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» 2017 Defeats

The Cardinals had a winning record with backup quarterbacks last year thanks in large part to their high-profile edge rusher who terrorized opposing offenses. We look at defeat leaders for every position, as well as overall leaders over the past few seasons.

18 Oct 2016

Any Given Sunday: Dolphins Over Steelers

by Rivers McCown

Pittsburgh's loss to Miami wasn't really about the litany of little things working against them. Oh, sure, Pittsburgh went 3-for-11 on third-down conversions. They also threw two interceptions to Miami's zero. But on a game theory level, there's not much here that says things broke bad for Pittsburgh.

Instead, Miami won this game by adopting some new identities successfully and injuring Ben Roethlisberger.

Roethlisberger was hurt during the runback of his first interception, and from there his accuracy and air on the football became scattershot. He hadn't looked comfortable in the pocket all day, which is something that sometimes happens when you ask a tight end to block Cameron Wake one-on-one. But post-injury, Roethlisberger was really hard to account for. His men were mostly open or close to it, but the throws were awful. His second interception went right into the hands of a Miami zone defender.

Meanwhile, the Dolphins got some surprisingly good play from former free agent bust Byron Maxwell. Miami seemed to change things up and get away from the failed plan of having Maxwell be a press-man corner, and instead they maximized Maxwell's strength: how he plays with the ball in front of him. He tipped or broke up at least three Pittsburgh passes.

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Prior to this game, Maxwell had a 46 percent success rate per our premium charting stats, which ranked him 43rd of 58 qualifying cornerbacks. In this one, Maxwell was targeted six times, allowing just one reception for 12 yards.

Pittsburgh was already having problems moving the ball with Roethlisberger's decline in accuracy. Once you add in a bunch of failed underneath throws, it simply became hard for them to move the ball. A snarky approach might be to suggest that the Steelers didn't trail by double digits until the third quarter, so where was the run game? Even taking out the long Darrius Heyward-Bey touchdown, LeVeon Bell was averaging 5 yards a carry. But, I suppose at this point, Todd Haley is established enough that we can give him a bit of the benefit of the doubt.

By the VOA

MIA 37.3% -19.7% -9.0% 48.0%
PIT -10.2% 36.1% -4.9% -51.2%
MIA 39.0% -15.2% -9.0% 45.2%
PIT -11.9% 33.4% -4.9% -50.2%

So, uh, yeah, a total ass-kicking. Don't think there's much more to add to those numbers.

Miami Discovers It Has A Running Game

Miami, dating back to the days of Lamar Miller, has seemed to create offenses that don't capitalize on its strengths. I am one of the few Ryan Tannehill supporters left on the island, but even I'll admit that he has played poorly the last few weeks as Miami sat him back in the pocket and let him get killed.

The Dolphins' rebirth as a play-action pass/run-heavy offense has been necessary for some time. The offensive line isn't very good, which has kept the Dolphins from running a lot of play-action, but per our charting data the Dolphins are fifth in the league in yards per play off play-action. Having Branden Albert back after a few lost weeks definitely helped the cause.

Now, let's get to what we all came here to see: Jay Ajayi toasting Steelers edge defenders!

Before we were even introduced to the Pittsburgh front seven, here's the first run:

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Then, once the Steelers started to run out of gas, there were more:

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Ajayi wasn't some sort of tackle-breaking monster in this game. He played well -- there was a reason we made him a top-25 prospect before the year -- but this wasn't some flashy display of dominance from the back. He did have a broken tackle/touch rate of 24.3 percent through the first five weeks. That's a nice number, but in a small sample size.

On the other hand, the Dolphins also didn't block all that well. So Ajayi was picking up plenty of yards after contact; he just wasn't generating splashy whiffs. According to Sports Info Solutions charting, Ajayi averaged 5.0 yards after contact in this game, compared to 2.2 in Weeks 1-5. This is what a sustaining running game looks like. Pittsburgh's top-ten DVOA run defense going into this game was clearly a bit of a mirage -- as you can see, the Dolphins derived plenty of benefit from going straight to the edge.

There's no reason why the Dolphins can't continue to have success committing to the run. Both their receiving corps and their running game are begging to create an offense that stays on schedule and keeps pressure off Tannehill. Perhaps this game will be what Adam Gase needs to stick with it.

