Friday, September 21, 2012

Steelers Game 3 Preview - @ Oakland Raiders

The Steelers get to go to the West Coast, yay. They will get to play Carson Palmer and the Oakland Raiders on Sunday after the Raiders got absolutely worked by the Miami Dolphins last week.

The preview might be a little brief because I am pretty busy this week as you can tell by the brief intro here.

Let’s just get into the preview:


The stats:

Last Week:

Pittsburgh 27, NY Jets 10
Passing: Roethlisberger: 24-31, 275 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT
Rushing: Dwyer: 12 car., 28 yards, 0 TD
Receiving: Brown: 7 rec., 79 yards, 0 TD

Miami 35, Oakland 13
Passing: Palmer: 24-48, 373 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT
Rushing: McFadden: 11 car., 22 yards, 0 TD
Receiving: Myers: 6 rec., 86 yards, 0 TD


Offense (rank in NFL)

Total Offense
Pittsburgh: 307.5 yards/game (25th)
Oakland: 358.5 yards/game (15th)

Passing
Pittsburgh: 237.0 yards/game (t18th)
Oakland: 324.5 yards/game (3rd)

Rushing
Pittsburgh: 73.5 yards/game (30th)
Oakland: 70.5 yards/game (31st)

Points
Pittsburgh: 23.0 points/game (t17th)
Oakland: 13.5 points/game (31st)


Defense

Total Defense
Pittsburgh: 276.5 yards/game (7th)
Oakland: 355.0 yards/game (15th)

Pass
Pittsburgh: 184.5 yards/game (5th)
Oakland: 207.5 yards/game (8th)

Rush
Pittsburgh: 92.0 yards/game (11th)
Oakland: 147.5 yards/game (29th)

Points
Pittsburgh: 20.5 points/game (9th)
Oakland: 28.5 points/game (24th)

All-Time Record vs. Oakland: 9-10 (3-3 Playoffs)

Last Five Meetings
November 21, 2010 - Pittsburgh 35, Oakland 3
December 6, 2009 - Oakland 27, Pittsburgh 24
October 29, 2006 - Oakland 20, Pittsburgh 13
September 12, 2004 - Pittsburgh 24, Oakland 21
December 7, 2003 - Pittsburgh 27, Oakland 7

Hit the jump for the rest of the preview





Quarterback



Marred in what was a pretty ugly situation when he was still a member of the Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer said that if he wasn't traded that he was going to retire. Most people didn't really think he would do it, but he did and forced the Bengals to trade him later in the season to the Oakland Raiders and Palmer has played pretty well for the Raiders to end last season and he is back for some more.

The Steelers are pretty familiar with Palmer as he has played countless games against them while he was a member of the Bengals, but hasn't really had a whole lot of success. In 12 career regular season games against the Steelers the teams that he has played for has gone only 4-8 and Palmer has only been able to muster 17 touchdown passes and 11 interceptions during that span. He has completed just over 57% of his passes and has a pedestrian 5.86 yards per attempt in those 12 starts. Not very good for Carson.

So far this year, in a small sample size, Palmer hasn't been terrible but he has been in a position to throw a lot of footballs since his teams have not faired to well, especially last week when Palmer threw the ball 48 times in a blowout defeat to the Miami Dolphins. Statistics aren't going to normalize for a few more weeks but we can't start to see a little more than what amounts to one game. Palmer enters the game with decent advanced metrics. Palmer has a defensive-adjusted yards above replacement (DYAR) number of 133 which gives the value of the players performance compared to replacement level, adjusted for situation and opponent and then translated into yardage. That ranks him ninth among qualified quarterbacks, just behind Eli Manning. He also has a defensive-adjusted value over average (DVOA) of 10.3% 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. 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.

Over the last three years Palmer has never really excelled in either category as his best DYAR came in 2010 as a member of the Bengals when he ranked 10th in the league and his best DVOA ranking actually came last year with the Raiders when he ranked 15th with a 2.5% DVOA. I think it is important in this particular situation because we used to hear about how good Palmer was, as in top-5, but when it comes down to it he just has never been good enough to take his team over the top. I think the obvious outlier to this was in 2005 when Palmer was just lights out but he is good enough to make the team better but not quite elite enough to make a true difference like Ben Roethlisberger.

Palmer can beat you if you give him the chance though. I know a lot of people typically make fun of Palmer but you know what you are going to get with him for a full season. He is going to complete better than 60% of his passes and throw in the low 20's in terms of touchdowns so this isn't like the Steelers are going to face Mark Sanchez who just isn't good, at all. Palmer is a step up from Sanchez and he will make the Steelers pay.

Running Back



The running backs for the Raiders start and stop with speedster Darren McFadden. While McFadden isn't going to make you miss and create a lot on his own he is able to hit the hole and leave you in the dust if you miss a tackle at the line of scrimmage. McFadden is also good out of the backfield where he can catch passes and that could pose a problem for the Steelers.

So far this season McFadden has found no success running the football for one of the worst running teams in the entire league. He has gained only 54 yards on 26 attempts which comes out to a 2.1 yard per carry average as the Raiders as a whole only have 68 yards on 34 carries. Not good for trying to keep teams off balanced. Only four of McFadden's 26 carries have resulted in a first down and he is the only player on the team with a rushing attempted that has recorded a first down via a run.

