Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

02 Feb 2006

Dr. Z Breaks Down the Super Bowl

This is always one of my favorite pre-Super Bowl features. Paul Zimmerman goes through the Steelers and the Seahawks position-by-position and tells us which team has the better player.

Posted by: Michael David Smith on 02 Feb 2006

49 comments, Last at 03 Feb 2006, 8:27pm by Jerry


by Independent George (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 2:53pm

I just love the fact that he uses 'Flanker' and 'Split End' instead of WR.

by Israel (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 3:16pm

This would work better if he gave a large or small edge.

I suspect that if that were the case, Shaun alexander and Troy Polamalu would get large edges, while James Farrior and Steve Hutchinson would get very slight edges. Totals might look different in such a system.

And on kick returns, Colclough is the lesser of the Steelers. Ike Taylor (filling for Quincy Morgan who is on IR) is better and would give better competition to Scobey.

by DJAnyReason (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 3:17pm

You know, Hutchinson is undeniably a great guard, but I just don't see how you can give the nod to him cleanly over Faneca. That's gotta be a tie, IMODO

by Tom Kelso (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 3:30pm

Randle El and Wilson over Engram and Jurevicius?

I would expect this would cause the most disagreement on this site -- and since he picks the Steelers so closely, it could presumably sway his opinion.

'Hawks 31, Steelers 23

by Andrew (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 3:30pm

I don't understand why Dr. Z did an analysis of the nickel/dime defenses, but not one of the third receiver - especially since Seattle uses a three wide configuration so often. Most would agree that Jurevicius is a better third wideout than Cedric Wilson, and that matchup would put the teams on an even footing.

by johnt (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 3:33pm

Faneca is somewhat overrated. He's never been that great in pass pro and he's had a few games this year where he's gotten mauled (though admittedly usually the rest of the Oline looked awful too). I'd take Hutch over him as well.

The matchup I don't agree with is Dyson/Taylor as a wash. Taylor has shut down Chad Johnson 3 times this season and Marvin Harrison twice, with the exception of one rookie mistake. There's no way I don't take Taylor if I have a choice between the two.

by pawnking (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 3:34pm

Very very odd to me that he would rate the 2 QBs a push, the rate every receiver and TE better for the Steelers than the Hawks. Maybe it's accurrate, but it looks funny. I mean, Hass had to be throwing the ball to somebody, right?

by johnt (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 3:37pm

7: The #3 WR, for one. Thing is, the Steelers are better suited to cover the #3 than maybe any other team in the NFL because their slot coverage guy is Townshend, who's good enough to get paid #1 CB money after the end of the season. That's the problem with Z's rankings, they ignore the fact that it's not Cedrick Wilson lining up across from Jurevicious.

by Sophandros (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 3:40pm

The thing I don't like here is that he's comparing people who will not be on the field at the same time. This also bothers me when people say that one QB beat the other QB or when they advertize Manning vs. Brady because they don't do anything to each other.

A better analysis would be Bobby Engram vs. Ike Taylor or Alan Faneca vs. Rocky Bernard.

by MRH (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 3:41pm

It's nice to read Dr Z's comments about the players but how important is it if Hutchison is better than Faneca? Is he going to block Faneca or vice versa? Isn't it more important how he matches up with the Steelers' defense?

Wouldn't it be a nice swtich to have the comparison between the coaches: coordinator vs. coordinator, line coach vs. line coach?

And what about the cheerleaders? Maybe a Carolina vs. Denver friendly match is in order.

by Michael David Smith :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 3:43pm

Sophandros and MRH, keep checking Extra Points. I'll have a piece up on Fox soon that goes into some individual matchups in the Super Bowl.

by rk (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 3:46pm

The problem with dismissing Taylor's error as a rookie mistake is that he is in his 3rd year.

by Bob (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 3:50pm

It's still a rookie mistake even if it's Deion Sanders doing it.

by johnt (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 4:02pm

rk: It's true that it's his third year pro, but on the other hand it's first as a starter and his fourth year playing CB. At all. In other words, most rookie CBs have been playing CB for longer than he has, so there is reason to think he is on the learning curve.

Not that that justifies his boneheaded mistake in the first Colts game. But that is basically the only big mistake he has made all year, and Champ Bailey will be the first to point out every CB makes at least one of those a year.

by VarlosZ (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 4:05pm

The article is worth reading just for the 10 paragraphs on the O-lineman. The man pays attention to line-play, and knows what to look for -- very rare.

by Fnor (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 4:12pm

#13: No, if it's Deion Sanders doing it, than it's not a mistake, it's aliens or something. Deion is perfect, remember? He has all those INTs!

by Manteo (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 4:13pm

"Champ Bailey will be the first to point out every CB makes at least one of those a year."

This gets at my problem with the whole idea of predicting final scores or even winners. It's great to compare positions, even better to look at matchups, and there's lots of useful analysis to do as far as what to look for in a game and what things could be deciding factors.

But picking a final score is useless. You can have two evenly matched teams and yet, say, one bounce of the ball plus one freak mistake by a CB can turn the game into a 14-point "blowout."

