Monday, September 29, 2014

Steelers Game 4 Recap - Buccaneers 27, Steelers 24

Just an absolutely awful football game. When the game was kicking off I had someone ask me how good Tampa Bay was and I said they were awful. This isn't me trying to rub more salt in the wound, that is just the reality. If you read the preview or even looked at anything about this Tampa Bay team you come away thinking they might only win one or two games this year. They beat the Steelers for their first win this season and here we are. Tampa might win only a few games this year and if the Steelers miss the playoffs (playoffs, right) by a game then this is the game you point to. It is true that any team can beat any other team on any given week, but this is/was a brutal loss. The Bucs are a professional football team but they aren't a good one. Woof.

The Steelers were up four points with 1:44 to go and they had the ball. One first down and the game was over. Run, pass, run and the Steelers punted the ball back to Tampa Bay. The punt wasn't good, at all, but Tampa Bay still had to score a touchdown and go 46 yards in only 40 seconds with no timeouts. All the Steelers needed to do was keep the ball in front of them and they could get by with an [ugly] win. Instead Louis Murphy catches a pass on second down and goes 41 yards to the five yard line. Two plays later the Bucs take the lead for good. Just absolutely inexcusable to let Murphy get that deep. I am not even talking about the catch, let him make the catch, but you have to have like six guys around him to tackle him in the middle of the field. He broke I think two tackles and had guys diving at his legs as he ran to the five yard line. Just can't happen.

This is becoming a weekly theme but the Steelers give up massive chunks of yardage thanks to penalties. They were flagged 13 times (!!!) for 125 yards (!!!). That is essentially giving up a full field and a quarter. You are giving up points by being selfish. The penalties were of all varieties too. There were unsportsmanlike conduct penalties to fall starts, to holdings, to face mask there is just too many to name. Maybe the players should not showboat at every chance and save themselves 45 yards of penalties. Maybe Mike Tomlin can say something, anything, about being so undisciplined. Then again maybe they are doing this on purpose. Maybe they are trying to deflect from the fact that they are getting beat at most positions on a consistent basis. Maybe the holding the mental penalties are because they are overmatched. Whatever the case it is truly inexcusable. It has been happening every week since the season started and something needs to happen or this is a 10 loss team.

The Steelers just can't put together a full game. It seems to be impossible for them to do. Tampa Bay had only 64 first half yards and outside of a touchdown via a Ben Roethlisberger fumble the Steelers dominated the game. The second half the Steelers defense must have still been in the locker room. Tampa Bay gained 286 yards of offense. It's not like this was Drew Brees or Peyton Manning, this was Mike Glennon. When Glennon has to throw the ball 42 times you should win the football game. They didn't. Glennon picked on the Steelers secondary in the second half and made them look foolish. Thank God the Steelers don't have to play Peyton Manning next week.

In the win over Carolina the offensive line really played a good game. The best one of the season and I was actually hoping that could continue going forward against some not-so-good teams and they could keep building confidence and start to gel together. That all went out the window against Tampa Bay. The Bucs recorded five sacks and were all over Ben Roethlisberger all day. The offense still put up yards and played pretty well but getting your franchise quarterback hit every third play isn't a good look. The Bucs are pretty good at getting to the quarterback but at some time Kelvin Beachum is going to have to quit being a turnstile and get in front of someone.

There were some good things from the game. Roethlisberger was pretty great. He was getting hit on a consistent basis but was still able to throw for 314 yards and three touchdowns and was making big throws all day. It is a bit discouraging that the Steelers didn't let him throw the football at the end of the game. I realize that Tampa Bay had one timeout and an incompletion would stop the clock and allow them to keep the timeout but they were expecting run. A pass is much more risky but with Antonio Brown, Le'Veon Bell, and Heath Miller having great days catching the ball you have to let your franchise players make a play to win the game. I don't have a problem with Todd Haley and how he calls games (I might be one of the few) but in that instance I want Ben to have the ball.

Antonio Brown is weird for me. He had a really outstanding game with seven catches for 131 yards and two touchdowns but some of the stuff he does just drives me nuts. The extracurricular stuff especially. He got a 15 yard celebration penalty after his first touchdown and I just ask myself why. I have no problem with celebrating after a score but at what point is hurting your team with a 15 yard penalty worth the celebration? It would be different if this was a one-time thing but this is something that consistently happens with Brown and it is maddening. The same can be said for Bell, who had a 15 yard penalty after a long run. Why negate the yardage gained by jawing with someone on the other team. I get the emotions of the game but at some point this petty stuff has to stop. Anyways, both Brown and Bell played great games. Bell was especially good in the passing game, again, with six catches (on seven targets) for 46 yards while rushing for 63 yards. The duo is doing big things I just wish the stupid penalties would stop.

Heath Miller really hasn't been himself this season. He's been dropping more passes and not catching a lot of balls but Roethlisberger targeted him early and often. He finished the day with 10 catches for 85 yards and a touchdown in 11 targets. Another weapon in the passing game won't hurt, that's for sure.

Tomlin's clock management is just terrible. This isn't anything new but in the two minute drill it seems as if the Steelers think they get extra time or that they don't practice the two minute drill. Maybe they don't, but I am pretty sure they do. Awful clock management and wasting timeouts and challenges are just part of Tomlin's game and something I wish he would get better at.

