The 5-3 Pittsburgh Steelers are hosting the 3-5 Green Bay Packers for their next challenge, with each squad coming off a win. Let’s dive into the matchup.
- QB. Packers Jordan Love and Steelers Kenny Pickett are atop Next Gen Stats (NGS) aggressiveness metric, which is the rate of attempts thrown into tight-windows (defender is within one yard of the completion/incompletion). The following visual includes the ten most aggressive quarterbacks in the NFL this season, along with their TDs/INTs (orange) and completion rates (team color):
Love has thrown into tight-windows at the highest 22.3-rate in the league, and has the lowest completion percentage of quarterbacks with at least 100 attempts (33 qualifiers). A similar result for Pickett, with the second-highest 21.7 aggressiveness rate, and a 61.3 completion percentage that ranks 30th (fourth-worst). The visual also features some top-echelon quarterbacks and…not so much, which gives great comparative context to the group.
Encouragingly, Pickett has the least interceptions of quarterbacks with high aggressiveness, but the flip side is the third-lowest TD total. Seven of the ten have positive TD/INT ratios, including Love and Pickett, with the former having double in each. This highlights a big difference in their play, with Love being much more volatile, and Pickett taking care of the ball but lacking scoring production.
Another big difference in the QBs is air yardage. Here are air yards to the sticks (AYTS) and air yard differential (AYD = completed – intended air yards):
Pickett is below the mean in both, ranking 20th with -1.3 AYTS, and 21st with a -2.4 AYD (5.0 completed–7.4 intended). Much more short-area passing, while Love is one of only five quarterbacks to throw at or past the sticks, ranking second.
Pittsburgh’s defense has been susceptible to big plays, so hopefully Love’s deeper passing can be limited. His lowest completion rate, along with last ranked -3.4 AYD (5.7 completed–9.1 intended) leaves optimism for that. Hopefully, the Steelers win that key battle.
RB Aaron Jones is the lead man for Green Bay, but has appeared in only five games to date (hamstring). A.J. Dillon has played in all eight games, both lacking ideal production (3.8, 3.3 yards per attempt). Jones has the touchdown edge (two) and has a matching total in fumbles (one in each of the last two games), a hopeful re-occurrence for Pittsburgh’s defense, and Dillon has reached the end-zone once.
Let’s examine further with NGS efficiency (EFF = total distance traveled per rush yards gained, lower numbers are more north/south runners) and rushing yards over expected (RYOE):
Overall, we see a high correlation of north/south runners achieving stronger RYOE overall. Pittsburgh’s Jaylen Warren is a prime example, the only matchup player above average in both, 14th in EFF and ninth-best RYOE out of 47 qualifiers (min. 50 rush attempts).
He is also coming of a strong game with 87 rush yards (T-fourth) including PFF’s second-best grade (91.1), five first downs, four runs of 10-plus, along with three catches (8.3 YPR). Warren impressively ranks first in forced missed tackles/att per PFF this season, and here’s to more of that from the Steelers backs against GB, who have missed a fair share of tackles (19th).
Najee Harris was also key to Pittsburgh’s best-rushing yardage game of 2023 (166) last week, with 69 yards, 4.3 YPA, and an opening drive touchdown. The latter was huge, with Pittsburgh struggling mightily at the start of games, and hopefully, we’ll see more of that on Sunday and beyond.
In 2023, Harris ranks 31st in EFF and 29th in RYOE, both trending upward. Hopefully, the duo has another strong game and add to their three rushing touchdowns since the bye (none the first five games), against a Packers defense that ties for 13th in rush YPA (4.0) and 16th in rush touchdowns allowed (seven).
Jones and Dillon land very similarly on the chart, 35th and 37th ranked EFF, and 38th/39th in RYOE. Not great on paper, but with the former getting healthier, will be interesting to see if Pittsburgh’s run defense that ties for 26th in YPA (4.5) and a much better ninth in touchdowns allowed (five) can keep a lid on their run game.
- WR. The Packers have young talent at the position. Romeo Doubs leads the team in targets (51) and touchdowns:
Rookie Jayden Reed is second on the team with 38 targets, along with three touchdowns, and played all eight games along with Doubs. Christian Watson missed the first three games of the season and has 26 targets and a touchdown.
