Stats & Info: Pittsburgh Steelers

Under the radar NFL stars: WR, TE, defense

November, 29, 2013
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These under the radar stars have played as well as anyone at their respective positions this season. Let's take a closer look at how these emerging stars have found success.

Wide receiver: Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers' fourth-year wide receiver entered Week 13 with the NFL lead in receptions while trailing only Calvin Johnson in receiving yards. Brown's 51 receiving first downs accounted for 35 percent of the Steelers' team total in that category, the fourth-highest percentage in the NFL.
Antonio Brown
Brown

Brown added five receptions and 59 yards to his impressive 2013 season totals on Thanksgiving. That makes 12 straight games with at least five receptions and fifty receiving yards for Brown. The last player with a streak that long in a single season was Laveranues Coles in 2002 (13 games).

Tight end: Julius Thomas, Denver Broncos
Julius Thomas has 10 receiving touchdowns in 10 games, tying Shannon Sharpe's franchise record for receiving touchdowns in a season by a tight end. The all-time record for touchdowns by a tight end was set in 2011 by Rob Gronkowski with 17. Two are tied for second with 13.
Julius Thomas
Thomas

Thomas' impact on the Broncos' offense is not limited to his work down near the goal line. Peyton Manning is having an historic season but isn't the same without his star tight end on the field.

Manning has a Total QBR of just 32 in the 90 action plays that Thomas hasn't been on the field this season.

For the sake of comparison, Manning has a Total QBR of 93 in 71 action plays without his favorite slot receiver, Wes Welker.

Defense: Star Lotulelei, Carolina Panthers
The Panthers have drafted defense with their last two first round picks and the strategy appears to have paid off. After allowing more than 2,000 yards and 18 touchdowns on the ground in 2011, the Panthers are on pace to allow around 1,300 yards and four rushing touchdowns in 2013.
Star Lotulelei
Lotulelei

Rookie defensive tackle Star Lotulelei has played a huge role in that turnaround. The Panthers are allowing 3.4 yards per rush and 1.6 yards before contact with Lotulelei on the field. Carolina’s defense has allowed 4.6 yards per rush and 3.0 yards before contact per rush with Lotulelei off the field.

Keys to victory: No turnovers and kicking

November, 29, 2013
11/29/13
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AP Photo/Nick WassRavens kicker Justin Tucker made a career-high five field goals on Thursday.

The Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers played yet another close football game. Since 2003, the rivalry is as close as can be, with each team winning 12 games (including playoffs). Nine of the last 10 regular season games between the teams have been decided by three or fewer points.



Quarterbacks shine

Both quarterbacks played well, as evidenced by their Total QBRs of 79.7 (Roethlisberger) and 83.1 (Flacco), well above the average of 50. Ben Roethlisberger had two touchdown passes, giving him 212 for his career, tied with Terry Bradshaw for the most in Steelers franchise history.

He also notched his 25th consecutive game with a passing touchdown, tied with Tony Romo for second-longest active streak (Peyton Manning, 34).

Joe Flacco threw for 251 yards and a touchdown. For the first time since Week 7 (also against the Steelers), Flacco went through a game without throwing an interception. This reflected a larger theme, as it marked the first game in the Ravens-Steelers rivalry not to feature a turnover from either team (40 games including playoffs).

Flacco was effective in targeting Torrey Smith. Flacco was 6-of-10 for 93 yards and a touchdown when targeting Smith on Thursday, good for 9.3 yards per attempt. When targeting seven other Ravens pass catchers, he averaged 6.3 yards per attempt. He went farther downfield for Smith, and his average target depth was more than five yards longer to Smith than it was to his other receivers.

Where Flacco distinguished himself from Roethlisberger on Thursday was on third down, where the Ravens quarterback threw for 118 yards and a touchdown. Roethlisberger was good, but not to the level of Flacco, as he gained more than 50 fewer yards on third down.

Tucker gives the Ravens a kick

Ravens kicker Justin Tucker made a huge difference with his field goals. He made all five of his attempts on Thursday, reaching a career high for field goals made.

In fact, Tucker’s five field goals tied him for the most field goals made in any NFL game this season. After going 0-2 in Week 2, Tucker has made 27 consecutive field-goal attempts.

Did you know?

• Fun facts from the Elias Sports Bureau: Defending Super Bowl champions are 9-2 in Thanksgiving Day games, having won their last 7 contests. The Ravens were the second franchise to host a Thanksgiving Day game as the defending Super Bowl champion (the Cowboys have done so five times).

• The Steelers have not fared well in the national spotlight recently. Pittsburgh has lost four straight primetime games and seven of its last nine primetime games overall.

• The Steelers allowed two completions on passes traveling more than 30 yards downfield for the second time in a game in the last three seasons.

• The Ravens allowed their second rushing touchdown of the season. They have still allowed the fewest rushing touchdowns in the league.

Steelers D tough on rookie QBs

November, 6, 2013
11/06/13
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Mitchell Leff/Getty ImagesThe Steelers defense has been tough on rookie quarterbacks.
When the Buffalo Bills face the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday, they will likely start one of two rookie quarterbacks, EJ Manuel or Jeff Tuel.