Obviously the bad far outweighed the good in this game. It was a tough second half of football to watch. The Steelers had plenty of opportunities to put this game away but they couldn't get out of their own way. The penalties and missed opportunities (Brown dropping what would have been a touchdown pass on a flea flicker) just did them in. There are so many people to place the blame with that it is impossible to just say it is one thing. They weren't good enough yesterday against a bad team and while they have two more wins this year than they did at this point last year it doesn't make the loss any better.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Pirates Game 162 Preview - @ Cincinnati Reds

Pittsburgh Pirates at Cincinnati Reds - 1:10 p.m.
Gerrit Cole (11-5, 3.78) vs. Johnny Cueto (19-9, 2.29)

Season Series (Reds lead 11-7)
April 14, 2014 - Pittsburgh 8, Cincinnati 7 [Recap]
April 15, 2014 - Cincinnati 7, Pittsburgh 5 [Recap]
April 16, 2014 - Cincinnati 4, Pittsburgh 0 [Recap]
April 21, 2014 - Pittsburgh 6, Cincinnati 5 [Recap]
April 22, 2014 - Cincinnati 4, Pittsburgh 1 [Recap]
April 23, 2014 - Cincinnati 5, Pittsburgh 2 [Recap]
April 24, 2014 - Cincinnati 2, Pittsburgh 1 [Recap]
June 17, 2014 - Cincinnati 6, Pittsburgh 5 [Recap]
June 18, 2014 - Cincinnati 11, Pittsburgh 4 [Recap]
June 19, 2014 - Pittsburgh 4, Cincinnati 3 (12 inn.) [Recap]
July 11, 2014 - Cincinnati 6, Pittsburgh 5
July 12, 2014 - Pittsburgh 6, Cincinnati 5 (11 inn.)
July 13, 2014 - Cincinnati 6, Pittsburgh 3
August 28, 2014 - Pittsburgh 2, Cincinnati 1 [Recap]
August 29, 2014 - Pittsburgh 3, Cincinnati 2
August 30, 2014 - Cincinnati 3, Pittsburgh 2 [Recap]
September 26, 2014 - Pittsburgh 3, Cincinnati 1 [Recap]
September 27, 2014 - Cincinnati 10, Pittsburgh 6 (10 inn.)


Lineups

Pittsburgh (88-73)
1. Harrison 5
2. Snider 9
3. McCutchen 8
4. Walker 4
5. Marte 7
6. Davis 3
7. Mercer 6
8. Stewart 2
9. Cole 1

Cincinnati (75-86)
1. Negron 5
2. Phillips 4
3. Frazier 3
4. Mesoraco 2
5. Bruce 9
6. Heisey 8
7. Bourgeois 7
8. Cozart 6
9. Cueto 1

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Francisco Liriano Career Runs Scored: One

It finally happened. Francisco Liriano scored a run.



Yesssssssssssss

Before today:

Year Age Tm G PA R
2005 21 MIN 6 0 0
2006 ★ 22 MIN 28 7 0
2008 24 MIN 14 0 0
2009 25 MIN 29 6 0
2010 26 MIN 31 2 0
2011 27 MIN 26 3 0
2012 28 TOT 34 3 0
2012 28 MIN 22 3 0
2012 28 CHW 12 0 0
2013 29 PIT 26 56 0
2014 30 PIT 28 50 0
9 Yrs 222 127 0
162 Game Avg. 162 93 0
MIN (7 yrs) 156 21 0
PIT (2 yrs) 54 106 0
CHW (1 yr) 12 0 0
AL (7 yrs) 168 21 0
NL (2 yrs) 54 106 0
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/27/2014.

Today:



World Series here comes the Pirates

Pirates Game 161 Preview - @ Cincinnati Reds

Pittsburgh Pirates at Cincinnati Reds - 1:10 p.m.
Francisco Liriano (7-10, 3.32) vs. Alfredo Simon (15-10, 3.34)

Season Series (Reds lead 10-7)
April 14, 2014 - Pittsburgh 8, Cincinnati 7 [Recap]
April 15, 2014 - Cincinnati 7, Pittsburgh 5 [Recap]
April 16, 2014 - Cincinnati 4, Pittsburgh 0 [Recap]
April 21, 2014 - Pittsburgh 6, Cincinnati 5 [Recap]
April 22, 2014 - Cincinnati 4, Pittsburgh 1 [Recap]
April 23, 2014 - Cincinnati 5, Pittsburgh 2 [Recap]
April 24, 2014 - Cincinnati 2, Pittsburgh 1 [Recap]
June 17, 2014 - Cincinnati 6, Pittsburgh 5 [Recap]
June 18, 2014 - Cincinnati 11, Pittsburgh 4 [Recap]
June 19, 2014 - Pittsburgh 4, Cincinnati 3 (12 inn.) [Recap]
July 11, 2014 - Cincinnati 6, Pittsburgh 5
July 12, 2014 - Pittsburgh 6, Cincinnati 5 (11 inn.)
July 13, 2014 - Cincinnati 6, Pittsburgh 3
August 28, 2014 - Pittsburgh 2, Cincinnati 1 [Recap]
August 29, 2014 - Pittsburgh 3, Cincinnati 2
August 30, 2014 - Cincinnati 3, Pittsburgh 2 [Recap]
September 26, 2014 - Pittsburgh 3, Cincinnati 1 [Recap]


