Saturday, December 3, 2011

Steelers Game Day 12 - vs. Cincinnati Bengals

Seems like the Steelers have just played the Bengals like five days ago but here we are again. With the Steelers at 8-3 with the likes of the Texans, Ravens and Patriots there is little room for error and if the Steelers want to have a chance to win the AFC North then they must win every game from here on out, starting with the Bengals.

The Bengals are also fighting for a playoff spot with a pair of rookies leading the way and with two wins against the Browns and a loss each to the Steelers and Ravens they are in a dire need for a win, and a quality win, so they will be geeked up for this game against the Steelers. This game being at Heinz Field is a huge advantage for the Steelers as road wins in the AFC North are very hard to come by.

As we get into the stretch run we are going to start to see the Steelers buckle down and tighten up for the playoff run. That is not to say that the Steelers haven’t been trying to play complete football but with the structure of the team (older, experienced) they are made to play stronger as the season goes on and in my eyes that starts this week.

Enough of that, let’s look at the stats.


Let’s look at the stats:


Last Week:

Pittsburgh 13, Kansas City 9
Passing: Roethlisberger - 21/31, 193 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT
Rushing: Mendenhall - 17 carries, 57 yards, 0 TD
Receiving: Brown - 4 rec, 81 yards, 0 TD

Cincinnati 23, Cleveland 20
Passing: Dalton - 21/31, 270 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT
Rushing: Benson - 21 carries, 106 yards, 1 TD
Receiving: Green - 3 rec, 110 yards, 0 TD

All-Time Record vs. Cinncinati: 51-32 (1-0 Playoffs)

Last Five Meetings

Nov. 13, 2011 - Pittsburgh 24, Cincinnati 17
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


Team Stats

Offense (rank in NFL)

Total Offense
Pittsburgh: 374.5 yards/game (10th)
Cincinnati: 334.6 yards/game (18th)

Passing
Pittsburgh: 264.9 yards/game (8th)
Cincinnati: 226.2 yards/game (17th)

Rushing
Pittsburgh: 109.6 yards/game (18th)
Cincinnati: 108.5 yards/game (20th)

Points
Pittsburgh: 21.2 points/game (19th)
Cincinnati: 23.5 points/game (t-12th)


Defense

Total Defense
Pittsburgh: 277.5 yards/game (2nd)
Cincinnati: 307.7 yards/game (5th)

Pass
Pittsburgh: 181.3 yards/game (3rd)
Cincinnati: 215.0 yards/game (11th)

Rush
Pittsburgh: 96.3 yards/game (6th)
Cincinnati: 92.7 yards/game (5th)

Points
Pittsburgh: 17.1 points/game (4th)
Cincinnati: 19.5 points/game (8th)


Hit the jump for a closer look at the Cincinnati Bengals



Quarterback



Well seems like we just saw the up and coming rookie quarterback a few games ago. Wait, we did? Really? Oh yea, that’s right. It seems like it was a long time ago (to me it was) but it was only a few games ago where the Steelers took home its first division win, on the road. Dalton has a pretty nice season going for him with over 2,500 yards passing and a 60% completion rate and having the Bengals, who most thought would win five games this year, at a 7-4 mark and looking for a playoff spot.

In the first meeting Dalton wasn’t on the top of his game as he only completed 15-of-30 passes for 170 yards two touchdowns and two interceptions. He actually had a chance to get the win for the Bengals until Will Gay steeped in a picked off a pass to end the game. Truth be told for a team that wasn’t supposed to win with a rookie QB I think getting them into a position to win is probably more than OK in most people’s book.

Dalton is coming off a pretty impressive game against the Browns where he completed 21-of-31 passes for 270 yards and a touchdown. His yard per attempt average of 8.71 was a season high and his completion percentage of 67.7% was the second best of the season. Dalton has been really up and down this season with results really all over the map. In the Bengals seven wins he is completing 63% of his passes for an average of 211 yards and 11 touchdowns (five INT) while in the four losses he only completes 56% of his passes with five touchdowns and seven interceptions and averaging 258 yards. Ideally Dalton isn’t going to be throwing the ball all over the field as he has only averaged 30 pass attempts in wins and over 37 in losses. Still a lot of pass attempts for a rookie but they want to try and limit that.

Looking at some advanced statistics from Football Outsiders we see that this season Dalton has played like a fringe top-10 quarterback in terms of DYAR and DVOA. DYAR 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 10th in the league with a 527 DYAR which is just two spots behind Ben Roethlisberger and one spot above Joe Flacco. Dalton’s DVOA (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) is 10.7% which is 11th in the league so despite not being overly consistent he has played some pretty good football for a rookie.

