Steelers Vs. Ravens Week 18 Outlook

Today I wanted to look at some data for the season, discuss takeaways for the Pittsburgh Steelers Week 18 matchup against the Baltimore Ravens, and pose some questions for you the readers.

First, let’s look at quarterbacks using the following data points from Next Gen Stats:

  • Completed Air Yards = Average air yards a passer throws on completions
  • Intended Air Yards = Average air yards a passer throws on all attempts

Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson lands on the top right of the graph, ranking second in both air yard data points! He has an intended air yards number of 9.57 and a completed air yards number of 7.02, on his 382 attempts, which ranks 24th out of 39 quarterbacks. This highlights the four games he’s missed, and his absence will continue due to his ankle injury the team announced on Friday.

Quarterback Tyler Huntley will start and has played well for Baltimore in his two games in Week 15 and 17, and Josh Johnson to a lesser extent in Week 16, but each of the three games were losses. Huntley lands on the bottom left of the graph with a 5.1 completed air yards number (31st) and an intended air yards number of 7.5 which ranks 24th! This is a big takeaway with Jackson ruled out, it will likely and largely take the deep pass out of the equation, one less and big element for the Steelers defense to account for.

Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger lands on the bottom left with a completed air yards number of 4.49 and an intended air yards number of 6.8, which both rank 37th! In Week 17, Roethlisberger’s intended air yards were decent (6.2), but his completed air yards were incredibly low at 1.7! This highlights issues through the season, not capitalizing when the ball is thrown deep, whether it be an off target throw or the receivers not making enough catches on these opportunities along with the primarily short pass game with frustrating late down short throws.

Next let’s look at quarterbacks Touchdown/Interception ratios (touchdowns-interceptions):

Out of the quarterbacks with 250 attempts or more, Roethlisberger ranks 13th with a Touchdown/Interception ratio of 12 (21TD/9INT)! So, he largely he has been able to take care of the ball compared to the 31 quarterbacks on the chart. In comparison, Jackson has a ratio of 3 for a 25th ranking (16TDS/13INTS)! It will be interesting to see what Huntley’s ratio looks like with more sample size, currently at 3 TD’s/2 INT’s and if Pittsburgh’s defense can get a takeaway (or more), a necessity for the offense who has largely needed the help.

Here’s a view to highlight an obvious strength of Jackson’s rushing yards:

Putting the fewest attempts at the top of the graph highlights Jackson’s amazing running ability. Not only is he in the top 20 rushers in the NFL at the quarterback position with 767 yards, he has done this on the fewest attempts of 133! Huntley has also provided a similar element to their offense with 222 yards. Pittsburgh’s defense has struggled against mobile quarterbacks and it will be interesting to see how the Steelers do in this regard against Huntley in the game.

How do you think the quarterbacks will perform in a win or go home finale?

Now let’s look at the running backs with 8 Men In The Box %, Time To Line Of Scrimmage, and Rushing Yards:

Baltimore running backs Devonta Freeman and Latavius Murray are fairly even in snap counts, with the former landing at the bottom right of the graph. Both backs are in the top 15 in facing eight men in the box, and Freeman lands lower in the time to line of scrimmage data point with a 2.88 number which ranks 43rd of the 51 running backs, along with 555 rushing yards. He also leads the team in receiving with 184 yards and 32 catches with an excellent 88.9% completion rate!

Murray lands on the top right of the graph with 351 yards, and above the mean in both data points with a sixth ranked time to line of scrimmage number of 2.66! So, Freeman let’s his blocks set up more patiently while Murray hits the hole quickly overall. I highlighted the personnel factors that contribute to the defenders in the box and time to the line in my Division Outlook for even more context, and the Steelers defense better be ready for larger personnel groupings. Fullback Patrick Richard will not play though, being placed on injured reserve which is big.

Pittsburgh running back Najee Harris is coming off a great game to lead the offense to a crucial win, bringing his attempts to second most in the league (297), 4th rank in yards (1153), along with leading the NFL at the position in receiving targets (90), receptions (70), and fourth in receiving yards (440)! Harris lands on the left middle of the graph, seeing eight men in the box only 14.5% of the time which ranks 43rd, but this did increase last week against Cleveland to 25%, putting impressive context to his 188-yard performance and stellar yards after contact! Baltimore’s strength on defense is against the run, so here’s to hoping Pittsburgh can have another good game on the ground with this in mind.

Which team will have the better run game?

