ReFo: 49ers @ Cardinals, Week 3

The Cardinals continued their winning streak over divisional foes the 49ers, laying further claim that they could be for real. Thomas Maney examines.

| 3 years ago

ReFo: 49ers @ Cardinals, Week 3

2014-REFO-WK03-SF@ARZDespite missing Carson Palmer for the last two games, the Cardinals have started the season 3-0 and remain ahead in the competitive NFC West. After losing both matchups with the 49ers a season ago, Arizona came back from an 8-point halftime deficit to take this game 23-14, sealing it with a late field goal from rookie Chandler Catanzaro, who remains perfect on the year.

San Francisco couldn’t maintain their fast start as their offense sputtered in the second half; they finished the game with just 236 passing yards and an average of less than 3.5 yards per carry rushing, though Arizona’s defense is among the best they’ll face this season.

As always, let’s take a look at who stood out for both teams.

San Francisco – Performances of Note

Ian Williams, DL: +3.7

Breakdown: Picked up a pressure and batted pass in 13 pass rushes while handling center Lyle Sendlein in the run game, with all three of his tackles counting as a defensive stop.

Signature Play: 3Q, 6:40. Quickly got outside of guard Ted Larsen to pressure the QB (along with Patrick Willis) and force an incompletion.  

Colin Kaepernick, QB: -2.0

Breakdown: Maybe a case where the stats don’t quite line up with the grade; outside of three throwaways and a drop, Kaepernick missed on just four of his 34 pass attempts. However, one of those incompletions probably should have gone for a pick-six but was dropped by Antonio Cromartie (3Q, 12:18), while his 29 completions travelled less than five yards beyond the line of scrimmage on average.

Signature Play: 4Q, 4:14. Badly missed an open Brandon Lloyd on 3rd-and-19 late in the game down six. The 49ers punted on the next play and didn’t get the ball back until 23 seconds left in the game, down nine.

Eric Reid, S: -3.0

Breakdown: Rough day for the second-year safety, with two penalties either extending or improving Arizona drives, while he found himself out of position on a pair of touchdown passes to John Brown.

Signature Play: 3Q, 4:44. Bit hard on a pump fake and the threat of Larry Fitzgerald on an underneath route, leaving Jimmie Ward with no help deep, as Brown caught his second touchdown of the game.

Arizona – Performances of Note

Drew Stanton, QB: -1.2

Breakdown: Starting his second game in place of Carson Palmer, Stanton again did enough to win, displaying solid pocket presence and movement while making several impressive throws, notably his two touchdown passes to John Brown. As his grade indicates, though, he also benefited from butterfingers in the 49ers’ secondary on some forced throws and could easily have finished with a couple of interceptions instead of a clean sheet – check out 2Q, 0:13, 3Q, 10:50, and 4Q, 9:44 for some examples.

Signature Stat: Attempted 13 deep (20+ yard) passes, four more than any QB in Sunday’s games, which accounted for just under 40% of his total attempts.

Calais Campbell, DL: +2.7

Breakdown: A standard performance from one of the league’s best defensive linemen. Only picked up two pressures, but beat Mike Iupati on a number of plays, either drawing double team help or having little chance with a quick release from Kaepernick. And in run defense, three of his four tackles counted as defensive stops. Through three games, only JJ Watt has a higher grade at his position and none of his qualifying peers has a better Run Stop Percentage than his 17.2%.

Signature Play: 2Q, 1:54. Around Iupati in under two seconds, but couldn’t quite get enough of Kaepernick to bring him down for the sack.

Larry Foote, LB: -5.5

Breakdown: After a solid start to the season, Foote hit a brick wall in this one, struggling in every facet of defense despite picking up three stops. Notched a single hurry in 13 pass rushes, while allowing every pass into his coverage to be completed, though the largest portion of his negative grade can be attributed to three missed tackles (2Q, 10:21, 3Q 3:37 and 1:47).

Signature Stat: Only two linebackers have missed more tackles this season than Foote’s six.

PFF Game Ball

John Brown gets this one for his two touchdown catches, taking advantage of some poor safety play by the 49ers on both.


  • Chris

    How is Campbell graded when double teamed? Surely drawing a double team isn’t indicative or a positive result? Not giving up ground? Not getting pancaked?

  • Samantha B

    I’m not sure I understand the grade on Kaepernick. Yes he missed Lloyd badly on the third and 19 but outside of that he played well as the stat line and commentary indicated.

