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Steelers Vs. Raiders Week 16 Pregame Stats Outlook

The Pittsburgh Steelers are now 6-8, coming off a win where they played sound football overall on both sides of the ball, particularly in the run game, and will likely need a similar performance in hopes of victory against the Las Vegas Raiders who have the same record.

Let’s get right into the matchup, starting with the quarterbacks. Here are the passing leaders for 2022 through week 15:

Right away we get good context from the visual of Raiders quarterback Derek Carr and his 2022 season. He has played in every game this season, missing very little time in route to his 11th rank in the NFL in passing yards (3,348) and 472 attempts (T-ninth), which are both comfortably above the league mean, but a 61.2% completion rate that ranks 33rd out of 38 qualifying quarterbacks. Carr has 23 touchdowns on the year (T-eighth), but 11 interceptions which ties for the third most, which hopefully can play into the hands of Pittsburgh’s defense in the takeaway department.

Steelers quarterback Kenny Pickett is set to return following his second concussion of the year, and now has 1,797 passing yards on 294 attempts in 10 games played. His 65% completion rate ranks 20th in the NFL, which has trended down as of late and now slots in just below teammate Mitch Trubisky following the latter’s quality performance in this regard last game. Pickett still has four touchdowns and eight interceptions, and hopefully we see get a positive ratio in this game, particularly hoping for a red zone score considering the cold weather game could lead to a shorter passing game for both squads, who already want to attack on the ground first. Would be nice to see him connect with tight end Pat Freiermuth and/or wide receiver Diontae Johnson, which he has yet to do this season.

Speaking of pass distances, let’s look at quarterbacks intended and completed air yard averages for the 2022 season:

Right away we can see a big difference between the quarterbacks in this matchup, with Carr ranking fourth in intended air yards at 9.3, along with a 6.5 completed air yards number that ranks a bit lower at eighth (side note, Trubisky ranks second in both). This adds more context to his lower completion percentage overall, and it will be interesting to see if the weather indeed plays a factor in how the team has operated in the pass game. In comparison, Pickett is below league mean in both, with an intended air yards number of 7.6 (23rd) and 5.1 completed air yards which ranks 27th. He has climbed the ranks a bit in intended air yards recently which is encouraging, but his lower completion percentage highlights the connection needing to improve moving forward. Here’s to hoping the game factors can play in favor of Pittsburgh’s offense, with the blueprint of success of late going through the ground game along with a short efficient passing attack, which Pickett has been excelled at in his rookie season.

One last thing for the position, I wanted to see how players have fared in Next Gen Stats aggressiveness metric (percentage of tight window throws) and how it compared to their average time to throw this season:

Here we can see Carr has thrown into tight windows at the fifth highest rate in the NFL, with an aggressiveness result of 18.9%. He also has the eighth longest time to throw number, and hopefully the data holds true with the Steelers defense capitalizing on their likely opportunities to defend passes with hopeful takeaway(s) and get to the quarterback. Pickett is below the mean in both as well, with his stronger result of 15.6% aggressiveness ranking 25th in the NFL along with a similar TTT to Carr that’s ninth longest. Hopefully Pickett can keep his quality performance of late in the ball security department going in his return, and will be interesting to see what his TTT looks like considering the Raiders defense ranks 29th in sacks and 27th in pressure rate in 2022.

Now for the running backs, which will likely be the biggest offensive factor in the matchup. Let’s start by looking at rushing leaders through week 15:

Pittsburgh faces the NFL’s leading rusher on Saturday in Las Vegas running back Josh Jacobs. The visual highlights how dominant he has been on his 1,495 rush yards, nearly 200 more than any other player on 291 attempts, which is five less than Titans running back Derrick Henry. What a challenge he presents as one of, if not the most well-rounded rushers in the league, that can beat you in several different ways such as power or finesse. Steelers running back Najee Harris has been playing much better as of late, and now has 790 yards (15th) on 211 attempts (ninth). He and the position room will most likely need to keep this going on Saturday against a Vegas team that just allowed a big game to the Patriots on the ground, along with Pittsburgh’s defense committing to Jacob’s first and foremost in hopes of limiting him as they did in a stellar performance in run defense last week.

