Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

25 Jan 2011

ESPN AGS: Lessons from Green Bay's Losses

This year we're adding something new to Any Given Sunday, with two articles looking at the regular-season losses of the two Super Bowl teams. What ties them together, and what can we learn from the similarities? First Green Bay, with Pittsburgh coming next week.

Posted by: Vincent Verhei on 25 Jan 2011

48 comments, Last at 06 Feb 2011, 3:13am by New Haven Denizen


by ppabich :: Tue, 01/25/2011 - 11:39pm

The benchmark was reached in two of the Packers wins as well. So that brings the Packers to 2-5 when that happens. obviously, when you turn the ball over more than the opposition you are usually going to lose the game. Giving up sacks kills drives and equals scoring fewer points. The Packers gave up 90 rec yards in at least 4 wins as well, so I doubt that is relevant. When it comes to sacks, the packers played 5 teams in the top 10 in sacks and are 5-2 in those games. In sack differential the Packers are +9 and the steelers are +5. The packers are 4th in turnover differential in the regular season, add the playoffs and they are +15 (steelers are +19 including playoffs). When it comes to turnovers and sacks, any time you have a positive differential you are more likely to win the game. The Packers being at the top of the league in both categories seem to be equally as likely to win those battles as well.

by Dienasty (not verified) :: Wed, 01/26/2011 - 1:05pm

As a Pats fan, I know that the way you beat the Steelers is to spread them out and use route formations that expose the zone coverage behind their blitzes. Also, 4 wide receiver sets takes an LB off the field, the strength of that defense, and brings on a CB (Mcfadden/ Gay) a weakness on that team. As long as you have a QB that can decipher where pressure is coming from and you have an O-Coordinator that can deploy route combo routes that stretch the zone behind those blitzes you can attack that Defense through the air. If they play man Jennings, Driver, Nelson, and even Jones will expose that secondary, whose players are best suited to zone coverage. The team best suited to do this in the NFC is the Pack. Along with their superior defense, it seems the Steelers are outmatched in most ways except experience and possibly Mendenhall running on the GB defense.

by Vicious Chicken Of Bristol (not verified) :: Wed, 01/26/2011 - 2:21pm

"it seems the Steelers are outmatched in most ways except experience and possibly Mendenhall running on the GB defense."

I dont really see it that way.

1st: Steelers CB's arent very strong as a whole, but Ike Taylor can cover one on one with most and McFadden/Gay will get help over the top. I am not saying that the Packers are a "one trick pony" in the receiving game but it really is Greg Jennings and everyone else. The Steelers will take away the run game and Jennings. If Rogers can nickle and dime the Steelers to death (like the Pats) then more power to him. I just dont think the Packers play that type of game.

2nd: Pittsburgh and Green Bay will both get pressure on the QB (1st and 2nd in sacks), so I think that is probably a wash.

3rd: Pittsburgh is very deep in pass catchers. Wallace, Ward, Miller, Sanders, Brown cannot all be covered on every play despite how good Green Bay's secondary is. The Jets had an excellent secondary too, but WR's got open when it mattered.

4th: As you mentioned in passing, there is Mendenhall. He was able to run all over the Jets 3rd ranked rush defense. Green Bay's rush D is average at best, 18th in yardage, 28th in yards per rush allowed. That is a horrible matchup for Green Bay.

So, the Packers will likely get their passing yards but the Steelers will get their rushing yards. The difference is that Pittsburgh O will also get some of the passing game involved, where GB will almost certainly have no success running the ball.

I think the overall matchup is in Pittsburgh's favor.

by MCS :: Wed, 01/26/2011 - 4:32pm

Funny how you say the Steelers have the WR depth to take advantage of the Packers secondary, but the Packers playoff record setting WRs are not deep enough to take advantage of the Steelers secondary (4 receivers over 75 yards in one game)

Nelson matches up well in the slot.

Look for Green Bay to force the nickel which takes away the Steelers strength, the LBs.

On offense, Mendenhall will get his, but then again Forte did as well.

With Pouncey out, the Steelers OL is a major liability. Raji matches up well with Legursky.