The Steelers defense is coming off a game in which it allowed the most points (55) and yards (610) in team history, but Dick LeBeau’s defensive scheme has always done well against rookies.

Including the playoffs, the Steelers are a league-best 16-2 vs rookie quarterbacks since 2004, when LeBeau re-joined the Steelers as defensive coordinator.

The only two rookie QBs to beat the Steelers under LeBeau: Troy Smith in 2007 (in a Week 17 game in which several Steelers starters, including Ben Roethlisberger, sat out to rest for the playoffs) and Brandon Weeden in 2012, when Charlie Batch started for an injured Roethlisberger.

STEELERS D vs ROOKIE QBs UNDER DICK LEBEAU
• 61 – The Steelers defense has made a habit of dragging down rookie QBs, totaling 61 sacks in 18 games.

Prior to his injury, Manuel had been sacked 13 times in five games, and he was sacked eight times by the New York Jets in Week 3.

• 167 – Rookie quarterbacks have averaged 167 passing yards per game against Pittsburgh since 2004.

Manuel has averaged 197 passing yards per game in his rookie campaign, throwing for a season-high 296 yards in Week 2 against the Panthers.

• 20 – Pittsburgh has 20 interceptions (against just 12 passing touchdowns allowed) in that span. The Steelers have held rookie quarterbacks to one passing touchdown or fewer in 16 of the 18 games in that span.

Manuel has thrown three interceptions this season (to five touchdowns), including two against the Ravens in Week 4.

Ravens, Steelers offenses struggling in 2013

October, 15, 2013
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When the Baltimore Ravens (12th) and the Pittsburgh Steelers (27th) meet this Sunday, it’ll be the first time since Week 16 of the 2009 season that the rivals will play when both outside the top 10 of ESPN.com’s NFL Power Rankings.

Although both offenses are being led by Super Bowl winners neither unit has effectively moved the ball this season.

Below is a look at how each offense has struggled this season:

Neither team can run
The Steelers and Ravens rank among the worst rushing teams in the NFL this season, as only the Jaguars are averaging fewer yards per rush.

The Steelers’ inability to run may not come as surprise. The team entered the season without a clear cut starter, with second-round draft pick Le’Veon Bell missing most of pre-season with a foot injury.

Felix Jones, who was acquired in August, leads the team with 92 rush yards. Jones is tied for 69th in the NFL in rushing this season with Bears quarterback Jay Cutler.

Bell has 91 rush yards, and a 2.8 yards per rush average. The 2.8 average is tied for the worst in the NFL (min. 30 rushes) with Willis McGahee and Ravens running backs Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce.

Both Rice and Pierce averaged at least 4.4 yards per rush last season, making their struggles more unlikely. This season, the duo is having a tough time even getting out of the backfield unscathed.

The Ravens have been contacted in the backfield on an NFL-high 34 rushing plays this season, which accounts for 22 percent of their total rushes. Last season the Ravens were hit in the backfield on 13 percent of their rushes.

The quick hits have contributed to the Ravens averaging 1.6 rush yards before first contact this season (31st), more than a yard worse than their 2.9 yard average last season.

A lack of run game hasn’t helped either team’s quarterbacks, but those aren’t the only problems on offense for each.

No support for Flacco
After trading Anquan Boldin to the 49ers in the offseason and losing Dennis Pitta to injury, Flacco wasn’t left with much support in the passing game.

Torrey Smith still remains in Baltimore, but he has primarily been used as a deep threat. Since entering the NFL, Smith’s average target has been 17.7 yards downfield, highest in the NFL.

Rookie wide receiver Marlon Brown and veteran Dallas Clark have tried to fill Boldin and Pitta’s shoes this season but they haven’t been able to fill the void completely.

With few dependable options, Flacco has already targeted 13 different receivers this season, two more than all of last season (including playoffs).

Roethlisberger immobile and under pressure
Roethlisberger has always been susceptible to sacks in his career, but this season he has found himself under more pressure than usual.

Roethlisberger has been sacked or put under duress on 30 percent of his dropbacks this season, his highest rate in the last five seasons.

Unlike in years past, Roethlisberger hasn’t been able to escape the pocket and make plays.

Only 20 percent of his passes when under duress have been from outside the pocket (37 percent from 2009 to 2012), which has led to a diminished performance overall when under pressure.

Line struggles hurt Steelers, Giants

October, 4, 2013
10/04/13
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Getty ImagesPoor line play has contributed to the Steelers and Giants starting 0-4 this season.
There have been some surprising starts to the NFL season, both good and bad. We take a look at issues that have contributed to 0-4 starts by the Pittsburgh Steelers and New York Giants.

Check out Dean Oliver's in-depth analysis of the specific problems the Steelers and Giants face with their offensive lines.

The Steelers and Giants have combined to win four of the last eight Super Bowls but are off to their worst starts since 1968 and 1987, respectively.

Pittsburgh is the first team since the 2005 Houston Texans to fail to record a takeaway in their first four games. New York has been outscored by 85 points, the worst mark in team history through a season's first four games.

The bad news for the Steelers and Giants -- in addition to the 0-4 Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Jacksonville Jaguars -- is that since the playoffs expanded to 12 teams in 1990, only one team has started 0-4 and made the playoffs, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. That would be the 1992 San Diego Chargers.

