Football Outsiders released their team DVOA rankings yesterday and as expected your Pittsburgh Steelers are about where you would expect. The offense and defense are more than solid and the special teams are bottom of the barrel. There is a detailed explanation of how these numbers/rankings are derived after the jump.
*Remember when looking at these that 0 is considered league average*
Offense: 6th (12.6%)
Pass Offense: 7th (28.6%)
Run Offense: 11 (-0.3%)
Defense: 2nd (-23.8%)
Pass Defense: 4th (20.0%)
Rush Defense: 2nd (29.4%)
Special Teams: 16th (-3.6%)
Weighted ST: 27th (-4.2%) - this stats values recent games heavier than games earlier in the season
**The special teams rank is actually helped out by ranking first the league in FG/XP. They rank 31st in kickoffs (based on net yardage), slightly below average in punts (also based on net average), slightly above average on kickoff returns and dead last in punt returns (both based solely on return yardage).
Overall Odds of Making the Playoffs: 97.8%
Wild Card: 2.8%
Offense: 21st (-4.8%)
Passing: 17th (1.3%)
Rushing: 21st (-12.0%)
Defense: 32nd (26.9%)
Passing: 32nd (41.9%)
Rushing: 31st (15.5%)
Special Teams: 6th (6.2%) - 2nd in KO returns
Player rankings haven't been updated yet but last week they were posted on Thursday, so hopefully tomorrow we'll get some individual rankings.
More explanation of these rankings after the jump.
Okay now for some time spent trying to make sense of these numbers, if you went to the FO website you'll see I left out a ton of their data and instead just focused on DVOA rankings. I did that because it is the most complete ranking that they have and because it was the easiest to understand/explain. DVOA defined is "Defense-adjusted Value Over Average," meaning they `break down every single play in the NFL season to see how much success offensive players achieved in each specific situation compared to league average in that situation and the rating is adjusted for the strength of the opponent.'
They further clarify by explaining that they don't watch every single play but rather break down the play by play of each game. This of course has its flaws but nearly every stat computation will and I'll explain more about this later. FO has a formula that they've developed to determine a successful play from an unsuccessful play. Here is part of that formula: a first down play is successful if it gains 45% of the yards needed, a second down play is successful is expected to gain 60% of the yards needed, and a third or fourth down play is expected to convert to a first down. In theory this formula makes sense by saying that three yards isn't always equal (ie gaining 3 yards on 3rd and 2 is more valuable than 3 yards on 3rd and 6). Extra points are awarded for plays over 10 yards, 20 yards and 40 yards as well as extra points (20% more) for red zone yards and bonuses for touchdowns. As expected the opposite of those expectations gives you ratings for defense. They also include variables such as down and distance, field location, time remaining in a game, and current scoring lead or deficit.
Ok with that being said here are the flaws I see with the ratings. Breaking down a play by play doesn't allow the person doing the calculation to consider the formations of the offense or defense. This is important considering it is harder to pick up 6 yards on a 2nd and 10; if the defense has 9 guys in the box (think the Denver game). It also doesn't consider missed tackles which could help a players ranking and potentially hurt a defensive and/or offensive line ranking. Think back to the Baltimore game when Ben broke out of the Trevor Price sack and threw a touchdown, the offensive line (by play by play standards) got a `successful play grade' on that play even though they didn't deserve one. The same idea can be translated into a back breaking a tackle in the backfield. There are tons of scenarios like these that influence these rankings such as dropped passes (hurts the QB ranking but not the WR) and passes tipped at the line of scrimmage. Another flaw to consider is the subjective idea of a successful vs. unsuccessful play. Is a draw play on a third and 20 that gains 10 yards and gets a team into field goal range really a unsuccessful play?
Even with the flaws though, you have to remember that the flaws exist for every player and every team and the rankings are adjusted based on the strength of the opposing offense or defense (meaning gaining yards on the ground is expected to be more difficult against #1 ranked BAL than #32 ranked OAK). Hopefully this explanation clears up some of the clouds around these complex numbers. If anyone is interested check out the Football Outsiders website because they have a much more detailed explanation that I'm sure would clear up any questions as long as you can make it through the ten pages or so.