Friday, September 20, 2013

Steelers Game 3 Preview - vs. Chicago Bears

For the second straight week the Steelers are going to be on prime time TV. I bet when the NFL set the schedules up and gave out the TV slots they would expect that the Steelers would be this bad. I don't really know if many saw the Steelers losing to the Titans but a loss to the Bengals was not really all that out of the question. Still, the Steelers are struggling bad.

If the Steelers want any chance of getting back into this thing then they need to win this game against the Bears. The Bears are the opposite of the Steelers as they have played a couple of close game but the offense has been able to make the plays to get them wins and they now sit at 2-0.

Statistically the Steelers offense has been as bad as it has been in some time. The Steelers have not started a season 0-3 since 2000 and if the offense continues to sputter like it has in the first two games then it might remain winless. Just really bad times right now.

As it was last week here are some of the key terms I am going to use to break down the Bengals for your reference. All information came from Football Outsiders :

DVOA - DVOA is a method of evaluating teams, units, or players. It takes every single play during the NFL season and compares each one to a league-average baseline based on situation. DVOA measures not just yardage, but yardage towards a first down: Five yards on third-and-4 are worth more than five yards on first-and-10 and much more than five yards on third-and-12. Red zone plays are worth more than other plays. Performance is also adjusted for the quality of the opponent. DVOA is a percentage, so a team with a DVOA of 10.0% is 10 percent better than the average team, and a quarterback with a DVOA of -20.0% is 20 percent worse than the average quarterback. Because DVOA measures scoring, defenses are better when they are negative.

DYAR - Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement. This gives the value of the player’s performance compared to replacement level, adjusted for situation and opponent and then translated into yardage.

ALY - Adjusted Line Yards. Based on regression analysis , the Adjusted Line Yards formula 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.

Power Success - 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. This is the only statistic on this page that includes quarterbacks.

Stuffed - Percentage of runs where the running back is tackled at or behind the line of scrimmage. Since being stuffed is bad, teams are ranked from stuffed least often (#1) to most often (#32).

Adjusted Sack Rate -  Gives sacks (plus intentional grounding penalties) per pass attempt adjusted for down, distance, and opponent.

Catch Rate - Catch Rate represents the percentage of passes to this receiver completed. This is a reference to incomplete passes, not dropped passes.

Success Rate - This number 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. A player with higher DVOA and a low success rate mixes long runs with downs getting stuffed at the line of scrimmage. A player with lower DVOA and a high success rate generally gets the yards needed, but doesn't often get more.

Bears Offense

Offensive this season the Bears have actually been pretty decent this season as they rank 14th in the league with 367 total yards per game which breaks down into 262 passing yards and 210 rushing yards. Sure, it is nothing really amazing about those numbers but that is good for nearly 28 points per game and a 2-0 record.

After a pair of games the Bears rank seventh in offensive DVOA at 13.6% which they actually dropped two spots after being a top-5 team after week one. The Bears are a top-10 team in terms of passing offense with a DVOA of 28.0% while they rank 12th in the league in rushing with a DVOA of -4.6%.

I think we all are well aware of who the quarterback is of the Bears. It is a guy who people either love or hate and that is Jay Cutler. I am not even going to lie, I am a huge Cutler fan. On the field he will sling it around and while he does turn it over a little more than you would like he somehow makes you feel that you both have a chance and have no chance to win a game at the same time. What I might like better about Cutler is that he doesn't care one bit what anyone thinks of him. Most will say that he is just a dick but he is just being himself and that is pretty awesome.

In terms of football play Cutler has thrown for 532 yards with five touchdowns, three interceptions and a 7.4 yard per attempt average. Last week against the Vikings he completed 28-of-39 passes for 290 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. In the week one win over Cincinnati he threw for 242 yards on 21-of-33 passing.

On the advanced number Cutler generally rates out about the same as the traditional numbers as he currently has a DYAR rank of 13th in the league (84) while ranking 12th with a 7.0% DVOA. He does have a higher QBR ranking (sixth, 71.8) so while he has turned the ball over a bit more he has still played a pretty good quarterback position this season.

Through the first two weeks of the season the Bears, and Cutler, have really only relied on two guys to catch the passes he is slinging and that is receiver Brandon Marshall and tight end Martellus Bennett. Marshall has always been Cutler's favorite target after he made 118 catches last season on 194 targets and so far the season as 15 catches on 20 targets. Bennett came over to the Bears after spending last season with the Giants where he caught 55 passes for 626 yards and five touchdowns. This season Bennett already has ten catches on 16 targets for 125 yards and three touchdowns.

