Tag Archives: Compare

Battle of the (AFC North) Offensive Tackles—How Do They Compare?

Source: Behind the Steel Curtain

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Battle of the (AFC North) Running Backs—How Do They Compare?

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Battle of the (AFC North) Wide Receivers—How Do They Compare?


I began this series with a comparison of the quarterbacks in the AFC North. Since the performance of the quarterback is going to depend to a greater or lesser extent on the competence of his receiving corps, it makes sense to continue my series with the wideouts. Since the number of players to consider is a great deal larger, I’m going to look at the presumed #1 and #2 receivers, and just mention the depth at the position. If there is any depth (*cough, cough* Cleveland.) And I’m aware the terms #1 and #2 receiver aren’t terribly meaningful, but for the purposes of this post they are a useful shorthand for the starting wide receivers.

Since this is a Steelers blog I’ll begin with our guys. A year ago it was a definite question as to whether Antonio Brown or Emmanuel Sanders would snag the spot in the lineup. This year Brown has a jersey in the Pro Football Hall of Fame for his record-breaking 1000+ yards as both a receiver and returner, while Sanders missed numerous games due to recurring problems with his feet and knees. Fortunately the injury situation looks better for Sanders, and he should be a real contributor this season, particularly in the slot where he is especially valuable for his blocking. But for the purposes of this post he is “depth,” as is Jerricho Cotchery and whoever else makes it through camp. The money is on Toney Clemons at this point, but he has some competition.

The other receiver is Mike Wallace. Admittedly he hasn’t signed his tender yet, and it is possible he will hold out through training camp and even partway into the season. But that isn’t particularly likely, mainly because he surely understands he’s only hurting himself at this point. One hopes his agent understands this as well.

Both Brown and Wallace are young, and both have put up fairly remarkable numbers in their early years. In fact, few players ever in the NFL have matched Wallace’s numbers for his first three seasons. And Brown has proven his worth over and over. Nobody, at least on the receiving corps, works as hard as he does, and he works to very good effect.

There has been a fair amount of argument over whether Brown would look as good without Wallace to pull double teams from the opponent. This is a legitimate concern, but it shouldn’t matter for the coming season, unless Wallace gets injured, or decides to sulk over the contract situation. Neither are particularly likely—Wallace has been extraordinarily durable, never even appearing on the injury list as I recall, much less missing a game. And I think he is ultimately too sensible to destroy his prospects of a big contract, either from the Steelers or another team, by playing poorly and seeing his numbers tank next season.

And speaking of numbers, here is a comparison between Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown. This has been discussed over and over, but frequently with either unsubstantiated assertions such as “Brown has better hands” or with cherry-picked stats. (In case you’re wondering, the Drop Rates for the AFC North receivers, including Brown and Wallace, will appear later in this article.) Here are some of the relevant numbers from their careers. (I may, of course, also be cherry-picking, but I picked the stats allowing for easy comparison on a chart. The full range of stats may be found on the table which follows.) The key is, GP = Games Played, Rec = Receptions, RT = Returning, FD = First Down and ATT = Attempts.


I apologize for the size—the bigger files get automatically sized down, and I can’t alter it.

You can all draw your own conclusions from what you see, assuming you can see it at all, but a few things were really interesting to me. First was how close Brown got in 2011 to matching Wallace’s average yards per reception. Second was his number of first downs in 2011, which beat Wallace’s number in any of his three seasons. But note Wallace is still the touchdown king, at least in Pittsburgh. What it mainly establishes is what a double-edged weapon they are together. As I noted above, there is no reason to think this will be different in 2012, especially with quality depth in Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery. But let’s move on to the rest of the AFC North.

Next up, Cleveland, since I dissed their receiving corps in my previous post about quarterbacks before I really looked at the numbers. It turns out I was at least partially correct to do so, at least with the information we have at this point. First, the positives.