Here’s a takeaway for Baltimore’s receivers when Jackson plays:

  • Cushion = Distance measured between the WR and the defender they are lined up against at the time of snap on all targets

With Jackson’s high intended air yards, defenses have been giving the receivers cushion, highlighted by three Ravens receivers landing on the above plot! This is another big strategical element to the game, with Pittsburgh’s defense having the option to play closer to the line against Huntley and limiting space on the outside when he decides to run if they so choose.

Let’s layer this with a few other data points and compare the wide receivers in the matchup on Sunday:

  • Separation = The distance in yards measured between a wide receiver and the nearest defender at the time of catch or incompletion
  • % Of Team’s Air Yards = The sum of the receivers total intended air yards on all attempts over the sum of his team’s total intended air yards as a percentage

Steelers wide receiver Diontae Johnson landed on the COVID list but was reactivated quickly on Friday which was surprising, and a huge development for Pittsburgh’s pass game on Sunday! This is huge considering how vital he has been to the team in usage and success, along with Baltimore being a weaker pass defense. Johnson leads the graph with 33.3% of teams air yards along with the least amount of cushion (4.56) and leads Pittsburgh with a 3.14 separation number on his matchup leading 1110 yards, eight touchdowns, and 159 targets!

Steelers wide receiver Chase Claypool has the second most receptions for the team, but we can see his weaknesses on the graph, mostly his inability to separate from defenders with the lowest 2.3 number in the matchup which is seventh worst amongst wide receivers in the league! With Claypool seeing 27.77% of Pittsburgh’s air yards and a 55.1% catch percentage, here’s to hoping he can improve on an abysmal 33.33% on nine targets last week, especially converting contested catch opportunities with his lack of separation.

Wide receiver Ray-Ray McCloud has the second ranked separation number of 3.08 for Pittsburgh. His dot size highlights his very low 7.72% of teams air yards! James Washington is the other Steelers wide receiver on the graph, and has had similar issues as Claypool, lacking separation and a low catch percentage of 54.55 this season.

How will the Steelers receivers perform against the Ravens defense?

Marquise Brown leads the Ravens at the position with 138 targets, 88 receptions, 32.15% of teams air yards along with the second most separation on the graph with a 3.58 number. It will be interesting to see how Pittsburgh defends him with tight end Mark Andrews in the fold, and if they focus their attention on one as the primary receiver as we know they like to do, the other could have a big game.

We can also see Brown along with wide receivers Devin Duvernay (questionable) and Rashod Bateman with the most cushion at the bottom of the graph highlighting my earlier takeaway. Duvernay has taken advantage of cushion the most with a matchup leading 3.73 yards of separation on his 47 targets and 33 receptions, with the highest 70.21 catch percentage as well! He does have the lowest 6.52% of teams air yards on the graph, (lower than McCloud!) emphasizing his short area receiving overall.

Bateman has the least amount of separation for Baltimore with a 2.71 number, but 64 targets and 44 receptions and the second highest 68.75 catch percentage in the matchup! His 12.07% of teams air yards highlights him as more of the intermediate receiver that could provide moving the chains plays on Sunday. Ravens wide receiver Sammy Watkins also made the graph, above the mean in both cushion (5.84) and separation (3.12) on his 48 targets, but only 27 catches highlighting his low 56.25 catch percentage for a slightly better mark than Claypool and Washington.

How do you think Baltimore’s wide receivers will perform with Joe Haden likely out on the COVID list?

Now let’s look at NFL reception leaders:

Johnson is tied for fifth in receptions, reaching 100 on the season which again highlights how focal he’s been in the Steelers offensive attack. Just behind him is Andrews, who is tied for seventh with 99 receptions, and impressively the only tight end on the plot! This emphasizes him as Baltimore’s primary receiver and huge challenge the Steelers defense has in attempts of limiting him with their linebackers (while getting healthier) struggling overall in coverage!

Here’s more data showcasing how dominant Andrews has been at the tight end position:

On the top right, Andrews has the most yards for tight ends (1276), second with 28.7% of teams air yards on his position leading 138 targets and tied for the most touchdowns with nine! Another impressive element with his volume is a 71.74 completion percentage, which ranks ninth out of 28 tight ends on the graph! He has had a monstrous season, here’s to hoping Pittsburgh’s defense is ready for the tall task Sunday.

Steelers tight end Pat Freiermuth lands on the bottom left of the graph, highlighting his lower 9.85% of teams air yards through the season ranking 18th. He has 70 targets (17th) and 54 receptions (14th), emphasizing his strong 77.14 completion percentage which ranks third! Freiermuth also has provided 7 touchdowns, which is impressive and a high rate of the tight ends below the mean in yards, visualized with the dot sizes and as a great red zone target!

