Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Penguins Game 13 Recap - Penguins 3, Bruins 2

For as boring and mundane as the game was on Monday against Carolina this game was the exact opposite. I was correct in the pregame assessment that people were going to try and pump this up as a redemption game and treat it like a playoff game that would eliminate the Bruins from the playoffs last season but to be really honest with you this might be one of the more intense and well played regular season games we see all season. Both goaltender were pretty outstanding and there were good chances from both teams but in the end it was the Penguins who won in regulation and after how food they have played over the past two weeks this was a really good win against a really good team.

The Penguins were the better team for the first two periods of this game but despite that they only had a one goal game. This was all about Tuukka Rask as he continued to be spectacular against the Penguins and gave them little or nothing to look at in the game. The third period was all kinds of crazy. While there was a combined one goal in the first two periods the final frame consisted of four goals and set up a really wild finish.

The Penguins were just really good the whole way around. They finally scored on the power play when Chris Kunitz went between his legs with his back facing Rask on the power play and after the Bruins tied it up the Pens got the next two goals from Brandon Sutter and Jussi Jokinen. Jokinen has really been a great player for the Penguins all season and Sutter has been underrated good this past week and when the Penguins needed something they got it from those two guys.

While everyone was relatively good Evgeni Malkin was other worldly. While the Bruins did a nice job of keeping Sidney Crosby at bay Malkin was really the best player on the ice. The Bruins were unable to knock him off the puck and every single time he was on the ice he was a true threat to score and most times he was getting a great look on net. He did everything but score a goal. He had plenty of opportunities to do so but just couldn't beat Rask. When the goals come for Malkin this year I have a feeling they are going to come in bunches. If he plays like he did last night the rest of the season they will come in bunches.

Really, hats off to Marc-Andre Fleury and the defense. I know they started off this well last year and the regular season doesn't mean all that much in the grand scheme of things the way the Penguins have bowed out in the playoffs but it is really good to see him look so confident in the net and great to see the defense take a little more, um, defensive approach this season. The Penguins are a run and gun team in some fashion and too many times we have seen some of the defense play up offensively and really hang MAF out to dry and that hasn't been the case through the first 13 games of the season. Great to see.

This was just a really good hockey game. Both teams brought their best tonight and it turned into a game that we thought we would see in last year's ECF. Teams battling in a close checking, solid defensive game where whatever team was better in the third period and got contributions from their secondary guys was going to win. While it didn't play out that way in the playoffs it did tonight and that turned this into a great hockey game to watch. I hope more games are like this.

Penguins Game 13 Preview - vs. Boston Bruins

Boston Bruins

8:00 p.m., CONSOL Energy Center, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

The Last Penguins Game:
October 28, 2013 - Pittsburgh 3, Carolina 1 [Recap]

This game is most likely going to be built up more than it really should be. The Penguins got waxed by the Bruins in the Easter Conference Finals last season and evidently this is the game where the Penguins will have a chance to get "redemption" from last season. Not really sure what that means since the Bruins still will have won last season and winning in the ECF is infinitely better than a late October game but that's what the narrative will be.

The Bruins are a damn good team. Like I said they worked the Penguins last season and should be looking to do the same thing today. The Penguins are dealing with a ton of injuries as they now lost Rob Scuderi and Chuck Kobasew for at least the next month (and more) and they are still without James Neal and Beau Bennett. The Penguins still have talent but so do the Bruins that includes a pretty studly defensive core in front of Tuukka Rask.

Oh yea, Jarome Iginla is going to be in the building tonight as a Bruin. I am sure that will go over well. People from Pittsburgh don't take kindly to players leaving through free agency and I would actually be somewhat surprised if he wasn't booed, even it isn't by everyone. I mean these are people who still boo Jaromir Jagr who is the second best player to ever play hockey in Pittsburgh. As you can tell I think that is dumb.

Marc-Andre Fleury in the net tonight. The game is going to be a later start due to it being on national TV but I expect the Penguins to be up for this one so it should be a good time.