Let’s add more context with rushers time to the line numbers (TTL), and see how it correlates to their average rush yards:

Jacobs average rush yards land well above the mean as expected, at a whopping 5.1 and impressive seventh rank considering his high volume, along with a TTL number that is just above the NFL mean at 23rd. This highlights another strength of his game, providing nice vision and patience when needed, making strong decisions before using his athletic ability to make the right play at a high rate. Harris has the 14th quickest TTL, able to take a bit more time to make decisions thanks to the offensive line improvements through the season overall. Though his 3.7 average rush yards has not improved (sixth worst in the league), he and running back Jaylen Warren are coming off a strong performance in the successful play department, keeping drives moving particularly with their strong early down play. Here’s to hoping that continues for several reasons, mainly a hopeful continuation from last week of winning the time of possession battle, situational football with fingers crossed continued improvement on third down and the red zone, and thus limiting Jacobs’ opportunities.

Last thing for the position, I wanted to look at and provide another telling data point from Next Gen Stats, their efficiency metric (measures how north and south rushers are) along with eight men in the box percentages (8MIB):

In the game last week against Carolina both teams topped the 8MIB data, with Harris, Warren, and Panthers lead back D’Onta Foreman the only rushers who saw stacked boxes 50% of more. With the challenge Jacobs presents, it’s very likely Pittsburgh’s defense will commit similarly, but as I’ll get to in a bit, that could open up more for the Raiders more potent pass attack than they faced last week. To this point, Jacobs has only seen 8MIB at a surprisingly low 18.9% which is 30th in the NFL. This is extremely important context to his stellar results this season, along with being the second most efficient rusher on the season. Harris’s average 8MIB rate increased to 23.2%, which ranks 11th in the NFL now and highlights some tougher situations faced comparatively. He has the fifth lowest efficiency number on the season, with worse numbers against stacked boxes as many would expect. Here’s to hoping he can provide the big difference in success last game, physicality and forcing missed tackles.

Jacobs also leads the outlook in terms of receiving with 53 targets and 46 catches for 363 yards, for a whopping 1,858 scrimmage yards that also leads the NFL. He also has the longest catch at the position, on a double explosive 43 yarder. Harris is second in the matchup with 40 targets, 32 receptions, along with leading the position with two touchdowns but a much lower 165 yards that is least of this group. Raiders running back Ameer Abdullah is third in the outlook with 28 targets, 22 receptions, along with 174 receiving yards which is third in the matchup, a touchdown, and his longest catch coming on an explosive 23-yarder. Not utilized in the running game very much, as one would expect, with only four attempts. Steelers running back Jaylen Warren is third in the matchup with 53 rush attempts, 244 yards, and refreshingly got his first touchdown last week, and ranks fourth with 23 targets, 21 receptions, for a 91.3 catch percentage that leads the position and second in receiving yards with 178, which actually tops Harris in impressive season and providing YAC. Hopefully this is a key contribution from the Steelers position room on Saturday.

Perfect time for the wide receivers, starting with the receiving stats leaders on the season:

Here we see Las Vegas wide receiver Davante Adams is fourth in the NFL in receiving yards, on 151 targets (third), and is another huge element the Steelers defense will attempt to limit. He also has 12 touchdowns which leads the league at the position, and highlights the excellent connection he has with Carr in their well-documented time together dating back to their college days. Adams moves across the formation, with most of his snaps coming out wide at 69.5%. The Steelers defensive backs will definitely need to have solid communication, with this data highlighting the team effort it will take to achieve this goal.

Pittsburgh wide receiver Diontae Johnson heads into the contest with a questionable status but seems likely to play. He now has 123 targets, moving up to sixth in the NFL following an encouragingly strong performance, along with 745 yards which ranks a much lower 28th. This highlights the lack of downfield success that I highlighted in my recent receivers article, along with poor YAC results this season (more on this in a bit), though the latter has gradually improved. One element that has helped his production the last two games is increased slot snaps, now at an increased 13.1 on the season, and hopefully this continues against a Vegas secondary that ruled out cornerback Rock Ya-Sin for the contest.

