Saturday, November 30, 2013

Penguins Game 28 Preview - @ Florida Panthers

Florida Pathers

7:00 p.m., BankAtlantic Center, Sunrise, Florida

The Last Penguins Game
November 29, 2013 - Pittsburgh 3, Tampa Bay 0


Probables

Pittsburgh (17-9-1)

Forwards
Chris Kunitz - Sidney Crosby - Pascal Dupuis
Jussi Jokinen - Evgeni Malkin - James Neal
Chris Conner - Brandon Sutter - Andrew Ebbett
Jayson Megna - Joe Vitale - Craig Adams

Defense
Kris Letang - Brooks Orpik
Olli Maatta - Deryk Engelland
Simon Despres - Matt Niskanen

Goaltender
Jeff Zatkoff

Florida (7-14-5) (via Dailyfaceoff)

Forwards
Jonathan Huberdeau - Nick Bjugstad - Tomas Fleischmann
Scottie Upshall - Aleksander Barkov - Brad Boyes
Marcel Goc - Scott Gomez - Sean Bergenheim
Jimmy Hayes - Shawn Matthias - Krys Barch

Defense
Brian Campbell - Tom Gilbert
Erik Gudbranson - Dylan Olsen
Dmitry Kulikov - Mike Weaver

Goaltender
Tim Thomas


Season Series (Florida leads 1-0)

October 11, 2013 - Florida 6, Pittsburgh 3




The Stats


Friday, November 29, 2013

Steelers Game 12 Recap - Ravens 22, Steelers 20

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. The turkey and stuffing and mashed potatoes and everything else really is just the best. Adding the Steelers and Ravens in prime time made it a lot better. After your second (or third) Thanksgiving dinner you usually have no motivation to do anything and it is a little depressing. The Steelers and Ravens playing made it a lot more interesting and really gave me a reason to slug a few more beers and wind the night down the right way.

Unfortunately for the Steelers fans of the world the game did not end the way you would have liked it. Actually the whole game was pretty bad from the Steelers perspective. They were able to move the ball some in the first half but really never threatened to do anything. Then when the Steelers were in fringe field goal range this happened:



(via Kissing Suzy Kolber)

Yikes. That was about the whole Steelers first half drives in one gif. Just really embarrassing times. The defense wasn't much better as Ike Taylor had a night to forgot and the Steelers were torched in the secondary with little help from the pass rush. It is really amazing that the Steelers were only down 10-0 at the half.

The second half served a lot better for the Steelers as they scored touchdown on three of their four possessions and made the game very interesting at the end of the game, to the point where the Steelers were a two point conversion away from sending the game to overtime with only a minute left in the game.

The defense for the most part held their ground as the Ravens were forced to kick five field goals on the night and only found the back of the end zone once. Any of these other five times the Ravens score a touchdown instead of a field goal and we are probably talking about a route and not a two point game that almost went to overtime.

Jason Worilds was one of the best players on the field for either team last night. He's been given a lot of chances and hasn't been able to break through but last night he had 10 tackles (six solo) and had the only two sacks of the night for either team. Sure, he was working against Michael Oher (who is awful) but the fact still remains that he showed a flash of life with LaMarr Woodley out of the game. Lawrence Timmons also had a pretty outstanding game with eight tackles (five solo) so there were some things that went well for the defense.

The problem was that the Steelers gave up way too many big plays and way too many third down conversions to expect to not give up points. The Ravens finished the night 10-of-17 on third downs and at one point they were 8-for-10. Receivers were running wide open routes on third and longs and Flacco was able to scramble for a couple of first downs, one of them I think was like a 3rd and 13. That stuff just can't happen and a lot of those were converted to first downs. Just not good. The Ravens had five plays of 20 yards or more. One of them was a bomb to Torrey Smith on the Ravens first drive that set up a touchdown, one was a huge pass interference penalty on Taylor in the second half and another was a Jacoby Jones 73 yard kickoff return right after the Steelers scored a touchdown to cut the lead to 13-7 but that return set up an easy field goal shot.

Maybe the worst part of the night was the situation with Le'Veon Bell. The Steelers had the ball on a goal line situation and Bell got the carry with the Steelers down eight with about two minutes left to go. This is what happened:



(via Sports Grid)

That is some scary stuff. As I am sure all of you know that the touchdown didn't count because per the rules once the helmet comes off the play is dead. So even though Bell didn't touch the ground yet the play was dead and he wasn't in the end zone. Now, I don't really think I have as much of a problem with this as most do. I don't think when they made this rule they envisioned the situation that happened last night. Most times when a helmet comes off players are continuing to play. That is the intent of the rule and when you create rules you don't think about every possibility. Just not what happens. I do think that the rule will probably get tweaked to allow for the forward progress but this was just an unfortunate situation.

