Analyzing the Steelers’ 2009 Schedule

Ben Roethlisberger

Ben Roethlisberger

The defending Super Bowl Champion Pittburgh Steelers (it’s wonderful to say, isn’t it? 🙂 ) faced one of the toughest schedules in NFL history last year. In running that gauntlet, they posted a 12-4 record, then went on to win an NFL record 6th Lombardi Trophy. This year, the Steelers expect to compete again for the prize, bringing back the vast majority of last years’ starters. But how will their schedule compare with that of 2008? That is the question that this post looks to answer.

Comparing their 2008 schedule with 2009, it appears that they are facing a much easier schedule than they did last year. In 2009, the Steelers’ Strength of Schedule is ranked 29th, with a 0.434 winning percentage based on 2008 records. That is signicantly lower than the 0.526 winning percentage of their 2008 opponents. Of course, we won’t know the final SOS for this schedule until the end of the season, and teams change each year. At this point, however, it appears that the Steelers will face a considerably less daunting task than one year ago, at least until the playoffs.

In this post, I wanted to break down the Steelers’ 2008 and 2009 schedules a little further to get a better understanding of what they are up against this season (much the same way I had in previous posts on the Falcons, Cowboys, Patriots, and Colts). Taking my raw data from Pro-Football-Reference.com, I have compiled the Offensive and Defensive rankings of the Steelers’ opponents from 2008 and 2009, broken out in the following 4 categories:  

  • Pts Rk – Total Points Rank
  • Yds Rk – Total Yards Rank
  • Pass Rk – Passing Yards Rank
  • Rush Rk – Rushing Yards Rank

The rankings for both seasons are based on how the teams finished the 2008 season, since, of course, the 2009 final rankings are yet to be determined.

Before we get into opponents’ rankings, let’s review the Steelers’ rankings from last season.


Pts Rk Yds Rk Pass Rk Rush Rk
Steelers’ 2008 Off Rks 20 22 17 23
Steelers’ 2008 Def Rks 1 1 1 2

At one point last season, I believe I made a comment on BTSC that this team reminded me of the Steelers of the early ’70s, with a spectacular defense, perhaps one of the best ever, and an offense that was nothing to write home about, but seemed to come through when needed. The main difference between the 2008 Steelers and the 1974 Steelers, though, was that this offense relied heavily on the quarterback. The Steelers of the early ’70s relied heavily on the run, which, unfortunately, the 2008 team didn’t do too well.

With these numbers in mind, let’s take a look at the Steelers’ opponents for last year and this year. In the tables below, we see the Steelers’ opponents’ offensive and defensive ranks for 2008 and 2009. First, the offensive ranks for 2008:


Opponents’ Offensive Ranks
Steelers’ 2008 Schedule Pts Rk Yds Rk Pass Rk Rush Rk
Houston Texans 17 3 4 13
Cleveland Browns 31 31 31 26
Philadelphia Eagles 6 9 6 22
Baltimore Ravens 11 18 28 4
Jacksonville Jaguars 24 20 15 18
Cincinnati Bengals 32 32 30 29
New York Giants 3 7 18 1
Washington Redskins 28 19 23 8
Indianapolis Colts 13 15 5 31
San Diego Chargers 2 11 7 20
Cincinnati Bengals 32 32 30 29
New England Patriots 8 5 12 6
Dallas Cowboys 18 13 9 21
Baltimore Ravens 11 18 28 4
Tennessee Titans 14 21 27 7
Cleveland Browns 31 31 31 26
Average Ranks 17.56 17.81 19 16.56

And 2009:


Opponents’ Offensive Ranks
Steelers’ 2009 Schedule Pts Rk Yds Rk Pass Rk Rush Rk
Tennessee Titans 14 21 27 7
Chicago Bears 15 26 21 24
Cincinnati Bengals 32 32 30 29
San Diego Chargers 2 11 7 20
Detroit Lions 27 30 24 30
Cleveland Browns 31 31 31 26
Minnesota Vikings 12 17 25 5
Denver Broncos 16 2 3 12
Cincinnati Bengals 32 32 30 29
Kansas City Chiefs 26 24 20 16
Baltimore Ravens 11 18 28 4
Oakland Raiders 29 29 32 10
Cleveland Browns 31 31 31 26
Green Bay Packers 5 8 8 17
Baltimore Ravens 11 18 28 4
Miami Dolphins 21 12 10 11
Average Ranks 19.69 21.38 22.19 16.88

Next, we have the opponents’ defensive ranks for 2008:


Opponents’ Defensive Ranks
Steelers’ 2008 Schedule Pts Rk Yds Rk Pass Rk Rush Rk
Houston Texans 27 22 17 23
Cleveland Browns 17 26 14 28
Philadelphia Eagles 4 3 3 4
Baltimore Ravens 3 2 2 3
Jacksonville Jaguars 21 17 24 14
Cincinnati Bengals 19 12 15 21
New York Giants 5 5 8 9
Washington Redskins 6 4 7 8
Indianapolis Colts 7 11 6 24
San Diego Chargers 15 25 31 11
Cincinnati Bengals 19 12 15 21
New England Patriots 8 10 11 15
Dallas Cowboys 20 8 5 12
Baltimore Ravens 3 2 2 3
Tennessee Titans 2 7 9 6
Cleveland Browns 17 26 14 28
Average Ranks 12.06 12 11.44 14.38

And 2009:


Opponents’ Defensive Ranks
Steelers’ 2009 Schedule Pts Rk Yds Rk Pass Rk Rush Rk
Tennessee Titans 2 7 9 6
Chicago Bears 16 21 30 5
Cincinnati Bengals 19 12 15 21
San Diego Chargers 15 25 31 11
Detroit Lions 32 32 27 32
Cleveland Browns 17 26 14 28
Minnesota Vikings 13 6 18 1
Denver Broncos 30 29 26 27
Cincinnati Bengals 19 12 15 21
Kansas City Chiefs 29 31 28 30
Baltimore Ravens 3 2 2 3
Oakland Raiders 24 27 10 31
Cleveland Browns 17 26 14 28
Green Bay Packers 22 20 12 26
Baltimore Ravens 3 2 2 3
Miami Dolphins 9 15 25 10
Average Ranks 16.88 18.31 17.38 17.69

Just a glance at these tables shows that the main reason the Steelers’ SOS is much lower this year is due to the opposing defenses. The level of opponents’ offensive rankings decreases somewhat, while the level of opponents’ defensive ranking decreases dramatically. This seems like good news for the Steelers, because if there was one unit that struggled more than the others last year, it was the Steelers’ offense. With so much turnover on the offensive line, this would be a good year for those players to gain experience and gel together as a unit. Additionally, 2008 day one picks Limas Sweed and Rashard Mendenhall should gain valuable experience this year. So, I expect the Steelers offense to be much more productive this year.

Digging a little deeper into the numbers, here are a few items of the note from this data.

  • The opponents’ average offensive rank decreases 12% in points scored from 2008 to 2009.
  • The opponents’ average offensive rank decreases 20% in yards gained from 2008 to 2009 (17% in pass yards, 2% in rush yards).
  • The opponents’ average defensive rank decreases 40% in points allowed from 2008 to 2009.
  • The opponents’ average defensive rank decreases 53% in yards allowed from 2008 to 2009 (52% in pass yards, 23% in rush yards).
  • In 2008, the Steelers faced the following number of top 10 offenses: 4 in points, 4 in yards, 5 passing, and 6 rushing.
  • In 2009, the Steelers will face the following number of top 10 offenses: 2 in points, 2 in yards, 4 passing, and 5 rushing.
  • In 2008, the Steelers faced the following number of top 10 defenses: 8 in points, 8 in yards, 8 passing, and 6 rushing.
  • In 2009, the Steelers will face the following number of top 10 defenses: 4 in points, 4 in yards, 4 passing, and 6 rushing.

When looking at all of the numbers, I come away with a couple of things. First, this should be a season where Big Ben is able to pad his HOF stats. Either that, or we’ll see a return to some semblence of a power running game, just because the opposing defenses won’t be able to stop it like last year. However, since the Steelers face the same number of top 10 rush defenses, perhaps only the passing game will see significantly better numbers. Second, the Steelers’ defense may actually be able to hold every opponent under 300 yards of total offense this year. Realistically, I doubt it will happen, because there shouldn’t be a ton of nailbiter type games this year like we saw last year. That will mean it’s more likely that the Steelers get an early lead and teams will be passing more in the second half to try to come from behind. Also, with the big lead, teams tend to just play to run out the game, lowering their intensity somewhat. If anything, the Steelers may have to guard against complacency, if they get off to a great start. But, I’m sure they have a coach who will know how to guard against that.

Overall, based on this data, one would expect the Steelers to have a similar record to last year, probably better even. This analysis didn’t get into individual opponents and what changes each opponent went through in the offseason. For example, with another year under his belt, will Flacco be ready to take the next step, or will the Ravens defense take a step back with the loss of Rex Ryan? Will the Bengals improve with a healthy Carson Palmer and the return of a healthy Keith Rivers? We don’t know these answers.  But, as I said with the previous analyses, I think that this does give a good big picture view of the Steelers’ upcoming schedule, because surely not every team on it will improve dramatically.

