Friday, October 26, 2012

Steelers Game Day 7 Preview - vs. Washington Redskins

The Steelers are coming back home for the first time in what seems like forever. They have been on the road for much of the past month and also had a bye week mixed in there so you can bet that the Heinz Field is going to be rocking for the Steelers and it will be trying to get loud and throw RGIII off his game.

The Steelers are pretty outstanding playing at home and will a tough game next week against the Giants in New York it is very important to get a win here and keep pace with the Ravens who will be on a bye week. With a win the Steelers will only be one game back of the Ravens with a bunch of games left to play. From there it would be all wide open but a loss puts them two back and really puts them behind the eight ball.

It is going to be an amazing game to watch. I mean I love watching the Steelers play but getting a chance to sit down and watch a full game of RGIII is going to be really exciting also. Should be a ton of fun and it will surely have me on the edge of my seat all game long

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

The stats:

Last Week:

Pittsburgh 24, Cincinnati 17
Passing: Roethlisberger: 27-37, 278 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT
Rushing: Dwyer: 17 car., 122 yards, 0 TD
Receiving: Brown: 7 rec., 96 yards, 0 TD

NY Giants 27, Washington 23
Passing: Griffin III: 20-28, 258 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT
Rushing: Morris: 22 car., 120 yards, 0 TD
Receiving: Paulsen: 4 rec., 76 yards, 0 TD

Offense (rank in NFL)

Total Offense
Pittsburgh: 372.3 yards/game (11th)
Washington: 406.3 yards/game (4th)

Pittsburgh: 282.2 yards/game (6th)
Washington: 228.6 yards/game (20th)

Pittsburgh: 90.2 yards/game (26th)
Washington: 177.7 yards/game (1st)

Pittsburgh: 23.3 points/game (17th)
Washington: 28.7 points/game (5th)


Total Defense
Pittsburgh: 277.3 yards/game (2nd)
Washington: 413.7 yards/game (29th)

Pittsburgh: 184.8 yards/game (2nd)
Washington: 328.4 yards/game (31st)

Pittsburgh: 92.5 yards/game (9th)
Washington: 85.3 yards/game (7th)

Pittsburgh: 22.0 points/game (12th)
Washington: 28.6 points/game (28th)

All-Time Record vs. Washington: 31-42-3 (0-0 Playoffs)

Last Five Meetings
November 3, 2008 - Pittsburgh 23, Washington 6
November 28, 2004 - Pittsburgh 16, Washington 7
December 16, 2000 - Pittsburgh 24, Washington 3
September 7, 1997 - Pittsburgh 14, Washington 13
November 17, 1991 - Washington 41, Pittsburgh 14

Hit the jump for the rest of the preview


For a vast stretch of time in the recent past Washington has been pretty much a big running joke. While Dan Synder has the resources to bring in the high end players it never seems to work for them. They will shell out the money and pay for the players but the players are either already on the downside of their career or they just don't work. That all changed this past year when they finally decided to draft Robert Griffin III with the number two overall pick. It basically came down to who the Colts weren't going to take between Andrew Luck and RGIII and either way the Redskins were going to win but they really have got a special player with RGIII.

So far as a rookie he has been doing exactly what he did at Baylor. He is completing a very high number of his passes (70.4%) and running all over the field. RGIII is averaging 7.3 yards per carry in 64 attempts and has scored six rushing touchdowns and has a long touchdown run of 76 yards. Dude is the definition of dual threat quarterback and when he is running the option and giving the defense more than one thing to worry about you can be in a lot of trouble.

As you know sometimes the physical numbers don't match up with the advanced metrics that the guys at Football Outsiders use but they match up pretty well overall with what Griffin has been able to do. He has a defensive-adjusted yards above replacement (DYAR) number of 249 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 11th among qualified quarterbacks. He also has a defensive-adjusted value over average (DVOA) of 8.7% 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. Dalton also ranks 9th in terms of DVOA so while he might not be as productive as his fourth ranked passer rating he is still grading out as a top-10 quarterback which as a rookie you can't really complain about.

In terms of rushing (I will just cover it here rather than below) RGII really has been outstanding. He ranks first among quarterbacks in rushing with a 121 DYAR and has a DVOA of 28.6%. Not bad Mr. Griffin, not bad.