Probables:

Penguins (8-4-0)

Forwards
Chris Kunitz - Sidney Crosby - Pascal Dupuis
Jussi Jokinen - Evgeni Malkin - Matt D'Agostini
Tanner Glass - Brandon Sutter - Jayson Megna
Dustin Jeffrey - Joe Vitale - Craig Adams

Defense
Brooks Orpik - Paul Martin
Matt Niskanen - Kris Letang
Olli Maatta - Robert Bortuzzo

Goaltender
Marc-Andre Fleury

Bruins (7-3-0) (via Days of Y'Orr)

Forwards
Milan Lucic - David Krejci - Jarome Iginla
Reilly Smith - Patrice Bergeron - Brad Marchand
Carl Söderberg - Chris Kelly - Jordan Caron
Shawn Thornton - Gregory Campbell - Dan Paille

Defense
Zdeno Chara - Johnny Boychuk
Dennis Seidenberg - Dougie Hamilton
Torey Krug - Adam McQuaid

Goaltender
Tuukka Rask


The Stats:

Monday, October 28, 2013

Penguins Game 12 Recap - Penguins 3, Hurricanes 1

The Penguins finally won. Yay. After three straight losses they were able to win what ended up being a pretty boring hockey game against a Carolina team that they had already beat earlier this season and you know what, who cares. Boring wins and exciting wins all count the same just as a close loss counts the same as a blowout loss.

The Penguins really came out and dominated the game from the onset. They had nine shots before the Hurricanes even got one on goal but as has been the case in the most recent string of games they were never able to build that multiple goal lead. You can hold a team to as few shots as possible but if you are only leading 1-0 it only takes one shot to tie it up and that is a scary thing. For as much as the Penguins dominated they were still only one shot away from a new game.

The Penguins were in this position but it really wasn't that Carolina was any good, it was that the Penguins wanted to take unlimited penalties. Carolina got on the board with like their third shot of the game since the Penguins decided to play undisciplined hockey and give the Canes a 5-on-3. Yea, that was awesome. The Penguins gave the Canes five power plays on the night and for a team that only had 21 shots on the night and look pretty dreadful for much of the game you really don't want to give them all too many chances to be in the game.

The game was tied for some time as the Hurricanes actually played pretty well for much of the second period but it was Sidney Crosby who found Chris Kunitz at the 16:24 mark of the second period and that turned out to be the game winning goal. It was a sick play by Crosby who basically did all the work as he did a little stop and go and put a hard pass right on Kunitz's stick who just redirected it into the back of the net. The Penguins needed a play in the worst way and they got it from their best player.

Maybe the best player throughout the night tonight was Jayson Megna. In only his second game in the NHL Megna was noticeable every time he was on the ice and assisted on the first goal of the game by Tanner Glass and then all but put the game away with the third goal of the game in the third period. With as banged up as the Penguins have been they really need contributions from some of the lower lines and they got that from Megna. Not exactly what you want to rely on but tonight they got a victory and he was a huge part of it. I will take it.

Defensively the Penguins did a pretty nice job. They are going to be without Rob Scuderi for possibly four weeks and while that isn't ideal it is nice that they have a guy like Robert Bortuzzo on the sideline who has played pretty well this season. He was paired with Olli Maatta and those two have played some good hockey. Brooks Oprik and Paul Martin has been a good top shutdown pair and while the defense was good Orpik had a three assist game for the second time in his career and the first time since 2010. Kris Letang is still working into shape so when he finally gets back to shape things are going to be even better. As I said Carolina had only 21 shots and the defensive core was doing a nice job of keeping the crease and slot free, for the most part.

The negative tonight was really the special teams. The power play hasn't looked good at all the past week and they were barely even able to set up in the Carolina zone tonight while the penalty kill looked pretty bad. I talked about how the defense was good at keeping the front of the cage clean but on the PK the Canes were able to get guys in the slot, and open, almost at will. The Penguins are lucky they were trailing in this game.

