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IDP Matchups to Exploit and Avoid Week 3

An in-depth look at the key games to target for IDP production.

Each week, this column will take a critical look at key statistical trends to highlight pass rushing and tackle matchups to exploit and avoid. We'll be heavily relying on another great feature at FBG this season, the IDP Matchup Spreadsheet that will be generated by Larry Thomas. That spreadsheet will contain a number of weekly and weekly average statistical measures to help identify those defensive teams who are facing the best and worst opportunity as the season progresses. While this column will include two large tables of tackle and pass rush opportunity and matchup data, it's only a fraction of the data available in the spreadsheet. We hope that the Matchup Spreadsheet and this column will join John Norton's weekly IDP projections, Doug Drinen's Matchup Analyzer Tool and our customizable MyFBG function as useful tools to assist in making weekly line-up and waiver wire decisions.

Before we get to the hard data and matchup analysis, a quick explanation of the metrics we're using will probably be helpful. This column will be broken up into two primary sections - pass rushing matchups to exploit/avoid and tackle matchups to exploit/avoid. Each text section is followed by a table listing the relevant statistics and metrics driving our matchup decisions.

The pass rushing matchup table will include weekly averages of sacks, adjusted averages of sacks and quarterback hits and pass attempts faced. It will also have a column titled Pressure Applied, a metric we're introducing to show how often a team defense is generating pressure on the opposing quarterback. We'll be calculating Pressure Applied by dividing each team defense's sacks and quarterback hits by its total pass attempts faced. The same set of data will be provided and Pressure Allowed calculated for each team offense, to show which offenses are allowing pressure on their quarterback most often.

The tackle matchup table will include weekly averages of both rush and pass attempts faced, total offensive snaps faced and the percentage of rush vs pass attempts faced. It will also have a column titled Tackle Opportunity, a metric we introduced in mid-2007 to show how many plays a defense faced that could have ended in a solo tackle. We'll be calculating each team's Tackle Opportunity by adding all rush attempts, pass completions and sacks - the three plays that can end in a solo tackle outside of special teams and turnover plays. The same set of data will be provided and Tackle Opportunity calculated for each team's offense, to show which offenses are allowing the most tackle opportunity to opposing defenses.

We'll be highlighting the Pressure Applied/Allowed and Tackle Opportunity metrics with color codes showing the best and worst pass rush and tackle matchups. Expect to see lots of “good” and “bad” matchups early, as a relatively low sample size will show a lot of teams outside the historical standard deviations we'll be using to focus on the key matchups. While sample size will be a confounding issue during the early weeks, we'll still make every effort to show where the data looks meaningful. Without getting into a long discussion of statistics, we recognize that these metrics and tables will not be as predictive and reliable early in the season. We also acknowledge the noise within a set of unofficial statistics like solo tackles and quarterback hits. As the season progresses and the standard deviations of the data fall in line with prior seasonal averages, we expect that the data tables will be increasingly more reliable and useful.


You are very welcome to the third edition of what will be a season-long look at the best and worst matchups in the IDP landscape based on detailed, accurate spreadsheet data generated by Larry Thomas on a weekly basis.

For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Dave Larkin. I am a veteran IDP player and what some would call a diehard fan of this game of football that we all love so much.

Defense is my passion. Over the past few years, I have assimilated countless pages of data from various sources to improve my knowledge of the defensive side of the football. Each and every week I will study film from the previous week’s games and provide you with nuggets of wisdom that will lead you to a championship.

Trends are beginning to emerge as we survey the damage after an injury-riddled Week 2. Certain teams, in the immortal words of Dennis Green, are who we thought they were and will continue to provide reasonably predictable week to week value. Some others are still in the feeling out process.

I say this every year in my column, but it bears repeating. No matter what record your team has right now, don’t get too down in the dumps or too high on your horse. It’s a long season and, as we saw in Week 2, injuries can derail your plans in a moment. Keep active on the waiver wire and read the great content provided by John Norton, Jene Bramel and the rest of the IDP team to stay on top of things.

With two sets of data points now at our disposal, predicting matchups and where the value lies is becoming an easier task, but sometimes the statistics can be misleading, so a healthy dose of watching film can provide some context.

So without further ado, let’s get to the best and worst matchups of Week 3.


Pass Rushing Matchups to Exploit

Pressure Percentage is calculated as sacks plus quarterback hits per game divided by pass attempts faced by game and expressed as a percentage.

