Saturday, September 15, 2012

Steelers Game Day 2 Preview - vs. New York Jets

The Steelers got off to a bad start last week and even though they didn't play a bad football game at the end of the night they are 0-1. On the other side things couldn't have gone better for the Jets and now they are 1-0. Two sides of the mirror and the Steelers are looking to get back even and get a big AFC win. Oh yea, they get to play against Tim Tebow too. Well, maybe.

There really isn't much else to say about this so lets just get into the preview:

The stats:

Last Week:

Denver 31, Pittsburgh 19
Passing: Roethlisberger: 22-40, 245 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT
Rushing: Dwyer: 9 car., 43 yards, 0 TD
Receiving: Brown: 4 rec., 74 yards, 0 TD

New York 48, Buffalo 28
Passing: Sanchez: 19-27, 266 yards, 3 TD, 1 INT
Rushing: Greene: 27 car., 94 yards, 1 TD
Receiving: Hill: 5 rec., 89 yards, 2 TD

Offense (rank in NFL)

Total Offense
Pittsburgh: 284.0 yards/game (t23rd)
New York: 384.0 yards/game (11th)

Pittsburgh: 209.0 yards/game (23rd)
New York: 266.0 yards/game (t13th)

Pittsburgh: 75.0 yards/game (24th)
New York: 118.0 yards/game (12th)

Pittsburgh: 19.0 points/game (22nd)
New York: 48.0 points/game (1st)


Total Defense
Pittsburgh: 334.0 yards/game (15th)
New York: 390.0 yards/game (t24th)

Pittsburgh: 240.0 yards/game (14th)
New York: 195.0 yards/game (8th)

Pittsburgh: 94.0 yards/game (16th)
New York: 195.0 yards/game (32nd)

Pittsburgh: 31.0 points/game (25th)
New York: 28.0 points/game (22nd)

All-Time Record vs. New York: 15-4 (2-0 Playoffs)

Last Five Meetings
January 23, 2011 - Pittsburgh 24, New York 19
December 19, 2010 - New York 22, Pittsburgh 17
November 18, 2007 - New York 19, Pittsburgh 16
January 15, 2005 - Pittsburgh 20, New York 17
December 12, 2004 - Pittsburgh 17, New York 6

Hit the jump for the rest of the preview


Despite the fact that Tim Tebow is now on the Jets roster, Mark Sanchez is the starting quarterback and he showed why he was against the Bills. Sanchez brushed off an early (horrific) interception and went on to throw for three touchdowns and led the Jets to 48 (!) points in the opening game after the Jets had scored only one touchdown the entire preseason. I know the preseason doesn't mean, well, anything in the grand scheme of things but you luck yourself into a touchdown here and there.

Sanchez had an outstanding game but in terms of his career this is really an outlier of what he has been able to do through three full seasons. He was a first round pick of the Jets before the 2009 season and since then he has been average at best at the quarterback position in a city that is not afraid to criticize players when they are not playing well.

Sanchez over his career has only been able to muster a 56% completion rate and a below average YPA (yards per attempt) of 6.6 and has barely kept the Jets above .500. I know wins and losses shouldn't really be put on one player because it is a team sport but mores in football than any other sport can a quarterback have a profound impact on the game, especially in today's NFL when quarterback is your prime position.

How bad has it been for Sanchez over his career? His best defensive-adjusted yards above replacement (DYAR) number of 219 which gives the value of the players performance compared to replacement level, adjusted for situation and opponent and then translated into yardage. That number happened in 2010 and ranked him 26th among qualified quarterbacks. He also has a defensive-adjusted value over average (DVOA) of -4.6% that year 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. Sanchez had neither. His best DVOA ranked 28th and last year he had a -13 DYAR (28th) and -12.5% DVOA (28th) which puts him way down the line among quarterbacks.

The numbers look good for Sanchez this season but after one game you can't expect those to say this high even if he has a great season. Statistically he had the second-best DVOA (90.4%) and the second-best DYAR (180) among all quarterbacks. Like I said this is only after one game so you have to really consider small sample size here but I truly doubt that Sanchez will be in the top-5 in either of those categories at the end of the year. His career thus far has not dictated that he is able to do that.