Lineups

Pittsburgh (88-72)
1. Harrison 5
2. Snider 9
3. McCutchen 8
4. Walker 4
5. Marte 7
6. Davis 3
7. Mercer 6
8. Stewart 2
9. Liriano 1

Cincinnati (74-86)
1. Negron 5
2. Phillips 4
3. Frazier 3
4. Mesoraco 2
5. Heisey 8
6. Ludwick 7
7. Rodriguez 9
8. Santiago 6
9. Simon 1

Pirates Game 160 Recap - Pirates 3, Reds 1

The Pirates keep winning baseball games. The Cardinals keep winning baseball games. In the grand scheme of things you can't look at one loss in a vacuum and say that it cost the Pirates a chance for a division title, but with only two games left and the Cardinals still one game up this is where we are. One game anytime in the season. One time the bullpen doesn't blow the lead and we are talking about a more possible division title. I guess the Cardinals could lose another game but after the Diamondbacks totally blew it last night then came back then blew it I guess we can't expect much.

Anyways, the Pirates did their part. They went up against Mike Leake and went punch for punch before being able to take advantage of the Reds bullpen with two runs in the eighth inning and he we are.

Vance Worley went 6.1 innings and even though there were base runners all over the place due to the nine hits he gave up the Pirates were able to make it work.

With the game tied at one in the eighth inning the first two Pirate hitters got out. Josh Harrison did Josh Harrison things and singled and then scored on a Travis Snider double to right before Andrew McCutchen doubled home Gregory Polanco, who ran for Snider, a batter later. Exactly what the Pirates needed. This game could have went a bunch of different ways but as has been the case recently the pitching did a good job of keeping it close and the offense came through in the clutch. From two outs and nobody on to back-to-back-to-back hits that platted two runs and the Pirates win.

Later in the night the Giants lost, again, so that secures the Wild Card game at PNC Park if the Pirates play in it. Obviously I would much, much rather see the Pirates win the division to be able to set up their pitching but at least they are playing at home. The Pirates have the second-most wins in baseball at home and while I don't think they were at a disadvantage by playing on the road I think there is something about PNC Park that can help the Pirates.

Time will tell if they will need to play that Wild Card game. Things can get messy pitching wise by playing for the division but at this point it is worth it. If the Pirates win both games and the Cardinals win both games then it seems as if Edison Volquez will get that Wild Card game. That isn't ideal but can you imagine if the Cardinals drop one of these games? Can you imagine playing a one-game playoff for the NL Central? That would be pretty awesome for a team that was 18-26 in late May.

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.

Offense

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.

Defense

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.”

Oh.

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.

Pirates Game 160 Preview - @ Cincinnati Reds

Pittsburgh Pirates at Cincinnati Reds - 7:10 p.m.
Vance Worley (8-4, 2.93) vs. Mike Leake (11-13, 3.78)

Season Series (Reds lead 10-6)
April 14, 2014 - Pittsburgh 8, Cincinnati 7 [Recap]
April 15, 2014 - Cincinnati 7, Pittsburgh 5 [Recap]
April 16, 2014 - Cincinnati 4, Pittsburgh 0 [Recap]
April 21, 2014 - Pittsburgh 6, Cincinnati 5 [Recap]
April 22, 2014 - Cincinnati 4, Pittsburgh 1 [Recap]
April 23, 2014 - Cincinnati 5, Pittsburgh 2 [Recap]
April 24, 2014 - Cincinnati 2, Pittsburgh 1 [Recap]
June 17, 2014 - Cincinnati 6, Pittsburgh 5 [Recap]
June 18, 2014 - Cincinnati 11, Pittsburgh 4 [Recap]
June 19, 2014 - Pittsburgh 4, Cincinnati 3 (12 inn.) [Recap]
July 11, 2014 - Cincinnati 6, Pittsburgh 5
July 12, 2014 - Pittsburgh 6, Cincinnati 5 (11 inn.)
July 13, 2014 - Cincinnati 6, Pittsburgh 3
August 28, 2014 - Pittsburgh 2, Cincinnati 1 [Recap]
August 29, 2014 - Pittsburgh 3, Cincinnati 2
August 30, 2014 - Cincinnati 3, Pittsburgh 2 [Recap]


Lineups

Pittsburgh (87-72)
1. Harrison 5
2. Snider 9
3. McCutchen 8
4. Walker 4
5. Martin 2
6. Marte 7
7. Sanchez 3
8. Mercer 6
9. Worley 1

Cincinnati (74-85)
1. Negron 5
2. Pena 3
3. Phillips 4
4. Bruce 9
5. Heisey 8
6. Rodriguez 7
7. Cozart 6
8. Barnhart 2
9. Leake 1

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Pirates Game 159 Recap - Pirates 10, Braves 1

The difference between last night and tonight was night and day. Last night Jeff Locke had a horrible time finding the strike zone and tonight Edison Volquez pounded the zone and struck out double-digit Braves. Last night the Pirates offense had some base runners and couldn't string together some hits outside of an Andrew McCutchen home run and tonight the Pirates hit the ball all over the field with extra base hits and never gave the Braves a chance. Good teams beat bad teams and this series the good team beat the bad team three out of four times.

