Friday, November 4, 2011

Steelers Game Day 9 - vs. Baltimore Ravens

Steelers and Ravens. Not much more you need to say that that. I know when these games come around a lot of people talk about if it is the best rivalry in the NFL and there are some differing opinions on that but if you wanted to see a great football game that has all aspects then you watch this game. If you are paying money to watch a great football game then you watch this game. If you want a football game that will probably decide the division year in and year out then you watch this game.

Terrell Suggs said that there were two kinds of games (paraphrasing) the Super Bowl and the Steelers/Ravens. While I do not share the same sediments with Mr. Suggs you get the gist of where I am going with this. In the Ben Roethlisberger era this has been a pretty one sided series with the Ravens only beating the Steelers one time when Joe Flacco and Roethlisberger have both started. That game was in week one and to call it a game would be wrong. That was an ass whooping that the Steelers took in the hands of the Ravens and it wasn’t really that close.

The Steelers turned the ball over seven times and gave the Ravens short field after short field. Not too hard to get beat when you are doing that. This time around the game is at Heinz Field and more often than not these games are decided by one score. This is going to be a close game and it is going to be knock out, drag out, last man standing wins.

There are injuries a plenty for this game as he heard earlier that LaMarr Woodley will be out for the Steelers and Lee Evans will be out for the Ravens. Numerous other players, key player, are banged up for both teams so it is going to take a full team effort to come out of this with a win.

Enough of this jazz. Let’s get to it.


Last Week:

Pittsburgh 25, New England 17
Passing: Roethlisberger - 36/50, 365 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT
Rushing: Mendenhall - 13 carries, 70 yards, 0 TD
Receiving: Miller - 7 rec, 85 yards, 0 TD

Baltimore 30, Arizona 27
Passing: Flacco - 31/51, 336 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT
Rushing: Rice - 18 carries, 63 yards, 3 TD
Receiving: Boldin - 7 rec, 145 yards, 0 TD

All-Time Record vs. Baltimore: 21-13 (3-0 Playoffs)

Last Five Meetings

Sept. 11, 2011 - Baltimore 35, Pittsburgh 7
Jan. 15, 2011 - Pittsburgh 31, Baltimore 24
Dec. 5, 2010 - Pittsburgh 13, Baltimore 10
Oct. 3, 2010 - Baltimore 17, Pittsburgh 14
Dec. 27, 2009 - Pittsburgh 23, Baltimore 20
Team Stats

Offense (rank in NFL)

Total Offense
Pittsburgh: 388.8 yards/game (9th)
Baltimore: 341 yards/game (14th)

Passing
Pittsburgh: 273.4 yards/game (8th)
Baltimore: 334 yards/game (15th)

Rushing
Pittsburgh: 115.4 yards/game (14th)
Baltimore: 107 yards/game (19th)

Points
Pittsburgh: 22 points/game (19th)
Baltimore: 26.4 points/game (7th)


Defense

Total Defense
Pittsburgh: 270.8 yards/game (2nd)
Baltimore: 263.3 yards/game (1st)

Pass
Pittsburgh: 171.6 yards/game (1st)
Baltimore: 174.1 yards/game (3rd)

Rush
Pittsburgh: 99.1 yards/game (8th)
Baltimore: 89.1 yards/game (3rd)

Points
Pittsburgh: 17.4 points/game (3rd)
Baltimore: 15.7 points/game (2nd)


Hit the jump for a closer look at the Baltimore Ravens




Quaterback



Not really sure what to think of Joe Flacco. In week one against the Steelers he was so good and was making different reads and I actually thought to myself that he was making the jump up a tier among all quarterbacks but since then it has been very up and down for Flacco this season. Looking at his games logs is like riding a roller coaster. Here is his season by passing yards: 224, 197, 389, 163, 305, 137 and 336. Just unreal, it is like an every other game thing.