Let’s take a look at some numbers to support why the Steelers and Giants are off to such bad starts.

Pittsburgh
The Steelers' offensive line struggles have been evident all season, especially after losing Maurkice Pouncey for the season in Week 1 when he tore two ligaments in his right knee.

Pittsburgh is averaging 58 yards per game on the ground, fourth fewest in the league. The Steelers' 232 total rush yards are their fewest through their first four games since 1935.

Ben Roethlisberger has been sacked 15 times this year and has fumbled three times on sacks. Both totals are the most in the NFL.

The Steelers are allowing 27.5 points per game, which would be their most in a season since the NFL-AFL merger in 1970. They are tied with the Giants for the fewest sacks in the NFL (four).

New York
Eli Manning is off to arguably the worst start of his career. He has thrown a league-high nine interceptions, most in his first four starts of a season.

His Total QBR of 30.0 ranks 29th in the league, worst in his first four starts to a season since 2006.

The Giants can’t stay on or get off the field, a recipe for a bad team. They have converted a league-low 23 percent of third-down plays, and they have allowed opponents to convert a league-high 50 percent on third down. That includes allowing the Chiefs to convert 9-of-16 third downs in Week 4.

The Giants' pass rush has been running on fumes all season. In fact, it extends into last season as New York has gone nine straight games without sacking the quarterback more than twice.

The last time the Giants had more than two sacks was Nov. 25, 2012, when they got to Aaron Rodgers five times in a 38-10 win.

Two of the four sacks they have this year have come with four or fewer pass rushers, or a sack on 1.9 percent of opposing QB dropbacks.

As recently as their 2011 Super Bowl season, the Giants' four-man pass rush sacked opposing quarterbacks on 7.3 percent of their dropbacks, tied for second in the league.

Remembering past games outside the U.S.

September, 25, 2013
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The Pittsburgh Steelers and Minnesota Vikings will participate in the NFL’s 13th regular-season game played outside the United States on Sunday, traveling to Wembley Stadium for each team’s first international game.

Though the league has only recently held regular-season games outside the country, the NFL has held 58 preseason games outside the United States, including 13 in Tokyo alone.

Including preseason matchups, Sunday will be the 16th game London has hosted and seventh regular-season game, both the most of any city outside the United States.

Here’s a brief look at each regular-season game played outside the United States:

Oct. 2, 2005
Cardinals 31, 49ers 14
Estadio Azteca - Mexico City
Paid Attendance: 103,467

The first non-United States game in the regular season, this matchup also set an NFL regular-season attendance record that stood until 2009. The Cardinals-49ers tilt at the Azteca is still the only regular-season game outside the U.S. not played at London’s Wembley Stadium or the Rogers Centre in Toronto.

The Cardinals rolled behind a 385-yard, two-TD performance from Josh McCown. 49ers quarterback Tim Rattay was pulled in the fourth quarter after a poor showing, leading to Alex Smith’s first career completions.

Oct. 28, 2007
Giants 13, Dolphins 10
Wembley Stadium - London
Paid Attendance: 81,176


The NFL’s first effort in Europe was held in pouring rain. Eli Manning threw for 59 yards in this game and still won, sending the Dolphins to 0-8. Dolphins quarterback Cleo Lemon led an 80-yard touchdown drive late to make it 13-10, but Jay Feely’s onside kick went out of bounds.

Manning’s kneel downs led to boos from the Wembley crowd, not for the last time.

Oct. 26, 2008
Saints 37, Chargers 32
Wembley Stadium - London
Paid Attendance: 83,226

In what was the best pair of quarterback performances of the international games, Drew Brees and Philip Rivers combined for 680 yards and six touchdowns. Brees’s 339-yard performance with three touchdowns and no interceptions was enough to best his former backup.

Since the start of 2008, Brees has had nine games with at least 330 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions, tied with Aaron Rodgers for the most in that span.

Dec. 7, 2008
Dolphins 16, Bills 3
Rogers Centre - Toronto
Paid Attendance: 52,134


This is the lowest-scoring international game to date, and was the start of Buffalo’s "home" series in Toronto. The Bills would lose their first three games in Toronto, and have only one win in five games north of the border.

J.P. Losman completed 1 of 10 passes at least 10 yards downfield, while Chad Pennington was 5-of-8 with a first-quarter touchdown to Anthony Fasano on those throws.

Oct. 25, 2009
Patriots 35, Buccaneers 7
Wembley Stadium - London
Paid Attendance: 82,254


Josh Johnson threw a touchdown pass to both teams in this game, while Tom Brady threw for over 300 yards. The quarterbacks did combine for five interceptions in this game, including a Brady interception by future teammate Aqib Talib.

Brady was excellent out of shotgun formations. Brady completed 16 of 20 attempts for 223 yards and all three touchdowns out of the shotgun in a Patriots rout.

Dec. 3, 2009
Jets 19, Bills 13
Rogers Centre - Toronto
Paid Attendance: 51,567


The only international game not played on a Sunday, the Jets won this Thursday night game in Toronto behind a sterling defensive effort. Buffalo gained 36 yards in the second half, the lowest second-half total by the Bills since 1996.

