Comparing the 2008 and 2011 Steelers

As we move farther into the second half of our season, I thought you might enjoy a comparison between this year's version of the Steelers and the 2008 Super Bowl Champion team. The reason I choose that team is that as I was gathering data for a post on interception rates (soon coming to a theatre near you) I noticed some parallels between the two teams that I thought were interesting, and hopefully you will too. Don't let the word "data" fool you into thinking that this is an exhaustive analysis, though—it's just a collection of things that caught my interest.

And before I continue I will freely admit that history means little in this situation, if you're trying to use it in a predictive fashion. But it does have a certain interest, and will perhaps even help get a few people through their out-on-a-ledge-after-a-Ravens-loss moments this week. So let's take a stroll down memory lane.

At this point in the season, the 2008 Steelers had won 6 games and lost 3.

The first loss was to a not-particularly impressive Eagles team in Philadelphia during Week 3. The Eagles had finished 2007 at 8-8 and were 1-1 on Week 3. (They finished the season 9-6-1.) The loss was hardly a blowout (6-15) but I'm willing to bet it disquieted some of the Steeler Nation faithful.

The second loss, in Week 8, came to the defending Super Bowl champions, the New York Giants. The game was played at Heinz Field, and once again it wasn't a blowout. (21-14) The Giants were looking pretty impressive at 5-1 coming into the game, and would finish the season 12-4.

The Giants then lost at home the following week, in decisive fashion, to the above-mentioned Eagles.

The third loss was, I would assume, somewhat more worrisome. It was a 24-20 loss to the fairly unimpressive-looking Colts, at Heinz Field.

The Colts had a 13-3 record the previous season, but lost their first playoff game to the Chargers. In 2008 the Colts were a big disappointment at this point in the season—they were only 4-4 at the time of the Week 10 game. Only one of those losses was by less than 10 points. The Colts, however, rallied from this loss and didn't lose another game until they reached the playoffs, only to be knocked out again by the Chargers.

The 2011 version of the Steelers also has six wins and three losses.  Let's look again at this season's losses and see what we can take from them.

Naturally, I'm going to gloss over the Week 1 loss to the Ravens as much as possible. The only loss in 2008 that is even comparable was the 31-14 loss at a very good Titans club. Here's my thoughtages, which I expect that you all will shoot down in fine fashion as soon as I articulate them. But that's why this place is fun.

If the 2008 Steelers weren't ready for the Titans, then they just weren't paying attention. The game was in Week 16 and the Titans were 12-2. The Steelers had no reason to believe that the game would be a cakewalk. Furthermore, a win would have given them the top seed in the AFC. On the other hand, it wasn't a critical game by any means, as the Ravens, the strongest of the division rivals at that point, were only 8-5. The Steelers were already guaranteed a bye week in the playoffs. Nonetheless, the Steelers played to win—they didn't rest starters and so on.

By contrast, the 2011 Steelers seemed to have a massive sense of entitlement going into M & T Bank Stadium for Game 1. Almost everyone was saying they were the team best positioned to repeat their Super Bowl appearance, because of the vast disadvantage the lockout imposed on teams without the continuity of leadership and large number of returning veterans the Steelers had. That makes perfect sense, but as we've all seen by now it hasn't worked out that way. As a result, several teams that were supposed to just lie down and lose this season have shown surprising signs of life, and a schedule that looked pretty easy for the Steelers is suddenly much more challenging.

Not that anyone thought that the Ravens were going to lie down and lose. But they had a number of new players, etc. etc., and the conventional wisdom said that this was going to be a pretty easy game for the Steelers. So it is hardly surprising that the actual result of the game made it seem a great deal more important than a single early-season loss would otherwise be.

The Steelers, however, regrouped and started winning. They didn't win decisively enough, for the most part, or over good enough teams to satisfy the worriers, but they won. Until Week 4, when the Texans beat them, in a game that wasn't as close as the score. Or so we all say, because of the massive number of penalties called against the Texans. But let's take a little detour.

I did a thought experiment today about Sunday's loss to the Ravens, wondering whether the game might have ended otherwise than it did if the penalties (on both sides) had been taken out of the equation. The first play in that case would have resulted in a TD for Ray Rice. But on the other hand the defense would not have been on the field for the ensuing 6:13, while the Ravens drove downfield for an eventual FG.

So which is worse—4 points on the scoreboard or 6+ minutes on the defense? And in that case you also get to remove the PI calls and the PF penalty that extended Ravens drives and put more miles on the defense. On the other hand, you might have deflated the crowd with the initial TD, and that might have given the Ravens renewed confidence. (They didn't seem to lack confidence in the first place, however.) There is, of course, no way to know. That's why it is so intriguing. Everything you change opens up an huge number of possible different outcomes. That's one reason why I gave up on the idea before I got to the end of the 1st quarter. The other reason was that with no penalties it would have been even more of a bloodbath than it already was, and I don't suppose either team would be capable of fielding any of their starters this week. So much for that idea...

But to return to the Texans game, it's easy to say that the Steelers would have lost by even more if the TDs on the Roethlisberger picks had been allowed to stand. And from the way the Steelers were playing that night, that's a reasonable conclusion to reach.

But there is also the possibility that the Steelers' offense would have rallied, or Ben would have been more careful, if it didn't seem like the refs were going to give him a mulligan every time he threw a pick. That is perhaps less likely, but there is great power in how we perceive a situation, even if that perception is somewhat below the level of our conscious thinking.

