Friday, December 13, 2013

Steelers Game 14 Preview - vs. Cincinnati Bengals

The Steelers are going to be in prime time again this season and what was once a sexy game now is a game to see if the Steelers can foil the playoff plans of a playoff bound team.

The Steelers have played well against some of the better teams on their schedule including beating the Lions so I would not be overly surprised if the Steelers won this game but I wouldn’t be throwing any money on it.

The Steelers still have a wildly outside shot at making the playoffs. They already have eight losses and with that loss to the Dolphins and losing before to the Ravens really makes it nearly impossibly for them to get in but I guess you can still cling to the hope that they get in.

Either way it is Sunday Night Football on prime time television. I can’t really complain about that.

As it is every 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.

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.

Bengals Offense

The Cincinnati offense isn’t anything great but it has absolutely got better as the season has unfolded and is why they are going to win the AFC North. Going into the Sunday night tilt the Bengals are averaging almost 369 yards per contest and have averaged 25.7 points per game which is each in the top-10 in the league.

They are pretty well rounded as a team throwing for almost 253 yards per game (12th) and rushing for over 115 yards (14th). While they are not overly good at any one facet of the game they do a nice job of spreading it around.

The last time these two teams played the Bengals they racked up 407 yards on the Steelers defense that included 280 through the air and 127 on the ground. It was the third-most yardage that the Steelers have given up all year and fifth-most rushing yards they gave up. Man, it’s been a bad season for the defense.

Overall Football Outsiders doesn’t rank out very well in terms of the offensive. They rank 17th in the league with an offensive DVOA of -0.6% with the passing offense ranking ninth (9.4%) and a rushing offense ranking 19th (-4.8%)

Here is a breakdown of the offense:

Quarterback: Andy Dalton
Completion %: 62% (290-468)
Yards: 3,419
Touchdowns: 25
Interceptions: 16
QBR: 53.1 (21st)
DYAR: 268 (19th)
DVOA: -2.8% (22nd)

Dalton has been pretty up and down so far this season for the Bengals. That being said he should set new career highs in yards, touchdowns, and yards per completion this season and is one of the reasons that the Bengals are in the drivers seat in the AFC North.

Last week in a blowout win over the Colts he was pretty outstanding throwing for 275 yards on 24-35 passing and three touchdowns while not throwing an interception. He didn’t make any big time plays with a long completion of only 29 yards but he was very efficient and pushed the Bengals to their third straight victory.

Dalton really bounced back last Sunday after a string of really awful games. In losses to Miami and Baltimore and a win over Cleveland Dalton had a QBR that added together equaled 34.5. Now a QBR of 34.5 is brutal in itself but that was three games put together including an awful game against the Browns where he went 13-27 for only 93 yards, three touchdowns and two picks.

That just goes to say that Dalton is still working out some kinks. While he has played pretty well this year he still is prone to a real stinker of a game and you can bet the Steelers are hoping that the Dalton that played horribly against the Browns is the guy they can turn him into rather than the guy who cut up the Colts.

In the first meeting against Steelers Dalton was just aright. He completed only 56% of his passes (25-45) and threw only one touchdown pass. He threw for 280 yards which was the highlight of his first five games before he went off for four straight 300+ yard passing games.

Running Back: BenJarvus Green-Ellis
Attempts: 193
Yards: 662
Rushing Touchdowns: 6
DYAR: -41 (36th)
DVOA: -13.4% (35th)

Green-Ellis has been pretty below average this year for the Bengals. He’s gaining only 3.4 yards per carry and while he is still the starting running back and getting a lot of carries he probably isn’t the best back on the team.

Two weeks ago Green-Ellie hit his high water mark with a 20 carry, 92 yard, one touchdown performance against the Chargers but wasn’t as productive this year with a 17 carry, 48 yard game against the Colts. While Law Firm gained only 48 yards and averaged 2.8 yards per carry and he also scored a couple of touchdowns.

Last time out against the Steelers he had one of his more productive games of the season with 75 yards on 22 carries and while he didn’t find the end zone he did enough to keep things honest for the Steelers.

As I said BJGE isn’t the best back on the team. That would be Giovani Bernard who has 62 less carries and only 42 less yards. He has three of the team’s five 20+ yard rushes and came one yard away (12 carries, 99 years) from the first 100 yard rushing game on the season for the Bengals. I know they love Green-Ellis but Bernard has been good this year averaging 4.7 yards per carry and it doesn’t seem like the Bengals much care. Bernard has only one game where he had 15 or more carries. Once.

Receiver: A.J. Green
Catches: 78
Yards: 1,175
Rec. Touchdowns: 8
DYAR: 180 (21st)
DVOA: 3.7% (36th)

Green is one of the best in the game this year and while you haven’t heard much about him he is on his way to have an even better year than last year. In 2012 he had 97 catches for 1,350 yards and 11 touchdowns and this year he has eight touchdowns and 1,175 yards. Not too bad for Mr. Green who has been keyed on in a big way after bursting on to the scene. What is maybe even better about it is that Green is averaging over 15 yards per catch after being down to under 14 yards per catch last season.

