Steelers Vs. Bengals Week 3 Outlook

Today I wanted to look at some data for the season, discuss some takeaways for the Pittsburgh Steelers week three matchup against the Cincinnati Bengals, and pose some questions for you the readers.

First, I wanted to see what type of air yards quarterbacks have had so far in 2021 with the ratio of completions and incompletions from Next Gen Stats for context:

  • Average Completed Air Yards = Vertical yards completed on a pass attempt at the moment the ball is caught in relation to the line of scrimmage.
  • Average Intended Air Yards = Vertical yards intended on all pass attempts in relation to the line of scrimmage.
  • Longest Completed Air Distance = Amount of yards the ball has traveled on a pass, from the point of release to the point of reception (as the crow flies). Unlike Air Yards, Air Distance measures the actual distance the passer throws the ball.

I really enjoyed the outcome here, we can really see types of passes and outcomes of play for all the quarterbacks on the sample size we have for 2021 so far! I found the mean lines (dashed lines) very interesting, with the average intended air yards stat just below eight yards and the average completed air yards stat below six yards so far this season. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has a 5.1 number for completed air yards. His 7.6 intended air yard number is just below the mean for all quarterbacks so far, which emphasizes the point that passing targets down the field have been there, but the connection with the receivers needs to improve.

Will we see an improvement in completed air yards against the Bengals secondary that will likely be without cornerback Trae Waynes and possibly former Steelers cornerback Mike Hilton? What are some of your favorite results league-wide?

I also wanted to see what the time to throw stat for quarterbacks looked like for the first two weeks, considering Roethlisberger has a reputation of getting the ball out quickly:

  • Time to Throw = measures the average amount of time elapsed from the time of the snap to throw on every pass attempt (sacks included).

Roethlisberger tops the list with Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott a very close second, and we can see Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow ranks sixth in preparation for the game on Sunday. With both visuals so far, we can see Burrow has been attempting and completing passes above the mean on the top graph and getting the ball out quickly compared to the league on the bar chart above. The quality has been mixed though, last week against the Bears he threw three interceptions along with two touchdowns, and hopefully the Steelers defense can provide consistent pressure leading to at least one turnover and be ready for the quick passing game without linebacker Alex Highsmith and possibly linebacker T.J. Watt who is listed as questionable.

How do you think Roethlisberger and Burrow will fare in the matchup on Sunday? How will the Steelers defense perform against the Bengals passing game?

Now let’s look at running back datapoints:

  • Rushing Yards Over Expectation (RYOE) = Rushing Yards – Expected Rushing Yards
  • 8 Men in the Box Percentage = How often a rusher sees eight or more defenders in the box against them.

Using these datapoints we can see how the running backs have done over expectation and which running backs have faced defenses that played to stop the run more often. Titans running back Derrick Henry leads the way as he usually does in several categories. Bengals running back Joe Mixon has the third most attempts and yards so far this season, but Derrick Henry and Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey have more attempts and faced tougher situations on those attempts.

Steelers running back Najee Harris has not faced eight plus men in the box often, highlighting the need for stronger collective offensive line play to maximize his opportunities. I am also hopeful we can see more attempts from Harris against the Bengals, especially if the Steelers offense can get points early and play a balanced game. This could also take some of the load off Roethlisberger, considering the number of hits he took against the Raiders in the passing game last week.

How do you think Harris and Mixon will perform on Sunday? Will the Steelers offensive line show improvements in the running game against the Bengals? What are some of your favorite takeaways league wide?

Lastly, I wanted to look at the three top three wide receivers for the Steelers and the Bengals for the season, and see how they have done with the following datapoints:

  • Average Separation = The distance in yards measured between a wide receiver and the nearest defender at the time of the catch or incompletion
  • Catch Percentage = Percentage of targets that were caught
  • Average Intended Air Yards = Vertical yards intended on all pass attempts in relation to the line of scrimmage.

As expected we see Steelers wide receiver Diontae Johnson as the leader in separation, but his catch percentage has been low in the 2021 season. To be clear, this has been more on miscommunications on routes with Roethlisberger rather than drops as we saw in 2020. Unfortunately Johnson is listed as out for the Bengals game this week due to the knee injury he suffered on the last play against the Raiders in week two, so we will have to wait and see if Roethlisberger and Johnson can start making the same reads on option routes moving forward.

The dot size for Steelers wide receiver Juju Smith-Schuster illustrates the continuation of short targets from the 2020 season, and Steelers wide receiver Chase Claypool at the bottom left highlights the lack of separation and lack of catches on his targets so far. Claypool does lead the wide receivers on the graph in intended air yards, with Bengals wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase a close second. In terms of separation, wide receiver Tyler Boyd leads the Bengals and has the highest catch percentage of all the players on the graph. Bengals wide receiver Tee Higgins is listed as doubtful on the Friday injury report, so both teams will likely be without one of their top three wide receivers.

How do you think the wide receivers will fare in the week three game on Sunday? Who is your pick to win the game?

Thanks for reading and let me know your thoughts in the comments!

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