Four downs: Steelers offense more than OK with Chris Hubbard
1. OK WITH ‘HUBB’
In the wake of Marcus Gilbert’s suspension this week, there is no shortage of statistical analysis comparing the Steelers’ offensive output when Gilbert plays right tackle versus when Chris Hubbard does. By one metric — an obscure but all-encompassing one that over a large sample size could prove useful — Hubbard has been better than Gilbert in 2017, and significantly so.
The Steelers are averaging 0.23 net yards per play above league average when Hubbard plays, trailing only JuJu Smith-Schuster and Antonio Brown among teammates who played as many offensive snaps.
When Gilbert plays, the Steelers average minus-0.17 yards per play — the worst ratio of any player on the team with as many snaps. The difference is more stark on passing plays (plus-1.15 average net yards for Hubbard, league average of 0.0 for Gilbert).
2. TAKE NO OFFENSE
The Steelers’ defense ranks fourth in the NFL — a designation it has earned but also one aided by the level of offensive competition.
By the end of Sunday, the Steelers will have faced six of the NFL’s 10 worst offenses by total yardage. By contrast, they’ve faced only three of the top 10. Half of the Steelers’ eight wins have come against teams that occupy four of the bottom five spots in the league’s offensive rankings. Incidentally, three of the bottom four are from the AFC North: No. 29 Cleveland, No. 31 Baltimore and No. 32 Cincinnati.
The Steelers play all three of them — again — over their final five games. Also looming is the AFC’s best offense, the New England Patriots.
3. DOMINATING ‘D’
Playing in the league’s most obscure market has helped hide the statistically dominant defensive season the Jaguars are having. Jacksonville leads the NFL in total defense (287.6 yards per game), scoring defense (14.1) and yards per play allowed (4.5). The Jaguars lead the scoring and yardage metrics by wide margins and would have led the NFL in both categories in 2016, too.
It’s in points allowed, though, where they have been the best. No team has allowed so few points per game in the NFL since the 2008 Steelers (13.9). Six of the Jaguars’ first 10 opponents failed to score 10 points. If Jacksonville shuts down Arizona on Sunday, it would become the fifth team in NFL history to yield nine points or fewer in seven of its first 11 games of a season.
4. LARRY LEGEND
At age 34 and some 14 years since he last played at Pitt, Larry Fitzgerald still has it. The face of the Arizona Cardinals entered Week 12 trailing Antonio Brown by one catch for the NFL’s reception lead. Barring injury — and perhaps as soon as Sunday night — he soon will be No. 3 on both major career receiving leader lists. Already within six of catches of joining Jerry Rice and Tony Gonzalez as the only players with 1,200, Fitzgerald moves into third in yards with 135 more. Fitzgerald has 15,157 yards, trailing Rice (22,895), Terrell Owens (15,934), Randy Moss (15,292) and Isaac Bruce (15,208).