Bell was knocked out. I don't think that it was penalty either. Bell lowered his head and the defensive back went low for the hit (which they are basically taught to do). It was really ugly and the reaction from all the players on the field told you how serious it was. He was knocked unconscious and even Heath Miller was pushing away an NBC cameraman that came onto the field to get a closer look. I hope Bell is OK but he should not play next week. I don't give a shit what test he passes. That was not good.

Besides that Bell had a really nice night. It was night like last night that make you realize that he and guys like Jonathan Dwyer, Isaac Redman, etc. are just out of a different cut. He rushed for 73 yards on 16 carries and caught seven passes for 63 yards and scored a touchdown where he made a pretty sick cut. I think he has got better every week and while the Steelers have had no luck with running backs since Willie Parker this seems to be something that should turn into a good running back.

Ben Roethlisberger was pretty good last night. He started off slow like the rest of the team but finished with 257 yards and two touchdowns while not turing the ball over. That is key. The only part of the game that somewhat worries me about him is that last night his yard per attempt average was 5.8 and that is ridiculously low. He has been consistently over 8.0 throughout his career and whether this is Todd Haley or Ben looking off receivers too quickly because of the little time he has the fact is that he isn't getting the ball down the field. With how good Antonio Brown and Jerricho Cotchery have been you would like to see them at least hit those intermediate routes but it just hasn't been working recently.

There might not be a more disappointing guy to me on the offensive unit than Emmanuel Sanders. This isn't because of the drop on the two point conversion either, that is just part of the overall big problem. Sanders has dropped an amazing amount of passes this season and a lot of them have been on third down and passes that could have been touchdowns or first downs. When the Patriots were toying with the idea of brining him on I was in favor of that since it's not like third receivers can't be found and for the fact that I didn't think Sanders was all that good/special. He was targeted 11 times last night and made six catches for 43 yards. He had a couple of huge drops and when I think of Sanders in the 2013 season the overwhelming memory I will have is the inconsistent play and the inability of him to be able to catch the football.

The offensive line was beat up in a big way. I have no idea what the line is going to look like as the Steelers finished the game with their #3 left tackle and their #3 center (when you include Maurkice Pouncey). I would have never said that Kelvin Beachum was going to be a key piece to the line but he has been playing some pretty damn good football. He shut down Terrell Suggs down and when Mike Adams had to come in and play Suggs was beating him like a rented mule. It was not good times. Fernando Velasco has played well at center for Pouncey but he was banged up at the end of the game too. The offensive line played another decent game as a whole as they didn't allow a sack but there comes a point where you can't overcome the injuries. I think we might be seeing this point if those two guys are out next week.

This was a big game with playoff implications and the Steelers failed the test. I have said it all year but this team isn't all that good but they still had a pretty decent shot going into this game of getting into the playoffs. Now they will probably have to win out to get in and while anything is possible I think this might have been as close to a "must-win" as you can get without it actually being a must-win.

Penguins Game 27 Preview - @ Tampa Bay Lightning

Tampa Bay Lightning

4:00 p.m., Tampa Bay Times Forum, Tampa, Florida

The Last Penguins Game
November 27, 2013 - Pittsburgh 6, Toronto 5 (SO)


Probables

Pittsburgh (16-9-1) (via Dailyfaceoff)

Forwards
Chris Kunitz - Sidney Crosby - Pascal Dupuis
Jussi Jokinen - Evgeni Malkin - James Neal
Chris Conner - Brandon Sutter - Andrew Ebbett
Jayson Megna - Joe Vitale - Craig Adams

Defense
Kris Letang - Brooks Orpik
Olli Maatta - Deryk Engelland
Simon Despres - Matt Niskanen

Goaltender
Marc-Andre Fleury

Tampa Bay (16-8-1) (via Dailyfaceoff)

Forwards
J.T. Brown - Valtteri Filppula - Martin St. Louis
Nikita Kucherov - Alex Killorn - Teddy Purcell
Ondrej Palat - Tyler Johnson - Richard Panik
Keith Aulie - Nate Thompson - B.J. Crombeen

Defense
Matt Carle - Andrej Sustr
Sami Salo - Victor Hedman
Eric Brewer - Mark Barberio

Goaltending
Ben Bishop



Season Series (Pittsburgh leads 1-0)

October 12, 2013 - Pittsburgh 5, Tampa Bay 4




The Stats

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Penguins Game 26 Preview - vs. Toronto Maple Leafs

Toronto Maple Leafs


7:30 p.m., CONSOL Energy Center, Pittsburgh, Pennslyvania

The Last Penguins Game
November 25, 2013 - Boston 4, Pittsburgh 3 (OT)


Probables

Pittsburgh (15-9-1) (via Penguins website)

Forwards
Chris Kunitz - Sidney Crosby - Pascal Dupuis
Jussi Jokinen - Evgeni Malkin - James Neal
Chris Conner - Brandon Sutter - Andrew Ebbett
Craig Adams- Joe Vitale - Jayson Megna

Defense
Brooks Orpik - Kris Letang
Olli Maatta - Deryk Engelland
Simon Despres - Matt Niskanen