One big knock I have noticed with Flacco this season has been his accuracy. So far this season he has completed only 53.8 of his passes and has a pedestrian like 6.68 yards per attempt average. In three of his games he hasn’t thrown a touchdown pass and in two more he only has one touchdown pass. So if you can see that in five of the seven games he has played Flacco has thrown zero or one touchdown pass.

Granted with the shortage of touchdown passes that put extra pressure on the running game to put the ball in the end zone, and they have, but it also puts pressure on the quarterback to not turn the football over and that is something that Flacco has done a pretty good job at that. He only has six interceptions on the year and has thrown more than one interception only one time when he threw two in a week two loss to Tennessee.

I have been reading a little bit from everywhere on Flacco and the one thing that is pretty consistent across the board is that this is a quarterback who can be pretty good or pretty bad, there really isn’t much in between. In the five Ravens wins Flacco is completing 54.7% of his passes for 283 yards a game with only three interceptions. In the Ravens two losses Flacco is completing only 51% of his passes for 167 yards a game and three interceptions. A key to the Steelers win is going to be shutting down the running game and make Joe Flacco beat them. Completing just over 50% of his passes I have a pretty good feeling about being able to pick up a win.

Looking at some more advanced metrics shows Flacco has been pretty average so far this season. Flacco ranks 19th in the league with a 172 DYAR (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.) which ranks a spot below Mark Sanchez and just above Donovan McNabb, Jay Cutler and Josh Freeman. Not strong company.

Flacco sports a -1.4% 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.) which stacks him even worse than his DYAR at 22nd in the league right behind McNabb. Woof.

It is no secret that Flacco hasn’t been good against the Steelers. In seven regular season games against the Black and Gold Flacco has completed below 56% of his passes (which seems pretty standard for him) but has thrown for nine touchdowns and only four picks. Nine touchdowns in seven games is not really that great but only throwing four picks is actually pretty good even if some of the picks have been HUGE ones.

I know I talked about completion percentage a lot in this preview of Flacco but it is one of the really important stats for quarterbacks in my opinion. The fact that Flacco is 31st in the league among 33 qualifying quarterbacks in completion percentage tells you all you need to know.

Running Backs



There should be no secret who the top running back for the Ravens is and he may be one of the best backs in the entire league. Ray Rice. While the five foot nothing back from Rutgers might not look like your run of the mill running back this is one of the most complete guys in the league in terms of catching and running the football.

Rice has only accumulated 489 yards on the season but most of that, in my opinion, comes down to mismanagement of the Ravens offense. Rice is averaging a healthy 4.3 yard per carry average but only has two 100 yard games to his credit this season. One of those was in week one aginst the Steelers when he ran for 107 yards on 19 carries and the other was against the Houston Texans when he ran for 101 yards on 23 carries.

The utilization of Rice is kind of peculiar because in five games this season Rice hasn’t ran the ball 20 times. In a loss to Tennessee he carried the ball 13 times for 43 yards and in a loss to Jacksonville he carried the ball only eight times for 28 yards. I mean cmon. Rice also didn’t have such a great showing against the Jets, a Ravens win, when h e ran the ball 25 time (!) for only 66 yards. Listen, Rice is a great back but this year has been few and far between for his big games. He went off against the Steelers in the first meeting and it killed the Steelers and opened up the play action passing game for Joe Flacco which can be lethal. If the Steelers can stop Rice (which they have before) and make the Ravens abandon the run game they will be in a great spot.

One thing that doesn’t get a lot of play in Ray Rice’s game is how effective he is catching the football. The Ravens have been trying to have a ball control offense and a lot of that is through the running backs out of the backfield and Rice excels at it. Rice has caught five or more passes in all by two games this season and has caught 40 or more yards of passes in five games with a season-high 83 yards in a win over the Rams. Against the Steelers he found the end zone as part of one of his four catches for 42 yards. You know this is going to be a big part of the game plan. Rice is the second leading receiver for the Ravens with 373 yards on 33 catches so you know they will use him and if you just try to match any linebacker on him he will beat you, badly.

