Steelers Vs. Buccaneers Week 6 Pregame Stats Outlook

The Pittsburgh Steelers are now 1-4 and have yet another tough challenge this Sunday, facing off against the 3-2 Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They are strong on both sides of the ball, as I outlined in my recent article highlighting the tough schedule we’re currently in the midst of. Today I’ll provide information, takeaways, and pose some questions for you, the readers.

Let’s start with the quarterback position, starting with a simple view of the 2022 passing leaders through week five:

Tampa Bay quarterback Tom Brady is a legend and is having yet another excellent season, currently ranking third in attempts (207) and yards (1409). Steelers quarterback Kenny Pickett is just starting his NFL journey, and has 65 attempts for 447 yards in his game and a half played this season, and has shown some good things along with some expected areas for improvement.

Let’s add more context, first by looking at the leaders in quickest time to throw on the season thus far:

Brady tops the list with the fastest 2.4 number so far in 2022, which is big in this matchup considering Pittsburgh’s struggles to get a pass rush since losing edge rusher T.J. Watt to injury (more on this later). This will likely be the case again considering the above, and brings up a big question I have for how the Steelers will approach the passing game on defense. In comparison, Pickett has a 2.79 time to throw number which is the 13th longest through week five out of 35 players with at least 45 attempts. One of Brady’s few weaker points is throws under pressure. He has a 51.6 PFF under pressure passing grade which ranks 23rd amongst quarterbacks this season, compared to an 85.3% grade when kept clean that ranks seventh.

If Pittsburgh decides to blitz more in this game though, it leaves the battered secondary more vulnerable, and haven’t been highly successful when doing so. Pittsburgh will be missing much of their secondary on Sunday: safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, along with cornerbacks Ahkello Witherspoon, Levi Wallace, and Cameron Sutton who were all ruled out on Friday’s injury report. Ouch. If the defense doesn’t blitz though, Brady will likely have a field day, so I’m hoping there’s a healthy mixture to hopefully create some splash without compromising the back end too often.

Next, I wanted to provide completion percentages and touchdown/interception ratios for the NFL:

Here we can see Brady is solid in both regards, with good company on the top right of the graph. He has seven touchdowns and one interception on the season for the seventh ranked TD/INT ratio. This also impressive considering the vast number of injuries the Bucs have dealt with in the receiver room, and doing a great job of taking care of the football. Both quarterbacks in the matchup have similar completion percentages, Brady at 68.1% (fifth) and Pickett 67.75 (eighth), but the latter having the worst TD/INT ratio, with painful numbers of zero touchdowns (only quarterback with none) and four interceptions. Looking for him to get his first passing touchdown on the season, as well as a positive ratio for hopeful offensive improvements in the matchup.

How do you think the Steelers defense will fare against Brady? Will Pickett trend positively with more game action?

Now for the running backs, starting with NFL rushing leaders at the position:

Bucs running back Leonard Fournette has the 12th most attempts on the ground this season (74) for 280 yards, which is just below the mean out of the 43 players on the graph for a 3.8 yards per attempt number. He has an outlook high in runs of 10 yards or more (nine). Here’s to hoping Pittsburgh’s defense can clamp down on this valuable element he provides as a rusher. Speaking of his value, he has fared extremely well as a receiver, tied for second in targets (29) and receptions (26) with an 89.7 catch percentage, 194 yards (third), at 7.5 yards per catch, along with two touchdowns (T-2nd), and a healthy 8.8 yards after catch, often targeted behind the line by Brady with a -1.2 average distance of target (ADOT). Fournette is also tied for the top rank in first down catches (11), and here’s to hoping the Steelers defense is up to all the challenges he presents.

Pittsburgh running back Najee Harris is close behind Fournette with the 15th rank in attempts (69), but 222 yards (29th) and a low 3.2 yards per attempt number. The visual highlights this, with Harris being one of the only players on the bottom right and the lowest rush yards of players with an above average number of attempts. Harris and Fournette each have a rushing touchdown on the season, and here’s to hoping Harris can get back to the endzone this week, particularly an early game score that could set up a better game script (and optimistically outcome). As a receiver, Harris is now tied for 19th in targets (15) and receptions (13) for an 86.7 catch percentage and 64 yards (39th), at 4.9 yards per catch, a touchdown, 4.9 yards after catch, and a 0.5 ADOT.

Steelers running back Jaylen Warren has the third most rush attempts in the outlook (19) and yards (94) for a healthy 4.9 yards per attempt, and has shown toughness breaking tackles (six missed tackles forced on the ground). He has also provided four runs of ten plus yards (compared to Harris’ five) which is impressive considering his lower number of opportunities. As a receiver, Warren has nine targets, seven receptions, a 77.8 catch percentage, 46 yards at 6.6 per catch, no touchdowns, a much better 7 yards after catch than Harris, and a -0.6 ADOT.

