Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Penguins Game 42 Preview - @ New Jersey Devils

New Jersey Devils

1:00 p.m., Prudential Center, Newark, New Jersey

The Last Penguins Game
December 29, 2013 - Pittsburgh 5, Columbus 3


Probables

Pittsburgh (29-11-1) (via Dailyfaceoff)

Forwards
Chris Kunitz - Sidney Crosby - Joe Vitale
Chris Conner - Jussi Jokinen - James Neal
Chuck Kobasew - Brandon Sutter - Brian Gibbons
Tanner Glass - Zach Sill - Craig Adams

Defense
Brooks Orpik - Deryk Engelland
Matt Niskanen - Rob Scuderi
Robert Bortuzzo - Simon Despres

Goaltender
Marc-Andre Fleury


New Jersey (16-16-8) (via Dailyfaceoff)

Forwards
Dainius Zubrus - Travis Zajac - Jaromir Jagr
Ryane Clowe - Adam Henrique - Michael Ryder
Patrik Elias - Stephen Gionta - Steve Bernier
Reid Boucher - Andrei Loktionov - Cam Janssen

Defense
Andy Greene - Mark Fayne
Bryce Salvador - Marek Zidlicky
Eric Gelinas - Jon Merrill

Goaltender
Martin Brodeur


Season Series (Pittsburgh leads 2-1)

December 13 - Pittsburgh 3, New Jersey 2



November 16, 2013 - New Jersey 4, Pittsburgh 1



October 3, 2013 - Pittsburgh 3, New Jersey 0




Stats

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Steelers Game 16 Recap - Steelers 20, Browns 7

This game was not as close as the score indicates. The Browns are just a really bad football team. I mean some of the things that they were doing on the field were just pretty awful and I am not really sure the Steelers played a good game but they did plenty enough early on to put away the Browns.

Before I briefly touch on the game the bigger picture here is that after the game the Steelers quickly found out they were still alive for the playoffs. The Ravens lost to the Bengals and the Dolphins lost to the Jets so all that needed to happene for the Steelers to make the playoffs was for the Chiefs to beat the Chargers. A tall task since the Chiefs weren't playing any of their 11 starters on defense but to even have this chance is pretty remarkable.

Anyways, neither team in this game had 300 yards of offense and while the Steelers dominated a large majority of this game it never got so out of hand that you could turn off the game and watch one of the other games that were of interest to Steelers fans.

I think this really starts and ends with Le'Veon Bell. Dude was just a monster today. He rushed 20 times for 90 yards and a score and was just running over Browns defenders any chance he got. He really ran hard and whether it was an inside run or outside run he was making defenders miss and getting the extra yards on almost every single carry. He's gotten better in every single game he's played and really the only other thing I would like to see him do would be to improve in the pass catching game but you have to be thrilled with what he has done so far.

Antonio Brown was once again pretty outstanding. The passing game wasn't all that great because of the poor weather but Brown still managed to make nine catches for 87 yards. That isn't overly impressive but when theSteelers needed to make a play Brown was there to make the catch.

I think overall the Steelers have an offense that can play in the playoffs. They have good playmakers and a very good quarterback but where I think they struggle is on the defensive side of the football. The Browns are a bad football team and they are really bad on the offensive side of the ball but the defense did exactly what they had to do. They held the Browns off the scoreboard until there were less than three minutes left in the game and sacked Jason Campbell three times and forced a pair of turnovers. The defense was not perfect but the Browns were 0-for-3 on fourth downs in fringe field goal territory and that was enough for the win.

Defensively I don't think there is anyone more underrated than Lawrence Timmons. He did get beat in coverage on the Browns lone touchdown but for almost the entire season he's been the best player on the defensive side of the ball. Today he made eight tackles, two for loss, had a sack, and defended a pass. Not a bad day for the linebacker that a lot of people take for granted.

Jarvis Jones was all over the field. He led the team with nine tackles and it wasn't just in the pass rushing game where he was good. He didn't record one of the three sacks but early on he was making a ton of tackles right around the line of scrimmage and was step for step with his targets in pass coverage. One of his better games of the season and it was really good to see.

The bad news is that there is some injury news from out of the game. Both Steve McLendon (ankle) and Jerricho Cotchery (shoulder) left the game with injuries and while I don't know the status of those injuries neither of them looked overly good and those are two guys that have been really good this season and it would be a significant loss if they were unable to play if the Steelers made it into the playoffs.

The Steelers finished the season winning six of their last eight games and now have themselves in a spot to get into the playoffs. When the day started I thought that if it got to the point where the Chargers/Chiefs game meant something then it would be a pretty good day and here we are.

Go Chiefs.

Penguins Game 41 Preview - @ Columbus Blue Jackets


 Columbus Blue Jackets

6:00 p.m., Nationwide Arena, Columbus, OH 

The Last Penguins Game
December 27, 2013 - Pittsburgh 4, Carolina 3 (OT)


Probables

Pittsburgh (28-11-1) (via Dailyfaceoff)

Forwards
Chris Kunitz - Sidney Crosby - Joe Vitale
Chris Conner - Jussi Jokinen - James Neal
Harry Zolnierczyk - Brandon Sutter - Chuck Kobasew
Tanner Glass - Zach Sill - Craig Adams

Defense
Brooks Orpik - Deryk Engelland
Matt Niskanen - Olli Maatta
Robert Bortuzzov - Simon Despres

Goaltender
Jeff Zatkoff

Columbus (17-7-4) (via Dailyfaceoff)

Forwards
Nick Foligno - Ryan Johansen - R.J. Umberger
Artem Anisimov - Brandon Dubinsky - Cam Atkinson
Blake Comeau - Derek MacKenzie - Jack Skille
Boone Jenner - Mark Letestu - Corey Tropp

