Friday, November 2, 2012

Steelers Game Day 8 Preview - @ New York Giants

The Steelers are going to be playing in a pretty big game on Sunday afternoon. They will be going up against the New York Giants on the road where the Steelers only have one win this season. The Steelers are going up against only the second team this season that is over .500 and the only other team that is over .500 that they played against was the Broncos in the first week and they lost.

This isn’t a game that the Steelers have to win or else there season is going to be a loss but a win here could really set the Steelers up for a strong finish to the season and really give everyone a good feeling that the early season struggle is behind them and that they can be trusted as a true contender coming out of a weak AFC.

Let’s just get into the preview:


The stats:


Last Week:

Pittsburgh 27, Washington 12
Passing: Roethlisberger: 24-33, 222 yards, 3 TD, 0 INT
Rushing: Dwyer: 17 car., 107 yards, 0 TD
Receiving: Wallace: 7 rec., 62 yards, 0 TD

NY Giants 29, Dallas 24
Passing: Manning: 15-29, 192 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT
Rushing: Bradshaw: 22 car., 78 yards, 0 TD
Receiving: Randle: 2 rec., 68 yards, 0 TD


Offense (rank in NFL)

Total Offense
Pittsburgh: 369.9 yards/game (10th)
NY Giants: 396.8 yards/game (4th)

Passing
Pittsburgh: 272.6 yards/game (7th)
NY Giants: 282.1 yards/game (6th)

Rushing
Pittsburgh: 97.3 yards/game (21st)
NY Giants: 114.6 yards/game (12th)

Points
Pittsburgh: 23.9 points/game (13th)
NY Giants: 29.3 points/game (3rd)


Defense

Total Defense
Pittsburgh: 274.1 yards/game (2nd)
NY Giants: 386.5 yards/game (24th)

Pass
Pittsburgh: 182.6 yards/game (1st)
NY Giants: 273.5 yards/game (26th)

Rush
Pittsburgh: 91.6 yards/game (9th)
NY Giants: 113.0 yards/game (19th)

Points
Pittsburgh: 20.6 points/game (t9th)
NY Giants: 20.1 points/game (8th)

All-Time Record vs. NY Giants: 28-44-3 (0-0 Playoffs)

Last Five Meetings
October 26, 2008 - New York 21, Pittsburgh 14
December 18, 2004 - Pittsburgh 33, New York 30
December 10, 2000 - New York 30, Pittsburgh 10
October 23, 1994 - Pittsburgh 10, New York 6
October 14, 1991 - New York 23, Pittsburgh 20

Hit the jump for the rest of the preview



Quarterback



In some respects Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger are the same type of player. Now, I don't mean that in their style of play because they are obviously different types of quarterbacks but from where they came from to where they are now they had to prove themselves. Manning was taken first overall by the Chargers nine years ago and basically demanded to be traded so he was dealt to the Giants. Manning wasn't given a lot of respect and for much of his first few years he struggled with the Giants. He was throwing a ton of picks and never really got into the grove of what an elite quarterback does for his team. Early in his career Roethlisberger was dubbed a game manager and really never shook that label until he got his second Super Bowl. Manning turned the corner in the 2008 season when he cut the interceptions and started becoming more efficient and making plays for his team.

Since that time Manning is a two time Super Bowl champion and he could be tabbed as one of the best quarterbacks in the league and maybe the best quarterback in the fourth quarter in the game today. Last season alone Manning was at the helm of eight fourth quarter comebacks/game winning drives en route to winning his second Super Bowl MVP award. THis season Manning has three of those games under his belt. While you can still sit and laugh at Eli because he looks goofy as all hell and some of the facial expressions he makes are just downright hilarious, you can't knock that he has come a long way from 2004 and now he is a guy who can go out there and beat you with his arm.

