Friday, September 26, 2014

Steelers Game 4 Preview - vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Pittsburgh Steelers – 1:00 p.m.
FOX – Thom Brennaman, David Diehl
All-Time Record: Steelers lead 8-1
Last Meeting: September 26, 2010 – Pittsburgh 38, Tampa Bay 13

The Steelers are coming off a fairly big win over Carolina on Sunday and now they get to face some bad teams. Tampa Bay might be one of, if not the worst team in the league and with the tougher part of the schedule coming in the backend of the season it wouldn’t hurt the Steelers to stack some wins now.

As it was for every game last season here are some of the key terms I am going to use to break down the Panther 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.

And now lets take a look at the Bucs.


Saying that Tampa Bay is a bad football team is some sort of an understatement. First we are going to look at the offense where they have been just dismal this season. The Bucs haven’t played since last Thursday and that was a game they were just run out of the building by only scoring 14 points while they needed 57 to win. They scored 17 points the week prior against St. Louis and only scored 14 in a week one loss against Carolina.

Overall the Bucs average a mere 271 yards per game which is 30th among the 32 teams. They average just over 163 yards through the air and just under 108 yards on the ground. Tampa Bay boasts the worst ranked offense in terms of DVOA (-38.6%) with the passing game ranking last at a .56.5% DVOA (31st ranked team has a -28.6%) while the run game ranks 17th with a -12.7% DVOA on the ground.

Through the air the Bucs started the season relying on Josh McCown. After he busted up his finger in week three they are going to have to turn to Mike Glennon to toss the rock around. Last week in the blowout loss Glennon went 17-for-24 for 121 yards and a touchdown. He wasn’t able to push the ball down the field and while he was pretty effective in his completion rate he averaged only five yards per attempt which is not good.

Glennon has a less than prolific group of receivers to throw the ball to. The group is higlighed by rookie Mike Evans out of Texas A&M as he has 13 catches for 138 yards and two catches of 20 yards or more. That’s it. 10.6 yards per catch is the highest of any of the Tampa Bay receivers and he is only one touchdown catch away from the team lead which is currently held by three other players. Evens hasn’t been spectacular in any of the games. His total high came last week with four catches for 52 yards and the only time he had more than four catches this year came in week one when he was targeted 10 times and had only 37 yards receiving. This is the leading receiver!

In terms of advanced statistics Evans ranks 43rd with a DYAR of 19 and a DVOA of 0.4% which has him around average. Along with Evans in the receiving core they have Brandon Myers with 13 catches in 14 targets for 107 yards while Vincent Jackson has 10 catches on 25 targets for 102 yards and a score. Woof.

Pass protection hasn’t been overly bad for the Bucs, it’s just that they can’t do anything with the time they get. They have only allowed four sacks on the season but rank 20th in the league with an adjusted sack rate of 7.1% which actually puts them just a percent lower than the Steelers.

The run game is much more productive for Tampa Bay and that is true even without feature back Doug Martin who has been out since week one with a knee injury. Martin is supposed to be back this week but third year back Bobby Rainey has been playing some pretty good football and it wouldn’t shock me to see him get most of the carries. So far on the year he has 197 yards on 37 carries for a 5.1 yard per carry average and also has 12 catches for 102 yards and a touchdown.

Rainey got a lot of his work done in week two against St. Louis with 144 yards on 22 carries and followed that up last week with an 11 carry, 44 yard game. Rainey ranks 23rd in both DYAR (12) and DVOA (-1%). He has a success rate of 49% which has him ranked 22nd and that represents his consistency in running the football. You can see the explanation above but in short it just means that Rainey is getting enough out of what he is given. That isn’t bad, but it doesn’t make you a great running back.

The offensive line isn’t doing a lot to help Rainey and the rest of the running backs. As a group the running backs average 5.38 yards per carry but when you factor in the adjustments for the offensive line the Bucs as a team post a 3.24 adjusted line yard (ALY) that ranks only 26th in the league.

The power success rate (67%, 20th) and stuffed rate (31%, 30th), both rank in the bottom half of the league so there really isn’t much more than average and when you aren’t throwing the football well you are really setting up the run game to carry the load and the Bucs just don’t have the skill to be able to do that, especially how the NFL is set up now.

Tampa Bay is most successful running to the right end where they post an ALY of 4.87 that ranks 10th in the league. The problem with that is they run to that area the second-fewest times (10%). They run the most up the middle/off the guards (55%) where they have an ALY of 4.20 which is just above league average and 17th in the league.


Defensively Tampa Bay isn’t very good either. They gave up 488 yards of total offense and 56 points to the Falcons in week three and that helped (?) the defense give up 387 yards per game and they are giving up almost 32 points per game. This obviously is highly slanted thanks to that one game last week. They gave up 20 points to a good Panthers defense in week one and 19 points to a bad St. Louis team in week two.

In advanced terms the Bucs rank 26th with a DVOA of 12.8% which is just a spot below the Steelers defense. The week before the Tampa Bay defense ranked 18th so this defense is better than what it showed last week but I am not sure it is near the eighth ranked unit that it finished 2013.

Against the pass the Bucs rank dead last in the league according to DVOA. Their 56.8% DVOA would be great if that was on the offensive side but seeing as defensive DVOA is better on the negative side this isn’t good. The second-worst team in the league has a pass defense DVOA of 37% so you can really see how bad they have been. In terms of raw numbers the Bucs give up over 261 yards per game and allowing opposing quarterbacks to average 8.0 yards per attempt. Opposing quarterbacks have a 113.3 quarterback rating against the Bucs pass defense so expect ben Roethlisberger to try and capitalize on that.