And then we have Sunday's loss. Although the Ravens have been inconsistent this season, they are clearly a force to be reckoned with, and I don't believe there is any shame in Sunday's loss. I think it is instead an opportunity to learn a few things that will serve the team well for the remainder of the season. At least if the Steelers have enough bodies to field a team at all over the next few weeks. In that sense the 2011 Steelers seem a lot like the 2010 Packers. Hopefully, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger.

One unfortunate difference this season is the fact that two of the losses are to the same division rival. That makes life more difficult, and makes it extremely unlikely that the Steelers will get a bye week, assuming they make it to the playoffs.

On the other hand, having a bye week last year didn't seem to be a recipe for instant success, as the 2010 Steelers only seemed capable of playing half of a good game during the subsequent playoffs. Fortunately half a good game was just good enough, up until we met the Packers.

But to return to my regularly scheduled post, another thing that caught my attention when looking at the 2008 Steelers was the Turnover/Takeaway ratio. Although the 2008 Steelers began the season well, they turned the ball over six times to the Giants, and for the next four weeks they had a negative TO/TA ratio that actually increased to -4 at one point. They ended the regular season with a +3 ratio. That is of course a much happier situation than the 2011 Steelers find themselves in, but it still nothing like the amazing +17 with which the 2010 Steelers ended the season. The upcoming post will address this in a great deal more depth.

Comparing the remainder of their schedules is interesting. Here is the information on the remainder of the games for the 2008 Steelers:

Opponent

Record to That Point

Final Season Record

Playoffs:

Wildcard

Playoffs:

Divisional

Playoffs: Conference

Chargers

 

4-5

8-8

W

L

 

Bengals

1-8-1

4-11-1

 

 

 

Patriots

7-4

11-5*

 

 

 

Cowboys

8-4

8-8

 

 

 

Ravens

8-4

11-5

W

W

L

Titans

12-2

13-3

W

L

 

Browns

4-11

4-12

 

 

 

*First 11-win team since 1990 not to make the playoffs.)

All of those games were wins except the Titans game.  That was three games to teams that appeared to have imploded (Chargers, Bengals, Browns,) a game to a team that looked good but didn't win another game that season (Cowboys,) two games to teams that finished strong (Patriots and Ravens,) and one game against quite a strong opponent (the Titans.)

 

Let's look at the remainder of the Steelers' 2011 schedule according to how the teams are doing at the moment and how they are trending.

Opponent

Most Recent Win Streak Most Recent Loss

Total Losses

Largest Margin of Loss

Total

Wins

Largest Margin of Win Smallest Margin of Win Pts/Game Avg Win Margin

Bengals: 6-2   Wks 10, 13

5

Wk 3

2

5

6

22

3

24.4

10.3

Chiefs: 4-4

4

Wk 8

4

45

4

28

3

16.4

10

Browns: 3-5 Wks 14, 17

1

Wk 8

5

18

3

8

1

14.9

4

49ers: 7-1

6

Wk 2

1

3

7

45

1

25.75

14.5

Rams: 1-7

1

Wk 9

7

18

1

10

10

12.5

10

 

From this it looks as if the strongest team the Steelers play from here on out is the 49ers. The latter is particularly interesting as most people were putting that game in the automatic win column before the season began. Given that the Steelers have to travel there, it looks like it makes more sense to put it in the probable loss column. So this game seems pretty equivalent to the Titans game in 2008—the Steelers have to go on the road to play a strong team, and unless a lot changes between now and then, it will be surprising if the 49ers aren't favored by quite a bit to win that game.

The weakest team the Steelers play appears to be the Rams. They are fairly equivalent to where the 2008 Bengals were at that point in the season.

I'm guessing that most people put the Rams game down as a winnable game but not a gimme when the schedules came out. On the other hand, is there such a thing as a gimme in the NFL? Ask the Saints about that sometime.

The Browns and Chiefs appear to be manageable opponents at this point, and this represents three games. Their records are similar at this point to the 2008 Browns and Chargers.

The Bengals, the opponent in the final two games of the remaining seven, present a surprisingly strong front at this point. They represent a challenge similar to the 2008 Patriots, Ravens, and Cowboys.

From this it seems as if the 2008 Steelers had a slightly harder schedule in their last seven games. But of course only time will tell how it actually turns out. The question is whether this is a stronger or weaker team than the 2008 version. I expect that most people would say it was weaker. But did 2008 fans consider it a really strong team at this point, with 3 losses, including to the 4-4 Colts?

At this point I would say that the 2011 Steelers are slightly weaker defensively and slightly stronger offensively than their 2008 counterpart, but that can change at any moment. It may already have, now that we have suddenly started running out of receivers. But only time will tell.

That's it for now, except to say Go Steelers : )

X
Log In Sign Up

forgot?
Log In Sign Up

Forgot password?

We'll email you a reset link.

If you signed up using a 3rd party account like Facebook or Twitter, please login with it instead.

Forgot password?

Try another email?

Almost done,

Join Behind the Steel Curtain

You must be a member of Behind the Steel Curtain to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at Behind the Steel Curtain. You should read them.

Join Behind the Steel Curtain

You must be a member of Behind the Steel Curtain to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at Behind the Steel Curtain. You should read them.

Spinner

Authenticating

Great!

Choose an available username to complete sign up.

In order to provide our users with a better overall experience, we ask for more information from Facebook when using it to login so that we can learn more about our audience and provide you with the best possible experience. We do not store specific user data and the sharing of it is not required to login with Facebook.

tracking_pixel_9341_tracker