I think the game will be extremely close and entertaining.

by bill (not verified) :: Wed, 01/26/2011 - 4:45pm

I think the GB rush defense may be stronger than you think. They gave up a lot of yards when undermanned (due to injuries & temporary lack of depth) in a couple mid season loses. Also when they use the 2 down linemen in some of their more gimicky schemes they can be run on. Right now if they line up in a more conventional defense they are pretty stout. Not saying steelers won't win, as I think a young GB team in the spotlight for the first time--(even favored !!)--won't be emotionally ready to face the more experienced AFC champs. And Rothlesberger extending plays might be big.

by Flounder :: Wed, 01/26/2011 - 5:06pm

They can be run because their 2 down lineman set is actually their base defense. They are in it sixty some percent of the time.

by Jay Z (not verified) :: Thu, 01/27/2011 - 1:54am

Regarding experience in the Super Bowl, recent experience has been a push. Broncos beat Falcons, Patriots beat Panthers (barely), Patriots beat Eagles, Steelers beat Cardinals (barely), but Broncos beat Packers, Patriots beat Rams (barely), Giants beat Patriots, Saints beat Colts. Maybe, recently, the more experienced team takes it too much for granted.

by Dienasty (not verified) :: Wed, 01/26/2011 - 5:16pm

"2nd: Pittsburgh and Green Bay will both get pressure on the QB (1st and 2nd in sacks), so I think that is probably a wash."

I think that looking at matchups as Pitt D vs GB D is not an effective way to analyze the game. What I was highlighting was GB O v. Pitt D. Brady has only performed poorly in one game against them (Halloween in 2004). In every game, except the AFC Championship game in 2001, the Pats moved the ball on the Steelers with several receivers on the field. I think the Packers are built to excel at that as long as Rodgers can decipher where pressure is coming from. As far as not being able to run the ball on the Steelers, who cares when your offense is built around the passing game like GB's.

If you look at Pitt O vs. GB D, the only advantage is in the running game. But there are limitations there as well around injuries to the line (Pouncey's injury is huge) and whether the Pitt D can keep GB O from putting pressure on Piit's O to score. In the passing game, GB D is better than Pitt's passing game without a doubt. The only concern is Ben extending plays. If they contain him and ensure that the plays he does extend aren't touchdowns, there isn't much contest in this match up either.

If i was a Pack fan I would be mainly worried about lack of experience on the Super Bowl stage, McCarthy time management stuff, and the fact that although schematically it is a good match up for the Pack, the Steelers have play makers like Polamalu and Ben who can create "big plays" (even though they also cost their teams with "big plays" as well).

by dmstorm22 :: Wed, 01/26/2011 - 7:51pm

NE usually does well because they can run on the Steelers. Other than the 2007 Anthony Smith game, the Pats have averaged 103 yards on the Steelers in their wins (2004 Title, 2005, 2009). The Pats threw the ball all the time in the Halloween 2004 game (ran it just 6 times). It isn't just spreading out the field. It is spreading out the field and then running effectively, which the Packers might or might not be able to do. They couldn't against Chicago.

by imafreak (not verified) :: Thu, 01/27/2011 - 12:15pm

I agree with the original poster that the Patriots have used the 'spread them out and hit the open guy underneath' strategy to beat the Steelers--although more recently, I thought they did more max protect and execute. However, only the Patriots have been very successful doing that.

Makes me wonder if it's more a Tom Brady thing than anything else.

The Steelers defense tends to make everyone one dimensional and the Packers start out pretty one dimensional. I do not see the Pack having much success on the ground.

by 'nonymous (not verified) :: Thu, 01/27/2011 - 12:43am

"GB D is better than Pitt's passing game without a doubt."

I'm not at all sure of that; Pitt has been really good at times with 7-yard slants or sideline passes, with medium and short passes to the TE Heath Miller, and with a very speedy deep threat in Mike Wallace. I just think good defense is way too much a gamble to say the only concern is Ben extending plays. Either defense is capable of shutting down the other team as long as their gambles pay off; but a good or lucky play call and a perfect pass can't really be stopped. You may rightly think Rodgers is more likely to make those passes than Roethlisberger is, but Ben has done it plenty of times this season.

I agree with you that the Steelers are vulnerable to a good QB distributing the ball with lots of short, accurate passes; and that's what I would Green Bay to try. The Steelers will usually just wait for a mistake or for their pass rush to make a big play. I think the Steelers may rely on more aggressive passes-- deep pass attempts or passes to convert third and long after two stuffed runs.

by Arkaein :: Wed, 01/26/2011 - 8:04pm

Most of the other points have been covered, but I want to elaborate on the fact that you are quite wrong about GB's WR depth and passing game style. Yes, Jennings is clearly their best player, however GB beat Philly with a total of 8 yards out of him. Jennings also does not have a TD this post-season.