Man, was I wrong about Edison Volquez. Before the season started I sent a tweet out saying that Volquez's starts were going to terrify me and I couldn't have been more wrong. The Pirates took a game on a guy that wasn't very good last year and they made him into a guy that is probably going to be their number three starter if they make it to the NLDS. Volquez went seven innings on the night striking out 10 and giving up only four hits and a walk. He made Braves hitter look silly and for only $5M this season he racked up a 13-7 record with a 3.04 ERA in 191.2 innings. That is what I call good value. He threw 66 of his 95 pitches for strikes and looked in total control. Early in the season I was a little worried from start-to-start about him falling apart but now I feel as good about him as I do about anyone else on the staff.

The offense stepped up in a big way. Not that they needed to with the way Volquez pitched but over the last week or so the offense has been a little stagnant. This is a very good offensive team so I wasn't really worried about them but it was just nice to see things go the right way and not play these low scoring tight games. The Pirates racked up 16 hits from 10 different players with Josh Harrison and Travis Snider each having three hits while Starling Marte and Ike Davis both had a pair of hits. Even Volquez got into the action with his second hit of the night!

Neil Walker hit a bomb for his first hit in 18 at bats and his second hit in 27 at bats. Not that he hasn't hit the ball hard at times but as a former player I know how frustrating slumps can be. You can do everything right and still come up on the wrong end. In baseball the very best players fail 70% of the time and even though this is just one of many home runs for Walker this year this probably felt like one of the best, even in a blowout.

Something that really gets overlooked on a game-to-game basis is the play of Jordy Mercer. Sure we can talk about offense and how he has been worlds better than anyone to play shortstop for the Pirates in the short memory but his defense has really been outstanding. I was never really down on his defense but there have been limitations of his defense, in my mind. All he has done is made play after play out there. He has been increasingly good at making the play in the hole and throwing on the run and that only makes him a more valuable player for the Pirates.

Good series in Atlanta. As I said last night it wasn't going to be easy at all to go in and sweep a four game set but winning three of those games is perfect. With the Cardinals off tonight the Pirates are now only one game back with three to go. The Pirates have the Reds and the Cardinals have the Diamondbacks. The Giants are just getting their game underway and the Pirates magic number to host the Wild Card game is now only two. Good place to be if you ask me. A sweep is necessary to win, or force a one game playoff against the Cardinals but the Reds aren't good so it isn't as unlikely as you may think. Should be a fun three games and a fun time scoreboard watching.

Pirates Game 159 Preview - @ Atlanta Braves

Pittsburgh Pirates at Atlanta Braves - 7:10 p.m.
Edinson Volquez (12-7, 3.15) vs. David Hale (4-4, 3.27)

Season Series (Tied 3-3)
August 18, 2014 - Atlanta 7, Pittsburgh 3 [Recap]
August 19, 2014 - Atlanta 11, Pittsburgh 2
August 20, 2014 - Pittsburgh 3, Atlanta 2
September 22, 2014 - Pittsburgh 1, Atlanta 0 [Recap]
September 23, 2014 - Pittsburgh 3, Atlanta 2 [Recap]
September 24, 2014 - Atlanta 6, Pittsburgh 2 [Recap]


Lineups

Pittsburgh (86-72)
1. Harrison 5
2. Snider 9
3. McCutchen 8
4. Walker 4
5. Martin 2
6. Marte 7
7. Davis 3
8. Mercer 6
9. Volquez 1

Atlanta (77-81)
1. Bonifacio 8
2. Gosselin 5
3. Freeman 3
4. J. Upton 7
5. Heyward 9
6. Gattis 2
7. Simmons 6
8. Pena 4
9. Hale 1

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Pirates Game 158 Recap - Braves 6, Pirates 2

This game was less than ideal. After the excitement of last night you kind of expect this to be a bit of a letdown but that doesn't mean it was easier to watch or take. The Pirates need every win they can get to try and earn home field in the Wild Card game and still an outside shot of winning the division but you can't honestly expect them to win every game.

The story tonight really comes down to Jeff Locke not pitching very well. It was mentioned a ton tonight on the broadcast that it seemed like an every other game type thing with Locke because one start he is lights out and the next start he can barely throw a strike. Tonight it was one of those barely throw a strike nights. He went only four innings tonight giving up six runs on eight hits and five walks. That is 13 base runners in four innings of work. The Braves scored two runs in each the second, third, and fourth innings and that is all they need. Locke probably shouldn't have went out for the fourth inning with the score already 4-0 but it is what it is. I think that if there was a chance for Locke to be the number four starter in the playoffs this outing might have done it. In a five game series, if it gets that far, you can't take the chance of walking five guys in four innings.

The offense really didn't have a lot of pop tonight. Andrew McCutchen went deep for another home run and cut the lead to only four in the fifth inning but the rest of the game was pretty standard. The Pirates did have nine hits on the night but only two of them went for extra bases and when they did get runners on with nobody out they just couldn't do anything with it.

The biggest new of tonight, for me at least, was Russell Martin leaving the game in the bottom of the fourth inning with tightness in his left hamstring. This is the same hamstring that put him on the DL earlier this year so it is a touchy situation. Hamstring injuries are never good because they are so touch and go. Martin is one of the most important players on this team and if this is more serious than a precautionary thing then it's going to be a big problem.

Losses happen, but with things so close it feels like it hurts worse. The Pirates have won eight of their last night before tonight so it's not all bad. Get a win tomorrow and it is all good.

