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Packers vs. 49ers: Winning the field position battle

Jeremy Ross and Tim Masthay are going to be key players for the Green Bay Packers on Saturday. The Packers and Niners are so evenly matched, field position, and special teams should decide the game.


This Saturday's game matching the Packers vs. the 49ers features the Packers' fifth ranked scoring offense vs the 49ers' third ranked scoring defense and the Packers' 11th ranked scoring defense vs the 49ers' 11th ranked scoring offense. Needless to say, these teams are extremely evenly matched. This game could very well come down to special teams, since this game features the two worst field goal kickers in the NFL this season, it will more specifically come down to field position.

An important stat that doesn't get much attention is the hidden yards found in field position. The starting line of scrimmage (LOS) for each drive can play a major role in whether a team scores or does not score on that drive. The top five teams in the NFL in net starting line of scrimmage are all in the playoffs, as well as eight of the top ten teams, with the Bears and Giants being the two that missed out. Both the Packers and 49ers rank in the top ten in net starting line of scrimmage. While the Packers rank ninth in the NFL in net starting line of scrimmage, there is no team in the NFL that is better at playing the field position game than the San Francisco 49ers. What does the starting line of scrimmage mean in terms of actual yards and success for the Packers? A full breakdown of the Packers starting field positions can be seen, below.

Average field position on: Yard line
Overall average field position 30.8
Scoring drives 37.0
Non-scoring drives 26.6
Touchdowns 35.8
Field Goals 42.7

The emphasis on the importance of starting field position can be seen in the table above with the Packers' average starting line of scrimmage on scoring drives. The Packers, on average, start ten yards further down field on scoring drives than on non-scoring drives. Interestingly enough, the average starting line of scrimmage on field goals is seven yards further down field than on touchdowns. That seems to make sense though if you factor in drives that started in opponents' territory, but stalled.

To show just how important starting field position is, lets take a look at how the Packers have done when starting in each area of the field.

Starting LOS Scoring Percentage TD Percentage FG Percentage
1-10 7.7% 7.7% 0%
11-20 38.5% 28.8% 9.6%
21-30 30.8% 25.6% 5.1%
31-40 40.9% 22.7% 18.2%
41-50 47.8% 34.8% 13%
Opp 49-40 55.6% 33.3% 22.2%
Opp 39-30 100% 100% 0%
Opp 29-20 83.3% 66.7% 16.7%
Opp 19-10 100% 0% 100%
Opp 9-GL 100% 100% 0%

As expected, the further down field the Packers start a drive, the more likely they are to score. The stat that stands out the most here is from the Packers 21-yard line to the opponents' 40-yard line. The yard line that the Packers start on between their 21 and the opponents' 40 is essentially the same as the percent chance of them scoring from there on the season. Starting a drive between the 21 and 30 nets them a 30 percent chance of scoring, between the 31 and 40 nets them a 40 percent chance of scoring, and so on. When starting in their opponents' territory, the Packers have scored 76 percent of the time and scoring touchdowns on roughly half of those drives (10 for 21). Oddly enough the Packers are 0-for-3 in converting touchdowns when starting a drive between their opponents' 19 and 10 yard line. Fortunately for the Packers, they score touchdowns at a higher rate than field goals at every starting field position that is not between their opponents' 19 and 10 yard lines, which is partially skewed by Mason Crosby's adventures this season.

Surprise: If the Packers start moving the ball, they usually score. The average starting field position for the Packers is their 31-yard line, meaning they usually have about 69 yards to go for a touchdown. On the average drive where they do not score, the Packers will pick up 17 of those 69 yards. However, that stat is, again, heavily skewed by the 12 missed field goals by Crosby this season. On 45 percent of the Packers' non-scoring drives this season, they have failed to net 10 total yards -- or essentially, a first down -- which is further proof that if the Packers can pick up one or two first downs, they should be able to finish off the drive and score.

For the Packers, the average starting field position is directly correlated to winning. Their average starting field position in wins is their 33.1-yard line and their average starting field position in losses is their 21.8-yard line, a ten yard difference. The same ten yard difference between the Packers' scoring drives and non-scoring drives. The pressure will be on Jeremy Ross to maintain the excellent level he has performed at on kick returns since taking over for Randall Cobb two weeks ago. Earlier this week, the Packers alluded to potentially being able to do something on kick returns against the 49ers, and for good reason: The 49ers rank second to last in the NFL in yards per return allowed on kick returns. This speaks volumes to the job San Francisco's defense has done at getting off the field quickly and the job their punt team has done this season.

It comes as no shock that the further the Packers start down the field, the more likely they are to score. Unfortunately for them, there is no team in the NFL that is better at winning the field position battle than the Niners, but the Packers should be able to win if they can regularly start drives beyond their own 30-yard line.