RGIII has been pretty consistent all season as his worst outing, passing wise, came in a 38-31 loss to the Bengals when he "only" completed 62% of his passes. His lowest yard per attempt average was 6.07 in a loss to Atlanta and has consistently been well above seven. While he might not be consistently throw for a ton of yards every single game is close. All but one of the Skins games this season have been a one score game and if not for Washington's defense they could have a few of those losses turned into wins. RGII is also going to be up for running as he has eight or more rushing attempts in all but one game and you can probably expect him to rush for at least 50 yards. It isn't looking pretty if you can't contain him.

Running Back

What might be the most underrated portion of the Washington offense might be its top ranked rushing attack. They are running for a bunch of yards per game and they are led by seldom known running back Alfred Morris who has 658 yards on 138 carries and five touchdowns which is good for a 4.8 yard per carry average.

This is Morris' first season in the NFL out of Florida Atlantic and he is thriving on the Mike Shanahan offense that was so good to running backs when he was in Denver. Morris has rushed for over 100 yards three times this season and rushed between 80-99 yards two other times. The only time he was held down was against the Minnesota Vikings when he only ran for 47 yards on 16 carries. Other than that he is coming off a week where he ran for 120 yards on 22 carries against a pretty good Giants team.

According to Football Outsiders Morris is as good as advertised. He trails the likes of Frank Gore, Ray Rice and Marshawn Lynch with a 107 DYAR that ranks him fifth in the league and a 10.7% DVOA that puts him in eighth. Not too bad for a rookie. One spot that Morris doesn't really see as much success is being consistent with his runs. MOrris has a success rate of only 44% which is measured by successful running plays (the definition of success being different based on down and distance) divided by total running plays. When you see that Morris with a high DVOA and a low success rate that tells you that he is mixing in some big runs with getting stuffed at the line of scrimmage. This isn't saying that Morris is a bad back but he is really hit or miss from carry to carry. You might bottle him up a few times in a row but he has that burst that will make you pay so that is something the Steelers have to be very careful of.

RGIII is a big part of the running game but I talked about that above. Washington has been running some of the option which is going to help the running game since they have a quarterback that is athletic enough to run it. Washington also has a former Penn State player in Evan Royster and although he has seen some action he hasn't really been in much of the running game. He only has eight carries on the year for 39 yards but it is cool to see him on the roster.

As a team Washington is really doing it right in all aspects. While the offense as a whole ranks seventh in the NFL with a 12.5% DVOA the rushing game is second in the entire league with a 20.3% DVOA which is much better than any other team they have played so far. It will be a tall task.


If there is one place on the offense that Washington is more "meh" both because they just lack guys that can make plays and because of injuries. The top receiver of the bunch is actually Fred Davis the team's tight end. He actually had 24 receptions for 325 yards but is without a touchdown and will continue to be like that the rest of the season as he was put on the injured reserve due to a ruptured Achilles tendon.

The loss of Davis means that Santana Moss will enter the game as the top receiver but after six games it isn't very evident that he can be the top guys, production wise. Moss was once a nice receiver in his time with the Skins gaining 1,483 yards in 2005 and having 1,000 yard seasons in 2008 and 2010 but really tailed off after the 2010 season only gaining 584 yards on 46 catches last season and so far this year he has made only 19 catches for 290 yards. He has found the end zone four times this season which matched his total from a year ago.

Moss isn't going to be a guy that the Steelers are going to have to match up Ike Taylor one-on-one with. Moss ranks 39th among receivers in DYAR at 46 while his DVOA of 8.8% is ranked 33rd. If Moss was just a second receiver this might work a little favorable if he was working as the number two receiver, but alas, he isn't.

The big purchase in the off season for Dan Snyder was being able to snatch up Piere Garcon from the Indianapolis Colts. A good bit of people, myself included, didn't really think this was a great pickup as Garcon really thrived in the Colts up tempo offense with Peyton Manning but to Garcon's credit he was able to pick up a big contract out of it. SO far this season, however, he hasn't been able to do much due to injuries. He will not be suiting up this week and has only been able to participate in three games this season making only eight catches for 153 yards and a touchdown.

Josh Morgan is going to be a big fill in for Washginton and although he has been playing all year he is going to have to pick up some of the slack from the loss of Davis and the continued absence of Garcon. So far this year Morgan has 18 catches for 217 yards and hasn't yet found the end zone. Morgan ranks pretty low on the list with a 31 DYAR that puts him at 53rd in the league but he actually finds himself much higher on the list in terms of DVOA. His 6.0% DVOA ranks him 38th in the league so there is some production there but not really much when you consider the pass catchers as a whole. Morgan is very shore handed though as his 82% catch rate is one of the best in the league. As you can imagine catch rate represents the number of passes the receiver catches that he is thrown to. So, there's that.

