Friday, October 10, 2014

Steelers Game 6 Preview - @ Cleveland Browns

Pittsburgh Steelers at Cleveland Browns – 1:00 p.m.
CBS – Greg Gumbel, Trent Green
All-Time Record: Pittsburgh leads 66-57 (Pittsburgh leads 2-0 in playoffs)
Last Meeting: September 7, 2014 – Pittsburgh 30, Cleveland 27


Before the Steelers play a single game against the Cincinnati Bengals they will play their second game against the Cleveland Browns. Interesting in how that works out but after a week one win over the Browns the Steelers look to in the fifth straight game against the Browns and the 33rd time in the last 38 games.

In week one the Steelers sprinted out to a 27-10 halftime lead before the Browns came storming back to tie the game at 27 in the fourth quarter before Shaun Suisham won the game for the Steelers. The Steelers offense racked up 503 yards of offense but it was the Browns offense that scored in their first four possessions of the second half to go along with 288 yards of offense.


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 Browns.

Cleveland Offense

Overall the Browns have been one of the best teams in the league on offense. That feels kind of weird to say after the Browns have been just dreadful in my lifetime but they rank fourth in the NFL with an offensive DVOA of 21.2% that was on display in a 25 points comeback win last week. Their pass offense ranks fourth in the league with a 40.3% DVOA while their rushing attack is fifth with a 7.5% DVOA.

Would it shock you to know that Brian Hoyer ranks ahead of Ben Roethlisberger in every advanced statistic including DYR (249, eighth), DVOA (12.2%, seventh), and QBR (72.2, eighth)? Well that is where we are. The Browns aren’t the most talented team on paper but Hoyer is making the offense click at a very high rate. When Johnny Manziel was drafted it was thought he was going to get first shot to make things work but since Hoyer was named the starter in camp he has never looked back.

Last week in the come-from-behind win he completed 21-of-37 passes for 291 yards and three touchdowns. In week one against the Steelers he went 18-of-30 for 22 yards and a touchdown and had his way in the second half completing big passes on crucial third downs. This isn’t to say Hoyer isn’t breakable because he still makes mistakes and has a relatively low completion percentage but this isn’t a Browns quarterback from the past. He can actually play.

In terms of receiving options the Browns don’t really have the flashy, bit names on their roster. Jordan Cameron is the big name in the tight end spot but he has been hampered with a shoulder injury and has only six catches for 103 yards this season. He was targeted seven times last week against Tennessee and made only three catches for 33 yards. Last time out against the Steelers he was knocked out of the game with that shoulder injury after making two catches for 47 yards with one catch accounting for all of those yards.

Miles Austin is the other big name receiver on the team and has made 16 catches but only for 169 yards. He does have two of the teams six touchdown catches and is the highest ranked pass catcher in both DYAR (37, 28th) and DVOA (8.3%, 21st). Austin has a very impressive catch rate of 70% but has been largely kept in check with his top game coming last week where he catch two passes for 54 yards.

Andrew Hawkins leads the team in catches (24), targets (42), yards (271), and catches for 20 yards or more (four). Hawkins has a catch rate of only 54% and while he headlines the team in the statistical categories he is just a fringy top-50 receiver with a DYAR of 10 (48th) and a DVOA of -9.2% (49th). Hawkins had hiw way with the Steelers secondary in week one with eight catches for 87 yards. He might not be the biggest name but when Hoyer needed someone to go to it was Hawkins who he looked at.

In terms of pass blocking the Browns have kept Hoyer relatively clean. They have allowed only six sacks on the season which is almost 33% of what the Steelers have given up (15) and the Browns post an adjusted sack rate of 5.1% ranks 13th in the league.

The Browns have been doing a pretty excellent job of running the football this season as evident by their 143 rushing yards per game divided up by three different running backs. Terrance West has been carrying the workload and is averaging nearly 60 yards per game and a pair of touchdowns on 54 carries. West had his way with the Steelers in week one after coming in for Ben Tate who was knocked out of the game. He carried 16 times for 100 yards and it was by far his best outing. West ranks 11th in DYAR (46),while posting a DVOA of 10.9% that is ninth in the league and having a respectable success rate of 56%.

It will be interesting to see how much West touches the ball since Tate is back in action. After leaving the week one game after six carries for 41 yards he missed nearly the next month of action. Last week against Tennessee he carried the rock 22 times for 124 yards so it seems as if West is going to take a backseat to Tate as long as he is successful. Tate had some good success before going out with the knee injury in week one so I wouldn’t be shocked to see him have some success on Sunday.

In terms of advanced statistics the Browns don’t rank out quite as high as they do with the raw numbers. Cleveland has a 4.29 adjusted line yards that ranks 11th in the league. The ALY is quite a bit below the running back yard average of 4.79 which might indicate that the Browns running backs are doing a pretty good job of getting yards themselves without getting great run blocking. All told the league average is 4.20 so it isn’t as if the Browns line and running backs are below average, it just seems that the running backs themselves are doing a great job.

In terms of short yardage play Cleveland has a power success percentage of 60% that ranks 19th in the league while their stuffed percentage of 16% is 12th in the league. Neither of those are horrible numbers but more middle of the pack. Again, not saying that they are bad but not nearly as close to a top-five rushing team as the raw numbers might indicate.

The Browns have a pretty balanced running attack that is largely predicated on running inside. They are below league average running 44% of their running plays up the middle or off the guards but they also run to each tackle quite a bit above league average. They run to the left tackle 19% of the time (league average 14%) and run to the right tackle 22% of the time (league average 13%) which is to show that they don’t really try to get to the perimeter as much as most teams do.

