Friday, October 25, 2013

Steelers Game 7 Preview - @ Oakland Raiders

The Steelers are coming off their second win of the season and boy was it a big one. It was a rivalry game at Heinz Field and they came out and played like it and they were able to take down the Ravens. As I wrote and thought about this game all week I came to the realization that I couldn’t really get excited about the Steelers playing the Raiders.

Anyways, this is going to be an interesting game as Terrell Pryor will be playing against the Steelers. Pryor went to school outside of Pittsburgh and has talked about being a Steelers fan so it will most likely be a huge storyline, so that will be…awesome.

Off to the preview.

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

Raiders Offense

The Raiders offense leaves a lot to be desired. I know this has been the case for much of their recent history but this year they just aren't that good, again. The Raiders rank 24th in the league gaining about 330 yards per game. The Raiders aren't moving the ball through the air particularly well but they are rushing the ball well at better than 129 yards per game which is good for ninth in the league despite not having a number one back. Despite the solid rushing attack they average only 17.5 points per game which is just below the Steelers 17.8 points per game. So, yay.

The Raiders rank 24th in the league with an offensive DVOA of -15.2% which is distributed nicely between they below average passing game (-6.6% DVOA) and their below average rushing attack (-10.1%) despite what the raw numbers tell you.

Here is a breakdown of the offense:

Quarterback: Terrelle Pryor
Completion %: 64.5% (89-138)
Yards: 1,061
Touchdowns: 5
Interceptions: 5
QBR: 36.9 (30th)
DYAR: -48 (27th)
DVOA: -16.0% (28th)

In case you guys didn't low Pryor went to high school in the greater Pittsburgh area. Good, now that we have that out of the way we can talk about real things that are important to the game at hand. Pryor wasn't very good in his time at Ohio State and frankly hasn't been that good as a pro. Before the season started Pryor said that he never knew the proper way to throw a football. Evidently he learned how to do that and was named the Raiders starter. Interesting.

I must admit that Pryor hasn't been all that bad so far this year. He is completing passes at almost a 65% clip and his 7.69 yard per attempt average is pretty good and while he hasn't been doing anything overly great he hasn't been costing the Raiders a ton of games due to terrible play.

Last week Pryor had his worst game of the season when he threw for 216 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions while his completion percentage of 53% was his worst of the season. Granted, that was against the Chiefs, one of the best defenses in the league, but shaped a four game streak where Pryor didn't turn the football over.

In between the game against Kansas City and his first game, a loss to the Colts where he turned the football over twice through the air, he threw three touchdowns and no interceptions while having his two best games of the season. The week before the meltdown Pryor was outstanding in a 10 point win over the Chargers when he threw for 221 yards on 18-of-23 attempts with a pair of touchdowns and no picks.

Not only is Pryor the teams quarterback but he also leads the team in rushing. I am not sure that is a good thing for the team but for Pryor it makes him a real threat for the Steelers. He is rushing for a 6.5 yard per carry average and has a team-best five rushes of 20 yards or more. Overall he's run 44 times for 285 yards but has yet to find the end zone on the ground.

His most productive game on the ground was a 13 carry, 112 yard performance in the season-opener against the Colts and is coming off a seven carry, 56 yard performance last game against the Chiefs. He has at least 30 yards of rushing and in four of his five games played he's rushed at least seven times.

The advanced numbers don't like Pryor. While I think he is more of a guy that doesn't kill you in games and keeps you somewhat in it he just hasn't been all that good. While throwing for over 1,000 yards so far his effective yards is only at 726 which shows that he has been playing below the line no matter if you look at QBR, DVOA, or quarterback rating.

Running Back: Darren McFadden
Attempts: 69
Yards: 267
Rushing Touchdowns: 2
DYAR: -23 (29th)
DVOA: -16.8% (30th)

McFadden is a strange case. He has six years under his belt after playing at Arkansas but other than a 1,157 yard, seven touchdown season in 2010 he has left a lot to be desired. Nobody is denying that McFadden has the talent inside him but he never has been able to bring that talent out. Whether it is injuries or a bad offensive line or inconsistent play he just hasn't been there.

Outside the breakout year McFadden's next top season in yardage was last season when he gained 707 yards in 12 games but he averaged only 3.3 yards per carry. When he was averaging a good ypc (5.4 in 2011) he wasn't able to stay healthy (seven games played) and when he could play double-digit games he was just in his rookie season (4.4 ypc, 13 games played, 499 yards).