Washington signed Chris Cooley off the street to fill in for Davis. Cooley sucks.

Offensive Line

From left to right on the Washington offensive line goes: Trent Williams, Kory Lichtensteiger, Will Montgomery, Chris Chester and Tyler Polumbus. Montgomery and Chester each has seven years of experience but everyone else on the offensive line is in their fourth year or lower so this is a fairly experienced group that shouldn't be too uptight with things that haven't seen before. In the run game they zone block so it will be interesting to see how the Steelers attack that. As you might remember this is the same zone scheme that Shanahan ran in Denver, so, yea.

Washington averages a good bit of yardage per carry at 4.70 which is second in the league but they have a pretty steep drop off in terms of their adjusted line yards (ALY) where they rank 17th in the league with a 3.98.

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.

Across the board the Redskins line don't really line up with how good their backs have been running the football. In terms of power success Washington ranks 18th in the league at 61%. 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. While they have not been great at running in short yardage situations they are much better in their stuffed rank which is the percentage of times that the running back is getting hit at or behind the line of scrimmage. They sit at 17% which is good for tenth in the league.

What might explain a little about those numbers is that Washington isn't very good at running the ball in the interior of the line. They rank 19th at runs up the middle or off the guards with an ALY of 4.01 while they rank 20th and 28th, respectively in running of the left and right tackle with ALY's of 3.74 and 3.05. All three of those ALY numbers rank below league averages. Washington doesn't do a huge bulk of their running in those area's. They do run up the middle/off the guards 35% of the time and while that is where they do the most running that falls way below the 52% league average. They run 14% off the left tackle and 13% off the right tackle which is just at league average for both spots.

Where Washington does excel is when they run to the outside and off the ends. That shouldn't be much of a surprise since they run the option and try to get on the perimeter more than most teams. They rank 11th in the league with a 4.49 ALY to the left end which is well above the league average of 3.84 and they rank 13th off the right end with an ALY of 4.26 (3.92 is league average). While they do have success here they also run the ball more off those spots. On the left side they have run 19% if their running plays with is eight percent higher than league average and they go an almost identical 18% off the right end which is double the league average.

Those off the edge numbers shouldn't be too new for the Steelers as they actually match up well with another team they played this season. The Philadelphia Eagles have a very similar run ratio to the five spots I talked about as they run 27% off the right end and 13% off the left end all while only running 27% up the middle and around 17% off of each tackle. I realize they are a very heavy run right team but the general idea still stands that the Steelers have played against a team that really attacked the edges and ends. In that game the Steelers only gave up 78 rushing yards on 23 carries and held LeSean McCoy to only 53 yards on 16 carries. I think this will be a little different since RGIII runs more of a true option but I am pretty sure they handle it.


While the receiving core is the weak part of the offense that can be glossed over because of the nature of how RGIII can make things happen with his legs in the passing game. The defense, however, doesn't have that kind of playmaker on it to make up for its averageness. The Washington defense ranks only 19th in the league with a 2.7% DVOA. As you saw above Washington is giving up a ton of yards per game and the defense is going to be majorly hampered with its team defensive leader, London Fletcher, possibly out for the game due to injury.

Washington ranks middle of the pack overall and is right around there both against the run and the pass. Their 9.8% DVOA against the pass ranks them 16th in the league. When you break down that passing DVOA you come to see that the team is giving up huge chunks of yards to #1 receivers which is almost 12 receptions a game for 124 yards per game. Woof. While their DVOA against other team's top receivers ranks 16th in the league you can see that the raw number are really telling that top receivers are getting over on the secondary. Another big portion of the pass defense is against the tight ends. Against tight ends Washington is 28th in the league with a 27.8% DVOA and giving up 11 catches for 81 yards. If there are two things the Steelers have in their passing attack it is a number one receiver (Antonio Brown) and a top flight tight end (Heath Miller). Washington is extremely good against backs out of the backfield as they allow only 30 receiving yards a game and rank third with a -36.5% DVOA. While that is all good they might want to focus that on the receivers.