Next, let’s look at the position in terms of percent of teams air yards and catch percentages:

Adams has the second rank in TAY at 42.1%. His catch rate is 57% on the other hand, which ranks 71st in the NFL and last of the most targeted players in the outlook. Johnson is second in the matchup in TAY and 12th in the league at 33.1%, along with a 62.6 catch percentage that leads the outlook, but is below league mean. Pittsburgh wide receiver George Pickens is second amongst this group with a 60.9% catch rate along with his TAY increasing as of late to 25.7%, now with 69 targets, 643 yards, and two touchdowns. Raiders wide receiver Mack Hollins is the second most targeted at the position, highlighting some injuries the team has dealt with and his increased opportunities leading to a 26% TAY which is just above Pickens and third in the matchup, and just below him with a 60% catch percentage for the same ranking along with four touchdowns.

There is a boom/bust element to the Raiders lower completion percentages though, with their higher rate of explosive plays. Hollins has the longest catch in the matchup for a triple explosive 60 yards, with Adams just behind with a long of 58-yard touchdown on a fourth and one play action pass. Really think play action will be a huge factor in this game, and hope Pittsburgh fares well on both sides of the ball in this regard.

Raiders wide receiver Hunter Renfrow is one of the injured players I referenced earlier, making his return last week after being out since week ten. He has 31 targets in seven games played, with 22 receptions (71%) which would lead the chart if he qualified, along with 206 yards. He primarily plays in the slot (87.8%), and would not be surprised if he gets free for a good game with all the Steelers defense has to account for, particularly Jacobs and Adams.

Last thing for the position, here are the separation and yards after catch numbers through week 15:

Adams is the only highly targeted player in the outlook that is above the mean in both data points. He ranks 32nd in the league in separation along with a healthy 5.1 YAC that ranks 23rd. He is also tied for third at the position in missed tackles forced, another key component to his strong YAC result. Pittsburgh’s defense has been good in the tackling department overall as of late, and this will yet again be critical against Adams and Jacobs in particular, and hopefully a sound game in this regard in general. The remaining players are below the mean in both data points, with Hollins ranking second in each with a 42nd rank in separation along with his 58th rank in YAC. Pittsburgh’s wide receivers follow, with Johnson having the third rank in separation (2.8) in the matchup and 53rd in the NFL, and his 2.3 YAC number ranking next to last, but still increasing slightly through most of the season. Pickens is third with 2.5 YAC, which is slightly better than Johnson but the fifth lowest mark in the league and also saw a slight increase from week 15. Whoever wins the battle in these two facets could prove huge, maximizing shorter targets considering the weather elements may limit the deeper pass attack. Knock on wood, hoping advantage goes to Pittsburgh here.

Transitioning to the tight ends, here are the receiving stats leaders for the season:

Despite having no targets last week, Steelers tight end Pat Freiermuth is still fourth in the NFL in receiving yards (630) and sixth in targets (82), along with two receiving touchdowns. As mentioned earlier, really looking for Pickett to connect with him in the end zone which they have yet to do this season. Las Vegas tight end Foster Moreau is the most targeted at the position for the team (47), with 336 yards and two touchdowns. He has played in 12 games this season, and has at least one explosive catch in five of those games. Similar to Renfrow, Raiders tight end Darren Waller returned last week after being out since week six and is another talented addition to the passing attack. He has played a large number of snaps from the slot (64.8%) and has 27 targets, 19 receptions (70.4%), two touchdowns, and two of his six games played included explosive plays.

One other thing I wanted to provide for the position, considering Moreau has been utilized even when Waller was available, yards after catch (YAC) and catch percentages for 2022:

Here we can see Moreau has the fourth rank in YAC at the position out of 30 qualifying players, at over seven yards. This could play leaned on with the weather elements, and the position could get loose with a full arsenal of weapons for Carr and the Raiders offense. The other side of the coin for Moreau has been his catch percentage, where he has the second lowest catch rate among tight ends at 57.4%. In comparison, Freiermuth is below the mean in both, with 4.8 YAC which ranks 19th along with a 64.6% catch rate which lands at 21st. Will be very interesting to see how the position fares Saturday night, feels like a tight end kind of game.