Defense
Jack Johnson - Fedor Tyutin
James Wisniewski - Ryan Murray
Nikita Nikitin - David Savard

Goaltender
Curtis McElhinney


Season Series (Pittsburgh leads 3-0)

December 9, 2013 - Pittsburgh 2, Columbus 1



November 2, 2013 - Pittsburgh 3, Columbus 0



November 1, 2013 - Pittsburgh 4, Columbus 2




Stats

Friday, December 27, 2013

Penguins Game 40 Preview - @ Carolina Hurricanes

Carolina Hurricanes

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

The Last Penguins Game
December 23, 2013 - Ottawa 5, Pittsburgh 0 [Recap]


Probables

Pittsburgh (27-11-1) (via Penguins website)

Forwards
Chris Kunitz- Sidney Crosby- Joe Vitale
Chris Conner - Jussi Jokinen - James Neal
Harry Zolnierczyk - Brandon Sutter - Chuck Kobasew
Tanner Glass - Zach Sill - Craig Adams

Defense
Brooks Orpik - Deryk Engelland
Matt Niskanen - Olli Maatta
Robert Bortuzzo - Simone Despres

Goaltender
Marc-Andre Fleury

Carolina (14-15-8) (via Dailyfaceoff)

Forwards
Jeff Skinner - Eric Staal - Tuomo Ruutu
Nathan Gerbe - Jordan Staal - Alexander Semin
Drayson Bowman - Riley Nash - Pat Dwyer
Radek Dvorak - Manny Malhotra - Zach Boychuk

Defense
Justin Faulk - Andrej Sekera
Ryan Murphy - Ron Hainsey
Tim Gleason - Mike Komisarek

Goaltender
Justin Peters


Season Series (Pittsburgh leads 2-0)

October 28, 2013 - Pittsburgh 3, Carolina 1




October 8, 2013 - Pittsburgh 5, Carolina 2




Stats

Steelers Game 16 Preview - vs. Cleveland Browns

This is going to be very abbreviated. I hope everyone had a great holiday season and while it would have been nice to really pack the preview like I usually do for the game that just isn't going to be possible for this week but it is what it is.

Hopefully this isn't the last game of the season. The Steelers are still alive for the last playoff spot but things really have to fall right for it to happen. Here is the breakdown in case you have been living under a rock:

1) Pittsburgh defeats Cleveland
2) Cincinnati defeats Baltimore
3) NY Jets defeats Miami
4) Kansas City defeats San Diego

That is a lot of stuff to happen. What will be interesting is that if the first three happen and Steelers fans everywhere can watch Kansas City playing San Diego for a chance at the playoffs. Now Kansas City has already said they are going to hold out some players but they are still a pretty good football team and would be fun as hell to watch.

In the first matchup of the season the Steelers defeated the Browns 27-11 on November 24. It was a pretty dominating performance from the Steelers and while the box score will show that the Browns offense came alive a lot of that happened in garbage time when things were already well out of hand.

Here is the [box score] for that game.

Here is a quick breakdown of the Browns:

Offense

Total Offense: -13.7 DVOA (26th)
Rush Offense: -8.4% DVOA (25th)
Pass Offense: -6.5 DVOA (19th)

Quarterback
Jason Campbell
Completion %: 56.9% (157-276)
Yards: 1,775
TD: 10
INT: 7
QBR: 40.9 (34th)
DYAR: 41 (27th)
DVOA: -9.0% (28th)

Running Back
Willis McGahee
Yards: 377
Attempts: 138
Yards Per Attempt: 2.7
Rushing TD: 2
DYAR: -91 (41st)
DVOA: -22.7% (42nd)

Wide Receiver
Josh Gordon
Yards: 1,564
Receptions: 80
Yards Per Catch: 19.6
Receiving TD: 9
DYAR: 303 (9th)
DVOA: 13.4% (22nd)

Tight End
Jordan Cameron
Yards: 848
Receptions: 75
Yards per Catch: 11.3
Receiving TD: 7
DYAR: 90 (11th)
DVOA: 5.1% (20th)

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

ALY: 3.84 (18th)
Power Success: 71% (7th)
Stuffed: 19% (16th)
Most Successful Run Area: Left Tackle - 5.16 ALY (1st)
Least Successful Run Area: Left End - 2.11 ALY (32nd)
Pass Protection: 7.4% Adjusted Sack Rate (15th)


Defense

Total Defense: 8.9% DVOA (25th)
Rush Defense: 15.7% DVOA (23rd)
Pass Offense: 0.2% DVOA (22nd)

Leaders:

Total Tackles: D'Qwell Jackson (132)
Solo Tackles: T.J. Ward (73)
Tackles for Loss: T.J. Ward (10)
Sacks: Jabaal Sheard (5.5)
Interceptions: Tashaun Gipson, Joe Haden (4)
Passes Defended: Joe Haden (20)


Special Teams

Field Goals
Billy Cundiff (21-26; one miss 30-39, two miss 40-49, two miss 50+)

Punting
Spencer Lanning
Punts: 79
Average: 44.1
Net Average: 38.4
Average Return: 9.6
Inside 20: 28

Kickoff Return
Fozzy Whittaker
Returns: 23
Average: 21.0
Touchdowns: 0

Punt Returns
Travis Benjamin
Returns: 22
Average: 11.7
Touchdowns: 1

So, there it is. Not much more than that. The Browns are not a good football team. The Steelers should take care of business and then they will be hoping for the best with other games.