How will Andrews perform against the Steelers defense? What about Freiermuth?

Next let’s look at the offensive lines using Pro Football Focus blocking grades and snaps:

The Steelers have improved in the run blocking department since the Week 13 Ravens game in the 20-19 win, especially guard Trai Turner (68.1) and tackle Chukwuma Okorafor (65.9) along with J.C. Hassenauer (74.6) leading the matchup on fewer snaps. Hassenauer will likely get another start at center with Kendrick Green now on the COVID list after being sidelined due to injury last week. Turner is also above the mean with a 72.3 pass block grade along with guard John Leglue’s 74.9 grade. Tackle Dan Moore lands below the mean in both blocking grades, but has improved slightly in the grades especially as a pass blocker. Unfortunately, he is listed as doubtful on the Friday injury report, so Okorafor will likely switch over to left tackle on Sunday. It will be interesting to see if Joe Haeg (78 pass block grade) or possibly Zach Banner (has barely played) fill in at right tackle and how that position fares. Guard Kevin Dotson has been sidelined since Week 11 and is tied for the highest pass block grade of 78.3 in the matchup. It will be interesting to see if he is able to return to a dwindling position room this week or if Leglue gets another opportunity.

Center Bradley Bozeman is the highest graded run blocking for the Ravens (72) along with an above the mean pass blocking grade of 72.2! Baltimore guard Kevin Zeitler ties Dotson with the highest pass block grade (78.3) and the second-best run block grade for at 67.9! Fellow guard Ben Powers (questionable) has an above average run block grade (63.5) but slightly below the mean with a 66.1 pass block grade. Guard Ben Cleveland is also questionable, so it will be interesting to see what their lineup is on Sunday if either or both are unable to go. Ravens tackle Patrick Mekari has an above the mean pass block grade of 73.2 but fares lower with a 58.2 run block grade. He also missed practice time this week, but no injury designation for the game. Former Steeler Alejandro Villanueva is still surprisingly graded higher as a run blocker (66.3) along with a 56.1 pass block grade, which is lower than Moore who took over the position this year!

Who will win the battle of the trenches?

To wrap up let’s look at expected points contributed for the defenses in the run and pass game from Pro Football Reference:

Right away we can see this visual highlights the points I made earlier, Baltimore stronger as a run defense ranking third, but struggling in the pass game with the second worst mark! Here’s to hoping Pittsburgh’s offense can have a strong passing attack with another strong game from Johnson, and it will be interesting to see how the running game fares against this strong Ravens run defense.

The Ravens have had poor luck with availability this season, affecting their success especially in the pass game. Cornerback Anthony Averett leads Baltimore with three interceptions but is injured, which is big for a team lacking this splash along cornerback Marlon Humphrey (injured reserve) with 13 passes defensed! Baltimore linebacker Tyus Bowser leads the team with eight sacks and linebacker Patrick Queen with 93 combined tackles. Defensive lineman Calais Campbell highlights their strong front, especially against the run. Edge rushers Justin Houston along with Odafe Oweh (doubtful) lead the position in the pass rushing department. Linebacker Josh Bynes has a well-rounded game and cornerback Jimmy Smith has played well when available, along with safety Chuck Clark a versatile piece rounding out the secondary.

The Steelers are above the mean in the passing data point ranking 11th, but struggling as a run defense with the fourth worst mark! Pittsburgh lucked out last week with Cleveland only running 19 times, which was a huge surprise that many didn’t anticipate. Baltimore surely won’t gift Pittsburgh’s with this luxury again, even if the Steelers offense can get up on the scoreboard in the first half as we’ve rarely seen before last week.

Pittsburgh linebacker T.J. Watt now leads the NFL with 21.5 sacks and will face Mekari who fares better as a pass blocker but could be affected by a hand injury. This could be a big factor as Watt eyes the single season sack record! Steelers safety Minkah Fitzpatrick ranks 17th in the NFL and team lead with 118 combined tackles, but hopefully we can see more distribution like last week, instead of him having to continually stop chunk plays. Cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon leads the Steelers with three interceptions and has come on strong in his opportunities late in the season. With Haden likely out, it will be interesting to see if he gets most of the snaps and his effectiveness. Witherspoon is also tied for the team lead with defensive lineman Cameron Heyward in passes defensed with nine!

Which defense will have the stronger game?

Here’s a link to my Week 13 Recap for a reminder of how the first game played out.

Who do you think will come out on top with playoff hopes at stake? Thanks for reading and let me know your thoughts in the comments!

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