Jones has 2 TDs in the playoffs, with a high of 79 yards in Atlanta. Nelson has 1 TD in the playoffs, with 79 and 67 yards in the last two games. Driver has 56 and 76 yards games. Jennings, for his part, hit 100 yards in each of the past two games.

Any one of GBs four WRs has the potential for a big game. If a team's top CBs key on Jennings and Driver, Jones and Nelson are more than a match for most Nickel and Dime CBs.

by thebuch :: Wed, 01/26/2011 - 7:00pm

"I am not saying that the Packers are a "one trick pony" in the receiving game but it really is Greg Jennings and everyone else."

And which two Packer receivers had two of the top 3 DYAR ratings of the divisional round across all eight teams?

by marcopo44 (not verified) :: Wed, 01/26/2011 - 8:38pm

It really is not "Jennings, then everyone else". Far from it. Rodgers spreads the ball around as well as any QB in the game. Further, the Packers are very unusual in that all five receivers can play any position. Very rare, and very difficult for DC's to gameplan.

by Mr. Asterisk (not verified) :: Wed, 01/26/2011 - 1:49pm

The seemingly universal belief that the GB offense is demonstrably superior to Pittsburgh's is somewhat odd, given that the Steelers scored just 13 fewer points against the Pack against a marginally more difficult schedule....while missing their starting QB for 4 games rather than 1.5. The advanced metrics would appear equally baffled by the consensus: Pittsburgh's offensive DVOA is higher both overall and especially weighted; ironically, the Pack does have a miniscule advantage in rushing DVOA.

by Vicious Chicken Of Bristol (not verified) :: Wed, 01/26/2011 - 2:28pm

That belief is probably based solely on the Packers playoff game against Atlanta and Pittburgh's comparably low out put games against the Ravens and Jets.

It ignores the fact that Atlanta's D is not in the same class as Balt&NY. It also ignores the fact that GB's O didnt exactly light it up against Chicago or Philly.

That being said, as a Steelers fan...Rogers scares me.

by ppabich :: Wed, 01/26/2011 - 4:05pm

Its because the Packers have scores of 34-7, 45-7, 31-3, 34-16, 45-17 and 48-21. The Steelers have only blown out teams 3 times 38-13, 35-3 and 41-9. So it isn't as much what they have done over the course of the season. The Packers offense is perceived to be better because they have the potential to be better. The Packers also have games 13, 10, 9 and 3 points. Whats interesting is the packers have blown out teams with the 3rd, 11th, 12th, and 13th defensive DVOAs. I can't be 100% sure, but i would say the peak of the Packers offensive performance is greater than the peak of the Steelers. It's just playing that way consistently thats the problem.

by Vicious Chicken Of Bristol (not verified) :: Thu, 01/27/2011 - 10:09am

What does blowing teams out have to do with anything? The Steelers scored 375 points in the regular season. The Packers scored 388. So averaging 0.8 more points per game is significant to you? That is the reason that the Green Bay offense is so superior?

Because, I gotta tell ya. Putting up 34, 45, and 34 points on teams that finished 4-12, 6-10, and 6-10 respectively isnt all that impressive to me. It also conveniently ignores the games when they scored 9, 3, and 10 points.

According to DVOA, the Steelers had the 8th hardest schedule vs the 16th for the Packers. Could that possibly explain that 0.8 difference?

Let me also question what a "blowout" is to you. The Steelers won 6 games in the regular season by 16 points or more. Is winning by (realistically) 3 scores not a blowout in your book?

You count an 18 point win by GB as a blowout, but dont include an 18 point (28-10 over Cleveland) or 24 point (27-3 over Carolina) Steelers win as one. Clearly, you arent biased.

And for those who say the Passing offense of the Steelers just doesnt match up with the Packers. The Steelers averaged more passing yards with Ben under center than Green Bay did with Rogers. FO says that Pittsburgh's passing game has a DVOA of 45.6 vs 33.0 for Green Bay.

It is also amusing that people say how much depth GB has at receiver and how much GB spreads the ball around, and ignore the same quality in the Steelers.

When Mia and Cinci keyed on Wallace, Ward stepped up a went over 100 yards. When NYJ shut down Wallace and Ward, Sanders stepped up and caught 7 balls for 78 yards. When the Receivers arent there Miller steps up and catches 5 for 73. When everyone else is covered, Brown is there (particularly in the last few weeks) to make a huge play.

