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 the fourth edition of the IDP Matchup column here at Footballguys in the 2020 season. 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 weeks are flying by in this young season. Our preparations for Week 4 could be affected by an outbreak of Covid-19, the first such incident of the season but certainly not the last. Navigating the season means being nimble with your rosters and tweaking to improve at every opportunity. The same goes for the match-ups on the defensive side of the ball. More data points mean more crystal clear analysis, with some teams showing us their true colors.
Without further ado, let’s kick off with this week’s match-ups.
Pass Rushing Match-ups to Exploit
NY Jets front seven vs. Denver offensive line
Of all the games to kick off the week for pass-rushing opportunities, this one did not immediately stick out. However, on closer inspection, Denver’s offensive line woes became abundantly clear. They have given up pressure routinely through the first three games, with the carousel at quarterback hurting their continuity. Though the Jets have recorded only six sacks, they are getting good play from the likes of Quinnen Williams up front, and a more favorable game script could unlock their potential. With a banged-up Denver offensive line, ranked 30th by our Matt Bitonti, coming to town, that could come to fruition.
The Broncos will hope Brett Rypien can successfully navigate the pass rush, but he may quickly be found out. The return of Jamison Crowder could be a huge confidence boost for Sam Darnold, who needs a reliable target back on the field. This is as much about game script as anything else; Rypien will be making his first start, and Jets defensive coordinator Gregg Williams is certain to have plenty to throw out to the youngster. Back the Jets pass rush to get home early and often.
Key stat: The Broncos have surrendered 13 sacks, ranking tied second in that category with Houston.
Tampa Bay front seven vs. LA Chargers offensive line
The Bucs have been one of the most impressive defenses through the first three weeks, with their demolition of the Broncos – even with a motley crew of quarterbacks – executed with confidence and panache. The Chargers have given up just six sacks so far this season, but that is about to change. Though Justin Herbert showed excellent pocket movement last week against Carolina, even the talent-poor Panthers front seven was able to rattle him and get home.
The blueprint for Tampa Bay will be similar this week, though Todd Bowles will have a lot more stud players on his side to fully take advantage of the rookie’s inexperience. The Panthers could have had a couple more turnovers last week if it weren’t for drops; the Bucs’ ball-hawking secondary will be able to pounce on such errors. If Tom Brady can get the offense off to a good start, trust in the Bucs pass rush to produce huge numbers.
Key stat: The Bucs have recorded 12 sacks through three games, behind only the Steelers and the Washington Football Team.
Pass Rushing Match-ups to Avoid
Detroit front seven vs. New Orleans offensive line
Despite some shaky games to start the season, the New Orleans offensive line is still a top-end unit, ranking second in our Matt Bitonti’s list. Drew Brees’ quick release and low ADOT (average depth of target) certainly helps their cause. From a narrative standpoint, this is a great spot for the Saints to bounce back and get back to 2-2. The Lions pass rush has not shown its teeth yet – and is unlikely to explode against a top-tier Saints unit.
Matt Patricia could cook up a game plan to effectively stifle Brees and force him into holding the ball, but that will depend on the Lions secondary holding up in coverage, which they haven’t exactly done much this year. The Saints have allowed just one sack per game; expect that trend to continue.
Key stat: The Lions pass rush has mustered just three sacks, ranking 31st in the league, ahead of only the Panthers.
Tackle Match-ups to Exploit
New York Giants defenders at Los Angeles Rams
Stadium TVO rank: 10th (2019)
The Giants have been a dismal operation so far, sending fans into a spiral of questions and early denunciations of new head coach Joe Judge and quarterback Daniel Jones. Things could get worse this week as the Giants, 13-point underdogs, go into Los Angeles to face a Rams team determined to put a heartbreaking loss behind them. The Rams lead the league in rushing attempts with 111 through three games, and this projected game script calls for a ground and pound approach.
According to statistics on the IDP Guru website, the Rams rank 10th in points allowed to both cornerbacks and safeties, increasing the appeal of the Giants defensive backs regardless of how the game pans out. Blake Martinez is another very appealing option for a plug and play. Expect the Giants to produce a game effort, but for the Rams to dominate by half time and turn this into a tackle bonanza for Big Blue defenders.
Key stat: The Giants have faced 97 rushing attempts this season, ranking fifth in the league.
Carolina defenders vs. Arizona
Stadium TVO rank: 7th (2019)
The Panthers summoned up a competent defensive effort last week in Los Angeles, recording their first sacks of the season and stifling the Chargers offense. The challenge this week against Kyler Murray will be an entirely different one. The Cardinals rank sixth in rushing attempts, so Kliff Kingsbury’s team will have no problem pounding it against a suspect Panthers front.
Arizona is a four-point favorite on the road, setting up the possibility of a game script conducive to highly productive tackle outings from several Carolina defenders, including Jeremy Chinn and Shaq Thompson. The TVO factor in Charlotte is favorable enough to make this a premium match-up and one you should break ties in favor of.
Key stat: The Panthers rank in the top half of the league in combined tackles (209), with 129 of those solo tackles (61.7%).
Tackle Match-ups to Avoid
Indianapolis and Chicago defenders
Stadium TVO rank: 31st (2019)
The TVO factor makes this a match-up to avoid, with the only saving grace the fact that it will be Nick Foles, not Mitchell Trubisky, at quarterback for the Bears. The upside of this move is that the Bears offense becomes more appealing and more consistent, creating more tackle opportunities. That is offset, however, by the TVO snafu. The Colts offense will try to control the clock on the ground and with short Philip Rivers passes, so there is a slight potential for the game to be favorable for certain defenders.
Overall, however, the picture looks grim and the smart play is to fade this match-up entirely, focusing instead on the juicier clashes outlined above. There is the added factor of the slow Colts offense which, according to Football Outsiders’ pace statistics, ranks 31st in seconds per play.
Key stat: Soldier Field has a TVO (tackle versus opportunity) rating of 1.072, a number that means tackle value is deflated across the board.
Cleveland and Dallas defenders
Stadium TVO rank: 23rd (2019)
The total for this game is high, and perhaps with good reason, but the projected game script featuring a pass-heavy back and forth battle will not necessarily help from a tackle production standpoint. The Cowboys rank first in the league in seconds per play, but part of this is down to the nature of their games and the comebacks they have been forced into. The Browns, meanwhile, are a much slower-paced offense and would prefer to turn this into a run-first, Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt show.
The Cowboys are favored by nearly a touchdown, however, and the smart money is on them bagging a victory. They have amassed just 79 rushing attempts through three games, but that script could be flipped this week. The TVO factor makes this a semi-appealing tackle spot for Browns defenders, but only if the game goes a certain way. The wisest play is to step back from this game and target more certain options.
Key stat: The Cowboys lead the league in passing attempts at 145, a number that can negatively impact tackle opportunity.
Best of luck with Week 4 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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