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Checking the Numbers Preview: Chargers-Steelers Week 4 Game

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Many thanks to WolfpackSteelersFan for sharing his content from over at Checking The Numbers. Be sure to check out his growing site for regular and diverse NFL content. - Blitz - (Michael B.)


This weekend, on Sunday Night Football, we will see what looked like one of the top matchups of the year prior to this season. In another matchup of top quarterbacks, the San Diego Chargers will travel to Pittsburgh to play the Steelers. I'm sure there will be some discussion about Ben Roethlisberger and Philip Rivers being in the same draft class, and many previews will talk about how this is the third meeting in less than a year between these teams.  But, to me, the main story is that both teams have struggled early in the season, with the Chargers winning a very close game in Oakland in week 1 and losing to the Ravens in week 2, and the Steelers twice losing second half leads in the last two weeks. While it has become expected almost for San Diego to struggle early in the year under Norv Turner, Pittsburgh has generally started strong since Mike Tomlin has taken over. So, will we see the Steelers get back to their winning ways this weekend, or will they find another way to lose? Or, will the Chargers just play outstanding football and overpower the ailing champs?Who knows? We'll find that out soon enough.  But, perhaps by reviewing the statistics for each team (from up to this point in the season, we may get a better idea of who we will win this game.

For this preview, I have pulled the per game numbers for each team so that we can do a head to head comparison of their respective offensive and defensive numbers so far this year. I also have each team's offensive and defensive ranks in both points and yards after the first 3 weeks. Then, to help give context these numbers, I have the average offensive and defensive rankings of both teams' opponents, again for both yards and points.

First, the head to head comparisons: 

  San Diego Chargers Pittsburgh Steelers SD - Pit
Points 24.33 15.67 8.67
Yards 382 346 36
Passing Yds 315.67 265 50.67
Passing TD 1 1 0
INTs 1 1.33 -0.33
Rushing Yds 66.33 81 -14.67
Rushing TD 1 0.67 0.33
Rush Y/A 2.8 3.3 -0.5
Fmb Lost 0.67 0.67 0
Turnovers 1.67 2 -0.33
Points 21.33 16.67 4.67
Yards 322 289.33 32.67
Passing Yds 179.67 212.67 -33
Passing TD 1 1.33 -0.33
INTs 1.33 0.33 1
Rushing Yds 142.33 76.67 65.67
Rushing TD 1.33 0.33 1
Rush Y/A 4.5 3.8 0.7
Fmb Rec 0.67 0.33 0.33
Turnovers 2 0.67 1.33

Per Game Averages So Far This Season

The table above shows the offensive and defensive per game averages for both teams this season. Then, the third column contains the differences between those averages, found by subtracting the Steelers' number from the Chargers' number. San Diego has the edge in most offensive statistics. They have passed for about 50 yards more a game and gained 36 more per game overall. The Steelers have rushed more effectively (surprising to Steelers fans, I'm sure), averaging about 15 yards more per game. But, in the stat that counts, the Chargers are scoring nearly 9 more points per game than Pittsburgh.

Defensively, somewhat to be expected, Pittsburgh has the edge. They have averaged allowing about 33 fewer total yards and 66 fewer rushing yards per game. San Diego has allowed an average of 33 fewer passing yards per game, though. The Chargers' main advantage in this category is in turnovers, where they have forced almost 4 times as many as the Steelers. But, in the category that counts, points, Pittburgh is averaging about 5 points less allowed per game.

Having looked at raw stats, here are team rankings in terms of offense and defense for both points and yards.

  San Diego Chargers Pittsburgh Steelers
Offense Pts Rk 8 25
Offense Yds Rk 8 12
Defense Pts RK 19 7
Defense Yds Rk 14 8


Based just on these rankings, the Chargers are doing a much better job of finishing drives. Only 4 spots separate them in offensive yards rankings, Chargers 8 and Steelers 12. But, the Steelers are ranked 25th in points scored. Both teams' defensive rankings are more consistent. If the Chargers win, it seems likely that part of the reason will be that the Steelers' offense ws settling for field goals instead of scoring touchdowns.

Finally, let's look at their opponents' average rankings to this point in the season.

2009 Opponents' Average Ranks
  San Diego Chargers Pittsburgh Steelers
Offense Pts 19.33 18.67
Offense Yds 17.33 18.33
Defense Pts 15.33 16
Defense Yds 15.67 14.33


These numbers are pretty close, showing that the teams' opponents so far this year are not drastically different. That would suggest that we can trust the raw stats comparison and rankings comparison more directly without making allowance for differences in opponent strength. One thing that does strike me, though, is that with virtually identical average opponents' offensive rankings, the Chargers' defense is ranked significantly lower than the Steelers'. This may suggest that San Diego's defense is more susceptible than we first think. However, on the other hand, the Steelers' opponents have an overall lower average ranking in defensive points allowed than defensive yards. Yet, the Steelers offense is ranked drastically lower in points scored than yards gained. This suggests that the Steelers' offense is going to continue to really struggle to score points, even if they move the ball effectively.

This data does not really give a clear favorite in this game. Both teams are averaging within about 3 points when looking at their own points scored and points allowed. I would expect that playing at home will be an advantage for Pittsburgh, particularly since it is such a long trip for San Diego. And, being a night game, it will be colder than it would if the game were at 1pm or 4 pm. I guess I would lean toward the Steelers winning based on home field, if nothing else.