New York Jets front seven vs. Philadelphia

Re-watching the tape from the Jets’ demolition of the Indianapolis Colts showed me one thing: Todd Bowles has a knack for confusing quarterbacks. Andrew Luck looked, for one of the first times in his career, totally dumbstruck. And when he had time to throw, defensive backs were disciplined and stuck in the hip pocket of receivers. Bowles will not fear the Eagles offense after its poor display in the first two games; expect more pressure packages, with Revis, Cromartie and company entrusted to cover man-to-man. This could get ugly fast for the Eagles, unless they can turn this offense back into the juggernaut it used to be – but don’t count on it. Jets - pressure applied (league average in brackets): 22.2% (12.1%)Eagles - pressure allowed: 10%

New England front seven vs. Jacksonville

The Tom Brady Revenge Tour 2015 continues this week with Jacksonville coming to town, and there’s no reason to expect a let-up. The Patriots, thanks to a mauling of the Buffalo Bills, lead the league in sacks. The Jaguars have some pieces to exploit along the offensive line, notably Sam Young at left tackle. The game script in Foxboro should mean an early and comfortable lead for New England, allowing the pass rushers to pin their ears back and harass Blake Bortles. Patriots – pressure applied (league average in brackets): 19% (12.1%)Jaguars – pressure allowed: 11.5%

Pass Rushing Matchups to Avoid

Baltimore front seven vs. Cincinnati

It would be unwise to overreact to the Raiders loss for Baltimore’s defense, but let’s not simply sweep it under the rug either. John Harbaugh tends to get his players riled up for divisional games, so this is a nice spot for a bounceback, but Cincinnati has allowed the lowest pressure percentage in the league thus far (5%). Andy Dalton is yet to be sacked and has produced back-to-back outstanding games. The Bengals offensive line looks like a top tier unit, and without Terrell Suggs this Ravens pass rush has had to readjust on the fly. The smart play here might be to eschew your Ravens players for better options. Ravens – pressure applied: 9.9%Bengals – pressure allowed: 5%

Sack Opportunity Chart

Team Team Defense Team Offense
Pressure QB QB Drop Backs Pressure QB Sacks QB Hits Drop
Applied Sacks Hits Faced Allowed Allowed Allowed Backs
2008 NFL Average 12% 2 4.1 34.3 12% 2 4.1 34.3
2009 NFL Average 13.3% 2.2 4.7 35.4 13.3% 2.2 4.7 35.4
2010 NFL Average 12.7% 2.2 4.6 35.9 12.8% 2.2 4.6 35.9
2011 NFL Average 13.1% 2.3 4.8 36.3 13.1% 2.3 4.8 36.3
2012 NFL Average 12.8% 2.3 4.8 37 12.8% 2.3 4.8 37
2013 NFL Average 13.5% 2.5 5.1 38 13.5% 2.5 5.1 38
2014 NFL Average 13.7% 2.4 5.1 37.3 13.7% 2.4 5.1 37.3
2015 NFL Average 12.1% 2.1 4.5 37.2 12.1% 2.1 4.5 37.2
Team Team Defense Team Offense
Pressure QB QB Drop Backs Pressure QB Sacks QB Hits Drop
Applied Sacks Hits Faced Allowed Allowed Allowed Backs
ARIZONA Cardinals 10.7% 2 4.5 42 12.5% 0 3.5 28
ATLANTA Falcons 13.8% 1 6.5 47 13.3% 1.5 5.5 41.5
BALTIMORE Ravens 9.9% 2.5 4.5 45.5 12.7% 1 5 39.5
BUFFALO Bills 8.9% 2 5 56 17.5% 4 5 28.5
CAROLINA Panthers 9.6% 3 5 52 9.7% 2 3.5 36
CHICAGO Bears 12.8% 0 3 23.5 13.9% 2 5 36
CINCINNATI Bengals 13.2% 3 5 38 5% 0 1.5 30
CLEVELAND Browns 17.6% 3.5 6 34 15.4% 2.5 4 26
DALLAS Cowboys 6.7% 1 2.5 37.5 6.1% 1.5 2.5 41
DENVER Broncos 25.4% 3 8 31.5 13% 3.5 6 46
DETROIT Lions 7.9% 1.5 2.5 31.5 12.9% 1 5.5 42.5
GREEN BAY Packers 12.9% 2 4.5 35 8.6% 1 2.5 29
HOUSTON Texans 10.8% 2 4 37 8.1% 3 4.5 55.5
INDIANAPOLIS Colts 5.6% 0.5 1.5 27 18.2% 1 8 44
JACKSONVILLE Jaguars 10.1% 2 4 39.5 11.5% 2.5 4.5 39
KANSAS CITY Chiefs 12% 4 6 50 15.6% 3 5 32
MIAMI Dolphins 6.2% 0.5 2 32.5 12% 2.5 5 41.5
MINNESOTA Vikings 13.6% 1 5.5 40.5 16.1% 3 4.5 28
NEW ENGLAND Patriots 19% 5.5 7.5 39.5 7.4% 2 3.5 47.5
NEW ORLEANS Saints 10.7% 1.5 3 28 8.7% 3 4 46
NEW YORK Giants 9.7% 1 4.5 46.5 11.4% 1.5 4.5 39.5
NEW YORK Jets 22.2% 1.5 8 36 6.8% 0.5 2 29.5
OAKLAND Raiders 2.5% 0 1 39.5 7.6% 1.5 3.5 46
PHILADELPHIA Eagles 9.7% 2 3.5 36 10% 0.5 4.5 45
PITTSBURGH Steelers 11.8% 3.5 5 42.5 7.4% 1.5 2.5 34
SAN DIEGO Chargers 8.8% 0.5 2.5 28.5 14.7% 3 5.5 37.5
SAN FRANCISCO 49ers 12.5% 2.5 4 32 14.1% 3 5.5 39
SEATTLE Seahawks 18.8% 2 6 32 16.5% 4 6.5 39.5
ST. LOUIS Rams 19.7% 4 7.5 38 17.7% 1.5 5.5 31
TAMPA BAY Buccaneers 10% 3 3 30 18% 3.5 5.5 30.5
TENNESSEE Titans 16.7% 3 4.5 27 21% 4.5 6.5 31
WASHINGTON 11.4% 2 4 35 11.5% 1.5 3.5 30.5

