After a tough loss the Steelers are back in action quickly as they take on the Rams at Heinz Field. Nothing like some football to kick off the Christmas holiday and from the looks of things this should be a game that the Steelers can win on their home field.
The Rams come in with two wins on the season with one of them coming over the high powered New Orleans Saints earlier in the season. While they did beat the Saints they have struggled pretty badly over the recent past, losing to the Bengals last week.
St. Louis doesn’t have much of an offense and its defense is pretty average so there isn’t too much to be scared at but in this league any team can truly win against any other. One more loss for the Steelers will put them out of the running for a first round bye so they need to take care of business.
Let’s look at the stats.
San Francisco 20, Pittsburgh 3
Passing: Roethlisberger - 25/44, 330 yards, 0 TD, 3 INT
Rushing: Mendenhall - 15 carries, 64 yards, 0 TD
Receiving: Cotchery - 5 rec, 93 yards, 0 TD
Cincinnati 20, St. Louis 13
Passing: Clemens - 25/36, 229 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT
Rushing: Jackson - 18 carries, 71 yards, 0 TD
Receiving: Jackson - 9 rec, 72 yards, 0 TD
All-Time Record vs. St. Louis: 7-15-2 (1-0 Playoffs) (2-1 while they were in St. Louis, 0-2-1 as the Cleveland Rams and 5-12-1 as the LA Rams)
Last Five Meetings
Dec. 20, 2007 - Pittsburgh 41, St. Louis 24
Oct. 26, 2003 - St. Louis 33, Pittsburgh 21
Nov. 3, 1996 - Pittsburgh 42, St. Louis 6
Sept. 12, 1993 - LA Rams 27, Pittsburgh 0
Oct. 29, 1990 - Pittsburgh 41, LA Rams 10
Offense (rank in NFL)
Pittsburgh: 372.9 yards/game (12th)
St. Louis: 285.3 yards/game (30th)
Pittsburgh: 260.5 yards/game (8th)
St. Louis: 185.9 yards/game (27th)
Pittsburgh: 112.4 yards/game (17th)
St. Louis: 99.4 yards/game (26th)
Pittsburgh: 20.4 points/game (22nd)
St. Louis: 11.9 points/game (32nd)
Pittsburgh: 276.9 yards/game (1st)
St. Louis: 359.7 yards/game (21st)
Pittsburgh: 179.6 yards/game (1st)
St. Louis: 206.3 yards/game (8th)
Pittsburgh: 97.2 yards/game (6th)
St. Louis: 153.4 yards/game (32nd)
Pittsburgh: 15.6 points/game (2nd)
St. Louis: 24.7 points/game (25th)
Hit the jump for a closer look at the St. Louis Rams
Going into the season this was supposed to be a really breakout year from Sam Bradford. If you are in a fantasy football league I bet you had a person who waited on a QB and still took Bradford way too high as their top QB and sad to say that did not work out well for them (or you in some cases). Bradford’s season was cut short due to a high ankle sprain and he was shut down for the season last week and yielded to Kellen Clemens. Yes, that Kellen Clemens. He is still in the league. I know, I know, no idea how he’s still in the league.
The quarterback situation in St. Louis has been pretty horrid all season. They have played three guys as the position (A.J. Feeley is the other) and those three players have combined for a 55% completion rate and only eight touchdown passes. This is week 15. Eight touchdown passes. They average about 186 yards per game and have a pedestrian 6.0 yard per attempt average. Man. Not to help the situation but they were also sacked 49 times. I will touch on the sacks a little later but no idea how this team has won two games.
Clemens has his first playing time of the season last week in a 20-13 loss to the Bengals and actually didn’t do all that poorly. While he only averaged 6.36 yards per attempt he completed 25-of-36 passes (69%) and didn’t throw an interception. He has 229 yards on the day and while that is not great it is well above the average of Bradford or Feeley.
Clemens hasn’t had any significant playing time since the 2009 season when he was with the Jets. He played in 10 games that year and also played in 10 games in 2007 as a member of the Jets. Overall he has played in 26 games and has 1,915 yards, six touchdowns, 11 interceptions, six fumbles and a completion percentage of 54. Um, yea, not too great their Kellen. He only threw two passes last year.