GB has 7 players with 20 catches or more. Pittsburgh has 7 players with 20 catches or more. GB has 7 players with 200 or more recieving yards, Pittsburgh has 6.

The fact is that both passing games are very good. To say that GB's is demonstrably better ignores what actually happened this year (and of course the very statistics of this website).

by ppabich :: Thu, 01/27/2011 - 1:23pm

I think you completely missed the point of my post. You asked why the Packers offense was perceived to be better than the Steelers, and i laid out my ideas of why. I did mention the games the packers scored less than 11 points, and i missed some of the steelers blowouts because, quickly, i was looking at games with 30 points scored or more. I don't disagree that the Steelers offense is equally as good as the Packers. I just think when it comes down to it, the Packers offense is perceived to be better because they put up 45 and 48 points on the Giants and Falcons respectively, one excellent and one good defense. I also believe that the Packers best offensive game is better than the steelers. Over the course of the season the Steelers have 7 games with an offensive DVOA of 20 or more. The Packers have 10, and the highest mark between the two teams at about 65.

I don't think anyone thinks the Packers offense is demonstrably better than the Packers. It's just a combination of recent performance and potential seen when watching the games that gives the Packers the perception they have a better offense.

by Vicious Chicken Of Bristol (not verified) :: Thu, 01/27/2011 - 2:12pm

Sorry,I did see that you mentioned the Packers low scoring games...but not until after I submitted the comment.

Anyhoo, my opinion on why the Packers are percieved to have the better offense is that they have the more "sexy" offense by today's standards.

by ppabich :: Thu, 01/27/2011 - 2:16pm

For sure, and by sexy are you referring to Aaron Rodgers? Because man...

by RickD :: Thu, 01/27/2011 - 12:58pm

Looking at common opponents (the AFC East + Atlanta)

Pit 15 Atl 9
Atl 20 GB 17
and the playoff game
GB 48 Atl 21

Pit 23 Mia 22
Mia 23 GB 20

Pit 19 Buf 16
GB 34 Buf 7

NE 39 Pit 26
NE 31 GB 27

NYJ 22 Pit 17
GB 9 NYJ 0
Pit 24 NYJ 17

The impressions of the superiority of the GB offense are based largely on the recent blowout of Atlanta. There's really not a huge difference in their performances against common opponents, with the exception of GB's blowout of Buffalo, which came in Week 2. Buffalo was a considerably stronger team in the second half of the season, with a number of close losses.

by Dienasty (not verified) :: Thu, 01/27/2011 - 1:25pm

Not sure why people are trying to compare the performance of GB O vs. Pitt O or GB D vs. Pitt D. Those match ups are basically irrelevant. What GB O can do (several talented receivers with a smart accurate QB) matches up well with where Pitt D is weak (CBs). If you can beat Pitt D you can beat Pitt because the offensive philosophy of Pitt is built with an understanding that you can't beat Pitt D (strong running attack with tough clutch QB creating a few big plays). If you make that offense have to put up 30 plus to win, they won't, reliably be able to. Obviously, on Any Given Sunday its possible, but not dependable.

by dmstorm22 :: Thu, 01/27/2011 - 1:29pm

They did just that against GB last year.

by Vicious Chicken Of Bristol (not verified) :: Thu, 01/27/2011 - 3:19pm

"If you make that (Pittsburgh's) offense have to put up 30 plus to win, they won't, reliably be able to."

That is a very poor argument.

First, 99% of the time a team gives up 30+ points they lose. That isnt specific to the Steelers.

Second, in the last two years Pittsburgh is 1-1 in the regular season when their D gives up 30 points or more. In the last two years the Packers are 0-6 when they give up 30+. (They are both 0-1 this year)

If anything, your point applies to Green Bay more than Pittsburgh.

I dont know why Pittsburgh is perceived to be such a weak offensive team. People regurgitate stuff like this when they obviously havent actually looked into it.

by dmb :: Fri, 01/28/2011 - 3:04am

"the offensive philosophy of Pitt is built with an understanding that you can't beat Pitt D (strong running attack with tough clutch QB creating a few big plays)."

That's the 2004 Steelers you're thinking of. Use the first tab at the top of the page to check out whether it's the running game or the passing game carrying the offense these days.