Pirates Game 158 Preview - @ Atlanta Braves

Pittsburgh Pirates at Atlanta Braves - 7:10 p.m.
Jeff Locke (7-5, 3.60) vs. Julio Teheran (13-13, 2.88)

Season Series (Pittsburgh leads 3-2)
August 18, 2014 - Atlanta 7, Pittsburgh 3 [Recap]
August 19, 2014 - Atlanta 11, Pittsburgh 2
August 20, 2014 - Pittsburgh 3, Atlanta 2
September 22, 2014 - Pittsburgh 1, Atlanta 0 [Recap]
September 23, 2014 - Pittsburgh 3, Atlanta 2 [Recap]


Lineups

Pittsburgh (86-71)
1. Harrison 5
2. Marte 7
3. McCutchen 8
4. Snider 9
5. Martin 2
6. Davis 3
7. Mercer 6
8. Barmes 4
9. Locke 1

Atlanta (76-81)
1. Bonifacio 4
2. Simmons 6
3. Freeman 3
4. Upton 7
5. Heyward 9
6. Johnson 5
7. Bethancourt 2
8. Upton 8
9. Teheran 1

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Pirates Game 157 Recap - Pirates 3, Braves 2. Playoffs Clinched.


WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO /deep breath OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO This is what it's all about. I wasn't sure what the Pirates were going to do this year but I didn't think they would be as good as they were in 2013. They got the breaks last year and everything fell into place. This year they didn't get the breaks and had some big time adversity and it turns out that I was wrong. They are better than last year. This team is incredibly fun to watch and they are assured of playing at least one more game and hopefully more. They are in the playoffs for consecutive years for only the fourth time in franchise history and after the 20 straight years of just awful baseball we are now to a place where the playoffs isn't a surprising thing. I am not overly concerned with talking about this game. The basics are that Gerrit Cole had a rough start and then came back and dominated the Braves. The Pirates got down 2-0 early and came back thanks to Andrew McCutchen going home on a semi steal followed by a Travis Snider solo shot and then a Starling Marte double. The pitching staff was great, the hitters came through in the clutch and after the Braves lost to the Reds the Pirates finished it. Hard to really put into words. So much fun. They looked nothing like a playoff baseball team in April and May, but the funny thing about baseball is that it's a 162 game season and you can come back from that. It wasn't easy and it took a lot of other things going right but they put themselves in a spot to get back to the playoffs and with a chance to host the Wild Card game and possibly win the division it's not over but it's real fun to enjoy now. A lot of people roasted the organization for what they did (or didn't do) at the deadline but Neal Huntington and company felt good about where they were. I am not going to lie I was a little disappointed they didn't get some bullpen help but it turns out that GMNH might know a little bit more about this stuff than me. Even though I don't care for Clint Hurdle's in-game tactics I don't think there is anyone that would say that he is unbelievable in the clubhouse and does a lot for this team.

From top to bottom this team is playing great baseball and while the season is far from over it's fun to just stop and not worry about like that look at what this team has done so far and say that this is a good team is an understatement.

Enjoy it everyone.

Pirates Game 157 Preview - @ Atlanta Braves

Pittsburgh Pirates at Atlanta Braves - 7:10 p.m.
Gerrit Cole (10-5, 3.85) vs. Alex Wood (11-10, 2.78)

Season Series (Tied 2-2)
August 18, 2014 - Atlanta 7, Pittsburgh 3 [Recap]
August 19, 2014 - Atlanta 11, Pittsburgh 2
August 20, 2014 - Pittsburgh 3, Atlanta 2
September 22, 2014 - Pittsburgh 1, Atlanta 0 [Recap]


Lineups

Pittsburgh (85-71)
1. Harrison 5
2. Mercer 6
3. McCutchen 8
4. Martin 2
5. Marte 7
6. Walker 4
7. Sanchez 3
8. Snider 9
9. Cole 1

Atlanta (76-80)
1. Bonifacio 8
2. Gosselin 4
3. Freeman 3
4. Upton 7
5. Heyward 9
6. Bethancourt 2
7. Johnson 5
8. Simmons 6
9. Wood 1

Monday, September 22, 2014

Pirates Game 156 Recap - Pirates 1, Braves 0

The magic number is now two. Francisco Liriano came in and gave six innings of solid work which was followed by Jared Hughes, John Holdzkom, and Mark Melancon combined for three shutout innings to shut out the Braves for the fifth time in the last 10 games.

How did the Pirates win? This man:



Andrew McCutchen just does not care what you think. This man has been on point recently.



Liriano wasn't his best tonight as he walked four batters but he's been the best Pirates pitches among a bunch of guys that have been pretty damn good in the second half of the season. The division is still within reach and the Pirates are now fighting to host the Wild Card game for the second straight year. This is what it is all about.

Fun times.

Steelers Game 3 Recap - Steelers 37, Panthers 19

For the previous six quarters the Steelers looked like a five win team that had no chance of being successful despite having top performers at three huge offensive skill position spots. For the other six quarters of the season the Steelers looked like a team that would win the AFC North and challenge for a bye. For four quarters against the Panthers on Sunday night the Steelers were a dominant team and it was really fun to watch.