They rank a little bit better against the run but are still pretty well entrenched in the middle of the pack with a -10.8% DVOA that ranks 14th in the league. Washington gives up an ALY of 4.04 against the run and things aren't much better when you look a little deeper. They rank 26th in both power success against and stuffed percentage against allowing a power success rate of 79% and a stuffed percentage of only 16%. When you look at where teams are able to run it is almost anywhere against the defense. Teams are very successful running against the left side of the Washington defense which is the offensive right side. Teams are gaining a 4.88 ALY over the right end which ranks 28th in the league and 4.43 to the right tackle. The only spot in the line where Washington is having any success of stopping the run is to the offensive left end where they give up only a 2.46 ALY which is seventh best in the league. Other than that they are 20th on runs up the middle or off the guard and 25th (4.72) off the left tackle. Any way you slice it and Washington can be had.

Teams are generally running up the middle or off the guards on Washington at a 52% clip of the running plays while every other spot on the running tree is used at least 10% of the time with the exception of trunning to the left tackle which teams only do about 7% of the time. Opposing teams are running 12% of the plays on eight the right tackle and right end. It seems pretty well spread out with a heavy concentration up the middle which seems to fit what the Steelers have been trying to do. The Steelers gained nearly all of their yards up the middle against Cincinnati and you would imagine that the offensive staff is going to see what Washington has (hasn't) been able to do and attack that.

Game Thoughts:

-The Steelers are coming off of a really nice defensive performance against the Bengals where they dominated a pretty decent Bengals defense but it will be interesting to see what Steelers defense shows up. To be quite honest the Steelers have been pretty good at holding teams to low point totals with a few scores this year coming after the offense had turned the football over deep in Steelers territory and getting a punt blocked that set up the opposing offense at the one yard line. To be honest I have no idea what to think of the Steelers defense. They can look good like the second half last week and then they can turn around and look terrible against a bad Tennessee offense. The one thing that I keep thinking of is that the Steelers were able to play some pretty good defense against the Eagles who also run to the edges and have a mobile quarterback but I am not sure that the STeelers have ever played a QB like RGIII. It will be interesting.

-A weakness of Washington is actually a pretty big strength of the Steelers, offensively, which is third down conversion rate. While the Steelers are first in the league converting at a 54% clip Washington is near the bottom of the league only converting 31% of their chances. On the other side of the coin both teams have been pretty bad at preventing teams from converting on third down tries. The Steelers are 31st in the league allowing opposing offenses to convert at a 47% clip while Washington isn't much better allowing teams to convert on 44% of their chances, ranking 26th. The Steelers offense obviously has a massive advantage here but it will be a big key for the Steelers to show up and shut down Washington on third down. It will go a long way in determining the winner. Last week the Steelers held the Bengals to only a 39% conversion rate which would rank they around 17th in the league but look at how it fueled the defense and led to a Steelers win.

-It is going to be really interesting to see what the weather is going to be like for the game. Hurricane Sandy isn't supposed to be a category five or anything but there is already warnings out for much of the East Coast and the rain and wind could reach Pittsburgh for game time on Sunday. If that happens you have to think that the Steelers are going to be able to use that to slow down the option offense of Washington. obviously both teams are going to play in the same weather but it would be pretty foolish to say that it wouldn't benefit the Steelers defense a little more than in any other facet for either team.

-Most people have been throwing around the Dick LeBeau stat that he has only lost one game to a rookie quarterback but to be quite honest I am not really sure how much that really means. LeBeau's defenses are pretty hard to get a hold of but with RGIII you don't really see him dropping back a lot and having to read coverages like someone like Andy Dalton or Joe Flacco had to do against the Steelers defense. Washington loves to run the football and run the option and throw off of that set and none of that really has as much to do with reading the defense and making quick decisions. Most of the time that will come in play when a quarterback is dropping back in the pocket and having to pick the right receiver. I would say that the way the Steelers are going to win is to get in the face of RGIII early and often and take away the run. If Washington has the run game going then this might be a long day for the defense as it will open up the play action game and give RGIII a ton of options.

PREDICTION: This is going to be a close game. As I said before I don't think the Steelers have played against a quarterback like RGIII in some time and while they will be prepared, it will be interesting to see how they attack him and how they plan to keep him in check. The good thing is that the Steelers defense is pretty healthy and all the linebackers will be out there so that is a huge plus. The offenses still beat up but they will be getting Maurkice Pouncey back off a knee injury and I think that Ben and company will be able to have their way with a pretty bad Washington secondary. No matter what this is going to be a close game. Pittsburgh 27, Washington 23.

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