That said, I do agree with you that PIT Off / GB Def and GB Off / PIT Def are the relevant comparisons, and that you summarized GB Off / PIT Def pretty well.

by Dienasty (not verified) :: Fri, 01/28/2011 - 1:31pm

1) I probably overstated the ratio of run vs. pass of Pitt O. But the effectiveness of that offense is based on big plays out of the passing as a result of play-action pass, Big Ben extending plays, and Mike Wallace's talent. They are not a 3/4/5 receiver offense with high accuracy performance. Ben is only a 62% passer (15th overall) this year and down to 55% in the playoffs. His talent is withstanding pressure and throwing deep (8.2 Y/A, 3rd in the league). His TD% is average as well (16th). These are not the numbers of a "passing" offense. He gets sacked quite often too (22nd in sack %). Really they only have one offensive weapon that has hurt defenses through the air deep, Mike Wallace (21 yd/c). They only have 3 players with over 30 catches (Miller, Ward, Wallace). These are not the stats of a 3/4/5 WR offense. They may use those formations but that is not who they are. The only reason this is important is to illustrate that Woodson, Williams, Shields can cover Wallace, Ward, Miller. Steelers cannot (and do not want to) "bring in more receivers than you can cover" in this particular match up, which means that the D has to keep em close enough where they don't feel pressure to throw a bunch out of those formations.

2)Raji, Matthews and Capers will sack Ben killing a couple of drives. His sack % is in the bottom 1/3 of the league and Pouncey is unlikely to play. Further, guys like Hawk and Bishop have good speed at the LB level to deal with his ability to scramble. (Losing opportunities like that is ok if your D is having success stopping the other team. Then you can wait for a couple of big plays to Wallace/ big 3rd down conversions by Ben. You can be patient in your play calling and keep using the formations you want to use. If your D is not doing what they normally do, it puts pressure on your O to do things they don't want to do (haven't shown proficiency doing) i.e. have Ben get completion % closer to 67%).

What the numbers you cite tell you is how each team has performed over the course of the season against several different types of teams. I think that that information can reliably tell you how they will perform over some future number of games. Footballoutsiders is a great site to look at around week 7-10 to predict who the playoff teams will be and where "corrections" are likely to occur because there is enough information of past games to become reliable and enough upcoming games for that information to be very helpful. (It can also provide great info comparing teams from different years). But when it is one game you have to look at the match ups of that game, informed by the talent/ schemes of the players/ coaches involved.

The truth is they favor GB on both sides of the ball if they can protect Rodgers. I am guessing they will because a spread offense forces Pitt to take some of its best players off the field for some of its weakest or risk some really unfavorable match ups (i.e. LBs/ Safeties on WR or Zones where LBS are trying to tackle those players) and spread offenses make it easier to decipher where the blitz is coming from (or make the blitz come from further away). Because the philosophy of Pitt's O is built around an expectation that the D will perform up to a certain level, when that doesn't happen, it will put Pitt O in a tough spot against a very good pass D.

by ppabich :: Thu, 01/27/2011 - 1:29pm

It's not the Atlanta game, where it comes from it's the Giants game. The Giants have the 3rd overall defensive DVOA. The Packers torched them for 45 points. The Atlanta game is nice, but the Giants game gives people the impressions of superiority.

And to top it off it was basically a playoff game!

by Vicious Chicken Of Bristol (not verified) :: Thu, 01/27/2011 - 2:03pm

That may be, but you have to keep in mind that it wasnt JUST the GB offense in that game. Their D had 4 INT's and 2 fumble recoveries. When your defense takes the ball away from the opposition 6 times in a game, it certainly helps.

On a related note, getting to start a drive at the 50 yard line or better 4 times also helps (24 points on those 4 drives).

This isnt to say that the offense didnt play very well, just that they didnt dominate on their own. The defense dominated that game.

Oh, and the opposing QB was Eli Manning...so there's that.

by BaronFoobarstein :: Thu, 01/27/2011 - 3:49pm

I think your points are all fair. But ppabich is making a good case for why the perception of the Green Bay offense is better. The authors, readers, and posters here tend to be more analytical than your average football fan.

by Canadian Pack Fan (not verified) :: Wed, 01/26/2011 - 4:54pm

First, whoever brought up GB's defensive stats vs. the run, at least mention the fact that Cullen Jenkins and Ryan Pickett each missed multiple games, not to mention the linebackers were dropping like flies throughout the first half of the season. Check the stats in games in which Jenkins and Pickett both played... Won't look quite as vulnerable.

