Thoughts while searching for better ways to use the play-by-play offensive personnel charting I've been amassing since at least the 2006 season:
This file might take a while to process, but if you're as into this stuff nearly as much as I am, I think you'll enjoy it. We're deep enough into the season to spot some situational trends. Passing stats do not count clock-stopping spike plays. Rushing stats do not count quarterback scrambles.
The chart below singles out NFC West quarterback stats for specific downs and personnel groupings. For example, Seattle's Matt Hasselbeck has no touchdowns, four interceptions and a 29.7 rating when throwing from 21 personnel (two backs, one tight end) on first down, but his third-down numbers from 11 personnel (one back, one tight end) are much better.
Hasselbeck is at his best when pushing the tempo and forcing defenses to play on his terms. That probably explains his improved numbers from 11 personnel on third down. These stats reflect up-tempo situations. More evidence: According to the Seahawks, Hasselbeck has the NFL's third-best passer rating since 2005 in the final two minutes of halves (trailing Drew Brees and Carson Palmer).
The Seahawks' inconsistent running game has made them vulnerable when running base personnel on first down (21 personnel is base personnel in the NFL, although Seattle probably favors 12 personnel philosophically). Getting fullback Michael Robinson back allows Seattle to use 21 personnel again. Should the team even try it?
Check out Alex Smith's third-down rating from 11 personnel. It's lousy. When I think of this combination for the 49ers, I'm envisioning pass-protection issues and hurried decisions. Smith's numbers from 11 personnel fall off dramatically after first and second down, when defenses know the pass is probably coming.
The chart doesn't show it, but Alex Smith has completed 5 of 7 passes for 40 yards, one touchdown and a 125.0 rating from 12 personnel on third down. This grouping has generally been the 49ers' best in recent seasons, largely because tight ends Delanie Walker and Vernon Davis can be dangerous receivers.
The 49ers' Troy Smith has a 101.1 rating on first down. His numbers fall off dramatically on second and third down. I think his early-down success hinges upon the degree to which opposing defenses load up against the 49ers' ground game. The more defenses prepare for Troy Smith, the harder his job becomes.
I'm not entirely sure why Sam Bradford's first-down numbers aren't better. I thought they would have evened out a little more by now.
Arizona's Derek Anderson is an easy target. There's no need to pile on. As the chart shows, he has fared well across some situations and groupings.
Enjoy your Saturday. I'll be heading to San Francisco after a bit.