Friday, October 11, 2013

Steelers Game 5 Preview - @ New York Jets

The good thing is that the Steelers didn't lose last week. The bad thing is that the Steelers are still 0-4. I think you know where I am going with this, but in case you don't the Steelers were on a bye week last week. So, small victories.

This week they go up to New York to play the Jets. I don't think we will hear too much about the lag from their trip to London as they got the bye week to work that out but they also got the bye week to think about being 0-4 and about where the season is going.

Evidently over the bye week Ryan Clark had some time to think about where the team is going and he thinks they are still going to the playoffs. Oh.

Cotter over at OFTOT I think summed it up perfectly in his preview:

But the fact remains, 0-4 is not 0-12.

Nor is it even 0-6. Imagine being a Giants fan.

Do I expect the Steelers to go on a 12-0 run from here on out?

Absolutely not.

But, is it possible?

Absolutely.

So, I think I am with Cotter to a point. Sure, the Steelers could win the next 12 games. They can win 12 games in the same way that I am going to win the lotto without buying a lotto ticket.

This should turn out to be a pretty good game. I know you might wonder how I might think that but I think it is a gut feeling. The Steelers aren't going to go 0-16 and they are going to win some football games. So, why not this weekend? Also the Jets are missing some key players as Antonio Cromartie and Kellen Winslow are out so that is a huge boost for the Steelers and their chances.

Lets get into the preview.

As it is every week here are some of the key terms I am going to use to break down the Jets 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.

Effective Yards - translate DVOA into a yards per attempt figure. This provides an easy comparison: in general, players with more Effective Yards than standard yards played better than standard stats would otherwise indicate, while players with fewer Effective Yards than standard yards played worse than standard stats would otherwise indicate. Effective Yards are not the best way to measure total value because they are more dependent on usage than DYAR.

QBR - Total QBR (listed as just QBR) is a metric created by the ESPN Stats & Information group. Total QBR is based on the expected points added by the quarterback on each play, then adjusts the numbers to a scale of 0-100. League average is 50. There are five main differences between Total QBR and Football Outsiders' DVOA metric (with further explanation here):

-Total QBR incorporates information from game charting, such as passes dropped or thrown away on purpose.
-Total QBR splits responsibility on plays between the quarterback, his receivers, and his blockers. Drops, for example, are more on the receiver, as are yards after the catch, and some sacks are more on the offensive line than others.
-Total QBR has a clutch factor which adds (or subtracts) value for quarterbacks who perform best (or worst) in high-leverage situations.
-Total QBR combines passing and rushing value into one number and differentiates between scrambles and planned runs.
-Total QBR is not adjusted for strength of opponent.


Jets Offense

In a strange turn of events it appears that a football team that was thought to be horrible in the preseason turns out to be not that bad. In another twist it turns out that a football team that a lot thought might contend in their division is basically already preparing for the offseason not even five games into the season. The first team is the New York Jets and the second team is the Pittsburgh Steelers. This certainly is not what we came to think would happen but here we are.

The Jets offense was never going to wow you. Before the season Mark Sanchez was the slated starer ahead of a quarterback they drafted fairly highly in Geno Smith. Well, in the preseason Rex Ryan thought it was a great idea to put his starter in the game in the fourth quarter of a preseason game to try and win it and Sanchez got hurt. Maybe that was Ryan's plan all along? Now things are starting to make sense.

Anyways, the Jets offense overall isn't anything to really write home about but they are getting the job done. They are gaining a little over 350 yards a game which is good for 14th in the league which includes about 122 yards per game on the ground. NOthing that is going to wow you as they aren't even scoring 20 points per game but somehow they are winning football games and in the end that is all that really matters.

While the raw numbers give the Jets a decent showing the advanced statistics show that they aren't all that great. In terms of total offense the Jets rank 27th in the league with a -16.2% DVOA that is made up of the leagues 25th best passing attack (-8.3% DVOA) and the 17th best rushing attack (-9.1%). I think when you look at those you might wonder how they have won more games than they have lost is that their offense is just so up and down. According to Football Outsiders they rank 30th in the league with an 11.9% variance. In two separate games this season the Jets have turned the ball over four times and in four of the five games they have turned it over multiple times. Hard to win football games when you are doing that, but they have found a way.