Goaltender
Marc-Andre Fleury

Toronto (14-9-1) (via Dailyfaceoff)

Forwards
James van Riemsdyk - Tyler Bozak - Phil Kessel
Mason Raymond - Nazem Kadri - David Clarkson
Jay McClement - Peter Holland - Nikolai Kulemin
Frazer McLaren - Jerred Smithson - Colton Orr

Defense
Dion Phaneuf - Carl Gunnarsson
Mark Fraser - Cody Franson
Paul Ranger - Morgan Rielly

Goaltender
Jonathan Bernier


Season Series (Toronto leads 1-0-0)

October 26, 2013 - Toronto 4, Pittsburgh 1




The Stats

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

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Steelers Game 11 Recap - Steelers 27, Brown 11

I was working all weekend and was only able to watch about five minutes of the first quarter when the game was 3-3 so there really isn't all that much that I am going to be able to tell you besides the stuff that I saw in the highlights (which I haven't watched) and the box score (which I didn't look at until I wrote this on Tuesday morning). Real life sucks sometimes.

Anyways, I figure rather than try and tell you stuff that everyone has already talked about I am going to link to some recaps from my favorite blogs that I actually did read on Monday morning while I was in a meeting and actually should have been paying attention along with some national stuff. So, here they are:

[PSAMP]

[One for the Other Thumb]

[Behind the Steel Curtain]

[ESPN]

[NFL.com]

[Dawgs by Nature]

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Penguins Game 24 Preview - @ Montreal Canadiens

Montreal Canadiens

7:00 p.m., Bell Centre, Montreal, Quebec

The Last Penguins Game
November 22, 2013 - Pittsburgh 4, New York 3 [Recap]


Probables

Pittsburgh (15-8-0)

Forwards
Chris Kunitz - Sidney Crosby - Beau Bennett
Pascal Dupuis - Evgeni Malkin - James Neal
Jussi Jokinen - Brandon Sutter - Brian Gibbons
Tanner Glass - Joe Vitale - Craig Adams

Defense
Paul Martin - Brooks Orpik
Deryk Engelland - Kris Letang
Olli Maatta - Matt Niskanen

Goaltending
Mark Andre-Fleury

Montreal (12-9-2)

Forwards
Brandon Prust - Alex Galchenyuk - Lars Eller
Brendan Gallagher - David Desharnais - Max Pacioretty
Tomas Plekanec - Brian Gionta - Daniel Briere
Travis Moen - Michael Bournival - Ryan White

Defense
Josh Gorges - Alexei Emelin
P.K. Subban - Andrei Markov
Douglas Murray - Raphael Diaz

Goaltender
Carey Price


The Stats

Friday, November 22, 2013

Penguins Game 23 Recap - Penguins 4, Islanders 3

For most of this game it was like the kind of games I play when I get together with my brother and some of his friends at home. That is we put on our skates and go to the local elementary school where they have a couple basketball courts that are fenced in that are perfect for 4-on-4 hockey. Actually this game tonight might have had a bit (read: a lot) more talent but the flow was about the same. Up and down hockey with a ton of scoring chances and a ton of turnovers and whomever got the last decent opportunity was going to win. Actually maybe that is taking it a little over the line but the Penguins got the final tough forecheck with the end result being a Sidney Crosby goal with 1:16 left.

It wasn't pretty and it's not the type of game that you want to see the Penguins playing every night but the end result was two points and not giving up a point to the Islanders in the process. That might not seem like a big deal now but not giving up that point could come into play later in the season in tiebreakers. Most think that the "important" games happen down the stretch when you win in regulation but these wins mean just as much as those games in the final month. Really.

Anyways, it really looked like the Penguins were going to run away with this game early. The Islanders gave the Penguins three power plays in the first eight minutes of the game and all the Penguins did was dismantle the Islanders power play to the tune of a 2-0 lead with a pair of goals from Chris Kunitz. It was a great start to the game and the Penguins almost added to the lead with Kunitz scoring again but it was waved off thanks to a pretty questionable call on Evgeni Malkin for a high stick with just over a minute left in the period.

The waived off goal could have really done the Islanders in and probably forced a goaltender change but instead the Islanders were down only two and got a goal in the first two minutes of the second period. Now, the call from the official wasn't the reason it was a one goal game instead of a three goal game but it did give the Islanders some jump and they made it a game.

It seems like it happens every single time the Penguins play the Islanders. No idea what it is but you never really feel all that good with a lead against them because they don't quit. For as bad as they have been in the recent past they aren't scared of being down and now have some firepower to get back into the game. The Penguins took another two goal lead when Malkin [finally] got on the board but the Islanders got right back.

Thanks to some sloppy play and some fire wagon hockey the Islanders tied the game with a pair of goals about 1:30 apart in the middle of the second and all of a sudden it was anyones game.