While Bennett has been pretty good this season the passing game starts and ends with Marshall. He has at least 100 yards and seven catches in each of the first two games and is coming off a seven catch, 113 yard performance against the Vikings last Sunday. Marshall ranks eighth among qualified receivers with a 70 DYAR and is 15th with a 31.2% DVOA through two weeks of action. He is posting a pretty ridiculous 75% catch rate and all of this really makes you wonder how with the lack of receiver depth that the Bears have.

You have to imagine that Ike Taylor is going to match up on Marshall all over the field. The Bears do have Alshon Jerrery and Earl Bennett to catch passes but they have combined to catch nine passes and 78 yards so far this season. That doesn't really warrant Taylor ever leaving Marshall's hip pocket and if he wasn't there I would be fairly surprised.

Martellus Bennett is going to be the guy who will give the Steelers a little bit of problems. It is no secret that Troy Polamalu has lost a step and after a really rough game on Monday night I wouldn't expect to see Ryan Clark matched up on him since Bennett is a huge human standing at 6'6 265 pounds. He is going to be a red zone target and it is going to be very tough to matchup with him.

So far this season Bennett ranks first among tight ends with a 46 DYAR and fifth among tight ends with a 39.6%DVOA while posting a very solid catch rate of 67%. This is just two games but he is coming of a 2012 season where he set career highs in DYAR (85) and DVOA (4.6%) which both ranked in the top-20 in the league among tight ends.

In terms of the running game the Bears are a one man show. That one man is Matt Forte. Forte has been pretty good for the Bears over the past few season as he has averaged over 4.4 yards per carry each of the past three seasons. So far this year he hasn't been as productive with only 140 yards on 38 carries for a 3.7 yard per carry average but it's not like he is even remotely close to as bad as anyone on the Steelers roster. After a pretty poor opening game against the Bengals where he dean for only 50 yards on 19 carries he bounced back with 90 yards on 19 carries. He also made 11 (!!!!) catches against Minnesota for 71 yards so he is multifaceted back.

Forte has carried the ball 38 of the Bears 54 rushing attempts and when you take out Cutler's six attempts then you realize that he is going to get nearly every single carry. Forte ranks out fairly well in the advanced stats realm with the 11th best DYAR (23) and the 11th best DVOA (5.8%). He does also have the fifth best success rate (50%) in the league and is pretty consistent in not just being a home run back or just a grinder back. He is someone that is dangerous every single time he touches the ball.

The Bears offensive line hasn't been good so far this year, but it hasn't been bad either. They have just been…average. In terms of the running game the Chicago offensive line is 18th in the league with a 3.58 ALY which is much better than the average of their running backs which is 3.37 yards per carry. The line is actually doing a pretty good job for the Bears overall as they are fairly around league average on ALY but the backs haven't been able to get back to the league average yard per carry of 3.76 yards per carry.

The Bears have a power success rate of 60% which is good for 20th in the league and is five percentage points lower than the league average power success rate of 65%. They are right at league average in terms of stuffed ranking as they are getting stuffed 22% of the time at the line or behind it which ranks 15th and is nearly identical with the league average (21%).

In terms of where they run the football they aren't really overly successful in running to any certain area. They are most successful running to the left side of the football where they have an ALY of 4.54 when running off the left tackle. They also are successful in running of the right end with a 4.05 ALY but other than those two spots they don't rank higher than 20th in any other spot. They attempt 15% of their runs to each of the those spots. They run the most up the middle/off the guards at 41% which is actually below the league average of 50% but they only muster an ALY of 3.91 up the middle (league average is 4.09) which is 20th best in the league.

Where the Bears really have improved is in pass protection. Last season the Bears ranked 24th in the league with an adjusted sack rate of 8.0% as Cutler was sacked 44 times on the season. The league average for that year was 37 sacks and a 6.5% adjusted sack rate which is right around where the Steelers were (37 sacks given up, 6.3%) just to put that in perspective.

So far this season the Bears have given up only one sack and thus there adjusted sack rate is a minuscule 1.7% which is good for third in the entire league. This is in stark contract to previous seasons as the Bears have almost been a turnstile across the line with letting defenders get to Cutler and if they can give him some time they are going to be much more successful in the passing game.

Bears Defense

The Bears defense is traditionally good and last year was really no different. As a team the Bears gave up only 315.6 yards per game that included only 102 yards per game on the ground. They were great at keeping teams out of the end zone as they gave up only 17 points per game and were a +20 in the takeaway margin. As a person who had them in fantasy football they were a goldmine as they scored 10 touchdowns while picking up 41 sacks, 24 interceptions, and 20 fumbles. They were just really dominant and the reasons the team was as good as they were.

So far this season the Bears haven't been as good as they are giving up 345 yards per game to its offensive counterparts while allowing nearly 26 points per game to be scored against them. Teams still aren't running against them (93 yards per game) but they have had some success through the air.