As with most fields (politics, economics, etc.), experts waste too much time on predictions and rarely have a better success rate than average people.

by geoff (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 4:28pm

I just enjoy Dr. Z because he's the only writer in the country who can get away with ending his column with "This is getting pretty boring."

by White Rose Duelist (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 4:31pm

#17 - Since there hasn't been enough D&D talk, I'm going to pull out my trusty d4s and predict an exact final score.

Assumption: each team will score 1-4 touchdowns and 0-3 field goals.


Seattle 31, Pittsburgh 30

by Kal (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 4:36pm

I still don't see how you can rank Engram below Randel El. That's just crazytalk. Randel El is a good player, don't get me wrong, but no one has been more reliable as a possession receiver than Engram this year.

That all being said, comparing like positions is silly. So what if Seattle has a better receiver than Pitt? This is what always pisses me off about comparing two QBs, or saying 'QB x beat QB y'. No, he didn't. QB x beat QB y's team's defense.

by Brian (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 4:38pm

Why do they evaluate similar positions against each other? The quarterbacks aren't playing against each other. Neither are the offensive lines or linebackers. The Seahawks guards don't have to be better than the Steelers guards, they have to be better than the Steelers Defensive linemen.

This has always puzzled me...

by MRH (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 4:53pm

MDS - Re #11 - Looking forward to it. I agree w/#15; that's what makes it worth reading even though I hate the matchup format used.

by Manteo (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 4:59pm

#19 - I, sadly, am not much for the D&D, though I'll take your final score.

However, a quick look at the rules leads me to question whether your roll was supposed to incorporate any adjustment for Joey Porter's Half-Orc characteristics (+2 Strength, -2 Intelligence, -2 Charisma).

by J.S. (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 5:03pm

RE: 21

and thats what is making everyone confused. I think we should put SEA O-Line Vs. PIT D-Line and then put SEA QB vs PIT Secondary and vise versa and see what we get.

Hey White Rose since you said there wasn't enough D&D Talk what stats would you give Big Ben

Ben Roethlisburger
I have
STR: 17
DEX: 14
INT: 16
WIS: 14
CHR: 13

Matt Hasselback
I have
STR: 16
DEX: 16
INT: 16
WIS: 17
CHR: 12

What do you think?

by Luz (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 5:04pm


yup, i totally agree. that's why i don't understand everyone saying, "these teams are pretty even, PIT 28 SEA 27."

game situation and individual plays can have dramatic effects on the final score regardless of how evenly (or unevenly) the teams individual teams talent balances out.

by Pat (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 5:14pm

Of course, the worst thing about trying to predict a final score based on matchups is that a 28-27 final score can be nowhere near as close as a 21-14 score, depending on how things go.

by michael (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 5:27pm

Manteo said:
However, a quick look at the rules leads me to question whether your roll was supposed to incorporate any adjustment for Joey Porter’s Half-Orc characteristics (+2 Strength, -2 Intelligence, -2 Charisma).

and you owe me a new monitor to replace my coffee stained one...

by johnt (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 5:41pm

Matt Hasselbeck is bald. -5chr.

by White Rose Duelist (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 5:47pm

Don't tempt me. I could always pull out d20 Modern and actually stat players.

by Manteo (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 5:51pm

#29 - Now that's fantasy football.

Hell, you should do a whole game that way! Better than DVOA or Madden.

by Dan (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 6:15pm

I would agree with the above comments that Dr. Z shuld compare offense vs. defense. I would also agree that a comparison of coaches and philosopies is necessary. Consider that the recent dynasty of the Patriots was carried as much by the coaching as it was anything else. With the exception of the QB and MLB, the Patriots personnel are average--they are greater than the sum of the individuals due to coaching. In this contest, we have the matchup of the most pure form of the West Coast Offense vs. the creator of the Fire-Zone (Zone-Blitz) Defense which was designed specifically for the West Coast Offense. On the other side of the ball, Ray Rhodes has not faired well against physical offenses coached by Mike Mularkey, and Ken Wisenhunt's offenses are even more brutal. The key to the game will be if Pittsburgh can sustain drives or Seattle can get Pittsburgh off the field. Better defenses than Seattle's have been unable to do this.
Steelers 34 - Seahawks 17; a familar score.

by Richard (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 6:40pm

I was really hoping Dr. Z wasn't going to do the trite Qb vs. Qb comparison and opt for a passing game vs. pass defense-type comparison. Perhaps his editors made him do it.

by Mentos (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 6:43pm

Can someone explain the difference between flanker and split end?

by Starshatterer (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 7:10pm

Richard (#32 )--

I remember Dr. Z doing the offense v defense matchup thing last year. (Pause to search.) I can't find it. It was some kind of flip-card thing where there were numbers (representing the players) on a gridiron, you pointed your mouse at one and information about that player showed up in a rollover.

