Friday, December 30, 2011

Steelers Game Day 16 - @ Cleveland Browns

It almost seems like yesterday that people were wondering if there was going to be a full NFL season. The owners were being dicks and the players were bitching on twitter that they weren’t getting their fair shake. It was bad times. Then they finally signed a new CBA that most people still are asking questions about and we were back on it. The season started and nobody knew what was going on and how it was going to happen. How were the Steelers going to get under the cap? How would the Steelers answer after losing in the Super Bowl? Are the Steelers too old? Why didn’t the Steelers draft a lineman?

All the Steelers did was answer with an 11-4 season going into the last game. Ho hum. A lot of good times and a lot of bad times this season with injuries in between. With all that being said the Steelers are in the hunt for a first round bye and a possible top seed in the AFC if a few chips fall for them on Sunday. While some people thought the season was over when they were 2-2 this is a football team that is going to the playoffs, again, no lower than the five seed with a possible 12 wins. Just an unreal ride.

Wouldn’t it be fitting if the Steelers and Ravens were playing for a chance to win the AFC North on the last day of the regular season? Hell yea that would be awesome. Too bad the Steelers and Ravens played both their games against each other before either team played the Bengals or Browns. Terrible job by the NFL scheduling committee or whoever does that.

Instead the Steelers will be playing the Browns and the Ravens will be playing the Bengals and the AFC North will be decided after both of those games. But enough about that. Just a few weeks ago the Steelers were able to squeak out a win over the Browns when Ben Roethlisberger got hurt and many thought he would be done for the season.

This shouldn’t be very interesting game as the Browns are a pretty bad football team with little to play for a week after almost beating the Ravens. I can’t imagine their spirits are very high but they are competitors and beating the Steelers would be one of the highlights of a dismal season. The Steelers need to come in, take care of business and then see where it goes from there.

Let’s get to the statistics:


Last Week:

Pittsburgh 27, St. Louis 0
Passing: Batch - 15/22, 208 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT
Rushing: Mendenhall - 18 carries, 116 yards, 1 TD
Receiving: Wallace - 4 rec, 82 yards, 0 TD

Baltimore 20, Cleveland 14
Passing: Wallace - 19/33, 147 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT
Rushing: Hillis - 24 carries, 112 yards, 0 TD
Receiving: Little - 4 rec, 40 yards, 0 TD

All-Time Record vs. Cleveland: 63-56 (2-0 Playoffs)

Dec. 8, 2011 - Pittsburgh 14, Cleveland 3
Jan. 2, 2011 - Pittsburgh 41, Cleveland 9
Oct. 17, 2010 - Pittsburgh 28, Cleveland 10
Dec. 10, 2009 - Cleveland 13, Pittsburgh 6
Oct. 18, 2009 - Pittsburgh 27, Cleveland 14

Offense (rank in NFL)

Total Offense
Pittsburgh: 373.1 yards/game (11th)
Cleveland: 292.1 yards/game (29th)

Passing
Pittsburgh: 257.0 yards/game (9th)
Cleveland: 194.8 yards/game (23rd)

Rushing
Pittsburgh: 116.1 yards/game (16th)
Cleveland: 97.3 yards/game (28th)

Points
Pittsburgh: 20.8 points/game (20th)
Cleveland: 13.9 points/game (30th)


Defense

Total Defense
Pittsburgh: 273.9 yards/game (1st)
Cleveland: 330.5 yards/game (10th)

Pass
Pittsburgh: 172.2 yards/game (1st)
Cleveland: 184.0 yards/game (t-2nd)

Rush
Pittsburgh: 101.7 yards/game (9th)
Cleveland: 146.5 yards/game (30th)

Points
Pittsburgh: 14.5 points/game (2nd)
Cleveland: 19.6 points/game (6th)

Hit the jump for a closer look at the Cleveland Browns





Quarterback



Not really sure who the Steelers are going to see under center on Sunday afternoon but if the concussion to Colt McCoy was anything like he said it was then I would expect Senaca Wallace to make his second straight start and finish out the season for the Browns. If you don’t remember McCoy was knocked silly a few weeks by James Harrison which earned him a one game fine. Here is a look at it again:



Well, Wallace started last week and wasn’t very good but did put his team in a position to win the game. He also played the week prior against the Cardinals, a game in which the Browns lost in overtime, and wasn’t too much better in that game. Overall on the season he is completing 59% of his passes (66 attempts) for 390 yards two touchdowns and only one interception. Even though he has a pretty small sample size he only has a 5.91 yard per attempt average and had only 4.46 yards per attempt last week against the Ravens.

