Saturday, November 12, 2011

Steelers Game Day 10 - @ Cincinnati Bengals

After a tough loss to the Ravens there isn’t much better than going to play a team that thinks they have a rivalry with you and playing them in front of your home fans, on the road. The Bengals were supposed to have been taken over by the Bengals years ago, but how did that work?

Since the Bengals playoff run that ended with a loss to the Steelers in 2005 the teams have gone in different directions. The Steelers continued to win and get to the playoffs and Super Bowls and the Bengals fell on hard times and have struggled mightily. It has been so bad that Carson Palmer asked to be traded and the Browns wouldn’t do that. It forced them to draft a quarterback and play him right off the bat.

Before the season I didn’t think this was going to be a great Bengals team and a team that was probably going to win three games, maybe four at the most. So far this season they are a 6-2 and right now leading the AFC North. If you saw that coming raise your hand. That is what I thought.

I am not going to say that Bengals scare me a whole bunch but their defense is playing lights out right now and all it takes is a bad game from Ben to give the Steelers three division losses and a must win stretch of games to ensure that they are in the playoffs. Should be an interesting game in Cincinnati.

Enough talk, let’s take a look at the stats:


Last Week:

Baltimore 23, Pittsburgh 20
Passing: Roethlisberger - 20/37, 330 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT
Rushing: Mendenhall - 13 carries, 52 yards, 1 TD
Receiving: Brown - 5 rec, 109 yards, 0 TD

Cincinnati 24, Tennessee 17
Passing: Dalton - 22/39, 217 yards, 3 TD, 0 INT
Rushing: Benson - 20 carries, 78 yards, 0 TD
Receiving: Green - 7 rec, 83 yards, 0 TD

All-Time Record vs. Cincinnati: 50-32 (1-0 Playoffs)

Last Five Meetings

Dec. 12, 2010 - Pittsburgh 23, Cincinnati 7
Nov. 8, 2010 - Pittsburgh 27, Cincinnati 21
Nov. 15, 2009 - Cincinnati 18, Pittsburgh 12
Sept. 27, 2009 - Cincinnati 23, Pittsburgh 20
Nov. 20, 2008 - Pittsburgh 27, Cincinnati 10

Team Stats

Offense (rank in NFL)

Total Offense
Pittsburgh: 389.1 yards/game (9th)
Cincinnati: 316.3 yards/game (22nd)

Passing
Pittsburgh: 278.8 yards/game (8th)
Cincinnati: 212.1 yards/game (21st)

Rushing
Pittsburgh: 110.3 yards/game (19th)
Cincinnati: 104.1 yards/game (21st)

Points
Pittsburgh: 21.8 points/game (19th)
Cincinnati: 24.4 points/game (14th)


Defense

Total Defense
Pittsburgh: 280.2 yards/game (3rd)
Cincinnati: 301.3 yards/game (4th)

Pass
Pittsburgh: 184.7 yards/game (3rd)
Cincinnati: 216.8 yards/game (10th)

Rush
Pittsburgh: 95.6 yards/game (6th)
Cincinnati: 84.5 yards/game (2nd)

Points
Pittsburgh: 18 points/game (5th)
Cincinnati: 17.5 points/game (4th)


Hit the jump for a closer look at the Baltimore Ravens




Quarterback



The Steelers will see its first rookie quarterback this season when they take on the Bengals. Andy Dalton was taken in the first round and has played pretty damn well for the Bengals in his first season. Sure, he has played against some bad teams but you can’t deny that he has been getting the job done. The stats haven’t been flashy but he is getting wins and that is pretty much all that matters.

This season Dalton has passed for just over 201 yards a game and has tossed 12 touchdown passes and only seven interceptions so he hasn’t been turning the ball over a ton and he just is getting the job done. He is completing almost 62% of his passes but only for a mediocre 6.6 yards per attempt. While that isn’t the worst in the league it certainly isn’t a stat that is going to jump out at you. YPA is one of the more important quarterback stats, in my opinion, but I am sure that will develop as he gets more weapons around him.