I am not going to sit here and say that Jeff Zatkoff was outstanding but with the way the game was going and the amount of shots he was seeing (35 total) he did a pretty nice job of never letting that one Islanders go-ahead goal in. He wasn't great on the second goal and makes me a little nervous but he has been getting better every time out there. Really good to see and while I still don't think he is an ideal backup option this year he is getting points for the Penguins and giving Marc-Andre Fleury a chance to get a break which is something he desperately needs in these back-to-back situations.

On the game winning goal, I have no idea how you leave Crosby wide open. The play was started by a really nice forecheck that freed the puck up to Pascal Dupuis on the goal line who found Crobsy for the one-timer far post. Crosby also set up the first power play goal on a sick one-touch pass to Kunitz. This guy is just the best in the league and the past couple games is just a small reason why.

The goal was Crosby's 250th in his career. That's pretty cool.

Malkin might be better than Crosby right now. He is getting a ton of flack for not scoring goals but he is all over the ice and creating chances by the boatload. It is so much fun to watch him and Crosby play at this level on the same time and while it hasn't turned into a bunch of lopsided victories that doesn't mean they are playing bad hockey. That couldn't be further from the truth.

The underrated portion from the game tonight was the penalty kill. They killed off all six of the Islanders power plays including a power play chance in the final minute just six seconds after the Crosby goal gave the Penguins the lead. With the goaltender pulled the Islanders had a two man advantage and while the Islanders got some chances the PK was there to come up huge, like it did all night. It doesn't always have to be pretty and sometimes your goaltender is your best PK guy but when you win a game by one goal and you go 6-for-6 on the penalty kill then you are doing something right.

Penguins play Montreal in like six seconds. That will be a fun game.

Penguins Game 23 Preview - vs. New York Islanders

New York Islanders

1:00 p.m., CONSOL Energy Center, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

The Last Penguins Game
November 20, 2013 - Pittsburgh 4, Washington 0


Probables

Pittsburgh (14-8-0)

Forwards
Chris Kunitz - Sidney Crosby - Beau Bennett
Pascal Dupuis - Evgeni Malkin - James Neal
Jussi Jokinen - Brandon Sutter - Brian Gibbons
Tanner Glass - Joe Vitale - Craig Adams

Defense
Paul Martin - Brooks Orpik
Deryk Engelland - Kris Letang
Olli Maatta - Matt Niskanen

Goaltending
Jeff Zatkoff

New York (8-11-3) (via Islanders website)

Forwards
Brock Nelson – John Tavares – Kyle Okposo
Michael Grabner – Frans Nielsen – Josh Bailey
Pierre-Marc Bouchard – Peter Regin – Colin McDonald
Matt Martin – Casey Cizikas –Cal Clutterbuck

Defense
Andrew MacDonald – Travis Hamonic
Thomas Hickey – Matt Donovan
Aaron Ness – Matt Carkner

Goaltender
Kevin Poulin


Season Series (New York leads 1-0)

October 25, 2013 - New York 4, Pittsburgh 3




The Stats

Steelers Game 11 Preview - @ Cleveland Browns

The Steelers and Browns. Nothing about that gives you a lot of excitement. While it has been fun to make fun of Cleveland for much of the recent fact I think deep down a lot of people would be happy if this was a more competitive rivalry.

Another point to make is that while the Browns and the Steelers have the exact same 4-6 record they are a much worse football team than the Steelers. The Browns are pretty bad but in all honesty the Steelers have lost to a lot worse teams in the last five years. Hopefully the Steelers have learned from the past but we have seen that isn’t always true.

The Steelers are coming off two wins. You know what that means, they are one win away from a winning streak. That hasn’t happened yet this year and a win would get them one game closer to .500 and put some pressure on the teams above them to keep winning.

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 Browns 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.

Browns Offense

We are going to start with the Browns offense because, well, that is how we start with every preview of teams that the Steelers play. The Browns offense is bad and there really isn’t too way about it. They were OK for a few weeks when Brian Hoyer was the quarterback when the Browns had three straight wins over the Vikings, Bengals, and Bills. The problem is that Hoyer got hurt and the Browns have relied on Brandon Weeden and Jason Campbell to play football at the quarterback position and they have lose four of their last five games. So, yay.

Anyways, the Browns offense isn’t good. They rank 25th in the league averaging only 318.1 points per game and are about as good running the football as the Steelers are. They also score less than 20 points per game (19.2) which makes them one of only seven teams that don’t average at least 20 points per contest.

According to Football Outsiders the Browns have the 28th ranked offense with a DVOA of -14.5%. Maybe what is most funny about that is that the Baltimore Ravens and ELITE quarterback Joe Flacco rank 29th in the league in total offense thanks to their -18.8% DVOA. ha ha.

The Browns really aren’t good at anything. They rank 28th in the passing game with a DVOA of -7.0% and rank 25th with a DVOA of -13.2%. They are wildly inconsistent with a variance of 8.8% which is 27th in the league and I guess that makes them dangerous because they are able to eventually be a good offensive football team here and there.