Anyways, a win is a win and after three straight losses and a big time matchup against the Bruins on Wednesday this is exactly what the Penguins needed right now.

Penguins Game 12 Preview - @ Carolina Hurricanes

Carolina Hurricanes

7:00 p.m., PNC Arena, Raleigh, North Carolina

The Last Penguins Game:
October 26, 2013 - Toronto 4, Pittsburgh 1


Probables

Penguins (7-4-0) (via Penguins website)

Forwards
Chris Kunitz - Sidney Crosby - Pascal Dupuis
Jussi Jokinen - Evgeni Malkin - Matt D'Agostini
Tanner Glass - Brandon Sutter - Chuck Kobasew
Dustin Jeffrey - Joe Vitale - Craig Adams

Defense
Brooks Orpik - Paul Martin
Matt Niskanen - Kris Letang
Olli Maatta - Robert Bortuzzo

Goaltender
Marc-Andre Fleury

Hurricanes (4-4-3) (via Dailyfaceoff)

Forwards
Nathan Gerbe - Eric Staal - Alexander Semin
Jiri Tlusty - Jordan Staal - Pat Dwyer
Tuomo Ruutu - Riley Nash - Elias Lindholm
Drayson Bowman - Brett Sutter - Kevin Westgarth

Defense
Justin Faulk - Andrej Sekera
Tim Gleason - Ron Hainsey
Jay Harrison - Ryan Murphy

Goaltender
Justin Peters


The Stats:

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Steelers Game 7 Recap - Raiders 21, Steelers 18



This game was pretty much a dumpster fire. It started from the first play of the game where Terrelle Pryor went 93 yards on a read option where nobody seemed to give any thought that Pryor might keep the ball. I mean it's not like he's the team leader in rushing yards or a really good athlete. Oh, right.

It then went to Shaun Suisham who I have gushed about here all season who missed not only one but two field goals from inside 40 yards. It would be easy to blame Suisham for the loss because the six points would have been a win but it was much deeper than that. He was part of the problem but he wasn't the entire problem.

The Steelers will probably (or should probably I guess) be looking for a new punter. When they signed Zoltan Mesko I thought it was a pretty good signing but he was brutally bad today. He did have a couple of good punts late but for post of the season it has been shank after shank.

The Steelers were just overly awful in the first half. Like one of the worst halves of football this year and that is saying a lot. It went from the first play when Pryor went 93 yards and then went to having a punt blocked and then went to the offense not being able to convert a third down. Here is what the drive summery looked like of the first half:


Yikes. That is how you get behind 21-3 at the half.

The weird thing is that despite being down 21-3 for much of the game the Steelers had all the chances in the world. It was like the Raiders were begging them to make it a game and by the time the Steelers got around to it they had no time left. The Raiders had only 30 yards of total offense in the entire second half. Pryor was able to do nothing and the defense finally woke up and played some good football forcing three (!!!!) turnovers and things looked good.

The offensive line was bad. Ben Roethlisberger got sacked five times and that doesn't even factor in the number of times that Ben had to run for his life to get away. There were no running lanes and after a pretty successful week last week the Steelers ran for only 35 yards on 19 carries which is good for a 1.8 yard per carry average. Yikes. The line was banged up as David DeCastro was banged up and for a period of time the Steelers had Cody Wallace playing guard. I am not kidding you when I say this but I had no idea that Wallace was even on the team. Just bad.

Antonio Brown has been really good (like REALLY good) all season but today he was pretty bad. Going out of bounds to stop the clock on a third down where he was short of the first down before the half to give Oakland essentially a free timeout to dropping a couple of big passes (on in which that turned into an interception) and it just wasn't his day.

