Week 8 Marquee Matchups

Warren Sharp
·6 min read

Pittsburgh Steelers at Baltimore Ravens

The biggest hope of mine this offseason was the Ravens would improve the rate which they run into different box counts.

I wanted them to run less often into heavier box counts (8+ men in the box) by audibling out of such runs, and run more often into lighter box counts (6- men in the box).

But that hasn’t happened.

The Ravens early down run rate by box size on early downs in the first three quarters:

8+ man box: 65% run (NFL avg = 61%)
7 man box: 57% run (NFL avg = 52%)
6- man box: 22% run (NFL avg = 33%)

These rates for the Ravens are actually less run-heavy vs 6- man boxes, recording an even higher pass rate during the most opportune time to run.

Take a look at their performance on these downs:

8+ man box: 4.2 YPC, +0.02 EPA, 54% success
7 man box: 4.8 YPC, -0.06 EPA, 43% success
6- man box: 6.0 YPC, +0.13 EPA, 54% success

Clearly, the Ravens should be running the ball more on the lighter boxes, not throwing it approx. 80% of the time.

If you factor in QB runs vs these 6- man boxes, the Ravens Offense is gaining 7.1 YPC, +0.26 EPA and a 55% success rate.

Meanwhile, pass plays are gaining just 7.4 YPA, -0.01 EPA and a 47% success rate against the lighter boxes.

The efficiency isn’t close, and the Ravens absolutely must do a better job of audibling to run plays when the box counts are light.

Interesting note on this particular game, as the Ravens come off of a bye:

The Ravens are 18-5 SU and 16-7 ATS (70%) under John Harbaugh with over 7 days of rest.

They are 4-0 SU and 3-1 ATS the last two years.

The Steelers were extremely fired up to win beat the Titans. They had two separate weeks to prepare for the Titans, given the COVID issues for the Titans locker room. The Steelers blamed the Titans for costing them their bye week. It was an important game. And they earned the road win.

But it’s hard to get up for game after game after game. This game against the Ravens is just as huge.

And the Ravens weren’t prepared to have the Steelers be the talk of the AFC North. This was supposed to be the Ravens division. And if the Ravens lose this game, there are sitting 6-2, tied with the Browns at 6-2 and now two games behind the 7-0 Steelers (two games due to the head-to-head loss).

I absolutely think this is a circled game for the Ravens, and I think they will come out victorious. That said, this line at 4 is something that does not offer enough value to entice me.

San Francisco 49ers at Seattle Seahawks

The 49ers pass defense is healthier, I will give them that.

But they've faced the #2 easiest schedule of pass offenses and they will struggle vs Seattle’s passing attack.

Last week they shut down the Patriots, but their passing offense is terrible. They lack talent and lack an accurate QB. Cam Newton had only 8 pass attempts and 30 total passing yards the entire first half.

The best passing offenses they faced were the Rams and Dolphins.

The Dolphins killed the 49ers pass defense from 3+ WR sets, averaging 13.9 YPA, 59% success, +.75 EPA and a 150 passer rating. This was during a time when they were down DBs, but nevertheless, it was a terrible showing by the 49ers.

I hated the spot for the Rams, and bet the 49ers when no one wanted them, but that was a game the 49ers barely held onto. The Rams had 3 trips to the red zone, threw an interception at the 2 yard line, and Jared Goff was just plain bad. He had open receivers on key downs and flat out missed them.

Otherwise, the 49ers have played literally four bottom-5 offenses in the Jets, Giants, Eagles and Patriots.

Another edge the Seahawks may have in this game is the rushing from Russell Wilson. The 49ers have allowed the most QB rushing yards in the NFL.

Digging deeper into this matchup, there is an interesting angle for the Seahawks when they are in 12 personnel offensively.

The 49ers defense plays base (4 DBs) against 12 personnel at a 90% rate on early downs in the first three quarters this season, which is #1 highest in the NFL and up from 89% last year. It is well above the 56% NFL average in 2020 and the 61% NFL average the last 3 years

Look at the splits when Seattle passes the ball this season on early downs in 12 vs base:

8.1 YPA, 78% success, +0.33 EPA/att

Compare that to Seattle RB-rushes on early downs in 12 vs base:

4.9 YPC, 53% success, +0.06 EPA/att

After his benching, the 49ers have let Jimmy Garoppolo cook and he hasn’t disappointed.

Garoppolo has bounced back the past two games with 8.1 and 11.1 yards per pass attempt while completing 74.1% of his passes.

The 49ers gained 300 yards of offense in just the first half alone last week in New England. Jimmy G passed for 9.5 YPA and a 60% success rate in the first half of the game, although he did throw 2 INTs.

But the 49ers didn't punt until the last drive of the game, and went 8 straight drives without a punt against the Patriots Defense.

And the Patriots Defense was the weakest they've faced so far this season.

Until the Seahawks.

The 49ers haven't played any outstanding, top-10 defenses, but they've played a lot of mediocre ones.

The only 3 defenses the 49ers faced which ranked below average were the Jets, Giants and Patriots. And the 49ers put up 30+ points in every game.

Now they face the NFL's 5th worst defense, but it's one that is much worse against the pass than the run. And the 49ers are down all their RBs plus the are dealing with the absence of Deebo Samuel.

The 49ers must turn to the pass to see success, but they can do that with relatively low risk considering the weaknesses of the Seahawks Defense.

Seattle is one of the worst defenses in the NFL on short passes, those thrown just 5-12 air yards downfield.

Seattle allows a 73% success rate, 8.8 YPA and +0.41 EPA/att on these passes. Only the Falcons and Bengals defenses have been worse.

The 49ers throw 39% of all targets in this area, which is 11th most in the NFL. And on these passes, the 49ers average a 69% success rate, 9.0 YPA and +0.18 EPA/att, all of which are above average.

This will have to be another Shanahan brilliant performance, but the 49ers cannot afford to drop to 4-4 in-division and allow Seattle to improve to 6-1. At the same time, Seattle doesn’t want to lose 2 in a row. This game should have been delivered to us in primetime, but it will be must-see TV.