The Browns run off the tackles a good bit more because they are very good at it. When running to the left tackle the Browns are second in the league with an ALY of 5.67 while they are fifth in the league with an ALY of 4.96 when running to the right tackle. They rank 20th or worse in each of the other three areas and the ALY in each area is below league average so I think the Browns will try to attack those areas.

Cleveland Defense

While the Cleveland offense has been putting up big points and coming back from big time deficits they have been covering up from what has been a pretty bad defense. The Browns are surrendering almost 422 yards per game that includes 153 rushing yards and 269 yards through the air. They have allowed over 26 point per game and have allowed at least 23 points in every game this season.

Football Outsiders ranks Cleveland’s defense 31st in the league with a 17.9% DVOA, while they rank 30th against the pass (34.7%) and 28th against the run (2.3%). It would be one thing to say that they had a bad week that would throw things way out of line but Cleveland leads the league with a variance of 0.8%. What that means is that the Cleveland defense is the most consistent in the league. Most consistent at being bad. Not good.

Looking like Joe Haden might be a game-time decision for the Browns and if he isn’t able to go the Steelers are really going to have an advantage. Against opposing top receivers the Browns have a 99.5% DVOA (!!!) that is dead last in the league and 38% more than the second-worst team in the league. WOOF. Against the number two receivers Cleveland is a little better with an 11.2% DVOA that ranks only 22nd in the league but they are 29th (43.1%) against all other receivers.

The Browns do have some success against tight ands and running backs but in the grand scheme of the passing game that is like the consolation prize. Against tight ends they rank 10th in the league while ranking ninth in the league against running backs. The Steelers like to throw to the backs out of the backfield so that might make a difference but if they can’t cover Antonio Brown or Markus Wheaton or Lance Moore than that is a moot point.

The Browns are about average in terms of getting after the quarterback. They have registered nine sacks on the season and that is just one more than the Steelers have got. The Steelers do not get after the quarterback well. Cleveland ranks 12th with an adjusted sack rate of 6.3%. Ex-Raven Paul Kruger and ex-Pitt Panther Jabaal Sheard each have a pair of sacks this season. In the last meeting the Browns got to Roethlisberger three times. All things considered that is a pretty decent performance by the pass protection.

Cleveland is giving up an average of 4.82 yards to running backs and ranks 23rd in the league with an adjusted line yards of 4.38. The Browns do a pretty nice job against the short yardage runs with a power success rate of 57% that is 10th in the league while they don’t do as well at stuffing the run with a rate of 16% that is 21st in the league.

A big hit to the run defense for the Browns is going to have to play without Phil Taylor who is going to miss the game. Taylor is an underrated defensive player that doesn’t get a lot of pub but make the defense go. Much in the same way Casey Hampton stuffed the run for the Steelers in his prime is what Taylor does for the Browns. This is huge news for the Steelers even after they ran for 127 yards in the first meeting.

Teams are attacking the Browns up the middle on a majority of the carries up the middle or off the guards. Teams are attacking that area 59% of the running back carries while teams are running to the right offensive tackle 19%. In terms of success teams are averaging a 4.14 ALY up the middle while gaining a 5.31 ALY off the offensive right guard. The Steelers will have some opportunities to gain chucks of yardage on the ground.

Karlos Dansby eads the team with 31 total tackles (20 solo) with a sack and an interception while Donte Whitner has 30 teakles and a team-high 23 solo tackles. Tashaun Gipson has a pair of interceptions while Dansby has four of the teams 10 tackles for loss.

Cleveland Special Teams

The great Billy Cundiff will once again handle the kicking duties for the Browns. So far this season he is 6-of-8 with a miss in the 30-39 area and one from 50+ yards. He has also made every extra point this season, but who hasn’t?

Spencer Lanning punts for the Browns and sits in the bottom-half of the league in terms of average with only 44.7 yards per punt. His net average doesn’t even reach 40 yards (39.4) which is also right in the middle of the league. The coverage team does an average job with what they are given as oppositions average 8.6 yards per punt return.

Travis Benjamin and Marlon Moore share the kick returning duties. Moore is the more successful returner averaging 27 yards per return (four attempts) while Benjamin averages 21 yards per return on five attempts. The Browns are pretty brutal in terms of punt returning as Jordan Poyer averages a team-best 3.5 yards per return (four attempts) while Benjamin has three returns for two yards.

The Steelers

A nice tidbit about the Steelers passing attack:

The Steelers are in an interesting predicament. The Browns are doing a pretty awful job at covering the pass and if Haden is out they might want to attack that secondary. With Taylor out and a  strong group of running backs the Steelers can attack on the ground as well. Bell is eighth in the league with a DYAR of 63 and is 12th in DVOA (9.9%) all despite being second in the league in rushing yards. Bell also has a poor success rate (45%, 21st) but he is still making the right moves. He has been wildly successful in the passing game with a catch rate of 83% and a DVOA that ranks sixth among all running backs in the passing game (36.5%).

With Cam Thomas playing some pretty awful football I would look for Stephon Tuitt to get a lot more snaps as the season progresses. He has averaged between 10-12 snaps a game and he has looked better in every game. He seems to have been slow to learn the system but at this point I don't think there is anything wrong with getting him more playing time. Thomas had the third-most snaps (28) of any defensive lineman last week and I wouldn't be surprised if the gap between Tuitt and Thomas to shrink.

PREDICTION – I do not think that this is going to be like the week one matchup. While the Browns have a pretty good offensively this year they have been just as bad defensively. The Steelers have been pretty inconsistent on both sides of the ball so I could see this game going either way. The Steelers could come out for a put together a solid offensive performance and get a few stops and win. On the other hand they can’t be complacent at all. In week one they were up big and allowed the Browns to tie it and last week the Browns came back from a 25 points deficit to win. They are never out of it. I think this goes back and forth but the Steelers come out on top. Steelers 27, Browns 24.

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