Prediction: Steelers 30, Browns 13

Monday, December 23, 2013

Penguins Game 39 Recap - Senators 5, Penguins 0

At some point when you are playing with a nearly half full AHL lineup in the NHL you are going to hit bumps. The Penguins have done an unreal job at winning games despite missing a lot of key pieces but tonight was just that time where everything seemed to go wrong. The first two periods the Penguins hung around but never really looked like they had a chance to get back into it. Ottawa tallied three third period goals and made this look on paper like it did live when you were watching it. Ugly.

The big takeaway from this game happened early. Sidney Crosby was making a move and was taken out with a good, clean hip check and as he went down he went right into Pascal Dupuis right knee. Dupuis did not get up and when he went off the ice he didn't put any weight on it.

This isn't going to be good for Dupuis. Your knee is not supposed to bend like that. I would be pretty surprised if he was back anytime soon, or even at all this season. The Penguins have dealt with some big time defensive injuries and they have been able to overcome because of the really deep pool of talent they have but the Penguins do not have much depth in terms of forwards. This is really going to stretch them thin and I am not sure they are going to be able to make it through like they have with the defensive injuries they've had.

This was just a "when it rains, it pours" nights. Those happen and with how well they have been playing and the cushion they have in the division this shouldn't be too much of a concern. Come back after the Christmas break and start to get back some of the injuries players and see what happens then.

Happy Holidays everyone! Enjoy the time with your friends and family. Also, Happy Festivus.

Steelers Game 15 Recap - Steelers 38, Packers 31

After starting the year 0-4 I think most people would have been ecstatic if you told them the Steelers would have something to play for in terms of the playoffs heading into the final week of the season. Well, here we are. The Steelers won and a bunch of teams that needed to lose did just that and the Steelers have an outside shot of making the playoffs next week.

It's not going to be easy and it certainly isn't probable but you know what I am trying to tell you.



Yea baby.

This was vintage Green Bay/Lambeau Field football. It was cold and the field was all mucked up and there was a lot on the line for both teams. It was a pretty exciting game if you liked seeing offense. If you liked the defensive aspect of the game there were short spurts of it but this was mostly a shootout.

The teams traded leads and were fighting back and forth all game but it wasn't until a Cortez Allen interception that he took back 40 yards for a touchdown that it gave the Steelers some breathing room. Now that didn't mean the game was over and actually it wasn't over as the Packers came back to tie the game up and then almost tied it up in the final second of the game but it all went for not. Steelers win.

This game had a little bit of everything. The Steelers going for it on fourth down with in their second to last possession of the game and converting via Will Johnson, the Steelers giving Mat McBriar a chance to show off the arm with a fake punt, the Steelers blocking a field goal and then for some reason the Packers getting the ball back, and the run game carrying the team. A whole bunch of crazy stuff going on.

The running game was pretty outstanding. Now, the Packers are really bad on defense and stopping the run isn't something they are good at but at the same time the Steelers have really struggled this year to move the football. Le'Veon Bell wanted to go out and prove to himself and to others that Eddie Lacy wasn't going to be better than he is/was. Bell toted the ball 26 times for 124 yards and a touchdown. That touchdown turned out to be the game winner and while that will get the highlights Bell was once again outstanding and showing that he is turning into one of the better rookies this season despite missing time at the beginning of the year.

Thanks to the running game the Steelers didn't have to really rely on the passing game. That wasn't really the case but the passing game was having a tough go of it with the weather and Ben Roethlisberger only completed 16-of-28 passes for 167 yards and only a 6.0 yard per attempt average. Antonio Brown was literally about the only guy who was able to make things go as he caught six passes for 105 yards on 13 targets. The second leading receiver on the team was David Paulson who had 30 yards on one catch which came on the fake punt. Heath Miller caught three passes for 17 yards and Matt Spaeth had a catch for 11 yards. That's pretty much it. Not overly productive.

Defensively the Steelers didn't do all that well but they made plays when they had to. Green Bay ran 72 plays on the game opposed to the Steelers 59 and the Packers were able to have success on the ground. While Bell was doing a great job for the Steelers the Packers' Lacy also was really good. Sure, he only had 84 yards but that was on a mere 15 carries for a 5.6 yard per carry average. As a team the Packers gained 151 yards on the ground. The Steelers were able to get after the Packers in the passing game allowing Matt Flynn to throw for only a 5.9 yard per attempt average and had the pick six and forced a fumble when Flynn tried to scramble on a third and eight with the score tied and on two minutes left. Troy Polamalu got the hit and would have dropped Flynn a yard short and forced a punt but instead the Steelers got the ball at the Green Bay 17 and scored six plays later. That is the big time defensive play that the team wasn't getting earlier in the year.

Maybe the play of the game came on that following series. The Packers actually stopped the Steelers and forced a field goal attempt from the Green Bay 10 yard line. The Steelers went on a hard count and the Packers jumped offsides. They jumped offsides. Automatic first down for the Steelers. Instead of a field goal they scored a touchdown. Instead of going to overtime the Steelers won the football game. Special teams showed up in a big way and won the Steelers a football game. Just unreal stuff.

Yay football.

The Steelers have to have a lot of stuff happen but beating the Browns is step number one. Take care of that and hope for the best.