Not much more to say on this. He is going to throw the ball underneath a ton to a bunch of average at best receivers.
The running back core for the Rams is the deepest and most talented part of the roster. They employ three backs that have had success in the NFL but when the only thing you have is a couple good running backs, and nothing else, it is going to be really tough for you to win.
The workhorse for the team is Steven Jackson. Jackson is 34 yards away from a 1,000 yard season and is averaging 4.4 yards per carry. He has a team-high five touchdowns on the year and five runs of 20 yards or more. Since a three week span back in early November when Jackson ran for 159, 130 and 128 yards he has been pretty average. Last week against the Bengals hr ran 18 times for 71 yards and the week before he went 20 times for 63 yards and a score. He has only those three 100 yard games but nothing over 75 yards since.
Unlike the past few running backs the Steelers have played Jackson is one that will come out of the backfield and catch a good bit of balls. On the season he has 39 catches for 294 yards and is coming off a game where he had nine (!) catches for 72 yards. With Clemens as the new signal caller I would expect Jackson to be the main check down at Heinz Field. He has five games this year with four catches or more and nine games with three or more catches. Be aware.
Jackson ranks 31st in the league among qualified NFL running backs with a defensive-adjusted yards above replacement (DYAR) of 43 which basically gives the value of the players performance compared to replacement level, adjusted for situation and opponent and then translated into yardage. Jackson also ranks 33rd with a -3.5% defensive-adjusted value over average (DVOA). 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. I will be referring to both stats in the post but the simple version of the two is that DYAR represents a player with more total value and DVOA represents a player with more value per play.
Cadillac Williams is the former Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back that serves as the primary backup for the Rams. He has 302 yards on only 71 carries this season but has yet to find the end zone. Williams is a capable back and is in his first year with the Rams. He had 3,677 yards in six off and on years with Tampa Bay with is best coming in 2005, his rookie year, when he ran for almost 1,200 yards. Since them he had a pretty decent season in 2009 with 823 yards but is clearly not the main back he once was.
This season Williams filled in the first three games when Jackson was down with some injuries and did an OK job then. Since then he is a backup and has a high of eight carries a couple of weeks ago against the Seahawks. Outside of that game Williams has three carries or less in five other games. I don’t expect to see him get the ball a lot. Last week he only had three carries for 16 yards. Jackson is the work horse. In limited action Williams posts a DYAR of 39 and a DVOA of 4.9% which is much better than Jackson but you also have to figure that Williams is getting minimal carries, at best.
The stat sheet says that Jerious Norwood is on the Rams roster but I doubt you see him in the game for more than a couple of plays. Norwood came to the Rams from Atlanta but hasn’t been productive in the least bit. More of a third down back type player he had huge years for Atlanta in 2006 and 2007 but has barely seen the field with only 24 carries for 61 yards and hasn’t made a catch yet. Not worried.
Just as the quarterback position is going for the Rams the receiver position isn’t much better. There are a lot of guys who have names who catch passes for them but just like half of their team, or more, you probably haven’t heard of them or couldn’t even make them out of a lineup of all homeless people.
The Rams top target is newly acquired receiver Brandon Lloyd who came to St. Louis via the Denver Broncos. Lloyd was brought over because the receivers were so bad that they just needed someone with some actual talent for Bradford to throw to. In nine games with the Rams Lloyd has 42 catches for 554 yards and four touchdowns. Overall on the season he has 61 catches for 837 yards and four touchdowns with a long of 44 yards. Actually Lloyd is a very sure handed receiver but with the talent around him I am actually surprised he has that many catches. He is a viable target but no someone that would scare me enough that could beat a team if he is covered one-on-one. Not even sure if Ike Taylor is even going to shadow him (he probably will, and should) or if they will just stick Ike on one side of the field.
Lloyd ranks 68th in the league with a DYAR of 14 and has a pretty bad DVOA of -11.3% which is good for 71st in the league. When looking at other players with his advanced statistics he is right around what Hines Ward gives to the Steelers. Hines Ward has not been very good at all this year but ladies and gentlemen this is your top threat from the St. Louis Rams.