I didn't have a good feeling about this game and it mostly had to do with how good the Panthers defense has been but after a back and forth field goal fest in the first half the Steelers opened up a can in the second half. In the second half of the game the Steelers had five possessions and they scored three touchdowns, punted once, and had the ball to end the game on the fifth. They also recovered a fumble on a fumbled punt that was returned for a touchdown. Overall the Steelers gained 454 yards of total offense with 264 of those coming on the ground. It was all good in Carolina and after a really bad performance in Baltimore it was good to bounce back with a convincing win in week three.

There was a lot of good in this game. The run game overall was probably the biggest, in my mind. It really starts with the offensive line who looked much better even though guard Ramon Foster wasn't dressed. As I said above the Steelers torched the Panthers front seven for 264 yards on 34 carries. That is almost eight yards per carry. EIGHT. Le'Veon Bell had 147 yards on 21 carries which was aided by an 81 yard run that actually didn't result in a touchdown. LeGarrette Blount ran for 118 yards on 10 carries (!!!) and ran over a Panthers defensive back on his scoring run and even ripped off a 50 yard run late in the game. Things were all good for the running game and it was the reason the Steelers won the football game. It wasn't like this was against a bad defense, as I noted in the preview the Panthers were eighth against the run (accruing to DVOA) so hopefully this is a sign of things to come. It's true that you can't run for 250+ yards every week but they have to be better in this aspect going forward.

There were plenty of other positives from the game. Antonio Brown continues to be just absolutely outstanding. He caught 10 passes for 90 yards and two touchdowns with the first scoring catch coming in the third quarter, representing the first touchdown of the day. In sort of an arbitrary way (in terms of catches and yards) he became only the second player in league history to catch at least five passes and 50 yards in 19 straight games. He made a bunch of really nice catches throughout the game and is becoming one of the best receivers in the game. Even though the surrounding cast isn't overly great he just keeps brining it and that is fun to watch.

Ben Roethlisberger probably isn't going to get talked about much because of the running game and Brown but he was quietly good in this game. He completed 22-of-30 passes for 196 yards and two touchdowns. His yards per attempt wasn't overly good (6.5) but he didn't need to be great tonight. A big key for the Steelers going in was to not turn the ball over and that is exactly what Roethlisberger did. He made the good throws and found open receivers and let the rest of the offense take care of itself. He's thrown his fair share of bad picks but last night he was flawless in that aspect. He used his escapability on the touchdown throw to Brown and utilized Heath Miller four times. Solid all around effort.

The defense has been pretty bad through the first two games but they stepped up and played some good football. They forced three fumbles, recovering two of them, and scored a touchdown on specials teams via one of those fumbles. After not recording a quarterback hit against Joe Flacco and the Ravens the defense hit the combo of Cam Newton and Derek Anderson six times and recorded three sacks. They got turnovers and they got to the quarterback. This needs to happen on a regular basis but at least we have some sort of starting point where the defense played some good football throughout the entire game.

Shaun Suisham probably doesn't get as much credit as he deserves but this dude is basically automatic. This was an all field goal game in the first half and Suisham was perfect in all three of his chances. While his second field goal was only 24 yards the other two were from 40+ and while that are nearly automatic across the NFL it still isn't an overly easy thing to do. One bad game and a couple of misses and this might be a new football game but it wasn't. The kickers never really get talked about unless they have a big miss but ever since Suisham got here he's been money.

While most of this game was all good for the Steelers there were some bad things that happened. The biggest of them is the injury situation. Ike Taylor is going to be lost for about 6-8 weeks as he broke his arm when he was hit with some friendly fire by Lawrence Timmons trying to make a tackle. Ryan Shazier has a sprained knee that will keep him out indefinitely while Jarvis Jones has a wrist injury that will require surgery and lands him on the IR with the designation to return. The Steelers actually have some decent depth on the defensive side of the ball but it looks like they are going to lose a couple of key pieces to the defense for an extended time. Taylor hasn't been good this year and wasn't overly good last year but with Cortez Allen not playing good football it's really going to make the secondary thin. In a passing league that is not good.

A continuing problem for this team continues to be penalties. The Steelers were flagged 11 times for 91 yards. It didn't seem as bad considering the Panthers had seven penalties for 105 yards but this needs to stop. On the season the Steelers average over 10 penalties a game (second-most in the league) for just over 87 yards per game (sixth-highest). That isn't going to cut it. When you are giving up almost a field length worth of penalty yards a game you are going to get burned. It won't really hurt in a game where you score 37 points and your defense plays well but in close games it will lose you the game. This was a problem last year and it needs fixed.

All-in-all it was a great game for the Steelers. The only real negative was the injury situation but in terms of on-field play it was all good. The Steelers now begin a stretch of games against some below average competition so here is hoping they can stack a few wins and continue to play good football.

