AFC North Stats ‘N At: And Then There Was One (Week 18)
I’m still not over Saturday’s game. I don’t think anyone is. The repercussions from this game are going to be felt far into the future, I believe. But the irony for a post such as this is, the majority of the talking points from the game are philosophical and/or procedural.
Should anyone but the head coach be allowed on the field during an injury time-out? Is there a difference between Ryan Shazier’s hit and Vontaze Burfict’s, and should they both have been flagged? For the answers to these and many other such questions, click here.
These and other storylines will doubtless be debated long into the off-season, but for now let’s turn to the comfort of statistics. There may be considerable confusion in the NFL right now as to what constitutes a catch, for instance, or when a play should be blown dead, but there are some things which are black and white. Maybe looking at them will tell us something more about the game than just the drama of it does.
- Bengals +141
- Steelers +106
One of the big questions going into this game was whether young AJ McCarron had what it takes to win a playoff game. The answer, after the actual game was played, was “maybe.” He certainly was flustered in the first three quarters, by the various coverages and blitz packages the Steelers ran at him, and by the rain. He can hardly be blamed for the former—more experienced quarterbacks by far than he have been confused and harried by some of the things Keith Butler has come up with. That’s the point, after all.
I’m going to ditch the chart, as there is way too much noise, and just give you the NFL Passer Rating, followed by the ESPN QBR:
- Ben Roethlisberger: 92.0/43.1
- AJ McCarron: 68.3/28.9
- Landry Jones: 8.3/0.0
The numbers for Landry Jones are not encouraging. The stats seem to indicate we would have been better off without a quarterback at all. Maybe some crazy wildcat packages with Antonio Brown and Heath Miller, or what have you. I hate to say this, as I think Landry Jones is an admirable young man, but if the Bengals hadn’t handed the Steelers the game at the end, Landry would have lost it for us. Or, really, a combination of Ben holding onto the ball wayyyyy too long and taking a sack he never should have allowed, Vontaze Burfict for adding the coup de grace of slamming his knee into Ben’s shoulder (another infraction for which he wasn’t penalized but I hope he will be fined), and Landry entering the game with a 15-7 lead, being ineffective on the first series, going three-and-out on the second, and throwing a pick on the first play of the third series.
Here’s what Pro Football Focus thought, on a timeline. I’ve added Landry Jones. If you’re wondering why you don’t see his score in the last game, it’s because it dropped below 50, so no comfort from PFF either…
This is going to be even more difficult than usual, because Football Outsiders apparently doesn’t update once the playoffs begin. So I’m just going to compare stats for Pittsburgh and Cincinnati from Saturday:
According to Football Outsiders the Bengals had the №1 offense in the league as of the end of the season, and Pittsburgh the № 3. This is despite the loss of Andy Dalton, and is a testament to the other talented players on the team. I’m going to be able to be nice about the offense, because the majority of the offensive players appear to have had nothing to do with the nonsense going on in the game.
One of the important elements of the equation was the offensive line for each team. As of the end of the season PIT was № 8 in both pass and run blocking, according to Football Outsiders—CIN was № 1 in pass blocking but had dropped to 15th in run blocking.
What we actually saw was some incredible run blocking from the Steelers’ O line. The Bengals’ defense was holding teams to 92.3 yards rushing per game, good for 7th in the league. The Steelers № 3 and 4 running backs combined for 123 yards on the ground, with a Martavis Bryant end-around adding another 44 yards. This is just stellar. The previous week Cincinnati had held the Ravens to 55 total yards on the ground, including 4 from the QB. Admittedly, Baltimore was hardly a rushing leader after losing Justin Forsett. But the previous week Cincinnati held the very talented Denver duo of C.J. Anderson and Ronnie Hillman to 108 yards. Credit definitely goes to TnT for this, but you’ve got to give a lot of love to the offensive line as well.
As far as pass blocking, while the team didn’t gain a lot of yards in the passing game (240 total) we knew going in the Bengals secondary was excellent. While the defense, like Pittsburgh’s, gave up a reasonable number of yards per game, they were second lowest in points given up—17.4, exceeded only by the Seahawks at 17.3 points per game. And in fact that’s just about how many points they gave up in this game.
Antonio Brown had a relatively pedestrian game for him, with only 119 yards, no touchdowns. Also no PIs, which in at least one case might be considered an injustice.
