Another year and another season of Moneyball. Last year was the debut season, and if not for the fact that I procrastinated after a few weeks and didn’t finish until the week before training camp, I think it was a success. This year it’s back with a few tweaks. But if you want to read about the scoring rules then you can check out the thread in the forum that explains it all.
But the basic premise is that for positive plays, players will earn a certain amount of money, and for negative plays they will have money taken away. As I explained last year, the scoring system isn’t perfect. It tends to be biased in favor of running backs, wide receivers, and defensive linemen as they tend to have higher scores. While offensive linemen and defensive backs tend to have lower scores. But overall, I think it’s a good indicator of the players that are making the plays for the Falcons. And the system is largely geared towards the offense’s ability to move the chains (and of course score points) as well as the defense’s ability to prevent the opponent from moving the chains and to create turnovers and other big plays that make it harder for the opponent to convert (e.g. tackles for loss and sacks).
I’m hoping that this year, I’ll do a better job managing my time so that I can post an update in the middle of the week. I’m beginning the season with the mindset that I’ll post it on Tuesday or Wednesday evening, but that may change as my schedule does. But here goes, here is the first Moneyball review of the season.
I should note that I reviewed this game (as I do all of them) on NFL.com Game Rewind. And for whatever reason the Steelers second offensive series was not shown for whatever reason. I don’t think it makes a difference, but there’s a possibility that there was a quarterback pressure that occurred that did not get recorded.
This wasn’t a pretty game for the Falcons offense. Matt Ryan didn’t have a good game. He was able to make some throws and the Falcons were able to move the chains at various times through the game, but they coudl make the plays in the air to really score points. They only made one trip into the redzone all game. They had a drive stall at the Steelers 21-yard line because he was unable to complete three straight passes. He did some good things, handled the blitz well, but his decision making was iffy. The interception at the end was because he didn’t look off the safety. He saw Bryant McFadden giving Roddy White loose coverage, which would have made the completion on the out an easy play. But the reason why McFadden was playing off was because he and Polamalu switched over the middle. Ryan’s initial read saw that Polamalu should have been covering Douglas in the slot, but he and McFadden switched, allowing him to come up and undercut the out throw for an interception.
The running game struggled early but picked up as the game wore on. Turner earned most of his money towards the end of the second quarter and in the second half. Jerious Norwood had some nice runs, but also dropped two passes in key situations. Turner saw more action in pass protection. It was a missed block by him that caused the incomplete pass that was initially ruled a fumble by the refs. But he came back the very next play and did a good job in blitz pickup.
AS for the passing game, despite having 13 catches, most of Roddy’s catches didn’t earn him points. Roddy caught a lot of short passes, and essentially the Falcons used him as a substitute for the running game. That ability to pick up a bunch of chunks from 5-10 yards is usually reserved for TOny Gonzalez in the scheme, but the Steelers did a good job of containing him so that his impact on the game was marginal. Clearly, Mike Tomlin and Dick LeBeau didn’t want Gonzo making history against their defense. Weems coudl have earned more points, but two of his catches were one-yard shy of the first down marker.
The blocking was iffy, particularly early. It got better as the game progressed. Ryan was sacked three times, but one time was due to solid coverage by the Steelers. Baker had his issues with James Harrison, as any left tackle would. The problem with the lack of running lanes came quite a bit by missed blocks by the tight ends. Baker also didn’t have a great day run blocking either, which is the same old story from last year where he was a non-factor in the ground game.
Those folks that were predicting that Lawrence Timmons would have a breakout season this year, looked like geniuses. Time and time again, he made plays. I wasn’t keeping count, but I wouldn’t have been surprised that he would have earned like $8 if I had been doing Moneyball for the Steelers.
The defense had a solid performance, but there were some breakdowns which hurt the team. I’m incorporating a new stat which is “key blocked” and to tell you the truth I’m not 100% sold on how it’s going to work out this year. But basically, I’m looking only at runs of 5 yards or more in which the play was sprung by a key block, and figuring out which Falcons defender was the victim. So that means that not every 5+ yard run is going to count, as there were a few good runs by Mendenhall that occurred because Falcon defenders missed tackles (Peterson and Coleman are two examples). But in this case, it seemed like the Steelers were able to prey upon Trey Lewis quite a few times. Most of the Steelers success came from running behind Chris Kemoeatu, and it was Trey Lewis who was tasked the majority of game at lining up against him. But Anderson got a few blocks against him as well when he lined up inside. ALthough he at least made up for it by making some stops in the backfield when he was playing end. Abraham has excellent as a pass rusher. Biermann had his moments, but he didn’t dominate Flozell Adams as much as Abe did on the opposite side working against Max Starks. The Falcons couldn’t generate much of any pressure up the middle, and Peria Jerry was a non-factor there. It’s very telling that near the end of the game, the Falcons were employing Corey Peters in passing downs at defensive tackle rather than Jerry.
The final play in overtime, I attributed that Peterson and Grimes were key blocked on that play because the Steelers tight end (David Johnson?) was able to basically block the pair of them. I almost threw Biermann into the mix because he too got beat off the snap which created that easy alley for Mendenhall, but I figured the blame was more on the guys on the second level than the line of scrimmage.
As far as coverage goes, Dunta Robinson didn’t have a great day, but that was somewhat expected with him not playing in the preseason. There were two plays made by Hines Ward in the third quarter where I wasn’t sure who to attribute credit for the blown coverage. IN both instances Ward was able to find soft spots in the zone, and it wasn’t clear who’s assignment he was supposed to be. So for the first one, I attributed “blame” between Coleman and Lofton because it seemed like Dixon and Ward were able to split the pair in their coverage assignments. The next one, I gave to Robinson and Owens because it was from their end of the field that Ward began his route and they seemed like they were covering empty grass.
Three of the four credited passes defended were dropped interceptions. DeCoud garnered the fourth because he was able to force out Randle El.
Weatherspoon had an impressive debut. He wasn’t great in coverage, but he was able to make some plays in run support to make up for it. Lofton had a good game defending the run. I think Peters outplayed Jerry for another impressive rookie debut.
I also should give Koenen some credit. He had three punts which were put inside the Steelers 10-yard line which really helped out the defense as far as field position goes.
This is where the advanced stats go, but this year I’m going to include more numbers and categories.
Poor Throws (5): Ryan
Drops (2): Norwood
Key Blocks (2): Clabo, Turner
Sacks Allowed (2): Baker (1), Clabo (0.5), Dahl (0.5)
Missed Blocks (7): Blalock (2), Gonzalez (2), Peelle (2), Baker (1)
QB Pressures Allowed (3): Clabo, Palmer, Turner
Tackles for Loss (8): Lofton (2), Anderson (1.5), Coleman (1.5), Jerry (1), Weatherspoon (1), Abraham (0.5), Peterson (0.5)
QB Sacks (3): Abraham, Biermann, Lofton
Passes Defended (4): Abraham, Davis, DeCoud, Owens
Blown Coverages (5): Robinson (2.5), Coleman (1.5), Lofton (0.5), Owens (0.5)
MIssed Tackles (1): Coleman
Key Blocked (6): Lewis (2), Anderson (1.5), Grimes (0.5), Jerry (0.5), Lofton (0.5), Peters (0.5), Peterson (0.5)