I don't normally get on the coaching staff but holy shit was it a terrible effort by those guys today. Clock/game management is never going to be a strength of the Steelers but today was about as bad as it can get. At the end of the game the Steelers were down 11 and had the ball. Now irregardless of what happens you need 11 points in the form of a field goal and a touchdown with a two point conversion. The Steelers got the ball into field goal range with the clocked stopped at 1:53 and all three timeouts. I get that you need to get both and obviously you want to score two touchdowns to win but with three timeouts and little time left you want to give yourself at least a chance to get it to overtime. Instead of getting the field goal and forcing the Raiders on offense again (remember they were awful in the second half) they wasted another 30+ seconds scoring a touchdown. In that touchdown process they had a 1st and 10 from the 19 yard line and they wasted some time getting the play in and Roethlisberger burned a timeout. So now they only have two timeouts. They score, get the two points, stop the Raiders and get the ball back with 18 seconds left. 18 seconds to now go the length of the field. Instead of giving yourself nearly a minute and a half to score a touchdown. Just brutal game management.

What Ben was doing calling that timeout was just inexcusable. He's not a rookie or a guy that hasn't done anything in the league like Pryor. You take the five yard penalty. The timeout is too important.

There were some good things. The defense played well in the second half and gave the team a chance. They forced three turnovers but it was too little to late after getting gashed in the first half. It is a four quarter game and when you only play half of that you aren't going to win too many games.

The Steelers are not a good football team. That much has been pretty true throughout the season. They are almost out of the running for anything already and it might start to get really ugly.

Patriots next week. Who knows.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Penguins Game 11 Preview - @ Toronto Maple Leafs

Toronto Maple Leafs

7:00 p.m., Air Canada Centre, Toronto, Ontario

The Last Penguins Game:
October 26, 2013 - New York Islanders 4, Pittsburgh 3 [Recap]

The Penguins didn't get off to the start to this back-to-back weekend that they had hoped for with a tough loss last night to the Islanders. While the Islanders weren't going to be an "easy" team to beat they were most certainly the better chance of the two teams they played this weekend of beating, if you would have asked me (you didn't). The Leafs have some pretty good talent and despite the fact that they have about 12 guys that they have bought out over the last couple years and they still insist on playing guys like Colton Orr over guy that have, you know, real hockey talent they still are a pretty good team.

The first line features James van Riemsdyk and Phil Kessel who are a couple of dynamic goal scorers that are getting the job done despite the fact that Toronto thinks that Tyler Bozak is good. The Leafs have three players with five or more goals with Kessel and Joffrey Lupul each having six. Lupul was a scratch last night against Columbus with a bad foot and is not expected to play tonight so that will be a plus for the Penguins.

van Riemsdyk has four goals while the Leafs rank right in the middle of the pack giving up a little over 2.5 goals per game (2.64). They lost last night to Columbus 5-2 as the Blue Jackets scored four third period goals to really run away with it late.

The problem with the Maple Leafs this year (and last year) is that they really don't think that shooting the puck is all that big of a deal. They average less than 27 shots per game which is good for 27th in the league and in five of their 11 games they have had 25 or less shots. In eight games they have 26 or less shots and in all but two games they have had under 30 shots. In a 4-1 win over Minnesota on October 15 the Leafs had only 14 shots. They won. With 14 shots. Last season they ranked 28th in the league averaging 26.3 shots per game so this isn't really a small sample size issue. Granted, just throwing pucks randomly at the net isn't the best way to do things but shooting the puck a little more probably would help the offense. Probably. Toronto is getting outshot by an average of eight shots per game. That is 28th in the league. Man.