As for the Steelers, this exposed a couple of troubling weaknesses. One was that they got zero heat on Tannehill at all. ESPN Stats and Information noted that they only pressured him twice in 32 dropbacks. And when you consider how deluged Tannehill had been against other defenses, that number only looks sadder. Then there's the edge run defense, where Ajayi did most of his damage. This comes back to three things you probably only knew: Jarvis Jones has been a bust, Cameron Heyward and Ryan Shazier didn't play much due to injuries, and the Steelers haven't been able to find a good edge rusher in years. Neither Heyward nor Shazier looks to be lost for long, but this game is instructive as far as what we'd expect if that happened again.

Also, Pittsburgh has never played down to their opponents. Nope, hasn't ever happened. If only someone on this site wrote about this at some point.

Posted by: Rivers McCown on 18 Oct 2016

24 comments, Last at 19 Oct 2016, 12:52am by PaddyPat


by Laufy :: Tue, 10/18/2016 - 12:19pm

It's interesting you mention "the Dolphins also didn't block all that well". I won't dispute the film study, but what's notable is the Dolphins had their ideal starting O-Line for the first time all year. That point has been hammered home across the internet, but just imagine how bad their blocking had been before this game.

The sustainability of the run/play-action style is entirely dependent on the health of the starters. Unfortunately, Pouncey, Albert, and James have dealt with injuries throughout the past few years and only played a handful of games together (Dolphins writer Omar Kelly dubs these "unicorn games"), and Miami's win percentage is significantly higher, albeit in a small sample size.

by fyo :: Tue, 10/18/2016 - 5:02pm

It's not just "significantly higher" in those unicorn games, it's 7-1.

That's 8 games out of a total 38 where Albert, Pouncey, and James have played together. Pretty horrible injury record.

The sample size is, as you point out, very small, so it could just be a statistical quirk, but the Dolphins certainly don't have very good depth on the offensive line.

by Theo :: Tue, 10/18/2016 - 12:24pm

Tomlin is 5-11 in away games vs teams under .500
I don't know what that means, but as a Steelers fans it very frustrating.

by Tomlin_Is_Infallible :: Tue, 10/18/2016 - 12:38pm

"Also, Pittsburgh has never played down to their opponents. Nope, hasn't ever happened. If only someone on this site wrote about this at some point. "

Uh oh. Will Allen will argue that wasn't Scott's point and the stats don't mean what they are.

The standard is the standard!

by Will Allen :: Tue, 10/18/2016 - 12:43pm

No, I will argue that Scott wrote that he doesn't think Tomlin is bad coach. This point differs with your contention that Tomlin is a bad coach, and that Scott has agreed with you that Tomlin is a bad coach.

I know, I know, words are hard for you.

by Tomlin_Is_Infallible :: Tue, 10/18/2016 - 1:04pm

point #1-

What does this link discuss, captain "words are hard"?

It's *THE* link that started your pissing and moaning 2 days ago in my comment 60 to this thread

point #2
In response to
"I think I'm actually going to side with TIF here - Scott's writings over the years have a heavily-implied stance against Tomlin (the "play down to their opponents" thing in particular)."-- Eddo, post 34

"I was trying to give Scott credit, by assuming he understood that by focusing on winning percentage as favorites, and record against the spread as favorite, especially when favored by 10 or more, what you are really doing is attempting to measure the relative performance of non bad NFL coaches, since bad NFL coaches don't often enjoy being 10 point favorites, compared to good NFL coaches.
--- author YOU, post 41

The standard is the standard!

by Will Allen :: Tue, 10/18/2016 - 1:46pm

Scott's post 88 from yesterday's audibles thread, just to make it clear that I don't have a huge disagreement with Scott, in contrast to the disagreement I have with you.......

"I've never said Tomlin is a bad coach, but he's certainly not someone I think that highly of."

"Tomlin has been a good coach and has the respect of his players, but I can't help but think there are 10-12 guys out there who could have taken this job in 2007 and produced similar, if not better results."

My much more minor disagreement with Scott, as opposed to the large disagreement I have with you, is that I think Scott, in a lot of his analysis, places too much confidence in what conclusions can be gleaned from very small samples. I prefer to simply obtain the largest sample I can, with regard to anybody's performance, not create a smaller sample from that larger one, and draw conclusions with appropriate confidence to that larger sample size. My conclusion, based upon the largest sample of work obtainable, 160 games, is that Tomlin is pretty unlikely to be a bad coach. If somebody has even a 100 game sample which puts Tomlin in the bottom quintile of all coaches, I'd be interested.