A big reason for the Jets being in every game is rookie quarterback Geno Smith. As I said in the intro the Jets had to put Smith in the lineup with the injury to Sanchez so they are with him no matter what happened in the season. So far this year Smith has been just have the Jets have been, up and down. He is completing over 60% of his passes and has a really strong yard per attempt average of 8.26 but he has thrown eight interceptions already in five games and he has also fumbled three times (losing two). You would expect that from a rookie but man that is a pretty brutal start to the season.

Smith is coming off one of his better games of his young career on Monday night against the Falcons when he completed 16-of-20 passes for 199 yards and three touchdowns without throwing an interception. While the Falcons are a shell of what they used to be that is a really good performance no matter who you are playing against. His other really solid game was in week three against the Buffalo Bills where he threw for 331 yards and a pair of touchdowns despite completing only 55% of his 29 attempts and throwing two interceptions.

Smith has also had his bad, err brutal, games this season. In week two against New England he threw for 214 yards on only 15-of-35 passes and three interceptions and then two weeks later against Tennessee he threw two interceptions and only one touchdown in a blowout loss to the Titans. Which Smith are the Jets going to get? The Steelers are hoping the bad one.

For the most part Smith hasn't ran too much despite being a very athletic quarterback. He's attempted 19 rushes for 106 yards and a score and seven of those rushes have gone for first downs. While he isn't going to look to run the Steelers have to be aware that he can run and will if given the opportunity .

In terms of advanced stats Smith has been hurt by the inconsistency and the many turnovers that he has given to other teams. Hr ranks 20th in the league among qualified quarterbacks with a DYAR of -17 while his DVOA of -12.8% ranks him 25th in the league. A little easier way to explain his inconsistency and loss of value, he has thrown for 1,145 yards on the season and his effective yards only add up to 839. That is what happens when you turn the ball over 10 times in five games.

The Jets rushing attack leaves you a lot to be desired. It's not that they have been terrible (like the Steelers) it's just that nothing really jumps off the paper at you to say that you should be worried about this group. Third year pro out of Louisville Bilal Powell leads the team in rushing with 330 yards on 78 carries and a touchdown which works out to a 4.2 yard per carry average. Not terrible, but that is about all they have.

Over his career Powell has only 788 yards on 201 carries and that includes this season. Last year he gained 437 yards on 110 carries and four touchdowns but much like the Steelers it just seems like they are going to throw him against the wall and see if he will stick.

He hasn't been all that good in any game except one which came in week three when he went off for 149 yards on 27 carries in a win against the Bills but outside of that he has only ran for over 50 yards one time and he has got at least 12 carries in each of the games he has played in. He will catch the ball out of the backfield as he has 12 catches for 117 yards so it wouldn't surprise me if the Jets tried to match him up against a linebacker and try to get him in a little space to supplement the running game.

Powell is ranked just about league average with a DYAR of 26 and a DVOA of -0.4% which puts him right about average. That seems about right from what I said above and I didn't even look at either of these stats until after I talked about Powell above. Amazing how that works. Powell has 318 effective yards so he is a little underperforming while his success rate of 44% is only 22nd best in the league. So, yea, I am not overly worried about this guy.

In terms of the rest of the team Smith is the second leading rusher and after I talked about how little he was running that doesn't really bode well for the Jets rushing attack. Chris Ivory also has some carries for the Jets but has been largely ineffective with only 99 yards on 30 carries.

Much like the running backs the receivers just don't give you a whole lot of 'wow' factor. They did have a big time playmaker in former Steeler Santonio Holmes but he will not be in the lineup on Sunday as he is dealing with a hamstring injury. Even if you ignore the injury Holmes has been pretty ineffective this season with only one truly good game that came in week three against the Bills when he caught five passes for 154 yards and a score. Outside of that game he only had five catches for 89 yards and zero touchdowns. Not all that inspiring.

With that being said the Jets are now relying on Stephen Hill and Jeremy Kerley. So, yea. Hill leads the team entering the game with 15 catches for 254 yards and also has a touchdown while catching four passes for 20 yards or more. Despite leading the team in yards and second in receptions Hill ranks only 51st in the league in DYAR (21) and 50th in DVOA (-2.8%) which is good for third on his own team below Kerley and Holmes.

