Category Archives: Game/Opponent Previews

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.

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Steelers Opponent Preview: The Detroit Lions

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Homer’s pony (photo via Steelers.com)

Another week, another jump in the standings for the Steelers, and more upward movement in the opinion of the Power Rankers and statisticians and so on. In the meantime, the Steelers’ opponent is, well, not exactly reeling, but they have lost twice in the last three games, one of them at home, and seem firmly mired in mediocrity at 3-3.

On the other hand, the Lions’ division is nothing to write home about. Green Bay has lost their quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, for what looks like the rest of the season. And make no mistake, Rodgers is the one who makes things happen in Green Bay. Their 4-3 record isn’t likely to improve. The Bears might be termed “surprising,” but only because no one expected much from them. At 3-4 they aren’t entirely out of it yet.  The Vikings are running away with the division so far at 5-2, but the Lions have only played one divisional game—against the Vikings—and won it, back in Week 2.

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Opponent Preview: Bengals @ Steelers

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It’s Bengals week. Storylines abound. Will Vontaze Burfict and his new contract live up (or down) to expectations? Will the Bengals miss Tyler Eifert, who is having surgery, is done for the season, and really ought to retire before he becomes the first Breakable Bionic Man, or will Tyler Kroft make him a distant memory? Will Joe Mixon, another of their Troubled Youth Rehabilitation projects, and who has wrested the starting job (legally) from Giovanni Bernard and Jeremy Hill, look more like Leonard Fournette or Kareem Hunt on Sunday in terms of his stat line vs. the Steelers defense? Will A.J. Green or Antonio Brown look like the best receiver in the league? And who will impact the game the most—Old Man Pacman Jones or Really Old Man Deebo Harrison? (Jones will almost certainly have more opportunities to do so, unless he is unable to play—see the Injury Report below.)

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Steelers’ Opponent Preview: The Kansas City Chiefs

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The most important player on the field, the last time the Steelers and Chiefs played…

It’s very tempting to just say “last undefeated team in the NFL. Let’s do this again some time…” It’s very possibly all you wish to read.

But a sense of duty compels me to write this anyhow, as little as I like the prospect of studying even more closely an opponent I’m dreading. Because this might be the first really complete team the Steelers have seen this season, and we’ve seen how uneven they have been against flawed, even highly flawed, teams.

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