22 Jul 2010
Mark Kaboly of the McKeesport Daily News has an interesting story on the Steelers' running game up that reader DrObviousso pointed us to.
The piece begins by quoting Bruce Arians in noting that the problem with the Steelers' offense isn't that they don't run the ball frequently enough, but that they weren't running the ball effectively when they needed to. It isn't exactly a refutation of run-to-win, but it's better than the alternative.
"When they needed to", unsurprisingly, is in short-yardage situations. There, Kaboly quotes statistics that say that the Steelers were 25th in the league in short-yardage situations, converting only 60 percent of the time. However, our "Power" statistic notes that the Steelers on 72 percent of power runs, which was fifth-best in the NFL a year ago. What gives?
Well, the way the two statistics are put together, for one. Kaboly defines short-yardage to be "third down and three yards or less", which seems to be a very strange way to define such a statistic. Third-and-3 isn't exactly a short distance to go, and Kaboly notes that the Steelers didn't run the ball once in that situation all year. NFL teams ran a pass play nearly 81 percent of the time on third-and-3 last year, so it's strange to include that distance in the analysis.
So on third down with two yards or fewer to go last year, the Steelers converted 15 of their 25 carries for first downs, which yields that 60 percent figure. Kaboly's short-yardage figure doesn't include other obvious short-yardage situations, though, that our figures do. And there, the Steelers aren't so bad.
On fourth down with two yards to go or less, the Steelers ran the ball seven times, with all seven chances coming from a yard out. They converted six of them. If you include these fourth down plays for all teams, the Steelers improve their short-yardage conversion rate from 25th in the league to 12th.
Now, throw in those other situations we consider to be short-yardage plays -- when the Steelers are running from two yards out of the opponent's end zone or less on first and second down. The Steelers had six such carries in 2009; they scored on every one of them. After we include carries in this situation for every NFL team, the Steelers have a conversion rate of just under 72 percent (28-of-39). That's fifth-best in the NFL.
In short? Any assertion that the Steelers were poor in short-yardage last year involves some serious statistical gerrymandering.
17 comments, Last at 25 Jul 2010, 5:56pm by Hurt Bones
Possibly the closest Super Bowl matchup in history also poses the question: how much does it mean when certain aspects of an NFL team improve dramatically in the second half of the season?