Penguins Game 39 Preview - @ Ottawa Senators

Ottawa Senators

7:30 p.m., Scotiabank Place, Ottawa, Ontario

The Last Penguins Game
December 21, 2013 - Pittsburgh 4, Calgary 3


Probables

Pittsburgh (27-10-1) (via Penguins website)

Forwards
Chris Kunitz - Sidney Crosby - Pascal Dupuis
Harry Zolnierczyk - Jussi Jokinen - James Neal
Chris Conner - Brandon Sutter - Joe Vitale
Craig Adams - Zach Sill - Chuck Kobasew

Defense
Olli Maatta - Matt Niskanen
Brian Dumoulin - Robert Bortuzzo
Philip Samuelsson - Simon Despres

Goaltender
Marc-Andre Fleury

Ottawa (14-17-7) (via Dailyfaceoff)

Forwards
Mika Zibanejad - Jason Spezza - Milan Michalek
Clarke MacArthur - Kyle Turris - Bobby Ryan
Colin Greening - Zack Smith - Chris Neil
Matt Kassian - Jean-Gabriel Pageau - Erik Condra

Defense
Jared Cowen - Erik Karlsson
Chris Phillips - Cody Ceci
Marc Methot - Eric Gryba

Goaltender
Craig Anderson


Stats

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Penguins Game 38 Preview - vs. Calgary Flames


Calgary Flames


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

The Last Penguins Game
December 19, 2013 - Pittsburgh 5, Minnesota 2 [Recap]


Probables

Pittsburgh (26-10-1) (via Dailyfaceoff)

Forwards
Chris Kunitz - Sidney Crosby - Pascal Dupuis
Harry Zolnierczyk - Jussi Jokinen - James Neal
Chris Conner - Brandon Sutter - Joe Vitale
Craig Adams - Zach Sill - Chuck Kobasew

Defense
Olli Maatta - Matt Niskanen
Brian Dumoulin - Robert Bortuzzo
Philip Samuelsson - Simon Despres

Goaltender
Marc-Andre Fleury

Calgary (13-16-6) (via Dailyfaceoff)

Forwards
Curtis Glencross - Matt Stajan - Lee Stempniak
Paul Byron - Sean Monahan - Jiri Hudler
Michael Cammalleri - Mikael Backlund - David Jones
Lance Bouma - Joe Colborne - Brian McGrattan

Defense
Ladislav Smid - Mark Giordano
Chris Butler - Shane O'Brien
Kris Russell - T.J. Brodie

Goaltender
Karri Ramo

Stats

Friday, December 20, 2013

Penguins Video Christmas Card...Awesome

So this is a few days old but I don't really think you can watch this too many times

Steelers Game 15 Preview - @ Green Bay Packers

The Steelers and Packers is one of those games that you love to watch. They are two great franchises with a lot of history and usually are always really good at football. While teams can change drastically from year to year these two teams pretty much always look the same and while they will have down years they are mostly consistent in being good football teams.

Things have gone a little different for both teams this year. The Packers are in the playoff hunt but they are doing so without stud quarterback Aaron Rodgers. The Steelers weren't predicted to do all that well this year but were thought to have been in the playoff hunt to some degree but have lost about half of their team due to injuries. You know, just as everyone predicted.

This is still going to be a fun football game to watch regardless of the Steelers lack of playoff position. As most of you know I am a Wisconsin resident and live pretty close to Green Bay. I knew the Steelers were coming up to Green Bay this year but when I saw the date I got pissed. I am already back in Pittsburgh for the holidays and here are the Steelers in Green Bay. Figures.

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


Hit the jump for the preview


Thursday, December 19, 2013

Penguins Game 37 Recap - Penguins 5, Wild 2

No matter how many injuries or bad breaks they just keep winning.


That includes tonight where the Penguins took it to the Wild and while Minnesota was able to cut the lead in half near the start of the third period they really never stood a chance.

The Penguins got back James Neal tonight and found out that they lost Jayson Megna for six weeks but I think if they had to make a swap they would gladly take that one.

Pascal Dupuis found the back of the net 49 seconds into the game. It was the only goal of the first period but it was a great way to start. The Penguins played really bad in the first period against New York last night but they came out and got a goal today early. it wasn't a pretty goal and it was more of a case of just getting the bounce off a brutal play by Wild goaltender Niklas Backstrom but I don't think anyone is complaining.

The Penguins put this away in the second. They scored a pair of goals in the first four minutes and then added another halfway through the period and it was essential over. It did get interesting when the Wild got a 5-on-3 power play for nearly a full two minutes just five minutes into the third period with the score 4-2 but the Pens PK unit did a hell of a job killing the penalty. What happened next sealed the game.

Olli Maatta got the first penalty and as he came out of the box he got behind the defense and had a breakaway. He was able to get a shot off but was hooked in the process so that meant penalty shot.



(via The Pensblog)

Cash.

Maatta was just a straight beast tonight. Last night he played 28 minutes and tonight he scored that goal and also assisted on two others while playing almost 22 minutes. This kid is 19 years old. He is going to make mistakes but right now he is playing some big time hockey when the Penguins need him to.

I think it also should be noted that the Maatta goal was a shorthanded goal since the other penalty did not expire yet. That turns out to be the Penguins second power play goal of the season. The first shorthanded goal was scored on an empty net by Brandon Sutter and then this one tonight was scored on a penalty shot. So, in essence, there has not be a traditional shorthanded goal scored. Just odd.

Speaking of Sutter how good has he been. The first eight games or so of the season were pretty rough but he's been nothing short of outstanding since. He scored another goal tonight which is his eighth of the season and defensively he has been pretty shutdown.



Sidney Crosby continues to be outstanding. Two primary assists. Ho hum.

Jeff Zatkoff was once again good. He gave up a pair of goals but when he needed to make big time saves he did. His AHL defense was there to make the plays and he just keeps getting better. Love to see it and give Marc-Andre Fleury time to take a breath.

This winning stuff is fun.

