Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Steelers Game 12 Preview - @ Baltimore Ravens

I am not overly sure how I feel about this game. Both teams come in with 5-6 records and while both teams are a game out of the playoff picture it really feels like both teams aren’t playoff teams. These have been the two best in the AFC North for some time and right now they just aren’t. OK, maybe they are because the AFC North is pretty awful but I think you get what I mean.

Anyways, both of these teams could have zero wins and it would still be a big time game. One team could be undefeated and one team could be without a win and it would still be a big game. This is a true rivalry game and that is what makes it great.

This rivalry game is taking place on Thanksgiving night and after you get done stuffing your face multiple times there is going to be a football game that is worth getting invested in on at night. You will be with family and friends and slugging beers while cussing out a Ravens player for doing something well. That is what the holidays are all about.

Off to the preview. The preview is a little short and abbreviated this week because of my travel schedule and the game being on a short week so I might be adding things later today and early on Thursday so keep checking back. The core stuff is still there from my typical previews but the research was a little limited.

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

Ravens Offense

Offensively Baltimore is bad. Like one of the worst in the league. They rank 30th in all of football with a DVOA of -20.0% and rank 31st in rushing (-29.6%) and 23rd in passing offense (-3.5%).

The Ravens are gaining almost 309 yards of total offense per game which is 29th in the league while rushing for only 81.7 yards per game on the ground and 227.1 yards per game through the air. Where it really counts most is in scoring points and there they average barely over 20 points per game which is 24th in the league. Not all that impressive.

Here is a breakdown of the offense:

Quarterback: Joe Flacco
Completion %: 59.1% (238-403)
Yards: 2,742
Touchdowns: 14
Interceptions: 14
QBR: 48.5 (23rd)
DYAR: -151 (36th)
DVOA: -16.7% (35th)

I talked about Flacco a few weeks ago when the Steelers played the Ravens for the first time and the conclusion that I came up with was that Flacco wasn’t very good. A few weeks have gone by since the Steelers beat he and the Ravens and Flacco still isn’t very good.

Since the Ravens played the Steelers on October 20 Flacco has thrown for 825 yards on 78-of-134 passing for a 58% completion rate which is just about where he has been all season. He also threw for six touchdowns and six interceptions in those six games so he was pretty average.

Last week against the Jets was his best game in the four game stretch since playing against the Steelers as he threw for 273 yards and a touchdown on only 26 passing attempts. It was his best yard per attempt average of the year (10.50) and was only the third time this season he was over 8.00 ypa.

Flacco hasn’t been very accurate overall in his career and that is the case this year. Only four times this year has he completed over 60% of his passes and last week was only the first time since the Steelers game that he completed over 60% of his passes. Not good.

Last game against Pittsburgh he completed 24-of-34 passes for 215 yards and a touchdown while not throwing an interception. While it was a pretty good overall game for Flacco his team still wasn’t able to get the job done in a 19-16 loss.

Running Back: Ray Rice
Attempts: 156
Yards: 450
Rushing Touchdowns: 4
DYAR: -119 (35th)
DVOA: -27.3% (33rd)

Maybe the biggest disappointment of the season for Baltimore has been Ray Rice and the running game as a whole. Rice has been a monster over his career and probably can be attributed to Flacco’s success as much as anything else that has gone on with that Ravens offense.

This season Rice has just been brutally bad. He leads the team in rushing which actually might be the worst thing of them all as he is averaging only 2.9 yards per carry and only one run of 20 yards or more. Rice is also excellent out of the backfield catching passes but so far this year he has only 37 catches for 175 yards for a 4.7 yard per catch average. Woof.

Against the Steelers last time he wasn’t very good. He had 15 rushes for 45 yards and four catches for 27 yards. He was virtually a non-factor and had a long carry of only 13 yards.

Rice finally cracked the 100 yard barrier two weeks ago in Chicago when he rushed for 131 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries while ripping off a 47 yard run which was his first rush of over 14 yards on the entire year. Last week, however, he wasn’t able to continue his good rushing as he carried the ball 16 times for only 30 yards and caught only one pass for negative three yards.

Bernard Pierce has been taking carries from Rice this year so that could have something to do with it but I don’t think that really has all that much to do with it as Pierce is averaging 2.7 yards per carry on the year. Overall as a team the Ravens post a 2.9 yard per carry average.

Receiver: Torrey Smith
Catches: 48
Yards: 859
Rec. Touchdowns: 3
DYAR: 179 (18th)
DVOA: 11.3% (23rd)

Smith is a true game breaker on the Ravens team. Flacco loves to utilize the deep ball and if there is one guy that can go down the field and get it then Smith is that guy. He has 16 catches of 20 yards or more on the year and averages 17.9 yards per catch so this guy is a real threat and the biggest one on the offensive side of the ball. The yard per catch average is fifth in the NFL and his catches of 20+ yards are third-most in the league.