Here is a breakdown of the offense:


Quarterback: Jason Campbell
Completion %: 55.7% (73-131)
Yards: 809
Touchdowns: 6
Interceptions: 3
QBR: 35.9 (36th)
DYAR: 56 (23rd)
DVOA: -4.9% (22nd)

This might be hard to believe but the Browns have been a mess at quarterback. They have played three guys under center this year and all of them have been pretty bad. I didn’t think this would be true but Campbell has been the most valuable in terms of advanced statistics. That doesn’t mean he has been good but he’s been the best of the bunch.

He is completing almost 56% of his passes which is actually better than Weeden has been throwing (52.8%) but 56% is not really all that good. At all. Last week he got the start against the Bengals in a blowout loss and competed only 27-of-56 passes for 248 yards and a touchdown. He also threw three picks and had a 4.43 yard per attempt average. Yikes. His 6.18 YPA would rank 31st in the league if he qualified for the statistical leaderboard.

Campbell does have a good game this year. In a November 3 win over Baltimore he completed 23-of-35 passes for 262 yards and three touchdowns while not throwing a pick. He actually threw all his picks on the season last week but, whatever.


Running Back: Willis McGahee
Attempts: 106
Yards: 275
Rushing Touchdowns: 1
DYAR: -101 (36th)
DVOA: -28.8% (35th)

I mean, the Browns run game is brutally bad. It isn’t really just on any one player but McGahee hasn’t been good in the least bit. The Browns sold off Trent Richardson early in the season and while he wasn’t really all that good for the Browns it really left them shorthanded in the backfield. At one point McGahee was a viable option to get the bulk of the carries but he is more suited for a secondary toll and that just isn’t what is happening now.

So far this season McGahee has rushed for over 50 yards in a game just one time. That game was the win over the Bills when he gained 72 yards but it took him 26 carries (2.8 average) to get to that point. Last week he rushed six times for 13 yards with six of those yards coming on one carry. He hasn’t reached the end zone since the Bills game back in early October and just doesn’t really give the Browns a lot.

Football Outsiders ranks 36 qualified backs. McGahee ranks dead last with a -101 DYAR and ranks 35th with a DVOA of -28.8%. His success rate of 42% is good for 26th in the league and he has as many fumbles as he does touchdowns.


Receiver: Josh Gordon
Catches: 40
Yards: 751
Rec. Touchdowns: 4
DYAR: 108 (32nd)
DVOA: 4.5% (39th)

One of the lone bright spots for the Browns on offense has been Gordon. There was actually talk at the trade deadline of him being shipped off somewhere but the Browns defended to keep him. Honestly without him the offense would struggle to score any points.

Gordon has posted four 100+ yard performances this season and is coming off a five catch, 125 yard performance against the Bengals where he found the end zone one time. He has been targeted 81 times this season which is the most on the team but less than half of those have gone for completions which sets his catch rate at 49% which makes him one of a dozen receivers, of the 88 that qualify at Football Outsiders, that have a catch rate below 50%. Clearly this isn’t all his fault since the QB play has been abysmal but, well, I have no idea.

Two games ago against a pretty good Chiefs defense he caught five passes for 132 yards and a score so in two of his last three games he’s caught for over 125 yards a game and if Ike Taylor isn’t on his game he is going to give the Browns somewhat of a chance.


Tight End: Jordan Cameron
Catches: 56
Yards: 629
Rec. Touchdowns: 6
DYAR: 87 (7th)
DVOA: 9.7% (15th)

If Gordon has been a part of the bright spot for the offense then Cameron has been an uber bright spot. He is ranked as one of the best offensive tight ends in the game right now and has advanced ratings that are higher than Rob Gronkowski. He is a red zone target and while there is little on the outside to compliment him he’s been targeted 78 times and has a team-best 56 catches.

Cameron has cooled off significantly since his 10 catch, 91 yard, three touchdown performance in late September against the Bengals but he still represents one of the top targets for whomever is playing quarterback.

Last week against the Bengals he caught six passes in seven targets for only 29 yards and had a long catch of only eight yards. His last big game came against the Chiefs on October 27 when he had four catches (on four targets) for 81 yards. His last touchdown catch came against the Packers on October 20.

His catch rate is among the best among tight ends at 71% and while he has been pretty quiet the Steelers can struggle against athletic tight ends like Cameron. I think it would be different if there was a little bit more skill around the Browns offense but with the nonexistent run game and only Gordon out there to draw and kind of attention I think it will be hard for the Browns to force feed Cameron.


Offensive Line
Left to Right: Joe Thomas, John Greco, Alex Mack, Shawn Lauvao, Mitchell Schwartz

Despite being pretty bad in the run game and not having anything else to speak of the Browns have a couple of pretty good pieces on the offensive line. Thomas is one of the best left tackles in the league and Mack has been a really solid perfumer in the middle of the line in his five years in the league.

That being said that doesn’t make up for them being pretty bad overall. Browns running backs are averaging 3.50 yards per carry while the offensive line has been credited with a 3.62 adjusted line yardage which gives them a little more credit for the “success” of the run game than it does the running backs.