Pirates Game 156 Preview - @ Atlanta Braves

Pittsburgh Pirates at Atlanta Braves - 7:10 p.m.
Francisco Liriano (6-10, 3.45) vs. Aaron Harang (11-11, 3.68)

Season Series (Atlanta leads 2-0)
August 18, 2014 - Atlanta 7, Pittsburgh 3 [Recap]
August 19, 2014 - Atlanta 11, Pittsburgh 2
August 20, 2014 - Pittsburgh 3, Atlanta 2


Lineups

Pittsburgh (84-71)
1. Harrison 5
2. Snider 9
3. McCutchen 8
4. Walker 4
5. Martin 2
6. Marte 7
7. Davis 3
8. Mercer 6
9. Liriano 1

Atlanta (76-79)
1. Bonifacio 9
2. Gosselin 4
3. Freeman 3
4. Upton 7
5. Johnson 5
6. Bethancourt 2
7. Simmons 6
8. Upton 8
9. Harang 1

Friday, September 19, 2014

Steelers Game 3 Preview - @ Carolina Panthers

Pittsburgh Steelers at Carolina Panthers – 8:30 p.m.
NBC
All-Time Record: Steelers lead 4-1
Last Meeting: December 23, 2010 – Pittsburgh 27, Carolina 3

The Steelers are coming off a dismal performance against the Ravens last Thursday night. Nothing about that game was good and it just was something that you want to forget about. The Steelers are on the road again to face a team they don't normal play a lot and while there is a lot of unknowns about this Carolina team from most fans they are a 12 win team from last season and they boast one of the best defenses in the league.

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

Offense

Carolina got to the playoffs last season with a 12-4 record which broke a string of three consecutive losing seasons. So far this season they are off to a strong 2-0 start and the offense checks in with a DVOA of 3.1% which is good for 15th in the league. So far through the first two games they are doing work through the air with a DVOA of 45% (sixth in the league) while they are rated as one of the worst rushing teams (-36.7%, 30th in the league).

In terms of raw numbers the Panthers average just over 323 yards per game overall (23rd in the league) with 236 of those coming through the air and just over 87 on the ground. They have scored 44 points on the season which included 20 in the opener against Tampa Bay and 24 last week against Detroit.

The passing offense is run through Cam Newton. That should not come as a shock for most people as Newton is a freakishly gifted athlete that uses both his arm and legs to get the offense rolling. Newton had to sit out week one with an injury but came back last week and went 22-for-34 for 281 yards and a touchdown. He also rushed four times for 19 yards. Last season he completed 62% of his passes for over 3,300 yards and 24 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. Newton also rushed for 585 yards and six touchdowns which was actually down from his previous two years where he rushed for over 700 yards. Most of that had to do with the number of times he has rushed as he has been right around 5.5 yards per carry in his career but I would assume keeping him in the pocket and more healthy is the idea behind that.

It was only one game so the advanced stats are going to vary a lot but Newtown currently sits seventh in the league with a DVOA of 24.7% and ranks 16th with a DYAR of 56. For a historical purpose last season Newton ranked 19th with a DVOA of 1.7% while finishing 17th with a DYAR of 421.

Newton relies on tight end Greg Olson and a bunch of lesser receivers to get things done. Gone are the days of Steve Smith (now with the Ravens) so it will be interesting to see the progression of the receiving core for this team.

Olsen through two games leads the team in catches (14), targets (19), yards (115), and is one of three players with a touchdown catch. Olson has been consistent in the first two games with 83 yards and a score in week one and 72 yards in the second week. The Steelers struggled to cover the tight end in Baltimore so I would expect that Olsen is going to get a lot of targets, especially in the red zone.

The receiving core is comprised of rookie Kelvin Benjamin, ex-Steeler Jefficho Cotchery, and former Eagle Jason Avant. Benjamin has been the top target of that trio with eight catches for 138 yards and a touchdown while catching four passes for 20 yards or longer. Benjamin ranks 26th in the league with a DVOA of 13.8% which is a few spots behind Steelers receiver Markus Wheaton. His catch rate is pretty low at 50% but the big play ability is something that should scare the Steelers as they are giving up large plays in bunches.

Cotchery is viewed as the Panthers most effective receiver with eight catches for 78 yards. He has a catch rate of 100% catching every ball that was intended for him and is second in the league with a 49.6% DVOA. It is still really early and these number fluctuate a lot at the beginning of the year but I think we saw last year what Cotchery can bring to a team. He’s an underrated guy that you might overlook but if you give him space he’s going to make the catch and going to make you pay.

The running game has been pretty bad for Carolina. They are still relying on DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart to carry the load. There was a time where that was an excellent one-two punch but that time has passed and they aren’t near what they used to be.

Williams leads the team with 72 yards on 14 carries which all came in the first game of the season against the Bucs. Williams missed week two with a thigh injury but he is expected to come back and be ready this week. I would expect that Williams gets a bulk of the carries as Stewart has struggled with only 57 yards on 24 carries that included 37 yards on 15 carries against the Lions. Williams is obviously the higher ranked of the two running backs with a DVOA of 7.4% (16th in league) and a DYAR of 13 (17th in the league).

Overall in the run game Carolina ranks 30th with an adjusted line yard average (ALY) of 2.59 while they are bad in both power success (40%, 27th) and stuffed ranking (31%, 29th). The Steelers have struggled in a big way through the first two games to start the run so lets see which side of the ball can suck more!

The focus of the Panthers run game is up the middle and to the left side of the line. 65% of their running back carries are up the middle or off the guards which is the fifth-most in the league and well above the league average of 55%. While they run the football a lot up the middle that doesn’t mean thy are close to successful. They rank 31st in the league with an ALY of 2.04 which is nearly two full yards per carry lower than the league average (3.99).

Carolina also runs 16% of their running back carries off the left end and it is the spot of the line where they have the most success, ranking 16th in the league with an ALY of 4.73 which is almost a full yard more than the league average (3.75). They rank no better than 20th in any other area and are above league average in only one other area (left tackle).


