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Steeler Playmakers: Complete Regular Season Targeting Analysis

A few weeks ago I presented an analysis of the Steeler playmakers during games 5 to 14 which some of you seemed to enjoy.  I finally managed to number crunch all 16 games of the regular season and I thought that it might be interesting to present the complete findings in advance of our Super Bowl showdown with the Packers.

Recall that the objective of the analysis is to measure the absolute and relative participation of our offensive playmakers (QBs, RBs, WRs and TEs) in our offensive plays.  We will see how many times each playmaker was on the field and how frequently they get their hands on the ball when they were out there.

I'll do my best to avoid repeating myself from the first post, but for those who are curious, here's the link:

http://www.behindthesteelcurtain.com/2010/12/27/1898265/steeler-playmakers-touches-targets-relative-participation

 

One warning: lots of data tables ahead.  Let's go!

 

Basic Data

  • We ran 993 plays during the regular season. Counting sacks (43 in total) as pass attempts, the split was 522 pass (52.6%) to 471 run (47.4%). Seems pretty balanced at first glance.
  • Due to Ben's suspension, though, there was a significant difference in the pass / run split during Games 1-4 vs. 5-16. To wit: during the first quarter of the season, we passed a mere 42% of the time; however, during the Big Ben games the figure jumped to nearly 58%.

I've heard tell that the NFL "changes every 4 weeks."  Considering as well that Ben was out for the first 4 games, it seemed to make sense to group the information in four 4-game quarters.  I think that it allows us to track show interesting tendencies. 

As you will see, this post is quite long, so this time around I am leaving out the "output statistics" (YPA for runs and YP catch for passes); instead, I will focus exclusively on participation and targeting.

Lastly,  I should probably point out that "OTHERS" in the tables below do not refer to mystery playmakers. Nor does it refer to the number of times the Big Legursky lined up in the backfield as a FB.  Rather, it counts plays in which a QB dropped back to pass but the ball was batted away at the line of scrimmage or we spiked it, therefore making it impossible to identify a "target." 

Participation by Snap

Our first table presents the number of snaps each of our playmakers participated in during each quarter of the season.  The raw data I used for the table comes from the wonderful Offensive Participation charts published on the Steeler Depot web site.  Hat's off to them.

 

  Snaps
PLAY-
MAKER
Games
1 - 4
Games
5-8
Games
9-12
Games
13-16
TOTAL
1-16
BB7 0 232 282 247 761
BL4 0 0 0 18 18
DD10 76 0 0 0 76
CB16 135 0 0 0 135
MM21 38 53 81 62 234
JD27 0 0 0 15 15
IR33 50 48 33 50 181
RM34 144 153 162 122 581
MW17 195 209 270 246 920
ArB81 3 0 3 0 6
ARE82 88 91 70 44 293
HM83 207 221 250 101 779
ANB84 9 0 12 48 69
DJ85 52 42 93 82 269
HW86 166 192 188 215 761
ES88 5 35 189 150 379
MS89 102 98 52 184 436
OTHERS 1 2 3 5 11
SACK ADJ. 9 7 15 12 43
TOTALS 213 232 282 266 993

 And here's the same information, but presented in percentage terms:

  Snaps as % of Plays
PLAY-
MAKER
Games
1 - 4
Games
5-8
Games
9-12
Games
13-16
TOTAL
1-16
BB7 0,0% 100,0% 100,0% 92,9% 76,6%
BL4 0,0% 0,0% 0,0% 6,8% 1,8%
DD10 35,7% 0,0% 0,0% 0,0% 7,7%
CB16 63,4% 0,0% 0,0% 0,0% 13,6%
MM21 17,8% 22,8% 28,7% 23,3% 23,6%
JD27 0,0% 0,0% 0,0% 5,6% 1,5%
IR33 23,5% 20,7% 11,7% 18,8% 18,2%
RM34 67,6% 65,9% 57,4% 45,9% 58,5%
MW17 91,5% 90,1% 95,7% 92,5% 92,6%
ArB81 1,4% 0,0% 1,1% 0,0% 0,6%
ARE82 41,3% 39,2% 24,8% 16,5% 29,5%
HM83 97,2% 95,3% 88,7% 38,0% 78,4%
ANB84 4,2% 0,0% 4,3% 18,0% 6,9%
DJ85 24,4% 18,1% 33,0% 30,8% 27,1%
HW86 77,9% 82,8% 66,7% 80,8% 76,6%
ES88 2,3% 15,1% 67,0% 56,4% 38,2%
MS89 47,9% 42,2% 18,4% 69,2% 43,9%
OTHERS 0,5% 0,9% 1,1% 1,9% 1,1%
SACK ADJ. 4,2% 3,0% 5,3% 4,5% 4,3%
TOTALS          

Snap Analysis:

  • Mike Wallace not only led the term in terms of receptions and explosiveness; he was also the playmaker who spent the most time on the field during the season.
  • Heath Miller probably would have given Wallace a run for his money if it wasn't for the concussion that he suffered in the 2nd Ravens game, which kept him out of most of the last quarter of games.
  • The rise of rookie WR Emmanuel Sanders, and the resulting drop in the snaps that ARE82 got, is noteworthy. During the first four games, ARE was on the field 41% of the time, but by the final four he showed up for less than 17% of our offensive plays. Meanwhile, Sanders went from nearly non-existent to a key cog in the machine.
  • Our other rookie WR, Antonio Brown, he of the incredible 58 yard ball-plastered-to-helmet catch in the divisional playoff round, went from non-existent (his Special Teams play notwithstanding) to relevant during the last four games.

Targeting and the Targeting Analysis

Here's where we get into targeting.  A playmaker is "targeted" when he gets the call on a handoff or has a pass thrown his way.  For our four QBs, "targeting" is limited to when they run, be that voluntarily, when they have had to flee for their very lives, or when they have knelt (which could as running plays in the officials statistics).

  Total Targeted
PLAY-
MAKER
Games
1 - 4
Games
5-8
Games
9-12
Games
13-16
TOTAL
1-16
BB7 0 12 6 16 34
BL4 0 0 0 0 0
DD10 5 0 0 0 5
CB16 7 0 0 0 7
MM21 11 16 23 14 64
JD27 0 0 0 9 9
IR33 18 14 17 13 62
RM34 94 90 101 73 358
MW17 21 21 30 32 104
ArB81 1 0 1 0 2
ARE82 10 15 9 6 40
HM83 15 14 25 13 67
ANB84 1 0 5 13 19
DJ85 1 1 3 1 6
HW86 19 30 18 27 94
ES88 0 5 24 21 50
MS89 0 5 2 11 18
OTHERS 1 2 3 5 11
SACK ADJ. 9 7 15 12 43
TOTALS 213 232 282 266 993
 

Now, as we explored in the first post on the subject, it's one thing to say that a playmaker was targeted "X" number of times. But it's another to ask how often did he get his hands on the ball when he was actually out on the field?  That leads us to what I call the "targeting analysis." 

Let's take the case of BTSC fan favorite Isaac Redman.  We saw in the first table that he played 181 snaps (18% of our of 993 plays) .  We can also see that he was targeted 62 times during the regular season.  That means that he was targeted 34% of his snaps.  Relatively speaking, that's actually one of the better percentages on the team:

  Target as % of Snaps
PLAY-
MAKER
Games
1 - 4
Games
5-8
Games
9-12
Games
13-16
TOTAL
1-16
BB7 0,0% 5,2% 2,1% 6,5% 4,5%
BL4 0,0% 0,0% 0,0% 0,0% 0,0%
DD10 6,6% 0,0% 0,0% 0,0% 6,6%
CB16 5,2% 0,0% 0,0% 0,0% 5,2%
MM21 28,9% 30,2% 28,4% 22,6% 27,4%
JD27 0,0% 0,0% 0,0% 60,0% 60,0%
IR33 36,0% 29,2% 51,5% 26,0% 34,3%
RM34 65,3% 58,8% 62,3% 59,8% 61,6%
MW17 10,8% 10,0% 11,1% 13,0% 11,3%
ArB81 33,3% 0,0% 33,3% 0,0% 33,3%
ARE82 11,4% 16,5% 12,9% 13,6% 13,7%
HM83 7,2% 6,3% 10,0% 12,9% 8,6%
ANB84 11,1% 0,0% 41,7% 27,1% 27,5%
DJ85 1,9% 2,4% 3,2% 1,2% 2,2%
HW86 11,4% 15,6% 9,6% 12,6% 12,4%
ES88 0,0% 14,3% 12,7% 14,0% 13,2%
MS89 0,0% 5,1% 3,8% 6,0% 4,1%
OTHERS N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
SACK ADJ. N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
TOTALS          

Note that since the table is showing the % of a playmaker's snaps on which he was a target, absences from games due to injuries do not skew the results.  Hines Ward missed most of Game 9 against the Patriots when he sustained a concussion.  In the previous "Snaps as % of Plays" chart, Hine's stats went down in the Game 9 - Game 12 block as a result.  But the fact that Hines' "Target as % of Snaps" went down during that stretch is unrelated, since we are only measuring the plays when he was on the field.

I have purposely avoided mentioning Rashard Mendenhall until now.  We saw previously that he was on the field for 59% of our 993 snaps.  That's probably not too surprising; he's our primary back.  But what gets my attention is that when he's on the field, he's our target 62% of the time.  He's usually running with the ball (324 of those 358 targeting opportunities we saw in a previous table), but our QBs did throw it his way on 34 occasions (he caught two-thirds of those by the way), most of the time as the check-down. 