So far this season Manning is completing almost 63% of his passes for 2,301 yards and 12 touchdowns while throwing eight interceptions. He has a 7.83 yard per attempt average this season and has been pretty consistent all season. Last week could probably be categorized as he worst game of the season when he only completed 15 passes for 192 yards and was held without a touchdown pass for the first time this season. On the contrary Manning has thrown for over 300 yards three times including a 510 yard effort in the second week against Tampa Bay.

Manning has a defensive-adjusted yards above replacement (DYAR) number of 651 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 fourth among qualified quarterbacks. He also has a defensive-adjusted value over average (DVOA) of 20.6% 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. Manning ranks seventh in terms of DVOA.

An interesting stat that comes from Manning is the number of pass interference calls he has thrown for. On six different occasions this season Manning has thrown a pass that turned into a defensive pass interference call that resulted in 90 penalty yards. Not that great if you are a Steelers fan and you think about Ike Taylor's trouble with that penalty so far this season. Granted, he has been much better the last two weeks but still something that should be noted.

Regardless Manning is playing some pretty great football no matter how you look at it. He has the offensive ticking. The offense ranks third with a 22.0% DVOA which is actually down from last week when they were ranked second overall. The passing game has registered a 37.6% DVOA which is fourth in the league and to put that in a little more perspective that is one spot better than the Steelers passing attack which has been pretty outstanding this season. Doesn't hurt that Manning has a pair of stud receivers to throw to.


Running Back



The Giants rushing attack is just as good as the passing game even though it might not seem like that. New York has a 9.6% rush DVOA that ranks fifth overall and they are led by Ahmad Bradshaw who has had a pretty up and down season to this point.

Bradshaw had a really slow start to the season before picking it up and then sliding down a little. He opened the season with a 78 yard effort against Dallas before rushing for only 16 yards in week two and 39 yards in the Giants next game against the Eagles. He then broke out with 316 yards in his next two games which was highlighted by a 30 carry, 200 yard, effort against the Browns. Following those two standout games he ran for only 12 carries and 43 yards in a win over the Redskins. No idea what he might bring this week against the Steelers.

So far this season Bradshaw has a total of 570 yards on 126 carries which is good for a healthy 4.5 yard per carry average and reached the end zone four touchdowns and four runs of 20 yards or more. The advanced metrics at Football Outsiders like Bradshaw also as he posts the ninth best DYAR (99) and eighth best DVOA (10.0%) in the league. He ranks just below Alfred Morris and Arian Foster so things aren't all bad for the Giants running game.

Where Bradshaw struggles a little is that he is a little bit of an all or nothing back. He has a success rate of only 45% which 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. Basically what this breaks down to is that if a player has a low success rate (Bradshaw's ranks 22nd in the league) and a high DVOA (which Bradshaw has) that means that he is mixing up longer runs while getting stuffed at the line of scrimmage a good bit. This is obviously not what you want if you are a Giants but if he is breaking of some big runs that will still help the passing offense. The Steelers have been pretty good at not giving up the big play so if they can continue to take that away that big play Bradshaw hasn't been consistent enough to keep the run game going.

Andre Brown has been the backup to Bradshaw and has done a decent job of filling in for him when he couldn't go. Bradshaw is coming off a foot injury and has missed a game or two this season and that is when Brown has been at his best. In a win over Carolina when he was the starter due to a Bradshaw injury Brown was able to run for 113 yards and a pair of touchdowns on only 20 carries. Since that time, however, he really hasn't been finding the field only carrying the ball 13 times for 52 yards and scoring a pair of touchdowns in four games. He is still averaging 5.1 yards per carry but a bulk of his production was coming when Bradshaw was out so it will be interesting to see how the Giants utilize him, if at all.

Receivers



It is really hard to talk about the best part of this team mainly because there are a lot of good parts to this team. I think most people really key on the defensive line when you talk about the best portion of this team but I think you can easily talk about the receiving core as the top unit of the team. You have the main two guys that consist of the big play, proven, players such as Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks but the Giants also have those secondary guys in Domenik Hixon and Martellus Bennett that can more than get the job done and are secondary targets that teams just don't have.

