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Old 10-31-2011, 08:59 PM   #1
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Default Steelers team report: RPYPA was the difference

Steelers team report: RPYPA was the difference
Cold, Hard Football Facts for October 31, 2011

By Zachary Pierpoint
Cold, Hard Football Facts Steelers Beat Writer

Real Passing Yards per Attempt: It matters.

We said on Friday that this game would be won or lost based on Pittsburgh's ability to limit Tom Brady's RPYPA. Tom Brady threw for just 4.47 RPYPA. Pittsburgh won. Easy as that.

The 4.47 RPYPA was the second lowest mark Brady has posted since the start of 2007, and well below the 8.14 and 8.67 he had managed in his last two meetings with Pittsburgh. In fact, Pittsburgh had never before held Brady below 5.00 RPYPA and had only once held him below 6.00 RPYPA. Pittsburgh finally figures out how to win the RPYPA battle, and Pittsburgh finally wins.

Pittsburgh limited Brady by playing press coverage on his receivers all day, daring him to throw deep while covering the short stuff. This was a departure from Dick Lebeau's preferred defensive tactics, but with Brady's past successes against Lebeau, a change was in order. Lebeau adapted well, finally truly getting the better of Brady and Belichick. Brady's low volume numbers (just 198 yards passing) are due in large part to Pittsburgh's offense controlling the ball, and many other sportswriters will be quick to laud Pittsburgh's offense (deservedly so). But Pittsburgh's defense was dominant in its own right, limiting Brady's efficiency significantly, a fact which should not be overlooked.

After the Houston game, in this space we remarked:

"It is time for a change of expectations in Pittsburgh. The team may be able to turn this season around at some point, so hope is still in order. But this team can no longer be expected to be a true Super Bowl contender. The offense is inefficient, though frequently exciting. The defense lacks two of its normal traits: ability to force turnovers and ability to stop the run."

It is once again time for a change of expectations in Pittsburgh. After dominating New England, Baltimore looking decidedly mediocre the last two weeks, and Buffalo and Houston providing the next best teams in the AFC, Pittsburgh is very much a contender again. Four game winning streaks in which the team puts together consistently good play go a long way in bringing back Super Bowl aspirations.

The concerns remain as Pittsburgh continues to field an inefficient offense thanks in part to its inability to force turnovers, but Pittsburgh is consistently making up for its weaknesses with an explosive passing game and a dynastic secondary. Pittsburgh made a strong statement this weekend about where they stand in the AFC playoff race.

Let's look at what else we learned in Pittsburgh's 25-17 victory over New England.

1. Pittsburgh finally found an offensive gameplan for beating New England.
Ben Roethlisberger decided to be Tom Brady for Halloween this weekend, and Pittsburgh did its best New England impression. Roethlisberger threw early and often, using high percentage passes as a method of ball control. In the past, Pittsburgh has attempted to use the ground game to keep the ball out of Brady's hands, but a very beatable offensive line has prevented this strategy form being particularly effective.

Instead, Roethlisberger did to New England what Tom Brady did so effectively to Pittsburgh last season: completed 70% of his passes, with 22% of his completions going to tight ends. The West Coast offense was alive and well on the Heinz Field grass, as Roethlisberger's long pass of the evening went for 26 yards (this after completing at least one pass of 40 yards in each of the last 6 games... and that's just to Mike Wallace).

For the second time this season and only the fourth time in his career, Roethlisberger completed at least 70% of his passes while tossing fewer than 7.50 YPA.

The strategy worked as Pittsburgh held the ball for 39:22 and didn't punt until there were 28 seconds left in the game.

2. The second most important stat of the afternoon: 62.5%, Pittsburgh's 3rd Down Completion Percentage.

For the afternoon, Pittsburgh converted on 10 of 16 3rd down opportunities including 9 of the first 12. New England's inability to get off the field on 3rd down was instrumental in Pittsburgh's ball control strategy. In fact, thanks to 3rd down conversions, Pittsburgh gained at least 40 yards on 7 of their first 8 possessions. They weren't all easy either, as Pittsburgh three times converted on 3rd and Double Digits.

Pittsburgh is becoming a veritable 3rd down juggernaut, having completed 50% of their third downs 5 times in 8 games, and at least 45% in each of their 6 wins.

3. Injuries are not slowing down Pittsburgh's defense.
The secondary has been quite healthy, but the opening day front 7 have a combined 14 missed starts thus far. However, Lawrence Timmons has started out of position 4 times due to Jason Worilds's injury. Between Worilds and Chris Hoke, Pittsburgh has had another 5 missed starts.

In the game Sunday, Lamarr Woodley went down with a hamstring injury, making Timmons the only day starting linebacker still on the field, and he was out of position to boot. Given the strength of play of the defense despite the missing starters, it is clear that Pittsburgh's old defense was a choice and not a necessity. Pittsburgh has youth in the wings ready to play at a high level. Stephenson Sylvester, Chris Carter, and Cameron Heyward have all played at a high level in limited playing time, and Ziggy Hood has solidified himself as a starter now that Aaron Smith is on IR.