Greg Little finished the 2011 season leading the Browns in catches and receiving yards. He will be their #1 receiver in 2012, barring, of course, injury or other unforeseen circumstances. The phrase “leading the Browns in catches and receiving yards” may seem like damning with faint praise, but in fact Little was the No. 2 rookie wide receiver in the NFL in catches, behind A. J. Green. He was also No. 4 in yards, behind Green, Torrey Smith of the Ravens, and Julio Jones. As a side note, this is quite an impressive showing for the AFC North.

So what was bad? Well, the Browns led the league last year with dropped passes, missing 43 catches. Which is a lot. Since this was an issue, I decided to check out the rate of dropped passes last season for the receivers presumed to be the starters in the AFC North in 2012. Pro Football Focus has a calculation, the Drop Rate, based upon what they view as catchable balls. The lower the rate the better. (The number on the chart is a percentage.)


When we look at the chart, we can indeed see Little missed a great many balls, approaching one in every five catchable balls thrown to him. Mohamed Massaquoi was much better, but still missed more than 10% of catchable balls. According to Jamison Hensley, ESPN’s AFC North beat writer, wrote this several weeks ago:

I went to the Cleveland Browns‘ minicamp this week with an open mind about their wide receivers. I left shaking my head.

By my count, there were six dropped passes in a 90-minute practice Wednesday. If this carries into the season, the passing attack will struggle again and it wouldn’t matter whether the quarterback is Brandon Weeden, Colt McCoy or Aaron Rodgers.

While this was disputed by several commenters, Hensley’s words are not particularly encouraging for those hoping Brandon Weeden will have a good season.

Please note as you look at the chart—Mike Wallace has by far the lowest rate of dropped catchable balls in the AFC North. (For those of you who are wondering why there is no second receiver for the Bengals, keep reading.) In fact, out of 45 ranked receivers Wallace ranked No. 8. Little ranked No. 45.

To return to the Browns, their depth doesn’t, at this point, appear to provide a clear challenge Massaquoi for the #2 position. In this draft the Browns didn’t address the WR issue until they chose Travis Benjamin in round four. This doesn’t mean Benjamin or Jordan Norwood or Owen Spencer can’t step up and overperform, as did 2010 sixth-round pick Antonio Brown or, for that matter, 2009 third-round pick Mike Wallace, but there is little indication at this point the Brown’s receiving corps will be a major strength of the team. Hensley believes they remain a weakness.

So how about those Bengals? Why do they only have one wide receiver? Well, unlike the situation for every other AFC North team, I could not find substantial agreement about who the #2 receiver is on the Bengals’ depth chart for 2012. Last year the second wideout was of course Jerome Simpson, and he left in free agency this off-season. The name cropping up the most frequently to fill the void is Armon Binns. This surprised me, as the Bengals drafted Mohamed Sanu in the second round. But for whatever reason he only appears to be in the mix, along with other names such as Marvin Jones.

Binns was signed by Jacksonville as an undrafted free agent last spring. He was cut and picked up by the Bengals in September. They stowed him on their practice squad for 2011, and he never played in a game. So even if I went with Binns as the #2 receiver I wouldn’t have any stats to put up for him. However, it looks as if the Bengals have several options for a strong competition for the second spot. Sanu is said to be a very good possession receiver who can run any type of route and with excellent hands. Marvin Jones is expected to split time at the various receiving spots. Jordan Shipley is a promising slot receiver.

As far as A.J. Green goes, there isn’t much to say. Green was a top-10 receiver in the NFL last season, and there is no reason to believe he is going to regress this season.

Finally, the Ravens. Last season Torrey Smith emerged as one of the most exciting rookie receivers in the league, or one of the most annoying if you were a Steelers fan watching the second Steelers-Ravens game. Like A. J. Green, he only promises to get better this season. The second receiver, Anquan Boldin, was an amazing player early in his career, but he is not the player he was in 2003. Boldin is still a very solid receiver to all appearances, though, and in combination with the omni-talented Ray Rice and a couple of good tight ends gives Joe Flacco plenty of good options to throw to. (However, I shouldn’t be taking the backs and tight ends into consideration at this point, as the picture for all the teams may well change when we look at those positions.)