Kerley has 14 catches this year for 203 yards and a touchdown. He caught five of the six targets he got last week against Atlanta and caught a touchdown pass with 68 yards but so far this season those 68 yards have been his high while twice getting held under 50 yards. He does rank the highest in DYAR (62, 32nd) and DVOA (29.2%, 10th) so he will be the favorite target of Smith and is probably the most dangerous guy with the ball in his hands. He ranks as one of the best in the league in terms of catch rate with a score at the 70% mark so he has been reliable despite the mundane statistics.

Former Browns tight end Kellen Winslow is on the team also as he has 17 catches (leads the team) for 169 yards and caught two touchdown passes. Actually fellow tight end Jeff Cumberland also has two touchdown catches which mesa that the tight ends have caught four of the seven touchdown passes from Smith.

UPDATE: After I published this it came out that Winslow will be out as part of a four game suspension for violating the NFL policy on performance enhancing substances.

In terms of offensive line play the Jets have been doing a pretty decent job. They are getting an adjusted line yard of 4.00 which is exactly the same amount of yardage that the running backs are getting per attempt. That ALY is good for 11th in the league so in terms of doing more with less I think we can give the Jets a little bit of credit there. They also rank fifth in the league in stuffed percentage only getting hit at or behind the line of scrimmage 14% of the time which is a full 7% less than the league average. While they aren't getting hit right at the line of scrimmage they aren't being particularly effective in short yardage situations. The Jets rank 17th in terms of power success at 56% which is lower than the league average (59%) so that is pretty interesting in my eyes.

In terms of where the Jets like to run the football you can find they have much more success running to the left side of the offensive line than anywhere else. The left side of the Jets line features Vladimir Ducasse and D'Brickashaw Ferguson and when they are running to that side of the line they are very effective. When running off the left end the Jets are posting a 5.99 ALY which is third best in the league and when they run to the left tackle they are 8th in the league with a 4.34 ALY.

While the Jets are wildly effective running to the perimeter they don't do that with a whole lot of frequency. The Jets run 60% of their running plays up the middle which includes right over the center or off the guards. While that isn't unusually it might be when you consider that they rank 20th in the league with a 3.84 ALY when running up the middle/off the guards which is actually league average, but they only run 16% of their running plays either off Ferguson or to perimeter to the left side of the line.

In terms of protecting the quarterback the Jets have been pretty awful. Like, worse than the Steelers awful. The Jets have seen Smith sacked 18 times this season and have posted an adjusted sack rate of 10.1% which is good for 29th in the league and they are only one of four teams that has an adjusted sack rate of double digits. The Steelers have an adjusted sack rate of 9.5% and have given up 15 sacks, for some perspective.

Jets Defense

Rex Ryan is more well known for his defenses than he is for his offense but despite that the Jets haven't been all that good defensively in past seasons. This year Ryan took over calling the defensive plays and while that might not be the complete reason for the turnaround the Jets defense has been playing some really good football early.

The Jets rank second in the league in total defense giving up 299 yards per game while holding opposing offenses to only 76 rushing yards per game. Only once this season have the Jets given up more than 80 yards rushing and they have held teams under 70 yards rushing in three of the five games. Despite the strong yardage numbers the Jets have given up more points than you would like a top notch defense to give up as they are giving up over 23 points per game which is only good for 15th in the league.

Overall the Jets defense has been good no matter how you stack it. The Jets own the fourth-best defensive DVOA at -13.2% while they boast the best rush defense in league league with a DVOA of -42.4%. Not too shabby. They do struggle a little more through the air as they are 18th in the league with a 6.8% DVOA so that might be where the Steelers have to make their hay on Sunday. One thing is for sure is that the Jets have been pretty consistent through the years. They post a variance of 2.6% which is good for seventh in the league and when you are talking about a good defense you talk about one that gives you some consistently on a game-to-game basis and so far that is what the Jets have done.

The Jets don't cover the pass particularly well in any aspect. Against opposing top recovers the Jets rank 22nd in the league with a DVOA of 8.5% as they allow almost 87 yards of receiving on nine pass attempts per game. They are better against oppositions number two receivers with a DVOA of -1.2% which is 13th best in the league where they allow just over 55 yards per game. This is going to be a tough matchup for the Jets as we found out on Wednesday night that Antonio Cromartie will most likely miss the game which will give Antonio Brown a lot better looks. Brown is the Steelers number one guy and ranks tops in the league in DYAR (171) and third in DVOA (37%).

In terms of getting after the passer the Jets have done a better job at that than most teams. They have 16 sacks on the season and have an adjusted sack rate of 8.3% which is over a full percentage point better than the league average and a number that ranks 10th in the league.