While I gloated a little bit about Ray Rice and what a dynamic back he can be but this year he doesn’t rank very highly according to the boys over at Football Outsiders. Among backs that qualify only three backs are worse in terms of DYAR where Rice has a -50 which ranks 32nd and he is not much better in his DVOA ranking of -12.8% which is 30th in the league. Remember kids positive is good for the offensive player with your DVOA ranking. Woof. Rice also is pretty low on his success rate of 43% which 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. To give you an idea about how low Rice is rated a few of the guys around Rice in all three rankings are guys like Felix Jones and Chris Johnson (this year’s CJ). He still can hit it up, but he hasn’t been as good this year as he has in the past. Last season Rice had a 0.8% DVOA while having a 16.8% DVOA in 2009 so it has been going down hill for some time.

Receiving there is no back better than Rice in terms of advanced metrics. Rice has a DYAR of 172 and a DVOA of 53.1% catching the football which ranks him first and second, respectively in the NFL. Like I said he is a rally complete back out of the backfield. While his catch rate is a little lower (67%) he is a dynamic player. The only player with more catches out of the backfield is Darren Sproles. Not too shabby.

Outside of Rice the Ravens have Ricky Williams who doesn’t touch the ball a while ton and really hasn’t done a lot this season. Only two games has Williams had more that five carries, unfortunately one of those times was against the Steelers in week one when he ran the rock 12 times for 63 yards. That was his largest output of the season. Overall he has 42 carries for 198 yards and a score. Granted he is carrying the ball at a 4.7 yard per carry average but I don’t anticipate him running “wild” on the Steelers like he did in week one. Three times this season Williams has had less than 10 running yards in a game and his fourth highest output was a 29 yard day that he had against Arizona last week.

Receivers



For as long as I can remember the Ravens receivers have been sort of a hodge podge of players that were OK but nothing better. They also usually have one pretty decent receiver and then just a bunch of guts that they hope get it done. This season is pretty much a lot of the same.

Anquan Boldin is easily the best on the team in terms of catching the football. Boldin isn’t going to be the guy that stretches the field for you but he is big and physical and last week he basically won the game for the Ravens against the Cardinals. After the Ravens got behind big time he took over and I don’t think Flacco looked at another receiver as he caught seven passes for 145 yards. IT was his second 100 yard game of the season and the second in the last three weeks. Overall Boldin has 34 catches for 539 yards on the season and should be the main target on Sunday night.

Back in week one Boldin played pretty decent even thought he only caught four passes. He scored one touchdown on those four catches and gained 74 yards. He then went on a downswing before the last three weeks where he has, for the most part, started to pick his game up. In four regular season game against the Steelers the receiver has three touchdowns and 378 receiving yards so every time out he is basically coming close to 100 yards receiving and a touchdown. Paging Ike Taylor.

Boldin ranks out as the 12th best receiver in terms of DYAR but there is a significant drop off in his DVOA ranking of 14% which is only good for 34th in the year. Boldin has had some pretty mediocre games and has a very low catch rate of 55%. Some of that is going to be on Joe Flacco but there is still a lot of room to grow for Boldin overall.

Lee Evans was brought in to be the big threat for the Ravens that they never had. Too bad that Evans has been sidelined for almost the entire season and has a mere two catches for 45 yards. Yea. He was shut out by Ike Taylor in the meeting in week one.

Another deep threat that the Ravens look at is rookie Torrey Smith. The first year man out of Maryland hasn’t been very productive but a lot of people I have been reading has been saying that Smith is sort of like Mike Wallace was his first year in that he can run the nine route down the sideline but really can’t do much more. He has 15 catches on the season for 326 yards but five of those catches, 152 of those yards and all three of those touchdowns came in a week three win over the Rams. The last three weeks Smith has three catches each with a variance of success in terms of yardage (84, 32, 57) so maybe he is starting to figure some of it out but I don’t really think that he is going to be a huge threat against a defense that doesn’t give up a lot of big plays.