Penguins Game 37 Preview - vs. Minnesota Wild

Minnesota Wild


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

The Last Penguins Game
December 18, 2013 - Pittsburgh 4, New York 3 (SO)


Probables

Pittsburgh (25-10-1)

Forwards
Chris Kunitz - Sidney Crosby - Pascal Dupuis
Harry Zolnierczyk - Jussi Jokinen - James Neal
Chris Conner - Brandon Sutter - Joe Vitale
Craig Adams - Zach Sill - Chuck Kobasew

Defense
Matt Niskanen - Olli Maatta
Robert Bortuzzo - Brian Dumoulin
Simon Despres - Philip Samuelsson

Goaltender
Jeff Zatkoff

Minnesota (20-11-5) (via Dailyfaceoff)

Forwards
Zach Parise - Mikko Koivu - Charlie Coyle
Nino Niederreiter - Erik Haula - Jason Pominville
Matt Cooke - Kyle Brodziak - Brett Bulmer
Torrey Mitchell - Zenon Konopka - Dany Heatley

Defense
Ryan Suter - Jonas Brodin
Marco Scandella - Jared Spurgeon
Keith Ballard - Clayton Stoner

Goaltender
Niklas Backstrom


Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Penguins Game 36 Preview - @ New York Rangers

New York Rangers

8:00 p.m., Madison Square Garden, New York, New York

The Last Penguins Game
December 16, 2013 - Pittsburgh 3, Toronto 1 [Recap]


Probables

Pittsburgh (24-10-1) (via Dailyfaceoff)

Forwards
Chris Kunitz - Sidney Crosby - Pascal Dupuis
Harry Zolnierczyk - Jussi Jokinen - Jayson Megna
Chris Conner - Brandon Sutter - Joe Vitale
Craig Adams - Zach Sill - Chuck Kobasew

Defense
Matt Niskanen - Olli Maatta
Robert Bortuzzo - Brian Dumoulin
Simon Despres - Philip Samuelsson

Goaltender
Marc-Andre Fleury

New York (16-17-1) (via Dailyfaceoff)

Forwards
Chris Kreider - Derek Stepan - Rick Nash
Brad Richards - Derick Brassard - Mats Zuccarello
Carl Hagelin - Brian Boyle - Benoit Pouliot
Justin Falk - Dominic Moore - Derek Dorsett

Defense
Conor Allen - Michael Del Zotto
Dan Girardi - Ryan McDonagh
John Moore - Dylan McIlrath

Goaltender
Henrik Lundqvist


Season Series (New York leads 1-0)

November 6, 2013 - New York 5, Pittsburgh 1





Stats

Monday, December 16, 2013

Penguins Game 35 Recap - Penguins 3, Maple Leafs 1

Man oh man. No matter how many guys have to get called up in order to play for regulars who are not playing the Pengiuns just come out and keep winning hockey games. They have won nine games out of the last 10 they have played and they are now on a four game winning streak. Just really outstanding and it's not like they are playing against terrible teams. While the Maple Leafs refuse to shoot the puck and love to give up as many shots as possible they are still a good team. Just really crazy stuff going on right now for the Penguins.

The Penguins got on the board first just 39 seconds in the game. Chris Connor got credit for the goal which was his third of the season. Pretty soon Connor is going to be playing on the first line the way things are going. With how shorthanded the Penguins are scoring the first goal of the game is going to be largely important and it was tonight. The Leafs got back into the game with a goal about six minutes into the second period but the Penguins never trailed.

The difference maker was Sidney Crosby. Big surprise. There was just about six minutes left in the game and with the way things have been going for the Penguins I kind of just wanted them to get at least a point. Even if they didn't win in overtime or the shootout just getting a point would be a good thing. The Penguins took a faceoff in the offensive zone and I think they lost it but Robert Bortuzzo kept the puck in and somehow Crosby was left WIDE open in the slot. Automatic.

Brandon Sutter hit the empty net with like five seconds left. Count it. That also serves as the Penguins first shorthanded goal of the season as the Leafs were on the power play at the time.

The Penguins PK gave up a goal for the first time in what seems like forever but they did kill off four other Leafs power plays including the one to close out the game. An 80% kill rate isn't that good but in a one game vacuum I will take it. The Leafs got their one goal on the power play and they were shut down the rest of the time.

Marc-Andre Fleury. 25 saves. Ho hum.

The Penguins dominated the faceoff circle. They won 11 more faceoffs than the Leafs and you guys know how I feel about that.

On the other side of things the Penguins turned the puck over 12 times. Some of that is that more than half their roster is first year guys but you can't turn the puck over that much and expect to win. It's not like this is just a recent problem either, it has been a problem for a majority of the season.

Philip Samuelsson made his debut tonight. He looked pretty good. He was very aggressive on the blue line and made a few head scratching plays but overall it was a good 15 minutes he played on the ice. It is really nice to see guys like him and Brian Dumoulin coming in and playing big time minutes in their first ever NHL game. The Penguins are showing that they weren't dumb for drafting all these guys that play defense. Well, that and they aren't very good at drafting forwards but that is neither here nor there.

Bortuzzo had a pretty eventful night. He assisted on the game-winning goal, got into a fight, and threw a pretty borderline hit. The last thing that anyone wants to think about is losing another defensemen for any reason but he got a two minute penalty for a check to the head. The hit is a little tough to read as he does make contact with the head but it doesn't seem like it is the principle point of contact. Jerry D'Amigo, the guy he hit, came in to play his next shift so I am not sure there will be much come of it but would it really surprise you if something did?

Just another really good win. Stack the wins.

Steelers Game 14 Recap - Steelers 30, Bengals 20

Going into the season this was the kinda game that we thought the Steelers would be able to play this year. The start of the year the Steelers were about as bad as you could have imagined and while I still don't think they are very good they came out last night and showed that they weren't going to lay down and that they still had some punch left in them.

All the Steelers did was come out and score 21 first quarter points and go into the half with a 27-7 lead. The Steelers had six first half possessions. They punted on their very first possession and then scored the next five possessions. Outside of punting you couldn't really ask for much better of a half. Sure, the last two scores were field goals and it would have been nice for them to punch one more in the end zone but the way this season has gone who cares.