Second-year cornerback Darrelle Revis shut down Bills receiver Terrell Owens, holding Ryan Fitzpatrick to 2-of-8 passing for 16 yards and an interception targeting Owens.

Oct. 31, 2010
49ers 24, Broncos 16
Wembley Stadium - London
Paid Attendance: 83,941

Three straight 49ers touchdowns in the fourth quarter were too much to overcome for the Broncos. Troy Smith had a passing touchdown and a rushing touchdown without a turnover.

Kyle Orton threw for 370 yards but took four sacks and threw an interception. Orton would make five more starts for the Broncos before ceding the starting job to Tim Tebow.

Nov. 7, 2010
Bears 22, Bills 19
Rogers Centre - Toronto
Paid Attendance: 50,746


Buffalo fell to 0-8 after the loss in Toronto to the Bears, who handed the Bills their third straight loss by three points or fewer. Jay Cutler threw for two touchdowns and the Bears defense forced three turnovers in the second half.

The Bears have had 30 games with at least three turnovers forced since the start of 2008, the most of any team.

Oct. 23, 2011
Bears 24, Buccaneers 18
Wembley Stadium - London
Paid Attendance: 76,981


The first team to repeat in London, the Buccaneers stayed winless at Wembley by not shutting down Matt Forte. Forte rushed for 145 yards and a touchdown with 38 receiving yards. Forte quadrupled the Buccaneers' rushing total himself, as Tampa Bay managed 30 yards on 11 rushes.

Cutler became the first quarterback with multiple international wins. Cutler would be joined by Brady the next year, though Cutler is the only quarterback with wins in three countries.

Oct. 30, 2011
Bills 23, Redskins 0
Rogers Centre - Toronto
Paid Attendance: 51,579

Finally, the Bills won a game in Canada, and a convincing one at that. The Redskins are still the only team to be shut out in an international game.

The Bills had four sacks in their first six games of 2011 but sacked John Beck 10 times in the game. That was only the sixth time since the start of 2011 a team had double-digit sacks in a game.

Oct. 28, 2012
Patriots 45, Rams 7
Wembley Stadium - London
Paid Attendance: 84,004


The biggest Wembley crowd for an NFL game saw a dominant offensive performance by the Patriots. After the Rams took a 7-0 lead, New England scored 45 straight points, including touchdowns on their first five possessions.

The lone aspect of the Patriots offense to draw London’s ire was again the quarterback kneel down. Ryan Mallett drew boos for running out the clock, sealing a win that made New England the first team with multiple victories in England.

Dec. 16, 2012
Seahawks 50, Bills 17
Rogers Centre - Toronto
Paid Attendance: 40,770


Buffalo followed up a 2011 win in Toronto by allowing the most points in an international game. The Seahawks dominated the Bills, with Russell Wilson accounting for four touchdowns and Earl Thomas intercepting a Ryan Fitzpatrick pass and returning it for another.

The game drew more than 20,000 fewer fans than the typical Bills home game at Ralph Wilson Stadium (62,527).

Bengals keep it short and sweet to win

September, 17, 2013
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Andy Dalton made good use of the center of the field in the Bengals' win.

The Cincinnati Bengals seem to have turned an important corner when it comes to beating the Pittsburgh Steelers, with wins in the last two meetings. In each instance, they held the Steelers to 10 points.

The Steelers are 0-2 for the first time under Mike Tomlin. This was only the second time in 10 games that Ben Roethlisberger lost in Cincinnati.

On this night, it was a rookie who stole the show.

Bernard makes the Bengals go
Rookie Giovani Bernard scored the first two touchdowns of his NFL career. He’s the third rookie to score two offensive touchdowns against the Steelers in a Monday Night Football game, joining Fred Taylor and Earl Campbell.

He’s also the first Bengals rookie with two offensive touchdowns on Monday Night Football since Stan Fritts in 1975.

Bernard was the first Bengal to score two touchdowns in any game against the Steelers since Terrell Owens in 2010.

Dalton wins by keeping it simple
On a day in which Andy Dalton threw his 50th career touchdown pass, he won by keeping his passes short and letting his receivers do the work.

Dalton finished 17-for-20 for 134 yards and a touchdown on passes within five yards of the line of scrimmage. He also took advantage of the middle of the field, as the image atop this story shows.

Big Ben comes up small
Roethlisberger had a rough go of it against a very stellar Bengals defense.

Roethlisberger completed only two of his first 12 passes that traveled at least 15 yards in the air (he was 2-for-3 on the final drive, with the Bengals in a prevent defense). Roethlisberger had a completion rate of 40 percent on those passes last season.

Roethlisberger threw 11 incomplete passes of that length. On nine of those 11, he overthrew his intended receiver.

Roethlisberger was 1-for-9 when he was under duress from the Bengals defense. The only completion went for one yard.

The Steelers also failed to maintain the success they had rushing the ball in the first quarter. They had 37 rushing yards in the game’s first 15 minutes, and only seven rushing yards the rest of the game.