Dalton made some mistakes in the first matchup but he also had his team in it at the end without top receiver AJ Green. It doesn’t hurt that the Steelers have Dick Lebeau who is something like 14-1 against rookie quarterbacks and you can bet that he learned something from that first match up. Don’t underestimate Dalton because he is going to be a good quarterback but I still don’t think he will beat the Steelers by himself.

Running Backs



The Bengals don’t really ask Dalton to do a whole lot so that makes the running game that much more important for the team’s success. That being said when Cedric Benson isn’t in trouble with the law or literally in jail he can be somewhat serviceable for the offense.

On the season Benson has 740 yards on 188 carries for a pretty pedestrian 3.9 yard per carry average and only five touchdowns. In the last matchup with the Steelers Benson carried the ball 15 times for 57 yards and the game after that he had 15 carries for 41 yards against another good run stuffing defense in the Ravens. Benson bounced back in a Bengals win last week when he had 21 carries for 106 yards and a score for his third 100 yard game of the season. Two of those games came against the Browns while the other was against the Bills. Outside of those three games Benson has failed to go for more than 60 yards in all but two other games. Not exactly something that is great but he is good for around 50 yards.

Benson hasn’t had a great season and it hasn’t improved too much since the last game with the Steelers. He ranks 20th in the league with a DYAR of 68 and actually has a DVOA of -0.3% which is good for 22nd in the league. While he does not rank well in either of the aforementioned statistics he does rank 9th in the NFL with a success rate of 50%. Success rate 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. What the high success rate and low DVOA means is that Benson is getting the yards that are needed but not getting the extra yards on any particular run. It could be better but then again it could be a lot worse.

Complimenting Benson in the backfield is Bernard Scott who is really not very good at all. On the year he averages 3.4 yards per carry and only has one touchdown while having 264 yards. The last time out against the Steelers Scott actually had a pretty decent game as he ran for 38 yards on only seven carries but is coming off a game where he carried the ball only four times for one yard. Scott checks in with a -6.2% DVOA and a DYAR of only six so I would expect that he isn’t going to be as productive this time around as he was a few weeks ago.

Overall the Bengals run game ranks 18th in the league according to the advanced metrics with a 1.0% DVOA. The run game for the Bengals isn’t that great but you know what wasn’t that great? The Kansas City Chiefs. The run shouldn’t be terribly hard to stop but give them a few seams and it will be much easier for the Bengals passing game to get going and that much harder for the Steelers to win.

Receivers



If we have learned one thing about the Bengals this season it’s that the team runs through a pair of rookies. I talked about Dalton above but the other end of that rookie tandem is AJ Green. He is far and away the best pass catcher on the team and has a good shot to win offensive rookie of the year. So far he has 44 catches for 745 yards and six touchdowns and if it wasn’t for an injury early in the game against the Steelers last time the Bengals might have came away with a win.

Last game he only caught one ball for 36 yards but that was for a touchdown and then left the game with a knee injury. He missed the contest against the Ravens but came back strong last week with a 110 yard day on only three receptions. He has been a monster all year and is going to draw Ike Taylor on Sunday and hopefully he can shut down the rookie sensation.

Green ranks seventh in the league with a 256 DYAR which gives him very good overall value and ranks even better with a 30.3% DVOA which is good for fifth in the league which basically means he is going to give you better results on a per-play basis. Green also has a catch rate of 62% which is right up there with some of the best in the league and he will be getting a lot of attention from the Steelers, as he should.

Behind Green is Jerome Simpson who has 577 yards on 36 passes this year and is actually the most targeted receiver this year with 74. In the Browns game Simpson came up lame and looks to have a knee injury so that will be something to monitor but when Green was out against the Ravens he came up big with his best game of the season catching eight passes for 152 yards.

Jermaine Gresham is one of the pass catching tight ends on the team and is a pretty good target for Dalton. On the season he has only 370 yards on 37 catches but has found the end zone five times so he is a main target in the red zone. One of those touchdowns came in the November 13th meeting against the Steelers and although he only caught four passes for 23 yards he did find the end zone so he will need to be accounted for. He was used much more against the Browns catching five passes for 68 yards which was his second highest reception and yardage output of the season. Gresham isn’t highly regarded in the advanced stats, as he shouldn’t be, ranking 26th among tight ends in DYAR and 28th with a -3.0% DVOA but supports a so-so catch rate of 61%.

Andre Caldwell also catches some passes, I guess, with 307 yards on 25 catches and three touchdowns. He has recorded over three catches only four times this season and has more than 50 receiving yards only twice. I guess it is kind of important to watch him but if he is getting most of the looks then the Steelers are doing some things right.