But stop and think about that for a moment.  If you are playing defense against the Steelers (or calling the plays against them) when you see Mendenhall in the backfield you know that 6 out of 10 times he's going to get the ball. 

Other matters of note:

  • It's interesting that while the playing time of Randel El (ARE82) was severely reduced as the season went on, his "attractiveness" as a target remained relatively unchanged. Whether he was in there a lot (Games 1 to 4) or infrequently (Games 13 to 16), he was targeted around 13% of the time.
  • Wallace (11%) looks "relatively" less targeted during the season than both Hines (12%) and Sanders (13%), but that's a result of the large number of plays in which he participated.
  • Speaking of Sanders, Ben seems to have a great deal of confidence in the rookie, considering how frequently he was targeted when he was on the field. Even during the earlier part of the season (Games 5 to 8) Ben went his way 14% of the time when Manny participated in a play. And later on, Manny was a preferred target: In the Jet's game, for example, he had 13 passes thrown his way, making him the target for an impressive 19% of all of our offensive snaps.

"Adjusted Targeting"

Lastly, "Adjusted Targeting" is what I call the analysis when I strip out the sack plays and we measure the "absolute" contribution of each of our playmakers (and I leave in those "Other" plays).  Since we had 993 plays with 43 sacks the analysis considers 950 plays.  So in the table below, if a playmaker scores a 5%, it means that he was the target for 5% of those 950 plays.

Before going on, I made the comment last time that at the end of the day it's more important what a playmaker does when he gets his hands on the ball than how many times he is targeted.  The "raw data" alone does not, of course, do justice to what a player contributes to the success of the team.

Having said that, ladies and gentlemen, drum roll please.  Here, in our last table are your Top 5 Targets for the 2010 - 2011 regular season: Mendenhall, Wallace, Ward, Miller and Moore

  Adjusted Target as % of Plays
PLAY-
MAKER
Games
1 - 4
Games
5-8
Games
9-12
Games
13-16
TOTAL
1-16
BB7 0,0% 5,3% 2,2% 6,3% 3,6%
BL4 0,0% 0,0% 0,0% 0,0% 0,0%
DD10 2,5% 0,0% 0,0% 0,0% 0,5%
CB16 3,4% 0,0% 0,0% 0,0% 0,7%
MM21 5,4% 7,1% 8,6% 5,5% 6,7%
JD27 0,0% 0,0% 0,0% 3,5% 0,9%
IR33 8,8% 6,2% 6,4% 5,1% 6,5%
RM34 46,1% 40,0% 37,8% 28,7% 37,7%
MW17 10,3% 9,3% 11,2% 12,6% 10,9%
ArB81 0,5% 0,0% 0,4% 0,0% 0,2%
ARE82 4,9% 6,7% 3,4% 2,4% 4,2%
HM83 7,4% 6,2% 9,4% 5,1% 7,1%
ANB84 0,5% 0,0% 1,9% 5,1% 2,0%
DJ85 0,5% 0,4% 1,1% 0,4% 0,6%
HW86 9,3% 13,3% 6,7% 10,6% 9,9%
ES88 0,0% 2,2% 9,0% 8,3% 5,3%
MS89 0,0% 2,2% 0,7% 4,3% 1,9%
OTHERS 0,5% 0,9% 1,1% 2,0% 1,2%
SACK ADJ.          
TOTALS 100,0% 100,0% 100,0% 100,0% 100,0%

Let's come back to Rashard.  Far and away he was the single most important "weapon" in the arsenal this year, accounting for nearly 38% of all of our offensive plays. However, what gets my attention is the evolution of his importance during the season.  In Ben's absence, he got the call on a little under half of our offensive plays.  Half!  And yet by the time we reach the last quarter of the season, he was "only" targeted on 29% of the plays.  Now, it is true that he sat out the last 18 plays of Game 16 against the Browns, which depressed his targeting stats somewhat.  But the tendency is still crystal clear: as the season drew on, he was used (relatively) less and less.

In my book, that's actually a good thing: it means that our offense became ever more diversified.  It probably also means that the coaching staff wanted to avoid "the wheels falling off" from overuse.

Of course, in terms of the absolute number of touches, one of previous tables shows that Mendenhall was targeted the most in absolute terms during Games 9 to 12 (101 times), so it can't be said that the guy "disappeared" as the season wore on.  But relatively speaking, he was the direct target of less plays.

Well, I think I should wrap up.  I feel that a lot more can be said about this data, and I'll put up a future post with the output stats included.    After the Super Bowl we'll also look at the playmakers in the context of the post-season. 

But once again I've already gone on for quite some time.  Time to come up for some air.  But if anyone has questions or has "dueling statistics" we can go over more ground in the comments if you'd like.

Over and out.

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