The Steelers have done a pretty nice job against tight ends this season and they will need to continue that since the Ravens have a really nice up and coming receiving tight end in Ed Dickson. This year he has 28 catches for 269 yards and a touchdown and really gave the Steelers some problems in the week one meeting. In that blow out he caught five passes for 59 yards and a touchdown and for the most part he has been pretty consistent. In every game but two he has four or more catches and has 40 yards or m ore of receiving yards in four of those games. While he hasn’t broke out like some Ravens fans might have liked he is a target that is getting used and could really kill you if you don’t pay attention to him. While he has improved this season his -5.2% DVOA ranks him 32nd in the league among qualified tight ends and his catch rate of 57% is less than ideal.

Offensive Line



After the week one game a lot of people were amazing high on the Ravens offensive line. They kept Joe Flacco clean and Ray Rice was able to run wild on what was a great run defense. While the Steelers aren’t as bad as they were in week one and from what we are seeing the offensive line isn’t as good as it was against the Steelers.

Baltimore goes Bryant McKinnie, Ben Grubbs, Matt Birk, Marshal Yanda and Michael Oher from left to right. So far this season that set of linemen have given up 16 sacks and has an adjusted sack rate of 6.3% which is only good for 16th in the league. Adjusted sack rate gives sacks (plus intentional grounding penalties) per pass attempt adjusted for down, distance, and opponent. The NFL average is 18 sacks and a 6.8% adjusted sack rate so they are about average for the league.

In terms of the running game The Ravens rank 16th in the league with an adjusted line yard of 4.10 which is actually below the standard running average yard per carry of its running backs (4.32). 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.

Baltimore ranks highest on the list in power success where they have a 65% success rate which 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. Similarly the Ravens are pretty good/average in stuffed percentage at 19%. This basically is the success that the team has of the running back getting tackled at or behind the line of scrimmage. The Ravens are getting stuffed 19% of the time which is just below the NFL average of 20% and consequently they rank 15th in the league in that category.

Baltimore isn’t a team that is going to run to the outside. While Ray Rice is a small back and does have some decent speed they are a team that is going to run between the tackles and earn its stripes that way. In 162 carries this season the Ravens have rank up the middle or off the guard on 52% of those running plays. They go off the left tackle 16% and right tackle 19% of the time but rarely, if ever, go off the left or right end. It is great that Casey Hampton is back and got a game under his belt and having Brent Keisel and Ziggy Hood playing good football will go a long way to shutting down the run game. I think the most important thing to look for is if Lawrence Timmons can move to the inside. With James Farrior possibly out it would be huge to have Timmons on the inside. While he could be worse on the outside he is much, much, better on the inside.

Defense



Every year it seems we talk about the Ravens getting older on defense and the more we talk about it the better they seem to get. Kind of like the Steelers. This year the Baltimore defense might be the best in the NFL and I don’t anticipate the Steelers being able to put together drives like they did against the Patriots.

This season the Ravens have been getting turnovers at a ridiculous pace. It must be nice to get to play a quarterback like Mark Sanchez. The Ravens have caused 16 turnovers and scored three defensive touchdowns which includes the seven turnovers they forced in the week one win over the Steelers. Get lazy and they will kill you by causing a bunch of turnovers and it will not be good.

As much as he looks like an idiot during his pregame dance routine Ray Lewis continues to be one of the best at the middle linebacker position. He has a team-high 55 tackles (43 solo) and two sacks. I have no idea how Ray Lewis does it but it keeps chucking. In week one he was an absolute beast and while he does look like a jackass with his pregame bullshit but I guess it works. Ray Lewis does not scare me like he used to, or at all, but he is still a pretty great football player.