Bucs running back Rachaad White has 16 rush attempts for only 35 yards, for a pedestrian 2.2 yards per attempt, but does have a touchdown punching it in on third and goal from the one-yard line, also providing an impressive seven first downs (nearly half of his attempts) and 20 yards after contact. He also has 12 targets, ten receptions for an 83.3 catch percentage, 85 yards (8.5 per reception), no touchdowns, 7.1 yards after catch (nearly identical to Warren), and the highest ADOT (1.0) in the outlook.

Improvements on the ground will be one of the biggest keys to aid the struggling offense, especially on first down. Each Steelers back has a fumble, compared to none for the Bucs, highlighting another facet of the game in which they take care of the football. Neither team has an explosive run of 20 yards or more, and it would be huge if Harris or Warren could provide one on Sunday.

Next I wanted to provide Next Gen Stats rushing yards over expected numbers through week five, along with average time to the line of scrimmage:

Harris jumps out with the worst RYOE (-1.06) and is the only player with a minimum of 30 attempts that is over a full yard below expectation. This really adds additional context to the lack of success in yet another season for the Steelers on the ground, and here’s to hoping we see a positive trend moving forward. Fournette has performed virtually as expected according to NGS’s model, with a -0.01 RYOE that is tied for 21st. It is also interesting to see how running backs’ TTL numbers line up, with Fournette taking the fifth longest to get to the line compared to Harris, who is the 11th quickest, highlighting their different running styles.

How do you think the run games will fare in the matchup?

The wide receivers present a huge challenge as well, a group that is getting healthier largely speaking, loading the arsenal for Brady in the matchup against the empty cupboards of the Steelers secondary. Here are their targets and yards through four weeks:

Steelers wide receiver Diontae Johnson leads the outlook with 50 targets (T-seventh in the NFL) and 267 yards. The visual highlights his lowest yardage of players with 50 targets or more. Looking at the outlook for more context on this, Bucs wide receiver Mike Evans has more yards (316) on a below the mean number of targets (29), and similarly Pittsburgh wide receiver George Pickens has 250 yards, which is 17 yards shy of Johnson on 22 less targets (28). A crazy feat that is still yet to happen is no Steeler receiver having a touchdown through five games. I highlighted several of issues for the position in my passing locations article this week, mainly looking for Johnson to step up and make more plays with missed opportunities.

Evans leads the outlook with three touchdowns in four games as well, with all of them coming in the red zone to date. Two of those highlighted his great jump ball ability that I potentially see coming to fruition against in the matchup, and the other an intermediate catch over the middle that’s like the holy grail in Pittsburgh. He primarily plays on the outside, but has a good chunk of snaps from the slot as well. One example of the latter was his longest catch on the season, a wheel route getting wide open off the rub action for the catch and YAC for a double explosive 41-yard gain. What a challenge.

Bucs wide receiver Chris Godwin is another fantastic receiver, but has only played three games limiting his totals on the season thus far. He has 19 targets for 151 yards, and has spent most of his time in the slot, with time out wide as well. Tampa Bay wide receiver Russell Gage has the most targets on the team (31, at the NFL mean), due to others missing time but has a low 172 yards. Gage does have a touchdown, which came on third and goal from the one-yard line on a slant over the middle. Seeing a trend here, look out for inside the five passes from Brady in this game. Gage has played a near even split out wide and in the slot, and it will be interesting to see what his opportunities look like with a healthier position room in this matchup.

Pittsburgh wide receiver Chase Claypool is below the mean in both, now with 29 targets on the season for 135 yards. Bucs wide receiver Scotty Miller is the fourth most targeted receiver on the team (20), with 73 yards to date, mostly playing out wide. Fellow wide receiver Breshad Perriman may also figure into the equation and has 12 targets for 89 yards.

Next let’s look at least amount of cushion (distance in yards between the receiver and defender at the snap) across the NFL:

Here we can see the three primary Steelers receivers make the list, highlighting the tight pre-snap alignment they are seeing in comparison to the NFL. Pickens is seeing the least cushion in the outlook and sixth least in the NFL, with Johnson 14th, and Claypool 18th. Evans is the other player to make the list, with the seventh least amount of cushion to date.

