Upset Watch: NFL Week 13

One interesting aspect of the Week 7 game is that Ben Roethlisberger didn't throw a single pass to a wide receiver on the left side of the field, even though that's the side generally manned by Jimmy Smith, the weaker of Baltimore's two starting cornerbacks. (There is one pass listed in the play-by-play as thrown to Antonio Brown, but it was actually an intentional throwaway.) Over the course of the year, Baltimore has allowed 7.8 yards per pass on passes to wide receivers on the left side of the field, and just 5.7 yards per pass on passes to wide receivers on the right, so this seems to be a place where the Steelers could gain an advantage by changing up their strategy from Week 7.

The Steelers' offense does have to solve two problems in order to overcome the Ravens. First, Pittsburgh needs to leave in extra blockers to protect Roethlisberger. The Ravens rank third in adjusted sack rate (sacks and intentional grounding calls per pass play, adjusted for situation and opponent) while the Steelers' offensive line is just 26th.

The Steelers are also going to need to figure out how to punch the ball in when they get close to the goal line. The Steelers are a dismal 27th in offensive DVOA in the red zone, while the Ravens' defense is third in the league.

As for the Steelers, the most important thing they can do is leave safeties back to guard against the deep pass. Looking at Football Outsiders' receiving ratings, you can see that deep threats Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones have both had very good years, while all the Baltimore tight ends and running backs have been below replacement level as receivers. Between the Ravens' ability to go deep and their inability to run, this is one game where Troy Polamalu is probably best used far away from the box.

Cover Watch: St. Louis (+9) at San Francisco

With the Rams and Cardinals both on hot streaks, Football Outsiders now ranks all four NFC West teams among the league's top 14 squads. The Rams are no longer the easy pushover they looked like a few weeks ago, and while the 49ers are clear favorites in this game, there's a good chance these teams end the game separated by a touchdown or less.

One of the problems for the 49ers has been an unwillingness to adjust their offense to put the ball in the air more often, and they'll need to do that if they want to beat St. Louis by more than just a couple of points. It may seem like Colin Kaepernick has struggled through the air, but actually the 49ers' offense is more efficient passing the ball (seventh in DVOA) than running it (11th). And because the 49ers run so much more than they pass, and running is generally not as efficient as passing overall, they actually rank 15th in offensive DVOA. In other words, the whole is less than the sum of the parts. This is the perfect week to get the ball in the air more, both because Michael Crabtree will finally be back on the field and because the Rams' defense is stronger against the run (ninth) than the pass (17th).

However, the weapon of choice shouldn't be Vernon Davis, because the Rams are fifth in DVOA against opposing tight ends, allowing only 40.9 yards per game. Instead, Kaepernick should look for Anquan Boldin, as the Rams are 31st against No. 1 receivers.

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