    The distance the ball traveled on the majority of his passes seemed to be by design. The Cardinals are known for taking chances and getting pressure on the QB. They rely heavily on their corners to be better in coverage than the QB/WR tandems are.

    The 49ers play calling seemed to be designed to take advantage of the short plays that would be available underneath while not attempting to challenge the very good run defense of the Cardinals. The 49ers also didn’t have their fastest player on the field in Vernon Davis.

    So is his score being downgraded for anything he actually did or because of the way the 49ers approached the game?

    • Chris

      Each play is graded individually based on how much that player helped the team win the game. They said 29 of his 34 attempts traveled less than 5 yards in the air. Those passes do not involve a lot of skill or difficulty by the QB and instead rely on the WR beating man coverage and making plays after the catch. So when he completes one of those it doesn’t do much for his grade. Imagine getting +0.1 every time he completes one of those, 30 of them is just +3.0. But then he gets 3 -1s for 3 ugly incompletions where he forced a throw into double coverage, and a -2 for the near pick-six. That totals out to a -2.

      Rough estimate, but that’s how it works. Players are rewarded for plays that help their team, they aren’t rewarded for easy plays that don’t do anything, and they are penalized for mistakes.

      Kaep did a lot of nothing yesterday and committed several dumb mistakes that almost led to turnovers. His grade is indicative of that.

      • PetEng

        Kaepernick was largely responible for all of his team’s offensive performance against one of the best defenses in football.
        1) PFF doesn’t adjust for defense.
        2) Additionally, their system doesn’t properly compensate for Kaep’s velocity. One of the primary reasons his career interception percentage (~2%) is top 3 among active QBs is due to it (look it up). DB’s struggle to catch his bullets.

        • Chris

          True, they don’t factor in “defense”. They factor in every individual player on the play regardless of reputation.

          If Revis plays a route very well and picks the ball off he gets a +2. If a no name corner does the same he gets the same +2. And Kaep would get the same -2 for throwing a pick into either of their coverages.

          You seem to be making excuses for why Kaep is better than PFF’s numbers. He obviously wasn’t good for a lot of offensive performance as they only managed 14 points. That’s because he spent all day checking down with 29 of his 34 attempts traveling less than 5 yards. None of these throws help his grade very much as they don’t do much to help the team win. It doesn’t matter what team he’s playing. He’d get the same grade for making those same throws against any other defense.

          Then he makes a couple terrible decisions and tanks his grade, resulting in the negative grade PFF posted.

          • PetEng

            Why did you write that long paragraph and not mention velocity once? It’s like you didn’t even read that point.

          • Chris

            Because that doesn’t matter? Every one of his throws are graded individually. If his velocity makes certain throws positive results than he’ll get a positive tick for them. If his velocity makes no difference on the play it doesn’t help. If he forces it into bad coverage despite good velocity it’s still a negative.

            I’m not sure where the disconnect is here.

          • PetEng

            A ball gunned into triple coverage has a lower chance of being intercepted than one floated in.

            How does velocity *not* matter?

          • Chris

            He doesn’t get a bad grade simply because he threw into triple coverage. If he threw into triple coverage with a laser that went through a 6 inch window and it was completed then he’d a positive mark.

            But if the risky throw falls incomplete, is knocked down, or nearly picked by the defender it doesn’t matter how hard he threw it. That’s what I’m getting at. It’s what he did and the result of the play. If his velocity helped him get a completion that’s great. If a LB drops a potential pick six because he forced it into double coverage then it doesn’t matter how hard he threw it.

          • PetEng

            You still aren’t getting it.

            “But if the risky throw falls incomplete, is knocked down, or nearly picked by the defender it doesn’t matter how hard he threw it.”

            A laser that gets thrown directly at a DB versus a floater at a DB are graded the same way (both hitting the DB’s hands). Even though the latter is substantially easier to intercept.
            Faster balls are harder to catch *even if they are thrown directly at your hands*. So yes, it definitely does matter how fast you throw the ball.

            This is one of the primary reasons Kaep looks good on EPA based grading systems (QBR, DVOA). His int% is very low – partially because there are a lot of drops.

          • Chris

            Do you realize how weak of am argument that is?

            “His bad throws aren’t really bad throws because he throws them really hard”.