To say things have been more bust than boom for McFadden would be a pretty big understatement and this year is no different. So far he has only 267 yards and a 3.9 yard per carry average and has found the end zone twice. This season he has one 100+ yard game when he went for 129 on only 19 carries but since then has been pretty awful.

In hi next three games McFadden has run for nine, 29, and 52 yards on 12, five, and 16 carries. He has rushed for less than 50 yards in three of his five games and just hasn't been consistent.

In the passing game McFadden can be a target but hasn't been utilized too often. Against Kansas City he caught three passes for 31 yards but that was the first pass he caught in a game since September 15 when he had four catches for 28 yards. I don't think this will be a huge concern in pass coverage but he could be a threat, even if only moderately.

McFadden ranks nearly dead last among qualified running backs in most advanced categories and his success rate of 39% ranks only better than a handful of backs which is not where you want to be. Like I said he has the talent to be a difference maker but has yet to do so this season.

Receiver: Denarius Moore
Catches: 25
Yards: 399
Rec. Touchdowns: 4
DYAR: 78 (31st)
DVOA: 9.2% (32nd)

Moore is the Raiders top target on a team that really doesn't have a lot to offer in the pass catching tree. Moore has been targeted 44 times this season which is 15 more times than any other receiver and he has six more catches than anyone else on the receiving core.

Moore has been pretty decent for the Raiders in his two previous seasons. In his rookie year in 2011 he caught 33 passes for 618 yards and five touchdowns before catching 51 catches for 741 yards and seven touchdowns last season. So far this year he is on pace to set new career marks as he has 399 yards and four scores already.

Moore had a pretty rough start to the season as he caught five passes for 43 yards and a score in the season opener before not catching a single pass in the Raiders win over Jacksonville. After that though, he has been as good as you could want. He started with a six catch, 124 yard performance against the Broncos and followed that with games of 66, 84, and 82 yards with catches of at least 30 yards in each of them.

Moore has a catch rate of 57% and has 406 effective yards which puts him right around league average for the production he has given so far. That is neither good or bad for Moore but as the teams number one guy you would probably expect him to do a little more and be a big play guy for his quarterback. Just for a reference point Moore ranks just behind Kendall Wright of Tennessee. Wright hasn't been that good for reference.

Receiver: Rod Streater
Catches: 19
Yards: 274
Rec. Touchdowns: 1

Streater is in his second year out of Temple and while he might not be the most flashy he does offer Pryor and the passing game a little bit of something. Last season in his rookie year he played in all 16 games while making 39 catches for 584 yards and three touchdowns while averaging 15 yards per catch.

This season Streater is the teams second leading receiver with 19 catches for 274 yards and a score. While those aren't bad numbers for a second year guy it probably isn't what you want from your number two receiver. He seems like more of a nice complimentary piece than a guy you want to rely on if Moore gets shut down by Ike Taylor.

Last week Streater caught three passes for 46 yards and has been pretty consistent even if his numbers aren't great. He has caught between 40-60 yards of passing in all but two games and those two games he had 70 yards and 18 yards. Not a huge breakout candidate but still a guy that could hurt you if ignored.

Streater ranks fairly highly according to Football Outsiders with a 24.8% DVOA which is good for 13th-best in the league while his effective yards of 296 are showing that he has been more productive than his actual yards have shown. Streater also has a catch rate of 66% which is on par with some of the second tier receivers in the league so while Moore might be looked at as the number one receiver I don't think it is too far of a stretch to think that Streter is just as important to the passing game.

Tight End: Mychal Rivera
Catches: 12
Yards: 138
Rec. Touchdowns: 1
DYAR: 11 (25th)
DVOA: 0.6% (23rd)

The tight end position isn't much for the Raiders. As a first year player he has been thrust into the roll of being the main pass catcher for Pryor, or whomever else is going to throw passes for the Raiders in coming years.

Rivera hasn't caught more than three passes in a game so far this season and his high watermark was a 44 yard receiving game against Washington where he caught his first, and only touchdown pass.

Over at Football Outsiders they rank him out as just a league average tight end. He ranks in the mid-20's and his DYAR and DVOA put him right at the not good, not bad part of the equation. His catch rate is 57% which is on the low end.

I wish I could say more about this guy but he is literally the most average player you can find.