Dalton is coming off one of his most productive games as a pro as he beat Tennessee. He went 22-of-39 for 217 yards and three touchdowns. He has thrown for over 300 yards one time (against Devner) and has a completion percentage over 62% in five of his eight games played. He has also thrown two picks in three separate games so he is not prone to having a game where he turns the ball over but he has thrown a touchdown pass in every game but one. Can’t knock on that for a rookie QB.

Dalton ranks about the middle of the pack in advanced statistics that Football Outsiders gives us. In terms of DYAR which is Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement. This gives the value of the quarterback's performance compared to replacement level, adjusted for situation and opponent and then translated into yardage. Dalton ranks 17th in the league right behind Phillip Rivers and Alex Smith with a DYAR of 339. He also ranks 16th in the league with a 8.8% DVOA which is actually pretty good all things considered. DVOA is Defense-adjusted Value Over Average. This number represents value, per play, over an average quarterback in the same game situations. The more positive the DVOA rating, the better the player's performance. Negative DVOA represents below-average offense.

Most times the Steelers face a rookie quarterback that is a good sign but with the lack of interceptions and the trouble they had against Baltimore defending the short pass this might play into Dalton’s hands. Obviously you can see by his low YPA and decent completion percentage that he isn’t stretching the field and thus probably getting rid of the ball quickly. Do I think that Dalton will single handedly be able to beat the Steelers? No. Do I think that he could do just enough to give the Bengals a shot in the end and a chance to win? Absolutely.

Running Backs



Cedric Benson is the top running back for the Bengals when he isn’t continually getting in trouble with the law and being average. This season Benson leads the Bengals in rushing with 536 yards in 137 carries for a marginal 3.9 yard per carry average.

So far this season Benson only has two 100 yard games with his best game coming in week one against the Browns when he went for 121 yards on 25 carries and a touchdown. The other 100 yard game came against the Bills when he went for 104 yards in 19 carries. Outside of that Benson has pretty consistent getting between 50-60 yards in fourth other games with the outlier being a 78 yard day against the Titans last week.

Benson has only found the end zone twice this season and has only made five catches this season with three of those coming in one game. Needless to say Benson isn’t the back we are going to have to worry about coming out of the backfield and catching the ball like it was with Ray Rice and MJD but he is a more powerful runner that can really get going if he is going downhill.

Against the Steelers in regular season games Benson hasn’t had much success. He has played against the Black and Gold six times and only averages 3.3 yards per carry and only has 258 total yards and two touchdowns. The Steelers have done a pretty nice job of bottling up Benson in his career and with the Steelers run defense getting better every week I don’t really expect for him to get too many big plays this week.

Benson ranks 21st in the league with a DYAR of only 47 which puts him in the same category as Mark Ingram and James Starks so that should put his play in a little bit of perspective. He has a negative DVOA of -1.0% which ranks him 26th in the league. Pretty average. His success rate (This number represents the player's consistency, measured by successful running plays (the definition of success being different based on down and distance) divided by total running plays.) is around 51% is actually 10th in the league and when you couple that with his low DVOA represents that Benson is typically getting the yards that he needs on the run but isn’t going to break one or give you more than what is necessary.

Outside of Benson the Bengals have another decent backup with Bernard Scott. Scott has even more mundane numbers than Benson as he is rushing for a 3.2 yard per carry average and has only found the end zone once. Scott got a start for Benson against the Seahawks and gained 76 yards on 22 carries but did not sure. Just like Benson he isn’t going to catch many balls out of the backfield as he only has eight catches on the year for 13 yards so that should not be a huge worry.

Receivers



The receiving core for the Bengals isn’t going to put the fear into anyone but they are better and younger than they have been and that starts with first round pick A.J. Green. It is a pretty well known rule of thumb that rookie receivers usually don’t make a big impact their rookie years and often time struggle the first couple of years. Not Green.

