Followup: Breaking down personnel use

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Thanks for the feedback on the earlier item breaking down the 49ers' personnel use. I went through the comments and pulled out a couple of questions to answer.

Vienners writes: "Do you think the main problem when using 4WR sets is the protection breakdowns? Both gains on these plays came on a scramble."

Mike Sando: Yes, I do think protection was one issue. These four-receiver sets featured Frank Gore as opposed to a tight end lined up as an extra blocker on the line. Everyone wants Vernon Davis to catch 15 balls a game, but sometimes he's making it possible for others to catch passes down the field. The Mike Martz offense is known for keeping in extra blockers, allowing more time for receivers to work deeper routes.

J.T. O'Sullivan probably needs to do a better job getting rid of the ball at times. Like a lot of quarterbacks -- and Kurt Warner was a prime example in this system -- he wants to make plays downfield (to a fault, sometimes). This offense encourages quarterbacks to be aggressive and make plays. There's a balance in there somewhere.

Also, I'm curious to know how O'Sullivan feels about having four receivers on the field. It's a different setup than usual. I know from charting Seattle games that Matt Hasselbeck had some interception problems from the four-receiver sets. It was as though it affected his timing or comfort level somehow.

RhynoEsea writes: "Hey Sando, can you do that same break down for the Hawks, or maybe even all four teams in the NFC West, that would pretty cool, provide a lot of material for the tailgate discussions on Sunday mornings."

Mike Sando: I have more than 3,810 plays worth of this data since the 2006 season. That was the first season I developed a system for charting personnel in real time. If I know a team well, I can record the personnel in real time and get updated down-distance information automatically using formulas.

To answer your question directly, I can probably do this for one or two games every week. I do watch every NFC West team's games at least once. Getting to know a coordinator's personnel preferences takes time. After a while you recognize most personnel groupings at first glance, and then you just watch to verify. I'm getting to that point with the teams in this division.

I did break down Seattle's offense against San Franisco in Week 2. You can view the personnel-use chart in Excel here.

Seattle's base offense under Mike Holmgren has traditionally featured two backs, two receivers and one tight end. The Seahawks threw effectively from this grouping against the 49ers, but more of the rushing succes came from three-receiver groupings with either two backs or one back and one tight end.