Across the board Tampa Bay is pretty bad, ranking 31st in the league against opponents top receivers with a DVOA of 71.2% (!!!) allowing over 90 yards per game. Against second and third receivers they rank 27th and 28th, respectively, and rank 25th in the league against tight ends.

In terms of pass rush Tampa Bay as only registered three sacks this season but do rank 13th in the league with a 6.3% adjusted sack rate.

The Tampa Bay rush defense is actually a lot better than you might expect. On a team that has a bunch of flaws this is the gold standard. While they give up over 125 per game on the ground that comes at a high number of attempts per game. The Steelers give up 130 yards on the ground that is right behind Tampa Bay but the difference is the Bucs give up on 3.8 yards per carry while the Steelers give up 5.1 yards per carry.

Tampa Bay ranks eighth in the league against the run with a -25.7% DVOA while ranking 11th in the league allowing an adjusted line yards of 3.56. They sit right around league average in terms of power success against (67%, 17th) while falling in the top-10 of stuffed percentage at 24%, good for seventh in the league.

Teams have very little success running against Tampa Bay when they try running to the offensive right side. When running to the right end offenses only have an ALY of 1.26 while getting only an ALY of 1.52 while running to the right tackle. Both of those marks are in the top-10 of the league for the Tampa Bay defensive line. 48% of the runs against Tampa Bay are coming up the middle or off the guards while 19% of them are off the left end. Tampa Bay is league average defending the run up the middle (4.01 ALY, 15th) and are pretty awful against runs to the left end (5.33, 28th) so it will be interesting to see if the Steelers can take advantage of this.

Free safety Dashon Goldson leads the team with 26 total tackles and 21 of the solo variety. Lavonte Davis also has 21 solo tackles and has 25 totle. David also holds the team lead with five tackles for loss. Clinton McDonald, Gerald McCoy, and William Gholston all lead the team with a sack while Danny Lansanah has the only interception.

Special Teams

Patrick Murray is the Bucs field goal kicker and to be perfectly honest with you I have never head of him before I went looking for the kicking stats for this preview. He has only attempted two field goals this season, hitting one of them. He evidently is a rookie from Fordham and hit his only field goal in the loss to St. Louis in week two while missing a field goal between 20-29 yards in week one. ESPN gives this little tidbit on Murray: “A putrid season for the Buccaneers offense continues to hinder Murray's utility. As long as he is attached to Tampa Bay's underwhelming unit, he will remain one of the least useful kickers in all fantasy formats.”


In terms of punting the Bucs rely on Michael Koenen. When I read his name I thought it said Michael Keaton and that would have certainly been interesting. Anyways, Koenen is averaging 44.7 yards per punt with a net average of 34.1 yards. Returners are averaging 14.7 yards per return which is a huge chuck so it will be fun to see if the Steelers can break one.

In the return game Solomon Patton handles the duties almost exclusively. Patton averages 22.3 yards per kickoff return with a long of 27 while averaging 10.8 yards per punt return in six returns with a long of 33 yards.

The Steelers

As I talked above this is going to be up the receivers to beat up on that bad Tampa Bay secondary. Antonio Brown is one of the top rated receivers in the game as he tops the league in DYAR (126) and is third in DVOA (44.1%) with a catch rate of 79% which is third in the league. Markus Wheaton can make a difference as he ranks right around 30th in both DYAR (32) and DVOA (7.1%) with Le’Veon Bell ranking in the top-five of running backs with catching passes with a DVOA of 45.8% and a catch rate of 81%.

If the Steelers are going to have some success on the ground then they will most likely run to the offensive left side where the Bucs struggle. So far this season the Steelers rank first in the league with a 7.37 ALY when running to the left tackle, a spot in the line where they run only 4% of the time. They also have some pretty good success running to the left end with an ALY of 4.52 but only run there 3% of the time. A large portion of the run game goes up the middle or off the guards where the Steelers run 79% of the time for an ALY of 4.00. That is percentage of runs up the middle is by far the top in the league and crushed the league average of 50%.

The interesting thing to watch is how the depth of the Steelers is going to make up for the loss of Jarvis Jones and Ryan Shazier. Both are going to be out for a while and because of those losses the Steelers signed James Harrison out of retirement. That also means that Sean Spence and Arthur Moats are going to be starting. For Spence this is going to be his first career start after missing the last two years to a horrific leg injury that was thought to have ended his career. Behind those guys it is going to be thin so it is really important for those two to step up and make the plays until the depth comes back.

I really don’t expect much from James Harrison. Because of his familiarity with the defense and the system I wouldn’t be shocked to see him in the game but if you are expecting much from him then I would say you are pretty optimistic. There was a reason that Harrison wasn’t brought back before and although he was great for the Steelers in his tenure he’s far past that. Hopefully he can come in and contribute positively but I am not holding my breath.

PREDICTION – The Bucs are a really bad team. The Steelers have shown themselves to be a really bad football team but I think they would been to be extraordinarily bad to lose to this Tampa Bay team. It seems like every time I write something like this the Steelers find a way to muck it up and play down to the competition but I don’t see it here. Steelers 31, Bucs 17.

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