First QB Starts against a Dick Lebeau Defense

Jake Roth-US PRESSWIRE

Most quarterbacks in this league are challenged when facing a Dick Lebeau defense. I was particularly interested in how QBs fared in their first matchup against one of the NFLs best defensive coordinators.

Heading into Sunday's game in Pittsburgh one of the interesting matchups is how Jake Locker will handle what Dick Lebeau intends to show on defense. It's no secret that Lebeau has had success in confusing quarterbacks in the past. Chris Brown at Grantland had this to say about Lebeau and his use of pattern matching within the zone blitz scheme (note: must read article ahead of this game):

Fire zones are essentially three-deep coverages, and offenses have known how to attack three-deep coverages for years. There are two common methods of doing so. The first is sending four receivers vertical, with the idea being that three deep defenders shouldn't be able to play four deep receivers. The second is sending the outside receiver vertical while the tight end or slot runs a deep out or a curl/flat combination. The pattern-match fire zone therefore is specifically designed to handle these tactics.

...

The upshot of pattern-match zone blitzes is that when executed correctly, they are the best of all possible worlds: They're attacking, multi-defender blitzes in which the defense plays zone coverage against pass patterns designed to beat man-to-man coverage against pass patterns — all verticals — designed to defeat zones.

Beyond the complexity of the scheme which you can see from the quote above and the article, I'd expect to see the other usual tricks that you see out of zone blitz schemes such as rolling coverages, and baiting hot throws. My intention here isn't really to get into scheme, but to better understand how QBs faired against Lebeau in their first starts against him. So, of course, I went to PFR and used their handy search tool. The tool didn't allow me to get totally specific, but it got me started. I searched for QBs in their first 3 years in the league in games against Pittsburgh since Lebeau has been the DC (2004-Present). From there, I removed any duplicates, and this is what we got (sorted by QB Rating). That will leave a few 4th-5th year guys out (VY for example), but this is about as close as I could get to finding situations comparable to Locker's on Sunday.

