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Robinson: Upon more review, here’s how Steelers’ season went by the numbers


The Todd Haley/Ben Roethlisberger offense ranked higher analytically than it did in the NFL ratings.

The Todd Haley/Ben Roethlisberger offense ranked higher analytically than it did in the NFL ratings.

By Alan Robinson

Let’s roll the video tape again.

Earlier this week, we broke down how Pro Football Focus — a player-performance website subscribed to by multiple NFL teams and player agents — ranked each Steelers player for the 2013 season.

Now, we’re turning to Football Outsiders, which attempts to quantify football performance with analytics similar to those so popular in baseball. For example, one of its primary ranking measures is DYAR. or defense-adjusted value above replacement –a stat similar to WAR (wins above replacement) in baseball.

Just as Pro Football Focus does, Football Outsiders attempts to replace speculation and subjective opinions with non-biased statistical quantification.

Analytics are becoming increasingly popular in the NFL; former Browns coach Rob Chudzinski, it was reported, was fired in part because he didn’t embrace analytical research as enthusiastically as chief executive officer Joe Banner and his staff do.

So let’s see how the Steelers were ranked by Football Outsiders. One statistic to look for — how the Steelers’ schedule ranked:

Analytically, the Steelers don’t rank nearly as high as they do in the NFL’s standard yards-per-game allowed stats. Last year, the Steelers were ranked No. 1 overall in the league stats but only No. 13 by Football Outsiders.

This season, the Steelers are No. 13 in the league stats and No. 20 in the Football Outsiders rankings. They have a 4.0 defense-adjusted value over rating; Seattle is No. 1 at minus-25.8 and Arizona is No. 2 at minus-16.4. (Minus numbers are better defensively.) Buffalo is a surprising No. 4; the Bengals are No. 5, the Ravens are No. 7 and the Browns are No. 24, or much lower than their league-ranking No. 9.

In weighted defense, which adjusts the rankings so that earlier games in the season become less important, the Steelers are No. 20.

The Steelers ranked No. 19 in pass defense, No. 21 in rush defense and No. 32 and last in schedule, which represents the average offensive DVOA of its opponents; the Giants were No. 1 and Redskins No. 2. (The Giants played seven playoff teams: the Eagles (twice), Broncos, Chiefs, Chargers, Panthers, Packers and Seahawks. The Steelers played only three: the Bengals (twice), Patriots and Packers.)

While Dick LeBeau’s defense ranks lower in Football Outsiders’ analytics than it does in the league stats, Todd Haley’s offense ranks higher — No. 12 overall, up from No. 20 in the league rankings.

The Steelers’ DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average) is 15th at 0.9 percent (Seattle leads at 40.1), up from 18th a year ago.

Football Outsiders details how Haley adjusted the offense coming out of the bye week, with the Steelers 0-4 and in danger of seeing their season collapse. With Le’Veon Bell now in the lineup after missing the first three games, the offensive focus shifted from Ben Roethlisberger, operating with limited protection, trying to force the ball downfield to receivers to running the ball more consistently and getting the ball out quickly to wide receivers. The play of both right guard David DeCastro and newly installed left tackle Kelvin Beachum picked up appreciably once the offensive focus shifted.

The quick screens particularly benefitted Jerricho Cotchery, who made 10 TD catches after not having any in 2012. And Roethlisberger got hit much less, which allowed him to extend plays, something he couldn’t do early in the season, when was sacked five times in four different games.

An area of interest since Danny Smith was in his first year on the job as special teams coach, the third in two seasons following Al Everest and Amos Jones.

The Steelers ranked 16th in special teams efficiency, up one spot from last season, when Everest was fired during training camp and replaced by Jones, who left after the season ended to take the same job with the Cardinals. Football Outsiders’ rankings are based on an estimate of how many points, compared to the league average, each team receives from field goals/extra points, kickoffs, kick returns, punts and punt returns.

The Steelers ranked slightly above average in field goals at plus 2.5, compared to New England’s league-leading 11.5 — the Ravens and Justin Tucker were at 11.4 — and Minnesota’s league-low minus-15.4.

Not surprisingly, the Steelers/Suisham were a minus-1.5 in kickoffs (St. Louis was a plus 12.6). They were a plus 1.2 in kickoff returns (Minnesota was a plus 22.6) and a strong plus 11.8 in punt returns, thanks to Pro Bowl returner Antonio Brown (only Kansas City and Baltimore were better). Their worst special teams ranking, not unexpectedly was punting at minus-11.1; only the Redskins (minus-33), Giants, Raiders and Bills were worse.

Ben Roethlisberger ranks 11th in DYAR, or defense-adjusted yards above replacement. DYAR is adjusted for situation and opponent; YAR (yards above replacement) is not, but Roethlisberger also ranks 11th in those numbers. He is 12th in defense-adjusted value over average, which represents how well he performs on a play-by-play basis.

His 54.3 QBR, a metric created by ESPN, is No. 19 (The benched Jake McCown of Chicago is No. 1, with Peyton Manning No. 2 and Philip Rivers No. 3.)

Le’Veon Bell is 28th in DYAR (again, defense-adjusted yards above replacement). His success rate on runs of 47 percent ranked 23rd; that number represents a player’s consistency, measured by successful running plays divided by total running plays. The success rate doesn’t vary greatly; NFL rushing leader LeSean McCoy was at 52 percent. The leader was Danny Woodhead (60 percent) of San Diego; last was Bobby Rainey (31 percent) of Cleveland and Tampa Bay.

Antonio Brown ranked No. 5 in DYAR , just ahead of Detroit’s Calvin Johnson. Demaryius Thomas of Denver was No. 1. Brown led the league in effective yards, which translates DVOA into a yards per attempt figure. His catch rate of 66 percent was the same as Anquan Boldin of San Francisco and just below the 67 percent of Jordy Nelson of Green Bay.

Heath Miller, whose performance was adversely affected much of the season by his recovery from a serious knee injury, ranked 29th in DYAR and 35th in defense-adjusted value over average. DYAR means a tight end with more total value; DVOA means a tight end with more value per play. His catch rate of 74 percent was the league’s third best.

With all of their o-line injuries, the Steelers ranked 22nd overall, 21st in power (the percentage of runs on third or fourth down of 2 yards or fewer), 21st in stuffed yards (the percentage of runs in which a running back is tackled at or behind the line of scrimmage), and 29th in both second level blocking (yards gained between 5-10 yards past the line of scrimmage) and open field yards (yards gained more than 10 yards past the line of scrimmage).

The Steelers were 23rd overall, 16th in power success (stopping runs on third and fourth down of 2 yards or fewer), a very-low 30th in stuffed yards (turning back a running back at or behind the line of scrimmage) but No. 4 in second level yards (gained between 5 and 10 yards past the line of scrimmage).

One number Football Outsiders: How a team is affected by bad officiating calls, not only in its games but its opponents games.



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