Overall, anyone can make a great case for both teams in this game, statistically or just based on general observations, which is why it should be great. As a Packers' fan my #1 concern is Roethlisberger's tendency to win close games late, combined with our tendency to just let teams hang around. It's awesome that we've never trailed by more than a TD this year, and nice to say all our losses were close, but at some point that bad luck becomes a trend. The fact that we're still in the Super Bowl shows just how talented this team is despite its lack of a killer instinct (notwithstanding those DBs and their game clinching picks). I'm confident we'll pull it off, but this will not be a comfortable game by any stretch.

by thebuch :: Wed, 01/26/2011 - 7:14pm

As the list ppabich compiles shows, they've shown that "killer instinct" as often as they've lost (6 times, 34-7, 45-7, 31-3, 34-16, 45-17 and 48-21). I think that the Packers get a bad rap because many of their victories involve them getting ahead early and forcing the opposing offense to pass the ball, and with a strong pass rush and secondary that forces mistakes often which puts the game out of reach (such as the Williams pick 6 in the Atlanta game), which turns the game into a blowout and we forget about the killer instinct as they clobber their opponent. Plus, each loss has featured a different reason, and I'd have a hard time saying that they'd be a better team if, for example, Crosby's 50 yard kick at the end of regulation against the Redskins bounced off the upright to the right and good rather than off to the left. Finally, I think its worth noting that they are 10-2 in games that both Rodgers and Matthews have finished, and lost those games by a combined 14 points. In a close game, everyone wants an impact player, and we've seen that without their impact players the Packers struggle in close games. Who does that surprise?

by Tecumseh (not verified) :: Thu, 01/27/2011 - 12:02am

There are just so many ways to look at this and I keep coming back to a toss up game. Consider that Big Ben missed the first 4 games of the season and their passing attack features two rookie wide receivers and one second year man, as a Steeler fan you can see their pass offense get markedly better the second half of the year. I really thought the Pack would win but Rodgers was very mediocre for much of the Bears game. The Pack will not be able to run the ball if Rodgers plays like Brady they very likely win, if Rodgers plays like he did the second half of the Bears game the Pack most likely loses

by Vicious Chicken Of Bristol (not verified) :: Thu, 01/27/2011 - 3:04pm

I felt the same way. I thought Green Bay was on an unstoppable run, until I saw them play Chicago. The GB offense had two drives in the game that were impressive. Other than that they didnt look good at all.

Seeing the GB offense score only 14 points (and none in the final 40+ minutes of game time) against a Chicago D that isnt as good as Pittsburgh's certainly gave me a different perspective on the upcoming game.

Which brings me to a question. Pittsburgh will, in this years playoffs, have had to face the 2nd (GB), 3rd (Balt), and 5th (NYJ) defenses according to weighted DVOA. That has got to be one of the toughest stretches ever, doesnt it?

by ppabich :: Thu, 01/27/2011 - 3:27pm

The only thing is the Bears make the Packers look like crap. It is much different when i comes to a division rival, what happens when the Steelers play the Ravens? Its always close and crazy things tend to happen. Whether or not you think the Bears are good, the games against the Packers don't seem to be Statistically that relevant. The Pittsburgh D is better than the Bears D, but the Bears D plays the Packers better.

by Vicious Chicken Of Bristol (not verified) :: Thu, 01/27/2011 - 3:49pm

"The Pittsburgh D is better than the Bears D, but the Bears D plays the Packers better."

You are basing this on the one time they have played in the past 5 years I assume? (Which I have to point out was a flawless offensive game, 973 yards total, 9 TD's, 0 turnovers).

That is hardly conclusive. If I remember correctly Polamalu wasnt in that game, Gay was the #2 corner, and the #3 was a rookie (I think Aaron Smith was also out). It wasnt exactly the Steelers top D.

I understand that it works both ways, and the the GB D is different too...which is why I cannot judge how they play against the Steelers based on 1 game a year ago.

by Dienasty (not verified) :: Thu, 01/27/2011 - 5:11pm

It is in games like these that you see the limitation of a stats based analysis based on overall team performance. Stats based analysis is great when trying to analyze how well a team has performed over a period of time and using that to determine how the team will perform over some future period of time. But here it is 1 game for everything. It is in these situations where you need to look at the match ups of that particular game.