Steeler Nation, let me know your thoughts on this discussion.

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29 Responses to “Analyzing the Steelers’ 2009 Schedule”

  1. steve austin Says:

    STEELERS ALL THE WAY !!!

  2. Andy Lambdin Says:

    Really excellent analysis!

    And, not to mention, Sweed and Mendenhall certainly looked like they are coming along well in pre season. And that Logan kid is going to break for some TD’s on kickoffs and punts.

    You can’t tell from year to year how teams are going to do from the prior season’s performance. However, with the Steelers only loosing 2 players on defense and their defense looking as good as it did in pre season, they have as good a shot as possible for #7!

  3. Dave Stubblefield Says:

    Excellent breakdown. Can’t wait to see it play out starting this Thursday. As long as we don’t get derailed by injuries I think we have a real shot at #7.

  4. johnm9787 Says:

    nice analysis, but now we also have the bullseye directly on our chest, that is just one of many unknowns. That said we must factor in our improvement in the punting & return games, the improved field position both offensively & defensively should pay huge dividends to our team.

    • wolfpacksteelersfan Says:

      Yeah, and the NFL has become so competitive in the last 10-15 years that there aren’t any real huge upsets like in college. Pretty much every team has the same level of talent, it just comes down to coaching, mental toughness, having a few guys that are just better than others (like Troy, for example), and having the ball bounce your way. I agree, though, the additions should only make the Steelers better.

  5. Coon 2 Says:

    How do I post a table similar to the above? Can we use HTML here?

  6. Coon 2 Says:

    I tried that but it doesn’t format correctly, actually it doesn’t format at all.

    BTW, excellent analysis of the SOS numbers. I’m trying something similar using your format. I was hoping that I could use HTML and reference a .jpeg file or something. How do you get your tables to format so good, and including color?

    • wolfpacksteelersfan Says:

      Well, I’m using Windows XP, but my computer is a used, re-furbished computer with Windows-like (OpenOffice) programs. For example, my Excel is actually called Calc. It allows me to copy and paste directly into WordPress. I’ve also seen that in a couple of contributions to SB Nation. I had been using a family member’s computer, which I think had Vista on it. It wouldn’t allow that direct copy and paste. You can do a print screen and paste into Paint, and then save it as a .jpeg. If you’re using WordPress, it should allow to upload the picture from your computer.

      Glad you liked it. Once you get your issues worked out, I’d be interested in seeing your post.

  7. Coon 2 Says:

    I’m also running XP but can’t copy anything here even a .jpeg file. You said I could upload a .jpeg file if I’m using WordPress. This is WordPress, isn’t it? Do you know how I can upload files here?

    I’m going to try some HTML here to see if it works. I hope no one gets upset. I’ll try to create a link back to this site. Click HERE.

  8. Coon 2 Says:

    OK, it worked. So we can use HTML here. That’s great. Now, all I have to do is to find out where I can upload a .jpeg file to and then I can reference it with HTML tags.

    • wolfpacksteelersfan Says:

      Are you trying to link it here on this site, or do you have your own wordpress blog? If this site, then, I don’t think you can upload pics in a comment. If it was your own site, I know that you can do it in the post itself. But, if you have your own site, you should be able to copy and paste from Excel, as I said.

  9. Fred Says:

    I think you’re right, Wolf. I don’t believe that I can upload files to the site unless I have my own blog. I’m thinking about that and just as soon as I can work a few things out, I’m going to do it.

    Thanks for your help. Maybe I’ll try to post my numbers and see if they’ll make any sense. 🙂

    • wolfpacksteelersfan Says:

      Yeah, when you first asked, I thought that you meant you wanted to put some tables like that in a blog post of your own. Didn’t realize you were trying to put it into the comments.

  10. Fred Says:

    Wolf, I essentially did for the AFL North what you did with the Steelers to get a SOS. Using your approach, I took the average of the offensive and defensive rankings (points, total yards, rushing yards and passing yards) for the opponents of each of the 4 teams in the AFC North. I call those averages the Offensive and Defensive SOS for each of the 4 teams. The average of the Offensive and Defensive SOS for each team is the Total SOS.

    I’m going to try to use some HTML to present a table with the numbers I mentioned above. However, since I don’t know how they will display here and I don’t know of any way I can edit of delete my posts, would you do me a favor and delete my next post if it doesn’t display correctly. Thanks.