Let’s continue to layer context with what has happened after the snap, using separation (distance in yards between the receiver and defender at the catch or incompletion) and YAC:

Godwin lands alone in the outlook on the top right, with the league’s 17th rank in separation (3.4) that will be tough to handle, along with a solid 5.7 YAC number that ranks 22nd. An example of the latter was a 24-yard screen behind an Evans block. Gage has fared extremely well with the best separation to date in the outlook, at 3.9 yards which ranks fifth in the NFL. His YAC result (3.4) is below the mean though, and third in the matchup.

Evans lands at the NFL mean in YAC (4.4), and the graph highlights separation being a weaker point in his game. His low 2.2 number is the sixth lowest in the NFL, though he is still one of the best receivers in the league in contested situations, and important to recall the lack of cushion he is given as well. Miller has the second lowest separation in the outlook (2.5) along with the leagues fourth worst YAC of 1.8.

Pittsburgh’s wide receivers land similarly in the separation department, with Claypool and Pickens improving in this regard in week five. Johnson still has the lowest YAC result in the NFL (0.97), and the only player with a number below one. Claypool has the 13th lowest YAC mark, but did trend positively by about a yard from last weeks average. Pickens has the 16th fewest YAC, which sat evenly to previous results. While I’ll take the small improvements, the predictability of the offense paired with corners playing extremely tight, and the routes are not varied enough to help the receivers in most cases. Fingers crossed we see a better game with more playmaking.

Last thing for the wide receivers, I wanted to provide receivers average intended air yards paired with their completion percentages:

Here is where Evans provides the best value in the outlook, with a 13.1 IAY number that is third best in the outlook and 19th league-wide, along with his 69% catch rate which is fourth best in the NFL of players with 12+ intended air yards. In comparison, Pickens has 15.3 IAY which ranks eighth in the NFL and the highest completion percentage (60.7) of players with 14+ air yards. His completion rate has also encouragingly improved with Pickett at the helm, and here’s to hoping that continues with poor overall results in explosive plays for the Steelers offense this season. Miller has the second highest IAY in the outlook and ranks 11th in the league, but has the NFL’s second worst completion percentage at 40.

Godwin has the best completion percentage of the outlook by far (84.2) which ranks third in the NFL. Gage also has a high 74.2% completion rate that ranks 13th in the NFL, and both receivers land on the top left highlighting them as Brady’s short area targets at the position, and having a ton of success. Johnson is above the NFL mean in IAY (11.5), but only catching 56% of his passes through five weeks off a rough week five offering. Claypool’s catch percentage is similar (55.2) but has remained fairly even to his average following week four. He is also the only player in the outlook that is below the mean in both data points, with his IAY at 9.6.

Will the Steelers pass game improve this week against a tough Tampa Bay defense? Does the Steelers defense with several injuries have a chance to keep up with the Bucs pass game?

Next up are the tight ends, and here are the receiving stat leaders for the position:

Steelers tight end Pat Freiermuth is still above the mean on the top right with 20 receptions (T-8th) and 235 yards which ranks seventh at the position despite being concussed in week five, leaving the game early with just two catches. He was also ruled out on Friday’s injury report, another man down for the Steelers. Pittsburgh tight end Zach Gentry filled in well in his absence last week (eight catches for 85 yards for the season now), and it will be interesting to see how he fares. Tampa Bay tight end Cameron Brate lands on the lower left with 11 receptions and 100 yards in four games played. Fellow tight end Cade Otton is the second most targeted at the position for the Bucs, and has 10 receptions for 76 yards.

Next, let’s see what the position has been able to provide in terms of catch percentage and yards after the catch:

Here we can see both tight ends are below the mean in each data point, with Freiermuth having the better marks of the two. He has a 62.5 catch percentage that is below average and ranks 19th out of 27 players on the graph. His YAC result is his better mark to date this season, with a 4.6 number that is just below the mean and ranks 14th. Brate’s catch percentage sits at 57.9% which ranks 22nd, and has not provided much YAC at the position, with a 2.7 number that is the second lowest at the position. One of his better plays in this regard was a 19-yard gain off play action that got him open, another tough facet Brady and the Tampa Bay offense present, especially considering the Steelers linebackers have been biting hard on play fakes in recent weeks.

Which tight end room do you think will have the better game?

Now for the offensive lines, here are the PFF grades for run and pass blocking along with snap totals:

Right away we see Bucs right tackle Tristan Wirfs has the highest pass block grade in the outlook (87.5) which is an impressive third best in the NFL along with a respectable 71.5 run block grade. Steelers right tackle Chukwuma Okorafor is the next player above the mean in both data points, with a 70.7 pass block grade along with a 70.1 run block grade. Tampa Bay center Robert Hainsey is the third and final player above the mean player in both, filling in for the injured Ryan Jensen, with a 66.2 pass block grade and a 66.8 run block grade.