The Bengals were just awful in the first half. It was almost like they had no idea they were going to be playing a football game. All told in the first half the Bengals had 66 total yards and 69 yards came in the teams final two drives. The special teams were terrible for Cincinnati and the defense was letting the Steelers offense do pretty much whatever they want.

Mathematically the Steelers are still in the playoff hunt but it's a massive long shot. A lot needs to happen and a lot of it probably won't happen but at least for another week the Steelers can say they are in the playoff race.

Ben Roethlisberger was pretty outstanding. He went 20-25 for 191 yards, a touchdown, and an interception but those numbers probably don't do his game last night enough justice. He was only sacked one time which came late in the game but he found the open receiver and had some good accuracy as he has had all season. Just some really outstanding stuff from him last night.

While he rushing stats are going to look good Le'Veon Bell is showing why the Steelers made him a priority in the draft. He averaged under 3.0 yards per carry which is pretty bad but he caught five passes out of the backfield for 50 yards and every single time he was targeted he made the catch. His long rush was only eight yards but Bell does something with nothing and while he isn't going to win any races to the corner he does give you a really nice burst and some power to run on the inside.

Antonio Brown had a game. Not only was he the Steelers leading receiver with five catches for 66 yards and a touchdown he took a punt back 67 yards for a touchdown in the final minutes of the first quarter. He can really do it all and he has been so much better than I expected him to be this year. I knew he was dynamic but he's really polished up his game since last season and it's made him a true go-to guy and one of the best punt returners in the league. Every time he has the ball in his hands he has a chance to score a touchdown and that is fun to watch.

This was one of the better games the defense played. The first half was really a clinic and while they started to get taken advantage of a little later in the game when things got somewhat interesting they were making plays. They held the Bengals to 4-of-14 on third downs and made Andy Dalton looked like the average at best quarterback that he really is. The Bengals rushed for only 57 yards and the Bengals as a whole only had 279 total yards. SUCCESS.

While the playoffs might be a pipe dream it was still a really fun game to watch on prime time. Good to see the Steelers haven't packed it in. Fun times.

Penguins Game 35 Preview - vs. Toronto Maple Leafs

Toronto Maple Leafs


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

The Last Penguins Game
December 14, 2013 - Pittsburgh 4, Detroit 1 [Recap]


The Probables

Pittsburgh (23-10-1) (via Penguins website)

Forwards
Chris Kunitz - Sidney Crosby - Pascal Dupuis
Harry Zolnierczyk - Jussi Jokinen - Jayson Megna
Chris Conner - Brandon Sutter - Joe Vitale
Craig Adams - Zach Sill - Chuck Kobasew

Defense
Matt Niskanen - Olli Maatta
Robert Bortuzzo - Brian Dumoulin
Simon Despres - Philip Samuelsson

Goaltender
Marc-Andre Fleury

Toronto (17-14-3) (via Dailyfaceoff)

Forwards
James van Riemsdyk - Nazem Kadri - Phil Kessel
Mason Raymond - Peter Holland - Joffrey Lupul
Jerry D'Amigo - Jay McClement - Nikolai Kulemin
Frazer McLaren - Trevor Smith - Troy Bodie

Defense
Carl Gunnarsson - Dion Phaneuf
Cody Franson - Jake Gardiner
Morgan Rielly - John-Michael Liles

Goaltender
Jonathan Bernier


Season Series (Toronto leads 1-0-1)

November 27, 2013 - Pittsburgh 6, Toronto 5 (SO)



October 26, 2013 - Toronto 4, Pittsburgh 1




Stats

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Penguins Game 34 Recap - Penguins 4, Red Wings 1

The Penguins secured a pretty good win over the Red Wings tonight but at what cost. The Penguins came into the game being pretty banged up and we learned right before puck drop that Kris Letang was a scratch for unknown reasons. It was floated out there that he wasn't feeling great (injury wise) and with him out that meant the Penguins top four defenseman were out of the game.

That was just on the defensive side tonight. Maybe the bigger loss tonight was Evgeni Malkin. Malkin was a little banged up thanks to some friendly fire in the second period but in the third period he looked to suffer a much more significant injury. As he was defending a 2-on-1 while the Penguins were on the power play he broke up a show attempt and crashed backwards into the end boards feet first. It was really awkward and you knew it was bad the way he laid on the ice. He tried to get up and fell right back down. As he was taken off the ice he was able to put no weight on he left leg. I want to say that it might not be serious but as I am typing this it he pretty hard to imagine that this isn't serious.

Here is a gif of the injury



[via The Pensblog]

On top of that Deryk Engelland is going to be the next in line to get suspended by the NHL. At the tail end of the first period he was going in for a hit on Detroit's Justin Abdelkader that resulted in Abdelkader [probably] getting a concussion. I mean we don't know for sure that it is a concussion but it looked like he was going to throw up on the ice as soon as he got up. He couldn't even stand up straight. Here is the hit:


(via The Pensblog)

That is just something you can't do. Earlier in the day David Clarkson got suspended two games for something similar and I would think that Engelland is going to get something similar. This was huge since the Penguins were without their top four defenseman to start the game and played the last two periods with only five defensemen since he got a match penalty for the hit. Just a bad idea. What makes it look even worse is that he came through with the elbow. Now, his elbow didn't hit Abdelkader but swinging it through certainly doesn't help. The main point of contact was the face and that will be enough for the suspension. I mean who needs defensemen anyways?

So that left the Penguins without their top four defensemen and they were missing another defenseman for two periods and one of the best players in the league who had a hand in three Penguins goals on the night for the third period. I know a lot of people are going to say they would trade the win for Malkin to be alright and I know some might take that as semi-serious but this is about as serious as that statement gets. Malkin has been unreal good the last two months and if he was to miss significant time the team will be in some sort of trouble.

