I bought my copy of Pro Football Prospectus 2008 yesterday, and I've had a chance to at least skim everything and pore over the Steelers section obsessively. Some quick observations:
(As usual I don't hold Football Outsiders' metrics in awe [sample size is a huge issue, as is opponent-adjustment], but they are useful, and their game-charting is invaluable.)
- The 2007 Steelers had the largest drop in DVOA (average value) of any team from 1995 to 2007. Of course, of the top 12 teams in that category, four others are also from 2007, which is suspicious. Indy, New England, Tennessee, and Dallas are the other lucky winners.
- Mean projection is 7.2 wins. Don't panic. Their projection system tends to cluster absurdly in the middle, and nearly everybody is projected, every year, between 6 and 10 wins, with most between 7 and 9. Dealing with double-digit wins or losses appears to be difficult.
- Cleveland, Cincy, and Baltimore come in at 6.8, 6.3, and 8.5. See what I mean?
- Toughest average opponent in the NFL. Sigh...At least the division winner is assured of a playoff spot, which may be awarded to an 8-8 team in the AFCN.
- We ran on first down 60% of the time. That is, if you couldn't guess, first in the league. On third or fourth and short, or short goal-to-go, we ran only 42% of the time, 31st. We also ran on second and long a mind-numbing 44% of the time, which was wel above average and almost guaranteed to result in third and long. While I've been harping that we don't have the personnel for the old power-running scheme, it seems like Arians didn't realize that at all some of the time, and was all too aware at others. I continue to remain unimpressed with him.
- Roethlisberger had to scramble on 15% of passing plays, highest in the league. NFL average was 7%. Not surprisingly, he was also the best quarterback in the league in this situation
- A thought: Limas Sweed is described as tall, fast, and athletic, but a poor route runner. Is it possible that the Steelers factored improvisational ability into their scouting for WRs, knowing what kind of line and quarterback they were dealing with?
- We used 4 or more WRs 16 percent of the time, and two or more TEs 40% of the time, both above league average. With three or four wide, we were awesome. With only two receivers, we kind of sucked. So Arians isn't completely useless, as he seemed to realize that.
- Roethlisberger was significantly worse on play-action and under center than on no-play-action or in the shotgun. The fact that play-fakes, which Ben excelled at only two years ago, are no longer effective might have something to do with our declining rushing effectiveness.
- Mike Tomlin was one of the most conservative coaches in the league on fourth down. Blitz, you know those new strategies that are going to change football you were talking about? This is it right here, as Bellichick and Easterbrook know. We've got to be more aggressive.
- Santonio was, cumulatively, our most productive receiver by far, despite having a lower catch rate (61% to 64%) and catches (52 to 72) than Hines.
- Nate caught a little over half of the balls thrown his way. Cumulatively, he was as valuable as Ward in receiving, which is counter-intuitive.
- Per play, Miller was the most valuable receiver by far among the starters. Matt Spaeth, however, nearly doubled him up in that category. The joys of being used only in the red zone. The two also had great hands, with 77% and 83% catch rates, respectively, though Spaeth's sample size is an aburdly low 6 plays.
- The offense was average on first and second down, and awesome on third. Our predictable first down playcalling has a lot to do with that first part, as does the improvised passing on third down. FO points out that very high or low effectiveness on third down tends to regress to the mean the following year. I know we were above average in 2005, but I'll have to check 2006's numbers. Of course, fewer third and long situations will help with that.
- Adjusted sack rate was 10.1%. Nothing new to any of us, I'm sure.
- LeBeau used a standard four-man pass rush only 41% of the time, last in the league. We blitzed five roughly the same amount of time.
- Over the past two years, the D has been merciless to pass-catching RBs, best in the NFL. We were also the best at limiting yards after catch.
- Bafflingly, Travis Kirschke had the highest stop rate of any defensive lineman or linebacker. He made 26 plays, and 23 of those were "Stops," in which the offense did not score, convert, or gain significant yardage. Clark Haggans was lowest among front 7 players, at 57%,and 4 yards allowed per, the highest average yet again. Woodley did not play often enough to be included in the analysis, unfortunately. The Keisel hybrid DE/LB experiment is deemed a failure, though he didn't suck. That's some comfort.
- They credit James Farrior with 32.5 pressures (sacks, knockdowns, and hurries), the most on the team. To give some context, James Harrison, "a pass-rushing force," had 26.5, and premier pas-rushing DE Jared Allen had a little over 40. Harrison had more sacks, while Farrior had more hurries, so it balances out roughly, but Farrior's outstanding play often goes unmentioned. He also made more plays than anyone other than Ike Taylor.
- Speaking of Ike, it's mixed. He was targeted more than any other DB on the team, which is a statement in and of itself. They don't provide a metric for this, but only 3 INTs in 111 targets has to be among the league lows. He allowed 7 yards per target, which was 36th of 81 CBs. He was good in run support, though, 12th among CBs in run stop rate, and allowing only 4 yards per.
- Deshea Townsend, according to this, was awesome. He was among the very best CBs in yards allowed per target, at 5.1, and even better than Ike in run support. (They mention that he may be moved to safety in case of injuries there, which is the first I've heard of it.) The metrics are also high on Tyrone Carter, strangely enough. Even with no INTS, Troy had a very good season, ranking in the top 10 among safeties in both success rate and yards allowed. B-Mac doesn't have a full analysis,but he was above average in coverage, and poor at run support.
- The ugly - Anthony Smith allowed 11 yards per target. Eleven. Normalized, throwing in his direction was an instant first down. Only ten qualifying safeties were worse than that. He was similarly awful in run support, which is bad sign for a free-wheeling hitter. Ryan Clark did not play enough to be fully analyzed, but he allowed only 3 yards per target. Get well soon, Ryan.