How will Pitt D respond to different formations? (2TE, 2WR, 1RB), (3WR, 1TE, 1RB), (4WR, 1RB) etc...Anticipating those match ups based on past performance against similar formations/ talent is the way to try to analyze how the game will play out this week. I think the best way to attack the Pitt D is to play 4WR and GB has the talent. Pitt will likely respond by bringing at least one more DB on the field i.e. Gay and taking of at least 1 LB likely Farrior (Timmons is good in coverage and you likely want Woodley and/or Harrison for pressure). In this case there are several mismatches. Nelson/ Jones vs. Gay. Driver/Nelson/Jones vs. McFadden. Nelson/Jones vs Clark/Polamalu/Timmons in man coverage. (And this not counting instances where motioning/ formation can create even more favorable match ups...i.e. Jennings in the slot vs. Gay/Polamalu/Clark etc.) Likely with this personal they would play a zone...In fact the CBs of Pitt are drafted/signed to play zone. The scheme is based on playing zone behind a blitz. Think big, physical CBs and Safety's (Clark, Taylor, McFadden) and players with great anticipation skills i.e. Polamalu. In response, the offense must do 3 things. Protect QB, Read Zone and have effective route combos to expose holes in zones. My guess is that the Rodgers has elite talent at reading the pressure and the zone and the offensive coaching of McCarthy can develop and employ the most effective route combos for the zones used.

How will GB D respond to Pitts different formations? Basically Pitt wants to play with at least 1 RB and 1 TE on the field at all times. Often they will line up with 2 TE. This is a perfect complementary offense to a typically dominant D. Ball control Offense with Mike Wallace as an added weapon to take a few shots over the top every game. I think the depth that GB has at CBs allows for a favorable match up against Mike Wallace (most likely Williams with help at various times freeing woodson to cover ward, heath miller, spaeth and whoever). The problem with this offense, of course, is that if the D cannot be typically dominant it has to be forced to do other things. Normally, I would think that PITT could do that because of how talented I think Ben is at making plays/ improvising and the receivers understanding how to react in those situations. But this week he has no Oline and is going against a couple of guys (Raji, Matthews) and a blitzing scheme (Capers) that will get regular pressure. And, on the back end, there is Woodson, Williams, and Shields who can cover each of those Pitt WRs.

I dont think Pitt is a bad team or doesn't have a good O or a good D. I think they have built a team that is very talented on both sides of the ball with players that can excel in the system. I just think that GB's wide receiver depth can expose Pitts lack of CB depth. On the flip side, if Pitt came out with 3/4 receivers they would be playing right into the strength of GBs D (pass rush plus cover corners). If they come out running they can be more successful but that would require CBs (Gay, McFadden)to keep GB O scoring.

Obviously, the bet is on whether Pitts LBs can get generate pressure. I'm betting they can't do so consistently enough to stall the GB offense.

by Vicious Chicken Of Bristol (not verified) :: Thu, 01/27/2011 - 5:37pm

Very good analysis. 3 things.

1. Pittsburgh's pass D has been playing much better since NE tore them apart. LeBeau has put in a little more press coverage and eliminated a lot of the 10 yard cushions. So the perceived crippling weakness of the Steelers corners is really not 100% accurate of late. As illustrated by FO weighted DVOA (the Steelers are the #2 pass D by that metric, GB is #1).

2. The idea that "Basically Pitt wants to play with at least 1 RB and 1 TE on the field at all times" also isnt really true. I dont have the formation breakdowns, but from watching I can say that Pittsburgh plays with an empty backfield quite often.

3. On a related note, Pittsburgh going 3/4 wide may play into GB's strengths (cover corners/pass rush) but it also plays into what has to be considered Pittsburgh's strength which is Ben extending plays/avoiding sacks until someone gets open. Even the best corners cant cover man-to-man forever.

According to weighted DVOA we have:

The 3rd ranked Pass O (Pit) vs the #1 Pass D (GB)
The 6th ranked Pass O (GB) vs the #2 Pass D (Pit)


The 14rd ranked Rush O (Pit) vs the #16 Rush D (GB)
The 11th ranked Rush O (GB) vs the #1 Rush D (Pit)

Both teams OL are not great at pass protection (21st and 29th here), both teams have very good pass rush.

These teams couldnt be much more even. According to FO numbers, the biggest mismatch in the game is the GB running game vs Pittsburgh D.

by Arkaein :: Thu, 01/27/2011 - 4:01pm

The Giants after the 2007 season had a pretty ridiculous set of playoff opponents. They faced the 9-7 Buccaneers (8th in total DVOA), 13-3 Cowboys (4th), the 13-3 Packers (6th), and the 16-0 Pats (1st by a mile). All on the road except the Superbowl.

The defensive DVOAs alone for these teams were not quite as impressive though.