So how do we compare the various receiving corps? The lack of a clear #2 in Cincinnati makes it a bit more difficult to do, but let’s take a look at some more numbers and see where they take us. First, here is a chart using the same stats I used to compare Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown. (All numbers are for 2011.)


I’ll let you all draw your own conclusions.

Next, let’s look at what Pro Football Focus, Pro Football Reference, and Football Outsiders have to say about these players. First up, Pro Football Reference’s “Average Value” for 2011:


Next, Pro Football Focus’s Wide Receiver Rating:


PFF’s top-ranked receiver for 2011 was Jordy Nelson, who blew everyone else out of the water with a 150.2 score. (The next closest was Marques Colston with 132.4.) The highest AFC North receivers were Torrey Smith (No. 9) at 108.6 and Mike Wallace (No. 10) at 108.0.

Finally, the Football Outsider ranking of receivers for 2011. Unlike the other two, lower is better in this ranking, with the No. 1 receiver for 2011, league-wide, being Calvin Johnson.


Well, the best receiver in the AFC North last season was Mike Wallace, by almost any measure. That doesn’t come as breaking news, of course, except to those of the BTSC faithful who have busily been trying to persuade themselves we don’t really need Wallace. (This may, of course, be true, but shouldn’t downplay what he has done for the Steelers thus far.) A. J. Green is in hot competition with Antonio Brown for the #2 spot. Mohamed Massaquoi is the undisputed holder of last place. Greg Little is better than his drop rate would indicate, and if he can clean this up (or buy himself a vat of pine tar) he will be a force to be reckoned with this season.

So now for my (usual disclaimer about homerism) ranking of the AFC North, combining the information about the quarterbacks and receiving corps:

1. Pittsburgh Steelers

2. Baltimore Ravens

2. Cincinnati Bengals

4. Cleveland Browns

At this point I believe slot No. 1 and No. 4 are fairly obvious. I have the Ravens and the Bengals tied because while the Bengals have, I believe, the better quarterback as well as an excellent No. 1 receiver, the question mark at the No. 2 receiving slot makes me unwilling to put them in front.

So far things don’t look very rosy for the Browns, but that may change when we look at Running Backs in my next post. Stay tuned!

Source: Behind the Steel Curtain

Battle of the (AFC North) Quarterbacks—How Do They Compare?


Zachary Beard visited BTSC on Monday to give us the opportunity to “Ask a Ravens’ Fan” about their team, their offseason roster moves, and so on. Pixburgh Arn attempted to wangle some pictures of their cheerleading recruits, but the Baltimore Beatdown guys didn’t fall for that old canard.

Reading the BTSC questions and Zachary and AV23’s responses was really interesting, and gave me the idea for a series comparing players in the AFC North. As I’m fully prepared to admit, it’s likely my Steeler-colored glasses will bias me a bit toward the guys in Black and Gold, but I’m going to attempt to be as neutral as possible. I will compile data from the major sites and try to keep my own opinion out of it until the end of the article. Since each team will be likely to have 2012 draftees as starters in at least a few positions, I’ll use their college stats to compare them to the veterans. I’ll also give my ranking of the four teams based upon the information I’ve dug up. It’s probably baseless speculation, but after all that’s pretty much all we’ve got in the long, long days of June and most of July.

So let’s get started with arguably the most critical player on any team—the quarterback. We have two veteran QBs and two newbies in the AFC North, so the comparisons are tricky, but we’ll soldier on. And in case you’re wondering about the picture heading the article, I decided to let the youngster take precedence over the grizzled vets, just this once.

One could well ask how meaningful comparisons between, say, Andy Dalton’s first season numbers and Ben Roethlisberger’s first season numbers would be. There was a big argument over that very sort of thing in the latest Mike Wallace article, “The Business End of an NFL Contract: Is Wallace Worth It?” The author’s argument for the value of Mike Wallace was based upon a comparison of Mike Wallace, Larry Fitzgerald and Calvin Johnson’s numbers from their first three years. Wallace, of course, compared very favorably. The difficulty with this sort of exercise, though, is this: nobody really knows what’s going to happen next season. This is certainly true of our QBs, but in the end it’s all we’ve got if we’re going to try to make any sort of projections.