This isn't to say that the Sanchez can't beat the Steelers. He can and he has before. In one regular season game against the Steelers he has completed over 65% of his passes but has yet to throw a single touchdown pass (or interception) and has thrown only 170 yards. I am not sure if he is going to have an infusion of confidence after what he did last week but I would advise the Steelers to get after Sanchez because once he gets rattled he can give the ball up in bunches. On the other hand if you play a prevent defense the entire game and don't get any pressure on him then he can beat you. Any quarterback can.

Running Back

The Jets running game has gone downhill over the past couple of years. Last year the Jets finished 22nd in the league averaging only about 106 yards per game, as a team, after finishing fourth in the league in 2010 with almost 150 yards a game. In the first game of the season the Jets managed to run for 118 yards behind 94 yards off 27 carries from Shonn Greene.

Greene is the workhorse for the club and really there isn't too much behind him. They have former USC product Joe McKnight but he really isn't capable of shouldering the load and they do now have Tim Tebow but he is considered a quarterback, if by name only.

Green saw a drop in play in 2011 after being pretty productive in 2010. In 15 games in the 2010 season Greene was a top-10 back in terms of DVOA at 7.9% and ranked 11th with a 115 DYAR. The Jets were really good at running the football in 2010 and Greene was a big part of that pair with Thomas Jones. Jones left for Kansas City after the 2010 season and Greene's play slipped. He finished with only a 2.2% DVOA which ranked 25th in the league and ranked 16th with a 113 DYAR. Last season he only rank for more than 100 yards twice and ran for 60 yards or less in seven games. Greene isn't a slouch but he isn't the big game back that is is associated with after being productive early in his career.

The big question mark in the Jets in terms of the Steelers is what kind of capacity Tim Tebow will be used. All off season a ton of people in the media were telling everyone about how Tebow was going to be in the wild cat and going to be running all over the place with these new plays. In the first week Tebow was not even really noticeable running for only 11 yards on five carries. Last season for the Broncos Tebow ran for 660 yards on 122 carries and had six touchdowns. He was a pretty good runner, and for a quarterback he was pretty good carrying the rock, especially out of the wild cat. While I am not sure how you could rank quarterbacks in terms of DVOA among running backs he did rank 33rd in the league with a -15.1% DVOA while he ranked 42 with a -36 DYAR. He did gain some yards but it wasn't very pretty.

The fact of the matter is that Tebow will get some carries in the wild cat on Sunday. If anything it forces the Steelers to prepare for it and take time away from the traditional offense which is mainly what the Jets are going to be running on Sunday. The Steelers have had mixed results defending the wild cat in the past and it after how they were run on in Denver I wouldn't be surprised to see the Jets go to it early to see if it can be effective for them.


When you look at the receivers that the Jets employ you might think that this is the island of misfit toys. There are a lot of guys who have little to no experience at all and then there is Santonio Holmes. The other misfits on the island of wide receivers are Sephen Hill (rookie), Jeremy Kerley (two years experience) and Jeff Cumberland (three years experience). Those three receivers, combined, have 32 career catches. There is young and then there is what the New York Jets have to work with in terms of receivers.

Since coming to the Jets from the Steelers Holmes really hasn't been as good as one might would have thought after the trade. In 2009 with the Steelers Holes went for 1,248 yards and five touchdown grabs earning him a top-10 grade in DYAR (284) and a top-20 DVOA (13.2%). Last season Holmes' numbers dropped a great deal only averaging 12.8 yards per reception and catching for 654 yards and eight touchdowns. His -8.0% DVOA ranked him 65th in the league among receivers and his 38 DYAR was good for 61st in the league. Not good. Some might think that Holmes can be the big play guy to stretch the field but that just isn't his game. He has always had good hands but last year he only had a catch rate of 50% and for someone that is a possession receiver that is not going to cut it. Catch Rate represents the percentage of passes to this receiver completed. This is a reference to incomplete passes, not dropped passes.

As I said before Holmes is normally a possession receiver and that is how he makes he pay. He averages 3.7 yards after the catch and 47% of his catches come in the medium distance while 27% are categorized as short. Point of the story here is that Holmes is dangerous but in my memory I see someone that could get down the field and make plays and that just isn't Holmes any more. I don't dismiss him one bit because when he makes a catch he is more than athletic enough to make a huge play but with the inexperience at receiver and the trend that Holmes has gone in since his departure from Pittsburgh I feel better about facing off against him.

