Reading the Defense - Week 12
by Jene Bramel
November 21st, 2012

We're now past the bye week portion of the NFL schedule and it's time to drop any replacement level / low upside depth you're holding in favor of higher upside players. Unless you expect to be a sizable favorite, you should be looking to load your lineup with as much relative advantage as possible. A player with a 20% chance of putting up a 20 point week is a much better option in a critical late season matchup than a player with a 75% chance of putting up 8-10 points.

Matchup Trends

It isn't easy to project which marginal talent might explode for that big week, but there are some useful data trends to help swing the odds as much in your favor as possible. This week, I'll use those trends to make some recommendations for the next five weeks, with an emphasis on Weeks 14-16.

Matchup Trends | Tackle Heavy Leagues

If you're in a tackle heavy league and need some upside for a playoff matchup, there are a handful of primary offensive matchup trends to consider tackle opportunity allowed, average rush attempts, and run-pass ratio. You'll also want to cross-check your selections with the home stat crews and avoid stadiums that give many more assisted than solo tackles.

Offenses providing highest tackle opportunity (league average 50.9 / game)

  • New England (60.2)
  • Houston (58.1)
  • These two offenses are far and away the best overall tackle matchups. There are about 10 others in a cluster behind them.

    Most run-heavy offenses (rushing attempts per game | run-pass ratio)

  • Houston (35.0 | 60.2%)
  • Seattle (33.4 | 65.2%)**
  • New England (33.0 | 54.8%)
  • Kansas City (31.9 | 59.4%)
  • Washington (31.6 | 59.4%)
  • San Francisco (30.2 | 58.4%)
  • I put an asterisk next to the Seahawks. The Seattle stat crew gives many more assisted tackles to visiting defenders than solos, making it a riskier matchup play than it should be. The Jets and Bears just missed this list and the Buccaneers also have a strongly positive trend over the past month.

    These are the offenses you want to target if you're looking for a high upside option in tackle heavy leagues. The Colts face Houston and Kansas City on the road this is key given the assist-happy Indianapolis stat crew in Weeks 15 and 16. Shallow league owners should consider Jerrell Freeman, intermediate league owners (primarily in redraft leagues) might see a resurgence from Pat Angerer and Antoine Bethea. Other targets with multiple strong matchups include Paris Lenon, Brandon Spikes and possibly Erin Henderson if he returns to an every-down role. If you're looking to make a splash trade, Chad Greenway, Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman all look like players who could put up 8+ solos often down the stretch.

    If you're looking for a defensive back, refer to the data above if you prefer a safety option. If you're in a deeper league and forced to consider a nickel corner or linebacker, look for a one-week matchup against the most pass heavy offenses Dallas, Detroit, Oakland and New Orleans. The Oakland matchup might be the most attractive to those looking to cash in on a big play.

    Most assist-heavy stat crews

    On average, we're seeing around 40 solo tackles and 16 assists awarded per defense per game across the league. But there are serious anomalies to consider.

    Seattle (36.4 assists per game | 29.6 solos per game to away defenders)
    The split isn't concerning enough to bench your Seattle defensive players, but think twice about tapping a visiting defender against the strong Seahawks' matchup when the game is in Seattle.

    Cincinnati (34.2 assists per game to home defenders | 29.4 assists / game to visiting defenders)
    Washington (30.2 assists per game to home defenders | 27.2 assists / game to visiting defenders)
    The Washington stat crew gives out enough solos to dampen the variance of the high assist count, but both of these stadiums may be best avoided in a close decision.

    Any defenders playing in New England, Saints' defenders playing at home and Titans' defenders playing at home all get a small bump in value from their stat crews adding higher than usual assist counts to a near-normal solo tackle distribution.

    Matchup Trends | Sack Heavy Leagues

    It's generally easier to target pass rushing matchups than tackle matchups. If you're in a league that's balanced, but leans slightly sack-heavy (i.e. sack-to-solo ratio of 4:1 or higher), you might consider targeting these matchups as strongly as the tackle heavy suggestions. For example, Von Miller and Aldon Smith wouldn't be every week starters in those setups, but they have elite LB1 upside on the weeks they hit.

    I like to look at the offenses that allow the most pressure per snap (see Larry Thomas' Matchup Sheet) with an above-average number of pass drops per game. I'll also cross-check with Pro Football Focus' sacks / hits / hurries data per offensive linemen.

    Offenses Allowing Highest Numbers of Sacks / Quarterback Hits per Drop Back

  • Chicago 19.3%
  • Washington 18.6%
  • San Francisco 16.8%
  • Philadelphia 16.6%
  • Arizona 16.5%
  • Seattle 16.1%
  • San Diego, Carolina, Jacksonville, Pittsburgh and Miami also have positive trends in recent weeks. There isn't a single team with a string of three strong playoff matchups and an obvious DL3 tier talent who's likely to be on the waiver wire. I'd focus specifically on Arizona and Chicago for a one week high upside flyer play and stream as you can. This week, that means targeting Brian Robison (at CHI) and Chris Long (at ARI).

    Stunts

    Most of the preparation for this week's column went toward teasing out the data in the matchup discussion above. If you don't already, be sure to read John Norton's Eyes of the Guru column and my Sunday AM news and notes post in the IDP Forum for the very latest notes and lineup changes this week. I'll have more extensive player notes and scouting next week and finish off the future watch discussion with both cornerback and safety positions.

    Here are a few things that caught my eye while watching games live on Sunday and reading beat writer tweets early this week:

    D.J. Williams played in a couple specific game situations primarily nickel packages on early downs when there was still some threat for a run last week. Wesley Woodyard continued to play every down at weak side linebacker and Keith Brooking was primarily the team's base middle linebacker. Williams was effective in his role and he's likely to see more snaps this week. I think the majority of those snaps will come at the expense of Danny Trevathan in nickel situations with a heavy pass expectation, but we could see Williams take some base MLB snaps too.

    Thomas Davis played every down last week, assuming the few nickel snaps that James Anderson had been taking in previous weeks. I'm not certain that continues this week, but Davis has LB3+ upside and is worth grabbing just in case that's the plan for the rest of the season.

    I'd also think hard on preemptively rostering Erin Henderson and Darryl Sharpton if you've room for a prospective LB4 / LB5. Henderson rotated with Jasper Brinkley in subpackages in Week 10 and the coaches strongly implied that Henderson could see even more nickel snaps this week. Sharpton played exclusively in subpackages last week, but there's a chance he could work in an expanded role this week. Tim Dobbins played only in base situations last week and hasn't been particularly effective. Bradie James played every down (likely because Dobbins had been limited in practice with a shoulder problem) but isn't a threat to Sharpton.

    There are rumors that Nolan Carroll could be benched this week in favor of R.J. Stanford. Carroll has struggled in coverage and continues to provide little in run support. We may not know for certain whether a change is made until the lineup cards are announced on Sunday morning.

    Da'Quan Bowers may be hitting his stride. He wasn't very explosive in his first weeks back, but looked like a different player last week. His first step was better, his pass rush moves were successful (albeit against a struggling Carolina OL) and he aggressively pursued plays to the whistle. He isn't playing enough snaps to trust as a weekly fantasy option yet, but he may have more 2013 upside than I expected.

    Sigmund Bloom, John Norton and I will flesh out many of these arguments and others I didn't get to on our weekly IDP roundtable podcast on the Audible. You can find that under the Podcasts tab on the Footballguys homepage every Thursday during the season. You can also contact me via email at bramel@footballguys.com or Twitter (@JeneBramel).

    Best of luck in Week 12.

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