The Penguins have done a really nice job of dealing with all these injuries. I know that every team has injuries and these are things that happen but it seems like the Penguins have been hit especially hard this year. At some point the injuries are going to catch up with them and they just don't have the depth at forward like they do on the blue line. If this injury is significant to Malkin then things could get a little uglier. Sidney Crosby has carried the team a good bit but he will have to step up even more with Malkin out.

First star of the night tonight is Jeff Zatkoff. He is a Michigan native and got the start after Marc-Andre Fleury went last night and he was just spectacular. At the start of the season Zatkoff was pretty raw and looked like a guy who was forced into the backup role but every single game he has played better. He gave up a goal tonight on a bit of an odd play but all he did was step up and make some massively huge saves to hold the Penguins 2-1 lead through the second period. I am not saying that he could come in and play two or three nights a week like Tomas Vokoun could but I am getting a lot more comfortable with him in the backup role.

The second start tonight is probably the penalty kill. Coming into the night they were the second ranked penalty kill unit in the league and tonight they shut down the Red Wings. That includes the five minute power play that the Wings got to end the second period and the start of the third period. The Wings had a couple of decent chicness and a lot of power play shots but they weren't high quality shots. The Penguins were clearing the zone and letting Zatkoff clearly see the puck and it was just a dominating performance.

The third star is probably the power play unit. My Lord that unit is good. They scored two first period goals and while they both came off good bounces you only get those good bounces if you are working hard and putting yourself in position to capitalize on things like that. Crosby scored the first and Malkin scored the second and the combined power play time they used was about two minutes. They scored 40 some seconds into the first power play and then a little over a minute into the second power play. They are efficient and they make it look amazingly easy. There were times last years where people would say the Penguins should break up Crosby and Malkin into two power play units but this year they are working flawlessly. They are pretty much unstoppable right now. Scary good.

The Penguins paid a big time price for the win tonight but it's two points. The Pneguins have been really beat up and continue to add to the casualty count. The secondary scorers are going to have to continue to play well and guys like Chris Kunitz and Crosby are going to have to keep playing great hockey but right now the Penguins are in a good spot in the standings. It helps that the Metro is a brutally bad division but I am not going to complain.

Penguins Game 34 Preview - @ Detroit Red Wings

 Detroit Red Wings

7:00 p.m., Joe Louis Arena, Detroit, MI

The Last Penguins Game
December 13, 2013 - Pittsburgh 3, New Jersey 2 [Recap]


Probables

Pittsburgh (22-10-1) (via Dailyfaceoff)

Forwards
Chris Kunitz - Sidney Crosby - Pascal Dupuis
Jussi Jokinen - Evgeni Malkin - Jayson Megna
Chris Conner - Brandon Sutter - Joe Vitale
Craig Adams - Zach Sill - Chuck Kobasew

Defense
Olli Maatta - Kris Letang
Deryk Engelland - Matt Niskanen
Simon Despres - Robert Bortuzzo

Goaltender
Jeff Zatkoff

Detroit (15-9-9) (via Dailyfaceoff)

Forwards
Justin Abdelkader - Pavel Datsyuk - Daniel Alfredsson
Gustav Nyquist - Johan Franzen - Todd Bertuzzi
Drew Miller - Joakim Andersson - Tomas Tatar
Danny Cleary - Luke Glendening - Mikael Samuelsson

Defense
Niklas Kronwall - Jonathan Ericsson
Kyle Quincey - Brendan Smith
Jakub Kindl - Brian Lashoff

Goaltender
Jonas Gustavsson


Stats

Marc-Andre Fleury and Pascal Dupuis Playing Twister

Got this from a tweet from agent Allan Walsh this morning.


That is pretty much a must watch.

If you can't click the tweet for some reason then you can find it here.

Basically the title says it all. This is a video from RDS and it is in French (I think) so you can't really understand what they are saying but when they bust out Twister and to see MAF flip over a couch is pretty priceless.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Penguins Game 33 Recap - Penguins 3, Devils 2

Sometimes you need your goaltender to win you a game. Tonight Marc-Andre Fleury won the Penguins a hockey game. The Penguins played about 10 good minutes of hockey and then the Devils pretty much controlled the rest of the game. They outshot the Penguins 30-11 over the second and third periods and outside of a few minute span where New Jersey actually found the back of the net to start the second it was MAF shutting the door.

New Jersey scored two goals 56 seconds apart in the first five minutes of the second period and it was time for the Penguins to buckle up. They barely did enough to squeeze by. The Devils threw an unreal amount of shots at goal and when Fleury wasn't stopping them the Penguins were blocking shots. They ended the night with 26 blocked shots to go along with the two goals and 37 saves from Fleury. That doesn't even include the missed shots. Through two periods the Devils had 51 attempted shots and while I didn't pick up the final number I am sure it was significant. You can get by winning some games like this and having your goaltender steal the show but this doesn't happen all that often.

When you are talented as the Penguins are sometimes it only takes a good stretch of the game to win it. The Penguins dominated the first 10 minutes of the game and they scored the first three goals of the game and while some might have thought it was a runaway it was just enough. The Devils just didn't show up at all. Cory Schneider looked like he was generally surprised that shots were coming at him and it resulted in a few really bad goals. Good for the Penguins.

Evgeni Malkin didn't show up on the scoresheet but he was outstanding tonight. He was all over the ice and almost found the back of the net on numerous occasions. He had an outstanding month of November and that has translated in a good month of December so far. He did miss a few games with an injury but he looks fresh and healthy and it is really good to see.