This is Wallace’s ninth year and he is in his second year with the Browns after starting his career with the Seahawks. Over his career he has completed 60% of his passes for a 6.41 yard per attempt average with 31 touchdowns and 17 interceptions so when you look at his stats this season he is really on the same plane as his career despite the small sample size in 2011.

Wallace is a very athletic player that can create time for himself and extend plays. If you don’t break down he is quick enough to make a move and scramble to find his target. Although he does have great athletic ability he isn’t really a running quarterback but he does bring a different dimension to the game than Colt McCoy does. Wallace has been a life long backup and actually does a pretty nice job in relief. He isn’t as bad as many of the backups on most teams so it gives the Browns something off the bench. He can throw the ball with some decent accuracy in the passes under 15 yards but much like McCoy he is not really good at getting the ball down the field so that actually plays into what the Steelers like to do which is not giving up the big play.

In limited action Wallace has a 57 defensive-adjusted yards above replacement (DYAR) which gives the value of the players performance compared to replacement level, adjusted for situation and opponent and then translated into yardage. He also has a defensive-adjusted value over average (DVOA) of 1.4% which 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. For some comparison McCoy has a 104 DYAR (30th in the league) and a -8.0% DVOA (30th) to see where Wallace ranks among Browns quarterbacks. 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.

Running Backs



Peyton Hillis is the main back for the Browns this season but due to some injuries and poor performance Hillis hasn’t been very good this year when you look at what he was able to do last season. Only eight times this season has Hillis carried the ball 10 times or more and only once has he gone over 100 yards. Interestingly enough Hillis’ only 100 yard came came last week against the Ravens when he touched the ball 24 times for 112 yards but was unable to find the end zone. Actually Hillis has only found pay dirt three times this season when he scored twice against the Colts in week two and once against the Cardinals two weeks ago.

In the Thursday night tilt against the Steelers on December 8 Hillis was a nonfactor with only 10 carries for 25 yards and only a long of eight yards. He was pretty frustrated on the sidelines especially after he was stuffed on a third and goal play on the Browns very first drive which led to their only points of the night.

Hillis used to be pretty productive out of the backfield with 15 catches in his first three games but since then he only has six catches in his other six games so I doubt that he is going to be looked at a ton out of the backfield as Wallace has only competed three passes to him the last two weeks for nine yards.

Hillis ranks 26th in the league with a DYAR of 78 which is just behind Steven Jackson who tore the Steelers up on Sunday. He actually ranks a little better in terms of DVOA at 24th among qualified running backs at 2.9%. For where he ranks in terms of DYAR and DVOA he actually has a pretty good success rate at 56%. That 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. With his higher success rate and lower DVOA that represents that Hillis gets the yards that he needs on a given play but isn’t going to go over and above and get more yards.

Montario Hardesty has the second most carries on the team (86) but is only carrying the ball at a 3.1` yard per attempt clip with only 268 yards and hasn’t rank for a touchdown or for a rush of 20 yards or more. Not good. Hardesty hasn’t carried the ball since the Thursday night game against the Steelers when he has 11 carries for only 24 yards and a long of five.

Chris Ogbonnaya is the other back that records a significant amount of carries with 76 carries for 340 yards and a touchdown. He has a 4.5 yard per carry average but didn’t record a carries in the last two weeks and had two carries against the Steelers for 31 yards which included a 28 yard scamper. Ogbonnaya will catch the ball out of the backfield as he has 23 catches on the season with the Browns in only 10 games with three games of five catches so you can’t ignore him in that aspect. It is also interesting to note that he will be facing the Steelers for the third time this regular season. Before coming to the Browns he was on the Texans roster and carried the ball one time for four yards in the Texans win in week three. You don’t typically see things like this.

Wide Receiver



The receiving core for the Browns hasn’t changed much since the last time these two teams played a few weeks ago and by “hasn’t changed much” I mean they still aren’t very good. I am sure there is more to this than the receivers themselves being bad as they have Colt McCoy and Senaca Wallace throwing to them but when your best option at wide out is Greg Little or Josh Cribbs then you really have a problem. Maybe the Browns can resign Braylon Edwards so he can drop crucial passes.

Little leads the team, far and away, in receptions with 61 and targets (116) but only has 709 yards to show for it and two touchdowns. Also in those 61 catches is only six catches of 20 yards or more. His 11.6 yard per catch average is only fourth on the team so he isn’t much of a threat down the field. Again I must preface this with saying that neither McCoy or Wallace is getting the ball down the field with any consistency so that isn’t going to help but at some point you have to have at least a threat of going deep.

