FanPost

Lockout Effects Still Lingering for Steelers

Bumped. Lots to chew on here. Good stuff here from kk99.

- Michael B.-

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For every action there is a reaction; nothing in this world happens in a vacuum. It seems that too many butterflies are taking flight in China and somehow that is inuring our O-Line:)  Freakonomics is one of my favorite books because it exposed things like cheating and crime by simply digging deep into the numbers. The author helped expose the Wall Street option backdating scandal and the same statistical analysis recently uncovered massive teacher standardized test cheating in the ATL.  

With enough data you can find patterns in most things and often find "bad behavior" because THE NUMBERS DON'T LIE. Of course you can manipulate the data incorrectly or draw the incorrect conclusions if you stretch too far. There are many random things in life that cannot be predicted nor prepared for, some call it karma others call it luck or maybe even the hand of God. No data analysis can cover something as complicated as an NFL season but there are patterns that appear and sometimes they are proven right while other times it is the "Gambler's Fallacy" at work.  The Gambler's Fallacy is predicting future events that have no relation to past events. Like when you flip a coin there is a 50/50 chance of it coming up heads even if the last 500 times it has landed on heads. 

The Super Bowl curse is part Gambler's Fallacy BUT there are also legitimate reasons that no team has lost the Super Bowl and came back to win the next year since the 1972-73 season. Human nature plays a big part, random events like injuries and there is an element of "luck." These "handicaps" would apply to the previous Super Bowl winner too. I say human nature plays a part because if your team from last year took you to the Super Bowl are you more willing to give them the benefit of the doubt when assessing their skill level? Of course you are, humans will always go with what they know worked in the past all things being equal. BUT other teams are changing shit up based on what you did last year and they can be pretty confident you will not change too much. This may have been a big factor in the Baltimore game. Again, actions and reactions, when we play them at home we will adjust.

Another problem with teams getting to the Super Bowl is that they often have deep veteran teams with "bigger relative" payrolls. This also makes sense because unless you are a one-hit wonder you will have to pay your guys or lose them to free agency. The Salary Cap is definitely handicapping us this year because with the injuries to our O-Line we cannot easily open up the checkbook to bring in veterans like Flozell or Max. Remember last year that Packers had 15 on IR but it was an uncapped year so in many ways they were destined. If any team has 15 on the IR you can pretty much guarantee they won't win the Super Bowl this year because we are pretty much working with a 2009 Salary Cap ($123mm Cap in 2009). 

Hindsight is 20/20 but if Mr. Rooney had the chance I bet he tries to get a higher Salary Cap this year to transition thru 2014. Last year we had the 6th highest payroll but at $128.5mm it was "in-line" because under the old CBA last year's cap would have been at least $130mm and this year's cap would be like $138-$140mm.  Ah, the best laid plans of mice and men often give you a swift kick in the ass. See even Colbert and Khan could not predict that they would be forced to deal with a $120.375mm cap when their projections were based on $138-$140mm. That's just one of many variables currently handicapping teams like the Steelers while helping  perennial skinflints like Tampa Bay. This is a prime example of how the NFL maintains it's parity, Tampa Bay was nowhere near the Salary Cap ($50-$60mm under compared to our $10-15mm over). Not only were we dealing with a much lower cap than projected but also we had to find a way to re-sign Ike, Woodley, Timmons, Polamalu, et.al. 

For every action there are reactions, very few variables are independent. The ship has likely sailed on the Hotel and Starks for many reasons. We don't have the Salary Cap space and Tomlin probably doesn't want to keep going to the well. You can only use veteran talent as a stopgap for so long, eventually you roll snake eyes. Think Favre and the struggles MN now has with McNabb. O-Line is a little different because QB consistency is critical for team stability but the same principles still apply. Hotel helped us get to the Super Bowl last year but could we have gotten there with a younger talent that would now be giving our O-Line a lot more stability? Who knows but it an interesting question.

I see these factors as some of the factors affecting our Super Bowl chances and things we may have to overcome to achieve success:

  • deep veteran team with many "stars" especially on defense
  • team loyalty to proven veterans
  • large number of contract re-negotiations
  • greater injury potential with an "older" team
  • big, durable QB lessens O-Line investment
  • Super Bowl appearance in  the previous year.

All the above are also strengths of our team. For example, Ben is the biggest, toughest QB in the NFL which allows us to "under-invest" in the O-Line and shift dollars to our vaunted defense. Had 2010 been a capped year Steelers may have been Super Bowl Champions, remember Packers had 15 players on IR but zero cap worries. As I write, we are on the other side of that equation, if we get a few more on the IR we will be in Salary Cap hell (we are in purgatory now). Look at the chart below, even if Flozell was willing to play for nothing it is illegal (violation could bring a $500k to $5mm fine from Goodell) under the CBA to pay him less than $910k.  We may need Practice Squad players to step up or step off!  Hey, "The standard is the standard" 

 

                      NFL Minimum Salary for Club's Active/Inactive List

NFL Minimum Salary

 