Probables:

Penguins (7-3-0)

Forwards
Chris Kunitz - Sidney Crosby - Pascal Dupuis
Jussi Jokinen - Evgeni Malkin - Chuck Kobasew
Tanner Glass - Brandon Sutter - Jayson Megna
Craig Adams - Joe Vitale - Deryk Engelland

Defense
Brooks Orpik - Paul Martin
Rob Scuderi - Kris Letang
Olli Maatta - Matt Niskanen

Goaltender
Marc-Andre Fleury

Maple Leafs (7-4-0) (via Dailyfaceoff)

Forwards
James van Riemsdyk - Tyler Bozak - Phil Kessel
Jay McClement - Dave Bolland - David Clarkson
Mason Raymond - Nazem Kadri - Carter Ashton
Frazer McLaren - Trevor Smith - Colton Orr

Defense
Carl Gunnarsson - Dion Phaneuf
Morgan Rielly - Cody Franson
Paul Ranger - Jake Gardiner

Goaltender
James Reimer


The Stats

Friday, October 25, 2013

Penguins Game 10 Recap - Islanders 4, Penguins 3

Well, that didn't go as planned. The Penguins outshot the Islanders 42-25 and largely outplayed them for much of the night but in the end it wasn't enough and the Penguins dropped consecutive games for the first time this year. This game was actually a pretty well played hockey game by the Penguins defensive unit for much of the game but this went from a 2-1 Penguins lead with about nine minutes left but in the last nine minutes four goals were scored. The bad part is that the Islanders scored three of those four goals.

Looking at just the box score you would probably say that Jeff Zatkoff had another subpar game but I really think that is pretty off base. Zatkoff was actually pretty good and the four goals scored against him only really one of them I would put solely on him. The game winner for the Islanders looked bad because Zatkoff was floundering like a fish out of water but that was after he made a couple of dazzling saves and to ask him to continue to do that is pretty much unrealistic, for any goaltender. Anyways, it was kinda funny to look at him spiraling on the ice. What wasn't funny was that it cost the Penguins at least one point as that happened with 1:40 left in the game. All-in-all it was a nice bounce back game for Zatkoff.

Brandon Sutter probably played his best game of the season tonight. He ended the game with only one assist and was a -1 (+/- is a pretty useless stat) but he was all over the ice. Really good stuff from him tonight despite the loss.

Tanner Glass was also pretty good. He played only 11:30 but drew two penalties and did some off the radar things. Dude has been pretty good this year.

What didn't come through tonight was the power play. It went 0-for-5 on the night. Woof. The Penguins had some chances on it and actually converted a goal just after one of them expired but you probably would want to convert at lest one of them.

Kris Letang was back tonight. He wasn't bad and he wasn't good. He was just in the middle. People are going to be overly critical of him because of the contract he had and because he has spectacular hair (OK, maybe not the second part, but maybe) so it is what it is.

The Penguins went 48-27 in the face-off dot. Nice.

Deryk Engeland scored a goal from his wing spot. For real. Now, this was pretty awesome because it was a defenseman scoring a goal while he was playing win but oh man what a pass from Joe Vitale to set this up. Also it came 16 seconds after the Islanders tied the game up and this would have been the PERFECT way to have a game winning goal to be scored. While all of that would be awesome that doesn't mean that Engelland playing the wing is a good idea on any level.

Not really sure where I am going with this now. Seems like there were a good bit of things that went right tonight and yet it was a blown loss. The team played a pretty good game for the most part. Just sucks that it came after a game where they played well and ran into a hot goaltender. Things like this are going to happen though. The Penguins play another game in like six minutes.

Penguins Game 10 Preview - vs. New York Islanders

New York Islanders

7:00 p.m., CONSOL Energy Center, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

The Last Penguins Game:
October 21, 2013 - Colorado 1, Pittsburgh 0 [Recap]

The Penguins are coming of "one of those" games where they were probably the better team on the ice but lost. They were done in by a hot goaltender and while Marc-Andre Fleury only saw like six shots one got by him and that was the game. As I said in the recap (that you can read above) games like that happen and that you don't typically lose games like that on a frequent basis but it is what it is and the Penguins can learn from it.

Tonight the Penguins get to match up against the team that nearly knocked them out of the playoffs in the first round in the lockout shortened season. The Islanders are a team that gives the Penguins fits with their run and gun style. While the Penguins aren't an overly slow team they certainly don't have the amount of horses to keep up with the Islanders for entire stretches of games so this will be a nice test for them tonight.