Cruz is the creme of the crop for the Giants receivers. Cruz went undrafted and just blew up last year for the Giants when he just blew up for 82 catches and over 1,500 yards while scoring nine touchdowns. You might know him as the dude who does the salsa dance after every touchdown but he is about as deadly as it gets from the receiver position. So far this season he leads the team with 52 catches for 650 yards and seven touchdowns.

Cruz is coming off a down week with only a pair of catches for 23 yards against the Cowboys but he certainly can get going as he did against Washington when he caught seven passes for 131 yards and has two other 100 yard games while also having made at least five catches in every game but last week. His season's best game is an 11 catch 179 yard performance against the Bucs. Given a sliver of space and he will kill you.

Cruz has been outstanding but he has been a little up and down. He is catching a lot of passes but hasn't been stretching the field a ton as his yard per catch average is under 13 and it isn't like he is throwing up huge yardage numbers as about half of his games he checks in with around 50 yards or so. That being said he doesn't rank as highly as you might think in terms of DYAR and DVOA. Cruz ranks 25th with a DYAR of 101 while only ranking 45th among qualified receivers with a DVOA of 1.5%. His catch rate isn't great at only 58% so there has been some inconsistency but don't let that fool you, he can gash you if given the chance.

Unlike A.J. Green, Cruz has a very viable number two receiver in Hakeem Nicks to balance out the priorities for the defensive backfields they face. Nicks has been hampered with injuries all season and has been limited to playing in only five games where he has 26 catches for 380 yards and only one touchdown. A big part of that total came via a 10 catch, 199 yard performance against Tampa Bay but outside of that Nicks hasn't caught more than five passes in a game and has only gone over 50 yards receiving one time. Due to the injuries and lack of production Nicks ranks 38th in DYAR (61) and 39th in DVOA (4.5%).

Maybe the big gem for the Giants is Hixon. With all the attention paid to Cruz and Nicks there has to be someone that wants to take advantage and he has. He has caught 25 passes for 372 yards and has four catches of 20 yards or more. Hixon isn't going to jump out of the gates with great numbers but he is pretty consistent. He is going to get you about four or five catches a game for around 50 or 60 yards. He has a very nice catch rate of 66% which is much higher than Cruz or Nicks have put up and while he might not have a touchdown on the year he is going to be the guy that picks up the big first down on a 3rd-and-8 when the defense needs to get off the field. A great number to point to is his DVOA which ranks 10th in the league at 18.2%. Dude is making the most of the positions he is put in and it would be foolish to ignore him.

Offensive Line



From left to right the Giants read as follows: Will Beatty, Kevin Boothe, David Baas, Chris Snee and Sean Locklear. New York boasts a pretty experienced offensive line as Beatty is the only one of the group with less than seven years of experience and even at that he has four years. As we all know a good offensive line can make a huge difference in how good your offense is and the Giants offense is very good and that is in part due to the success of the offensive line.

Washington averages a good bit of yardage per carry by their running backs at 4.77 which is fifth in the league and they also sport an adjusted line yards (ALY) of 4.31 which ranks eighth 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.

The Giants are pretty good in most aspects of the run game even though their backs, as I talked about before, aren't doing anything extraordinary. The Giants have a power success rate of 70% which ranks seventh in the league. Power success rate breaks down as 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. New York has been pretty good all season at converting those yards even thigh they don't rank nearly as well getting stuffed 19% of the time which is only 16th best in the league. Getting stuffed, as you might expect, is defined as Percentage of runs where the running back is tackled at or behind the line of scrimmage. So while the Giants are fairly good at getting the first down on shirt yardage situations they are only about middle of the back when you talk about getting hit at the line of scrimmage.

When you look at where the Giants are successful in terms of running the football you find out that while they aren't at the top of the league in a specific category they are pretty good at running to any part of their offensive line. New York ranks in the top half of the league in three of the five areas. When the Giants run straight up the middle or off the guard they average an ALY of 4.52 which is good for seventh in the league and is well above the league average of 4.13. They are just as good off the left end with a 4.63 APY which is eight in the league that is almost a full yard more than the average yardage gained off the left end (3.84). They rank 12th in the league off the right tackle with an APY of 4.34 while ranking 19th off the left tackle at 3.90 with both of those going better than league average. The only place they struggle is running off the right end where they only have a ALY of 3.06 which is 24th in the NFL.

