Category Archives: Game/Opponent Previews

Steelers Opponent Preview: The Jacksonville Jaguars, Take Two

I decided to go back and take a long hard look at what I wrote back in Week 5 about the Jaguars. I was wondering a few things—was I guilty of overlooking them? Did I not sufficiently prepare my Opponent Preview? Was it, in short, one of the dreaded “trap posts?”

Here’s how I began the article:

The Jaguars are somewhat of a sensation this year, even with a 2-2 record. Nobody (except perhaps their fans) really gave them much of a chance. Don’t believe me? Well, in an informal survey of six early September sets of “power rankings,” the highest anyone thought Jacksonville would finish is No. 26. (One writer even pegged them at No. 30.) This, despite the fact that they have had top-of-the-draft picks for years now.

Read more

Steelers’ Opponent Preview: The Houston Texans

Photo via Steelers.com This is from the session in which the Steelers recorded their annual Christmas carol video. You can watch it here if your stomach is strong enough. Strangely, the kicking unit was better at singing (if you can call it that) than any of the others. Which isn’t saying much. And Robert Golden should never, ever be put front and center again. That was a crime against nature.

The Texans seemed to be one of those Cinderella stories earlier this season. After years of trying they had finally found a franchise quarterback at the top of the draft in Deshaun Watson. And then he got injured. The face of their defense, J.J. Watt, big brother to rookie T.J. Watt—you may have heard of him—is also injured. There are many more reasons than those two for the Texans’ 4-10 record, but those make a pretty good start.

Read more

Steelers Opponent Preview: The New England Patriots

Vince Williams practicing wearing Ryan Shazier’s jersey. Photo via Steelers.com

I found myself highly reluctant to write this preview because, unlike Mike Tomlin, I am perfectly happy averting my gaze from the elephant in the room. But needs must as the devil drives, which is actually a pretty appropriate expression for this week, and here it is.

First off, let’s look at the record, because although I’m not going to take the time to look it up I’m betting it’s been a pretty long time since the Steelers had a better record than the Patriots at this point in the season:

  • Pittsburgh: 11-2
  • New England: 10-3

The unfortunate thing, of course, is that the record doesn’t make a bit of difference if the Steelers lose on Sunday. If they win, it’s another story, of course. So let’s take a look at the usual indicators and see whether the chances look reasonable. As usual, numbers come from Football Outsiders and Pro Football Focus. We will begin with defense to get it over with. Luckily the Patriots’ D is nothing to write home about either: Read more

Steelers Opponent Preview: The Cincinnati Bengals, Take Two

Photo via Steelers.com: Prepare for some old-school football

We know these guys. Right? A.J. Green, receiver extraordinaire. Vontaze Burfict, jagoff extraordinaire. Andy Dalton—nice guy, inconsistent quarterback. Geno Atkins—leading the league in sacks for a DT, as usual. Wish he would slow down. Hasn’t he noticed he’s old? Pacman Jones—assistant jagoff, although I note from Pro Football Focus that in the past three games his snap counts, after being in the 60s early in the season, are 27, 0, and 26. He’s clearly being phased out in favor of William Jackson III, which is a pity from our standpoint.

You get the idea. The Bengals are an old and well-hated opponent. They aren’t having their best season ever this year, but they are trending upwards, again unfortunately for us. After completely sucking early in the season, Andy Dalton is looking much more competent. Or is this true? Certainly Dalton’s first game of the season, against the Ravens, was one for the books. His NFL QB rating of 27.4 was only matched in lack of awesomeness by his QBR of 0.7. (I think it is possible to get a negative QBR, but this is about as close as anybody would ever like to get.) Read more

Steelers Opponent Preview: The Green Bay Packers

 

048918C9-ABC7-424F-93B0-A06743B7D929My granddaughter is fighting a tiger, and the tiger is losing. This seems like a good omen…

This matchup just goes to show the foolishness of predicting games prior to the season. Green Bay with Aaron Rodgers will always be competitive, no matter how bad the offensive line or the defense, because he is the straw that stirs the drink. You might compare this to Tom Brady in New England, and you would be wrong. For whatever reason(s)—many of us have our theories*—Bill Belichick would apparently be able to win games with a not-particularly-competent high school quarterback under center if he had to. There is no reason to denigrate Mike McCarthy, native Pittsburgher and head coach of the Green Bay Packers, but he doesn’t appear to have this gift. Let’s hope not, anyhow.

So undoubtedly many prognosticators had put this down as one of the more difficult games this season. Given that the Ravens just shut them out last week, in Green Bay, one would think the Steelers would take care of business at Heinz Field, even though there are really no easy games in the NFL.