Hill burst on to the scene in the big win over the Bills last week with five catches for 89 yards and a pair of touchdowns. All five of his catches went for first downs and he was a force. Probably feels pretty good for the rookie out of Georgia Tech after he had some issues with the drops in the preseason (as did every other Jets receiver). Hill is an interesting guy because while he was drafted in the second round of the draft he is really raw. He isn't a very good route runner but has tons of speed which is why the Jets went after him and he has been thrust into a WR2 role with the Jets. Hill is long and tall at 6'4 and is a really good athlete with the ability to go up and get the ball. I wouldn't be shocked to see Ike Taylor battle Hill all game.

Dustin Keller is an interesting player at the tight end position for the Jets and he has only gotten better now that he enters his fifth year in the league. Last season Keller caught an impressive 115 catches for 815 yards and five touchdowns. He wasn't necessarily productive as he ranked 32nd in both DYAR and DVOA. Last season he wasn't really anything special but you knew you were going to get around 60-70 yards from him and he scored a touchdown pretty much every other game so that is some decent production out of the tight end especially when he isn't one of the top ones in the league. I am not sure how much Keller is going to hurt the Pirates but if left unattended he can be a force.

Figures that just after writing this Keller has been ruled out of the game. Awesome.

Offensive Line

From left to right on the Jets offensive line we have D'Brickashaw Ferguson, Matt Slauson, Nick Mangold, Brandon Moore and Austin Moore. As I talked about before the Jets running game has really gone downhill after a really solid 2010 season but the offensive line as a whole really isn't all that bad for the Jets.

The Jets offensive line actually did a nice job run blocking last year as they recorded an adjusted line yards (ALY) of 4.23 which ranked seventh in the league. 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. That is a pretty healthy number for the offensive line in terms of running the football so you can see how they were so successful in 2010.

The Jets also did a fairly nice job converting on short yardage situations as they ranked ninth in the league with a 66% power success which took 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 fact remains that when the New York running back got the football they were very rarely getting hit behind the line of scrimmage. The Jets ranked fourth with a 16% stuffed percentage which is the percentage of runs where the running back is tackled at or behind the line of scrimmage.

While the Jets were pretty good running the football they weren't as good at protecting Mark Sanchez. Last season the line ranked 14th in the league with an adjusted sack rate of 6.7% which gives sacks (plus intentional grounding penalties) per pass attempt adjusted for down, distance, and opponent. To put that into a little more perspective for Steelers fans that is only two spots better than the Steelers did last year as they had an adjusted sack rate of 7.2%.

The majority of the Jets run success came up the middle. On plays that they ran up the middle or off the guard the Jets averaged a 4.52 ALY which was fourth best in football and much better than the league average of 4.09. The Jets were the middle of the pack (15th or worse) in running the ball off the tackles or off the ends of the line. Consequentially the Jets largely ran the ball to its strength, running 55% of all running plays up the middle or through the guards. The next closest was running off the right tackle which they did 20% of the time.


The Jets defense was pretty good last season ranking in the top-5 both against the run and against the pass in terms of DVOA so we should expect them to come back as a pretty decent defense and you really shouldn't expect much more out of a Rex Ryan coached team. You can talk all you want about Ryan and how much of a loud mouth he is and how he guarantees the Super Bowl every year but he gets his defenses ready to play and they get the job done.

This year the Jets return their top-7 tackles last season led by safety Eric Smith who made 89 total tackles (66 solo) and also collected 2.5 sacks and an interception. David Harris was second on the team in tackles with 86 and was second on the team with five sacks while Aaron Maybin is back after recording six sacks to lead the team. Obviously the biggest player on this defense is former Pitt product and shutdown cornerback Darrelle Revis. Revis picked off four passes a year ago and one of those went back 100 yards for a touchdown. People talk about guys that go up against him enter "Revis Island" and that is pretty much the truth as this guy is the best in the game at what he does.

