Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh Steelers
The Browns haven’t won in Pittsburgh since 2003 and Mike Tomlin is 21-4-1 vs Cleveland. So what will be different on Sunday?
Both teams have their work cut out for them.
Browns starting S Karl Joseph injured his hamstring and missed last week’s game. He was replaced by Ronnie Harrison, who I mentioned prior to last week’s game vs the Colts, was just added to the team in September. Harrison actually had a good game, but then he was concussed. Neither Joseph nor Harrison have practiced yet this week, and Joseph is likely to be out. Greedy Williams is still out and will be out for a while.
Last week, the Colts didn’t have #2 or #3 WRs and thus couldn’t take advantage of the Browns weakness in the secondary.
The Steelers are the best passing offense the Browns have faced on the season. The Browns have played the 3rd easiest schedule of passing offenses. The only passing offense ranking above average was the Cowboys. In that game, the Browns Defense was destroyed from 3+ WR sets.
The Cowboys recorded 8.7 YPA, 62% success, +0.29 EPA/att when passing from 3+ WR sets. As important, despite a banged up offensive line, the Browns recorded pressure on only 15% of these dropbacks, and recorded just 1 sack on 53 dropbacks, a paltry 1.9%.
And that’s the thing with the defense spread out. Against 11 personnel, the Browns have just 6 sacks on 182 dropbacks, or 3.3%. They’re only getting pressure on 24% of dropbacks. Well below average numbers in both (6% sack rate and 31% pressure rate).
And with all of these injuries to the secondary, the fact the Steelers spread out the defense so much and flood the field with WRs will hurt the Browns Defense.
On the other side of the ball, the Steelers Defense has been strong, but we have to look at who they played.
We’re literally talking about passing offenses that rank #29, #30 and #31 on the season, in the Eagles, Giants and Broncos. The Steelers game vs the Titans was cancelled, and the only team they played with an average passing offense recorded 3 first half TDs and was leading in Pittsburgh at the half 21-17 (the Texans).
Last week, the Eagles battered offensive line and no named WRs, and a previously unknown WR named Travis Fulgham caught 10 of 13 targets for 152 yards while recording 9 first downs and a 77% success rate.
The Browns Offense has dealt with the exact opposite schedule. Instead of not being tested at all, the Browns Offense has played the NFL’s #2 toughest schedule of pass defenses. They’ve played three top-5 total defenses and have played four top-10 pass defenses so far this year. So the Steelers 16th ranked pass defense against the NFL’s 4th easiest schedule of pass offenses isn’t going to shock the Browns passing attack one bit.
Chicago Bears at Carolina Panthers
Using the personnel grouping matchup tools shows an interesting edge for the Bears in this matchup.
The Panthers pass defense has been extremely susceptible to passes from 12 personnel, and the Bears use slightly above-average rates of 12 personnel and well above-average rates of 13 personnel.
To multi-TE sets (12 or 13) the Panthers Defense has allowed 8.1 YPA, 75% success and +0.48 EPA/att the last two weeks with zero sacks recorded and pressures on only 25% of dropbacks.
Compare that to 11 personnel, where they’ve allowed 4.8 YPA, 44% success and +0.02 EPA/att the last two weeks.
With Foles starting for the Bears the last two weeks, the Bears have gained 9.0 YPA, 81% success and +0.35 EPA/att on 12 and 13 personnel attempts (21 in total) with zero sacks allowed and pressures on only 19% of dropbacks.
On the season, Carolina has allowed 8.1 YPA to passes from 12 and registered just 1 sack on 27 dropbacks.
On the season, the Bears are averaging 8.5 YPA when throwing from 12 along with +0.43 EPA/att, with zero sacks and only a 9.1% pressure rate. Compare that to 11 personnel, which is averaging just 5.5 YPA and -0.17 EPA/att, with 7 sacks and a 23% pressure rate on the season.
The Bears have been better running from 11 than 12, but the Panthers Defense has been absolutely mauled by 12 personnel runs. They are giving up 69% success, 7.6 YPC and a ridiculous +0.36 EPA/carry to 45 runs from 12 on the season. For context, on the season in general, the Panthers are allowing +0.03 EPA to all run plays. So for them to be so bad against runs from 12 is really phenomenal. Additionally, they are without stud DT Kawann Short the rest of the year. They also have been terrible against RB-passes as well.
Washington Football Team at New York Giants
Both of these teams have played a murder’s row of opponents, particularly of late. Washington played the Rams, Ravens and Browns, all teams that are 4-1 on the season. The Giants played the Cowboys, Rams and 49ers. So each faces a major step down in class this week.
But the strengths of each have been their defense. Washington ranks #5 against the pass and #16 against the run, despite facing the NFL’s #1 toughest schedule of rushing offenses. The Giants Defense ranks #15 against the pass and #12 against the run against an easier schedule of offenses (league average).
The offensive side of the ball has been a struggle for both teams. These are the #31 and #32 offenses in the league, and both rank that level against top-10 schedules of opposing defenses.
A couple interesting benefits for Washington include they made a QB change so the passing attack could look a little better this game than it has in prior weeks, and their rushing attack has at least ranked #18 against the #7 toughest schedule of defenses. The Giants have absolutely zero support on the ground, ranking #31 in virtually every rushing statistic.
Additionally, Washington has played two defenses that rank #18 and #21 in third down defense (Eagles and Browns) and those games Washington kept close. Washington beat the Eagles and they actually led the Browns 20-17 entering the fourth quarter.
After playing two straight top-5 third down defenses (Rams and Ravens), Washington’s offense faced the NFL’s #32 third down defense of the Giants.
At least the Washington third down defense ranks #12, after playing a tougher schedule of offenses (5th toughest) than the Giants.
There is a slight edge to the Washington matchup in situational football on third downs and in the red zone, which could be the difference in this game.
I would expect Washington to use a lot of 11 personnel in this game, as they usually do, because they have the matchup edge there. The Giants pass defense splits vs 11 or 12:
Vs 11: 8.2 YPA, 54% success, +0.28 EPA/att, 28% pressure rate, 6% sack rate
Vs 12: 5.4 YPA, 48% success, -0.43 EPA/att, 48% pressure rate, 10% sack rate
Additionally, where the Giants run defense has been at its best is against heavier personnel, such as 12, 13 and 21. Where Washington has been at their best has been running from 11, and that’s a strength on weakness matchup:
Washington in 11: 54% success, 4.4 YPC, +0.05 EPA
NY Giants vs 11: 45% success, 4.6 YPC, +0.06 EPA
Whereas the other groupings are non-advantage matchups for Washington, including 12:
Washington in 12: 39% success, 3.3 YPC, -0.05 EPA
NY Giants vs 12: 46% success, 3.7 YPC, -0.19 EPA
Washington in 13: 17% success, 0.7 YPC, -0.52 EPA
NY Giants vs 13: 20% success, 1.2 YPC, -0.24 EPA
While Washington passes often from 11, they run only 54% of the time from 11. It would be in their best interest to run less from 12 (24% of runs) and 13 (10% of runs) since these runs have been so terrible, and focus when running on using 11 personnel.
Specifically in 11 personnel, Washington has 20 attempts running outside zone and 12 running inside zone. The productivity between the two isn’t close:
Inside zone from 11: 33% success, 3.1 YPC, -0.22 EPA
Outside zone from 11: 60% success, 3.9 YPC, +0.01 EPA
The Giants have struggled to stop outside zone from 11, particularly on second down.