Offensive Line
Left to Right: Khalif Barnes, Lucas Nix, Stefen Wisniewski, Mike Brisiel, Tony Pashos

This isn't the most well-known offensive line in the league with most people from Pittsburgh only knowing Wisniewski because he was a Penn State guy and knowing Nix because he played for Pitt. Outside of that I can't claim to know any of the other guys and to be honest I am not even sure if they are a recognizable name in their own families.

The Raiders running backs are gaining yardage at a 4.08 yard per carry average while the offensive line is being tabbed with an adjusted line yardage of 3.67 to give you the impression that the backs are doing a little bit more of the work in the rushing attack.

In terms of short yardage football the Raiders do a pretty terrible job at picking up yards. Their power success rate of 50% is good for only 27th in the league so it is safe to say that when it comes to goal-to-go and short yardage situations the interior of the Steelers defensive line might be able to make some hay. Despite the below the line performance in short yardage situations they do a decent job at not getting their backs hit in the backfield. Only 18% of the time is their backs getting dropped behind or at the line of scrimmage which is good for 10th in the league.

In terms of where the Raiders run they aren't overly successful at any one area and they aren't overly bad at many position. The Raiders are running up the middle or off the guards 69% of the time which is the third-most in the league and while they are pounding the football they are only marginally successful. League average ALY running up the middle is 3.85 and the Raiders are right below that at 3.79 which is 19th in the league. Oakland is most successful running off their right end but they only run that direction 3% of the time so that is a little bit of the small sample size variety. They run to the left tackle 13% of the time and that is a spot where their ALY ranks 16th in the league at 3.67.

In pass protection the Raiders are one of the worst in the league. They rank dead last among the 32 teams with an adjusted sack rate of 13% by giving up 28 sacks. The Jacksonville Jaguars are the only team that have given up more sacks. They are coming off a game where they gave up nine sacks to the Chiefs defense and have given up 20 sacks in their last three games. After giving up only a single sack in the season opener they have given up at least three sacks in each game.

Raiders Defense

The Raiders defense has done a pretty good job this season as they rank 12th in the league giving up only 340 yards of offense per game and allowing only 22 points per contest. The run defense is easily the strongest part of the defense as they give up only 99 yards per game and come in with a DVOA of -114% which is 13th in the league.

Overall the defense ranks 20th overall with a DVOA of 4.2% which is one spot higher than the Steelers. The Raiders pass defense has been the killer portion of the defense where they have a DVOA of 16.4% which is 20th in the league.

While the Raiders run defense is good on the surface they haven't done a whole lot of things well. They rank 24th in the league giving up an ALY of 4.04 while not being overly good at stuffing the run. The defensive lines power success rate is only 67% which is 20th best in the league while they are stuffing running backs at the line or behind the line at only a 16% clip which is an even worse 25th among all teams.

Teams are running a pretty balanced attack on the ground against Oakland. The most common run area is up the middle where that is taking place 53% of the time and teams are gaining a 3.94 ALY which is above league average (3.86) and is 19th in the league. The Raiders do a nice job of stuffing the run when teams run to the offensive left tackle with an ALY of only 2.90 (eighth in league) and teams keep trying that area for the second most frequent run area (16%). In all the other areas the Raiders rank 27th in the league (seriously, 27th in all three other areas) so while it looks good that they are only giving up 99 yards a game they can be had in the run game.

The Raiders do a decent job of getting to the quarter as they have registered an adjusted sack rate of 8.5% which is good for seventh in the league. While they don't rank at the top in terms of sacks they are able to get to the quarterback a good percentage of the time. Oakland has sacks from 12 different players with only two players having two or more sacks led by Lamarr Houston with three.

The Steelers might be able to make their mark against the pass defense, however. While the Raiders do a pretty decent job of getting to the quarterback they really struggle in pass coverage of most of the receivers. Against opposing top receivers they rank 31st in the league with a DVOA of 34.1% (remember negative is good for defense) where top targets are averaging almost 84 yards per game. This is going to be key because Antonio Brown has been one of the best receivers in the entire league. He comes into the game ranking second in DYAR (208) and eighth in DVOA (30.4%) which are only behind some of the best receivers in the league. His catch rate of 78% is second-best among qualified receivers so the Raiders are going to have a really hard time defending him if Ben Roethlisberger has any kind of time.

Oakland does a pretty nice job against number two receivers as the -28.4% DVOA is fourth-best in the league but against all other receivers they are 28th in the league. They are decent against tight ends (11th, -9.8%) and running backs (ninth, -14.9%) but with the little that the Steelers use of their running backs and the skill level of Heath Miller I think the Steelers will be able to attack the Raiders through the air.

