Friday, December 7, 2012

Steelers Game 13 Preview - vs. San Diego Chargers

After Charlie Batch was able to guide the Steelers past the Ravens in a game that probably tools years off my life Ben Roethlisberger is back in action. The Black and Gold were only 1-2 with Large Benjamin on the sidelines with a pretty significant shoulder and chest injury but that one win might be all the Steelers needed from the number two and three quarterbacks.

This week they welcome in a pretty bad Chargers team that has been just brutal this year. I think we are all used to watching Norv Turner teams crawl up into the fetal position during the season but they usually do so by playing some horrible football early and then throwing a rally that always falls up short. This year was the opposite but the result is still the same, bad football.

Now we are learning that Tuner and General Manager A.J. Smith are going to be let go at the end of the season so they have turned into a lame duck coach and GM and who knows how the players are going to respond. They have been wrecked with injuries and poor play and with the coach and GM on the chopping block you almost have to worry that they are going to be playing with nothing to lose. That is something you don't like to see.

Enough with that. Here is the preview:


The stats:


Last Week:

Pittsburgh 23, Baltimore 20
Passing: Batch: 25-36, 276 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT
Rushing: Dwyer: 16 car., 49 yards, 1 TD
Receiving: Miller: 5 rec., 97 yards, 1 TD

Cincinnati 20, San Diego 13
Passing: Rivers: 25-38, 211 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT
Rushing: Mathews: 9 car., 26 yards, 0 TD
Receiving: Alexander: 6 rec., 102 yards, 0 TD


Offense (rank in NFL)

Total Offense
Pittsburgh: 342.0 yards/game (20th)
San Diego: 322.1 yards/game (26th)

Passing
Pittsburgh: 240.9 yards/game (14th)
San Diego: 227.1 yards/game (18th)

Rushing
Pittsburgh: 101.1 yards/game (24th)
San Diego: 95.0 yards/game (26th)

Points
Pittsburgh: 21.2 points/game (20th)
San Diego: 21.5 points/game (19th)


Defense

Total Defense
Pittsburgh: 259.8 yards/game (1st)
San Diego: 335.1 yards/game (9th)

Pass
Pittsburgh: 166.7 yards/game (1st)
San Diego: 240.6 yards/game (21st)

Rush
Pittsburgh: 93.1 yards/game (5th)
San Diego: 94.5 yards/game (7th)

Points
Pittsburgh: 19.2 points/game (6th)
San Diego: 21.4 points/game (12th)

All-Time Record vs. San Diego: 21-6-0 (1-2 Playoffs)

Last Five Meetings
October 4, 2009 - Pittsburgh 38, San Diego 28
January 11, 2009 - Pittsburgh 35, Ssan Diego 24
November 16, 2008 - Pittsburgh 11, San Diego 10
October 8, 2006 - San Diego 23, Pittsburgh 13
October 10, 2005 - Pittsburgh 24, San Diego 22

Hit the jump for the rest of the preview





Quarterback






The 2004 season is often talked about as one of the best drafts in terms of top flight quarterbacks in the league. While most of the positive attention goes to Ben Roethlisberger and Eli Manning for winning a pair of Super Bowls each a lot of people also talk about the other guy that was drafted early that year, and drafted ahead of Roethlisberger, in Phillip Rivers.

While the first two quarterbacks have lead their respective teams to Super Bowl championships Rivers hasn't followed suit. Early in his career he sat behind Drew Brees until he left to go to the Saints and then Rivers took off and became recognized to many as an "elite" quarterback by putting up great fantasy football numbers.

Rivers has posted four straight 4,000 yard seasons the last four years and has thrown at least 27 touchdown passes in each of those seasons. Last season he threw for 4,624 yards and completed 63% of his passes for 27 touchdowns which followed a season where he completed a career-best 66% of his passes for 4,710 yards and 30 touchdowns. This season hasn't been that great to Rivers as he has fallen of the proverbial cliff and all of it can't be blamed on Norv Turner.

Before we talk about Rivers' raw numbers lets take a look at his advanced numbers from the guys over at Football Outsiders. He has a defensive-adjusted yards above replacement (DYAR) number of 25 which gives the value of the players performance compared to replacement level, adjusted for situation and opponent and then translated into yardage. That ranks Rivers 24th in the league right above Michael Vick and Christian Ponder. 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. Rivers also ranks 24th in terms of DVOA. The past couple of seasons Rivers has ranked as one of the best quarterbacks in the league in both categories as he compiled the seventh-best DYAR last season and was ranked second in host 2010 and 2009. His DVOA was eighth-best last year (17.0%) while he was third in 2010 and led the league with a 41.7% DVOA in 2009. Rivers has really had a bad year despite what have though of his career until now.