From the Bengals’ side, they never really got a run game going. They managed 91 yards on the ground, including an AJ McCarron run. More than half of these yards came on a 38 yard run from Hillman and a 14 yard run from Bernard. They did have a rushing touchdown. But the Steelers averaged 2 more yards per rushing play than the Bengals—5.8 compared to 3.8.
Antonio Brown was Pro Football Focus’s Offensive Player of the Year. This is their equivalent of MVP on Offense. (Another Pittsburgher, although not a Steeler, Aaron Donald, won the Defensive Player of the Year.) Here is what they said about Brown:
Despite playing a few games with backup quarterbacks Landry Jones and Michael Vick, Brown posted the highest receiving grade we’ve seen, and he finished with the top rating among wide receivers at 96.5.
The gaudy numbers speak for themselves — 136 receptions, 1,841 yards, 10 touchdowns, 23 missed tackles forced, 2.89 yards per route run — but it’s how Brown achieves such numbers that makes him great. Despite his small stature, he can get open at every level of the field using slippery route-running and above-average downfield ball skills to make plays. In addition to winning within the framework of the offense, Brown and QB Ben Roethlisberger have excellent chemistry when plays break down, and Roethlisberger’s improvisational skills mesh perfectly with Brown’s ability to lose a defender during the scramble drill.
Perhaps most impressive about Brown is his continued improvement. He finished as the second runner up for this award last season and somehow surpassed last year’s performance, which also had him ranked as the top receiver in the league. On top of all of the production, Brown dropped only five passes in 141 catchable opportunities (3.55 percent), good for fifth in the league. He brings the total package to the table, and Brown is not only the best receiver in the league, but also this year’s Offensive Player of the Year.
Pro Football Focus’ Rankings
These rankings are cumulative, but also include the performance in the Wild Card Game. I’ll indicate if a player took a large step up—or down—in their metrics in last Saturday’s game:
- Antonio Brown: № 1
- A.J. Green: № 4
- Marvin Jones № 40
- Markus Wheaton № 48 (Wheaton got a big bump up in run blocking)
- Martavis Bryant № 65 (Bryant got a bump down in run blocking)
- Darrius Heyward-Bey № 92
- Mohamed Sanu № 99
- Tyler Eifert: № 3 (Eifert got a bump down in run blocking)
- Heath Miller № 21
- Gio Bernard: № 25 (He took a bump down on receiving)
- Jeremy Hill № 46
- Jordan Todman (not ranked, score equivalent to around № 48)
- Fitzgerald Toussaint (not ranked, equivalent to around № 52) He took a huge bump up in all categories.
The Steelers ended the season as № 11 in total defense, according to Football Outsiders—CIN ended as № 10. The Steelers D-line was ranked 7th in pass defense, 15th in run defense. The Bengals’ D-line was ranked 12th in pass defense, 15th in run defense.
The Bengals were № 10 in yards given up per pass play, at 5.3. The Steelers were № 18 at 5.5 yards. It will surprise no one to hear the Steelers were giving up considerably more yards per game than the Bengals—on average about 20 more yards per game. It should surprise no one that the Steelers once again gave up more passing yards than the Bengals, but not more points.
Frankly, Ryan Shazier accounted for essentially the entire difference in the game, and is a great deal of the reason the Steelers didn’t lose it after the Burfict pick. So let’s compare their numbers, as I keep hearing about what a fantastic game Burfict played:
- Tackles: Burfict—6 total, 5 solo Shazier—13 total, 9 solo
- Sacks: Burfict—1 Shazier—0
- Stuffs: Burfict—2, 2 yards Shazier—2—3 yards
- Forced Fumbles: Burfict—1 Shazier—3
- Passes Defended: Burfict—1 Shazier—2
- Interceptions: Burfict—1 Shazier—0
- Penalties: Burfict—2, one declined, 15 yards total Shazier: 0
And not to beat a dead horse or anything, but Shazier should have had a fumble recovery for a touchdown. Burfict should have had at least 35 more yards in penalties, and 50 more if there were any justice in the world. (15 for roughing the passer, 15 for excessive celebration, 5 for delay of game. Furthermore, Burfict, not Ramon Foster, should have gotten the Unsportsmanlike Conduct penalty, as he was the instigator, and he could also have been penalized for spitting on David DeCastro. But there’s a lot of stuff that goes on in those trenches that it is probably better not to know…)
Here’s the rankings for the linebackers, according to PFF, with notable movement shown:
- Vontaze Burfict: № 11
- Rey Maualuga: № 16 (HUGE bump up in run defense)
- Ryan Shazier: № 48 (Huge bump up in everything)
- Lawrence Timmons: № 85 (PFF has hated Timmons all year.)