Green is the top receiving threat with 599 yards and five touchdowns on the season. He has been targeted 66 times on the season which is 13 more than any other receiver and has 11 catches of 20 yards or more which is good for eighth in the league.

Green made a huge splash on the scene in week two against the Broncos when he caught 10 passes for 124 yards and a score. Outside of that game he caught four balls for 118 yards in a win over the Bills for his only 100 yard games of the season. Three other times he has caught 60 yards or more and four games this season he has caught five or more passes. He has never scored multiple touchdowns in a game so he has been getting into the end zone with some consistency so that is something the Steelers are going to have to watch out for.

Green stands at 6’4 and 207 pounds so he is a big and physical receiver so he will be a handful for whoever is going to cover him. Green holds a 19% DVOA which is only good for 21st in the league but he ranks eighth in the league with a 171 DYAR. Pretty impressive for a rookie wide out. Green also supports a 61% catch rate.

Jerome Simpson is the second leading receiver for the Bengals. He has 26 grabs this year for 410 yards and two touchdowns. Simpson has been pretty pedestrian over his career as he had only 20 catches last season for 277 yards so you can see he is being relied on much more this year. Simpson has had two huge days so far this season including a 136 yard performance against the Broncos and a 101 yard day against the Colts. That game against the Colts is the only game this season when he has five or more catches so while he is the secondary target of the wide outs I wouldn’t expect him to beat the Steelers.

As I typically do I am going to group the main tight end target with the receivers as that’s the way the NFL is going this year and Cincinnati’s tight end, Jermaine Gresham, is third on the team in catches and yards. He has caught three touchdowns and average only 9.2 yards per catch but he is a big 6’5 260 pound target. Three times this season Gresham has caught for 50 or more yards and has at least four catches in all but one game that he has played in (six games). He has been battling a hamstring issue but he should be good to go this week.

Gresham isn’t overly productive with a -10.5% DVOA which is good for 24th in the league and a -15 DYAR which puts him below average of tight ends. He does, however, have a catch rate of 60% which isn’t going to put him in the top-10 of tight ends but it is still not a bad number overall.

Offensive Line



The most important thing to have when you have a rookie quarterback is to give him a good running game and some time to throw when he has to drop back. The offensive line is the key to both of those aspects of the game and the Cincinnati offensive line has been pretty good for them this season. From left to right it reads Andrew Whitworth, Nate Livings, Kyle Cook, Bobie Williams and Andre Smith. Outside of Williams who has 12 years of experience the rest of the group is relatively young with anywhere from 3-6 years of experience.

In the passing game the Bengals big guys up front are giving Dalton time and keeping him clean. He has only been sacked 13 times this season and the Bengals hold the 8th best adjusted sack rate in the league at 5.2%. Adjusted sack rate gives sacks (plus intentional grounding penalties) per pass attempt adjusted for down, distance, and opponent. It is pretty interesting that as I was watching and reading some coverage today that Andy Dalton is performing extremely well against the blitz. So far this season Dalton has a 60% completion percentage against the blitz which can’t happened without some good blitz pickup from his o-line and backs.

While the passing game has been decent the line has done a below average job run blocking as well. With a 4.28 adjusted line yard they rank eighth in the league but that is pretty much where the good fortune ends for the Bengals. the Adjusted Line Yards formula takes all running back carries and assigns responsibility to the offensive line based on the following percentages: Losses: 120% value; 0-4 Yards: 100% value; 5-10 Yards: 50% value;11+ Yards: 0% value. These numbers are then adjusted based on down, distance, situation, opponent, and the difference in rushing average between shotgun compared to standard formations.

Looking a little farther into the run production for an o-line standpoint we see that they are pretty average after that, especially in short yardage situations. Cincinnati ranks 24th in the league with a power success of 58% which means that they are only successful 58% of the time they are successful on runs on third or fourth down which they need to go two yards or less. Not good. Couple that with the league’s 20th ranked stuffed percentage (21%), which is the percentage of times where a back is tackled at or behind the line of scrimmage, and you have an offensive line that can be handled at the line of scrimmage.