The Steelers and Cardinals are tied for the longest active streak without rushing for 100 yards (eight games, dating back to last season). That matches the longest streak in Steeelers history, done once in 1933-1934 and again in 1935.

Did You Know?
The Steelers are 0-2 for the fifth time in the last 25 seasons, but they’ve shown the ability to bounce back from those poor starts. In each of the four other instances, they’ve finished the season with a winning record. Three of those seasons ended with a playoff spot.

Top things to know: Steelers at Bengals

September, 16, 2013
9/16/13
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USA Today SportsBen Roethlisberger (left) and Andy Dalton (right) look to lead their team to victory on MNF.
The Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals meet for the 86th time in a series that started in 1970 (8:30 ET on ESPN). The Steelers are looking for their fourth straight win in Cincinnati and 11th in the last 12 meetings in the Queen City.

Here are five stats Mike Tirico and Jon Gruden will be talking about during the game.

1. One of these teams will be 0-2 after the game. History says an 0-2 start means different things for these teams.

Over the last 25 years, the Steelers have started 0-2 four times. They finished with a winning record in each of the four seasons, making the playoffs three times.

By contrast, the Bengals have never finished with a winning record or made the playoffs in any of the 15 previous seasons in which they started 0-2.

2. Ben Roethlisberger is going for his 14th win against the Bengals, which would break a tie with Warren Moon for the most wins by a starting QB against Cincinnati.

He may need more help from a running game that has gone seven straight games without 100 yards, one shy of the longest such streak in franchise history set back in the 1930s.

3. A.J. Green is coming off a monster Week 1 performance in which he caught two touchdowns and set a franchise record for most receiving yards in a season opener (162).

However, he has struggled at home against the Steelers. Green has just three career games in which he’s been held to a single catch, two coming against the Steelers and both at home (the other was at the Cleveland Browns in 2011).

4. Andy Dalton is just 1-3 against the Steelers. While he won the last time out, he did struggle, throwing two interceptions with no touchdowns. Overall, Dalton has more interceptions (five) than touchdown passes (four) in his career against Pittsburgh.

5. James Harrison spent 10 seasons playing linebacker for the Steelers (2002-03, 2005-12), winning the 2008 AP Defensive Player of the Year award.

In Week 1, he played 62.5 percent of the Bengals’ defensive snaps. In his last five seasons with the Steelers in games he played, Harrison played in at least 84.1 percent of the team’s defensive snaps.

Eight Steelers turnovers more than enough

November, 26, 2012
11/26/12
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David Richard/US PresswireThe Cleveland Browns were always around the ball on Sunday.
How costly were those eight turnovers by the Pittsburgh Steelers in that shocking loss to the Cleveland Browns on Sunday?

Here are eight notes to know on the Steelers misfortunes, one for each of the eight miscues they committed.

1-- The Steelers had more possessions that ended with turnovers (8) than they had possessions that ended in other ways (7).

2--The eight turnovers committed by the Steelers on Sunday combined to cost Pittsburgh 20.5 “expected points” in a game decided by six.

When we say expected points, we’re basing it on historical data referring to how much the average team would have scored if given the same situations of field position, down, distance, and time remaining.

The five lost fumbles alone cost the Steelers 12.8 expected points.

3-- The overall play of the Steelers offense cost Pittsburgh 23.8 expected points on Sunday, the worst performance by the Steelers offense since the start of 2008.

4-- Overall, the Steelers lost 75.9 percentage points in win probability with their eight turnovers.

5-- The last time the Steelers had at least seven turnovers in a game against the Browns was September 10, 1989, when they had eight. Cleveland won that game 51-0 at Three Rivers Stadium.

6-- Since 1993, six teams have committed eight turnovers in a game. Those teams are 0-6, and the five teams before the Steelers lost by an average of 18.2 points.

7-- Since 1940, a team has been -7 in turnover differential 75 times, Those teams are 3-72 in those 75 games. The Steelers were lucky to keep it close. Only 10 of those 75 were decided by six points or less.

8--In the 347 instances since 1993 in which a team’s quarterback has thrown at least three interceptions and no touchdowns, those teams are 23-323-1. That’s a .067 winning percentage.

Get to know your backup QBs

November, 16, 2012
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We know that two backup quarterbacks will start this week, and as many as four. Here’s a look at what they’ve done in the limited playing time.

NICK FOLES, PHI (34.9 Total QBR in Week 10)

Nick Foles
Foles
Nick Foles went 22-of-32 with a touchdown and an interception in his NFL debut last week. Although Foles threw only one interception (which was returned for a TD), it could have been worse. Foles had two potential interceptions dropped and another interception called back due to a penalty. It was the fourth time this season that a quarterback had multiple interceptions dropped in game. It wasn’t all bad for Foles. He connected on 4-of-6 attempts more than 10 yards downfield, with two of those completions gaining 30-plus yards. Michael Vick had two 30-plus yard plays in a game only twice this season.

BYRON LEFTWICH, PIT (61.7 Total QBR in Week 10)

In his limited playing time since the start of 2008, Byron Leftwich has posted a 52.2 Total QBR, which means he has played at an average level. If there’s one area in particular that Leftwich has performed below average during that time, it’s on deep throws. Leftwich hasn’t completed a pass more than 20 yards downfield since Week 2 of the 2009 season when he was with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and has completed just 4-of-21 attempts of more than 20 yards downfield since the start of 2008. That’s the third worst completion percentage of any quarterback with at least 20 attempts.