Other targets for the Rams include third year pro Brandon Gibson who has 35 catches for 410 yards and a touchdown while having five catches of 20 yards or more and Danario Alexander who has 21 catches for 370 yards and two scores with seven catches for 20 yards or more. Both Gibson (17 DYAR, -9.3% DVOA) and Alexander (15 DYAR, -8.9% DVOA) have better advanced numbers than Lloyd. What a mess. With the quarterback situation the way it is in St. Louis and a pedestrian group of receivers I would expect the Steelers to sell out to stop the run and make these guys beat them. If you have read my previews all year you know that I don’t usually hammer opponents too bad because they are professionals and can get the job done, I mean why would they be in the league if they couldn’t, but it is really tough to look at this and think for a moment they could beat up the Steelers secondary.
I talked before about how Steven Jackson would catch passes out of the backfield and he is the team’s fourth leading receiver so there is that.
From left to right on the offensive line it is Mark LeVoir, Jason Brown, Tony Wragge, Bryan Mattison and Harvey Dahl. It is a pretty experienced line as everyone but Mattison has between five and seven years while Mattison is in his second season. As I said before they struggle mightily to protect the quarterback and are near dead last in the league DVOA rushing offense.
The Rams overall offense ranks dead last in the league with a -24.0% DVOA and still ranks last in weighted DVOA (-25.9%) which is adjusted so that earlier games in the season become gradually less important. They have a -22.1% DVOA for their running offense and -10.5% DVOA in their passing offense which both rank 31st in the league. They have an adjusted sack rate of 9.1% which is 27th in the league and that gives sacks (plus intentional grounding penalties) per pass attempt adjusted for down, distance, and opponent.
The Rams are 29th in the league with a 3.73 adjusted line years and are just as poor running the ball in short yardage and goal to go situations. They rank dead last in the league with a 39% power success which is 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. They improve to 20th in the league in stuffed percentage which is the pPercentage of runs where the running back is tackled at or behind the line of scrimmage where they rank 20th at 20%. Still not very good out of the offensive line for the Rams.
When St. Louis does run the football they are one of the most successful in the league running over the left end. They rank fourth in the league with an ALY of 5.07 to the left side. Not sure how much stock you can put into that as the left end is where they run the football the least at 8% of carries. The Rams run the ball off up the middle/to the guards 43% of the time which is their favorite spot even though that is 7% the NFL average for that spot. Running in that spot is the worst for St. Louis as its ALY is 3.72 which is only 27th in the league. The Rams rank no higher than 23rd in the league in ALY to any of the other three spots on the field.
While the offense is one of the worst in football the defense is actually pretty average and we can consider them “good” when you use them in comparison to their putrid offense. St. Louis ranks 19th in the league with a 6.7% team defensive DVOA (remember negative is good for defense) as they rank just below Cincinnati and Denver who are supposed to have really good defenses. They actually rank out a lot better in weighted DVOA with 1.0% which is 15th in the league. They are playing better of late and do remember that they beat the Saints earlier this year and held that club to only 21 points.
Linebacker James Laurinaitis leads the team with 120 total tackles (90 solo) and has three sacks, seven passes defended and two interceptions. Laurinaitis is in his third year out of Ohio State and really is the leader of that defense. He has been very consistent throughout his early career, never missing a game and having at least 100 tackles in each of his three seasons. Right now he has exactly as many tackles as his rookie year in two less games so this is the guy that the Steelers are going to have to get a hat on.
Chris Long is one of three players with five or more sacks and when I say “or more” that is a direct reflection on Long. He is in his fourth year out of Virginia and he leads the team and is tied for fifth in the NFL with 13 sacks. This isn’t like some players who get sacks in bunches in one game and really go off the grid for a few games. Long only has four games this season where he hasn’t recorded a sack and has at least one in seven of his last eight games. His high is three (in the win over the Saints) so he is dangerously consistent.
Both Robert Quinn and James Hall each have five sacks on the season. Hall hasn’t been overly active this season but three of his five sacks have come in the last six games. I won’t go out and say that he scares me but if you completely ignore him he can make you pay. Quinn hasn’t had a sack in the last three games from his defensive end position but is having a decent year as a rookie. He ran off a streak having a sack in four of five games before being blanked the last three contests.