This season Rivers still has a pretty strong completion percentage of 65.3% but has really dropped off in every other category. His 7.00 yard per attempt average is the worst of his career and a career YPA around 8.00. His interceptions went way up last year with 20 but he has thrown 15 already this season and only has 18 touchdown passes and will most likely finish with his lowest total since the 2007 season when he threw only 21 touchdowns. Needless to say he has been struggling in a big way. His QBR is a pedestrian 39.2. QBR is a metric created by the ESPN Stats & Information group. It is based on the expected points added by the quarterback on each play, then adjusts the numbers to a scale of 0-100 where 50 is going to be league average. Since the QBR has been calculated (2008 season) Rivers has not had a QBR lower than 62.7.

Rivers hasn't been totally terrible in every game but when you take a quick rundown of his game log but in big time games he really hasn't had too much success. Rivers had a QBR over 50 in five games this season and those games came against Oakland, Tennessee, Kansas City (twice) and Tampa Bay. Tampa Bay is a pretty solid team right now and the Steelers lost to Oakland and Tennessee while going to overtime with Kansas City but that doesn't mean any of those teams are teams that a supposed top level quarterback should struggle against.

In match ups against AFC North teams this season Rivers is 0-3 and hasn't has been downright awful in all the games. IN a loss to the Browns he went 18-for-34 for 154 yards and didn't throw a touchdown while he went 23-of-36 for 228 yards and a touchdown in an overtime loss to the Ravens. Last week, in a loss to the Bengals, he was 26-of-48 for 280 yards (5.83 YPA) with no touchdowns and a pick. Hopefully this trend continues.

Running Back



In defense of Rivers there is the fact that the Chargers rushing offense is pretty brutal and gives him zero to rely on. Now that isn't saying that Rivers has been good, because he hasn't, but when your running game is bad and you become one dimensional then you are a much easier team to beat.

So far this season the Chargers are only averaging 95 rushing yards per game which is 26th in the league and they average only 3.8 yards per carry which is also near the bottom of the league. They have only four rushing touchdowns on the season and have put the ball on the turn six times (three lost). Their rushing DVOA is -11.8% which puts them 26th in the league and they have only four rushes of 20 yards or longer.

Leading (?) the way for the Chargers is Ryan Mathews who has 620 yards on 155 carries for a decent 4.0 yard per carry average. Mathews is in his third season out of Fresno State and for his tenure in San Diego he was supposed to be the next big thing. The problem with Mathews is that he really isn't good at staying healthy and hasn't lived up to the billing despite a decent year in 2011. Last season he racked up 1,091 yards on only 222 carries (4.9 YPC) and scored six touchdowns after finding the end zone seven times on only 158 carries his rookie season (2010).

This year has been up and down for Mathews with him just really have average games. He has yet to go over 100 yards in any game this season and hasn't scored since week three. His best game was a 24 carry, 95 yard effort against the Browns and a 12 carry 80 yard performance against the Saints. Since the game against the Brows he has a high of 72 yards which happened against the Ravens two weeks ago. Last week against the Bengals he ran for 26 yards on only nine carries.

Mathews is also a threw out of the backfield as he has made 36 catches this season for 244 yards. He has at least three catches in all but three games and has five or more catches in three games highlighted by a six catch 59 yard performance against the Saints. He doesn't have a receiving touchdown but that doesn't mean he isn't a productive dump off for Rivers.

Mathews ranks 18th in the league with a 37 DYAR and a -2.8% DVOA. WHile Mathews ranks around the middle of the back in both of those categories he actually is eighth in the league with a 50% success rate. Success rate is a number that 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 a high(er) success rate and a low(er) DVOA that tells you that Mathews is able to get the yards he needs but doesn't typically get more yardage than that. That would explain him only having one carry of 20 yards or more which was a 31 yard carry in the second matchup against the Chiefs. In eight games this season Mathews hasn't had a rush longer than 14 yards.

Jackie Battle is second on the team in rushing with 52 carries for 222 yards and three of the Chargers four touchdowns. He doesn't get overly involved in the rushing attack and has a 18 DYAR and a -1.4% DVOA.

Ronnie Brown is an interesting play in the backfield for San Diego. He only has 34 carries on the year for 152 yards but he is most effective in the passing game. While Mathews is able to catch the rock Brown is better as he has 45 catches for 353 yards and hasn't found the end zone yet. So far this season he has seven games where he has four catches or more and ranks sixth among running backs with a 106 DYAR as a receiving running back and a DVOA of 26.0% which is sixth best in the league. Those numbers are only reflective of him as a receiver and not as a rusher where he has a pedestrian 14 DYAR and a 1.6% DVOA. His catch rate of 87% is really high so when he is on the field it should be a priority to know where he is at all times.