The bottom six really had a nice game for the Penguins tonight. Chris Connor scored a goal and was set up on a great play from Brandon Sutter and while he was playing on the second line Jayson Megna scored a goal and almost had a few others. It was really a full team victory tonight as all but two players had 10 minutes of ice time and one of them, Zach Sill, played 9:45. The Penguins have been pretty top heavy with the Sidney Crosby line and whomever is playing with Malkin carrying the way but tonight it was a little bit of everyone tonight which was very good to see.

The Penguins are back on the ice in like six seconds as they play back-to-back games. They just had like five days off so they should be pretty fresh coming out tomorrow night.

Penguins Game 33 Preview - vs. New Jersey Devils

New Jersey Devils

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

The Last Penguins Game
December 9, 2013 - Pittsburgh 2, New Jersey 1 [Recap]


Probables

Pittsburgh (21-10-1) (via Penguins website)

Forwards
Chris Kunitz - Sidney Crosby - Pascal Dupuis
Jussi Jokinen - Evgeni Malkin - Jayson Megna
Chris Conner - Brandon Sutter - Joe Vitale
Craig Adams - Zach Sill - Chuck Kobasew

Defense
Matt Niskanen - Simon Despres
Olli Maatta - Kris Letang
Deryk Engelland - Robert Bortuzzo

Goaltender
Marc-Andre Fleury

New Jersey (12-14-6) (via Dailyfaceoff)

Forwards
Dainius Zubrus - Travis Zajac - Jaromir Jagr
Steve Bernier - Patrik Elias - Damien Brunner
Reid Boucher - Adam Henrique - Michael Ryder
Tim Sestito - Andrei Loktionov - Cam Janssen

Defense
Andy Greene - Mark Fayne
Anton Volchenkov - Marek Zidlicky
Eric Gelinas - Jon Merrill

Goaltender
Cory Schneider


Season Series (Tied 1-1)

November 16, 2013 - New Jersey 4, Pittsburgh 1



October 3, 2013 - Pittsburgh 3, New Jersey 0




Stats

Steelers Game 14 Preview - vs. Cincinnati Bengals

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

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

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

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


As it is every week here are some of the key terms I am going to use to break down the Bengals for your reference. All information came from Football Outsiders :

DVOA - DVOA is a method of evaluating teams, units, or players. It takes every single play during the NFL season and compares each one to a league-average baseline based on situation. DVOA measures not just yardage, but yardage towards a first down: Five yards on third-and-4 are worth more than five yards on first-and-10 and much more than five yards on third-and-12. Red zone plays are worth more than other plays. Performance is also adjusted for the quality of the opponent. DVOA is a percentage, so a team with a DVOA of 10.0% is 10 percent better than the average team, and a quarterback with a DVOA of -20.0% is 20 percent worse than the average quarterback. Because DVOA measures scoring, defenses are better when they are negative.

DYAR - Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement. This gives the value of the player’s performance compared to replacement level, adjusted for situation and opponent and then translated into yardage.

ALY - Adjusted Line Yards. Based on regression analysis , the Adjusted Line Yards formula takes all running back carries and assigns responsibility to the offensive line based on the following percentages:

Losses: 120% value
0-4 Yards: 100% value
5-10 Yards: 50% value
11+ Yards: 0% value

These numbers are then adjusted based on down, distance, situation, opponent, and the difference in rushing average between shotgun compared to standard formations. Finally, we normalize the numbers so that the league average for Adjusted Line Yards per carry is the same as the league average for RB yards per carry.

Power Success - Percentage of runs on third or fourth down, two yards or less to go, that achieved a first down or touchdown. Also includes runs on first-and-goal or second-and-goal from the two-yard line or closer. This is the only statistic on this page that includes quarterbacks.

Stuffed - Percentage of runs where the running back is tackled at or behind the line of scrimmage. Since being stuffed is bad, teams are ranked from stuffed least often (#1) to most often (#32).

Adjusted Sack Rate -  Gives sacks (plus intentional grounding penalties) per pass attempt adjusted for down, distance, and opponent.

Catch Rate - Catch Rate represents the percentage of passes to this receiver completed. This is a reference to incomplete passes, not dropped passes.

Success Rate - This number represents the player's consistency, measured by successful running plays (the definition of success being different based on down and distance) divided by total running plays. A player with higher DVOA and a low success rate mixes long runs with downs getting stuffed at the line of scrimmage. A player with lower DVOA and a high success rate generally gets the yards needed, but doesn't often get more.

Effective Yards - translate DVOA into a yards per attempt figure. This provides an easy comparison: in general, players with more Effective Yards than standard yards played better than standard stats would otherwise indicate, while players with fewer Effective Yards than standard yards played worse than standard stats would otherwise indicate. Effective Yards are not the best way to measure total value because they are more dependent on usage than DYAR.

QBR - Total QBR (listed as just QBR) is a metric created by the ESPN Stats & Information group. Total QBR is based on the expected points added by the quarterback on each play, then adjusts the numbers to a scale of 0-100. League average is 50. There are five main differences between Total QBR and Football Outsiders' DVOA metric (with further explanation here):

-Total QBR incorporates information from game charting, such as passes dropped or thrown away on purpose.
-Total QBR splits responsibility on plays between the quarterback, his receivers, and his blockers. Drops, for example, are more on the receiver, as are yards after the catch, and some sacks are more on the offensive line than others.
-Total QBR has a clutch factor which adds (or subtracts) value for quarterbacks who perform best (or worst) in high-leverage situations.
-Total QBR combines passing and rushing value into one number and differentiates between scrambles and planned runs.
-Total QBR is not adjusted for strength of opponent.


Bengals Offense

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

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

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

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


Here is a breakdown of the offense:


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Bengals Defense

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Bengals Special Teams

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

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

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

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


Game Notes

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

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


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