Tackle Matchups to Exploit

San Francisco defenders at Arizona

The metrics may not agree through two weeks with this pick, but my gut tells me this could be a long day for San Francisco. Bruce Arians’ offense keys defenses guessing all game long with a multitude of formations and play calls. The Niners came back to earth in a big way in Pittsburgh, and arguably face a tougher test of their mettle in Arizona. Carson Palmer is having a quietly outstanding season, and while the Arizona ground game has been hampered by injuries, there is no reason why Arizona can’t control this game and provide ample tackle opportunity. The Cardinals have a rush percentage of 47.2 after two weeks, so the commitment to the ground game is there. Plug in your Niners defenders this week. Stat crew note: Arizona’s home stat crew is also one of the best for awarding solo tackles in relation to tackle opportunities according to our SVO metric (percentage of Defensive Solo Tackles awarded by Stat Crews in relation to Tackle Opportunities) at 88.2%.

Detroit defenders vs. Denver

The Lions look like a shell of their former selves this season. On defense, they are seeing 60.5 tackle opportunities per game through two weeks and 34.5 rush attempts per game. Not a recipe for success. If, as reports have indicated, Matthew Stafford is to miss this week’s game with the Broncos, it could get even worse. Coming off 10 days’ rest, it will be fascinating to see how Gary Kubiak chooses to run his offense. Either way, I expect this will be a game controlled by Denver. We have no data available for the Lions’ home stat crew, but last year they were middle of the pack in terms of tackles awarded per tackle opportunity.

Tackle Matchups to Avoid

Atlanta defenders at Dallas

The Cowboys, despite Jerry Jones pronouncing his admiration for incumbent Brandon Weeden, have traded for Matt Cassel. The presumption is that Weeden will get the start, but Cassel will be a decent option should Weeden go down. In either case, I can’t see the Dallas offense staying on schedule against a feisty Atlanta defense. The one saving grace for the Cowboys might be their ground game and offensive line, but I can envisage problems on third down, especially if Jason Witten isn’t playing as reported.

Seattle defenders vs. Chicago

The Jimmy Clausen-led Bears head to Seattle in perhaps the worst possible week to play the Seahawks in some time. The Bears have actually been a decent tackle matchup for the first two weeks, but this one may not go to that script. In the limited action Clausen has had under John Fox, he has shown competence at executing certain aspects of the offense, but you would have to think Fox will keep a tight leash on him. All this adds up to a quiet day for Seattle defenders. You might be tempted to play the likes of Bobby Wagner, Michael Bennett and Richard Sherman in big play formats; I wouldn’t blame you for that. This one could be over before it gets started.