The Jets had a pretty good week in week one against the Bills. Their defense ranked 13th after one week with a -8.2% DVOA, ranking fourth against the pass (-37.7% pass DVOA) but only 28th against the run (20.8%) thanks to a lights out performance from C.J. Spiller, who was sitting on my fantasy football team's bench. Awesome. Obviously that was only one game and it will take many more for the Jets defense to normalize on their defensive numbers but they were pretty good last year as I mentioned before. Last year the Jets held the second-best overall defensive DVOA at -16.1% after ranking fifth in that category in 2010. The pass defense was absolutely outstanding with great help from Revis at -16.0% which put them at second in the league and ranked fourth in the league with a -16.2% DVOA against the run. To be honest I really didn't think the Jets were that good defensively last season but it seems as if they were. What really killed the Jets last year was that they were;t very consistent with their defense ranking 28th in the league with a 7.7% variance. Varience measures the statistical variance of the team's weekly DVOA performance. Teams are ranked from most consistent (#1, lowest variance) to least consistent (#32, highest variance). We will see if the Jets are able to keep up their good defense against a pretty decent Steelers offense.

Advanced run defense stats don't get tabulated until week two so we will just go on the numbers from last year and since a lot of the defense is coming back that won't be such a bad thing since a lot of the things they did last year should be a lot of the same. The same stats I am going to use for the defensive line are the same as the offensive line so if you need to know what the abbreviations mean just refer back to that section. The Jets worked the second best ALY in the league (3.65) and left teams struggling in short yardage with the second best power rank (45%) and the sixth best stuffed rank (22%).

While the Jets were outstanding against the run there were places you could beat them. They ranked in the top five against the run both up the middle and off both tackles but they really struggled when team got to the outside against them. They ranked 19th with a 4.36 ALY on runs off the left end and 21st on runs off the right end with a 3.88 ALY.

Overall last season the Jets gave up only 24.78 yards per drive and were sixth best in terms of points they gave up per drive which was 1.55 points per drive.

As I said the defense didn't seem like it was very good but I think that was more of a case that the offense was just that bad last year that it made it seem like the defense wasn't that good.

Just like Keller, after I wrote all this up about who amazing Revis is he has been ruled out of the game against the Steelers. You never like to see anyone hurt but those two losses for the Jets help the Steelers in a big way.

Game Thoughts:

-The Jets have some banged up bodies but so do the Steelers. The Steelers are going to be without two huge pieces of the defense because Troy Polamalu and James Harrison will not be playing for the Steelers. The Steelers will get back Ryan Clark but losing Troy and not having Harrison in the game for a second straight week is a huge blow, especially since both of the injuries weren't deemed to be all that serious. Losing Keller and Revis is sort of a trade off but I would love to see this Steelers defense healthy.

-I talked about this earlier with Mark Sanchez but the biggest key to this game is if the Steelers can get to Mark Sanchez then they are going to be really successful going forward. Last week Sanchez got all kinds of time to look down the field and throw the football and if he gets that again than the Jets are going to have a really good chance of winning this game. Not having Harrison really affords the Jets the option to double team Woodley and we saw last week that the Steelers really couldn't get much generated. Of course the Broncos offensive line is pretty good and Peyton Manning is uber good and I don't think the Jets are in the same league as that team so we will see what happens.

-Lets just nip this in the butt right now, the Steelers season isn't over if they lose. I know there is a stat that said only 12% of teams that start 0-2 make the playoffs but I can just see that if the Steelers lose people are going to pack it in. I am usually regarded as an optimist but I just think it is silly that anyone calls a week two game a "must win" game. If you say that then you really have no idea what the definition of must win is.

-The offense needs to make a difference. Last week they got into the red zone and couldn't get the job done. This week if they get the lead they need to put the foot on the throat and beat the Jets. When you let average teams hang around they beat you. The Jets aren't a great team but if you let them hang around they will beat you. The defense needs to be good enough to give the offense a chance early and with Revis out of the game Antonio Brown, Mike Wallace and Emmanuel Sanders need to feast. Ben Roethlisberger needs to make the good reads and pick the defense apart and break the Jets will.

PREDICTION - The Jets were really good last week. Like, real good. I don't think they are that good as a team and I think they come back to Earth a little bit. On the other side I think the Steelers played a pretty nice game against a really good Broncos team and I think if they come out and get a little pressure on Sanchez they are going to have a really nice chance of winning this game. I think the run game is better and I think they are going to be able to hit some big plays. Steelers 27, Jets 17.

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