The Browns have not been as bad as you might imagine in power situations as they are 10th-best in the league with a power success rate of 67%. While that is nice that they can convert the short yardage situations that doesn’t mean that teams can’t have success on them in the running stopping game. The Browns rank 29th in the league in stuffed percentage at 23% which means that the Browns running backs are getting hit at, or behind the line of scrimmage at a pretty good rate.

The Browns do have some success in the run game when they rush over Thomas where ether rank fifth in the league with an ALY of 4.46. The league average when teams run to their left tackle is 3.84 so you can really see how good Thomas is on that offensive line. The left tackle is where the Browns run the second-most among running areas as 11% of their 192 running back carries have gone to Thomas’ area.

The Browns run an overwhelming amount up the middle/off the guards as 68% of the running back carries have gone there. That doesn’t mean they are successful their as the 3.78 adjusted line yards is 20th in the league and below the league average of 3.90. They are pretty awful in other areas as they rank 25th or lower when they run to the right tackle, right end, and left end.

In the pass game the offensive line is a little closer to league average, which is actually a step up for this offense. Their adjusted sack rate of 7.6% ranks 19th in the league as they have given up 35 sacks on the season. That is a lot of sacks, like two less than the Steelers, but when you adjust for the number of passes thrown and other variables it makes them a little better than the raw numbers.


Browns Defense

The reason that the Browns are able to stay in some close games is because the Browns defense is able to play some good football at times. The Browns rank fifth in the NFL allowing only 306.5 yards per game and while they aren’t overly good in a single area of the defense they are not horrible in any one area. They do give up some points as they rank only 17th in the league giving up 23.8 points per game but they have played some decent football throughout the year.

The Browns rank 19th in the league with a team DVOA of 2.2% which is pretty close to the break even point while they rank 17th in the league in both pass defense (7.7%) and rush defense (-5.4%). While they are pretty average in the rankings they are one of the most consistent defenses in the league with a variance of 3.2% that ranks sixth in the NFL and has given up over 350 yards to an opposing offense only twice this season.

The Browns are coming off a really solid effort against the Bengals last week when the defense gave up only 224 total yards of offense and in their last two games they have given up less than 300 yards of total offense in both games. In face in five games this season the Browns have not allowed 300 yards of total offense.

The Browns have forced 13 turnovers this season and while that isn’t a lot they have forced four in the last two games.

The pass defense isn’t great but when they are going up against the opposing top receiver they are the best in the league, in terms of DVOA, of shutting them down. Against those top targets they have a DVOA of -34.8% and that is on the back of Joe Haden who leads the team with three interceptions and has 13 pass breakups. Haden also has a touchdown on the season and more often than not when a receiver goes up against him they lose in a big way. Top targets are averaging under 35 yards per game. That is shutdown.

The Browns are middle of the pack against the second, third, and fourth targets but where they can be had is against tight ends and running backs. The Browns rank dead last in the league against tight ends with a 27.1% DVOA and they are 30th against running backs with a DVOA of 26.6%. Heath Miller has had some big games so he might be in line for a big game but the Steelers continue to not utilize the running backs but this would be a great game to start looking at them.

Cleveland does a pretty nice job about getting after the quarterback to help out that secondary. They rank 11th in the league with an adjusted sack rate of 7.8% which includes 31 sacks on the season. 15 different players have at least one sack for the Browns with the top guy, Barkevious Mingo, leading the charge with four sacks. Nine different players have two or more sacks so this isn’t a case of one guy killing you, it is a case that anyone is capable of getting to the quarterback.

The Browns rank eighth in the league allowing an ALY of 3.66. They are not very good in the short yardage situations as they rank dead last with a power success rate against of 89% which means that when it is a short yardage situation then the offense is almost always converting that to a touchdown or first down. Stuffed percentage is about the same for the Browns as they rank 21st in the league at 18% so their defensive line is having really hard time getting off block in the run game and that is good news for a Steelers run game that has been pretty bad at letting teams hit their backs at or behind the line of scrimmage.

The Steelers, like almost every other team, run the ball exclusively up the middle and the Browns do about a league average job of shutting that down. When teams try to run up the middle on the Browns they are successful for an ALY of 3.81 which is just under the league average of 3.92 and that is good for 13th in the league. The Browns are stingy to run against when the offense goes to the left tackle with an ALY of 2.10 which is the third-lowest average in the league.

You can run to the edges on the Browns as they rank 27th when teams run to the left end and 22nd when teams run to the right end but the Steelers run only 11% of the time, combined, to the ends so that isn’t something I assume they will do.

D’Qwell Jackson is the team’s leading tackler with 88 tackles (44 solo) with safety T.J. Ward coming in second with 68 tackles (51 solo). Both have 1.5 sacks while Ward has a pair of picks on the season.

Inside linebacker Craig Robertson has three sacks on the season while Chris Owens, and Jabaal Sheard have 2.5 sacks each. Buster Skrine has a sack and a team-best 15 pass breakups.


