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 seventh 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.
With six weeks in the books, the picture of this season is beginning to take shape. Having said that, some parts remain blurry and demand our constant attention to ensure our line-ups are optimized in an increasingly volatile IDP landscape. Fortunately, there is respite in the numbers.
Without further ado, let’s kick off with this week’s matchups.
Pass Rushing Match-ups to Exploit
Philadelphia pass rushers vs. New York offensive line
The Eagles pass rush has applied pressure on 21.8% of dropbacks and faces a tantalizing match-up on Thursday night against a Giants team whose quarterback has little feel for pressure. Indeed, the G-Men have allowed 2.8 sacks and 6.8 hits per game on the passer, fertile soil for the Eagles to dig into on the way to what could be a convincing home victory to get a bit of momentum back into their season.
Carson Wentz may not even need to produce the body-contorting heroics of previous weeks, as he has lifted the likes of Travis Fulgham from afterthought to relevant contributor. The Vegas line has the home team as 4.5-point favorites, so the implied game script is one that features Philadelphia as the aggressor. There are few opponents that have been a panacea quite like the Giants. Expect a strong pass-rushing display from the home team.
Key stat: The Eagles pass rush has averaged 8.3 quarterback hits per game compared to the league average of 5.74.
Pittsburgh front seven vs. Tennessee offensive line
After six weeks, no pass rush has applied more pressure than the Steeler, averaging 4.8 sacks per game and a ridiculous 11.4 hits on the quarterback. In a word, yikes. Ryan Tannehill will have to be extra careful with the football against this onslaught, particularly with instability on the offensive line after the news that Taylor Lewan would miss the rest of the season.
The Titans have, to their credit, given up just an average of one sack per game and have yielded pressure on 14% of dropbacks. The formula for them must be one that relies on quick passing and Derrick Henry, but the Steelers will be more than capable of matching the physicality of the bruising back. In a battle of undefeated teams, the lean goes to the Steelers pass rush to be the unit that makes the difference.
Key stat: The Steelers defense has applied pressure on 29.2% of dropbacks, the best mark in the league.
Pass Rushing Match-ups to Avoid
Seattle pass rushers vs. Arizona offensive line
Despite facing an average of 49.6 dropbacks per game – the league average is 37.5 – the Seahawks pass rush has not been able to get home. In fact, as a unit, they have applied pressure on just 13.3% of opponent dropbacks. This has forced Russell Wilson to perform miracles offensively to cover the defense’s inability to get off the field or generate short fields via turnovers.
The Cardinals have turned into the stingiest pass-rushing foe in the league, allowing just 1.5 sacks and two hits on Kyler Murray per game. Their fast-paced offensive style is a huge factor in offsetting the pass rush, and that should be a fixture once again of their game plan this week against the Seahawks. The smart play here is to trust the well-established trends and fade the Seahawks.
Key stat: The Cardinals have allowed pressure on a league-low 5.6% of dropbacks.
Tackle Match-ups to Exploit
Jacksonville defenders at Los Angeles Chargers
Stadium TVO rank: 1st
In a match-up that has many fantasy enthusiasts drooling, the underrated part of it may be its tackle upside. This is particularly true for the Jaguars, whose defense has been sieve-like in its ineptitude, seeing 54.2 tackle opportunities per game. The Chargers have been an excellent match-up for tackle opportunity, allowing 56.4 per game. In other words, it is a match made in heaven.
The Chargers defense should be able to do its part to ensure the implied game script plays out as expected, with constant pressure on Gardner Minshew allowing plenty of rushing attempts to salt away the contest. Jacksonville’s defenders are primed for a highly productive day in the stadium with the best TVO in the league. Plug them in and do not hesitate for a second.
Key stat: The Jaguars have faced 29.8 rushing attempts per game against a league average of 26.4.
New England and San Francisco defenders
Stadium TVO rank: 2nd
Both sides in this intriguing interconference match-up deserve consideration, with Gillette Stadium ranked second in TVO factor. The upside is tremendous for both sets of defenders, with both teams likely to stick to their formula as far as running the ball and short passing. The Patriots defense has seen the field more than that of the 49ers, averaging 54.2 tackle opportunities per game compared to their opponent’s 48.
In what is projected to be a tight contest, both running games should be able to get on track, paving the way for productive outings from the likes of Fred Warner, Ja’Whaun Bentley and more. Make sure to get a piece of this game in your line-ups this week, as it could be a bonanza for scoring.
Key stat: The Patriots have averaged 31.8 rushing attempts per game.
Tackle Match-ups to Avoid
Las Vegas and Tampa Bay defenders
Stadium TVO rank: 27th
In what should be a thrilling clash in primetime, neither team has appeal when it comes to tackle upside. Mostly, it comes down to the TVO factor, which puts Las Vegas at 27th overall, capping the ceiling for players. Both defenses have also been quite stingy at times, facing just 25.2 (Vegas) and 21 (Tampa) rushing attempts per game, further limiting the attractiveness of either set of defenders.
This should be a popcorn game, but when it comes to tackle production it is one better left on the outskirts of your line-ups this week.
Key stat: The Raiders and Bucs have averaged 48.8 and 48.5 tackle opportunities per game, respectively, both below the league average.
Buffalo defenders at New York Jets
Stadium TVO rank: 20th
The Jets have shown little life so far this season and face into another week of Joe Flacco at quarterback. Translation: Avoid at all costs for tackle production. The stadium TVO rank isn’t too prohibitive, but the Jets offense is, averaging just 47.8 tackle opportunities per game allowed and rushing the ball just 24.3 times per game. The Bills defense has not been lighting the world on fire, but they should have no problem corralling a hapless Jets unit.
With the Bills listed as 13-point road favorites, this could be a simple matter of getting the job done for Sean McDermott’s team. The Jets defenders have a modicum of appeal if Buffalo chooses to take the air out of the ball early, but the best play here might just be to avoid both sides and pick your battles elsewhere.
Key stat: The Jets offense has averaged 47.8 tackle opportunities allowed per game, with the league average at 51.7.
Best of luck with Week 7 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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