Cincinnati, despite being young at the quarterback and receiver position, are actually ranked pretty favorably in the passing game. As a team they hold the 10th best DVOA in pass offense at 24.1%. This is a huge testament to not only how good Dalton has been but how dynamic Green has been. Should be interesting to see how the secondary works and how physical they get with the receivers, especially Taylor on Green.

Offensive Line



From left to right on the Bengals offensive line it reads left to right as Andrew Whitworth, Nate Livings, Kyle Cook, Bobbie 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.

The Bengals have done a really nice job this year of protecting Dalton as they have given up only 17 sacks this season which is the fourth fewest in the NFL and are also fourth with a 4.6% adjusted sack rate. Adjusted sack rate is a stat which gives sacks (plus intentional grounding penalties) per pass attempt adjusted for down, distance, and opponent. It is no wonder that Dalton has been as successful as he has when he has a lot of time to throw. The last meeting between these teams the Steelers were unable to get to Dalton so the offensive line was great in that aspect.

In terms of run blocking and running the football things from the first meeting really translate over in that the Bengals just aren’t that good at running the football and getting those tough yards. While the Bengals rank 11th in the league with a 4.16 adjusted line yards (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.) but they struggle in other aspects of the run game.

Cincinnati has a power success percent of 55% which represents the percentage of runs on third or fourth down, two yards or less to go, that achieved a first down or touchdown. Also includes runs on first-and-goal or second-and-goal from the two-yard line or closer. This is the only statistic on this page that includes quarterbacks. That ranks them 26th in the league while they rank 23rd in the league in stuffed percentage at 21% which represents the percentage of runs where the running back is tackled at or behind the line of scrimmage. Obviously these are not great numbers if you are a fan of the Bengals because they just aren’t able to get the tough yards. They are mainly relying on Dalton to pick these up and while this is a physical football team they just can’t impose their will like you would think a physical team would be able to do.

Cincinnati is most successful running the ball off the right end where they rank 5th in the league with a 4.68 ALY and is strangely good running off the left tackle with a similar 4.68 ALY. Usually teams are good running to one side, but the Bengals are spotty where they are successful at as they rank 29th in the league running up the middle and 17th in the league running off the right tackle. You would expect them to continue to try and attack those two areas if they are going to be successful in the running game.

When looking over the tendencies of the Bengals you really don’t see that they pound those two areas. They actually run up the middle (which includes running off the guards) 37% of the time and while that is where they run the football the most it is well below the NFL average of 49% in that particular area. The Bengals do work off the left tackle a good bit, which equals 23% of the time which is much more than the NFL average of 15%. They do not utilize the success they have off the right end only running there 7% of the time which is interesting because they choose to run over the left end 14% of the time. Not really sure if you can take a lot from this but I just found it interesting.

Defense



Defensively the Bengals have been outstanding this season and that is how they have been winning games. They aren’t giving up a lot of points and they get after the quarterback. They have registered 28 sacks this season, picked off six passes and forced 14 fumbles. They get after the quarterback and they are physical and can make many plays happen.

Linebacker Thomas Howard leads the team with 63 tackles and forced a pair of fumbles on the season. Thomas has been a little up and down as he registered nine tackles in a win over the Browns last week but only recorded six tackles combined in losses to the Steelers and Ravens. Safety Reggie Nelson is second on the team with 60 tackles and a pair of interceptions which he took one back 75 yards for a touchdown.

The Bengals do a great job of getting pressure on the quarterback but they don’t rely on just one player to get that production. Five different players have registered three or more sacks led by defensive tackle Geno Atkins who has 6.5 sacks. One of those sacks was against Pittsburgh a few weeks ago and has a sack in four of his last five contests. Frostee Rucker also recorded a sack against the Steelers this season and enters with four sacks. A key for the Steelers is that dominant defensive end Carlos Dunlap might not play again due to a bad hamstring. I believe Dunlap hasn’t played since November 6th against Tennessee and is listed as doubtful as I write this.

In the secondary Nate Clemons was limited in practice this week also with a hamstring injury as well was safety Chris Crocker with a biceps injury. Clemens has a team-high 11 passes defended and a pick while Crocker has 2.5 sacks and three passes defended. Both are pretty involved as Clemens fifth on the team with 41 tackles and Crocker is sixth with 39 tackles.

Over at Football Outsiders Cincinnati ranks 15th in the league with a total defensive DVOA of 3.6%. They are about even against the run and the pass in the DVOA rankings as they rank 15th in the league with a 9.3% DVOA while ranking 16th in the league in run defense with a -3.3% DVOA.