There are two other guys that are must talk about type of players on this Ravens team and that is Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata. First, let’s start with Suggs. Dude might be one of the ugliest people in the entire world but he can play football. He only has six sacks this season but three of those came in week one and he forced two fumbles in that game. In 13 career regular season games against the Steelers Suggs have 13.5 sacks and over anyone in the NFL he just takes advantage of what the Steelers give him and he gets to Ben Roethlisberger.

Haloti Ngata is one of the best nose tackles in the league and is a huge reason why the Ravens are so good against the run. As part of the defensive line he helps the fifth ranked defense according to adjusted line yardage of 3.72. Interesting in looking over the Ravens power success and stuffed ranking that they are not as good as one might think. They rank 23rd in the league in power success at 69% and 27th in the league with only a 17% stuffed rank. I was actually shocked myself to see this but they have been able to make up for a subpar run defense playing take away. While teams have been able to convert on short yardage situations the running backs are only averaging 3.44 yards per carry and the low adjusted line yards says this is still a great run defense. The one good thing for the Steelers is that Ngata is nursing a sore quad and hasn’t practiced all week. There are reports that he is going to play but you can’t imagine he will be 100% and that will help the Steelers big time.

Overall the Ravens are far and away the best defense with a -29.8% DVOA. The next closes team is the Jets and they have a -14.4% DVOA so you can really see how good this team has been. A lot of people talk about being able to pass on a pretty bad secondary but much like the Steelers it seems that the Ravens have turned that around with a -34.9% DVOA which is tops in the league. I talked about the rushing stats above and how the Ravens haven’t been as good as thought on stuffing the run in short yardage situations but with a -23.9% DVOA that ranks second in the league you can see that overall the run defense is still as good as ever and for the Steelers to run the football they are going to need to be balanced.

Other Thoughts:

-In the last 10 meetings between the Steelers and Ravens eight of them have been decided by one score or less and one of those two times was only by nine points. Needless to say this is a game where both teams know what the other is going to bring and it is going to be close. This is one of the huge reasons I don’t think the Ravens are going to come into Heinz Field and beat them like they did in week one. This just isn’t how the teams have played out and the blow out games are few and far between no matter how bad one team might be.

-In week one Ben Roethlisberger was just flat out terrible. He was forcing passes and making crucial turnovers when the Steelers actually had something working. He was sacked a bunch of times and when he was sacked he was fumbling the football away. Since that game Ben has done a really nice job of getting himself back together and has been playing some of the best football of his career. Granted he isn’t playing against the best teams in the league but it wasn’t long ago that Ben was throwing pick-6’s against lowly teams like the Raiders. In the past four games Ben has only tossed two interceptions and has 11 touchdown passes. He is completing almost 65% of his passes and comes off completeing 72% of his passes against the Patriots. Ben had a pretty slow start to the season but he has come a long way since the 22-of-41 for 280 yards and three pick day he had in week one. He has a bunch of weapons and while the Ravens are going to be bringing mad pressure he can continue to succeed if he just takes what the defense is going to give him and get rid of the ball quick.

-Injuries have been a big storyline for this game and it probably will be up until game time. Both teams have woes with the Ravens having Ngata banged up as well as Lee Evans while the Steelers will be lucky to have any linebackers available the way things are going. LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison as highly questionable to play and Jason Worilds still isn’t sure if he is going to play. I talked a little bit about it above but if just one of those three play it should open up the opportunity for Lawrence Timmons to get back into inside linebacker. On the Ravens side it looks like Ngata will play but really unsure about Evans. I talked about this also before but even if Ngata plays it can be seen as an advantage for Pittsburgh because a thigh issue is going to inhibit him from being his best. Lee Evens didn’t contribute any catches against the Steelers in the week one win but he made a huge difference. Evans is a guy that stretch the field and Ike Taylor was mainly matched up on him and just running down the field took him out of the play with even safety help sometimes so that left a lot of field open for the other wide outs, especially the tight ends. Whoever can overcome the injury problem the best will probably win the game.