Receivers



With the success that the Chargers have had in the passing game the past couple of years you expect there to be some big names in the passing game. While that was true in the past with a dangerous Vincent Jackson and a younger Antonio Gates the tides have turned in San Diego to relying on Malcolm Floyd with an older Gates not producing as much as he has in the pass.

With Jackson gone Floyd went from being a number two or three target to being the main guy that the Chargers rely on. So far this season Floyd has caught 51 passes for 765 yards and four touchdowns while catching 14 passes of 20 yards or more. Thanks to the vertical passing game that the Chargers use Floyd has been one of the most valuable receivers in the NFL. He ranks third in the NFL with a 287 DYAR and ranks second in the league with a 38.4% DVOA. He ranks near the top of the league with a 69% catch rate and is building off a 2011 year where he finished second in the league with a 51.4% DVOA and seventh in DYAR.

When you look at Floyd's game log nothing really exciting jumps out at you. He only has a pair of 100 yard game and a long catch of 39 yards but what you do notice is that he is very consistent. Over the last four games he has caught at least four passes for 60 yards or more and has found the end zone a pair of times. He isn't going to blow you away with a bunch of high yardage games but he is going to get his catches and yards and while he does that quietly that doesn't mean he isn't dangerous.

I actually don't know a whole lot about the Chargers number two man, Danario Alexander, but evidently he has caught 26 passes on the season for 467 yards and three touchdown. He seems to be the deep threat for Rivers with an average catch of 18 yards and has a long of 80 yards on the year.

Alexander has only appeared in a few games this season that include the six weeks. In those six games he has a pair of 100 yard performances and has yet to catch less than 61 yards in any of the last five games. His high yardage mark was in a loss to Tampa Bay where he had five catches for 134 yards and a touchdown that included the 80 yard bomb. He followed that up with a seven catch 96 yard, two touchdown performance against a pretty good Denver secondary so he is going to be an underrate guy that the Steelers are going to need to keep an eye on.

Even though Alexander doesn't have enough catches to qualify he does boast the best DYAR among players that have less than 42 catches on the season. His DYAR of 168 is far and away best in that category and his 43.0% DVOA is near the top of the "others" list as well.

The guy I talked about in the open that is still with the Chargers is Gates, the Chargers long tendered tight end who has been one of the best in the game for a long time. He is currently third on the team with 417 receiving yards and 38 catches and is tied for the team lead with four touchdowns.

Gates is in his tenth year and he has been a really great pass catching tight end for nearly his entire career. He has caught for more than 700 yards in each year sans his rookie season and has a pair of 1,100 yard seasons. The past couple years have slipped since his last 1,000 yard season but at 778 yards and seven touchdowns last year you really can't complain about that. This year his play has slipped a little more as he will most likely not reach the 700 yard mark and is only on pave for 556 yards and five touchdowns.

Gates currently ranks 26th among tight ends with a 22 DYAR and 28th with a -4.1% DVOA. He has a solid catch rate of 62% but clearly Gates in on the downslide of his career.

Outside of those three receivers there isn't much for the Chargers. Mathews and Brown are the next two receivers on that list followed by Robert Meachem and Eddie Royal but neither of those two guys have had much impact in the passing game only combining for 341 yards and three touchdowns on the season.

Offensive Line



From left to right the Ravens read Mike Harris, Tyronne Green, Nick Hardwick, Louis Vasquez and Jeromey Clary. The line is relatively young but has been a real source of problems for the Chargers the past few years that includes this season. While those are the lineman that are listed as the starters they are all kinda of banged up as both tackles (Clary and Harris) might not play and when you are going to miss both of your tackles things aren't going to be very good. Kevin Haslam and Steve Schlling are both listed as backups and the Chargers might have to roll with that on Sunday.
The Chargers are around league average in terms of the running game. They post a below league average running back yard per carry of 3.89 but rank 17th in the league with a 4.02 adjusted line yards (ALY).

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.

In other portions of the run game San Diego is good, not great. They rank 16th in the league with a power success rate of 63% which is exactly league average. 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 haven't been overly successful in getting the conversion on the short yardage plays they have faired much better at getting positive yards per carry. They have a stuffed percentage of 17% which ranks eighth in the league. Stuffed percentage is the Percentage of runs where the running back is tackled at or behind the line of scrimmage.