Smith was decent in the last game against the Steelers. He caught three passes on six targets for 61 yards but 41 of those yards came on one pass so while he averaged over 20 yards per catch on the day the Steelers did a pretty nice job of keeping him bottled up and forcing the Ravens to go in other directions.

Smith hasn’t had a 100 yard receiving game since an October 6th game against the Dolphins with six catches for 121 yards but since hat game he has only two games where he caught for more than 70 yards. Last week against the Jets he had a pair of catches for 74 yards. Two of his three touchdowns on the season have come in the last three weeks.

Tight End: Dallas Clark
Catches: 30
Yards: 335
Rec. Touchdowns: 3
DYAR: -11 (32nd)
DVOA: -10.5% (33rd)

When Dennis Pitta went down before the year started it was thought that Ed Dickson was going to be able to hold the first until Pitta was maybe able to come back in the middle of the year. That was not the case. The Ravens had to go out and sign Clark just to really fill out the tight end spot.

Clark was once a high-profile receiver for the Colts with Peyton Manning but has got a lot older and hasn’t been all that productive since leaving the Colts. This year, with a pretty bad receiving unit, Clark has been one of the top three options for Flacco and the Ravens passing game.

On the year Clark is second on the team in catches (30), targets (50), yards (335) and touchdowns (three).

Clark did catch a touchdown pass in the first game against the Steelers but he finished the game with three catches for only nine yards. If he didn’t have that touchdown then you might have been surprised that he actually played in the game. Thankfully that touchdown came in a loss.

He has been really off and on throughout the season. He has more than two catches in a game only once in his last four games since playing the Steelers and has a game-high of only 31 yards that came two weeks ago against the Bears. Last week he made three catches for 24 yards. Really surprising he is the number two target when he hasn’t been productive and it isn’t like he is a run blocker because he is a receiving-only tight end.

Offensive Line
Left to Right: Eugene Monroe, A.Q. Shipley, Gino Gradkowski, Marshal Yanda, Michael Oher

The Ravens offense hasn’t been all that good so far this season. The running game hasn’t been all that good and while Flacco hasn’t been all that good the Ravens have given up 37 sacks on the season which is the exact number of sacks the Steelers offensive line has done. We all know how good the Steelers offensive line has been.

Baltimore has one of the worst offensive lines in terms of adjusted line yards which tries to give you an idea of how successful the offensive line is without the full context of the running back. That is pretty impossible to do as a whole but it’s hard to really justify how bad the Ravens have been running the football and no place a large amount of blame on the offensive line.

The Ravens rank 31st in the league with an ALY of 2.90 and maybe the most shocking part of that equation is that the running backs are averaging under that. Yikes. They don’t really get much better as they rank 28th in the league with a power success of only 48% and rank 31st in the NFL getting stuffed 26% of their running back carries. They aren’t really all that good at anything.

Baltimore is really just bad at running the football. I feel like a broken record but there is nothing about them that says “hey, we are pretty OK at that.” The best the Ravens rank across the offensive line is 20th when they run to the left tackle with an ALY of 3.63 and while that is just a little below league average they have only run 13% of their 284 running back carries to the left. Baltimore predominantly runs up the middle and off their guards (62%) but they have an ALY of 3.10 which is dead last in the league and well below the league average of 3.94.

I talked about it a little above but the Ravens really struggle protecting the quarterback. They have given up a lot of sacks this season and according to Football Outsiders they rank 24th in the league with an adjusted sack rate of 8.1% which takes into account the number of passes thrown which is a better number than just straight sacks since some teams throw more than others.

Ravens Defense

While the offense is pretty close to being awful the defense has actually been pretty good for the most part. They aren’t great like they used to be but they are giving up less than 20 points per game and holding opponents to less than 330 yards of total offense per contest.

Overall the Ravens are a top-10 defense and rank eighth in the league with a -8.7% DVOA. They continue to be a good run stopping defense ranking sixth with a -17.8% DVOA allowing just over 100 total rushing yards per game and they rank 12th in the league with a -1.5% DVOA against the pass.

The Ravens are pretty consistent in their defensive system with a variance of 2.8% that is fourth-best in the NFL. The Ravens have given up less than 300 yards of total offense five different times this season and has given up over 350 yards there times. So in eight of their 11 games they have given up 350 yards or below with a big chunk of those games coming on the loser end.

Against the pass the Ravens are decent but can be had. Against opposing top receivers the Ravens rank only 15th in the league with a 2.0% DVOA and give up almost 75 yards on just over nine pass attempts per game. They are even worse against teams number two receivers with a DVOA of 18.9% which is 27th in the league. Antonio Brown has worked his way into the discussion of one of the best in the league with a really outstanding year and the way Jerricho Cotchery has played this year (he is the teams number two) the Steelers could have a field day in the passing game if Ben Roethlisberger can stay upright.