Green has been held in check over the last three games. Last week against the Colts he caught six passes for 72 yards and a score and while that doesn’t really sound like a down game in terms of his normal production this year it is. The week prior against the Chargers he caught five passes for 83 yard and a score and the week before that was a two catch, seven yard effort against Joe Hadden and the Browns.

Prior to that game against the Browns, which was the worst of the season, he lad at least 100 yards in five straight games which included a pair of games with more than 150 yards.

Lat time out against the Steelers Green was held in check for the most part. He was targeted 15 times in that contest but was only able to make six catches for 41 yards and did not find the end zone. He had a long catch of only 10 yards and it was the second lowest long catch in a game this season. Ike Taylor hasn’t as been as good this season but you can bet that he is going to follow Green around the field. Hopefully he steps it up.

Tight End: Tyler Eifert
Catches: 35
Yards: 406
Rec. Touchdowns: 1
DYAR: -65 (46th)
DVOA: -24.4% (45th)

Jermaine Gresham has long been thought of as the man from the tight end position for the Bengals but I think this year Eifert has slowly taken over at becoming that guy. Not only has he outperformed Gresham but he is also a much better overall tight end in terms of blocking and helping out the running game.

Eifert has some great hands and while he has only caught one touchdown pass he does have five catches of 20 yards or more and is averaging almost 12 yards per catch.

Eifert was huge in the Bengals first win against the Steelers as he caught a 61 yard pass from Dalton and finished the game with three catches and 66 yards. He’s been held in check for much of the last five games. Over the last three contests he has five catches for only 49 yards and hasn’t scored.

Gresham hasn’t been all that much better but he has scored in three of the last five games and is coming off a game against the Colts where he caught all five passes in his direction for 41 yards.

Offensive Line
Left to Right: Anthony Collins, Andrew Whitworth, Kyle Cook, Kevin Zeitler, Andre Smith

The offense line play has been really strong for the Bengals so far this season, especially in the run game. Cincinnati ranks sixth in the NFL with an ALY of 4.24 which is tied with a pair of other teams (both teams ranked ahead of them). The offensive line is somewhat carrying the run game according to Football Outsiders as the running backs are averaging only 3.93 yards per carry and it is further proof by the Bengals stuff ranking.

Cincinnati ranks seventh in the league with a stuffed percentage of 17% that indicates that their back are getting at least to the line of scrimmage and when you are running the football you don’t want to get hit in the backfield because more often than not that will result in a lot of negative running plays.

The Bengals aren’t as good in short yardage situations ranking 15th in the league with a 64% power success rate. While that is about league average that doesn’t mean they are bad. They haven’t had as much success running the football in short yardage situations but are still converting at a pretty solid rate.

They run predominantly up the middle, which most teams do, running up the middle or off their guards 59% of the time which is a good bit more than league average which is 53%. While they do run a good bit up the middle they are extremely good at it averaging an ALY of 4.52 on those runs which is fourth-best in the league and much better than the league average of 3.95.

The Bengals are middle of the pack when running to anywhere else on the offensive line as they run to each of their tackles 12% of the time and run to the left end 10% of the time. Of those three areas the Bengals are best when running to the left end where ether have an ALY of 3.71 which is 14th in the league. They rank 16th in the league when running to the left tackle with an ALY of 3.83 that is right at league average. While running to the tackles might be bad in terms of where the Bengals rank among how they run up the middle it is only league average otherwise which is actually pretty good and adds a ton of balance to the team.

Protecting your quarterback is a huge part of being successful in the NFL despite what the Steelers want you to think but the Bengals think a little bit different. They rank sixth in the NFL with an adjusted sack rate of only 5.5% giving up only 26 sacks on the season.

Bengals Defense

Defensively the Bengals are a solid team that has done a pretty good job of keeping opponents off the scoreboard. They are giving up just under 321 yards per game and surrendering only 18.8 points per game which makes them one of only seven teams to allow 20 points or less. They allow less than 100 yards per game on the ground and the last time out against the Steelers they gave up only 278 yards and 44 rushing yards in the win.

Football Outsiders largely agrees with the raw numbers as they have the Bengals pegged as the number four defense with a DVOA of -12.2%. The Bengals are outstanding against the pass ranking fourth in the league (-12.5%) while ranking 10th in the league against the run (-11.7%).

In terms of pass defense the Bengals rank in the top-10 when they are defending opposing teams wide receivers led by the fifth ranked production against opposing teams top receivers. They allow just over 50 yard per game and have a -20.5% DVOA against top targets and the last time out they held Antonio Brown to only 57 yards on six receptions.