The Chargers have a pretty league average running game and they don't really rank very highly running to specific parts of the offensive line. That being said they lead the league when they run over the right tackle with a ridiculous 5.25 ALY which is a full yard better than the league average ALY on teams running over the right tackle. Despite having some wild success running to that portion of the offensive line the Chargers have only ran that way on 11% of their 281 running back carries which is only higher than the percentage of times they have ran to the right end (9%) where they rank 24th in the league with a 3.32 ALY.

53% of the Chargers carries go either up the middle or off the guards which is right around league average. When they run "up the middle" they are 18th in the league with a 4.03 ALY that is a smudge below league average. The Chargers aren't better at running to the left side of the line as they are 20th and 21st when running to the left end and left tackle, respectively.

I talked before about how the Chargers aren't necessarily good at protecting the quarterback and they have given up a decent amount of sacks on the season so far. They hold an adjusted sack rate of 8.1% which ranks 27th in the league. Adjusted sack rate is pretty much means what you think it means which gives sacks (plus intentional grounding penalties) per pass attempt adjusted for down, distance, and opponent. Possibly plug in a a pair of new offensive tackles for a rejuvenated James Harrison.

Defense



Throughout the years the Chargers have had some decent defenses and had some great players on the field. This year it really doesn't have that punch and although they play some pretty good defense against the run they are pretty league average all around. San Diego ranks 15th in the league with about a league average defense of -1.0% DVOA. They rank tenth in the league against the run with a -11.2% DVOA while they are about league average (17th) against the pass with a 6.1% DVOA.

Against the pass is where the Steelers might be able to get to the Chargers much like they did against the Ravens last week. Against the top receivers of opposing teams the Chargers rank 23rd in the league giving up a 13.3% DVOA and almost 74 receiving yards per game. San Diego buckles down otherwise against receivers as they rank 11th in the league against number two receivers at a -5.5% DVOA and ranks 8th at a -15.5% DVOA against number three and four receivers. While they give up a lot of looks at the top they seem to buckle down when they get into the depth of their cornerbacks so it will be interesting to see how the Steelers attack them in the passing game.

While they are good at secondary receivers they really struggle against backs out of the backfield. They rank 25th in the league against running backs out of the backfield with seven pass attempts to them a game for almost 50 receiving yards per game. With Roethlisberger coming back off an injury you have to assume that the Steelers are going to try and get the ball out of his hands so the Steelers might go to the backs out of the backfield a little more than they are used to and if they do I think it can be successful.

San Diego ranks 21st in the league in rushing the passer and after not registering a single sack against the Bengals last week and the Steelers offensive line stepping up and keeping Batch clean that could shape up as a big advantage for the Steelers with a recovering quarterback coming back. The Chargers have only 23 sacks on the season and have a 6.1% adjusted sack rate but none of that will really matter if the Steelers offensive line plays like it did last week.

I talked about the Chargers being a pretty good team against the run and looking at the advanced numbers they rank in the top-10 in most categories. They give up only 3.93 yards per carry by the running back and have the seventh best ALY in the league at 3.66. When teams need to pick up the short yardage they run against one of the best short yardage teams in the league. They rank eighth in the league with a 54% power success rate and seventh with a 22% stuffed rank. While the Chargers haven't won a ton of games this year their defense isn't the main culprit.

There really isn't a good place to run against the Chargers. The Steelers run a ridiculous 73% of their running plays either up the middle or off the guards and so far this season the Chargers are only giving up an average of a 3.89 ALY when teams run up the middle. The Steelers aren't necessarily good at running up the middle gaining an average of 3.48 ALY but they take to the idea that if you keep pounding then things are going to eventually work. It should be a solid matchup in the middle. The Steelers also like to run off the right tackle, as they do so 11% of the time, and the Chargers are also strong in that areas only giving up a 3.59 ALY which is sixth best in the league. The only area where the Chargers are susceptible is at the right end where they rank 21st in the league with a 4.64 ALY.

In terms of players the Chargers are led by inside linebacker Donald Butler who has a team-high 72 tackles to go along with a pair of sacks and an interception. The name to keep your eye on and a guy that the Steelers should focus their game plan around is outside linebacker Shaun Phillips who had a team-best seven sacks to go along with 41 tackles. Phillips only appeared in 12 games last year and recorded 3.5 sacks but had 11 sacks in 2010 and he can make a huge difference for a defense and has shown that last year was a small blip.

11 different players have at least a half a sack this season led by Phillips and he is followed by Corey Liuget who has three sacks. Eric Weddle has a team-high three interceptions while Quentin Jammer, Antoine Cason and Demorrio Williams each have a pair of interceptions. Cason leads the team with nine passes defended while Weddle and Jammer each have seven.

