Friday, October 3, 2014

Steelers Game 5 Preview - @ Jacksonville Jaguars

Pittsburgh Steelers at Jacksonville Jaguars – 1:00 p.m.
CBS – Spero Dedes, Solomon Wilcots
All-Time Record: Jaguars lead 11-10 (Jaguars lead 1-0 in playoffs)
Last Meeting: October 16, 2011 – Pittsburgh 17, Jacksonville 13

The Steelers are coming off just an awful game against Tampa Bay,. The Buccaneers were one of the worst teams in football before they came to Heinz Field and all they did was beat the Steelers down in the second half and used a Vincent Jackson touchdown with seven seconds left to come away with a three point win. Things will start the same this week as the Jaguars are not a good football team. They come in at 0-4 after a 33-14 loss to San Diego last week. If the Steelers want to bounce back and forget week four they need to take care of business against Jacksonville in week five.

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

Jacksonville Offense

The Jacksonville offense does not score a lot of points. They scored 17 points twice this season and in the other two games they scored 10 and 14 points. That would be alright if they gave up less thank 35 points per game but the problem is that they give up a ton of points.

Man alive Jacksonville is really bad offensively. They rank 32nd overall in total offensive DVOA at -33.9% which includes the 31st ranked pass offense (-33%) and the 28th-best rush offense (-30.1%). That is all well and good but Tampa Bay ranks dead last in the league in passing offense in terms of DVOA (-37.3%) so maybe Jacksonville will throw the ball all over the field.

In terms of raw numbers the Jags are getting only 279 yards per game (31st) that includes only 70 yards on the ground and 209 yards through the air. They score 14.5 points per game and a -5 turnover differential. Oh my.

Blake Bortles leads (?) the offense from the quarterback position after missing the first two weeks. So far he’s completing 71% of his passes for a yard per attempt average of 7.80 yards and three touchdowns compared to four picks.

Bortles hasn’t been too bad in his first two career starts in his rookie campaign throwing for 253 yards, a touchdown, and two picks last week. Both of his starts have resulted in QBR’s that are nearly 60 so it’s not as if he is totally incompetent in the pocket. Both losses have been blowout losses so it might be a little hard to decipher how good he’s truly been but there are worse stat lines out there.

Bortles is the 31st ranked quarterback in terms of DVOA (-24.3%) that ranks him right around the EJ Manuel, Jake Locker, and Tom Brady (!!!) territory. His QBR of 59.3 puts him 21st overall while his DYAR also portrays him as a little better of a quarterback (-54, 27th)

The passing game isn’t overly successful and a quick scan of the Jacksonville receivers really doesn’t give you a whole lot of inspiration for them to be good. Some guy named Allen Hurns leads the staff with 254 yards and three touchdowns while former Penn State receiver Allen Robinson leads the team in catches (17) in his rookie year. Mercedes Lewis seems like he’s been in the league forever but is still playing tight end for the Jags with eight catches for 106 yards and a touchdown grab. Thirteen different Jacksonville players have caught a pass this year. I have no idea if that is a lot but it seems like a lot.

Hurns tops all the receivers in the advanced stats as he ranks 31st in both DYAR (42) and DVOA (10.4%) but only has a catch rate of 50% which isn’t very good at all. Robinson ranks 52nd in the league with a DVOA of -11.7% but boasts a much better catch rate of 65%.

The Jaguars do not protect the quarterback, at all. They have given up 20 sacks this season that is more than double the league average (eight) and seven more than the next worst team (Kansas City, 13). That works out to an adjusted sack rate of 12.3%, which is fairly awful.

It would be one thing if the Jags had a decent run game to make up for the fact that they can’t throw the football but that isn’t the case at all. As I said above they rush for only 70 yards per game and own the 28th ranked DVOA in terms of the run game. Gone are the days of Maurice Jones-Drew and in are the days of Roby Gerhart and Denard Robinson. Woof.

Gerhart was previously with Minnesota for his first four seasons playing backup to Adrian Petereson but now kind of has the head job in Jacksonville. He leads the team with 114 yards on 44 carries (yikes) and the teams lone rushing touchdown. Gerhart ranks 36th out of 38 qualified running backs with a DVOA of -38% and DYAR of -63. On the plus side he ranks better in both categories than LeSean McCoy. Gerhart has an abysmal success rate of 34% and hasn’t rushed for more than 50 yards in any game this season.

Fun fact, the Jags don’t have a rush of more than 20 yards all season.

Robinson played quarterback at Michigan and since being drafted in the fifth round by Jacksonville two years ago and is the teams second leading rusher. He’s carried the rock 20 times for 66 yards. Bad times.

Jacksonville is doing a little better job at the line of scrimmage for its running backs with a 3.20 adjusted line yards (ALY) compared to a running back yards average of only 2.90. That ALY ranks the Jags 28th in the league which is one spot higher than Tampa Bay, who the Steelers saw last night.

Jacksonville ranks 31st in the league in power success rate (40%) and 27th with a stuffed percentage of 25%. They really don’t do a lot of things right in the run game.

They do have a pretty balance rushing attack as they rush at least 13% of their running back carries in four different areas. They run the most rushing plats to the left end which is tied for the highest percentage in the league and is only one of two teams (Washington) that doesn’t rush the most up the middle or off the guards. They rush up the middle/off the guards 29% of the time while rushing to the right end 23% of the carries.

The Jaguars actually have the most success running to the right tackle (which they do 13% of the time) with an ALY of 4.28 (11th in league) while ranking no better than 18th in any other area. They rank 18th when running to the left end with an ALY of 3.66, which is below the league average (3.84).