With the success that the Giants have running up the middle and off the guards that is exactly where they run a majority of their 170 running plays. 52% of their runs go up the middle or off the guards. They also run 14% of their plays of the left end and 17% to the left tackle. It is clear that they know where they succeed and they will pound the rock in that area.

While the Giants have done a pretty outstanding job at running the football that isn't even close to the best area of offense that their defense can do. The Giants have given up a league-low six sacks and posts an adjusted sack rate of only 3.5% which is also best in the league. Adjusted sack rate is defined as the percentage that gives sacks (plus intentional grounding penalties) per pass attempt adjusted for down, distance, and opponent. I talked earlier about how good Manning has been and a lot of that has to do with the fact that he just isn't getting touched and has rarely been sacked.

Defense



The Giants defense is really something that is interesting to look at. When most people think of the defense they think of that outstanding defensive line that has caused problems for nearly everyone they have faced and that is usually the extent of it. Truth be told teams have been able to have their way with that defense for the most part. The Giants have been able to overcome that with supreme skills of taking the ball away and that reason alone is why this is a six win team.

While the Giants defense is getting thrown all over they are creating turnovers at a pretty unsustainable rate. Through eight games they have 16 interceptions which is tied for the league lead with Chicago. As a team they have also recovered eight fumbles that ranks second best in the league.

Because of the substantial turnover rate the Giants are able to hold a middle of the pack defense according to Football Outsiders. Overall the defense holds a -5.2% DVOA which is 12th best in the league and they are pretty close to that in both pass defense (-2.8%, 10th) and rush defense (-8.5%, 16th). The number that really stands out when you look at the overall defensive numbers is that the New York variance is one of the worst in the league at 7.4% which is 26th in the league. Variance boils down to the measurement of the team’s weekly DVOA performances through the season. Basically this says that the Giants have had some highs and has its fair share of lows. Not exactly what you want out of a defense but they are getting a ridiculous amount of turnovers so it could be a lot worse for them.

Against the pass the Giants can be had at a few different positions. Against number one receivers the Giants only have a DVOA of 11.9% which is 20th in the league giving up over six catches a game and 66 yards. They fair much better against number two receivers with a -21.9% DVOA that ranks fifth in the league but I am not really sure what that means for the Steelers. Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown are both capable of being top receivers so I would imagine that the Giants are going to pick and choose who they are going to determine to be the Steelers number one and that receiver is in a good spot for a big game. Heath Miller has been outstanding this season but the Giants have been pretty good against tight ends this season with a -15.4% DVOA (seventh in the league) giving up 64 yards a game. I will say this, if Miller can get a big chunk of that 64 yards then the Steelers are going to be in a great spot.

Against the run the Giants are giving up an ALY of 4.27 and a straight running back yardage of 4.58. They rank pretty well in short yardage situation which is really a testament to the Giants from four/seven which is easily the strong suit of the defense. New York is third in the league holding opposing offenses to only a 45% power success rate and rank 8th with a 23% stuffed rank. Both are pretty outstanding and with the success that the Steelers have had running the football in short yardage situations this will be a fun matchup to watch.

While the short yardage defense has been good the run defense as a whole has not. Teams are able to run pretty much anywhere. New York ranks 16th in the league giving up a 4.15 ALY up the middle or off the guard and that is actually one of their better spots to stop the run. Teams are running the ball up the middle or off the guard 42% of the 156 runs against the defense which is more than double the run percentage to any other spot. Teams are running off the edges on the Giants a good bit as they run to the offensive right 19% of the time for a 4.48 ALY (25th in the league) and 18% to the offensive left edge for a 4.44 ALY (22nd in the league). The Giants only give up less than a 4.00 ALY to the offensive left tackle with a 3.69 ALY that ranks only 11th in the league. The Steelers should be able to get some movement on the defensive line in the running game to set up the play action and keep the Giants pass rush honest.