When the Bengals do run they will typically run the ball inside and off the left tackle. 37% of the running plays are up the middle or off the guard and 25% more are off the left tackle so you can see where they try and work the left side of its offensive line. What is interesting about this is that the Bengals are most successful (according to adjusted line yards) when they run off the right end where they rank fifth in the league with a 4.77 ALY but the Bengals run off the right end only 8% of its plays, far and away the lowest percentage of the five different run allies.

Defense



Defensively the Bengals have been very good. For the past three or four years the Bengals defense has been pretty good it just seems like they never really got it all together but this year it seems as if they have. The Bengals are just about even when you look at their defensive DVOA (-0.2%) which is good for 10th in the league and they even slipped from 7th in the league after a so-so effort against a pretty average Tennessee Titans team.

The strength of the Bengals is going to be their run defense where they rank fifth in the league with a -11.1% DVOA (remember negative is good for defense DVOA) but are a more modest 15th in the league against the pass with a 8.4% DVOA.

The Bengals defense is headlined by linebacker Ray Maualuga. The former USC graduate is third on the team in tackles with 38 but has not been making many big plays as he has no sacks and only one tackle for loss. His linebacking partner Thomas Howard has 10 more tackles than him this season and also has zero sacks on the season.

Safety Reggie Nelson has a team-high 50 tackles while strong safety Chris Crocker has 23 tackles and 2.5 sacks on the season. Before the season started the Bengals biggest priority was cornerback Jon Joseph and they were not able to sign him but they were able to bring in Nate Clements to play the opposite of Leon Hall so the secondary isn’t that bad all things considered.

The Bengals are not creating a lot of turnovers through the air as they only have three interceptions but they have forced 12 fumbles and recovered nine of them. They have some guys on the defense that can lay a lick and when the ball is lose they are grabbing it up more often than not so the Steelers should make sure to cover the football up when they get the football.

The Bengals are also pretty good at getting after the quarterback as they have 20 quarterback sacks which is 11th in the league this season. What is so interesting about the Bengals is that they don’t have that one guy that has a bunch of sacks that you can key on, they have a bunch of players that all have around three sacks and they come from all over the place. Geno Atkins has three sacks from his defensive tackle spot while Jonathan Fanene, Frostee Rucker (yes, he is still in the NFL) and Carlos Dunlap all have three sacks with Crocker and Michael Johnson having 2.5 sacks each. A lot of different guys that can get it done so the offensive line is going to have to be good like it was last week. Talking to some Bengals fans on twitter and it seems if Dunlap is the guy that the Steelers are going to have to kep on this week.

Through the air the Bengals are one of the worst teams in the league at covering the tight end. With a 30% DVOA covering the tight end that ranks them 28th in the league and tight ends are getting targeted seven times a game for an average of 52 yards a game. Heath Miller has been used a ton the last couple of weeks so I can see him being big this week. While the number of attempts and yardage is about average for the NFL teams are able to exploit them more against the Bengals for first downs and touchdowns.

As I stated before the Bengals run defense has been really, really, good this season. They post the second lowest ALY in the league and they also post the seventh best stuffed percentage (22%) so while the Steelers don’t run the ball a whole lot it might be a little more difficult this week. The defensive line is good for the Bengals as you can probably tell and they also rank first in the league with an ALY of 3.27 on runs up the middle or to the guards. The Steelers might be more effective running off the tackles where the Bengals are not as strong. It is kind of interesting to note that the Bengals struggle mightily against runs to the left tackle (26th in the league) but are pretty good on runs to the right end (7th in the league) while they are pretty good on runs over the right tackle (10th in the league) and not very good on runs to the right end (18th in the league). No idea what to make of that but if I know one thing it will be hard to run up the middle on this team so it might be on Ben’s arm on Sunday.

