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 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 a new season of the IDP Matchup column here at Footballguys. I have been penning this defensive diary for the past several years and I am delighted to be able to share some tidbits to help you secure a league title come December.
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. 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.
The analysis and breakdown of Week 1 has begun in earnest, with plenty of fascinating box scores and defensive performances to dig into. We also have our first data points for pass rushing and tackle production purposes. The best move entering Week 2 is to be open to new possibilities without necessarily becoming wedded to them; the season is a wild beast at times, difficult to tame. Patience is the key.
Without further ado, let’s kick off with this week’s match-ups.
Pass Rushing Match-ups to Exploit
Tennessee pass rushers vs. Jacksonville offensive line
While Jacksonville’s offensive line may not be a bottom-dwelling unit, there are times that game script can rise above all else. With Vegas making Tennessee firm 11-point favorites, the implied script suggests a long day for Gardner Minshew and company. Jaguars offensive coordinator Jay Gruden will keep his quarterback comfortable with quick releases and high-percentage passes, but Tennessee’s front seven is nasty and gave us all a glimpse of that on Monday night.
It is never wise to put too much stock in one week of action, so while Jacksonville’s stirring victory is cause for some optimism, it is by no means a sign of a great revival. Expect the Titans to lean heavily on Derrick Henry to wear down the Jaguars’ rush defense, which showed some of its frailties in Week 1. Ryan Tannehill should have the platform to unleash some big plays to build a score, allowing the Tennessee defense to go to work. Put your faith in the game script for this clash.
Key stat: The Titans recorded five tackles for loss on Monday night, but did not register a sack.
Tampa Bay front seven vs. Carolina offensive line
The Bucs would have hoped for a more memorable opening week after an offseason filled with optimism, but it was not to be. Still, there were some positive signs, especially defensively. Tampa Bay’s front seven can snuff out opposing rushing attacks, a proposition that will give Carolina fits on Sunday. With dual-threat Christian McCaffrey on the field, the Bucs will like their chances of forcing Teddy Bridgewater to throw early and often.
Our offensive line guru Matt Bitonti has the Panthers’ unit ranked 24th, and there were some signs of weak spots in Week 1. Vegas has the Bucs as 8.5-point favorites, so the implied game script suggests the home team is poised to get back on track. Even the vaunted New Orleans offensive line struggled against the Bucs pass rush. There is only so much dinking and dunking Bridgewater can do if the scoreboard starts to get out of hand. This is an excellent spot for the Bucs to get a feelgood victory, and some pass-rushing opportunities to boot.
Key stat: The Buccaneers recorded nine tackles for loss against the Saints.
Pass Rushing Match-ups to Avoid
Minnesota pass rushers at Indianapolis
With a one-week sample size, it is tempting to get caught up in the narrative that the Vikings, after laying an egg in Week 1, are toast. That would be unwise, but the concern is there. Their defense simply could not get off the field against the Packers, forcing them into long, tiring possessions in their first real game action since last January. A backlash could come against Indianapolis, but the pass rush is likely to struggle.
The Colts offensive line is one of the best and most cohesive units in the league, routinely stonewalling pass rushers. Their job is made easier by Philip Rivers’ lightning-quick release, which he used to good effect to the likes of Nyheim Hines and Parris Campbell last week. Jonathan Taylor should get plenty of work and could break out against a Vikings defense that looked a shell of its former self. All of it points to a long day at the office for the Vikings, who are already without star man Danielle Hunter.
Key stat: The Colts offensive line gave up just one sack against the Jaguars in Week 1.
Tackle Match-ups to Exploit
New England and Seattle defenders
Stadium TVO rank: 4th (2019)
The tackle opportunity gods are smiling on us this week as New England takes on Seattle, with a stadium TVO rank of fourth acting as the tide to lift all ships. The Cam Newton-led Patriots showed us the type of offense they want to be, namely run-heavy, option-infused, and, frankly, vanilla. Newton should get 10-12 carries to boost the Seattle tackle opportunities, making them a very appealing unit to bank on this week.
While the picture is muddier on the other side of the ball – especially considering the Seahawks’ high-flying offensive approach in Week 1 – there is still a desire to establish the run. New England’s strength is their defensive backs, so expect Pete Carroll to get Chris Carson oiled up and ready to carry the load. It all points to a highly competitive game – Vegas has the Seahawks favored by four points – that will lend itself to plenty of tackle opportunities as neither team runs away with it. Plug in as many Patriots and Seahawks defenders as you can.
Key stat: Seattle rated third in terms of assists given in relation to tackle opportunities in 2019.
Denver defenders at Pittsburgh
Stadium TVO rank: 5th (2019)
With Pittsburgh coming into this game as justified 6.5-point favorites with the Vegas sharps, the expectation is that the Men of Steel can get the job done at home. There will be no Terrible Towels waving, but Mike Tomlin’s roster is uber-talented and ready to make waves in the AFC. The James Conner injury bears watching, but Benny Snell looks the better of the backs and should provide plenty of tackle opportunity for Denver defenders in a blowout scenario.
Certainly, Denver has the offense to keep things interesting, but the strength of Pittsburgh’s defense against a wet-behind-the-ears Drew Lock could be disastrous for the visitors. Pittsburgh’s unit forces quarterbacks to make decisions more quickly than they would like, using disguises pre-snap to create doubt. With a strong TVO rank, both sets of defenders are viable, but Denver’s are poised to get a lot more opportunity, so lean their direction.
Key stat: Pittsburgh’s stadium stat crew ranked fifth in solo tackles given out in relation to tackle opportunities in 2019.
Tackle Match-ups to Avoid
New York and Chicago defenders
Stadium TVO rank: 31st (2019)
Daniel Jones showed some promising signs of growth and made more mature decisions – for the most part – on Monday night. However, there are still kinks to iron out in his game. The TVO factor in Chicago is so poor that even if the Giants were to get their ground game up and running, it would not register much on the IDP tackle opportunity scales. While the Giants offense could produce a couple of viable tackle performances out of Chicago’s defenders, the best play here is no play.
Indeed, the same goes for when Chicago’s offense is on the field. An inconsistent ground attack and Mitchell Trubisky at the helm are not a formula for success. If you were to lean to one unit here, however, it would be the Giants defense. Vegas has the home team as 5.5-point favorites, so an implied game script of Chicago running out the clock could give New York’s primary defenders a slight boost in value.
Key stat: Soldier Field ranked 32nd in assist versus opportunity last season.
Philadelphia and Los Angeles defenders
Stadium TVO rank: 29th (2019)
After a forgettable Week 1 performance, can Doug Pederson’s men bury the football, so to speak, and move on to better things? The talent is there to get back to 1-1, but the opponent is a strong one in the visiting Rams, who are coming off an impressive victory over Dallas. Philadelphia’s ground attack will need to get established early to make this match-up viable for tackle opportunity, but this feels more like a match-up that will be back and forth – and decided on the arms of Carson Wentz and Jared Goff.
The stadium TVO rank is poor and means that, when possible, this match-up should be avoided as a haven for tackle production. The Rams could continue to ride their stable of backs, putting the lean on Philadelphia and wringing some value out of a select few defenders, but the smart play here is to trust the trend and look elsewhere.
Key stat: Philadelphia’s stadium ranked 15th in terms of solo tackles given out versus opportunity in 2019.
Best of luck with Week 2 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 firstname.lastname@example.org, or if you prefer you can tweet me @davlar87.
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