. Spikes, Lee, and the rookie Alonso are all still on their rookie deals, while Bynes and Smith are veterans. And here are the Bottom 5 contracts:

  • 48. Jon Beason, NYG (-1.97)
  • 49. Paul Posluszny, JAC (-2.14)
  • 50. A.J. Hawk, GB (-2.59)
  • 51. London Fletcher, WAS (-2.97)
  • 52. DeMeco Ryans, PHI (-3.05)

And that is it for linebackers! The remaining defensive positions (cornerbacks and safeties) will be up next week.

  1. Measuring things like “popularity” and being “a good guy in the locker room” is really difficult. Not all players have a Twitter account for people to follow; mentions in the newspaper can be bad or good; players are paid separately for any commercials they appear in. I have tried to acquire jersey sales and pro bowl vote tallies for every player in the league before (not just the Top 5 or Top 10 you see in the news), and while surely somewhere they exist, it may be impossible. If anyone knows how to obtain those figures, I would LOVE to have them. 
  2. SPOILER, while not making the top five, Willis and Bowman do in fact both have positive contract qualities, with a 0.75 and 0.31, respectively. 
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