            A throw that hits the DB I the hands is never a good result, matter how hard it’s thrown.

            You say he ranks highly under certain statistical systems? That’s the entire purpose of this site – to go beyond the stats and show why player X is actually playing poorly despite what his QB rating says (Wilson) because of certain things stats don’t take into account, or a CB is playing well despite poor numbers (Haden) because of more difficult assignments.

            Keep reading me the statbook that says Kaep had a 85% completion percentage and I’ll stick with the site that grades what actually happened and not just the end result.

          • PetEng

            I’m not saying they aren’t bad throws. I’m saying one is less bad, which is obviously true. Do you disagree with that statement?

          • eYeDEF

            Dude, PFF doesn’t care if the hard velocity bad throw that hits the DB in the hands results in less interceptions. Why? Because it’s still a bad throw. Kap is still not making an accurate throw to a receiver when that happens so he’s being downgraded for it. Why shouldn’t he be? He’s still not putting the ball where it’s supposed to go, and therefore he is not helping his team. If you haven’t noticed, PFF grading doesn’t even care if the throw results in an interception or not. If a QB makes an inaccurate throw that hits a DB in the hands, even if he drops it or the wide receiver breaks up the interception, the QB is still downgraded for that. So your point is moot because actual interceptions aren’t even factored into the equation for any quarterback. That means the basis of your entire argument, low interception rate, has no place here because interceptions have no bearing on how QBs are graded. It’s hard to believe you’re not being intentionally dense.

          • PetEng

            That’s what I’m saying. PFF *should* try to differentiate bad throws and worse throws so their ratings are more accurate. They do this for the most part (-.1, -.5, -1.0, -1.5, -2.0). As an outsider this seems like a case where they could tune their system.
            Their ratings should eventually attempt to coincide (with enough attempts) to stats like QBR, passer rating, or passing DVOA metrics.
            If a QB systemically throws lower interceptions due to higher velocity their rating system should try to capture that. Why should it try to capture that? Because it would make their ratings more accurate (and more relevant).

          • eYeDEF

            You’re still not getting it. PFF doesn’t care about interceptions AT ALL when grading QBs. Why? Because they see the stat as a useless distraction that just ends up interfering from accurately grading QB performance. All PFF cares about is accuracy and yardage to determine a point grade on any given pass attempt. If the pass is inaccurately thrown right at a DB, regardless of whether they intercept it or not, the same negative point grade is tallied on that play because PFF doesn’t care if it’s picked off. Why? Because to create a worse grade for an inaccurate pass that a DB was able to pick off would introduce externalities into the analysis that have no bearing on the QB play; i.e. skill of the DB to hang on to the pick. We don’t want that factored into the grade because we don’t care about the skill of the DB to catch a ball. We care about the quality of QB play in isolation. That doesn’t happen when you start giving worse grades for some incompletions over others based on a randomly introduced external variable of whether a defender can pick it. Doing so pollutes the final grade and would be like introducing statistical noise to a pure and isolated signal.

            So if PFF doesn’t care about interceptions it’s not going to give two shits about velocity either because there’s no reason to.

          • ogi

            PFF cares about stats, that’s what it is, simple as that.

          • eYeDEF

            You’re beyond your depth. It’s obvious. But PFF doesn’t care about that either.

          • PetEng

            “Because assigning a worse grade to an interception than a mere incompletion introduces externalities into the analysis that have no bearing on QB play; i.e. skill of the DB to hang on to the pick.”

            Even with that statement you would clearly agree that certain balls are harder to catch than others – all else being equal. Darrell Revis will intercept some throws 100% of the time and other throws only 50% of the time.

            If a QB1’s bad throws are harder to catch than QB2’s bad throws then PFF should be trying to adjust for that – because it’s highly relevant in evaluating the performance between QB1 and QB2. These INT% differences over career lengths have massive explanatory power in NFL game/season results. Why wouldn’t PFF attempt to capture that information?

            Passing performance is more complicated than just target selection and accuracy. That’s one of the reasons PFF QB scoring seems to generate the most discussion (and seems to differ the most from other stats such as QBR or DVOA).

          • Ugh

            “That’s one of the reasons PFF QB scoring seems to generate the most discussion (and seems to differ the most from other stats such as QBR or DVOA).”

            Considering QBR and DVOA can be computed without ever watching a snap, compared to PFF’s grades being based on watching every throw, there should be a difference between them.