Along with stopping the run the Ravens have also been very good at getting after the passer. This year is no different as they are third in the league with an adjusted sack rate of 9.3% and have got to the quarterback 37 times.

Against the run the Ravens rank 19th in the league with an ALY of 4.01 while opposing running backs are only rushing for a 3.77 yard per carry average against them. The Ravens are right around the middle of the pack with a power success rate against of 59% that is 14th in the league and they rank a little lower in their stuffed ranking as they are hitting running backs at or behind the line of scrimmage 17% of the time which is 22nd in the league.

Teams are running up the middle or off the guards against the Ravens almost exclusively at 69% of the running back carries. That number is third-most in the league and teams are having success with an ALY of 4.08 which ranks them 19th in the league. Teams are also having success running off the offensive left tackle where the Ravens rank 30th in the league with an ALY against of 4.80. Teams are running to the left tackle 10% of the time which is the second-most to any one area so it will be interesting to see if the Steelers take advantage of that.

The Ravens have a high-end pass rush tandem in Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil and they are going to give the Steelers absolute fits on Thanksgiving. Dumervil leads the team with 9.5 sacks and Suggs has nine sacks to combine for almost half of the total. Defending one elite pass rusher is touch, especially when your offensive tackles aren’t very good, but when you have two you are really playing against fire.

Linebacker Daryl Smith leads the team with 89 total tackles and is fourth on the team with 3.5 sacks and also has a pair of interceptions and a pair of forced fumbles. Corey Graham is tops on the team with three interceptions while Lardarius Webb has 14 passes defended. Arthur Jones has four sacks.

Ravens Special Teams

Baltimore might struggle offensively and in some spots defensively but overall they are pretty good in the special teams area of the game. Sometimes that is where games won and lost when it is coming down to a late game situation. The Ravens rank ninth in the league with a DVOA of 3.4% and they have the top ranked punt return unit with a ranking of 13.6. The ranking is an estimation of how many points compared to league average a team receives from that portion of the special teams unit.

Along with the punt return team the Ravens get a positive contribution from their field goal unit and Justin Tucker but actually are ranked as one of the worst punt teams.

This season Tucker is one of the more accurate kicks as he has hit 24 of his 26 attempts and is a perfect 14-for-14 inside of 40 yards. He has only one miss from 40-49 yards and the other miss came over 50 yards. He is 4-for-5 on tries of 50 yards or more.

Sam Koch ranks 20th in the league with an average of 44.8 yards per punt with 20 of those punts coming inside the 20 yard line. Koch and his coverage team as allowing 9.5 yards per return and Koch’s net average is only 37.6 yards which is 27th in the league.

Jacoby Jones is the main returner for the Ravens on kickoffs but hasn’t been all that productive. He ranks 18th in the league with an average return of 23.1 yards while having a long of only 35 yards. In the punt return game Tandon Doss does most of the work as he leads the league with a 15.6 yard per return average and has an 82 yard return for a touchdown under his belt this year.

Game Notes

-This game is uber important for both teams. Believe it or not the Steelers and Ravens are on the verge of being int he playoffs. Sure, neither team is even .500 but the sixth spot in the AFC playoff picture is there for the taking and since no team seems to want it. The Steelers might not make the playoffs this year and might not be a very good team but beating the Ravens twice in the same season is a glorious thing and you have to love it. The Steelers are already halfway there but they need to get this win in Baltimore. The people down there hate the Steelers but they have played pretty well down there so it should be a good, close game.

-This game is really going to come down to which team protects the quarterback better. Both offensive lines have been pretty bad this year but the Steelers offensive line has actually been somewhat decent recently. Roethlisberger didn’t get sacked in the Steelers win against the Browns and was only sacked one time against the Lions. The Steelers are going to have a hell of a time trying to stop the unreal duo of Suggs and Dumervil from getting to Roethlisberger. The positive is that in the last meeting the Steelers were able to hold the Ravens to only three sacks that included one from Suggs and a half sack from Dumervil. I think I would take that but the less times that Roethlisberger gets hit the better.

-Last time out Lawrence Timmons was the different in the defensive game plan for the Steelers. He made 17 tackles (!!!) with 12 of them coming solo. Timmons has probably been the defensive MVP this year and is a rare player that can do just about everything. The Steelers need him to step up in stopping the run like last time while probably covering Clark on routes. Despite the Ravens run game being mud if they can get Rice going then this game is going to be a lot different. If the Ravens can run the football they will gash the Steelers with play action and it could get pretty ugly.

PREDICTION - This is going to be a good old fashioned close game. I talked about it last time but almost every single game between these two teams ends up being a one score game. No matter how bad either team is that happens and it is probably going to be the same situation here tonight. I think the Steelers are a better team. I think it really comes down to the Steelers defense against the Ravens offense and the Steelers defense is probably a little better. Steelers 20, Ravens 17

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