In football as in life often things often find an equilibrium. For example, had we been facing Peyton Manning Sunday night and played the same game we would have lost by more than a few points. However, had Peyton played last night we probably would  have played much better. Thank God we had a relatively easy schedule or we would likely be 0-3 and already eliminated from the playoffs. And if you don't think we are lucky to get out of Indy with a win consider this: We are the only road team in 48 games this year to win on the road with a -2 turnover margin. It gets better, only 27 times in the last 1,328 games has a road team won with a -2 TO margin. For those doing the math that's a 2.03% winning percentage, sometimes the football gods are with you:)

And I love comments like "cut Scott and bring in Starks" or  "put out an APB on Hotel and Starks!." Yea, if only it were that simple. See Jonathan Scott has 5 accrued seasons so if you cut him now you still have to pay him for the entire year and his entire salary still counts against the cap. Think of it like this, we are playing checkers trying to "outguess" our FO moves but they are in a chess death match against IBM's Deep Blue Computer.  For every action there must be a reaction.

The lockout hasn't just affected the Steelers it also temporarily upset the delicate offense vs. defense equilibrium.Take a look at graph below [click it to increase size] and you clearly see that both offensive points and yards per game have jumped this year. Since 2007 these numbers have clearly been trending up but the jump this year is ridiculous.  While I can't prove it, I suspect that a lot of increase is due to the lockout because the jump is just too steep to be statistically insignificant. Other variables such as helmet-to-helmet and defenseless receiver rules have been phased in over time so that would not account for the dramatic jumps this year.

You have to be careful of small sample sizes, in this case we are only talking about 48 games. And it also appears based on the "eyeball test" that the beginning and end of an NFL regular season have a statistically larger data range variation. This makes absolute sense if you think about it, teams are gelling and feeling each other out for the first few weeks. Then at season's end you have non-playoff teams "sandbagging" or "going through the motions."

 

Image007_medium

 

Human nature is to over-react and to project off recent events. In the first two weeks the total scoring averaged 751 points per week, but the total for week 3 was 655 points. Now that number is just slightly above the 649 point regular season average going back to 2001. With that kind of drop maybe defense will make a stealth comeback this year? Who knows? I will get back to you once I have more digits.

Vegas bookmakers have also had a difficult time because it is harder to handicap games, take a look at the graph below and you see strange divergences. Vegas makes money no matter what but one of their main goals is to remove the home field advantage without "bias." If on average, home teams were covering 60% of their games then it would be super easy to make money. Just bet on the home team and your money will compound about 4% weekly.  I'd definitely go all in on that kinda shit, I'd make it rain BTSC dollars on this bitch!:)  

But alas if it were that easy some alchemist would have turned lead into gold long ago. Sooner rather than later, bookmakers would increase the points given to away teams. As you see below, home teams won 63.8% of 47 games played, if you include Dallas' home win that number is now 64.6%. I believe the lockout has increased the home field advantage, go figure. Why? I suspect it is because teams are still gelling and with a shortened season they are more likely to self destruct on the road. Steelers were a Kerry Collins injury away from going 0-2 on the road so I believe there could be a corellation here too. Again, the sample size is small but if this home winning trend goes into the 5th or 6th week then it will be confirmed.

 

Image001_medium

 

I am not a chicken little type guy, nor am I predicting that the Steelers can't win the Super Bowl. I do believe the makeup of our team, injuries and the reduced Salary Cap have handicapped us more than many other teams. Yea, let's be honest the Cap has been our Achilles from day one of this League Year.  If any more of the O-Line goes on IR that handicap will grow exponentially.

The Cowboy's O-Line is probably worse than ours as they released many veterans to create Cap space. Cowboy's problems are very similar to ours, they spent heavily in the uncapped year (close to $150mm) and they had a lot of highly paid veterans. Their O-Line problem is even worse because, compared to Ben, Romo is a China Doll.  I mean this guy already has broken ribs and a punctured lung, if he lasts the season it will be a major miracle. 

We need to rip a page from the 2010 Packer playbook, the one that shows how to win the SB with 15 on IR. I think it's pretty simple, "no-name" players must step up when called to service.  At the end of the day, we have little choice but to throw in warm bodies and pray hard. If you know of some undiscovered NFL O-Line talent I am sure the FO is all ears.

Yea, we have some real handicaps, BUT f*ck that!  In 2007, the NY Giants won 3 road games with a -2 TO margin; remember this has only happened 27 times in the last 1,328 games. Giants did it 3X in one year! Call it karma, luck, "peaking at the right time", whatever. And like the Giant's stars aligning in 2007, the teams that were in the Super Bowl previously are dealing with multiple handicaps not to mention the targets on their backs. Add in the worst to best College Draft feeding order and you see why their is a Super Bowl curse. BUT for that is the shit that doesn't matter because you have little control over it, team focus must be on finding a way around or over all the crap. Bottom line, Super Bowl winners create their own luck and outplay their handicaps!

Texans and Titans are both good teams and hook or crook we must protect the ball and avoid turnovers.

Go Steelers!

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