Thoughts:

-The Steelers are once again going to be without outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley as he is dealing with a hamstring injury. There are some sediments that he could be back after the bye week which would be really nice. The Steelers have really struggled to get pressure outside of James Harrison so it will be up to Jason Worilds to step up and get some consistent pressure on Andy Dalton. With Worilds back healthy and that is huge to permanently move Lawrence Timmons back to the inside. It hasn’t been a good year for Timmons but he has moved to play about every defensive position which has to be tough for him. I feel like I say this every week but he is the most athletic player on the field so it will be nice to get him back in the middle with James Farrier (who is also back) to get some continuity.

-The Steelers have been throwing the ball pretty well this season but it is going to be important for them to get the running game going a little more than they have been. The Steelers are averaging a pretty healthy 4.3 yard per carry average but they just don’t run the ball a whole ton. The Steelers are only rushing the ball on average 26 times per game which is 21st in the league and over the last three games it is just south of 24 attempts per game. If they can get that average up to 30 times and still hold that 4.3 yard per carry average they are going to be majorly successful.

-I know I just talked about running the football but the Steelers have been very successful passing the football this season. Ben Roethlisberger might be having his best season as a pro and after early season struggles in the first two games he has been off the chain. In most major statistical categories Roethlisberger ranks in the top-7 of the league and he is moving the ball downfield as the Steelers average 12.2 yards per reception which is seventh best in the league. With Emmanuel Sanders out for a couple of weeks it will be up to Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown to stretch the field while Jericho Cotchery and Hines Ward work the underneath with Heath Miller. Roethlisberger has done a really nice job of taking what the defense gives him but I would expect him to open it up a little more this game and stretch the field with Brown and Wallace.

-At the beginning of the season if you said that the week 10 Bengals/Steelers game was going to be a pretty big game most people would have looked at you funny and laughed in your face. Now that we are at this juncture you see that this game isn’t a must win for either team but the winner is going to jump in front of the wild card race. The AFC West and South aren’t going to get a wild card team, in my opinion, so that leaves pretty much one team from East and one from the North to make the playoffs. Cincinnati already has a 5-1 mark in the conference while the Steelers are 4-3 and the Black and Gold are already 0-2 in the division. Going to 0-3 in the North isn’t good but I still think they could make the playoffs with their soft schedule but getting a division win on the road would be a nice way to go into the break.

-We talk about it all the time but the Steelers are a pretty good bounce back team as we have seen this year. The two games this year after losses for the Steelers both resulted in wins by a combined score of 62-17 in wins over Seattle and Tennessee. I know those teams aren’t anything that is going to blow you away but the Steelers came out and sent a message that they weren’t worrying about the week before they were focused on getting better and winning that game. I expect the same thing against the Bengals on Sunday and wouldn’t be shocked to see the Steelers win this game by 10+ points.

-Overall the Steelers offense has been pretty good. In these previews I only typically focus in on the other team, as I should, but to put some things in perspective on the Steelers side. So far this season the Steelers are a very respectable ninth in terms of offensive DVOA with a 16.1% with its offense having a DVOA of 31.8% (8th in league) and 7.5% DVOA rushing the football (11th in the league). As much as we talk about not running the football we still have to realize that the ground attack has been decent this season, it is just becoming a passing league and the Steelers have one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. Defense is another monster where the Steelers are uncharacteristically bad as they rank 13th with a 2.6% DVOA although they improved from last week when they were 15th in the league. The Steelers are actually an even 0.0% DVOA against the run which is only 22nd in the league and as much praise as we give the pass defense they rank only 13th in the league with a 4.4% DVOA. Remember that negative is good for defense.

Prediction: To be honest I know the Bengals are pretty good this year but I think it is only a matter of time before the luck runs out. They are going into a tough stretch of games that start with the Steelers and I think the Steelers bring them down a level. I think the Steelers offense is better than the Bengals defense and I don’t think that Andy Dalton has enough to beat the Steelers. I actually think Dalton will have a fairly decent game but it just won’t be enough. Steelers 27, Bengals 17

Hit it.





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