Defense

Defensively the Panthers are one of the best in the league as they were in 2013. Last season the Panthers ranked third overall with a DVOA of -15.7% and were third-best against the pass (-15.6%) and sixth against the run (-16%). This season is no different through two weeks with the Panthers ranking second in the league overall (-26.8%) including third against the pass (-29.5%) and eighth against the run (-20.9%).

In terms of raw numbers the Panthers are giving up only 21 points, which is the second-fewest in the league. They are giving up only 293.5 yards per game including only 86 on the ground and 207.5 through the air. Suffice it to say the Panthers are very good at not allowing their opponents to score points or move the ball. Not ideal for the Steelers.

The defensive backfield has done a pretty good job across the board of shutting down all types of receivers. Through two weeks opposing top receivers have been targeted nine times a game and the Panthers post a -19.8% DVOA against which is seventh in the league. They are even better against number two receivers who they post a -36.7% DVOA against and that is fifth-best among teams in the National Football League. The one place the Panthers struggle a bit is against running backs where they have a DVOA of -12.4% which is 16th in the league. That actually isn’t too bad and really highlights what kind of job they have done to shut down their opponents.

Last season the Panthers led the league with 60 sacks and this season they are off to another good start with seven sacks through the first two games. Their adjusted sack rate of 7.9% ranks ninth in the league and with the Steelers having some problems keeping Ben Roethlisberger upright this is a concern.

Carolina is also pretty good against the run as they allow an adjusted line yard mark of 3.45 that ranks 10th in the league. They do struggle a bit in terms of allowing teams to run in short yardage situations (definition above) as they haven’t made a single stop in those situations thus giving them 100% power success against. While they aren’t stopping teams in short yardage situations they still do a pretty good job at he line of scrimmage with a stuffed percentage of 23% (seventh in the league) so it’s not a total loss at the point of contact.

The Panthers really excel in stopping the run when the offense tries to run to the right side. That means left defensive tackle Colin Cole and left defensive end Charles Johnson are getting it done this season along with their linebackers. When teams attempt to run to the offensive right tackle the Panthers are giving up an ALY of -0.15 which is second in the league and when they run to the right offensive tackle they give up an ALY of 0.00 (fourth in the league). That is dominant.

Teams can have success against Carolina but it has to be to the offensive left side or up the middle. The Panthers are in the middle of the pack in all three of those areas including allowing an ALY of 4.18 up the middle or off the guards. That is above the league average of 3.99 and the only other area of the line where they give up more than league average is off the left offensive end with an ALY of 3.40 (3.18 is league average).

Luke Kuechly is the leader of the defense. He was the 2013 Defensive Player of the year and he is off to a fast start again this season. So far he’s registered 20 tackles (10 solo) with a sack and two passes defended. Both Dwan Edwards and Mario Addison each have 2.5 sacks with Greg Hardy picking up the other. Hardy will not be playing football this weekend since he was placed on the Commissioners list while they sort out him being found GUILTY of domestic violence. Total and utter joke that he was allowed on the field at all this year.

In the defensive back field Antoine Carson, Melvin White and Roman Harper each have a pick while Carson is second on the team with 19 tackles.


Special Teams

Over the Panthers specials teams hasn’t been overly good. Graham Gano does the kicking for Carolina and has hit five of his six attempts only missing one times between 40-49 yards and hitting his only try from 50 yards or further.

Philly Brown does the kick and punt returns. He has actually yet to return a kickoff because of touchbacks but his punt returns have average 8.8 yards per return in five tries. Nothing overly flashy to see here.

The Steelers

-For most of this short season the Steelers have struggled. They played lights out on both offense and defense against the Browns in the first half but since then it has been way more of a dud than anything else. The defense has yet to force a turnover and the offense wasn’t able to score a touchdown in a Thursday night loss to the Ravens last week. Things aren’t bad but they aren’t good either.

-The Steelers post a fringy top-10 offense with an offensive team DVOA of 5.2% while they rank eighth in the league with a rushing DVOA of 6.9%. They aren’t throwing the football well (11%, 20th) and that has a lot to do with not a lot of depth outside of Antonio Brown and Markus Wheaton and the fact that Roethlisberger has been pressured, a lot. The Steelers rank 24th in the league with an adjusted sack rate against of 8.2% and have given up six sacks in two games.

-The Steelers defense has been pretty bad so far. They rank 25th with a 11.7% DVOA ranking 20th or worst against both the pass (26.4%, 22nd) and the run (-0.1%, 20th). They are giving up big plays almost at will and while they are bending and not totally breaking they just aren’t getting turnovers. When you are turning the ball over and not creating turnovers you aren’t going to win many football games.

PREDICTION – For the existence of this blog I have rarely picked against the Steelers. I first did last year, I think but it was later in the year after a really rough start. This will be the earliest I pick against the Black and Gold, unfortunately. The Panthers are just a good defensive team. I don’t think they have a lot to offer on offense but with the Steelers inability to get to the quarter or to force a turnover it really puts a lot of pressure on the offense to score points and not turn the ball over. The Panther do create turnovers (+6 this season) and get after the quarterback so I think it is going to be a little too much for the Steelers to handle. Panthers 23, Steelers 17.