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 Aaron Rudnicki. That spreadsheet will contain a few 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 analysis 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.
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 Aaron Rudnicki 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 hone my knowledge of the defensive side of the football. Each week I will study film from the previous week’s games and provide you with nuggets of wisdom that will put you on the right track to the playoffs, and hopefully a championship.
Two weeks are in the books and, while challenges abound, we are closer to getting a picture of the teams to trust – and those we should fade. One of those challenges facing defensive enthusiasts is the tenuous hold we have on every-down linebackers, with the big nickel in vogue. Like grains of sand slipping through our fingers, just when we think we have it grasped, it eludes us.
Fortunately, we can get to grips with match-up trends, notably the teams providing us ample tackle opportunity and those giving up sacks like they are going out of fashion (Giants, I’m looking at you). The take-home message here is this: don’t fret, trust your process and continue to feast on the content of the Footballguys IDP team so you will be ahead of the curve – and your leaguemates.
Please note that Aaron Rudnicki's spreadsheet debuts this week and can be found here.
So, with two weeks of data in the bank, let’s dive into Week 3.
Pass Rushing Matchups to Exploit
Minnesota pass rush vs. Buffalo offensive line
Before this season started in earnest, a few friends and I gathered at a local bar and discussed the prospects for the 2018 Buffalo Bills. It is a tradition that we get together, discuss the upcoming season and elect to bet the over or under on team win totals. I was adamant on the Bills under, but I can’t help feeling a little sorry for them after a hapless start that has confirmed my every suspicion. That they are not even competitive adds salt to the wounds; surely Sean McDermott is going stir crazy in western New York.
A tall task – the tallest of tasks they may face all season, in truth – awaits in the unforgiving confines of U.S. Bank Stadium in Minnesota. The Vikings, no doubt frustrated by their inability to seal the victory in Lambeau Field, should be champing at the bit to put Buffalo to the sword. Sheldon Richardson, who has started the season in some style, is a sneaky play here, but the entire defensive front should feast.
Key stat: Buffalo’s offensive line has allowed pressure on 22.1% of dropbacks while their sacks allowed percentage stands at 14.3%, second worst in the league.
Cleveland pass rush vs. New York Jets offensive line
The Browns, new rookie kicker in tow, will hope to banish the demons of last week’s horror show ending in New Orleans, dismissing it as a kind of crazy dream, never to be repeated. Hue Jackson has his work cut out to motivate his ailing troops, although he must be encouraged by the positive showing of the first two games.
What has been spearheading the Browns’ revival – if you can call it that – is the stout defense. Myles Garrett is singlehandedly taking over games; Larry Ogunjobi is proving quality inside penetration; the secondary has been feeding off the energy provided by the front seven. All told, there is plenty to be optimistic about. The Jets come to town for a primetime clash on Thursday night looking to rebound after a predictable slump from rookie quarterback Sam Darnold.
The Jets’ offensive line has been exposed at times over the first two games, so the Browns should feel confident of creating some confusion for Darnold – and delivering some blows on the way to a victory.
Key stat: The Browns boast a sack percentage of 8.4%, a top-10 mark in the league.
Pass Rushing Matchups to Avoid
Cincinnati pass rush at Carolina
The Panthers were at a loss last week on their offensive line. Dependable Pro Bowl guard Trai Turner had a concussion and wouldn’t be suiting up against Atlanta. Matt Kalil, slated to be the left tackle, had gone to injured reserve, while Daryl Williams faced a long spell on the sidelines. In their desperate state, the team was forced to pluck veteran tackle Chris Clark off his sofa and straight into the starting line-up.
Despite these barriers to success, the Panthers line managed to hold up well on the road against a decent pass rushing team. Back at home this week, with Turner likely to return and more cohesiveness on the line, expect the team to build on last week’s unexpectedly clean display. The Bengals have an excellent group up front and could cause some serious issues, but a balanced Panthers offense that will emphasize check down passes to Christian McCaffrey and the ground game may offset that unit.