Dan (#31 )--
With the exception of the QB and MLB, the Patriots personnel are average
Don't go there, man. To begin with, you have seriously disrespected Rodney Harrison.

by ian (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 7:19pm

re: 33 - its old school - there are four players in the backfield, named for where they line up, hence the backs: quarter back, half back, full back, and flanker back; and there are seven players on the line, two of whom are eligible receivers, the tight end, who is right up against the tackle and the split end who is split out away from the tackle.

by Starshatterer (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 7:29pm

Re: #33, 35 --

Yeah, the terms pre-date daring, modern, two-wide-receiver formations.

That's part of Dr Z's shtick that gets annoying: his whole "I'm older than dirt and you whippersnappers better listen up, 'cause real men played football when I was your age" act. Which is why he ignores the third wideouts in his matchups; they didn't run three wideouts back before all these sissy-boy innovations, like face-masks.

What was a flanker is now a slot receiver, Hines Ward is not a flanker, and nobody (besides Dr. Z and his poor intern) cares if he would have been called that during Truman's second term.

by J.S. (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 7:54pm

OK White Rose,
So just Like in D&D thrid Edition base stats all start out out 8 and then you get 80 points to raise them all?

go for it I would like to see you build them. I would use years of experience as levels so Big Ben is a Level 2 and Matt Has a Level 8

by Phil Simms (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 8:33pm

As soon as I saw the D&D reference, I knew the dude with the Duelist handle would be weighing in.

by Vince (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 8:49pm

Third wideouts did not get their own box, but they were discussed in the Flanker section.

by Pat (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 9:49pm

That’s part of Dr Z’s shtick that gets annoying: his whole “I’m older than dirt and you whippersnappers better listen up, ’cause real men played football when I was your age� act. Which is why he ignores the third wideouts in his matchups; they didn’t run three wideouts back before all these sissy-boy innovations, like face-masks.

Eh. Split end and flanker are used in college quite often. In gamebooks they're listed as SE and FL.

A lot of the old, weirdly named things still exist in colleges, which makes sense, as they, you know, invented the bloody game.

So in the gamebook you'll see split ends, flankers, tailbacks, linebackers referred to by a thousand different ways (Mike/Will/Sam/Mack/Buck/Mick/MLB/ILB/OLB/WLB/DLB), safeties referred to as "ROV", and probably a half dozen other weird things.

Penn State even has a "Hero" position, which just seems to be strong safety. They're the only person I've ever seen refer to it like that, but in all of their media guides, it's always listed as Hero.

So it's not that crazy. All those terms stick around because they're still used. Not in the NFL, no, but they are still used.

by JSR (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 10:23pm


You forgot their Constitution scores.

Hasselbeck: 16 CON (healthy so far)
Roethlisberger: 14 CON (injuries)

by Vash (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 10:53pm

Hey Dr. Z, doesn't one team's offense play against the other's defense? I've never seen two starting quarterbacks in the same play.

by Joel D-P (not verified) :: Thu, 02/02/2006 - 11:49pm

Flanker isn't the slot reciever, it's the receiver who isn't allowed to line up on the line of scrimmage. He is considered to be in the 'backfield' ie. not on the LOS but is out wide or 'on the flank'. Remember there must be 7 men on the LOS, but only seven.

by Kuato (not verified) :: Fri, 02/03/2006 - 1:13am

So which positions should the Dr. line up across from each other?


This doesn`t really work. I know he could do units vs units (like the excellent FO previews), but he is trying to give every starter some ink and this format is a good one for doing that.

by DGL (not verified) :: Fri, 02/03/2006 - 1:26am

OK, "flanker" and "split end" are a bit archaic. I find it more interesting how the names of some positions have changed their meaning completely (like fullback -- he used to be the guy in the backfield farthest from the LOS; now he's the up-back who mostly blocks).

When I was growing up, Franco Harris was a fullback, and Rocky Bleier was a halfback. Today, Bleier would be a fullback and Harris a tailback.

by someone (not verified) :: Fri, 02/03/2006 - 5:58am

Ike Taylor is streets ahead of Andre Dyson.

by Michael David Smith :: Fri, 02/03/2006 - 9:57am

My piece on matchups is now up here. If you want a brief synopsis of every starter in the game, Dr. Z is the man. If you want a few matchups of guys who will square off against each other, give mine a look.

by princeton73 (not verified) :: Fri, 02/03/2006 - 12:15pm

granted, I'm not quite as old as Dr. Z (but damn near) and there WAS a time when the difference between "flnaker" and "split end" was significant: virtually all teams were "right-handed" in those days, which meant that the TE ALWAYS lined up on the right side of the line--which made the WR playing on the right the flanker.

Since most (all) QB's were right-handed, the flankers tended to get more balls thrown their way than the SE, who lined up on the left

that hasn't been the case for >35 years, though

by Jerry (not verified) :: Fri, 02/03/2006 - 8:27pm

For the Steelers, Ward usually is a flanker. As a result, he's often in motion.

I think the Steelers still run Z-find, a play that I first heard about when Charles Johnson was their best blocking receiver. Z is the flanker, and he goes in motion to where the safety is so he can block there.