Steelers team report: 17-13 win vs. Jags

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Oct 16, 2011

By Zachary Pierpoint
Cold, Hard Football Facts Steelers beat writer
Jacksonville always seems to play Pittsburgh tough, and despite an early 17-0 lead, Sunday was no exception. Roethlisberger hit one pass in the second half, Sepulveda shanked a punt, and Jacksonville did just enough to stick around. Pittsburgh fans were biting nails until the last play of the game, when Gabbert's Hail Mary attempt fell harmlessly to the grass.
Pittsburgh started off strong, seemingly ready to make a strong statement about the state of the team. But after 6 straight quarters of strong play (including last week's demolition of Tennessee), Pittsburgh regressed following a missed Field Goal late in the first half. Jacksonville pushed Pittsburgh to the brink, but Pittsburgh made their 17 points hold up and left with a victory, if not with the same satisfaction as last week.
Pittsburgh gets one more "warm-up" game against Arizona next week before back to back tests in New England and Baltimore. Pittsburgh needs to show more consistency before being considered a threat in those two games, and while 6 strong quarters out of the last 8 is a start, Pittsburgh will be looking for more next week.
Here are 5 other things we learned this week.

1. Pittsburgh can effectively attack through the air in multiple ways.

After utilizing a west coast offense last week, Pittsburgh threw deep early and often against Jacksonville. Last week, Roethlisberger's threw for 10.44 yards per completion, while this week Roethlisberger averaged 16.67 yards per completion. Roethlisberger also missed on 4 or 5 other deep bombs which could have further bolstered that number.
However, as readers of CHFF know, volume numbers (such as total yards) and "success" numbers (such as yards per completion) are less correlated to success than efficiency numbers such as yards per attempt and Real Passing Yards Per Attempt. Last week, due to the dink and dunk play calling, Roethlisberger passed for just 6.71 YPA,, well below his career average of 8.00 YPA. Pittsburgh as a whole managed 7.46 YPA thanks to Sepulveda's fake punt. This week, play calling more in tune with Roethlisberger's career led to a mark of 8.70 YPA.
In RPYPA, however, the other effect of the different play calling becomes evident. Last week Pittsburgh put together 7.14 RPYPA (6.40 RPYPA for Roethlisberger), thanks to a high completion percentage and just one sack. This week, by completing just 52.17% of his passes while taking 3 sacks, Roethlisberger ended up with a 7.12 RPYPA mark. Meaning that from the stand point of efficiency, there was little difference between the two plans of attack.
However, perhaps Pittsburgh should have changed strategies in the second half considering the difference between the two halves of football: 11 of 18 (61.1%), 181 yards, 10.06 YPA, 1 TD, 0 INT, 113.4 passer rating, 0 sacks, 0 yards lost in the first half vs. 1 of 5 (20.0%), 19 yards, 3.80 YPA, 0 TD, 0 INT, 42.9 passer rating, 3 sacks, 15 yards lost in the second half.

2. Pittsburgh's Offensive Hogs continue to be up and down.

The first half showcased some fine play by Pittsburgh's offensive line, building off of last week's good performance. However, Mr. Hyde showed up in the second half as Pittsburgh got dominated by Jacksonville's Defensive Hogs. In the first half, Pittsburgh put together 7.88 RY/A, 0 NPP%, and 62.5 3rd%, with those numbers falling to 3.40 RY/A, 37.5 NPP%, and 28.57 3rd%.
The net result was the third straight week where Pittsburgh saw success running the ball (5.78 RY/A this week, after 6.21 and 5.36 RY/A the last two weeks). Pittsburgh, however, despite very strong first half performances, ended up with NPP% and 3rd% marks very close to their year to date averages: a mediocre 11.54 NPP% and a strong 46.67 3rd%.