Chicago is 12th in the league with a -7.1% DVOA which isn't great for them but is better than last week when they were 17th in the league. While they are still pretty stout against the run in terms of traditional statistics they rank 15th in the league with a -21.4% DVOA against the run and are also 15th in the league against the pass with a 7.3% DVOA.

In terms of the pass defense the Bears actually do a nice job when you look at the top receivers from other teams but they sort of fall back to the pack in other aspects. Against the top receivers from their opponents the Bears are performing at a -33.9% DVOA which is good for eighth in the league. Despite the strong DVOA numbers Chicago is giving up over 108 yards per game to those receivers on only eight pass attempts per game. Last week Greg Jennings went off for 84 yards on five catches and the week before A.J. Green feasted on the secondary for 162 yards on nine catches and two scores. Granted this is only week two of the season so that huge number from Green is going to skew anything you look at so I am not sure if the raw numbers will be all that telling, yet. As it explains in the headline of Football outsiders the passing attempts and yards gained are more of a fantasy football type look at the number and not actually how they should be judged.

Chicago slips a bit when you look at the secondary receivers as they are 16th in the league with a 3.6% DVOA while performing a little better against number three, four, and five receivers with a DVOA of -9.9% which ranks 14th in the league, collectively. This is always going to be interesting to me because of how the Steelers are constructed. The Steelers have no number one receiver. I guess you can consider Antonio Brown a number two but the Steelers are littered with number three receivers and it is killing them. Guys like Jerricho Cotchery and Markus Weeden are going to have to step up in a big way against the Bears if the Steelers want have a chance to win this game.

It also would be nice if the Steelers could protect the quarterback for any length of time to possibly get the running backs involved in the passing game but I am not really sure if that is a possibility. The Bears actually do a pretty nice job on backs out of the backfield with a -25.5% DVOA that ranks 10th in the league but I really don't think that is going to come into play too much.

Where the Steelers might actually catch a break is in the pass rush. The Bears only have two sacks on the season which is good for a 3.3% adjusted sack rate (26th in league). They have been pretty quiet seeing that stud rush linebacker Julius Peppers hasn't been too involved after having 11.5 sacks a year ago while Henry Melton (6.5 sacks in 2012) has been held off the scoresheet in terms of sacks. The Bears also lost Israel Idonije to the Lions this season after he ha 7.5 sacks.

Against the run the Bears have been in the middle of the pack. They post an ALY of 3.60 yards per carry which is right around league average. Teams have been successful in pounding the rock on them with a 78% power success rate for the defense that is only good for 21st in the league while they are stuffing opposing ball carriers only 22% of the time which ranks 14th and is just a smidge off league average.

The Bears have been vulnerable pretty much everywhere on the defensive front when teams are running against them, especially up the middle. When teams are rushing up the gut or off the guard teams are running for a 4.73 ALY which is 30th in the league. When league average is a 3.71 ALY you are really off the mark and the Bengals and Vikings took advantage by running 53% of their runs in that direction. When teams run to the offensive right tackle they are posting an ALY of 3.84 while rushing for a 3.17 ALY off the left tackle which is a lot better than they do in other spots. Still, the Bears are a team that can be run on so far but I am not sure if the Steelers are good enough to be successful but the Bears aren't as good against the run as the Bengals but they aren't the worst either.

Lance Briggs is the leader of this defense, especially after the retirement of Brian Urlacher. Last season Briggs made 103 total tackles which having 1.5 sacks and two interceptions. He isn't getting to the quarterback as much as he has in the past but he is still a main cog in the middle of that defense. He co-leads the team with 17 total tackles so far this season and has four passes defended.

In the secondary Major Wright also has 17 total tackles from his strong safety position and has forced a fumble this year while Charles Tillman has a pair of interceptions. Tim Jennings also has a pick which he returned for a touchdown and also has forced a pair of fumbles. While the Bears defense can be had what they excel at is taking chances. They will get beat from time-to-time but if their from seven can get some pressure and force you to throw quicker than you want to or to a hot receiver then they will jump routes all day long and that is what leads to the mass turnovers they can create.

Bears Special Teams

The Bears specials teams are pretty much the same guys you are always used to. I guess we can start with the guy that everyone gushes over and that is the guy by the name of Devin Hester. Hester is one of the best returners in the game despite a slip in play from last season.

In the punt return game this year Hester hasn't had many opportunities (two) so there really isn't much to see but over his career he has 12 punt returns for touchdowns and a career average return of over 12 yards. Last season he was held out of the end zone and only ranked 22nd in the league with an average return of 8.3 yard per return but if he is given a lane he will hit it and go the entire way. Last year his long was only 44 yards which was his shortest "long" return since 2009. All things considered though he is a threat as he had five returns for touchdowns between 2010 and 2011.