So let’s have a look at the Packers as currently constituted and how they appear to match up with the Steelers. As usual I will derive my numbers from Football Outsiders (hereafter FO) and Pro Football Focus(PFF):

Defense:

  • Team Defense (for the FO metric of DVOA, lower is better for defenses:) Green Bay: -0.6%—No 18. Pittsburgh: -16.8%—No. 3
  • Passing Defense: Green Bay—No. 23; Pittsburgh—No. 5
  • Rushing Defense: Green Bay—No. 8; Pittsburgh—No. 4

Defensive Lines:

  • Run Blocking: Green Bay—No. 7; Pittsburgh—No. 4
  • Pass Protection: Green Bay—No. 16; Pittsburgh—No. 3
  • Sacks: GB 21, PIT 34

Offense:

  • Team Offense (higher DVOA is better): Green Bay: 3.6%—No. 13; Pittsburgh: 14.8%—No. 6
  • Passing Offense: Green Bay: 7.1%—No. 20; Pittsburgh: 35.6%—No. 7
  • Rushing Offense: Green Bay: 8.2%—No. 4; Pittsburgh: -2.7%—No. 12

Offensive Lines:

  • Run Blocking: Green Bay: No. 3; Pittsburgh: No. 7
  • Pass Protection: Green Bay: No. 29; Pittsburgh No. 2

Well, all of this explains why the Ravens were able to shut the Packers out. The Packers’ offensive line gives up a sack on more than 10% of dropbacks, and the strength of their team at the moment is their running game. Baltimore is back as FO’s No. 1 defense (although oddly they are only No. 10 against the run.) They held the Packers to 76 yards rushing, and 19 of those, on three carries, were by the quarterback. The Packers were forced to take to the air. The Ravens picked them off three times, and so the 239 passing yards were all for naught. We can only hope the Steelers’ D will also be able to shut down the run and take advantage of the poor pass protection. Another four interceptions (hopefully without a 75 yard touchdown pass given up) would be welcome this week as well.

Now to compare the matchups according to PFF:

Looking at the Green Bay offense, they only have a few players that PFF even considers to be average. The best player on offense, by a long way, is left tackle David Bakhtiari. (They rate him at 88.1.) The next best player is WR Jordy Nelson (at 80.2), and WR Davante Adams, RB Jamaal Williams, and right guard Jahri Evans rate in the Average range (77.8, 72.6, and 74.0 respectively.) Most of the other offensive players rate at below (many well below) replacement level.

They are opposed by one of the best D-lines in the league, with Tuitt, Heyward, and Hargrave all rating as “Above Average” (Hargrave) to “High Quality” (Tuitt and Heyward.) The only poorly-rated defensive players at this point are Bud Dupree and Sean Davis.

When the Steelers have the ball, they are opposed by a very spotty defense—several players are in the “High Quality” category (mostly on the defensive line), the inside linebackers are good, and their cornerbacks and strong safety are quite poor, as far as PFF is concerned. The best player on the offense according to PFF is AB, of course, who is their highest-rated receiver at an “Elite” 91.1. Next best is the also elite David DeCastro (90.8.) Ben’s rating has gone up each week and is now 83.5, but Bell looks more ordinary at 77.2. It’s hard to imagine this is going to improve much this week.

Well, that’s all I have to say about this. On paper this is hardly a slam-dunk, but it looks like a match where the Steelers’ strengths should play reasonably well to the weaknesses of the Packers. But only time will tell. I don’t expect the Steelers’ D to pitch a shutout, but I wouldn’t mind if they did…

*I believe it was Homer who pointed out that Satan and Belichick had never been seen in the same room…

Steelers Opponent Preview: Dick LeBeau and the Titans Come to Town

Photo via Steelers.com. Can you tell I’m loving the color rush unis?

The title of the article pretty much sums up the feel of this game. Many of the Titans coaches have played or worked for the Steelers at one time, including Mike Mularky, Deshea Townsend, and of course Dick LeBeau. It goes the other way, too. Starting corner Coty Sensabaugh was drafted by the Titans. But perhaps the big name here is Offensive Line coach Mike Munchak, who played for the Titans, coached in a variety of capacities for them, and was their head coach for three years. Bob Labriola of Steelers.com pointed out that there are more Steelers/Titans connections than there are between the Steelers and the Cardinals, and that’s saying something.

But once the “hail fellow well met” greetings are over on the sidelines, the battle lines are drawn up, and what we have is a game between a 7-2 and a 6-3 club. Both would very much like to win it. For the Titans, it would represent a sweep of the AFC North, as they’ve already beaten the other three teams (barely.) And they would naturally like to hold on to their lead in the AFC South. For the Black and Gold, it would represent another step towards a bye week and home field advantage in the playoffs. Read more

Steelers Opponent Preview: The Indianapolis Colts

Charles LeClaire photo, USA Today

As I contemplated Sunday’s game I found myself wondering if the Colts’ fanbase screams as loudly about the Colts vs. Pittsburgh as Steeler fans holler about the Patriots. No matter how well the Steelers are doing, it seems the only thing a great percentage of the fanbase is interested in discussing is how [insert defensive/offensive/special teams scheme name here], which was successful in beating that week’s opponent, was nonetheless not going to get it done against New England.

Read more

« Older Entries