Let’s take Ben Roethlisberger first. He is generally considered to be entering the prime of his career. Interestingly, this isn’t quite what his numbers seem to show. If you look strictly at the figures, he’s been rather streaky. Only once has he bested the 66.4% completion rate of his rookie year. That year was, ironically, 2009, the year the Steelers missed the playoffs after a five-game losing streak, during which they lost to such powerhouses as Oakland, Kansas City, and Cleveland. His 104.1 QB rating in 2007 is by far his best. Only in 2009 did he even break 100 again.

In 2006, his third year in the league, he was frankly not very good, throwing five more interceptions than touchdowns. But perhaps it looks a bit different when one recalls he was in a motorcycle accident and had an emergency appendectomy in the off-season. This proves a point—the numbers don’t tell the whole story. He followed 2006 with a career year in 2007, had a down year in 2008, an excellent year in 2009, and, looking strictly at the numbers, hasn’t been as good since.

Have a look at the trends. Everything is calculated so that higher is better. Thus I’ve calculated Attempts/INT rather than the more natural INT/Attempts. Also, I have extrapolated the figures into the same range for purposes of comparison. So, for instance, in 2007 about 8% of Roethlisberger’s attempts were touchdowns. The actual figures are in the table below the graph.



Looking at these figures, it is reasonable to ask whether Roethlisberger’s best days are behind him. I don’t believe they are, but only time will tell. The more important question for this exercise is how he compares to the other quarterbacks in the AFC North. Here are the stats for the other veteran QB, Joe Flacco of the Baltimore Ravens:


Clearly, Flacco isn’t nearly as veteran as Roethlisberger, having been in the league half as long. But it is really striking how consistent he is compared to Ben. Of course, his numbers are for the most part not as good as Ben’s. (Note the top line on the chart is 800 for Ben, 600 for Joe.) Comparing him to Roethlisberger’s first four seasons, his best QB rating, 93.6 in 2010, is better than Roethlisberger’s 2006 QB rating of 75.4, but as mentioned that was the year Roethlisberger wasn’t playing with a full deck, so to speak. In the other three years, the closest Flacco comes is 10 points below Ben’s numbers.

Comparing their two charts, the stat which stands out the most to me is touchdowns per attempt. Even Flacco’s best figure doesn’t match Roethlisberger’s worst. However, Flacco actually had more touchdowns than Roethlisberger in both his second and third year, so in the end it doesn’t matter how efficiently he did it.

After a 2010 season in which he improved in every category, 2011 was presumably a bit of a disappointment for Ravens fans hoping to see Flacco finally take his place as an elite quarterback. Here are the numbers:


Next up, Andy Dalton of the Bengals. Since he only has one season on the books, we can’t look at trends. But here are his numbers:


Since it is easier to look at a comparison, here are the same figures charted for Roethlisberger’s and Flacco’s rookie seasons. I’ve added one more—the QB Rating:


I don’t have the number on the charts, but both Flacco and Dalton had considerably more attempts than Roethlisberger— 428 and 516 respectively, compared to Roethlisberger’s 295. (However, both played 16 games to Ben’s 14, which is why I think percentages are more revealing than straight numbers.) Dalton threw three more TDs than Ben—20—and Flacco threw three less—14. Of the three players, Joe Flacco was the most careful with the ball and the least productive with it, if I may characterize it thus. Once again, numbers such as the completion percentage are extrapolated to make the difference easier to see. Here are the actual figures:


I thought it would also be interesting to see how some of the analysis sites rated our three QBs. Unfortunately, it isn’t possible to just line everything up, since each site has their own method, so here they are individually.