Interior Defenders (PFF’s way of dealing with the whole 3-4 4-3 problem)
- Geno Atkins: № 4
- Cameron Heyward: № 19
- Stephon Tuitt: № 32
- Wallace Gilberry: № 84
- Steve McLendon: № 93
- Domata Peko: № 97
- James Harrison: № 14
- Carlos Dunlap: № 18
- Arthur Moats: № 61 (Big bump down in coverage)
- Jarvis Jones: № 67
- Michael Johnson: № 84
- Bud Dupree: № 107
- Adam Jones: № 15
- Brandon Boykin: № 29 (Big drop in both pass rush and run defense in the past two weeks)
- Leon Hall: № 33
- William Gay: № 40
- Dre Kirkpatrick: № 110
- Antwon Blake: № 115
According to PFF, Ross Cockrell is actually our best corner, at № 19.
- Reggie Nelson: № 9
- George Iloka: № 15
- Mike Mitchell: № 26
- Will Allen: № 30 (He had a nice bump up in coverage)
- Robert Golden: № 39
- Shawn Williams: № 47
Special Teams weren’t a big factor in Saturday’s game, with two exceptions. The Steelers gave up a total of 84 yards in kickoff and punt returns. (Of course, Shamarko Thomas’ interference penalty tacked 15 more yards onto that.) The Steelers got nothing going at all, basically, with 24 total yards.
But the big exception is of course Chris Boswell, who, kicking in his first NFL playoff game, during his first NFL season, was 4 for 4 in field goal attempts. None of them were long, but Blair Walsh, the very capable and experienced kicker for the Vikings, absolutely shanked a 27-yard attempt. It was nowhere close. And as the crew on Steelers Live pointed out, Jordan Berry did an excellent job holding, despite the wet conditions. As we well know, that kick in the final 18 seconds was the difference in a 2-point game, and the pressure had to have been immense.
And for that matter, the final stop by special teams of Adam Jones, a very dangerous kickoff man, on the kickoff afterward the final field goal, at a time when he was undoubtedly dying for redemption after giving the game to the Steelers on his final penalty, was also huge.
Takeaway to Turnover ratio, in order of awesomeness or lack thereof.
- Cincinnati Bengals: +9
- Pittsburgh Steelers: +4
Takeaway to Turnover ratio for the Wild Card Game:
- Cincinnati Bengals: -2
- Pittsburgh Steelers: +2
I’ve dispensed with the chart, as only NFL.com ranks all the playoff teams, ESPN only ranked the teams which are still in the playoffs, and USA Today hasn’t done a post-season ranking. Here’s what we’ve got:
From Elliot Harrison of NFL.com:
Bengals: № 10 (-1) What more can be said about the epic meltdown that hasn’t been spewed for the last 48 hours? Social media had Marvin Lewis fired before Chris Boswell’s kick had dented the net. That isn’t happening — as various reports tell us — nor is any knee-jerking happening in Cincinnati. Mike Brown doesn’t do knee jerk (even if he should). The meltdown to end all meltdowns Burfectly obscured a clutch AJ-to-A.J. connection late, didn’t it? What a shame.
Steelers: № 8 (-1) Never had one, but something about an injured AC joint sounds quite painful. Merely thinking about the grinding in there, from the upper arm on in, is enough to worry about the Steelers’ — and potentially Landry Jones’ — prospects in Sunday’s Divisional Round bout against the Broncos. Thank goodness Denver doesn’t have a fierce pass rush with ridiculously talented edge rushers — you know, guys like Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware … Still, never count out these Steelers, especially if Fitzgerald Toussaint gets rolling. Wait for it.
ESPN: Comments from ESPN Stats and Information:
Steelers: № 8 (out of 8) Ben Roethlisberger was shaken up in the wild-card round and the Steelers are already on their third-string running back. But Pittsburgh’s wide receivers gained 338 yards on 32 receptions against Denver’s vaunted secondary in Week 15.