Here’s the position utilization:
Watson jumps out as the Packers’ primary deep target, with a whopping 18.0 IAY that ranks second in the NFL (94 qualifiers, min. of 23 targets). The connection has been lacking though, with a 46.2 catch rate that’s dead last. Hopefully, that remains true against Pittsburgh’s defense, who’s seen the second-highest ADOT league-wide (9.4) and tie for 29th in explosive-plays-allowed. Watson also has 6.5 YAC (eighth), so tackling at the catch point will be key as well.
Pittsburgh’s George Pickens is coming off a frustrating individual performance with -1 yards and two catches, and will hopefully be more impactful as he’s been for much of 2023. This includes his matchup-high 6.7 YAC (seventh league-wide), targets (57), yards (512), along with 13.0 IAY (20th), and three touchdowns. GB’s secondary is banged up, which could play into a big game for Pickens and the position room.
Calvin Austin III and Diontae Johnson are also above the mean, ranking 33rd and 41st in IAY, and 28th/34th in YAC. The latter is particularly encouraging, with the offense’s short pass game requiring appropriate scheming and YAC for success, which has encouragingly happened more since Johnson’s return from injury. Knock on wood that continues.
Reed is also above average in both (27th IAY, 33rd YAC), while Doubs is 36th in IAY but eighth-least YAC. Steelers Allen Robinson II is well below average in both, ranking 82nd in IAY and fourth-worst in YAC.
- TE. Pittsburgh is still without Pat Freiermuth. Connor Heyward leads the position with 21 targets, including just three last week as Pickett continues to distribute elsewhere. GB Rookie Luke Musgrave leads the matchup with 35 targets:
Here we see some challenges Musgrave will present, starting with having the best separation among NFL TEs to date. He also has a strong seventh-ranked catch rate, along with ninth in YAC, provided 249 yards this season, and coming off his first touchdown game of the season. This matchup is big in my opinion for Pittsburgh, who lost LB Cole Holcomb for the season, with the room looking to step up and fill his versatile play this season that will surely be missed.
Here are OL PFF grades:
GB grades best as pass blockers, with the dot sizes highlighting several injuries they’ve endured. Pittsburgh holds the edge as run blockers overall.
Packers RT Zach Tom is the exception, with a matchup-high 78.6 RBLK, along with a 75.7 PBLK. He’s allowed 17 pressures and 15 hurries (second-most in the matchup). Only one sack, but has the challenge of elite EDGE T.J. Watt.
On the other side, three-time pro-bowler David Bakhtiari last appeared in week one, and we see the clear drop-off from Rasheed Walker (72.1 PBLK,53.2 RBLK) and Yosh Nijman (75.7 PBLK,58.6 RBLK) since. The latter made his first start last week. Expect Alex Highsmith to have another dominant game.
LG Elgton Jenkins is their highest-graded of interior starter (75.2 PBLK,56.3 RBLK), with C Josh Myers (69.7 PBLK,49.8 RBLK) and RG Jon Runyan (63.3 PBLK,49.2 RBLK) rounding out the group. Pittsburgh’s DL will hopefully provide stout run defense led by Cameron Heyward in his second game back.
LG Isaac Seumalo has the best-balanced Steelers grades still (65.3 PBLK,64.3 RBLK) with the former leading the team, followed by RG James Daniels (61.1 PBLK,64.4 RBLK). Close behind is the intriguing RT situation, with rookie Broderick Jones set to make his third-career start, second on that side following Chukwuma Okorafor’s benching. The lowest grades by far are LT Dan Moore (57.6 RBLK,34.3 PBLK) and C Mason Cole (56.1 RBLK,31.3 PBLK).
Defense. Two data points I think are key in the matchup are yards-per-play and takeaway rates:
GB ties for fifth rank in YPP, which is not ideal for Pittsburgh’s offense which is struggling to move the ball. The Packers haven’t had much splash on defense, ranking 24th in takeaway rate (9.4). That’s Pittsburgh’s specialty, tied for second-best (17.6-percent). Should continue considering the weaknesses of the Packers’ offense, but have allowed 5.5 YPP (25th league-wide). Takeaways and explosives are big keys IMO to another victory in week ten.
Thanks for reading and let me know your thoughts in the comments.