McFadden ranks 32nd in both DYAR and DVOA and to put that into a little more of a comparison he ranks right ahead of the Steelers Isaac Redman in both categories. He sports a -25 DYAR and a -30.3%. McFadden's season was cut short last year with an injury so he only participated in seven games and that has been the story of his entire career. Since coming into the league in 2008 he has only played in 47 games, including this year. The most games he has ever played in one season is 13 which happened both in 2008 and 2010 and it would not surprise you that 2010 was his best season with 1,157 yards and seven touchdowns.

Really nobody else from Oakland is worth talking about as Michael Bush is no longer on the roster which is a pretty big relief as he can punish would be tacklers.

Receivers



The receivers for the Raiders are a weird thing to talk about. They have some guys that have talent and that are uber athletic but they haven't been able to do much of anything for the Raiders. Darrius Hayward-Bey and Denarius Moore are guys who can stretch the field but through two games they have combined for only ten catches for 151 yards and one score.

Tight End Brandon Myers leads the team in yards with 151 on only 11 catches and also has three catches of 20 yards or more. Eight of his catches have gone for first downs and Myers is near the top of the league among tight ends in receiving. Not saying that Myers is bad at what he does but there are very, very, few tight ends who you might be OK with leading your team in yards and when Myers equaled his career high for a season for the four year pro.

Myers hasn't been good in his career but through two games he has been really good. He has the best DVOA among tight ends at 61% and he ranks only behind Rob Gonkowski in terms of DYAR with 44. What it interesting is that he has a catch rate of 100% which means that every ball that was thrown to him have been caught. I know it is only two games but still you would expect at least one to fall incomplete because of dumb luck. The Steelers are known to have struggle against tight ends so this should give some pause but there really isn't much else to really worry about in terms of throwing the football.

I talked about how McFadden was a really good option out of the backfield for the Raiders and he checks in as the second leading receiver on the team with 105 yards and has caught a team-best 15 balls on the season. He has also been targeted 25 times which is 12 time more than the next closest on the team and averages just over 52 yards a game receiving.

You then get to the receivers. Heyward-Bey is the next with only seven catches for 84 yards on the season with a 12 yard per catch average and has a long of only 21 yards. Heyward-Bey ranks 64th among receivers with a -10 DYAR and 65th with a -22.1% DVOA. This isn't good, at all, and when that is your best receiver you are going to be in some trouble. Actually Heyward-Bay isn't the best statistically when you look at advanced stats, that goes to Denarius Moore who ranks 54th with a -1 DYAR and 55th with a -14.8% DVOA but on the year he only has three catches for 67 yards and has been targeted eight times.

Moore can be a guy that can stretch the field but the Raiders haven't been able to find that yet. Last season was feast of famine for Moore in terms of production. He went off for a five catch 146 yard performance in a week two loss to Buffalo and then went five games without catching more than 40 yards of passes including three straight weeks of not even having more than ten yards per game. He did finish the season off strong though with 90 yards or more receiving in three of the last five games. If Moore is going to come to play it could be a long day for the secondary and open up things for Heyward-Bey and McFadden so the Steelers need to pay attention to this kid even though he has been invisible so far this season.


Offensive Line



From left to right the Raiders go Jared Veldheer, Cooper Carlisle, Stefen Wisniewski, Mike Brisiel and Khalif Barnes. The Raiders have a varying degree of experience on the line with Veldheer and Wisniewski being the young bucks with two and three years of experience, respectively. Carlisle is a 13 year vet who has been with the Raiders since the 2007 season after coming to the team from Denver. Although he has been around the league he has played in at least 14 games in all but one season and has not missed a game nine season including the last four before this season.

As you can probably come to terms with the Raiders offensive line is just not getting the job done. They have struggled in a big way and that is the way it looked when we look at the advanced stats. Oakland is nearly dead last in adjusted line yards (ALY) with 2.18 which is only better than the Tennessee Titans who have pretty much ran for negative yards on the year.

ALY 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. Finally, we normalize the numbers so that the league average for Adjusted Line Yards per carry is the same as the league average for RB yards per carry.

If there is one silver lining in the Raiders offensive line this year is that it holds the fourth best power success rating 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. I don’t think this is a true tell of the Raiders offensive line because the Raiders just aren’t getting first downs at a great frequency so I will chalk this up to small sample size. Last season they ranked eighth in the league in power success so while they might not be as good as the number would indicate they can be a good short yardage team.

While the Raiders have had success in power situations that is pretty much all they get as the team is still getting stuffed at a good rate and are not getting enough lanes to get the running backs to the second level. Stuffed percentage is the percentage of runs where the running back is tackled at, or behind, the line of scrimmage and right now the Raiders are getting stuffed on 27% of their runs which ranks 28th in the league. That will play right in to the next stat which shows that the Raiders running backs are only getting 0.60 second level yards which are the yards which the running backs earn between 5-10 yards past the line of scrimmage, divided by total running back carries. To put those two statistics into perspective the league average for stuffed percentage is 19% and the league average 2nd level yards is 1.00. Not very good for the Raiders offensive line.