Jacksonville Defense

Defensively the Jags really struggle. This actually feels like the preview I wrote last week for Tampa Bay so I am not sure how to feel about the Steelers chances this week. The Jags rank 31st in the league in overall team defensive DVOA (14.3%) while ranking 28th against the pass (31%) and 17th against the run (-7.7%). In terms of raw numbers the Jags give up over 451 yards per game which is dead last in the league and nearly 32 yards worse than the next worst defense. They give up 321 yards through the air and 130 yards on the ground per game. In other words, yikes.

In terms of covering opposing receivers the Jags aren’t really good anywhere. Most of the times a team will be good at covering the tight ends or the number two receiver but not Jacksonville. Against opposing top receivers Jacksonville is giving up a 51.1% DVOA with almost 87 yards per game. That ranks 28th in the league and right around where Tampa Bay ranked so expect the Steelers to target Antonio Brown, a lot.

They are a little better against number two receivers with a 35.8% DVOA but against all other receivers they rank dead last in the league with a 63.2% DVOA. Heath Miller is coming off a monster game where he caught 10 passes and his first touchdown of the year and should get some more opportunities against Jacksonville who ranks 17th in the league against tight ends.

What is interesting about the Jacksonville pass defense is that they do a pretty nice job about getting after the quarterback. They have 12 sacks on the season and have an adjusted sack rate of 7.8%, which is good for fourth in the league. The Jags don’t really have a big pass rush guy but Andre Branch leads the pack with three sacks while Sen’Derrick Marks (what a first name) and Ryan Davis each have a pair of sacks.

The Jaguars give up a boatload of rushing yards per game and a 4.2 yard per carry average. On the surface the numbers are pretty bad but in the advanced world the Jaguars defensive line has actually been doing a pretty decent job for them. While they give up a pretty heavy yard per carry average their adjusted line yards rank eighth in the league at 3.52 while ranking in the top-six in both power success and stuffed percentage. Their power success against was 50% that ranks sixth in the league while their stuffed percentage of 26% is fifth in the league. Maybe not all is awful.

Teams are running pretty much up the middle and off the guards against the Jacksonville team. They are seeing well-below league average in attempts up the middle or off the guards (39%) and it seems as if lack of carries are going to the edges where opposing teams are running to the offensive left end 25% of the time (league average is 11%) while running to the offensive right side 24% of the time (league average 10%).

Jacksonville does a pretty nice job against the run to all areas ranking eighth against runs to the offensive left end (2.98 ALY) but really struggle in runs to the offensive right end (4.69 ALY, 21st in league). They also do a pretty good job against runs up the middle with the ninth ranked ALY against of 3.51.

Former Penn State star Paul Posluszny leads Jacksonville with 41 tackles that ranks third in the league. Josh Evans is second on the team with 26 tackles while Alan Ball has the only interception and has 17 total tackles.

Jacksonville Special Teams

Josh Scobee has been the Jacksonville kicker for what seems like forever. It pretty much has been forever if you count from 2004 on forever. Scobee is a career 81% kicker but so far this year he’s hit only three of his five attempts missing once from 30-39 and once beyond 50 yards with both of those misses coming in week one of the season.

Bryan Anger punts for the Jaguars with a net average of 40.7 yards and a gross average of 47.8 yards. He’s pinned the opponents inside the 20 five times in 23 punts with two touchbacks and five fair catches. Jacksonville hasn’t been overly good at covering punts giving up 10.3 yards per return.

In the return game Jordan Todman handles the kickoff returns and averages just shy of 27 yards per return with a long of 40 yards. Mike Brown returns the punts and so far this season he’s averaging 7.4 yards per return on five returns with a long of 13 yards.

The Steelers

It feels like I am repeating a lot of what I said last week, this week. The Jacksonville secondary is pretty awful and with Roethlisberger at the helm I don’t see why they won’t spread it out and try to get the ball to Anotonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell, and Heath Miller as much as possible. As an offensive unit the Steelers rank ninth in the league with a DVOA of 12.5% and they rank 11th in the league in the passing game with a 26.9% DVOA. Brown is one of the top ranked receivers in both DYAR (1st, 166) and DVOA (5th, 42.3%) to go along with a top-10 catch rate (74%).

The Steelers run up the middle or off the guards a staggering 81% of their running back carries which is tops in the league and a full six percentage points more than the team right behind them. They aren’t necessarily great at running up the middle (3.82 ALY, 19th in league) but they are pretty damn good when they run elsewhere. They are first in the league when running to the right end (7.02) and second in the league when running to the left tackle (5.68). It will be the strength vs. strength in the run game of the Steelers against the front line of the Jacksonville defense so that will be a fun matchup to watch.

The Steelers offensive line has to be better protecting Roethlisberger. Last week they gave up five sacks and have given up 12 on the season for an adjusted sack rate of 8% that has them ranked 29th in the league. Jacksonville has been able to get after the quarterback a little bit this year and it might be beneficial to them that they don’t rely largely on one guy to get sacks. The Steelers offensive line will have to be alert to a bunch of different options and if they are out to lunch it can mean a sack.

PREDICTION – Last week I didn’t see Tampa Bay beating the Steelers. This week I am a little more confident that the Steelers are going to win. I mean they could lose, but this Jacksonville team is bad. Consistency is going to be the key for the Steelers. If the offense can be consistent they should be able to run away with this game. I don’t expect a runaway, but I expect a Steelers win. Steelers 24, Jacksonville 17.

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