Tackle Opportunity Chart

Team TEAM Defense TEAM Offense
Tackle Rush Attempts Drop Backs Offensive Rush Tackle Opps Rush Drop Offensive Rush
Opportunity Faced Faced Snaps Faced Percentage Allowed Attempts Backs Snaps Percentage
2008 NFL Average 49.3 27.6 34.3 61.9 54.8% 49.3 27.6 34.3 61.9 54.8%  
2009 NFL Average 49.9 27.4 33.3 62.9 55.1% 49.9 27.4 33.3 62.9 55.1%  
2010 NFL Average 49.9 27.2 35.9 63.1 54.5% 49.9 27.2 35.9 63.1 54.3%  
2011 NFL Average 50 27.3 36.3 63.6 54.5% 50 27.3 36.3 63.6 54.5%  
2012 NFL Average 50.6 27.2 37 64.2 53.7% 50.6 27.2 37 64.2 53.7%  
2013 NFL Average 51.3 27.1 38 65 52.8% 51.3 27.1 38 65 52.8%  
2014 NFL Average 51 26.7 37.3 64 52.5% 51 26.7 37.3 64 52.5%
2015 NFL Average 50.5 25.6 37.2 62.8 50.8% 50.5 25.6 37.2 62.8 50.8%
Team TEAM Defense TEAM Offense
Tackle Rush Attempts Drop Backs Offensive Rush Tackle Opps Rush Drop Offensive Rush
Opportunity Faced Faced Snaps Faced Percentage Allowed Attempts Backs Snaps Percentage
ARIZONA Cardinals 52 24 42 66 36.4% 43 25 28 53 47.2%
ATLANTA Falcons 52 19.5 47 66.5 29.3% 54.5 26.5 41.5 68 39%
BALTIMORE Ravens 50.5 21 45.5 66.5 31.6% 50 24 39.5 63.5 37.8%
BUFFALO Bills 48 14 56 70 20% 52.5 30 28.5 58.5 51.3%
CAROLINA Panthers 49.5 22 52 74 29.7% 52.5 32.5 36 68.5 47.4%
CHICAGO Bears 44.5 27 23.5 50.5 53.5% 52.5 30.5 36 66.5 45.9%
CINCINNATI Bengals 49 20.5 38 58.5 35% 52 31.5 30 61.5 51.2%
CLEVELAND Browns 54 32.5 34 66.5 48.9% 44 28.5 26 54.5 52.3%
DALLAS Cowboys 43 20.5 37.5 58 35.3% 58.5 26.5 41 67.5 39.3%
DENVER Broncos 46 26 31.5 57.5 45.2% 51.5 23 46 69 33.3%
DETROIT Lions 60.5 34.5 31.5 66 52.3% 42 15.5 42.5 58 26.7%
GREEN BAY Packers 49.5 29 35 64 45.3% 50.5 28 29 57 49.1%
HOUSTON Texans 52.5 30.5 37 67.5 45.2% 51.5 22 55.5 77.5 28.4%
INDIANAPOLIS Colts 48.5 30 27 57 52.6% 44.5 20 44 64 31.2%
JACKSONVILLE Jaguars 50.5 24.5 39.5 64 38.3% 49 26.5 39 65.5 40.5%
KANSAS CITY Chiefs 51.5 21.5 50 71.5 30.1% 51 29 32 61 47.5%
MIAMI Dolphins 54 34 32.5 66.5 51.1% 45 16.5 41.5 58 28.4%
MINNESOTA Vikings 52 26.5 40.5 67 39.6% 50.5 29 28 57 50.9%
NEW ENGLAND Patriots 56 26 39.5 65.5 39.7% 50.5 17 47.5 64.5 26.4%
NEW ORLEANS Saints 47.5 29.5 28 57.5 51.3% 53 23 46 69 33.3%
NEW YORK Giants 55.5 21.5 46.5 68 31.6% 48.5 23.5 39.5 63 37.3%
NEW YORK Jets 47 26 36 62 41.9% 50 31 29.5 60.5 51.2%
OAKLAND Raiders 55.5 27 39.5 66.5 40.6% 48.5 17 46 63 27%
PHILADELPHIA Eagles 57.5 31.5 36 67.5 46.7% 46.5 16.5 45 61.5 26.8%
PITTSBURGH Steelers 59 26.5 42.5 69 38.4% 48 23 34 57 40.4%
SAN DIEGO Chargers 42.5 24.5 28.5 53 46.2% 57.5 26.5 37.5 64 41.4%
SAN FRANCISCO 49ers 43.5 19 32 51 37.3% 62 34 39 73 46.6%
SEATTLE Seahawks 50.5 27 32 59 45.8% 57.5 28 39.5 67.5 41.5%
ST. LOUIS Rams 65.5 34 38 72 47.2% 38.5 19.5 31 50.5 38.6%
TAMPA BAY Buccaneers 49 27.5 30 57.5 47.8% 49 30.5 30.5 61 50%
TENNESSEE Titans 42.5 27.5 27 54.5 50.5% 51 29.5 31 60.5 48.8%
WASHINGTON 36.5 15 35 50 30 60 36.5 30.5 67 54.5%

Best of luck with Week 3 and make sure to check back next week for more matchup analysis.

If you have any further questions or tricky line-up decisions you need advice with, please drop me a line at larkin@footballguys.com, or if you prefer you can tweet me @davlar87.