Thursday, January 12, 2006

So DEK and I created the side project a while back, and part of the goal was to keep my 6 loyal readers and 10 occasional ones from having to deal with Steeler minutiae unless you absolutely wanted to. And I mean minutiae--no one is more interested in, say, long-snapper related news and discussion than we. Then the latter part of the semester and other unpleasantness came and the side project stopped getting updated. So now, I feel entitled to finally rant about the Steelers a bit.

While I was home over break, I heard a fair amount of talk that while this year's team is lower seeded and has a much worse record than the 2004 edition, this year's team has the advantage of "peaking at the right time" and the main evidence for this is the 4-game winning streak that has now run to 5 thanks to our flawless strategy of injuring the other team's good players. I thought this was the dumbest argument of all-time, given that it conveniently ignores the fact that the 2004 team rode a 14-game winning streak into the playoffs, which by my math is more than 4.

My analysis is that the team is roughly where it was last year at this time, but I like the propotions a bit better; that is to say, last year at this time the offense was better than mediocre but not good, and the defense was great. This year the defense is good, and the offense is pretty close to great.

Offense better than defense? What? The Steelers? Yes, it's absolutely true, despite what you think you know. And I don't just mean the running game. Check out the bizarro world stat of the year:

The Steelers led the league in offensive plays over 40 yards.

I'll let that one process for a minute. Got it? OK.

Antwaan Randle El
only caught 35 passes this year, but averaged almost 16 yards a catch. Cedrick Wilson only caught 26, but for over 17 yards per. Ben Roethlisberger averaged 8.9 yards per attempt this year; by comparison, Peyton Manning averaged 8.27, Tom Brady averaged 7.08, Carson Palmer averaged 7.54, and gunslinging Kerry Collins averaged 6.65.

The Steelers offense is misunderstood as a slog-it-out, running offense, but actually it's the true successor to the great Steeler and Raider offenses of the '70s--lots of running, but lots of big plays in the passing game too. The proliferation of West Coast offenses has gotten us accustomed to dink and dunk football, and combine that with lots of carries and you assume a run-heavy offense is pretty vanilla. Not the 2005 Steelers. As a team, the Steelers completed 46 passes to running backs, 43 to tight ends, and 139 to wide receivers. This, plus the averages of the 4 receivers (14.1, 15.9, 16.7, 17.3) tell you that when the offense is throwing, it's throwing medium and long routes. Roethlisberger's 62.7 completion percentage isn't great by modern standards, but modern standards presume a lot of dinking and dunking; 62.7% with a long-passing game is outstanding. The Cincy stat line is typical--commentators point to the 19 attempts, but what stands out is the 208 yards in 19 attempts. That's efficiency.

People who haven't looked at any of these number say that the Steelers' only chance to beat Indy is to run 40 times while passing 15, playing excellent defense, and winning a 16-13 game. I say the Steelers win with a carbon copy of the Cincy game out of Roethlisberger--14/19, 208 yards, 3 TDs, 0 INTs, coupled with 34 team rushing attempts and 31 points. That's the formula to win--31-28, with the defense doing just enough and the offense doing what it does.

Of course, rolling over Peyton Manning's knee couldn't hurt either...

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