Posted Thu Jan 5th by Monty
Breaking down the Denver Broncos‘ first playoff opponent in six years from the Football Outsiders‘ perspective: the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Recall that lower (negative) percentages are good on defense, bad on offense and special teams. DVOA Primer
Overall DVOA: 23.7% (2nd)
The Pittsburgh Steelers are one of the most overall efficient teams in the NFL, second only to the 15-1 Green Bay Packers. There is not a glaring weakness across the board (they rank in the top half of the NFL in all seven categories we’ll break down in this post), and most parts of that board can be considered a strength. They have a strong, mobile quarterback in Ben Roethlisberger; they have perennial Defensive MVP candidate Troy Polamalu, and they have been to the big game the hard way before (playoffs on the road). Winning this game is a tall task for the Broncos.
Overall Offense: 16.3% (6th)
Pass Offense: 30.5% (7th)
Run Offense: 10.2% (7th)
Rashard Mendenhall is out. We can expect a big dropoff in the Steelers’ traditional run-first offense, right?
Wrong. Isaac Redman had a stronger yards per carry (4.4) than Mendenhall (4.1), and his DYAR and Success Rate were decent as well (Success Rate was better, landing Redman in the top five). In other words, Redman consistently got the yards the Steelers needed. He may not have broken free for huge gains, but he moved the chains.
However, Ben Roethlisberger‘s lingering ankle injury does appear to be affecting his play. He maintained his spot in the Top 10 DYAR, but his weekly passer ratings dropped from 117.3 and 129.6 in Weeks 13 and 14 (the latter was the week of his injury) to 52.3 and 70.0 in the two games he has played since. There’s hope that the Broncos can pressure Roethlisberger enough to force him into mistakes — though few take sacks and win like Big Ben.
Overall Defense: -5.8% (7th)
Pass Defense: -7.3% (3rd)
Run Defense: -3.9% (15th)
They were already a stout defense, but the Steelers’ getting LB LaMarr Woodley back for this game is nothing short of huge. Woodley had two sacks in four straight weeks in the playoffs following the 2008 season, setting an NFL record.
It is true, though, that the Steelers’ strength (pass) and weakness (run) on defense play to the Broncos’ offense well. If the Broncos already struggle passing, it makes sense for them to stick to their top-ranked ground game, since it’s the weakest overall area of this Steelers team.
Special Teams: 1.6% (9th)
Wide receiver/returner Antonio Brown is, simply put, a beast, and a deserving recipient of the AFC’s Returner Pro Bowl slot. Brown ranks second in the AFC in kickoff return average (27.7 yards) and fourth in punt return average (10.8), with one punt return TD. In total, he has gained 2,048 all-purpose yards for the Steelers. He was voted Steelers MVP by his teammates.
Tomorrow we’ll break down how the Broncos rank.