And, to echo ppabich, you really can't read too much into GB-Chicago games. They tend to be ugly, regardless of what the teams do against other opponents.

by CraigInDC :: Thu, 01/27/2011 - 12:38pm

The key to this game is obvious. James Harrison will concuss Rodgers and Jennings on consecutive plays. He will be fined $250,000 but he will remain in the game. Can Matt Flynn beat the Steelers? I doubt he will look as good as he did against the Patriots.

by Matty D (not verified) :: Thu, 01/27/2011 - 4:33pm

Stay classy there CraigInDC!

by tecumseh (not verified) :: Thu, 01/27/2011 - 11:38pm

PLEASE do not compare the Ravens to the Bears according to Outsider Stats OK there are many ways to look at it, the Ravens are the 4th best team in the NFL the Bears the 16th. I live in Bears country and A LOT of Bears fans were amazed to see the Bears in the NFC finals. I also do not buy all that twisted logic, this is a rivalry game so throw the books out the window. The Bears are not a good team the Raven are it is that simple.

YES the way to beat the Steelers is to spread them wide and nickel and dime them but the problem is EVERYONE in the NFL knows this and Brady and NE are the only team that can pull it off. The other problem is Green Bay has will not be able to run the ball, period. No one has against the Steelers, the Jets with the Steelers minus Troy got 107 and Green Bay does not run well. Like I said it will be all on Aaron Rodgers and the passing game and IF he can play like Brady they win, if not they lose. He certainly has the potential BUT let's give Brady his props (and Wes Welker).

by Vicious Chicken Of Bristol (not verified) :: Fri, 01/28/2011 - 9:48am

"YES the way to beat the Steelers is to spread them wide and nickel and dime them but the problem is EVERYONE in the NFL knows this and Brady and NE are the only team that can pull it off."

Fine point, and completely ignored for the most part.

Brady is pretty much the king of dink and dunk, he has made a career on it (one Randy Moss filled season notwithstanding).

As you implied, knowing how something needs to be done and actually doing it are two different things. I just dont see this huge mismatch in the passing game that many others do.

Pittsburgh's D has been extremely susceptible to the short passing game...by design. They focusing on stopping the run and stopping the big pass play. Green Bay does not play NE's style of offense, nobody but NE does (at least not as successfully).

by thebuch :: Sat, 01/29/2011 - 1:45am

When the Packers can't get the run going, they tend to use the short passing game to replace a run. Saying "only Tom Brady can beat them" implying that Aaron Rodgers can't is also a bit of a stretch, let's look at the teams/QBs the Steelers have played:

Atlanta/Matt Ryan held to 9 points on the road (impressive)
Tennessee/Kerry Collins
Tampa Bay (who sucked against good teams)
Cleveland/Colt McCoy
Miami and whoever they were starting that week
Cincinnati and Carson Palmer

New England and Tom Brady
New Orleans and Drew Brees
New York Jets and Mark Sanchez
Baltimore and Joe Flacco

I see that they can beat a lot of bad quarterbacks, but both outstanding quarterbacks they've played so far this year beat the Steelers by 10. Other than that, they beat Mark Sanchez and Joe Flacco 3/5 times but neither of them are that good of quarterbacks, they did beat the Falcons and Matt Ryan at home but the divisional round showed that Matt Ryan is no Aaron Rodgers.

My point is, if the Steelers design their defense such that it shuts down the run but is susceptible to the short pass, the Packer WRs are going to have a field day on short routes. If they take those away, given Aaron Rodgers time in a dome and he's going to find receivers open downfield. Sure, you can take the Packers run game away, but they only use it to set up the pass and have proven they can win games without running the ball successfully. Seems to me this is a matchup that favors the Packers.

by tuluse :: Fri, 01/28/2011 - 3:15pm

Bears were 8th in Weighted DVOA going into the game against Green Bay. They were playing like a pretty good team at the end of the year.


by tecumseh (not verified) :: Thu, 01/27/2011 - 11:41pm

OOPs what I meant to say was that 107 yards was the most in the season and the Steelers have one of the very, very, best run Ds in the Super Bowl era. Does anyone really think the Pack will run the ball? Against teams that stuff the run, like the Bears or the Jets, the Pack has struggled this year. Like I said toss up game.

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by New Haven Denizen (not verified) :: Sun, 02/06/2011 - 3:13am

Bottom line (from analyzing all of your perceptive thoughts)

Steelers win if they force turnovers/field goals from Packers nickle & time offense OR if Steelers offensive line turns in another remarkable performance, allowing Mendenhall to chew up the clock OR if Big Ben is himself