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 fifth 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 updated spreadsheet has provided us with a treasure trove of information, with the sample size large enough to make sound predictions on pass rushing and tackle opportunities. Some venues have lost their appeal as stadia for tackle production, for example, while others have climbed the charts. The minefield of Covid-19 means we have to stay nimble as ever, but there is safety in the numbers.
Without further ado, let’s kick off with this week’s matchups.
Pass Rushing Match-ups to Exploit
Baltimore pass rushers vs. Cincinnati
The Ravens may not have made the blistering start to the season that they would have hoped, but one aspect of their team make-up has remained constant: the pass rush. Applying pressure on 18.7% of opponent dropbacks, the Don ‘Wink’ Martindale-led defense has parlayed an infusion of new talent and veteran nous into a formidable unit. Vegas has Baltimore as 13-point favorites at home, a projected game script that would be fertile ground for pass-rushing opportunities.
Cincinnati – and their subpar offensive line – has routinely allowed pressure, with rookie sensation Joe Burrow getting pulverized. Though the sample size is small, their pressure allowed percentage on the road is at 21.6% compared to 14.5% at home. Baltimore’s offense should be able to get out to a lead and tee off on an offensive line hopelessly unequipped to deal with their onslaught. Plug in your Ravens at all three levels of their defense.
Key stat: The Bengals have allowed pressure on 18.8% of dropbacks.
New England pass rushers vs. Denver
There is an asterisk attached to this recommendation after news emerged that Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore tested positive for Covid-19 this week. The team was forced to close their practice facilities as a result, putting this game in doubt. If it goes ahead, however, this is a prime match-up for pass-rushing production. New England’s pass rush may not have gotten home much against the Chiefs, but the cohesion between their rush and coverage was clearly troublesome for Patrick Mahomes II.
The Patriots have only faced 31.3 dropbacks per game, well below the league average of 37.3, a number that has limited their pass-rushing upside. That could change quickly against Denver, who are huge road underdogs (depending on the sportsbook) and face the prospect of once again starting an unproven quarterback. That should translate to a big day for the New England pass rush considering the weakness of the Broncos offensive line.
Key stat: The Broncos have averaged 3.3 sacks and 9.8 hits allowed per game.
Pass Rushing Match-ups to Avoid
Cleveland pass rushers vs. Indianapolis offensive line
Cleveland’s pass rusher extraordinaire Myles Garrett has been on a tear for the past two games, but he may hit a wall this week. The reason is simple: The Colts offensive line. According to the key statistic below, they have been stymying opposing pass rushers with ease this season, aided by Philip Rivers’ quick release and a strong ground game.
It is worth noting as well that the Browns have been a poor pass-rushing unit this season, applying pressure on just 8.3% of dropbacks, with the league average at 15.1%. This is a match-up, therefore, of a huge strength of the Colts against a fatal weakness of their opponents. The Browns have faced an average of 48.3 dropbacks per game as well, a number that should translate easily to better pass rushing outputs. Bench your Browns this week. Garrett is an exception, of course, but be ready for a points output in the lower range of outcomes.
Key stat: The Colts offensive line has allowed pressure on just 8.1% of dropbacks, with Philip Rivers dropping back just 33 times per game (league average stands at 37.7).
Tackle Match-ups to Exploit
New York Jets defenders vs. Arizona
Stadium TVO rank: 13th
With Joe Flacco starting for the Jets, the offense cannot be relied upon for consistency. Sam Darnold was forced to pull a rabbit out of his hat at times last week, using his mobility to score a touchdown and keep plays alive, something Flacco will not have in his locker. That will lead to more opportunities for the defense, a unit already seeing 53 tackle opportunities per game and a 45.6% rush percentage against them.
The Cardinals have been a good tackle matchup all season, with the pace of their attack a big contributory factor. After back to back losses, there is no better opponent to get right than the lowly Jets. Arizona’s rushing offense hasn’t been the most explosive, but they average 29 attempts on the ground per game. That number should tick up to 30-35 this week, increasing the appeal of the usual suspects on the Jets defense.
Key stat: The Cardinals offense has allowed 55.5 tackles opportunities per game, with the league average at 52.5.
Jacksonville defenders at Houston
Stadium TVO rank: 2nd
Jacksonville’s defense has come back to earth quickly, turning into one of the most exploitable units in the league. Teams are finding success doing almost anything against them, leading to 55.5 tackle opportunities per game for their defense. This week is the perfect storm for production, with Houston’s NRG Stadium ranking second in the league in TVO factor.
While it is possible that Houston’s defenders could see a similar bump given their own defensive issues, the home team has been made a six-point favorite. They should be determined to put on a good show after the departure of Bill O’Brien, making this is a tough spot for Jacksonville. Plug in your Jags defenders in what should be a highly lucrative spot for tackle production.
Key stat: The Jacksonville defense has faced 30.3 rushing attempts per game on average.
Tackle Match-ups to Avoid
Seattle defenders vs. Minnesota
Stadium TVO rank: 30th
Normally a solid venue for tackle production in the past, the Seahawks’ home stadium has ticked down in the TVO charts this year. What was a sure thing for tackle production has turned into one to avoid. Neither set of defenders thus holds much appeal, though the Seattle side is less appealing considering the Vikings offense has averaged just 45.8 tackle opportunities allowed per game.
The Seahawks have faced just 21.8 rushing attempts per game as well, partly due to the type of game scripts that have unfolded, with passing games taking priority. Minnesota could certainly get Dalvin Cook into gear as they did last week and make this somewhat interesting, but the likely scenario is that the depressed TVO factor will negatively impact all players in this game. This is an easy fade.
Key stat: CenturyLink Field has been a great venue for tackle production for the past couple of seasons but has dipped from a TVO of 1.227 to 1.072 from last year to this.
Pittsburgh and Philadelphia defenders
Stadium TVO rank: 31st
The battle of Pennsylvania looks to be a tantalizing clash for the neutral, but not necessarily one to bank on from a tackle production perspective. The TVO factor in Pittsburgh has plummeted compared to last season, a low tide that has reduced the attractiveness of many former staples of our line-ups.
With the Steelers favored by seven points at home, the Eagles defenders are the safer plays if you have to rely on either side, but the wisest option is to fade the game entirely and seek value elsewhere.
Key stat: From last season to this, Heinz Field has seen its TVO dip from a healthy 1.219 to 1.054.
Best of luck with Week 5 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 email@example.com, or if you prefer you can tweet me @davlar87.
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