The offensive lines are always key to any matchup, and let’s see how the two teams have fared thus far with PFF grades:

Raiders left tackle Kolton Miller leads the outlook in both run (76.5) and pass (82.4) blocking grades. He also makes the top ten in ESPN’s win rates in both regards, ranking fourth in the run game and sixth as a pass blocker. Miller definitely presents a big matchup challenge for Steelers edge rusher Alex Highsmith, who is coming off a strong performance, and the winner of this battle will likely be a key factor in the game. Fellow tackle Jermaine Eluemunor is the other lineman for Las Vegas who lands above the mean in the matchup, with a stronger 74.3 run block grade (second in the outlook) along with a 72.5 as a pass blocker. Hopefully Pittsburgh edge rusher T.J. Watt can have a dominant game with a better matchup of the bookends, and will be interesting to see who comes out on top. Thayer Munford has also played in every game this season as a tackle/eligible and has an above the mean 70.2 pass block grade along with a 56.1 as a run blocker, which is the third lowest mark in the outlook.

Vegas center Andre James has an above the mean 69.5 pass block grade that ranks sixth in the outlook, along with a lower 57 grade as a run blocker. ESPN ranks him tenth at the position in the pass game, important to note and may suggest his PFF grade being a bit low. Raiders left guard Dylan Parham is above the mean in run blocking (63.9) but has an outlook low 53.5 in the pass game. Fellow guard Alex Bars is well below the mean in both regards, with a 59.2 pass block grade, but a very low 43.8 as a run blocker. Both guards are questionable for the contest, so it will first be interesting to see if they are able to play, and if Pittsburgh’s defensive interior spearheaded by Cameron Heyward and Larry Ogunjobi can capitalize at their weakest spot in the middle.

Steelers guard James Daniels has the strongest balance of grades for the team, with a stronger 70.9 pass block and 60.9 run block grade that are both above the matchup mean. He also ranks tenth in ESPN’s pass block win rates at his position, but did drop two spots in the rankings this week. Fellow guard Kevin Dotson has the highest pass block grade on the team (74.4), which is second in the matchup and up from last weeks 73.2 season grade, but his run block grade is below the outlook mean at 57.9. Center Mason Cole has the teams best run block grade (64.7) which is third in the matchup, but also has the lowest pass block grade on the team (65.3) and third lowest in the outlook. Tackle Dan Moore is just above the matchup mean in pass blocking (68.8) but lowest on the team with a 52.8 run blocker which is second worst in the outlook. Fellow tackle Chukwuma Okorafor is the only Steeler below (but near) the mean in both data points, with a 66-pass block grade, along with a 57.5 as a run blocker. The tackles will face a tough task against potent Raiders edge rushers, which I will highlight in a bit.

Moving to the defenses, looking at key third down and red zone conversion rates:

Here we can see Pittsburgh’s defense has fared much better this season in situational football, allowing third down conversions 38.3% of the time which ties for third best in the NFL. The Steelers red zone rate allowed is even more encouraging, at 52.4% which is seventh best in the league. Hopefully they can provide another strong performance in both facets against this formidable opponent to keep their season alive. Las Vegas is below the mean in both, allowing third down conversions at 41.1% which ranks 21st, along with allowing red zone touchdowns 61.9% of the time at 25th in the league, and hopefully this holds true for a Pittsburgh offense that looks to find more consistency amidst recent improvements. Vegas has been trending up the last two weeks though, making improvements in both regards, so this critical component will be crucial in hopes of victory.

Wanted to share some team defense rankings I gathered when studying the matchup as well. Pittsburgh has the edge on the season across the rankings I looked at, starting with an encouraging one for the matchup. The Steelers are seventh in the NFL in rush yards allowed, and hopefully similar results show up on Saturday against Jacobs. The Raiders land at 15th currently, and here’s to hoping Harris and the rest of the running back room fare well to spearhead a successful outing on offense. Another encouraging factor for Pittsburgh is their scoring defense ranking 13th, while they Raiders are currently 24th in the NFL, knock on wood this holds true as the scoreboard is obviously all that matters in the end. In terms of total yards, the Steelers drop down to the bottom third of the league at 24th, but still top Las Vegas at 26th. The all-important stat for the passing game is not glamorous for either defense, with Pittsburgh at 24th while the Raiders sit at their worst rank of these stats (30th). With all this information, I hope and expect Pittsburgh’s offense to fare well while sticking to their blueprint, with the big question being if the run defense can fare well in hopes of staying on schedule.