John Tavares is one of the best young scorers in the league and while it seems like he has only had a cup of coffee in the NHL he hasn't and has been getting better every season. Along with Tavares guys like Kyle Okposo, Matt Moulson, and Michael Grabner give the Penguins a hell of a time when they meet and it will be interesting to see how the revamped defensive core works.

Things are getting better for the Penguins as Kris Letang is going to be back in the lineup and an even better new bit was made official yesterday when the Penguins said they were going to keep Olli Maatta up instead of sending him back down. Maatta has been really good in the first nine games for the Penguins and while that doesn't mean he is going to be good for the whole season it is good to see the Penguins give him some big time responsibility as he will most certainly be in the lineup. Couple that with strong play from Rob Scuderi, Brooks Orpik, and Paul Martin and things are starting to come together a lot nicer on the back end than I thought it would before the season started.

Jeff Zatkoff is getting his second start in the net. I imagine that Dan Bylsma wants Marc-Andre Fleury to go against the better Maple Leafs team tomorrow night but this will be a big game for Zatkoff. He wasn't very good in his first start of the season against Tampa Bay and looked really out of place for stretches. It didn't help his defense didn't give a great effort in front of him but at the same time he could have put a better foot forward. I don't think that one or two games is enough to determine if he can be the primary backup so it will be fun and interesting to watch him over the next handful of starts to see how he handles it.

Probables

Penguins (7-2-0) (via Penguins website)

Forwards
Chris Kunitz - Sidney Crosby - Pascal Dupuis
Jussi Jokinen - Evgeni Malkin - Chuck Kobasew
Tanner Glass - Brandon Sutter - Jason Megna
Craig Adams - Joe Vitale - Deryk Engelland

Defense
Brooks Orpik - Paul Martin
Rob Scuderi - Kris Letang
Olli Maatta - Matt Niskanen

Goaltender
Jeff Zatkoff

Islanders (3-3-3) (via Islanders website)

Forwards
Matt Moulson – John Tavares – Kyle Okposo
Pierre-Marc BouchardFrans NielsenJosh Bailey
Brock NelsonPeter ReginCal Clutterbuck
Matt MartinCasey CizikasColin McDonald

Defense
Andrew MacDonaldTravis Hamonic
Thomas Hickey - Matt Carkner
Brian Strait - Matt Donovan

Goaltender
Evgeni Nabokov


The Stats:

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
DYAR:
DVOA:

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.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Penguins Game 9 Recap - Avalanche 1, Penguins 0

If the Penguins come out of a game with seven power plays and a 34-14 shot advantage then you would imagine they are going to win like 95% of those games. Well, tonight they ran into a really good goaltender and a defense than blocked about as many shots as the Penguins got on goal and they got shutout. Boo.

Really isn't much to say about this one other than the opponent caught a break on a nice goal from Gabriel Landeskog after he came out of the box from serving a penalty and one of the better power plays in the league couldn't beat Jean-Sebastien Giguere and well sometimes that happens. The Penguins power play was actually good and crisp but the Avalanche did an outstanding job of keeping the slot clear and blocking a ton of shots and relying on Giguere to get the job done.

Overall Colorado blocked 22 shots which was a huge reason they won. The Penguins brought it tonight, especially their top stars. Sidney Crosby was on another planet tonight and even he wasn't able to find the back of the net. Just one of them games. Evgeni Malkin was really good on the puck and I would venture to guess that the Penguins held the puck for a majority of the game but at the end of the day it really doesn't matter because they lost.

I don't think Colorado should plan on winning games like this all the time but it appears they knew they had to keep the Penguins on the perimeter and try to get in every shooting and passing lanes and they completely bought into it and pretty much tried to hold the fort until the final buzzer sounded.

All-in-all this is just one of 82 games and the Penguins played a pretty good hockey game. The Avalanche had five shots in the second and third periods and four in the first. The Penguins peppered Giguere and he was better than the Penguins tonight.