Little has been targeted 46 more times than Ben Watson and has 24 more catches than him as he is second on the team in both categories. While Little has the most targets and catches he isn’t even the team’s most valuable pass catcher. He ranks 76th among all qualified receivers with a -25 DYAR and 75th with a -15.4% DVOA which mean he adds nothing of substance while having a catch rate of only 53%.

The other receiver that the Browns sort of rely on is Josh Cribbs, I guess. Cribbs is an excellent return man but really marginal at the receiver position with only 34 catches on the season for 427 yards and four touchdowns. There have only been two games this season where he has caught over three passes and has yet to catch more than 56 yards in a single game. He does lead the team in catches of 20 yards or more but who knows. Cribbs ranks 47th in the league with a 98 DYAR and 32nd with a 9.0% DVOA so he is far and away the most productive pass catcher even though he might not do it very often. Cribbs did return a punt back 84 yards against the Ravens last week so the Steelers will have to keep an eye on him in the special teams game.

Tight end Ben Watson is another top target for the Browns quarterbacks as he has 37 catches for 410 yards and two touchdowns this season. The Steelers have been hurt by the tight end this year but those tight ends have been the more WR type of tight ends and the athletic ones, Ben Watson is not that. Last time out against the Steelers Watson only h ad two catches for 11 yards so he wasn’t overly productive. On the season Watson ranks 40th among qualified tight ends with a -14 DYAR and 38th with a -10.3% DVOA. Not very impressive.

Offensive Line



From left to right the Browns read as Joe Thomas, Jason Pinkston, Alex Mack, Shawn Lauvao and Tony Pashos. Pinkston is a Pitt product and is from the Pittsburgh area and is starting in his rookie season while Mack and Lauvao have three and two years of experience, respectively and Pashos is the long tooth of the bunch with nine years of experience. Thomas is far and away the headliner of the offensive line as he is in his fifth season from Wisconsin and is a Pro Bowl selection this year. He is one of the best tackles in the game and the Browns really got a gem when they drafted him.

Overall Cleveland is right around average in the league (19th) with a 4.01 adjusted line yards (ALY) which is a 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. Where the offensive line excels for the Brown is getting positive yardage on their carries. They rank tops in the league in stuffed percentage which is the percentage of runs where the running back is tackled at or behind the line of scrimmage. The Browns are only getting stuffed 15% of the time which is a full percentage point better than the second place team, San Diego.

The Browns also are middle of the pack in power success at 63% which is good for 16th in the league. Power success 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.

The Browns do not have much success at all running to the perimeter of the football field with only a 2.01 ALY off the left end which is more than two yards less than the league average (4.18) and 31st in the league while they are dead last in the NFL running off the right end with an ALY of 1.47. They do have the most success right off the right tackle with an ALY of 4.71 which is above the league average of 4.24.

While the Browns are terrible at running to the outside they don’t try it very often as only 6% of the time (4% to the left, 2% to the right) running to the outside while they run up the middle or off the guards 66% of the time. They are almost identical running off the tackles as they run off the left tackle 14% of the time and 13% of the time off the right tackle.

When talking about protecting the quarterback the Browns rank 15th in the league with an adjusted sack rate of 6.5% which gives sacks (plus intentional grounding penalties) per pass attempt adjusted for down, distance, and opponent. The Browns have given up 37 sacks on the season which is only three less than given up by the Steelers so you can see about what they are dealing with in pass protection along the offensive line.

Defense



Just like the last time we previewed the Browns their defense isn’t as terrible as teams like the Patriots and Colts and Saints but they still aren’t a great defense. Overall they have a 10.3% DVOA which ranks them 23rd overall while also sitting at 23rd in weighted defensive DVOA at 11.8%. Weighted DVOA is adjusted so that earlier games in the season become gradually less important. It reflects how the team was playing by the end of the season. So as you can see while the Browns defense is ranked the same they have slipped a little down the stretch. The pass defense ranks out higher than their run defense, but it isn’t anything substantial. The Browns are 20th overall on pass defense at a 12.7% DVOA while the run defense is near the bottom with a 8.2% DVOA (28th). I think this is important to note because the Browns actually rank highly in terms of pass defense by raw yardage but that is deceiving because teams rush over 33 times a game on them which is the second most in the league while they face the fewest pass attempts per game at just under 29. When you wonder why I use DVOA so much this is why. Raw numbers only tell you so much.

D’Qwell Jackson leads the defense with 145 tackles (107 solo) while having 3.5 sacks and an interception. The last time the Browns played the Steelers he recorded 13 tackles and a sack which was his first sack since week three of the season. Defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin is second on the team with 74 total tackles (49 solo) and is also in a tie for second on the team with four sacks.