Cincinnati really struggles against the pass as they have a 12.2% DVOA when facing the opponents number one receiver which is good for 20th in the league while ranking almost dead last (30th) against the number two receiver with a 39.7% DVOA. Woof, that is not good. Look for Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown to have big days if the Steelers open it up and throw it like they have been doing all season. The NFL average DVOA against number one receivers is 7.2% and against number two receivers is 1.6% just to give you some idea of how bad the secondary can be had.

Thoughts:

-This is a pretty important game in the grand scheme of things. While I think it would take a pretty sizable collapse for the Steelers to not make the playoffs I really think they could go a long way of clinching things Sunday with a win over the Bengals. The win would give the Steelers the sweep over Cincinnati and the tiebreaker if they were to somehow finish with the same record with only games against the 49ers, Rams and two against the Browns to go into the season. With the Ravens win over the 49ers the only chance the Steelers have of winning the AFC North is to win out the rest of the season and hope for the Ravens to drop a contest. A win on Sunday would actually give the Steelers a pretty good shot of doing that and make the rest of the season interesting. If the Steelers lose then the season isn’t over but that really gives them no shot of winning the AFC North. It would also give them three division losses and make things interesting when it comes down to playoff seeding.

-Going into this game the Steelers might have the healthiest lineup than at any point of the season. The only players that are ruled out for the game are Arnaz Battle and and Chris Carter with Larry Foote being questionable with a hamstring injury. Troy Polamalu, Maurkice Pouncey and LaMarr Woodley were all full participants in practice on Friday and all but Pouncey were full participants on Thursday too. I wouldn’t worry about Pouncey not playing but he went through a pretty bad illness which made him lose about 12 pounds over the past week so that is not cool. Outside of that though when was the last Steelers game where everyone was available? The first preseason game? I mean this is something we haven’t seen in some time and it is coming at a great part of the season where if everyone can stay healthy this team can take its performance to another level.

-In the first matchup the Steelers jumped out on the Bengals and took an early lead and everyone really thought they were just going to run away with the game. The Steelers scored the first 14 points of the game but the Bengals did a nice job of fighting back and making it a game. While I think the Steelers are a more talented team I think the game is going to be a close one. Seven of the Bengals games this year have been one score games and every game but one has been decided by 10 points or less. Do the Steelers have the offense and defense to blow a game open? Yea, but when was the last the Steelers did that? It just isn’t what they do. No matter what happens during the beginning or middle of this game it is going to be close. I know that is going to give a lot of people small heart attacks but this is a divisional game with a good bit on the line so it will be a lot of fun to watch.

-Bruce Arians was pretty vocal this week about his disappointment in the running game and how they would like to keep the yard per carry average around 4.0. Against the Chiefs the Steelers were not very good and I kind of get the feeling they are going to feed Rashard Mendenhall a little bit more this week. If the Steelers can get the running game going a little bit more the sky is going to be the limit as that will open up the passing game by pulling up the safeties and giving Mike Wallace the deep ball. I think if the Steelers can establish the run early I think they will stick to it more than they have this season. On the year the Steelers rank 19th in the league at just over 26 attempts per game. I am not going to sit here and say that the Steelers should run more because I think it should be based on situation and style of game and what the opponent gives you, but if the Steelers get around 30 carries I can pretty much guarantee that the Steelers will have a good handle on the game.

-One of the things that the Steelers have excelled at this year has been third down conversions. Right now they are third in the league converting 49% of its third down chances which trails only New Orleans and Green Bay so they are in some good company. In the last meeting the Steelers were 5-of-12 on third down and if they are converting every other opportunity they will be successful. On the flipside the defense isn’t doing as well getting off the field on third down where they rank 25th in the league giving up almost 42% of third down chances. Cincinnati isn’t particularly good on third down (17th in the league at 37%) and last time they were right around there going 4-of-11 on third down. Third down is the most important down in football and it should be a fun down to watch as the Steelers are on the opposite ends of the spectrum on offense and defense.

-The Steelers also are second in the league in another important stat which might surprise a lot of people, I mean it was pretty surprising to me. The Steelers rank second in the league in time of possession with 32:46 of possession time a game. Most people might not believe this because the misconception with time of possession is that you have to run the football to have ball control. That is just not true anymore. What you really need to do is convert on third down (as the Steelers do) and pick up first downs (which the Steelers do, 7th in NFL in first downs per game) and you will control the ball. It doesn’t matter whether you pass the ball or run the ball for a first down as long as you pick it up and the Steelers have done that well despite ranking 20th in the NFL rushing the ball under 41% of the time.

PREDICTION: Like the first game I think this is going to be a close ballgame. I talked about it before but the Bengals always play close games and the Steelers always seem to play to their competition. I think the Steelers get the better of the Bengals this time around also. Steelers 23, Bengals 17.

Hit it.





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