Let’s look at the defenses from a player stats perspective to close, starting with Pittsburgh. Linebacker Myles Jack heads into another contest with a questionable status after missing last game, still leading the team with 100 combined tackles, along with three for a loss, three passes defensed, and a quarterback hit. Fellow linebacker Devin Bush is second on the team once again with 76 combined tackles following a good performance overall, along with two tackles for loss, two quarterback hits, and two passes defensed. Safety Minkah Fitzpatrick leads the team with four interceptions including a pick six and third with 75 combined tackles and nine passes defensed, along with a tackle for loss and a quarterback hit.

Highsmith is having a strong season and coming off another solid performance. He leads the team with 11 sacks and five forced fumbles, tied for the most quarterback hits with 16 and tackles for loss (nine), along with 51 combined tackles and a pass defensed. Heyward fits this bill as well and is tied for the team lead with Highsmith in quarterback hits and tackles for loss, second in sacks (6.5), along with 55 combined tackles, two passes defensed, a forced fumble, and fumble recovery. Ogunjobi is second on the team with nine quarterback hits and tied for second with five tackles for loss, along with 29 combined tackles, and a half sack. Watt is climbing the statistics with seven games played now, ranking third with four sacks, seven quarterback hits, two interceptions and tied for third with five tackles for loss, along with 29 combined tackles, four passes defensed, and a forced fumble.

Steelers cornerback Cameron Sutton is having a solid season, leading the team with 12 passes defensed, tied for third with two interceptions, along with 35 combined tackles and a tackle for loss. Fellow cornerback Levi Wallace is second on the team with three interceptions and 11 passes defensed, along with 41 combined tackles.

For Vegas, linebacker Denzel Perryman leads the team with 79 combined tackles, second with 13 tackles for loss, along with five quarterback hits, a sack, interception, and pass defensed. Edge rusher Maxx Crosby is a fantastic player and leads the team with 11.5 sacks, 29 quarterback hits, 19 tackles for loss, three forced fumbles, second on the team with 78 combined tackles, along with four passes defensed (T-third), and a fumble recovery. He also makes ESPN’s top ten in run stop win rates, ranking third at the position. Crosby has predominantly played on the left side of the defense, presenting a huge challenge for Okorafor on Saturday. Linebacker Divine Deablo is third on the team with 74 combined tackles, along with a tackle for loss and pass defensed.

Edge rusher Chandler Jones is another big challenge on the other side for Moore, and leads the team with three fumble recoveries with one going for a double explosive touchdown, is second on the team with 4.5 sacks and 15 quarterback hits, along with 35 combined tackles, three for loss, three passes defensed, and a forced fumble. Defensive tackle Bilal Nichols is third on the team with 11 quarterback hits along with 1.5 sacks, 31 combined tackles, and four tackles for loss. Fellow defensive lineman Andrew Billings (questionable) is ESPN’s eighth ranked run stopper at defensive tackle, so his availability and play could be key if he is able to go against Pittsburgh’s run game.

Safety Duron Harmon leads the team with two interceptions including a pick six with a whopping 86 yard run back, second with two forced fumbles, third with five passes defensed, along with 64 combined tackles. Ya-Sin (out) ties for the team lead in passes defensed with seven, along with 45 combined tackles and a quarterback hit. Fellow cornerback Amik Robertson ties for the team lead with seven passes defensed, a fumble recovery returned for a triple explosive touchdown, along with an interception, sack, 29 combined tackles and one for a loss. While the Raiders defensive unit is not the toughest group the Steelers have faced this season, their edge rushers in particular will be tough to limit in hopes of victory.

How do you think the game will play out against Las Vegas? Thanks for reading and let me know your thoughts in the comments!

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