Obviously this all isn’t on the offensive line as the running backs have something to do with this failure but at the rate the running backs are getting hit at the line you can probably point more of the finger at the line than the backs.

With the struggles of the first two games for the Raiders they have been chucking the ball around, a lot, to the tune of 94 attempts which only trails New Orleans in the entire league. With all those drop backs you can imagine that the sacks would come a little more frequent than they actually have. The Raiders have only surrendered three sacks on the season and rank third in adjusted sack rate at 3.2%, which gives sacks (plus intentional grounding penalties) per pass attempt adjusted for down, distance, and opponent.

I usually talk about tendencies where the Steelers opponent is good in the running game but I am not even sure if I should spend time on this with the Raiders. They are a really bad running football team and in terms of where they run the ball they actually are pretty balanced. They run the ball up the middle or off the guards 23% of the time and run off the left and right side nearly equally amounts. They do tend to run more off the right tackle (30%) than the left tackle (13%) but then they run much more off the left end (23%) than the right end (7%).

Defense



The Oakland defense has been suspect and shoddy so far this season and they are fresh off getting worked by the Dolphins last week and here is hoping that it can happen again this week. The Raiders rank 25th in the league with a defensive DVOA of 14.4%. Remember that positive DVOA reflects a good offense and negative helps the defense so it isn't very good for the Raiders. Oakland also ranks 24th in the pass and 23rd against the run in terms of DVOA so they don't really do a lot well so far this year. As a comparison Oakland ranked 27th in defensive DVOA last season ranking 23rd against the pass and 31st against the run so they are playing to form from last year already.

Last year's leading tackler returns for Oakland in staring safety Tyvon Branch. Branch has 12 tackles this year, all solo, after a 2011 season that saw him make 109 tackles with an interception and four passes defended. Linebacker Philip Wheeler came over to the Raiders from the Colts and leads the team with 14 total tackles so far this season.

The Raiders only have two sacks on the season through two games and 1.5 of those came from defensive end Matt Shaughnessy. Last season he recorded only one sack but in 2010 he had a breakout sophomore season with seven sacks. Defensive tackle Tommy Kelly was the leading pass rusher last season as he picked up 7.5 sacks and that is pretty impressive for a guy that stands 6'6 and 325 pounds. Impressive.

Oakland is giving up an average of 3.90 yards in terms of adjusted line yards which is actually a better looking number than the 4.75 of actual yards they are giving up per carry on the season. The Raiders rank dead last in the league with a 100% power success rate. They do rank 18th in stuffed percentage at 18% so they are around middle of the pack in that aspect and they are even better in second level yards at 1.00 where they rank 10th in the league. They are pretty poor at getting to the passer as I said before as their 3.0% adjusted sack rate is 29th worst in the entire league.

Overall offenses really are running around league average against the Raiders except in one spot. Oakland ranks 32nd in the league with a 6.34 ALY when running at the left side of the Raiders defense around the tackle and that number is majority above the league average of 3.85. These numbers might be a little off because of small sample size and for the fact that teams just aren't running to that side of the Raiders defense. Only 5% of running plays go to that area while teams are just pounding the Raiders between the guards with 58% of runs coming up the middle or off the guard. In that area the Raiders rank 16th in the league with a 3.98 ALY which is better than the league average of 4.15 when teams run up the middle or off the guard.

Game Thoughts:

-I don’t know what it is about going to the West Coast but the Steelers have struggled there in the past no matter how bad the team is that they are playing. They have been beaten by some bad Raiders teams in the past and here is to hoping that doesn’t happen again.

-The Steelers will most likely be without James Harrison and Troy Polamalu again. The good thing about this is that the Steelers have a bye week in week four so that will give them both two more weeks to get healthy. With the way the bye week is set up I didn’t think there really was any chance that they would play even though Mike Tomlin said that wouldn’t factor in to their availability. I would assume it did. If the Steelers can get a win they would be 2-1 after playing games without some key pieces.

-It will be interesting to see if Rashard Mendenhall will make his way into the lineup this week. He is going through full practices and has said to be looking really good but what do you expect his teammates to say. I personally believe that he is the best back on the staff. I know people were yammering for Isaac Redman last year saying that he was so much better than Mendenhall but I don’t see it. They are different backs and Redman is good at what he does but Mendenhall brings a little more to the table and I can’t wait to see him back in action.

-The game isn’t going to come down to the running game, however. The Steelers might run to keep the Raiders honest but what the Steelers are really going to do is spread the Raiders out and attack the thin secondary of Oakland. Roethlisberger is playing some pretty unreal football right now and if the offensive line can give a little time Ben should be able to pick apart that secondary for some big plays.

PREDICTION – The Steelers are playing some pretty good football this season. Against the Broncos they got worked by one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history and in the second game of the season they dominated the New York Jets, which was awesome. From all you saw above you can see that the Raiders aren’t that great of a football team. Their offense is weak and the defense can be had. The Steelers should win this one. Steelers 24, Raiders 10.

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