3 PFF stats to know for Steelers-Patriots AFC title game
Following the Pittsburgh Steelers’ narrow win over the Chiefs, and the New England Patriots earning a victory Saturday night against the Texans, the AFC championship game matchup is set. Here are the three key PFF stats you need to know before the Steelers and Patriots take the field:
1. Tom Brady earned a 99.3 overall grade during the 2016 regular season—the highest mark every achieved by a quarterback in the PFF era (PFF grades date back to the 2006 season).
Tom Brady earned the highest PFF grade for an NFL quarterback **EVER** this season: https://t.co/Df3HxVeW6H
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) January 15, 2017
Colleague Steve Palazzolo covered this in far more depth last week, but the shortened version is that Brady was absolutely dominant this season, leading the league in basically every facet of play PFF tracks to evaluate quarterbacks. For as good as Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger is, Brady played this season at a completely different level than any other NFL quarterback, giving the Patriots the clear edge at the position in this one. It’s worth noting, however, that Brady struggled more than usual in the win over the Texans, and last year’s AFC championship loss to Denver was his lowest-graded outing of the year.
2. Ben Roethlisberger was only under pressure on three of his 32 dropbacks in the win over the Chiefs.
That is a remarkable performance from the Steelers’ offensive line, which isn’t surprising, given that they allowed just 14 sacks in the regular season—the third-lowest total in the league. Pittsburgh also ranks fifth in run-blocking grades on the year, and recently came in at No. 3 in PFF’s offensive line rankings.
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) January 16, 2017
The Steelers’ ability to give Roethlisberger a clean pocket and create running lanes for Le’Veon Bell will be critical next Sunday. While the Patriots have fared well against the run, they rank just 24th in PFF’s pass-rushing grades, so there should be opportunities for the Steelers’ offensive line to have a major impact in this one.
3. Patriots cornerbacks Malcolm Butler and Logan Ryan combined to allow just six catches for 27 total yards on 13 targets in the win over Houston.
On the season, both players rank among the top 12 cornerbacks in terms of overall grade, and are part of a coverage unit that is one of the best in the NFL.
Butler shadowed Steelers star wide receiver Antonio Brown in the teams’ ’Week 7 meeting, allowing a QB rating of just 37.7 on nine targets against Brown for five catches, 94 yards and an interception. That game took place with Landry Jones starting at QB for Pittsburgh in place of an injured Roethlisberger, so circumstances were different. How well the Patriots can shut down Brown and the other Steelers pass-catchers in coverage figures to go a long way toward determining the outcome.