          • PetEng

            Game log data is *generated by people watching snaps*. That’s how you generate QBR and DVOA.

            What you mean to say is that QBR/DVOA is less subjective and it can be automated with a simpler dataset. I’m sure PFF has protocols and standards in place to reduce subjectivity within their graders. If game log information was detailed enough (obviously this would be orders of magnitude more complex than what we have currently) their system could be automated as well.

          • eYeDEF

            If a QB1’s bad throws are harder to catch than QB2’s bad throws then PFF should be trying to adjust for that – because it’s highly relevant in evaluating the performance between QB1 and QB2. These INT% differences over career lengths have massive explanatory power in NFL game/season results. Why wouldn’t PFF attempt to capture that information?

            That might be interesting to do as an independent analysis to see if your idea even has any merit. Since low interception rate could just as easily be a product of well designed scheme I’d argue that tracking such a “bad passes intercepted %” would be practically worthless as any sort of metric to judge the QB by. It could be entertaining to keep track of it just to demonstrate how truly worthless a stat it is by adding it as another column header on a QB’s stat page. But I see no reason for PFF to incorporate it into how they grade a QB on any given play that they tally up to come up with a cumulative game grade for all the same reasons that interceptions aren’t factored into the grades either; it provides absolutely nothing of value to the qualitative assessment being made of a QBs play.

            Passing performance is more complicated than just target selection and accuracy. That’s one of the reasons PFF QB scoring seems to generate the most discussion (and seems to differ the most from other stats such as QBR or DVOA).

            FYI, QBR is hardly a perfect stat either with plenty of detractors especially seeing how ESPN uses a proprietary formula that they don’t even share with the public. You also seem to fundamentally misunderstand why PFF play by play grades are determined differently than QBR. If you’re looking for a metric like QBR from PFF then you’re looking in the wrong place thinking you’ll find it in their play by play grades. PFF computes a “PFF QB rating” which is a quarterback’s NFL QB rating adjusting out drops, throwaways, spikes, and the YAC created by the receiver on completions. You can find this stat in their signature stats section.

          • PetEng

            “That might be interesting to do as an independent analysis to see if your idea even has any merit. Since low interception rate could just as easily be a product of well designed scheme I’d argue that tracking such a “bad passes intercepted %” would be practically worthless as any sort of metric to judge the QB by.”

            Low interception rate can be a product of the scheme, absolutely. You probably meant ‘Bad pass rate’ though. Bad pass interception rate would be measuring something different though, most likely something along the lines of thrown ball ‘catchability’. Hard to say if it would be worthless until it’s actually measured though. I suspect ‘catchability’ is something that varies from QB to QB (how could it not?). Perhaps you could you connections to get that number on the QB rating page?

            “FYI, QBR is hardly a perfect stat either with plenty of detractors especially seeing how ESPN uses a proprietary equation that they don’t even share with the public.”
            Of course they don’t share it with the public (much like PFF not showing individual play ratings). Most of the QBR computation mechanics are well known. They sum up EPA for different phases of a QB’s game, determine the amount of plays that occurred within and generate a rough EPA/play metric that is normalized between 0-100.
            I’ve looked at their PFF QB rating and it certainly is an improvemet over the standard NFL passer rating.
            My point is that PFF grades should eventually coincide with QBR stats over the long term. Consistently good performance in expected points generation should match actual play over thousands of snaps – if it doesn’t there should probably be an understanding of why that isn’t happening.

          • MosesZD

            He gets it. You don’t. Please stop.

          • MosesZD

            Sigh. It’s still reflected in the grade. He’s earned a positive grade for the play, even if it was stupid.

            Since the HV throws are less likely to be INTs, he’s less likely to get the -2 play. Ergo, his grade is ‘good.’

            However, if he’s throwing the ball shorter than Alex Smith AND throws a pick AND does some dumb stuff, well… -2.0 is what earned.

      • Samantha B

        Thanks for the reply. That’s an incredibly flawed rating system.

        • Chris

          That’s your opinion. I happen to think it’s an excellent system because it grades what every player does on every play. If Kaep spends all day checking down and never throwing it over 5 yards, then his “grade” shouldn’t be as good as his inflated completion % makes it seem.

          Sometimes stats don’t tell the whole story, and that’s what PFF is attempting to show. Obviously the homer fans disagree when it goes against their QB, but the philosophy makes sense.