Pitt product Jabaal Sheard is the top pass rusher for the Browns and is the only player on the team with more than four sacks. Sheard was actually held without a sack against the Steelers the last game out but is on a streak where he has five sacks in his last six games only getting shutout against the Steelers and Ravens. Phillip Taylor has four sacks while both Chris Gocong has 3.5 sacks.

Joe Haden is the top corner on the team and has a team0high 19 pass breakups but does not yet have a pick while he will be working with Sheldon Brown on the other side who has two picks and 12 passes defended. Mike Adams and Usama Young are the safeties where Adams has three picks and Young has one.

Thoughts:

-It looks as if Ben Roethlisberger is going to be starting the game in Cleveland. Word is that Ben has been feeling a lot better this week after not playing against the Rams and that he is walking around and moving without a limp. The Steelers said earlier in the week that they were looking to get Ben 20-25 snaps in the game just to get him fresh for the playoffs but with his improved movement I think we might be looking at a regular scenario for him to play the entire game. Not really sure if he needs to do that but if the Steelers were to somehow get the bye that would be a lot of sitting and no playing for him so I guess I don’t mind this as much if he is that healthy. I do not want him out there at all of the injury could get worse that might put his status in question for wild card weekend if it comes to that.

-The Steelers also expect to get back Maurkice Pouncey and Emmanuel Sanders after they have both missed some significant time so that is a huge plus for the offense. LaMarr Woodley is expected to sit and not play while Mewelde Moore and Doug Legursky will also be out for the Steelers.

-I expect the Steelers to get after the Browns on the run game to set up the play action pass. So far this season the Steelers have done things in reverse and used the passing game to set up the run but with the resurgence of Rashard Mendenhall I think that the Steelers can expose the Browns poor run defense and really take control of this game. With Roethlisberger banged up it would be nice not to have to rely on him to make a ton of throw like they did in the 49ers game so if they can gash the Browns like they did the Rams then I think we don’t really have much to worry about.

-It would be nice to see a few turnovers in this last game of the season heading into the playoffs. The Steelers rank 25th in the league with only 10 interceptions and rank 30th in the league with four fumble recoveries. The Steelers have done a pretty bad job of forcing turnovers and it would be nice to give the offense a short field to put some points on the board.

-As you probably know this game could have huge implications on the AFC seeding if the Bengals were able to defeat the Ravens. The Ravens/Bengals game is taking place at the same time as the Steelers/Browns so you are going to have to have the channel clicker in hand to be flipping back and forth but a loss by the Ravens coupled with a Steelers win would give the Steelers a first round bye and the second seed. The Steelers could earn the top seed in the AFC with a win along with a Ravens loss and a loss by New England to Buffalo. If I were going to put a figure on it I would say that there is a 65% chance that the Steelers will be the number five seed but with how the Ravens play on the road you really have no idea what they are going to do so I wouldn’t put it past them to lay an egg and give the Steelers a chance to win the AFC North.

-The Cleveland offense hasn’t been very good all year. They only average 292 yards per game which ranks them 29th in the league and the Steelers defense is holding opponents to only 273.9 yards per game which is tops in the league. The Browns are going to have to be creative to try and make some things happen. It may sound funny but I think that Seneca Wallace gives them a better chance of beating the Steelers than McCoy would. As I talked about when I broke down Wallace I pointed out that he is more elusive than McCoy and while he might not be able to throw the ball down the field neither could McCoy. Wallace doesn’t run the football a lot but that is definitely an option if he is on the perimeter.

-One spot that the Browns actually play pretty well at is special teams. With a guy like Josh Cribbs there is always a chance that a kick or punt can be brought back for a touchdown and if the Browns are going to win this game they are almost certainly going to have to pull a special teams touchdown out of its bag of tricks. The Browns rank 10th in the league with a 1.4% DVOA and a 1.7% weighted DVOA which only ranks them 12th in the league. The Browns have a one of the best kick return DVOA’s in the league (6.7%) and they have a 1.7% DVOA on punt return. Needless to say the Steelers will have to be on top of the coverage units to keep the Browns in check as the Steelers have positive DVOA’s in the kicking game (8.9%) and punting game (2.9%). The kickoff coverage team ranks third in the league so that should be good to neutralize the Browns.

PREDICTION: The Steelers win this game even if Ben doesn’t play the entire game. The Browns have zero playmakers on offense and I don’t see them scoring enough to beat the Steelers. The last time these two teams played they only scored three points. The Steelers win this one fairly easily and I can assume that some of the players will be checking on the Ravens score in the second half. Steelers 24, Browns 10.

Hit it.




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