Steelers guard James Daniels has fared well as the second-best pass block grade in the outlook (81.5) which now ranks 15th in the NFL highlighting a poor performance last week that dropped him down from his previous fourth rank, along with a low 61 run block grade. Pittsburgh center Mason Cole is at the mean in the outlook in run block grades (64.7) along with a 64.9 pass block grade. Steelers tackle Dan Moore and guard Kevin Dotson are just above the mean as pass blockers (69.9, 68.2), but have the lowest run blocking grades in the outlook, 58 for Dotson and Moore with a low 53.9.

Bucs right guard Shaq Mason has an above the mean 71.1 pass block grade that is third best in the outlook, but a below average 62.5 run blocking grade. Fellow starting guard Luke Goedeke is the only player in the outlook that is below the mean in both data points, with a 58.6 run block grade and an extremely low 25.2 pass block grade. Here’s to hoping the Steelers defensive interior led by Cameron Heyward can make an impact in the middle, a good way to get to Brady and force him into pressure situations where he tends to struggle as I highlighted earlier. Left tackle has been a revolving door due to injury, with Donovan Smith starting the season, leaving the opener where Josh Wells replaced him and played in the first two games of the season and faring well as a run blocker. Brandon Walton came into the game in week two followed by a start in week three. Smith returned to play most recently the last two weeks. And here’s to hoping that Highsmith can get back to his disruptive ways, especially pressuring Brady with all this considered after a quiet game last week.

How do you think the offensive lines will fare?

Speaking of pressure, let’s look at blitz and pressure percentages for team defenses on the season:

The Bucs land on the top right with a 29.6% blitz rate (eighth), and applying pressure 26.2% of the time which ranks 11th. In comparison, Pittsburgh has blitzed at a 27.4% which ranks 11th, but a much lower 16.3% pressure rate that has plummeted sans T.J. Watt and ranks 29th in the NFL. It was also announced the defensive lineman DeMarvin Leal will not play on Sunday, another element to the mountainous test in week six. What a huge disparity that has to change for hopeful positive trends on Sunday. Here’s to hoping the defensive interior can play well to limit how often the Steelers have to blitz, hopefully increasing their quality when they do.

Bucs linebacker Devin White leads the team with 40 combined tackles, five tackles for loss, six quarterback hits, and three sacks, along with a forced fumble and three passes defensed. Safety Mike Edwards is second on the team with 36 combined tackles, two passes defensed including an interception for a triple explosive return of 68 yards for the touchdown, a sack, and two tackles for loss. Linebacker Lavonte David has 34 combined tackles, one for a loss along with a sack and two passes defensed. Safety Antoine Winfield has 32 combined tackles, two sacks, a forced fumble, and an interception. Cornerback Jamel Dean leads the team in passes defensed (4) and two interceptions along with a tackle for loss. The team has six interceptions on the year, and other than the previously mentioned, safety Logan Ryan has one and cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting providing another. Ryan also has two passes defensed, a forced fumble, and recovery, but both Ryan and Murphy-Bunting were ruled out for the game.

Steelers linebacker Myles Jack now has 50 combined tackles which leads the team by far, with two tackles for loss, a quarterback hit, and a pass deflection. Safety Minkah Fitzpatrick is second in combined tackles with 33, has a quarterback hit, four passes defensed, along with three interceptions with 78 yards and a touchdown, but is out for the game. Linebacker Devin Bush has combined for 30 tackles and a quarterback hit. Highsmith has the team lead with 5.5 sacks which is tied for second in the NFL, six tackles for loss, eight quarterback hits, and a forced fumble. Cornerback Cameron Sutton leads the team with five passes defensed, along with two interceptions, a tackle for loss, and will also sorely be missed.

How will the defenses fare?

Last thing I wanted to look at to close is the diamond of a statistic, adjusted net yards per pass attempt (ANY/A) which is (Passing Yards – Sack Yards + (20 * Passing TD) – (45 * Interceptions)) / (Passes Attempted + Times Sacked) for both sides of the ball:

Here is yet another aspect Tampa Bay is above average in both data points. Their defensive ANY/A is very strong at 4.2 which ranks fifth, along with a respectable 6.8 on offense that ranks ninth through week five. Coincidentally, Pittsburgh’s offensive number (pun intended) matches the Bucs defensive number at 4.2, which is dead last in the NFL. The Steelers defensive number currently sits at 6.4, which is below average and ranks 19th. No doubt these numbers need to be better, with the Steelers offense needing to take care of the football and hopefully get on the scoreboard early to aid the game script, Pickett, and the defenses incredibly tough challenge on Sunday.

How do you see the game playing out on Sunday? Thanks for reading and let me know your thoughts in the comments.

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