Game Thoughts:

-To say the Steelers are riding high after the win in Baltimore would be an understatement. With the prospect of only being .500 and losing three in a row and being out of the playoff picture the Steelers answered with a big win and now are back in the division race and still currently sitting in the playoffs. That brings up the Chargers who have not been good this season. The Steelers have been outstanding at home this year, and in the past, and if they can carry that over they will be good to go. Hopefully they can carry that over because the Steelers have had a horrible problem at playing to the level of competition. The Chargers are bad. The Steelers can't have that trend to continue as it has against the Chiefs, Browns, Titans and Raiders.

-The Chargers have turned the football over a lot this season and they currently rank third in the AFC with 24 giveaways. Rivers has thrown 15 interceptions this season which is the third most in the league. The Chargers also have put the ball on the ground nine different times which puts them at a -2 in the turnover differential. The Steelers might have a little bit of a struggle offensively with Ben coming back so creating a few turnovers would be in their best interest.

-The Steelers are going to have a huge advantage with the banged up Chargers offensive line. As I write this the word out of San Diego is that Clary is ruled out, Green is doubtful and Harris is questionable. That means that the Steelers could be going up against a line that doesn't have either tackle or one guard. Sure, the Chargers have signed some guys but they are non drafted free agents and they were brought in only this week. It could be really bad for the Chargers and the Dick LeBeau should be ready to bring the pressure.

-If you are not really sure what to expect out of Roethlisberger then you can join the club. I have a feeling we are going to see a pretty rusty player when he comes back this season. He has done little to nothing since being injured and while he seems to have the arm working well there is just that notion of the unknown that has to give you some pause. While he is able to make all the throws he has yet to take a hit. Now, I know they aren't going to hit him in practice but nobody knows how he will respond if he takes a good lick in the shoulder pads. He will be wearing special protection under his pads but that is only going to help so much. The other concern with Ben missing time is him getting back in the groove with the receivers. This usually wouldn't be a big deal to me but with how out of sync the receivers have looked in the last few weeks and that wasn't only because Ben was out because things weren't looking great before the injury.

-This is a tricky game overall in my opinion. I said this before in a previous preview but I am not too big on the "trap game" label as you could say that every single game that a decent team plays a bad team. Where the quirk comes in for the Chargers is just how bad they have been recently. They started off the season hot with three wins in their first four game but since have gone 1-7 and has given up over 30 points in half of those games. The Chargers aren't 1-7 bad. Sure their offensive line is banged up and Rivers is turning the ball over at will but they still have a pretty good defense and some talent on offense. Teams like this are just bound to run into wins every once in a while. It is kind of like going 0-16 in the season, every team (sans really bad Lions teams) run into a win by luck. Hopefully that doesn't happen this week.

-While the Steelers are getting much heathier they are going to be missing one of the players that I don't think they could lose. That player is Ike Taylor. Taylor has been a shutdown corner for a majority of the last couple of season and despite his lack of skills in catching the ball there aren't too many like him that can completely take a receiver out of the football game. He is most likely going to miss two games and the depth of the secondary is going to be challenged. Cortez Allen is going to have to step in and be the guy opposite Keenan Lewis and thus will press Curtis Brown into more playing time. Allen did a pretty nice job last week against the Ravens but this will be his time to step and log some big time plays for one of the best secondaries in the league. The Chargers have some big receivers as both Alexander and Floyd are around 6'5 so the young defensive backs are going to have their hands full.

I don't put much stock in records against opponents over the years but I guess it is worth mentioning that the Steelers have won eight of the last nine games against the Chargers while they are a near perfect 15-1 against the Chargers at Three Rivers/Heinz Field. This doesn't have any impact on the game whatsoever nor will it be worth any points but it is still interesting nonetheless.

-This will be the final of the AFC North teams that San Diego plays this season. They are currently 0-3 so far after they lost 7-6 to Cleveland in week eight, lost to Baltimore 16-13 in overtime in week 12 and then lost to Cincinnati 20-13 last week. These games have been close but the Chargers have been able to derp them away in always convincing fashion. Lets make it a sweep.

PREDICTION - The Steelers are coming off a pretty big win over the Ravens and with Baltimore playing in Washington and Cincinnati hosting Dallas there is a chance that one, if not both, pick up losses this week and it would be paramount that the Steelers gain a game on both of them. The Chargers have a pretty good defense but their offense has been pretty bad. I think the Steelers understand that they need to get these four wins heading into the playoffs. Steelers 23, Chargers 17.

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