Linebacker Nick Roach came over from Chicago and he leads the team in tackles so far this season with 45 and also is one of the 12 players who has a sack while fellow linebacker Kevin Burnett has 43 tackles which includes 37 solo tackles and a sack. Roach has been particularly durable as he has taken 100% of the 399 defensive snaps this season while defensive back Charles Woodson has taken only five less snaps for a nearly perfect record on defense. Woodson is actually fourth on the team in tackles despite playing corner as he has 33 tackles and a sack and has one of the three interceptions.

Raiders Special Teams

The Raiders special teams units are usually pretty good. Sebastian Janikowski has one of the strongest legs in the league while Shane Lechler has been as good as it has come as a punter in the NFL. This doesn't really make up all of it as the Raiders special teams haven't been all that good this year. Overall the special teams rank 25th in the league with a -2.1% DVOA and have one portion that is in positive numbers, barely.

Lechler and the punt team has been one of the best in the league adding 2.4 points above league average led by Lechler's 47.5 yard per kick average. While his gross yardage is good he has struggled with only a 38.3 yard net average but has pinned 17 punts inside the 20 which is third-most in the league. While things have been good Lechler is allowing nearly 14 yards per return which isn't very good. Actually it is the fifth-worst in the league.

The punt return team is the only other place where the Raiders are above the line as Mike Tomlin would say. The punt return unit is only 0.4 points better than league average and are headlined by returner Phillip Adams who is averaging 7.4 yards per return which is only good for 19th in the league.

I talked about Janikowski's huge leg but this year he hasn't been very good. He has only made seven field goals on the season and is dead last among kickers with a 64% conversion rate. A large amount of kickers are converting better than 85% of their kicks (18 to be exact) but not the Raiders. He has only hit 1-of-3 chances from longer than 50 yards and has missed one of his three attempts both from 30-39 yards and from 40-49 yards. I have a feeling if this game comes down to a late field goal from like 55 there is little chance that Janikowski misses it.

In terms of kickoff return the Raiders rely on Jacoby Ford who ranks 19th of 21 ranked kickoff returners with a 23 yard per return average and only a long of 30 in 11 attempts.

Game Notes

-Lets just get this out of the way right away, the Steelers don’t play very good football out West. Whether it’s the time zones or the fact that nobody likes the Pacific Ocean the Steelers just haven’t played very good football out there. Since the Raiders moved back to Oakland they are 1-2 and have lost the last two games out there which were last season and in 2006. Both of those losses were brutal. The Steelers have also lost three of the past four meetings against the Raiders all which started with that 2006 loss so history will not be on their side. You know what is good about that? It doesn’t mean anything. People love to put stock in past games but they really don’t mean anything. These are different teams and with the way organizations change from year-to-year there is no real conclusions you can make from a game that was played last year in Oakland or the game in 2006. It makes for a cute storyline but that is about it.

-The key to this game is going to be containing Pryor. Not that he is anything great from the QB position but he does present a strong dual threat and has played some pretty good football at points this year. I probably doubt that Dick LeBeau will have a spy on Pryor but I wouldn’t be surprised if at points during the game he did that. That would most likely fall to Lawrence Timmons who had a monster game last week and while Timmons is very athletic he might have a hard time if Pryor gets some outside leverage. Just something to keep an eye on.

-Good news on the injury front for the Steelers as Marcus Gilbert and Jarvis Jones will be available. They are both listed as probable and Jones will be coming back after missing the Baltimore game with a concussion. Gilbert missed most of the Ravens game with a quad injury but he practiced both Thursday and Friday so he will be good to go. Jones coming back is pretty significant as he can make splash plays in an instant while Gilbert coming back should give them a little more flexibility and not have to rely on Guy Whimper.

-The Steelers have an opportunity of defense to really make a difference. The Raiders offensive line is beat up and giving up sacks like they are going out of style and that might be what the Steelers need as they have struggled getting pressure on quarterbacks and struggled creating turnovers. Get some pressure on Pryor and keep him in the pocket and he has shown he can make mistakes like he did in the Raiders last game two weeks ago.

PREDICTION - The Steelers have struggled on the coast but as I said above that really doesn’t have anything to do with this year. The Steelers and Raiders are pretty similar teams this year but I think the Steelers have the talent advantage all the way around and sometimes talent wins out. I think it does on Sunday. Steelers 27, Raiders 23.

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