Browns Special Teams

Cleveland runs off a pretty decent special teams unit with all of their units ranking above league average except the punting unit. The Browns overall rank 17th in the league according to Football Outsiders with a DVOA of 1.0%.

Billy Cundiff is the kicker for the Browns and so far this season he has hit all but two of his attempts which includes a miss between 30-39 and a miss between 40-49. He’s hit both of his opportunities beyond 50 yards and all of his 20 extra points.

Spencer Lanning punts and is 21st in the league with a 44.9 yard per punt average and also ranks 26th in the league with a 38.0 yard per punt average. In 56 punts Lanning has forced 16 fair catches and pinned the opponent inside the 20 yard line 16 times. Returners are getting 9.6 yards per return off Lanning and the punt coverage team. Lanning also threw an 11 yard touchdown pass this season. So, yea.

The Browns have had six different players return a kickoff this season led by Fozzy Whittaker who has six returns for a 26.3 yard per return average. Greg Little has seven returns for 151 yards (21.6 average) and Bobby Rainey has returned six for a 24.5 yard average. Who knows.

Travis Benjamin has done most of the punt returning for the Browns with an 11.7 yard per return average on 22 returns. That ranks him sixth in the league and his highlight was a 79 yard return that he took for a touchdown.


Game Notes

- This is a pretty significant chance for the Steelers to make themselves a true threat for that final Wild Card spot that is going to be taken by a pretty bad team. If the Steelers want to be in the playoff chase going down the stretch then they have to win this game. No excuses about it. The Browns are not a good football team and the Steelers can lose maybe one more game the rest of the way. That game should not come against the Browns.

- To say this has been a one-sided contest would be a huge understatement. The Steelers are 22-3 against the Browns since 2001 and while all of these games haven’t been blown out the Steelers have just straight owned the Browns. Last season the Browns took one of the two match ups from the Steelers and that probably was the reason they missed out on the playoffs (among other reasons).

- Haden is going to be a bear to deal with and I assume the Steelers are going to do everything possible to get Antonio Brown away from him. That means that Brown will be in motion a lot and he will be taking snaps out of the slot. I am not sure if Haden is going to follow him around every play but Brown torched the Lions and you can bet your money the Browns would rather let Jerricho Cotchery beat them than Brown.

- The Steelers were able to get the win last week without Ramon Foster, LaMarr Woodley, and Brett Keisel and this week it looks like that trio is going to be back. It was a pretty good second half job by the Steelers to shut down the Lions high octane offense and this time all they have to do is shut down Campbell and a bunch of misfits. Those three are going to help but the fact remains that the Steelers have played some bad defense and not blocked the defense with them on the field. They need to carry the play from last week and add these high talent guys to the mix.


PREDICTION - For as bad as the Steelers have been this year this seems like more of a lopsided game on paper that you may think. The Steelers and Browns have the same record coming into the game and while I think they are becoming a much better football team they are still a good ways off that mark. The Steelers win this fairly easy. Steelers 27, Browns 17.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Penguins Game 22 Recap - Penguins 4, Capitals 0

Really fun game to watch tonight. I am not even talking about the fact that the Penguins absolutely dominated the game and left zero doubt about who was the best team in the division, but I am talking that in the beginning of the game this looked like what the Penguins/Capitals games used to look like in 2008 and 2009. Just really fun stuff with some really good talent on the ice. The Penguins showed why they are at the top of the Metro Division and really did a clinical job of shutting down a really good offensive team tonight.

The Penguins outshot the Caps 40-18 and the defensive effort that they put on the Capitals was exactly what this team needed. Not that Marc-Andre Fleury wasn't good, because he was, but Alex Ovechkin has been outstanding this season and with the Penguins giving the Capitals three early power plays it was important for them to weather the storm on the road and behind Fleury and the defense they did that. Just an outstanding overall effort.

The Penguins offense struggled the past couple of weeks but the last two games it has really played well. The Penguins got a couple of first period goals from Paul Martin and Beau Bennett and it was all over from there. Sidney Crosby added the third goal on the power play late in the second period that was just filthy sick. James Neal scored his second goal of the season in the third period and the Caps fans headed for the exits while there was a huge "Lets Go Pens" chant going on. Beautiful.

You could talk about how Evgeni Malkin was really good (despite not scoring a goal, the nerve) and how good Crosby was (isn't he always) but this was a full team game. The defensive unit was great, the forwards were great, the back checking was great, the defensive zone coverage was great. This was supposed to be a close game and while it looked that way early the Penguins bounced back and played a great game and dominated play.

It is late. Not too much else to say except that the Penguins have two wins against two pretty good teams in Anaheim and Washington on the week. I will take that.

Penguins Game 22 Preview - @ Washington Capitals

Washington Capitals

8:00 p.m., Verizon Center, Washington, D.C.