Key stat: The Panthers have allowed pressure on just 11.8% of dropbacks in two games.
Tackle Matchups to Exploit
Green Bay and Washington defenders
TVO factor (2017): 1.234
Games at Washington should have a green tick beside them, such is the bounty of tackle value on offer. Take Colts rookie linebacker Darius Leonard, for example. Last week, he totaled 15 solo tackles in Washington, but he wasn’t the only one. Mason Foster went 8-3, Kenny Moore II II went 7-2 and there was a smattering of other players with more than acceptable tackle totals.
This stems from a generous TVO factor, which is a measure of solo tackles handed out per tackle opportunity; a higher number indicates a greater proportion of solo tackles, while a lower number indicates more assists and fewer solos. The Packers should provide a perfect opportunity for the likes of Foster, Quinton Dunbar and Josh Norman to thrive, Aaron Rodgers’ injury issues notwithstanding.
Washington will also be keen to erase a pitiful performance against the Colts from their memories and to get the fans excited about this franchise again which, based on last week’s attendance, they most certainly are not.
Key stat: In the Redskins’ first home game, the TVO factor was measured at 1.264 – an improvement on last year’s figure. It is a small sample size, granted, but an encouraging sign.
New York Giants defenders at Houston
TVO factor: 1.194
Let us focus on one side of this match-up, namely the Giants. It has been an ignominious start to the season for the G-Men, who thought that their few free agent signings and a couple of rookie additions might change their fortunes. The offensive line, however, is still killing this team’s chances. Eli Manning looks shell-shocked and simply cannot buy that extra half-second or second to navigate the pocket and get the ball away.
This will be music to the ears of Houston, who will be desperate to get a home win after an 0-2 start. The TVO factor is promising here for production, but the game script here should favor Houston, who will try to establish a balanced offensive approach and keep the Giants’ porous defense on the field.
Bill O’Brien couldn’t have asked for a better opponent this week.
Key stat: Houston’s offense has allowed 52.5 tackle opportunities per game in the two games thus far.
Tackle Matchups to Avoid
Tennessee and Jacksonville defenders
TVO factor: 1.015
The Jaguars should be buoyant after a consummate demolition of the Patriots last week. What may further boost their spirits is the knowledge that Blaine Gabbert and the Titans are coming to town. I can see it now: the Jacksonville fans splashing around in the pool gleefully as the prone Gabbert gets a hand up from one of his turnstile offensive tackles.
It could be an ugly day for the Titans, so it is best to avoid this match-up from a tackle production perspective. The TVO factor puts this over the top, with the likelihood being that Gabbert can only put together a handful of sustained drives. If you are seeking pass rushing production, this one could be fruitful; for tackles, look elsewhere.
Key stat: The Jaguars home stadium came in at a 0.980 in TVO factor this past weekend, a mark that should be avoided.
San Francisco defenders at Kansas City
TVO factor: 1.063
Can anyone stop the Patrick Mahomes train? Certainly, the fetching figure of Jimmy Garoppolo trotting across the country into Kansas City will have the Chiefs defense worried, but will it matter if Mahomes continues to put up video game numbers? As Sigmund Bloom astutely pointed out, it isn’t as if the Chiefs are putting together long drives; often it is three to four precise passes in big chunks. This is not the Alex Smith offense anymore.
The 49ers could make this a decent game, but the Chiefs don’t seem to be able to get enough of a lead to take their foot off the gas and go run-heavy. As a result, their passing game remains viable and tackle opportunity is reduced. The poor TVO factor will make this difficult for tacklers on both sides, so this is best avoided. Instead, grab your popcorn and watch these two young studs go to work.
Key stat: The Chiefs rank in the bottom tier of the league in tackle opportunity, which may be a surprise to some considering their high-octane offense (45 tackle opportunities allowed).
Best of luck with Week 3 and make sure to check back next season 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 firstname.lastname@example.org, or if you prefer you can tweet me @davlar87.