In any case, the way you employ language consistently mystifies me, to the point that I'd prefer to not converse with you again. I promise to not engage with you again, if you'll do me the favor of not engaging with me, or mention me in one of your posts. Have a nice day, won't you?

by Tomlin_Is_Infallible :: Tue, 10/18/2016 - 1:46pm

white-flag-like typing detected....

The standard is the standard!

by LyleNM :: Tue, 10/18/2016 - 3:08pm

You're right, it's time you should be waving the white flag.

by Tomlin_Is_Infallible :: Tue, 10/18/2016 - 3:16pm

It's a shame you decided to hitch your wagon to the argument(s) of a shameless evader and bad-faith debater.

Oh well.

The standard is the standard!

by PaddyPat :: Wed, 10/19/2016 - 12:52am

I know that this form of argumentation is all the rage in the current electoral season, but both of you are out of line for a FO thread, and really should grow up. It's perfectly reasonable to argue and disagree, but we are all intelligent observers and commenters here, and personal attacks have no place.

by Tomlin_Is_Infallible :: Tue, 10/18/2016 - 12:42pm

"Roethlisberger was hurt during the runback of his first interception," I'm pretty sure he was hurt before he threw the ball.

The standard is the standard!

by Laufy :: Tue, 10/18/2016 - 1:52pm

check the replay - he gets slightly tripped by Jordan Phillips up the middle, but then he takes a hard block during the run back that ultimately results in him sitting on the ground reaching for the knee. it's possible the trip hurt the knee, but in my unprofessional opinion, the block was more impactful and more likely to have caused the damage.

by Tomlin_Is_Infallible :: Tue, 10/18/2016 - 2:11pm

from beginning to about the 12 second mark

he was clutching the knee before he chased anyone down on the runback.
the (initial) injury likely occurred when he clipped his feet together evading the rush before the throw.

The standard is the standard!

by Laufy :: Tue, 10/18/2016 - 4:46pm

yeah, you're right - I didn't see that part of the replay. the defender who blocked him came down hard on his right leg, but the injury was to the left knee.

by fyo :: Tue, 10/18/2016 - 5:08pm

Roethlisberger himself said he was hurt before he threw the ball:

After the game, Roethlisberger told reporters that the injury happened before he threw the ball.


by jtr :: Tue, 10/18/2016 - 1:04pm

Maybe it's just confirmation bias, but it seems to me like teams with good defensive lines tend to be good at stealing upsets. The last two Giants Superbowl teams come to mind, and the Rams' constantly playing spoiler against the best teams in their division. The Dolphins' front-four pressure definitely caused issues for Ben, and both interceptions were terrible decisions forced by pressure.

by Raiderfan :: Tue, 10/18/2016 - 1:25pm

How do other great/very good/not bad coaches measure on thE same metric? Belichek, Harbaugh, Carroll, Fox, etc.? And how about bad/very not good coaches, such as Fisher?

by Perfundle :: Tue, 10/18/2016 - 4:33pm


Here's the data for the coaches you mentioned, as well as Payton and McCarthy. Tomlin's numbers aren't exactly the same because different stat sites use different spreads, but he's still pretty bad relative to his peers. I didn't do the other three categories because several of the coaches simply have too few such games. Harbaugh and Carroll, for instance, only had 4 games where they were over 7-point favorites on the road.

by Raiderfan :: Tue, 10/18/2016 - 9:44pm

Wow! Great work! Thanks. My takeaway is that there is not really a takeaway, except that Belichek is very good. Surprised to see Fisher do so well.

by Tomlin_Is_Infallible :: Tue, 10/18/2016 - 1:44pm


"tomlining" lmao.

The standard is the standard!

by Paul R :: Tue, 10/18/2016 - 2:05pm

Those gifs look exactly like the Colts defense I've been suffering through for six weeks now. I can't exactly put my finger on it, but it's like every defensive player is always exactly two yards away from where they need to be, just close enough that you grind your teeth watching it.

by drobviousso :: Tue, 10/18/2016 - 4:10pm

Its also what you see when not a single one of the defenders beats their blocker in any way.

by Jerry :: Tue, 10/18/2016 - 8:29pm

This. And it's probably what they miss most from Heyward.

Danny's on the Turnpike, huh?