Digging Past the Point of No Return

Grab some coffee, turn off the TV, put the kids to bed and find your happy zone. This is going to be a complex article so read VERY CAREFULLY. If you are drunk, stop reading this now. Stop and click back on the browser. Come back after you've sobered up.<p> Okay...all those who are sober. Click on the link and begin.<p>

Debate all you want about Chad Scott's availability, whether the Steelers will win the game through a no huddle offense, and whether Joey Porter was used like a Dunkin' Donut, but I've decided to go searching for the hidden stat, that hidden gem of a stat that will give you the reader the advantage of knowing how the Steelers could beat the Titans.

And I found it.

You see it all depends on the number of plays being run from the line of scrimmage. This helps determine ball control and thus time of possession. But, it all starts from the number of plays at the line of scrimmage.

Week Opponent # of Plays Steelers # of Plays Outcome
1 Patriots - 63 67 LOSS
2 Oakland - 87 52 LOSS
3 Bye Bye Bye
4 Cleveland - 56 73 WIN
5 New Orleans - 53 68 LOSS
6 Cincinnati - 64 62 WIN
7 Indianapolis - 71 57 WIN
8 Baltimore - 73 55 WIN
9 Cleveland - 42 85 WIN
10 Atlanta - 81 85 TIE
11 Tennessee - 73 62 LOSS
12 Cincinnati - 61 62 WIN
13 Jacksonville - 47 69 WIN
14 Houston - 40 95 LOSS
15 Carolina - 56 74 WIN
16 Tampa Bay - 64 61 WIN
17 Baltimore - 52 71 WIN
WC Cleveland --73 71 WIN

So what does this tell us? Well, the Steelers are averaging 68.76 plays per game this season. Opponents are averaging 62.11. That's a difference of about 7 plays. Now, those numbers tell us that opponents are staying on the field longer, which means lack of ball control. The Steelers committed 36 turnovers this season, which helps that opponent-average-plays-per-game (OAPPG from now on) number go up. By the way, the Steelers have the highest number of turnovers of any remaining playoff team. The next highest is Tennessee at 25, but I digress.

The turnover problem and the poor defense on 3rd down conversions are known things. We knew the Steelers had problems in both areas. So let's dig a little deeper and look at those numbers when compared to wins.

In Steeler wins this season, they've averaged 67 plays per game. Opponents, on the other hand, also averaged 67 plays. In both instances, the total number of plays combined was 740 for the Steelers and 740 for the opponents. This shows that the Steelers gave up a ton of turnovers and also scored a ton of points. But, we know this already. So let's dig deeper.

Let's look at those numbers when compared to losses. For sanity's sake we'll throw out the Houston game because all numbers in that game (except for turnovers and final score) support that the Steelers should have won the game. So, back to the number of plays per game stats, in Steeler losses they averaged 62.25 plays per game. The OAPPG in losses? 69. That's a difference of 7 plays. Now, looking at the overall numbers compared to losses, it's an overall swing of 14 plays per game.

So what does 7 plays give you? Well it can give you 2 first downs or 7 first downs. That means that with decent field position, let's say the 35, 7 plays could get you a touchdown or a field goal. We'll take the average plus 1 point and say that 7 plays can be an average difference of 4 points. When you multiply that number by the number of games played (minus the epic horror against Houston) we get 64.

Now, for the regular season, add that number (64) to our opponents' total points against us (minus the Houston debacle) and the totals come to: Pittsburgh 384 Opponents 385. Bam. There it is. Those 7 plays have been the difference all year.

Which brings us to the two big questions:
A: Why should you care? And…
B: How does this apply to the Titan game?

Well, I'll let you answer question A yourself. But B? Well, as you can see from the above graph the Titans ran off 11 more plays than the Steelers did. Using my calculations, that's an average of 6.3 points per game. Or one touchdown. This doesn't factor in the possibility of 2-point conversions or such, just touchdowns. The Steelers lost by a touchdown (and a 2-point conversion, but you get the point).

7 plays is a big difference. Take a notepad and mark every play for and against. As the game gets close to the end, add them up and then subtract the two numbers. Multiply that by 4 and you'll get the difference in score. Right? Right.

I think.

--The Steel Apple


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