4. Pittsburgh still has not resolved its biggest issues.

As highlighted after the Houston game, Pittsburgh had three major issues early in the season: a porous run defense, an inefficient offense, and a lack of takeaways.

The holes in the run defense have started to fill in as four of Pittsburgh's five best DRYA games have come in the last four weeks. Pittsburgh has lowered their DRYA for the season from 4.78 after week 4 to 4.43, thanks to a 3.99 mark over the last four games. Pittsburgh is still on pace to be historically bad from a Pittsburgh standpoint (3rd worst run defense in Pittsburgh since 1940) but is no longer on pace to be historically bad from an NFL standpoint. Additionally, the 3.99 mark of late would be good enough to be considered merely mediocre.

The offense has also shown some improvement. Over the first 4 games, Pittsburgh posted a truly horrible 22.45 Scoreability mark (which would have been good for No. 31 in the league entering this weekend). Since the Houston game, Pittsburgh has shown marked improvement posting a 14.94 Scoreability (which would have been good for No. 13 entering this weekend). The combined result is a 17.67 Scoreability (good for No. 25). An additional concern, 2 of the last 4 games have been quite inefficient: a 21.76 outing against Jacksonville and a 17.08 outing this weekend against New England. In fact, Pittsburgh's offensive inefficiency nearly caught up with them. Despite a 2 to 1 advantage in yards, 4 field goal attempts (1 miss) and a Roethlisberger interception kept Pittsburgh from building a large lead, giving Brady the ball at the end of the game down by one score. Admittedly, he had only 20 seconds to work with and didn't come close to putting together any heroics, but a more efficient offense would have led to a blowout.

The biggest concern for Pittsburgh continues to be takeaways. Pittsburgh became just the seventh team since 1940 to force 2 or fewer takeaways through the first four games of a season. By focing only 1 turnover in the four games since, Pittsburgh is truly in rarified air. No other team has ever forced as few as 3 turnovers through the first 8 games. In fact, no other team has ever failed to produce at least 4 turnovers in any 8 game stretch of a single regular season. Luckily for Pittsburgh, they are winning games despite the lack of turnover, which is no mean feat. Pittsburgh is only the 30th team to win 3 games in a single season without forcing a turnover and just the 43rd team to win 6 games in a season while forcing one or fewer turnovers.

5. Matchup Scorecard

Tom Brady vs. Pittsburgh's Secondary - Pittsburgh
As mentioned, Brady was well contained by Pittsburgh's secondary, throwing for an uncharacteristically low 4.47 RPYPA. Brady did toss two touchdown passes and no interceptions, leading to solid Real Quarterback Rating and Passer Rating marks, but this game was always going to be about Real Passing Yards Per Attempt and success elsewhere does not erase Brady's failure in that stat.

Ben Roethlisberger vs. New England's Secondary - Roethlisberger
Roethlisberger did not put up incredible numbers, the low YPA were already touched on, as was the interception, but Roethlisberger moved the ball efficiently, leading Pittsburgh on 7 drives of at least 40 yards, 6 drives of at least 50 yards, and 5 drives of at least 60 yards. Ben put up great volume numbers, but Brady won the battle in most of the efficiency stats. Roethlisberger had the lower RQBR and the lower passer rating, but Roethlisberger easily won the RPYPA battle. Roethlisberger's 5.98 RPYPA would have been even better if it were not for two, smart, late sacks. Roethlisberger took back to back sacks after the two minute warning. In that situation, however, the sacks were the smart play as an incomplete pass would have given Brady more time to try for a final drive.

Lamarr Woodley vs. Nate Solder/Sebastian Vollmer - Woodley
Woodley was a force off the edge, unable to be contained by whichever lineman he faced. Two sacks and strong pressure on multiple other plays, Woodley single handedly created a pass rush for Pittsburgh. After Woodley's hamstring injury, Pittsburgh's pass rush saw a significant reduction in its effectiveness. Chris Carter played well off the bench, but the lack of Woodley was obvious.

RPYPA Battle - Pittsburgh
Harped on again and again already, but one more time: Pittsburgh held Brady to 4.47 RPYPA while Roethlisberger threw for a respectable 5.98 RPYPA.

Scoring Efficiency Battle - New England
Also already touched upon, New England was the much more efficient team. Aided by a very short field after Roethlisberger's interception, New England scored a point for every 12.53 yards gained, a very efficient mark. Pittsburgh, on the other hand, scored only 25 points despite the 7 40+ yard drives. New England kept it close by winning the efficiency battle; Pittsburgh won by dominating the volume battle. In essence, Pittsburgh won the hard way.

Last edited by mesaSteeler; 10-31-2011 at 09:26 PM.
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Old 10-31-2011, 10:19 PM   #2
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Default Re: Steelers team report: RPYPA was the difference

2 of those 3 issues I think we will resolve.. our front 7 imo is going to step up against the run and fource turnovers. As for the inefficient offense, we have to work on getting the ball into the end zone not field goals thats what concerns me the most ,as we have had problems with that in the past.
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