Rk Player Date Tm Opp Result CMP ATT Cmp% Passing Yds PATD PAINT QB Rating Y/A
1 Jay Cutler 10/21/07 DEN PIT W 31-28 22 29 75.86% 248 3 2 106.7 8.55
2 Byron Leftwich 12/5/04 JAX PIT L 16-17 16 27 59.26% 268 1 0 105.2 9.93
3 Eli Manning 12/18/04 NYG PIT L 30-33 16 23 69.57% 182 2 1 103.9 7.91
4 Chad Henne 1/3/10 MIA PIT L 24-30 16 20 80.00% 140 1 1 91.7 7
5 Troy Smith 12/30/07 BAL PIT W 27-21 16 27 59.26% 171 1 0 90.2 6.33
6 Philip Rivers 10/8/06 SDG PIT W 23-13 24 37 64.86% 242 2 1 90.1 6.54
7 Thaddeus Lewis 12/30/12 CLE @ PIT L 10-24 22 32 68.75% 204 1 1 83.3 6.38
8 Joe Flacco 9/29/08 BAL @ PIT L 20-23 16 31 51.61% 192 1 0 81.7 6.19
9 Mark Sanchez 12/19/10 NYJ @ PIT W 22-17 19 29 65.52% 170 0 0 81.1 5.86
10 Colt McCoy 10/17/10 CLE @ PIT L 10-28 23 33 69.70% 281 1 2 80.5 8.52
11 Brandon Weeden 11/25/12 CLE PIT W 20-14 17 26 65.38% 158 1 1 78.7 6.08
12 Derek Anderson 12/7/06 CLE @ PIT L 7-27 21 37 56.76% 276 1 1 78.2 7.46
13 John Beck 11/26/07 MIA @ PIT L 0-3 14 23 60.87% 132 0 0 76.7 5.74
14 Robert Griffin III 10/28/12 WAS @ PIT L 12-27 16 34 47.06% 177 1 0 72.8 5.21
15 Matt Leinart 9/30/07 ARI PIT W 21-14 7 14 50.00% 93 0 0 71.4 6.64
16 Kyle Boller 9/19/04 BAL PIT W 30-13 10 18 55.56% 98 0 0 71.1 5.44
17 Blaine Gabbert 10/16/11 JAX @ PIT L 13-17 12 26 46.15% 109 1 0 70.8 4.19
18 Matt Ryan 9/12/10 ATL @ PIT L 9-15 27 44 61.36% 252 0 1 67.6 5.73
19 Kyle Orton 12/11/05 CHI @ PIT L 9-21 17 35 48.57% 207 0 0 67.2 5.91
20 Josh Freeman 9/26/10 TAM PIT L 13-38 20 31 64.52% 184 0 1 67.1 5.94
21 Alex Smith 9/23/07 SFO @ PIT L 16-37 17 35 48.57% 209 1 1 65.1 5.97
22 Charlie Frye 12/24/05 CLE PIT L 0-41 20 39 51.28% 183 0 0 64.4 4.69
23 Patrick Ramsey 11/28/04 WAS @ PIT L 7-16 19 34 55.88% 138 1 1 63.1 4.06
24 Curtis Painter 9/25/11 IND PIT L 20-23 5 11 45.45% 60 0 0 62.7 5.45
25 Andy Dalton 11/13/11 CIN PIT L 17-24 15 30 50.00% 170 2 2 61.8 5.67
26 Kellen Clemens 11/18/07 NYJ PIT W 19-16 14 31 45.16% 162 1 1 58.8 5.23
27 Carson Palmer 10/3/04 CIN @ PIT L 17-28 20 37 54.05% 164 1 2 52.1 4.43
28 Jason Campbell 11/3/08 WAS PIT L 6-23 24 43 55.81% 206 0 2 49.2 4.79
29 Brady Quinn 12/10/09 CLE PIT W 13-6 6 19 31.58% 90 0 0 48.1 4.74
30 Tyler Palko 11/27/11 KAN PIT L 9-13 18 28 64.29% 167 0 3 40.9 5.96
31 Bruce Gradkowski 12/3/06 TAM @ PIT L 3-20 20 34 58.82% 175 0 3 35.8 5.15
32 Jimmy Clausen 12/23/10 CAR @ PIT L 3-27 10 23 43.48% 72 0 1 33.2 3.13
33 A.J. Feeley 9/26/04 MIA PIT L 3-13 13 27 48.15% 137 0 2 32.5 5.07
34 Brett Basanez 12/17/06 CAR PIT L 3-37 6 11 54.55% 56 0 1 30.9 5.09
35 Andrew Walter 10/29/06 OAK PIT W 20-13 5 14 35.71% 51 0 1 17.3 3.64

Relevant information

  • Steelers Record in these matchups: 25-10 (71.4 Win%)
  • Steelers Total Record over that period: 110-34 (76.3 Win%)
  • Opposing 1st time QBs to post a QB Rating over 100: 3 (8.5%)
  • All Opposing QBs to post a QB Rating over 100 against the Steelers in this period: 26 (17.3%)
  • Opposing 1st time QBs to have multiple interception games: 8 (22.8%)
  • All Opposing QBs to have multiple interception games against the Steelers in this period: 34 (22.6%)
In total honesty, this information surprised me. I decided it was important to measure rookie QB success against all of the Steelers games. Now, the correct way to do this would have probably been to have had a data set with the 1st time starters removed, but I didn't have the time. Either way, I don't think it would have resulted in totally skewing the data in such a way that it would have resulted in different take aways.

To me, this information tells us that QB struggles against the Steelers aren't limited to 1st time starters. This doesn't change the fact that this will be a difficult matchup in the passing game for the Titans, but it does tell us that Locker seeing this team for the first time doesn't appear to put him at any sort of a distinct advantage relative to other quarterbacks in the NFL. In summation, it is true that Lebeau has success against young quarterbacks playing his defense for the first time, but that success doesn't appear to be decidedly different than his success against all quarterbacks in the league.
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