Where the Jets the job done thought is through stopping the run. They allow opponents running backs to gain only 2.90 yards per carry and their adjusted line yards ranks tops in the league at 2.47 yards per carry. Their power success rate sits at 44% (seventh in the league) while they top the carts in stuffed percentage at 35%. The moral of the story here is that the Jets are going to get into the backfield and get on the running backs if the offensive line isn't excellent and from what we have seen from the Steelers offensive line I don't think there is any reason to think the Jets won't continue stopping the run.

To further this point the Jets rank in the top five in each of the running categories that offenses try to attack. The Steelers run most frequently up the middle or off the guards and the Jets stoop the run there to the tune of a 3.09 ALY which is fourth-best in the league. The Steelers run off the tackles more frequently than to the edge and when teams run to the right tackle against the Jets teams muster up only a 2.63 ALY while when offenses run to the left tackle they are even more unsuccessful with a 1.90 ALY. The Steelers aren't very good at running the football and it isn't going to be easy on Sunday.

When talking about the run defense the guy you really need to talk about is defensive tackle Muhammad Wilkerson. He is the unsung hero of that Jets defense and while he has a team-high four sacks it is more about disrupting the run and dominating the line of scrimmage that makes him so valuable.

David Harris leads the team with 42 tackles which includes a sack while DeMario Davis has 37 tackle and a sack. Both Sheldon Richardson and Calvin Pace each have 2.5 sacks while secondary teammate Dawan Landry has the teams only interception on the season.

Jets Special Teams

Usually when you have a team that is heavily favored on one side of the ball and a good bit weaker on the other side of the ball that usually means that special teams would decide if you were going to have a true chance at contending or would just fall back as another average team. The Jets enter Sunday's game with the fifth-best special teams unit in the league with a DVOA of 5.1% and are only below league average in one area of their special teams unit (punt returns).

Football Outsiders has the Jets strongest with their field goal unit which ranks second in the league with a DVOA of 5.2% and relies heavily on kicker Nick Folk to carry that unit, as you would expect. Folk has been with the Jets the last three seasons and while he has mostly been average he is a perfect 11-for-11 so far this season with six of those field goals coming between 40-49 yards. Folk has never been alive 78% in his career but has really helped this offense when it has stalled out which included the game winning 43 yard field goal as time expired.

In terms of return game the Jets rely on two different players. For kickoff returns a guy named Clyde Gates returns kicks and averages almost 22 yards per return while Kerley returns punts as he averages 7.9 yards on eight returns. Yawn.

Ryan Quigley is the punter. He's punted 15 of the 31 times the Jets have punted this year and averaged 45.3 yards per punt while having a net average of 41.1 yards. Opponents have returned six of his punts for an average of 10.3 yards per return.

Game Notes

-Before the season this was one of the games I really chalked up as a win for the Steelers. The Jets have been pretty bad and even if the Steelers defense was old the Jets still had Mark Sanchez. The times have changed. While Geno Smith isn't doing the best job of keeping the football he seems to have the Jets playing more competent football and the Steelers are doing the exact opposite of that. What once seemed like a pretty sure win now seems like it would be lucky if the Steelers could come back from New York with a win. Man, this sucks.

-The Steelers made a few moves since the bye week. While that might seem like a good thing I think they are just more meh than anything else. The Steelers traded for Levi Brown from the Cardinals. He plays tackle but if you were looking for something better than Mike Adams you probably need to look somewhere else. If you were just looking for an older Adams (by six years) then I think you are in luck! The Steelers also brought Stevenson Sylvester and Will Allen. Those were mostly moves to have someone come in that already knew the Steelers playbook and could play right away but man, this does not inspire a ton of confidence.

-Eventually the Steelers will force a turnover AND recover it. I mean you might take that as a joke but just based on dumb luck it will happen at some point. Geno Smith turns the ball over, a lot, so could this be the week? Maybe. Maybe not though.

PREDICTION: I said before that the Steelers were thought to be the overwhelming favorite this week but the Jets have been alright. I don't think the Steelers are going to be able to run the football but I do think they will get some chances in the passing game. If the offensive line can protect Roethlisberger then they will be in the game for the entire time but how confident do you feel in that? I think they will do an alright job but in the end I think the Jets win this one with a last second field goal. Jets 23, Steelers 20.

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