The Last Penguins Game
November 18, 2013 - Pittsburgh 3, Anaheim 1 [Recap]


Probables

Pittsburgh (13-8-0) (via Dailyfaceoff)

Forwards
Chris Kunitz - Sidney Crosby - Beau Bennett
Pascal Dupuis - Evgeni Malkin - James Neal
Jussi Jokinen - Brandon Sutter - Brian Gibbons
Tanner Glass - Joe Vitale - Craig Adams

Defense
Paul Martin - Brooks Orpik
Deryk Engelland - Kris Letang
Olli Maatta - Matt Niskanen

Goaltending
Marc-Andre Fleury

Washington (12-8-1)(via Dailyfaceoff)

Forwards
Martin Erat - Nicklas Backstrom - Alex Ovechkin
Brooks Laich - Marcus Johansson - Troy Brouwer
Jason Chimera - Mikhail Grabovski - Joel Ward
Aaron Volpatti - Michael Latta - Tom Wilson

Defense
Nate Schmidt - Tyson Strachan
Karl Alzner - John Carlson
Alexander Urbom - Steve Oleksy

Goaltender
Braden Holtby



The Stats

Monday, November 18, 2013

Penguins Game 21 Recap - Penguins 3, Ducks 1

This was a really good and fun hockey game to watch. The Penguins actually came out and got dominated in the first period. Like, they didn't even have a shot for the first 18 minutes of the period. It wasn't really that they were playing horrible hockey it was just that the Ducks came out ready to play and it seemed like the Penguins were still stuck in New Jersey where they were at on Saturday night and got beat 4-1.

There are a few guys that could have been named the top star in the game. Evgeni Malkin had an unreal third period and almost willed the Penguins offense to victory and then there was Brian Gibbons who took a Malkin feed to open up the scoring with his first ever NHL goal. There is Sidney Crosby who sealed the game for the Penguins and there was a multitude of Penguins dmen who almost kept the Ducks off the scoreboard. It shouldn't be any of them though, this game was about Marc-Andre Fleury.

The Ducks held the Penguins to only three shots in the first period and they were able to register 12 shots and MAF was there for every single one of them. Despite the Penguins dominating play in the second period they were still without a goal and it was Fleury who made five more saves to keep the game scoreless. He did give up one goal but that came when it was already a two goal advantage for the Penguins. After that one goal got by he didn't allow the Ducks to get any closer and finished the game with 27 saves. He wasn't named the number one by the media, but he was the number one star.

A lot has been made about Malkin and about how he hasn't scored goals. I don't care. Actually, I shouldn't say that because I would like to see Malkin find the back of the net but the way he played the third period I am not even really sure it matters if he is the one scoring the goals. The pass he made to Gibbons after skating circles around the Ducks and then finding the open Gibbons on the backhand was a thing of beauty. It seems like Malkin is a little tentative with his shot and that might be a little concerning but I don't think he has been playing bad hockey, he just hasn't found the back of the net. I am sure it is frustrating for him but the goals will come.

Crosby was held without a shot after the first but he finished the game with three shots and one of them went into the net. Crosby only had one goal in the last 10 games and this one today was sick. He went far post, top shelf, through about 12 people to find the back of the net and after he regained the puck after losing it around the offensive blue line he was going to score and nobody was going to stop him. He barely celebrated and went back to the bench with almost a pissed off look on his face. Dude wanted it and he got it.

This was a really good game for the Penguins. The Ducks are one of the best teams in the entire league and they were actually playing to take the top spot in the league. The Penguins came in losing four of their last five games and haven't looked good doing it. They looked bad in the first but bounced back and finally took it to a really good Ducks team. Really good to see and it sets up a pretty big early season game against Washington on Wednesday. They have a tough slate of games coming up and this is a really nice sign after how they have played the last five.

Penguins Game 21 Preview - vs. Anaheim Ducks

Anaheim Ducks

7:30 p.m., CONSOL Energy Center, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

The Last Penguins Game
November 16, 2013 - New Jersey 4, Pittsburgh 1


Probables

Pittsburgh (11-8-0) (via Penguins website)

Forwards
Chris Kunitz - Sidney Crosby - Beau Bennett
Pascal Dupuis - Evgeni Malkin - James Neal
Jussi Jokinen - Brandon Sutter - Brian Gibbons
Tanner Glass - Joe Vitale - Craig Adams

Defense
Paul Martin - Brooks Orpik
Deryk Engelland - Kris Letang
Olli Maatta - Matt Niskanen

Goaltender
Marc-Andre Fleury

Anaheim (15-5-2) (via Dailyfaceoff)

Forwards
Dustin Penner - Ryan Getzlaf - Corey Perry
Emerson Etem - Nick Bonino - Teemu Selanne
Patrick Maroon - Kyle Palmieri - Rickard Rakell
Devante Smith-Pelly - Andrew Cogliano - Daniel Winnik

Defense
Francois Beauchemin - Mark Fistric
Cam Fowler - Ben Lovejoy
Bryan Allen - Hampus Lindholm

Goaltender
Viktor Fasth


The Stats: