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