Welcome to Phantastats, the new title for my amateur statistician posts. The basic idea is I take readily available information and obsess over it (because that's what I do anyway) and then post stuff I find interesting. Don't expect new and exciting information, do expect some stats you can throw out in arguments in a bar. Because that is why we watch football in bars.
On with the show!
What kind of impact did Martevis Bryant have last season, we know it was big, but how big?
I'm going to run through some basic stats to try and show just how he impacted the game.
Methodology: I beleve in rate stats, how efficient and effective is your team, how well do you use each play and each possession is more important than counting stats per game. So mostly per play and per drive stats will be used here. The playoff game will not be included, as that complicates my sources of data a lot. Also if I write passes/TDs, that means simply passes divided by TDs, or how many passes per TD thrown. (TDs/passes would be TD percentage, but I like it the other way most of the time)
Disclaimer: not every number lines up, things like plays per game can include FGs, which aren't runs or passes, things like that, I also round things.
1. What didn't change, or at least didn't change much.
Drives per game, and plays per game barely changed. We ran approximately 67 offensive plays a game, and almost exactly 11 drives per game. Even the run/pass balance barely moved. See below
That's pretty big, because so much stayed the same, the difference in results is much more clear. The stability on the line and general health is big as well, not much other than Bryant changed. Swap out J. Brown for M. Bryant and see what changes:
The Passing Game. Numbers in parentheses are where 2014 would have ranked in Ben's career had the whole season played at that rate. One would be the best, eleven would be the worst.
QB rating--93.3 (7)--109.0 (1)
Yards/pass--7.27 (10)--8.63 (3)
Passes/TDs--27.38 (10)--16.21 (2)
Passes/INTs--73 (2)--64.83 (2)
Passes/sacks*--14 (5)--25.44 (1)
*includes sacks as passes, other ones just count plays where a pass was attempted.
Basically Ben was having a bad season everywhere but interceptions, then week 7 onward was at an amazing pace. No surprises there, and Interceptions actually were more frequent once Bryant came on, but not by much. The sacks surprised me, I expected a small drop, but that drop is huge.
Stat-- No Bryant--Bryant
Points/drives--1.67 (23)--2.67 (2)
TD/Drive--.167 (24)--30.6 (2)
Again we see the Steelers pre-Bryant being an inefficient offense, and with Bryant they were just back of Green Bay's pace.
I dug a little farther and looked at targets, to try and get a good idea of what changed in the passing game. Bryant's 4.8 targets a game more than replaced J. Brown's 3.5 a game. Wheaton lost 1.8 targets a game, dropping from the #2 target (6.5 tpg) to #5, (4.7 tpg) with one less target over 10 games than Bryant got.
Stepping up to the #2 spot was LeVeon Bell (5.8-7 tpg), while Heath stayed third with under 6 targets a game. The biggest gain in targets was Antonio Brown who went from 10.2 a game to 12 targets a game.
Makes sense, because Wheaton and Bryant were playing the same position, and Heath was the third receiver for each of them. Brown makes a little less sense, other than Bryant drawing coverage, we will explore that later. Bell makes a lot of sense if the field is being stretched, because Heath and Bell are reliable targets perfectly positioned to attack gaps left when coverage is stretched deep and to the sidelines.
Is that what was happening? Let's find out.
The steelers threw 38 passes deep weeks 1-6, or 6.33 times a game. Weeks 7-16 they threw deep 74 times, or 7.4 times a game. So they threw 2.5 more passes a game with Bryant in the lineup, and one of those added passes was a deep pass. That isn't a big change.
Now let's look at who received those targets.
Antonio Brown was targeted 61 times the first 6 weeks, 19 of those were deep targets. Nearly 1/3 of his targets, and exactly half of the team's deep throws. AB was our deep threat. Second was Markus Wheaton, with 9 deep targets. Non receivers received 4 deep targets.
Weeks 7-16 Antonio Brown was targeted 120 times, 22 of those were deep passes. 18% of his targets were deep passes, and 30% of team deep passes went to AB. Bryant received 48 targets, 23 of them were deep passes. Almost half of his targets were deep, and roughly 30% of the team's deep targets.
Markus Wheaton received right around 1.4 deep targets a game, and 25% of deep passes went to other players no matter what.
The team went from Antonio Brown having to create space for the offense, while leading the team in receiving to having two players that could stretch the field, which freed up Antonio to run a lot of different routes and as we saw before, create space for LeVeon Bell.
A further note, but one I will only briefly cover, is that Bryant's deep targets fell off after the bye week, and AB's stepped back up a bit. Bryant was starting to lose effectiveness by the Nets game, as teams learned how to cover him (mostly bumping him and bracketing him) he dropped from 16 deep targets games 7-11 to 7 games 12-16. AB and non AB, MW or MB targets picked up the slack, with Heath getting 5 deep targets the last 5 games.
The overall offense didn't suffer those last 5, the Jets and Titans games it slowed down, but the off week it seems we adjusted and better used other targets, while Bryant still crushed defenses if they pulled coverage off of him.
The Hope for this season was Bryant's offseason work helping him to defeat the schemes that limited him the last five weeks, giving us a best of both worlds scenario where Bryant opens things up for the rest of the team while still being able to make plays.
By the way, that's why AB is so good, you have to scheme to him, but he still produces. If Bryant can do that too, watch out.
Lastly, the big question:
What do we do minus Bryant?
The good news:
1. Bell was much more important once Bryant made the field. With Bryant being almost entirely a deep threat Bell stepped up to take short routes so the defense had to cover all zones. His loss isn't as big as it was in Baltimore, because we don't need the high-low angle, running will be more important than receiving, and Williams has that.
2. Wheaton is a better receiver than he was last year, and Williams is a good runner. Expect a lot more FB or 2 TE sets weeks 1-4, as the run game will need to help set up the pass. With a legit #2 receiver and a good run game the offense should be better than bottom third of the league.
3. It is only 4 weeks, and Baltimore looks bad right now too. If we go 1-3 and the Ravens go 2-2 that is a win for us. We can go 9-3 with Bryant, because we are going to have the best offense in the league after game 4. Bryant is better, Wheaton is better and can play slot now, meaning our top 5 receivers can actually all play together. With Nelson out in GB the Steelers should be the #1 offense once Bryant returns.
1. Don't look up, the sky is actually falling right now.
2. That sacks stat bothers me, combining Bryant, Bell and Pouncey's impact on protecting Ben is scary when all three are out.