Week 8: Steelers vs. Patriots Statistical Preview

Here it is: the Steelers’ biggest test of the year: a date with the New England Patriots and Tom Brady. There’s only one way to preview this, Robin: to the stat-cave! First, here’s a recap of last week’s win over the Cardinals. There are two links below: the Advanced NFL Stats win probability graph/box score and QuantCoach’s coaching stats for the week.

Steelers 32, Cardinals 20
Coaching Stats

Ben Roethlisberger was by far the best player in terms of both Win Probability Added and Expected Points Added, with 0.59 and 23.0, respectively. Antonio Brown, Heath Miller, Lawrence Timmons, and Ryan Clark also had big days. Kevin Kolb (0.08 WPA, 9.6 EPA) and Early Doucet (0.08, 3.4) had the best performances for Arizona.

As far as coaching goes, the difference was a lot closer than the score indicated. The big difference in the game was the 2-0 lead for Pittsburgh in terms of takeaways. That turnover margin is finally moving back in a positive direction. Do I think it will continue that way? Click to read the rest of the preview!


Steelers vs. Patriots

Football Outsiders


Total DVOA


Weighted DVOA






Special Teams
























As a reminder, DVOA represents the value on a play-by-play basis above what an average NFL team would provide. So, the Steelers have been 11.4% better than an average NFL team this year. Weighted DVOA includes Football Outsiders’ preseason projections, but the weighting decreases over time, and eventually the formula start to weight recent games more.

The DVOA rankings don’t really tell you much you don’t already know. The Patriots have a great offense (second in passing and a slightly surprising fourth in rushing) and a defense as bad as Arizona’s. In fact, the Patriots are dead last in FO’s stats against #1 receivers, and the Steelers will have to exploit this with Mike Wallace all game long to have a good chance of winning. On the other side, the Steelers offense has been about as good as expected, but the defense has underwhelmed. A big bright spot is that their DVOA against tight ends is now the strength of their team, ranking eighth in the NFL. This will be put to the test today, for sure.

QuantCoach’s Coaching Stats

The link above goes to the season standings of QuantCoach’s coaching stats (combining offense and defense), which I explained a few weeks ago. The Steelers are still the best-coached team in the NFL, despite allowing 20 points to the Cardinals. The Patriots are third in the AFC.

Advanced NFL Stats

The link goes to Advanced NFL Stats’ team rankings for Week 8. The Steelers are actually ranked ahead of the Patriots, fifth versus sixth. The Steelers are eighth in passing, tenth in rushing, first in pass defense, and 17th in run defense. The Patriots are second in passing, first in rushing, 32nd in pass defense, and 27th in rush defense. The biggest difference between Advanced NFL Stats’ rankings and Football Outsiders’ is in how they rank rushing. The Steelers rush defense is ranked better according to ANS, and the Patriots’ rush defense is ranked worse.

So, About Those Turnovers

Tom Brady is among the best quarterbacks of all time at not throwing interceptions, but when he does, it’s because he’s rushed in the pocket, so the Steelers’ pass absolutely has to be successful to have any chance of a turnover. Personally, I think the better chance for turnovers on defense is a fumble. The Patriots have only one fumble on offense this year, and the Steelers have only two on defense. These are far off their historical norms. I will make a “bold” prediction that the Patriots will turn over the ball at least once on offense. What the Steelers do with the ensuing drive will be a microcosm of the whole game.

Prediction? Gulp.

As most of these Steelers-Patriots games have gone, the first team to take a two-score lead will win. When I was watching last year’s game, it felt like Tom Brady was imposing his will on the Steelers defense in the third quarter. He was like the Honey Badger, just taking what he wants. If this happens again, the Steelers won’t be able to match him, and it’ll be as disappointing as last year. I’m kind of torn, because the Steelers have improved against tight ends, but their rush defense is not at its usual elite status. I think the TD passes to Rob Gronkowski will be replaced by TD runs by Benjarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead. Until the Steelers defense shows it can perform in a big game like this, I’ll believe the drop in advanced stats is real. Patriots 34, Steelers 24