As per usual the Giants get after the quarterback. They have 21 quarterback sacks and sport a 7.2% adjusted sack rate which is 11th in the league. Gonna be a hard time for the Steelers.

Getting into a little more of the players, you have the usual suspects on the defensive line in Justin Tuck, Jason Pierre-Paul and Osi Umenyiora. The trio has combined for 9.5 sacks with Pierre-Paul leading the way with 5.5. All of these guys are long and athletic and I talked about Heath Miller a little bit above but I would assume that he is going to stay in a little more to help block and the Steelers are going to chip a ton with the running back to try and throw these pass rushers off.

Oh yea, Linval Joseph has four sacks to pad on to those stats. Oy vey.

Middle linebacker Chase Blackburn leads the team with 47 tackles while linebacker Michael Boley is second on the team with 43 tackles and three interceptions. Speaking of interceptions I talked about how the Giants are really taking advantage of the turnovers through the air and they have four players with multiple interceptions. Stevie Brown leads the team with five while Antrel Rolle and Corey Webster each have a pair.

Game Thoughts:

-I touched on this a little bit above with Miller probably staying in to help chip block but the other thing that is going to be prevalent in the game is the quick passing game of the Steelers. I know a lot of people hate the dink and dunk offense but the idea of the game is to keep Roethlisberger healthy and so far this is doing the trick. Besides I don’t really understand why the “dink and dunk” is so horrible with how the receiving core is constructed. You have Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders who are outstanding after the catch so why is it so horrible to get them the ball and have them create you yards? Sure not throwing the ball deep kinda sucks but the offense is much, much, better this season.

-Along the same lines I think the biggest thing in this game is not turning the ball over and playing the ball control offense that will give the Steelers the ball for 33 or so minutes. The Steelers have turned the ball over a league-low six times and I talked about how the Giants are creating turnovers at an unreal pace so not turning the ball over likely leads to a win for the Steelers.

-I wouldn’t be shocked at all if this was a game where the team who had the ball last was going to get the win. Manning and Roethlisberger are both outstanding late in the game with the game on the line so if it is a one score game late then you should probably bet on the lead changing hands.

-While the Giants offense has been good and Manning has been outstanding this year they have had a really hard time in the red zone scoring touchdowns. They rank 26th in the league with a red zone touchdown percentage of 44% and only are converting at a 38% clip in the last three games. The Steelers defense on the other hand is giving up touchdowns at a 59% clip in the red zone so it will be interesting to see who can play better in the red zone.

-The Giants aren’t giving up many free yards this season as they are one of the least penalized team in the entire league. They average only 4.5 penalties per game which is second best in the league and have averaged only 3.3 penalties per game over the last three. The Steelers are averaging seven penalties a game but have cut into that a bunch the last three games where they have only 12 penalties total. The Giants aren’t going to give you a ton of free yards and if the Steelers decide they want to give a bunch of free yards to the Giants then they are going to have a really tough time winning this game.

-An interesting development made it through the city when it was determined that the Steelers were going to fly in on the day of the game. This was due to their not being a hotel available because of the destruction of Sandy earlier in the week. Some people are kind of freaking out about it but I really don’t think it is a big deal. The flight to New York is only an hour and a half or so and the game is a 4:30 start so it isn’t like the Steelers are waking up at 4 a.m. to fly to New York. They will be able to sleep in their own beds and have a short flight up to New York. It will break the normal routine of a day game but this is hardly a big deal.

PREDICTION: This is going to be a pretty big game. The Steelers don’t have a very hard schedule, either before or after this game, so this will be a nice test of where the team is. This is going to be a really great game to watch on a week where there isn’t great games on TV. The Steelers aren’t as great as they used to be but they are playing some good football and will go up against one of the better NFC teams. I still like the Steelers here. 23-20.

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