JASON CAMPBELL, CHI (21.7 Total QBR in Week 10)

Similar to Leftwich, Jason Campbell’s 50.9 Total QBR over the last five seasons puts his performance at an average level, but he may be able to capably fill Jay Cutler’s void. The San Francisco 49ers have sent four or fewer pass rushers 78.8 percent of the time since the start of last season, that’s the second-highest rate in the NFL. Both Cutler and Campbell have posted Total QBRs over 60.0 against such pressure, with Campbell actually posting a better completion percentage.

Don’t expect Campbell to air it out too often, though. Of the 30 quarterbacks with at least 1,000 attempts in the last five seasons, Campbell’s 6.6 yard average throw distance ranks as the shortest. Cutler’s 8.2 average is tied for the ninth highest.

COLIN KAEPERNICK, SF (40.7 Total QBR in Week 10)

Colin Kaepernick
Kaepernick
Colin Kaepernick’s biggest strength so far this season has been running the ball. Kaepernick has averaged 8.8 yards per rush on 14 designed runs. That rate is best among quarterbacks, and 3.8 yards higher than Cam Newton’s 5.0 designed yards per rush average. However, Kaepernick might be too quick to run on pass plays this season, scrambling on seven of his 38 dropbacks (18.4 percent). Not only is that the highest scramble rate in the NFL (minimum 20 dropbacks), but it’s nearly double that of the next highest quarterback (Robert Griffin III, 9.7 percent).

Steelers pass D rolling again with Harrison

November, 12, 2012
11/12/12
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Jason Bridge/US PresswireThe Steelers defense has improved significantly since James Harrison returned from injury.
The Pittsburgh Steelers host the Kansas City Chiefs on Monday Night Football (8:30 ET on ESPN) in a matchup featuring Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley going up against the Chiefs team he coached for two-plus seasons -- and which fired him last year.

The Steelers have won 14 straight home games on Monday Night Football, the longest streak in the history of the series. The last time they hosted a Monday night game was 2008. The last visiting team to win in Pittsburgh on MNF was the New York Giants on Oct. 14, 1991.

CHIEFS’ TURNOVER WOES
Quarterback Matt Cassel will start for the Chiefs with Brady Quinn out with a concussion. Cassel has been a turnover machine this season with 11 interceptions and seven fumbles lost. As a team, the Chiefs have 29 turnovers, the most by any team in its first eight games since the 1997 New Orleans Saints (coached by Mike Ditka) had 30.

The 1-7 Chiefs are also in danger of becoming the team with the worst turnover margin through nine games since the 1970 merger.

Amazingly, the Chiefs still have not held a lead during a game this season. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, they are the first team to not hold a single lead in the first eight games of a season since the 1929 Buffalo Bisons, who folded at the end of that campaign. No team has ever gone through its first nine games without holding a lead.

STEELERS’ DEFENSIVE TURNAROUND
After starting the season 2-3, the Steelers have reeled off three straight wins. The difference has been a defense that has held opponents to fewer than 200 yards passing in three consecutive games. And that has come with safety Troy Polamalu sidelined with a calf injury.

The Pittsburgh defense also has experienced a major turnaround since linebacker James Harrison returned from a knee injury. Since coming back in Week 5, Harrison has missed just one defensive snap.

Despite starting running back Rashard Mendenhall missing time with an Achilles injury, the Steelers still have been able to establish the run game, with Isaac Redman rushing for 147 yards last week and Jonathan Dwyer eclipsing the 100-yard mark in each of the previous two contests. At least part of their ground success can be attributed to improved offensive line play, as Steelers runners have been hit in the backfield on 12.1 percent of their runs over the last three games compared to 19.8 percent in the first five games.

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin looks to continue his success on Monday nights. Tomlin is 6-1 on Monday Night Football, the best record among any coach with at least five games.

Better QB: Roethlisberger or Eli Manning?

October, 31, 2012
10/31/12
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AP Photo/US PresswireEli Manning (left) and Ben Roethlisberger (right) are two of the best quarterbacks in the NFL.
BEN ROETHLISBERGER IS A BETTER QUARTERBACK RIGHT NOW

Although Ben Roethlisberger and Eli Manning have the same number of wins over the past two seasons, Roethlisberger is better than Manning in many important situations, including under pressure, on third down and in the red zone.

Over the past two seasons, when Roethlisberger has been under duress or hit while throwing, he has an NFL-high (among 40 qualified quarterbacks) 55.9 completion percentage and eight touchdowns, tied with Michael Vick for the most in the league.

Roethlisberger has also excelled on third down. He leads all qualified quarterbacks with a 97.3 Total QBR on third down this season, much higher than Manning’s 52.2. Roethlisberger has thrown six touchdowns and no interceptions on third down.

Roethlisberger is also much better than Manning in the red zone. Roethlisberger has a top-3 Total QBR of 94.4 in the red zone, compared to Manning’s 46.8, 17th among qualified quarterbacks.

