Steelers vs Bills Statistical Preview

This upcoming game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Buffalo Bills is one for the ages, a monumental matchup between two evenly matched teams, so it deserves all the advanced stats one can find to properly evaluate which team is more likely to emerge victorious in this battle to add one win to their season win total.

 

Let’s start with the Football Outsiders playoff odds:

 

Team

Mean WIns

Div

WC

Total

BUF

6.8

1.2%

3.3%

4.4%

PIT

5.7

0.7%

1.3%

2.0%

(Totals do not appear to add up due to rounding. Stupid rounding.)

So, you’re saying there’s a chance? According to Football Outsiders, Buffalo still has a greater chance of making the playoffs than getting a top-3 draft pick (1.3%). On the other hand, the Steelers have a worse chance of making the playoffs than getting a top-3 draft pick (7.9%).

Enough about that, how do the advanced stats match up? First, the Football Outsiders stats:

Team

DVOA

Rank

Pass Off Rank

Run Off Rank

Pass Def Rank

Run Def Rank

ST Rank

BUF

-5.5%

20

27

18

9

14

27

PIT

-10.9%

24

15

26

27

25

17

 

The Steelers’ rank in DVOA before last week’s games was 16th, so their performance against the Patriots, especially on defense, was awful (don’t really need advanced stats to tell you that, though). As one would expect for two teams with six losses, both are below average in most things. Interestingly, the Steelers special teams currently leads the NFL in expected points from kickoffs (just another reason to like Shaun Suisham). When the Bills are on offense, it will be a classic case of resistable force vs. movable object.

 

Don’t you want to know the offensive line stats? I’m sure you do. According to Football Outsiders, the Steelers rank 25th in run blocking and 29th in pass protection (the Miami Dolphins are ranked 30th in pass protection, but 32nd in bullying prevention). The Bills are 18th in run blocking and 17th in pass protection. Before looking it up, I expected the Steelers’ o-line ranks to be worse. It’s been that bad of a season so far.

Advanced NFL Stats shows a similar matchup:

Team

Pass Off Rank

Run Off Rank

Pass Def Rank

Run Def Rank

BUF

30

15

13

3

PIT

19

28

22

28

They have Buffalo’s run defense as being significantly better, but the matchup (at least in terms of league rankings) is similar. When you look at individual stats, one thing stands out to me: the leader in yards per target among Steelers wide receivers is…David Johnson? Last year, it was Emmanuel Sanders, which is more expected for an offense with Ben Roethlisberger at QB. It just shows how the playbook has gone away from throwing downfield compared to last year, though with one of the worst pass protecting offensive lines in the league, is it that surprising?

Next, the coaching statistics, from Quantcoach. According to the current standings, the Steelers are 8th in the AFC in play design, while the Bills are 14th. According to the principles on the Quantcoach site, the QB is considered to be part of the play design process, so a significant portion of the theory behind the math behind the rankings comes from the idea that Roethlisberger has had a hand in designing plays for the Steelers, while EJ Manuel, Thad Lewis, and Jeff Tuel have been helping design plays for the Bills.

This is a fairly even matchup, especially considering the Steelers are at home. With the home-field advantage, I would think the Steelers have a slightly better chance to win, but if EJ comes back from injury and finds the (*horrible pun alert*) “instruction Manuel” for passing, the Bills could easily win. More likely, the Steelers will lose if they keep turning the ball over (-11 turnover differential so far). If the turnovers are even or ahead, the Steelers will probably win this game.

Brian Schaich

About Brian Schaich

Brian studied computer engineering long enough to know he just wanted to talk about sports all day for a living, so that's what he does.

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