The defense doesn’t create a ton of turnovers (much like the Steelers) as they only have 11 interceptions and six fumble recoveries. Nobody on the team has more than two interceptions led by Laurinaitis, Quintin Mikell and Josh Gordy each with two. Mikell is going to be the one to really create a turnover as he has forced five fumbles while he also is second on the team with 78 tackles (65 solo).
To touch on the pass defense the Rams actually do a nice job ranking 14th in the NFL with a 7.1% pass DVOA but that might be a little deceiving as they are only thrown on average 31 times per game which is fifth lowest in the NFL. On the other side the Rams are not very good at stopping the run as they hold a 6.2% DVOA which is 25th in the league. They are run on almost 32 times per game which is third most in the league. That might make the numbers a little off balance but I am not really sure how the Steelers will attack that. It is also interesting to note that five Rams corners have been placed on IR throughout the season and a few other have been banged up so it hasn’t been good times for the secondary. Also interesting to note that the Rams are the best in the league in pass defense on the tight end with a -21.7 DVOA against them.
The Rams hold the 22nd best run defense according to ALY at 4.17. They do rank much better with a power success of only 54% which is eighth in the league but they drop off suddenly in stuffed rating at 21st in the league 18% which means that when running backs get the ball they are most likely going to be able to get back to the line of scrimmage.
St. Louis does an excellent job of getting to the quarterback with 36 sacks on the season and a 7.9% adjusted sack rate. That puts them at sixth in the league and with the Steelers looking at starting Charlie Batch they might be able to tee off on what will amount to be a statue in the pocket.
-Let’s not mess around and act like this is going to be a tough game because this is a game where the Steelers should be able to win even without Ben Roethlisberger. The Rams have two wins but after all the digging through all the numbers and all the stats and I am shocked that the Rams have two wins. Add to that that their franchise quarterback is on the shelf with an ankle injury and you just don’t have a lot to hang your hat on. A lot of times a mediocre offense can be pulled a long by a great defense (San Francisco for instance) but in this case the Rams only have a marginal defense with a good pass rusher. Not really sure I see a lot of scenarios where the Steelers lose.
-The Steelers might be without a lot of players on Christmas Eve. Word is mixed on if Ben Roethlisberger is going to play and after Thursday, the supposed make or break day, we learned that LaMarr Woodley was limited in practice and Maurkice Pouncey didn’t even practice after being a full participant on Wednesday. I said it before but if it was up to me all three of those would sit. I know Ben has been really hard headed about not quitting on his team but having him as healthy as possible for the playoffs, which could be in wildcard weekend, is most important. I know I said last week if Ben could get through the 49ers game I would like to see him play but the ramifications of winning that game was way different than the two teams that they will be playing. I would like him to sit but I have this strange feeling he will be out on the field.
-The Rams do not stop the run well and the Steelers have been running the ball pretty well over the last four or five games. Rashard Mendenhall has been running with a newfound toughness and ran pretty well against the best run defense in the league, the 49ers. The offensive line still has been a musical chairs sort of situation but they have run blocked pretty decently. I would expect the Steelers to stick to the run a little more than against the 49ers.
-An interesting sidebar of this game is that we might be seeing the final game of Hines Ward’s career in a Steelers uniform at home. With the Steelers not certain to get a home playoff game this could be the last time that he will line up at Heinz Field in the Black and Gold. While Ward has said himself that he doesn’t plan on retiring it might be a situation where Ward is not brought back. He has dropped to the fifth receiver spot with a lot of young kids ahead of him and in a huge prime time game he only played eight snaps in San Francisco. A lot of people probably wouldn’t care if Ward was back or not next year but if you sit back and think about his entire career it is really hard to think about him not being a part of the Steelers. While his play has taken a steep decline this year he has been an amazing part of this team. When the time comes I will have a more in depth piece about what Hines Ward meant to the Steelers but if you are watching the game just take a moment to reflect on how good he has been and what a big part of the team, and city, he has been.
-Not too much else to say on this game. Just get the win.
PREDICTION: Steelers are going to win this game. I don’t need to explain myself. Steelers 24, Rams 13.