Finally, Roethlisberger is one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL this season against four or fewer pass rushers, the most frequent situation a quarterback faces. He has completed 72.1 percent of his passes and averaged 8.1 yards per attempt against such pressure, both highest among qualified quarterbacks.
--Bobby Greenhalgh

ELI MANNING IS A BETTER QUARTERBACK RIGHT NOW

Manning’s success in the fourth quarter and on the road makes him a better quarterback than Roethlisberger.

Manning has thrown 20 touchdown passes in the fourth quarter over the past two seasons, more than any other player in the league. He has continued to improve with his fourth-quarter performance over the past three seasons, increasing his Total QBR from 34.6 in 2010 to 84.9 this season, which ranks fourth among qualified quarterbacks.

Manning has also shown the ability to win on the road. Including last postseason, when Manning led the Giants to two road wins, he is 10-4 away from MetLife Stadium and has a Total QBR of 68.5 on the road.

Roethlisberger has not found the same success on the road since the start of the 2011 season, winning six of his 13 road games (including the playoffs) and posting a Total QBR of 61.1 away from Heinz Field.

Throwing the deep ball is another area of strength for Manning, partly due to his two primary targets, Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks.

Manning has thrown 14 touchdowns on throws more than 20 yards downfield over the past two seasons, the third-most in the league, and nine of those 14 touchdowns have been caught by Cruz or Nicks.

Manning leads the NFL in yards (1,994), attempts (120) and completions (52) on throws of more than 20 yards in the last two seasons.
--Evan Kaplan

Also: Check out AFC North blogger Jamison Hensley's post on the Eli-Roethlisberger debate.

Colts look to add more than Luck to offense

April, 27, 2012
4/27/12
11:55
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Allen Kee / ESPNAfter selecting Andrew Luck first overall in the NFL draft, the Indianapolis Colts added a number of offensive weapons on the draft’s second day.
After taking Andrew Luck with the first pick overall on Thursday, the Indianapolis Colts continued to overhaul their offense on Friday.

The Colts became the seventh team in the common draft era to draft three pass catchers (wide receivers or tight ends) in the first three rounds. After adding Luck’s Stanford Cardinal tight end Coby Fleener in the second round, they picked tight end Dwayne Allen and wide receiver T.Y. Hilton in the third round.

The last team to select three pass catchers in the first three rounds was the New York Giants. They chose Hakeem Nicks, Ramses Barden and Travis Beckum in the 2009 draft.

Last season, Colts tight ends dropped nine passes, tied for second-most in the NFL. They are the first team to draft two tight ends in the first three rounds since the St. Louis Rams in 2006. Among NFL teams last year, the Colts ran the fourth-fewest plays in multiple-tight end sets.

By taking Luck and Fleener, they were the first team to draft a quarterback and tight end from the same school in a draft since the 2003 Houston Texans, who picked Drew Henson and Bennie Joppru from the Michigan Wolverines.

Luck threw multiple touchdown passes to his tight ends in nine of Stanford’s 13 games last season. No FBS quarterback attempted more passes or gained more yards when targeting tight ends. Fleener led all FBS tight ends with 10 touchdown receptions of at least 20 yards over the last two seasons.

Draft chatter
• The Denver Broncos selected defensive tackle Derek Wolfe with the 36th pick. Last year, the Broncos recorded only two sacks from players lining up on the interior of the defensive line, tied with the New Orleans Saints for the fewest among teams playing a 4-3 defense.

• The Rams selected North Alabama’s Janoris Jenkins with the 39th pick. It was the highest that a Division II player has been picked since Ricardo Colclough of Tusculum went 38th overall in 2004.

• Bobby Wagner went 47th overall to the Seattle Seahawks, the first player from the Utah State Aggies to go in the first two rounds since Rulon Jones was a second-round pick in 1980.

• By taking safety Tavon Wilson in the second rounds, the New England Patriots drafted a defensive player with their first three picks. Last season, the Patriots had 12 players play at least 100 snaps at defensive back, most in the NFL.

• The Pittsburgh Steelers selected offensive tackle Mike Adams late in the second round. Pittsburgh used a league-high 25 different offensive line combinations last season.

• The San Francisco 49ers selected LaMichael James 61st overall. It’s the fourth straight season that the 49ers drafted a running back. Last season, San Francisco targeted running backs just 54 times, second-fewest in the NFL.

Schedule release does Giants no favors

April, 17, 2012
4/17/12
9:51
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Kirby Lee/US Presswire

The Giants and Patriots face much different roads following their Super Bowl matchup.

Just over two months after meeting in Super Bowl XLVI, the New York Giants and New England Patriots learned their 2012 outlook when the NFL schedule was released Tuesday night. To put it simply, one team has a slightly tougher road than the other.

The Giants will face the league’s most difficult schedule this season, including a lethal stretch that will pit them against four of last year’s playoff teams (vs Green Bay Packers, vs New Orleans Saints, at Atlanta Falcons, at Baltimore Ravens) in the final six games. In fact, each of their last 11 games is against a divisional opponent or team coming off a postseason appearance.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, New York is the first defending champion to have the toughest schedule, and the club with the hardest slate has failed to make the playoffs in six of the last seven years.