-Last week the Steelers struggled big time getting touchdowns on the board when they got into the red zone. That was a problem that didn’t lead to a loss but in a close game you need to punch the ball into the end zone when you get inside the 20 and not just settle for field goals. So far this season the Steelers rank 15th in the league converting only 50% of its red zone opportunities into touchdowns. That isn’t terrible, but it isn’t good when the top five teams are all converting at around 65% of the time. The Ravens have struggled even more than the Steelers have in this department as you have to go all the way down to the 27th spot to find the Ravens name as they convert only 42% of the time. Woof. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that whoever converts more of its red zone chances into seven points will be well ahead but the numbers so far this season seem to favor the Black and Gold. While the Steelers only convert red zone chances into touchdowns at a 40% clip on the road they have converted at over 56% at Heinz Field. Well, that is good, convert the touchdowns at home I will take that. When looking at the Ravens they have been dismal on the road. They have only scored touchdowns on just under 29% of the time on the road and while they only convert at a 47% pace at home that is a vast improvement on the road. If those trends continue I would expect that the Steelers will be coming away with a win.

-While scoring touchdowns in the red zone is pretty important one of the other important little stats that a lot of people only focus on in a game-by-game situation is third down conversions. This might be just as important as any statistic you look at offensively and defensively because converting on third down is such a killjoy to the defense and when you can get the offense off the field after a big third down then it really gives your team some life and momentum. The Pittsburgh Steelers rank third in the entire NFL converting almost 51% of its third down opportunities. Just an unreal percentage for the Steelers and they are converting at over 55% at home. Conversely the Ravens are converting at only 33% on the season which is 24th in the league and only 29% on the road. Just not good number for the Ravens offense on the road in third down situations. While the Balitmore offense has done a terrible job at converting the defense has done the best job in the league of getting off the field on third down. The Ravens defense holds opponents to only 29% conversion rate dropping down to 28% on the road. Stingy defense. The Steelers are middle of the pack in the NFL ranking 14th at 38% but doing much, much, better at home at 31%. It will be interesting to see the Steelers offense go up against the Ravens defense in many aspects but the Steelers are really good at converting third downs and the Ravens are really good at stopping them. One of them is going to give and it will be fun to see which one it is.

-Ike Taylor usually follows around the best receiver and more often than not he shuts them down. Last week he was on Wes Welker most of the game and held him to like 39 yards on six catches. In week one he was matched up on Lee Evans and while he held him without a catch he was also taken out of the play on a guy that probably wasn’t going to kill the Steelers. I wouldn’t be surprised one bit if Taylor is matched up against Boldin on Sunday night even if Evans suits up for the Ravens. Boldin is a big and physical receiver and that is the type of corner that Taylor is. Boldin is becoming the security blanket for Flacco because he knows that he can just throw it up and at least get a good chance at a pass interference call. Boldin is going to be key to the Ravens passing game (outside of Rice) so it would only make sense to give Taylor the job of shutting him down.

-Manny Sanders will not be in the game on Sunday night. He found out earlier in the week that his mother had passed and the funeral was tonight in Texas so he will not play. I cannot even imagine what it would be like to lose your mother at such a young age. I know I love my mom more than anything in the world and for him to even try to play would be hard. I know his family is in all of Steelers Nation’s thoughts and prayers and hopefully he can cope with what is a huge loss in his life.

PREDICTION: This isn’t going to be like the first game. It is going to be a close contest and probably is going to come down to who makes the plays in the fourth quarter. I am sorry but after week one these are two totally different teams. The Steelers are rolling and the Ravens are up and down and not playing very good football. I like the Steelers in this one. They are at home and you know that the Heinz Field crowd is going to be off the chain for this one. I would imagine that James Harrison will play. Have fun Joe. Steelers 26, Ravens 17.

Hit it.



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