Against number two receivers the Bengals rank 10th with a DVOA of -9.9 and they rank sixth in the league (-18.6% DVOA) against all other receivers. Last time out Emmanuel Sanders led the team with 78 yards on five catches while Jerricho Cotchery had three catches for 59 yards.

In terms of getting after the passer the Bengals rank 17th in the league with an adjusted sack rate of 7.0% with 36 total sacks. With a full squad against the Steelers in the first matchup they were able to get to Ben Roethlisberger twice which was actually a pretty nice job by the Steelers offensive line. Cincinnati is going to be with Geno Atkins who has six of those sacks. Carlos Dunlap leads the team with seven sacks while Wallace Gilberry has 6.5 on the season.

The Bengals defense lags in terms of run defense and while it isn’t terrible it might be a place where the Steelers can take advantage of thanks to the improved rush attack from the Steelers and the huge loss of Atkins from the Cincinnati defensive line.

They rank 15th in the league with an ALY of 3.85 which lines up almost exactly with what opposing running backs are getting on the ground against then with a 3.87 yard per carry average. Teams are not having a ton of success in power situations against the Bengals with a power success of only 59% which is below league average and ranks the Bengals defense 10th in the league. While they are good in power situations they are one of the worst in the league at stuffing running backs. With a 15% stuffed percentage the Bengals rank 28th in the league.

Teams are running a decently balanced attack against the Bengals with 55% of the running back carries coming up the middle or off the guards. When running up the middle teams are posting an ALY of 4.01 which is a smudge above the league average of 3.97 and ranks 14th in the league. Teams are having the most success running to the offensive left tackle with an ALY of 4.63 that ranks the Bengals near dead-last in the league (29th) while teams are running to the left tackle 12% of the time. The Bengals do a nice job of stuffing the run when teams to go the offensive right end where they allow an ALY of only 3.04 but that is the spot of the line where teams are running the least often (8%).

Vontaze Burfict has been an absolute beast this year leading the team with 139 tackles which leads the league by a full eight tackles. Terence Newman has a team-high 14 passes defended and a pair of picks while Adam Jones and Reggie Nelson each have a pair of interceptions on the season. Rey Maualuga is second on the team with 63 tackles and Vincent Rey adds to a strong pass rush attack with three sacks and 51 total tackles.

Bengals Special Teams

The Bengals post one of the best special teams units, overall, in the league and with a 5.5% special teams DVOA they are sixth in the league. The Bengals rank positively in four of the five special teams areas and only really struggle in their field goal/extra point game but are well above the line in every other area.

In the kicking game the Bengals rely on kicker Mike Nugent who has hit only 16-of-20 attempts on the season with a long of 54 yards. He has one miss in five attempts inside 40 yards and has two misses between 40-49 yards while missing one of his four chances outside of 50 yards. He is also one of four kickers this year to miss an extra point.

Cincinnati ranks second in the league with their punt unit that is headlined by Kevin Huber. He is averaging 45.3 yards per punt and has a net average of 41.6 yards which is fifth-best in the league on 64 punts. He’s pinned opponents inside the 20 on 25 different occasions and kicked only two touchbacks. Coupled with a solid coverage team the Bengals are giving up only 6.6 yards per return which is the sixth-lowest in the league.

Brandon Tate pulls double duty as the kick and punt returner for the Bengals and is pretty good in both areas. As a kick returner he ranks ninth in the league with a 26 yard per return average while his long is 71 yards. As a punt returner he averages 9.4 yards per return which is 13th in the league.

Game Notes

-The Steelers are going to need to be a balanced football team if they want to have a chance to win this game. In the first matchup of the season the Steelers were without starting running back Le’Veon Bell and while nobody really knew what they had in him it has been very clear that he is far and away the best back on the team. The Steelers offensive line has been banged up as much as it ever has but they have still been able to do a pretty decent job of keeping Ben Roethlisberger clean and opening up some running holes. Last time these teams met the Steelers only ran the ball 16 times and threw it 37. When you can make a team one-dimensional you are going to have a much better chance of winning. The Steelers abandoned the run last week but I don’t expect the same thing this time around.

-The Bengals have done a nice job at taking care of things when they play in Cincinnati with a 6-0 home record but they are only 3-4 on the road. They were able to come into Pittsburgh last season and grab a 13-10 win but this year they have just been brutal on the road. I am not sure what the atmosphere is going to be like at Heinz Field with the Steelers all but eliminated from the playoffs but I bet it will be pretty good and hopefully the Steelers can take advantage of some of that.

PREDICTION - The Bengals are playing some pretty good football after a rough patch and with a chance to clinch a birth in the playoffs you bet they are going to want to wrap this up and not make things interesting. While the Ravens don’t have much of a shot to win the division it still is a chance the Ravens could win it. The Steelers are going to have an advantage playing at night in Pittsburgh but I think Cincinnati still gets the job done. Cincinnati 27, Pittsburgh 23

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