First, Pro Football Focus. Their ratings only go back to 2008, so it wasn’t possible to compare by career years, as I’ve done with the other stats. But it is still interesting to see what they came up with. They use a very complicated formula to assign a value to players at each position. In their system a zero means average play at the given position, so consequently a lot of players end up with negative numbers. Here’s how the players ranked for 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011. (Naturally, Dalton is only ranked for last season.)


Next is Pro Football Reference. They assign something they call Average Value to each player for each season. Many players will receive a zero. For purposes of comparison, in 2004, Peyton Manning’s top-ranked year, he received a 21.


Finally, Football Outsiders. The ranking assigned is for all players at the position who had more than a baseline number of snaps. A lower number is better in this case, with #1 being who they consider the best player in the league. In I’ve given the numbers for Roethlisberger in 2004 – 2007, Flacco 2008 – 2011, and Dalton for 2011. (In case you’re wondering, Peyton Manning is #1 for 2004, Ben’s first season. Drew Brees is #1 for 2008, Joe Flacco’s first season, and Drew Brees is also #1 for 2011, Andy Dalton’s first season.) The last column is the ranking for all three men last season.


Now, the wild card—the Cleveland Browns. I could give the numbers for Colt McCoy, but it seems Brandon Weeden is going to be the starting quarterback. Unless he isn’t. To be a bit less disingenuous, there will be a camp competition for the starting spot, but the strong expectation is, Weeden will win it. So the best I can do is a quick comparison of his college numbers with our other three starters. Here they are, year by year:


I tried making these into charts, but I think it’s actually easier to just look at the numbers in this case. Weeden didn’t get any appreciable amount of playing time until his third year, but once he did, his numbers look good. In fact, they probably look more like Ben Roethlisberger’s numbers than either of the others.

As we all know, it’s hard to say how college numbers will translate to the NFL. And for quarterbacks (as for most rookies) there is a pretty sharp learning curve. But Weeden also has career experience in professional baseball—he was a second-round pick for the Yankees. He never made it past a Class-A club, though (the High Desert Mavericks of the California League.) But at any rate, it might be harder to throw him a curve ball in the NFL. (Thank you very much—I’ll be here all week…)

I thought about comparing the back-up QBs as well, but since we won’t know for sure who those are until after camp in most cases, and since it would be a whole lot of trouble, I decided not to bother. So, as usual, everything could end up looking completely different if one of the QBs sustains a significant injury. Unless that quarterback is Ben Roethlisberger, in which case he will probably play anyway. (“It’s only a flesh wound…”) But, like last season, his numbers will probably tank, so let us fervently hope for better things.

Here’s my predictions, for what they are worth. (Remember, you get what you pay for.) I think Ben Roethlisberger will stay reasonably healthy behind his new improved offensive line and put up excellent numbers, possibly even as good as his 2007 or 2009 seasons. I think Joe Flacco will play well, especially with the new confidence he gained by helping get his team to the playoffs and almost to the Super Bowl. But I also don’t see his upside to be as high as the other QBs in the AFC North. I believe Andy Dalton will continue to show the Bengals got a steal in Round Two of the 2011 draft, and he will improve significantly, just as he did between his first and second year of college. This is partly because of his history and partly because he has more than just A. J. Green to throw to this season. Brandon Weeden is a big question mark, and will probably struggle. Not necessarily because he isn’t up to the job, but because the Browns haven’t addressed the WR issue. Since he only managed a single rushing TD in his entire college career, and since he’s an old guy, relatively speaking, he’s probably not going to be able to pull a Tebow and just take the ball in himself on a regular basis.

Given all that, here is my entirely speculative and possibly homeristic ranking of the AFC North offense, based only on the quarterback position:

1. Pittsburgh Steelers

2. Cincinnati Bengals

3. Baltimore Ravens

4. Cleveland Browns

This may well change as we look at other positions, or if, heaven forfend, one of our starting QBs has a season-ending injury getting out of bed, desecrating a Terrible Towel, or whatever else these guys do during the offseason. Stay tuned for Parts Two through Twenty or so of the series, as I address each position. The series will probably be complete by this time next summer, if it continues at the rate it is going thus far.

Source: Behind the Steel Curtain

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