3. Pittsburgh's Defensive Hogs continue to show improvement.

For the season, Pittsburgh's defense has surprised many by being porous against the run, allowing 4.61 RY/A entering the game. Holding Jacksonville to 4.43 RY/A is no great feat (Jacksonville entered rushing for 3.97 RY/A), but those 4.43 RY/A still represent the 3rd best outing by Pittsburgh this season. That is certainly more an indictment of how bad Pittsburgh has been against the run this season than praise for a strong game against the run, but nevertheless, Pittsburgh lowered their season RY/A mark for the second straight week.
The above may feel like grasping at straws, and while small improvements are hardly praise worthy, Pittsburgh had a much larger improvement in the other Defensive Hog Index categories. In NPP%, Pittsburgh had its strongest game of the season thanks to a 5 sack performance by the Defensive Hogs. This meant 16.13 NPP%, a strong enough performance to improve Pittsburgh's season mark from 6.18 to 7.66 NPP%, a 19% improvement thanks to one game.
Pittsburgh also put together its second best mark on 3rd down, allowing only 26.67 3rd%, lowering the season mark from 40.85 to 38.37 3rd%.

4. Pittsburgh seems to have two serious and related issues.

Pittsburgh continues to put up very poor Scoreability marks, and a large part of that is tied in to Pittsburgh's inability to force turnovers.
Pittsburgh is the first team since 1940 (and given the shape of the game, likely the first team in NFL history) to force two or fewer turnovers through the first 6 games of the season. Miami could tie that mark this year as they currently have just 2 takeaways as well, but Miami has only played 4 games to date and therefore have 8 quarters to improve upon their total.
Since 1940, Pittsburgh has won only 20 games in which they forced 0 turnovers. Two of those games have come this year (Seattle and Jacksonville). Pittsburgh is only the 19th team since 1950 to win multiple games without a takeaway in the first 6 weeks of the season. Only 4 teams have ever won 4+ games in a single season without forcing a turnover, and so Pittsburgh will need to figure out how to start forcing fumbles or intercepting passes if they want to reliably win games. 
The lack of short fields is definitely contributing to Pittsburgh's other season long issue: Scoreability. Last season, only 4 teams averaged worse than 17.5 YPPS. Pittsburgh, despite being 4-2, has put up a worse Scoreability mark than that in 5 of 6 games this season. Scoreability has been a concern for Pittsburgh all season and continues to be so, despite the victory over Jacksonville.

5. Matchup Scorecard

Blaine Gabbert vs. Pittsburgh's Defense - Pittsburgh
Gabbert did put together a better second half than first half, but the net result was still a lackluster day passing: 12 of 26 (46.2%), 109 yards, 4.19 YPA, 1 TD, 0 INT, 70.83 passer rating, 5 sacks, 33 yards lost. No interceptions meant a reasonable passer rating (although nothing special), but a low completion percentage despite a dink and dunk passing attempt (9.08 yards per completion) made for a low YPA number and a very low RPYPA mark (2.45 RPYPA).
The net result was a win for Pittsburgh along with improvements to Pittsburgh's league leading DRPYPA and to Pittsburgh's top 10 DRQBR and DPR.
Trench Warfare - Pittsburgh
As mentioned above, Pittsburgh improved on their season mark in 4 of the 6 categories used to form the two Hog Indicies. Additionally, very strong play from Pittsburgh's Offensive Hogs in the first half had a large part in Pittsburgh's early lead. Poor play from the Offensive Hogs led to only 1 of the 3 categories showing an improved mark, but the lead held and Pittsburgh's Hogs get the win.
Pittsburgh's Scoreability vs. Jacksonville's Scoreability - Jacksonville
Jacksonville finished the game with 16.08 YPPS, better than the 21.76 YPPS put together by Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh won a close game despite a significant advantage in yardage. Jacksonville had only 5 drives go for more than 10 yards, but 3 of them ended in points with a 4th ending with the end of the game. Pittsburgh, on the other hand, had 5 drives of more than 10 yards that did not produce points. Given the lack of big special teams plays or turnovers, Pittsburgh's numbers are more in line with what would be expected, but Jacksonville won the Scoreability battle by rarely moving the ball at all, but putting up points nearly every time the offense gained any traction.

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