          • cody

            Not all those passes you’re calling check downs were actually check downs. Their game plan was reliant on short, quick passes (not check downs). You’re seeing the numbers and assuming that he dumped it off to backs because the rest of his receivers weren’t open.

          • Chris

            I’m not saying what any of the passes were. I’m describing how PFF grades. They analyze each player on each play and what they do to help the team and if they succeed or fail.

            Judging by his grade despite a really high completion %, I would assume most of his passes were judged to being not very difficult and didn’t do much to advance the ball, instead relying on the WRs to get open underneath and YAC.

          • gumby

            to the backs?? I think the Chris fella would have been smart enough to look at the box score at the very least. They did gameplan that short stuff. But harbaugh and that clown OC deserve a -19.0 rating for making ZERO adjustments offensively and their team getting outscored 17-0 by a backup QB against a Cardinal team they had beaten 4 straight games. Frank gore is cross eyed and cant see the ball being thrown to him, and I think hyde caught 2 or 3 passes for no yards. So ya not “check downs” but snapping and immediately throwing a pass 3 yards down field is the closest thing to a check down I can think of.

      • Gabec

        Think you misread – his 29 completions traveled less than 5 yards on average. All 29 definitely weren’t short but when you factor in screens behind the line, etc, it comes out to that I think

      • Das Dweeb

        Just wondering if you watched the game. Kaep was also the team’s top running back. Largely because of play-calling, Gore and Hyde had no impact on the game. It was all on Kaep’s shoulders. Not only did he commit no turnovers and throw for two scores, but he wasn’t on the field as the defense gave up all those points and long drives.

        “Did a lot of nothing”? I’d call that extremely inaccurate.

    • gumby

      You are definitely right that the 49ers gameplanned to throw those short passes(just way too much). But wow was he scared to take any chances. Cards got a good secondary, underrated overall just like the rest of the team always is nationally. But thats beside the point, your boy Kaep is talented, but he is not accurate enough nor is he consistent enough throwing down the field. Also they have to have the slowest collection of wideouts in the history of anything ever in this universe. Probably plays a big part in them throwing janky dink and dunk passes. Chris is right about everything he said regarding kaep. Should he receive a better grade because stevie broke that one play like 40 yards even if he threw it 3 yards down the field? even his td pass was weak, typical rub route BS that for the life of me I dont understand why teams have not figured out a better way of detecting and defending it.

      • PetEng

        You realize that Kaep is top ~6-7 in Yards/Attempt (career) for active QBs, right?

        If Kaep isn’t good throwing it down the field then you have lots of problems with a bunch of other QBs. I would say the medium/deep ball is his primary strength (other than running ability).

        • MosesZD

          You realize he doesn’t have enough attempts to qualify for that and most of what he did do was based on his 2012 freak year where he completed some freakish deep ball completion percentage, maybe around 75% of his deep (20+) passes.

          No QB does that for his career. Hence his drop to 7.8 the next year. Which is decent and probably closer to his real level of talent than 8.6 he had in 2012.

          What’s really scary is his 2014 6.8 yards/attempt when he’s running 70% accuracy. That’s just 10.5 yards/completion. That is some major dink-and-dunk and is below the much-hated Alex Smith’s 11.1 average while a 49er.

          And the very probable reason the 49ers are in the bottom-third of drive efficiency in the NFL with just 4 TD drives starting from their own side of the field for the season.

          • PetEng

            1) That’s why I use career average for YPA. It accomodates for the peaks and valleys in performance that all QB’s go through. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to think Kaep will see stretches of games that mimic his 2012 season (and underperformance like the first 3 games in 2013).
            2) The first 3 games of the season last year were undoubtedly worse for Kaepernick and the 49ers. Why would this season’s performance be scary?

  • *Legion*

    It’s interesting to see the 3-0 Cardinals graded out negatively on both offense and defense, particularly offense, where they are the 5th lowest overall.

    How do you reconcile that with their 3-0 record? Have they just been the least bad team in all 3 games? Had some bounces, penalties, etc. go their way to make up for poor individual performances?

    • Gierto

      Honestly, as a Cardinals fan, they have been nearly the “least bad” team in each game, and the remaining differential should be attributed to the NFL’s “flag football” initiative.

  • Aaron Candelaria

    I’d like to see Jimmie Ward’s score, he was pretty inconsistent throughout the game.