History is on the Giants’ side, though, when they face the Dallas Cowboys in the 2012 opener, which will be the first Wednesday NFL game since 1948. The reigning Super Bowl champs have won 12 straight openers.

Meanwhile, after having the second-easiest schedule last season, the Patriots have the simplest set of opponents in 2012. Tom Brady and company play exactly one road game against a 2011 playoff team: Week 3 at Baltimore.

Having the easiest slate hasn’t been a blessing in recent years, however. According to Elias, the last five such teams have failed to reach the postseason.

SCHEDULE HIGHLIGHTS
Peyton Manning
Manning

• In his first game with the Denver Broncos and first start since January 2011, Peyton Manning will square off with the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday night in a rematch of last season's playoff clash. The Steelers will then face Denver’s previous quarterback, Tim Tebow, when they host the New York Jets in Week 2. The Jets open the campaign against the Buffalo Bills.

• Both Ravens-Steelers matchups will take place within a 15-day span (Weeks 11 and 13) and are part of a treacherous closing stretch for Baltimore. The defending AFC North champs face playoff teams from last season in five of their final seven games.

• The 15-1 Packers have an interesting start to their slate, hosting the San Francisco 49ers in the opener before a quick turnaround for a Thursday-night clash with the rival Chicago Bears. They then are likely to face former quarterback Matt Flynn when traveling to play the Seattle Seahawks on Monday night before returning home to face the Saints.

• If the draft goes as expected, with the Indianapolis Colts selecting quarterback Andrew Luck first and the Washington Redskins taking quarterback Robert Griffin III second, that pair will not exactly be eased into professional competition. The Colts open the season on the road against the Bears, and the Redskins start the year at New Orleans.

• Jim Schwartz and Jim Harbaugh, who famously had a sideline spat after last season’s contest, won’t have to wait long to see each other again. The 49ers host the Detroit Lions in Week 2 on Sunday night.

Digging in to the AFC North draft strategy

April, 12, 2012
4/12/12
11:47
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Stats & Information gets you ready for the NFL Draft at the end of the month with a look at the biggest need for each team. Today, we switch conferences to the AFC North.

Baltimore Ravens
Need: Secondary

The departure of Tom Zbikowski and Haruki Nakamura in the offseason makes finding an heir-apparent to aging safety Ed Reed a priority.

From 2008-2010, the Ravens ranked third among NFL defenses in lowest Total QBR allowed on passes that traveled at least 10 yards downfield. In 2011, the Ravens finished 23rd in the league.

While the Ravens finished second in the NFL with 72 passes defended last season, only 31 percent of those were on attempts thrown at least 10 yards downfield, 27th among NFL defenses.

Baltimore needs a safety to match up in coverage against the evolving NFL tight end. The Ravens allowed 2.4 yards after contact on passes to a tight end last season, ranking 30th in the NFL.

Kiper’s 1st-Round Prediction: Peter Konz, C, Wisconsin
McShay’s 1st-Round Prediction: Harrison Smith, S, Notre Dame

Cincinnati Bengals
Needs: Offensive line, secondary

Drafting a solid guard will complement young quarterback Andy Dalton and new running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis. The Bengals lost starting guards Mike McGlynn and Nate Livings to free agency in the offseason. Livings was one of two players on offense to play every snap last year.

The Bengals struggled to get any push from interior linemen in the run game last year, averaging only 2.0 yards before initial contact on runs inside the tackles, second-worst in the NFL.

Kiper’s 1st-Round Prediction: David DeCastro, G, Stanford and Stephon Gilmore, CB, South Carolina
McShay’s 1st-Round Prediction: David DeCastro, G, Stanford and Stephon Gilmore, CB, South Carolina

Cleveland Browns
Needs: Wide receiver, running back, offensive line

With Robert Griffin III likely off the board already, the Browns can still bolster their quarterback position by drafting a playmaker at wideout.

Colt McCoy finished right at the NFL average with 5.0 attempts per off-target throw last year -- better than Cam Newton, Matt Schaub and Tom Brady -- but got very little help from receivers on catchable passes.

The Browns were largely ineffective on the ground last year, finishing 31st in the NFL with 3.7 yards per rush. A replacement for Peyton Hillis would help, as would better run blocking up the middle and to the right. The Browns averaged just 3.4 yards when running to the right, worst in the NFL.

Kiper’s 1st-Round Prediction: Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama and Cordy Glenn, G, Georgia
McShay’s 1st-Round Prediction: Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State and Mike Adams, OT, Ohio State

Pittsburgh Steelers
Needs: Linebacker, Defensive Line

With the departure of key defensive players including Chris Hoke, William Gay, Aaron Smith and James Farrior, it’s time for the Steelers to replenish what has been a top defensive unit in football since 2008.

Pittsburgh linebackers tallied 15 tackles for loss in 2011, less than one per game, second-worst among NFL defenses at the linebacker position.

Defensive starters Casey Hampton, Brett Keisel and James Harrison will all be age 34 or older by mid-September.

Kiper’s 1st-Round Prediction: Dont’a Hightower, LB, Alabama
McShay’s 1st-Round Prediction: Dont’a Hightower, LB, Alabama

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