  11. Fred Says:

    Opponents’ Average Off & Def Ranks – 2008

    Teams
    Off SOS
    Def SOS
    Total SOS

    Baltimore
    20.2
    17.5
    18.9

    Pittsburgh
    20.0
    17.6
    18.8

    Cleveland
    19.5
    15.9
    17.7

    Cincinnati
    18.1
    16.8
    17.5

  12. Fred Says:

    Well, obviously, the table did not display correctly. Apparently, the site didn’t accept any of the HTML that I used. What you see in my post above is the AFC North teams. The first number is the average opponents’ offensive rankings, the second number is the average opponents’ defensive ranking and the third number is the Total SOS for each team.

    To the extent that I got my numbers right, you can see that Cincinnati has the most difficult SOS in the AFC North and Baltimore the least difficult. But, the numbers are so close I’m not sure that you can predict anything from them.

    • wolfpacksteelersfan Says:

      Since you can still understand the information, I’ll leave that comment, unless you want me to delete it. Yeah, I see what you’re saying there. I guess that we would expect Cleveland and Cincinatti to have slightly more difficult schedules because they each play the Ravens and Steelers twice, while conversely, the Ravens and Steelers only impact each others’ SOS for a total of two games (vs. 4 for the Ohio teams). Next, I’d want to compare those numbers to the 2008 schedule for those teams to see if they can expect an easier schedule this season than last. I’m sure that all of the AFC North teams have easier schedules this year.

  13. Fred Says:

    Wolf, you said:” I guess that we would expect Cleveland and Cincinnati to have slightly more difficult schedules because they each play the Ravens and Steelers twice…”

    You’re absolutely correct. If you take Baltimore and Pittsburgh out of the Cleveland and Cincinnati schedules the SOS for Cleveland goes from 17.7 to 20.3 and the SOS for Cincinnati goes from 17.5 to 20.0.

    You said: “I’d want to compare those numbers to the 2008 schedule for those teams to see if they can expect an easier schedule this season than last. I’m sure that all of the AFC North teams have easier schedules this year…”

    Again, you’re right. Here are the AFC North SOS numbers the 2009 & 2008 Schedules. (Again, I’m going to try some HTML. I tested it on another board and it looks really neat. I hope this works here or is at least legible. )

    SOS for 2009 Schedule
    Baltimore Ravens 18.9
    Pittsburgh Steelers 18.8
    Cleveland Browns 17.7
    Cincinnati Bengals 17.5

    SOS for 2008 Schedule
    Baltimore Ravens 16.2
    Pittsburgh Steelers 17.0
    Cleveland Browns 14.0
    Cincinnati Bengals 14.5

  14. Fred Says:

    Yes, I did. I used the full schedule for each team.

    • wolfpacksteelersfan Says:

      Ok, then, overall, Browns and Bengals have a larger percentage change in SOS than the the Ravens or Steelers.

  15. Fred Says:

    You’re right again! 🙂

    % Change in SOS 08 v 09
    Baltimore Ravens 14%
    Pittsburgh Steelers 9%
    Cleveland Browns 21%
    Cincinnati Bengals 17%

  16. Fred Says:

    I’m not sure this is the right board or if anyone is interested, but I created a spreadsheet which takes 34 input variables in the form of team stats from this year and last year then automatically predicts the coming week’s Steeler’s game winner, scores, spread and over/under.

    It did very well the first two weeks as can be seen immediately below not only correctly predicting the game winners but also correctly predicting the exact score, spread and O/U in week 2 and the winner and spread in week 1.

    Week 1
    Prediction:

    Tennessee Titans: 19
    Pittsburgh Steelers: 22
    Spread: Pittsburgh Steelers -3
    O/U: 40

    Actual Score:
    Tennessee Titans: 10
    Pittsburgh Steelers: 13
    Spread: Pittsburgh Steelers: -3
    O/U: 23

    Week 2
    Prediction:

    Pittsburgh Steelers: 14
    Chicago Bears: 17
    Spread: Chicago Bears -3
    O/U: 31

    Actual Score:
    Pittsburgh Steelers: 14
    Chicago Bears: 17
    Spread: Chicago Bears: -3
    O/U: 31

    Immediately below is the prediction for game 3:

    Week 3
    Prediction:

    Pittsburgh Steelers: 17
    Cincinnati Bengals: 13
    Spread: Pittsburgh Steelers: -4
    O/U: 30

    • wolfpacksteelersfan Says:

      Wow! That is pretty impressive. If you want to post it without having to start up your own blog, you could do it in a FanPost on Behind the Steel Curtain. There is a link at the right side of the main page of Checking the Numbers.

  17. Fred Says:

    Thanks for the suggestion. I signed up for Behind the Steel Curtin. 🙂

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