In the kickoff return game Hester isn't as flashy but still effective. Over his career he averages nearly 25 yards per return and has five returns to his name. He had one return for a touchdown in 2010 but hadn't had one before that since 2007. He doesn't really have a ton of returns, only 24 last season, but he was 10th in the league with a 26 yard per return average. Despite the high average his long was only 40 yards which was the shortest by far for anyone in the top-10.

In the kicking game Robbie Gould is still with the Bears as he has been for his entire career since 2005. He is an 86% kicker with him making both attempts so far this season with the long coming on a 58 yarder. He is nearly flawless on extra points (as he should be) only missing one in his career.

Gould hit 21-of-25 chances last season for an 84% conversion rate, good for 18th in the league, while he was a perfect 7-for-7 inside 30 yards he missed two of his seven chances from 30-39 yards and then two of his nine chances from 40-49 yards. He was perfect in two chances from 50 and beyond.

After spending the first three years of his career with Jacksonville Adam Podlesh handled the punting duties for the Bears in 2011 and 2012 and does so again this season. He has done a decent job over his career but really hasn't done anything spectacular. Over his career he has an average of just under 43 yards per punt and has 30 touchbacks. He has never had a punt blocked also.

Last season Podlesh ranked 30th with an average of 42 yards per punt and ranked 18th with a net punting average of 39.4 yards. Because of the poor distances on his punts he did lead the league in return average against with returners only getting 3.4 yards per return and fair catching 25 of his 81 punts but I don't think we really need to talk much more about this guy.

Game Thoughts

-I know how bad the stats are with teams that start 0-2 that make the playoffs but the season isn't over for the Steelers. Well, I don't think that is the reason the season is over. I don't really think the Steelers are a good football team and when I watch teams like the Broncos and almost any team from the NFC I find it hard to come to grips with this being a playoff team. This week we found out that the Steelers held a "captains meeting" where they banned all younger players from playing any games in the locker room. You know when we used to laugh at other teams for stuff like this? Well, it's happening right now in PIttsburgh and it's only week two.

-As of right now it looks like the Steelers are going to be getting the services of Heath Miller.

This is pretty significant news, but not really for the reason you think. I talked about it in the recap from the game against the Bengals but this might be more of a physiological boost more than a boost on the field. Ben Roethlisberger has to be feeling just terrible looking at the targets he has on the field at the tight end spot and feel even worse about their ability to stay in and block. Miller excels in pretty much every aspect of playing football but the fact of the matter is that this is his first game back. Last season Miller ranked third among tight ends in DYAR (188) and sixth in DVOA (21%) so there will be an upgrade, but as you notice with guys that come off major knee surgery it is something that takes time to get used to and time it takes them to get back into the swing of things. I wouldn't expect much from him this game, or any of the next few but him getting back in week three will have him back in the swing of things much quicker than anyone expected. Adrian Peterson really put the bar too high for players returning from knee surgery. He was the exception and we shouldn't set our expectations based on the exceptions. Heath will make this team better though, that's a fact.

-I think where the Steelers might be able to have a little success is in the aggressiveness of the Chicago secondary when the ball is in the air. I talked about it in the defensive section a little bit but the Bears take a lot of chances. Those chances create a lot of scores in their favor but it can also create some big plays for the offense when they guess wrong. The defensive backs love to jump routes and this is where Roethlisberger can hurt them. Most people know that Ben loves to use the pump fake to set his receivers up and with how aggressive the Bears are that could be a huge asset for the Steelers. The problems are that Ben never gets enough time and if he does the Steelers receivers are just doing a brutal job of getting any separation from defensive backs. The Bears are pretty physical so I am not sure the receivers will be able to get the separation, but I have been surprised before.

-I think eventually the Steelers are going to want to either get a few sacks or get a turnover. This was a problem last season and still continues to be a problem. Now they have got some pressure on the quarterback with LaMarr Woodley and Jarvis Jones but it has been few and far between at points and they just aren't creating turnovers. This isn't saying that the defense has been bad because they have kept the Steelers in game until late but with the way the offense is going they need to give them some short fields or at least getting them a few extra possessions.

-This is the first time the Steelers and Bears will play in the regular season since 2009 when the Bears won 17-14. In that game the Steelers were outscored 10-0 in the fourth quarter by Cutler and the Bears.

PREDICTION - I just don't feel really good about the chances for the Steelers in this game. I have been pretty down on them so far this season and while I think they are going to find success as the season goes on I just don't see how they are going to pull this one out. The Bears have had to come back in each of their first two games and with how bad the Steelers offense has been I just don't think they have enough to keep up with the Bears. Chicago 27, Pittsburgh 13

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