It happens.

Steelers Game 6 Recap - Steelers 19, Baltimore 16

When the Steelers win it makes me happy. I know with how negative I have been towards the team but that is two wins in a row for the Steelers and you know what that means...



A WINNING STREAK IS ALMOST HERE YOU GUYS!!!!

Now I wasn't able to catch the whole game but I was able to watch most of it as I was working a 12 hour day on Sunday so this is going to be pretty brief.

-I talked about him in the previous weeks but man has Shaun Suisham been nothing but money so far for the Steelers. Sure, he got the game winning field goal as time expired but he also converted field goals of 34, 28, and 38 before that to give the Steelers a chance to kick a game-winning field goal. The Steelers offense did a nice job yesterday against the Ravens defense but they sputtered and Suisham was there to get points. Eventually it is going to come back and bite the Steelers for settling for field goals but it is nice to know they have someone who can get your three points when you need them.

-The Steelers offense line was pretty good. Maybe real good. Ben Roethlisberger was sacked three times but the Steelers ran for 141 yards and the offense was able to score on five different possessions and only punted one time which was in their first possession. They converted 7-of-12 third down conversions. Obviously there are different reasons that the Steelers won but I really think that the offensive line is probably the number one reason. Big ups for those guys after a really brutal start to the season.

-141 rushing yards. Whoa. Le'Veon Bell started the season injured and seems to be getting into game shape as he carried the ball 19 times for 93 yards and looked powerful and nimble and finally gives the Steelers a running back that can come close to calling a number one back. It is a breath of fresh air. Not only did Bell rush for 93 yards but he also caught a pass for six yards. I know that doesn't seem like much but if he can catch some passes and become a threat there it will slow the pass rush and give Roethlisberger another option.

-Speaking of Roethlisberger, he had an underrated good game. People are going to look and see that he only threw for 160 yards and a 7.0 yard per attempt average and brush it off but it was much more than that. He completed 17-of-23 attempts and once again didn't turn the football over. He was efficient and spread the ball around to eight different receivers with his main target, Antonio Brown, once again serving as his go-to guy with six catches. When you have a running game you don't need your quarterback to put the game on his shoulders and that is what happened on Sunday. Taking care of the ball is key for Roethlisberger and when the line was giving him time the Steelers can be a pretty good offense.

-The defense was really good. Baltimore managed only 287 total yards and it wasn't until late in the fourth quarter that the Steelers gave up a touchdown which was the first touchdown given up by the Steelers since they were in London. Sure, the Steelers only had one sack and didn't create a turnover but they were able to get some pressure on Joe Flacco and make him uncomfortable. Troy Polamalu was great again and Lawrence Timmons was an absolute beast with 17 tackles (12 solo).

-The Steelers defense did give up the touchdown at an inopportune time with less than two minutes left in the game to tie the score but the offense picked them up. It seems like the Steelers have came up short on chances like this more in the recent past but Sunday they put together a great drive that picked up first downs and killed the rest of the clock. After Emmanuel Sanders returned a kick 44 yards the Steelers offense ran seven plays that covered 34 yards to set up the winning kick. I think the best part of this was that when the Steelers got to the fringe of Suisham's range they didn't just try to milk the clock, they went for the kill. On a first and 10 Bell ran the ball to the Ravens 35 with 48 seconds left and after a Steelers timeout they came out in shotgun and Roethlisberger found Brown for 11 yards and basically made the field goal an automatic one. Great job by the offense.

-Like I said I didn't get to watch the game overly close but it seems like the entire game plan was on point. I am talking about Todd Haley and Dick LeBeau on the offense and defense having a game plan and the players going out and executing it. I know Haley gets a lot of hate for some of his offensive stuff, some of it warranted some of it not, but he deserves a ton of credit yesterday.

The best part about all of this is that the Steelers beat the Ravens. I don't think the Ravens are particularly good but these are always close games and when you can win them it puts a little more pep in your step.