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 ninth 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.
We are more than halfway through the fantasy season, so it is time to start taking a few more chances if you are behind the 8-ball. If you are flying high, stay the course with your strategy, but remember to trust in the match-ups. With more data points to rely on each week, the goal is for smooth sailing – and a bonanza of production – down the stretch.
Without further ado, let’s kick off with this week’s matchups.
Pass Rushing Match-ups to Exploit
Washington pass rushers vs. New York Giants
The Washington Football Team come off their bye with every expectation of beating the moribund New York Giants. And why shouldn’t they be confident? Having lost by just one point in the previous meeting a few weeks ago, the blueprint is there for a pass rush that averages pressure on 17.4% of dropbacks to create havoc for Daniel Jones and, just maybe, force him into more errors.
Truthfully, this could be an ugly game on both sides, with the Washington offensive line just as likely to give up pressure to a feisty Giants front. Forced to choose a team, however, the home team gets the slight edge and should be able to feast on Jones throughout. Plug in your Washington pass rushers for a high-upside match-up.
Key stat: The Washington Football Team has averaged 3.1 sacks per game, compared to the league average of 2.23.
Pittsburgh pass rushers at Dallas
It is almost too easy, but sometimes the best option is the most straightforward one. Pittsburgh’s pass rush is unmatched in terms of pressure applied, with their fearsome front converting on 27.7% of opportunities. They are averaging 4.3 sacks per game and 10.3 quarterback hits. And now they face the lowly Cowboys, a team with an offensive line in shambles and without their starting quarterback – or his backup. It will likely be Cooper Rush getting the start for Dallas, in fact, a baptism not just by fire, but by lava.
The book on this game is simple: just how many times will Pittsburgh be able to create game-changing plays defensively? The odds are it will be multiple times. Dallas is averaging three sacks allowed per game, but that number could skyrocket this week. Do not give this one a second thought; give an edge to all your Steelers players.
Key stat: The Cowboys have averaged 47 dropbacks per game, compared to the league average of 37.4.
Pass Rushing Match-ups to Avoid
Miami pass rushers at Arizona
The Cardinals have been nearly unstoppable as far as pressure given up, boasting by far the lowest figure in the league. Part of that is down to Kyler Murray’s mobility; part of it is down to a scheme that emphasizes quick releases, and part of it is the tempo they play at. How Brian Flores and the Dolphins defense chooses to approach Murray will be fascinating. It is not outside the realms of possibility that Flores, a Belichick disciple, simply foregoes blitzing and drops eight on every play to force Murray into decision after decision.
The implied game script according to the Vegas line is that Arizona should pull out the win, leading to more rushing attempts and fewer pass-rushing opportunities. Tua Tagovailoa is an exciting prospect, but an unknown on the NFL stage. It is well within the realms of possibility that the Dolphins find themselves in a hole, eliminating any scant pass-rushing opportunities.
Key stat: Arizona’s offensive line has given up pressure on just 4.6% of dropbacks (league average is 14.9%).
Tackle Match-ups to Exploit
Las Vegas and Los Angeles Chargers defenders
Stadium TVO rank: 2nd
A match-up made in heaven as far as tackle opportunity, both the Raiders and Chargers offenses have been gold mines for production. The Justin Herbert-led L.A. offense has allowed 58.3 tackle opportunities per game, along with 32 rushing attempts. The Raiders, for their part, have averaged 56 tackle opportunities allowed per game. With both head coaches favoring a ground-and-pound approach, this will be a bonanza for tackle production.
Adding to this match-up’s appeal is the second-ranked TVO factor in Los Angeles, which boosts the value of every tackle opportunity. This is beyond a doubt the crown jewel of tackle match-ups this week. The advice is to get a piece – or multiple pieces – to round out your line-ups this week.
Key stat: The Raiders have averaged 30.3 rushing attempts per game.
Denver defenders at Atlanta
Stadium TVO rank: 17th
Though the TVO factor is not particularly attractive in this match-up, certainly the head-to-head battle between the Atlanta offense and the Denver defense is. The Broncos defense has averaged 54 tackle opportunities per game, a healthy mark. With the implied game script favoring an Atlanta lead (Vegas has them as four-point favorites), we can expect Denver’s defenders to be on the field early and often.
The return of Julio Jones last week in Carolina was a massive boon for the Atlanta offense, as expected. Calvin Ridley will be a game-time decision, according to our Jene Bramel, but there is still plenty of reason to believe that Atlanta’s offense can get into gear. This might be an example of a game script overcoming the TVO factor.
Key stat: The Falcons offense has allowed 56.5 tackle opportunities per game, with the league average standing at 51.8.
Tackle Match-ups to Avoid
Minnesota and Detroit defenders
Stadium TVO rank: 32nd
The news of Matthew Stafford being placed on the Covid-19 list has served to reduce the already non-existent appeal of this game for tackle production. Minnesota is ranked dead last as a venue for TVO factor, meaning every tackle opportunity is essentially neutered of value. The game script, especially with the Stafford news, certainly tilts in the favor of the home team and a heavy dose of Dalvin Cook, so if you have to pick players from this game, Detroit is the side.
However, the advice is to avoid a Minnesota offense that has averaged just 48.3 tackle opportunities allowed per game. Recency bias can often cloud our judgment, and last week’s Cook-led offense may not come to pass this time around. The Lions are unlikely to provide much resistance, so fade this match-up if at all possible.
Key stat: The Lions average just 24.1 rushing attempts per game.
Kansas City defenders vs. Carolina
Stadium TVO rank: 29th
The Carolina offense has cooled down after a hot start, with defensive coordinators beginning to cook up creative blitzes to stifle Teddy Bridgewater. Steve Spagnuolo is sure to have some on his play sheet this week, and the Chiefs’ Chris Jones should have a field day on the interior against an overmatched Carolina offensive line. The trickle-down effect is that the Panthers offense may struggle to get out of the blocks. The return of Christian McCaffrey could give them a boost, certainly, but it remains to be seen what type of game shape he will be in.
The 10.5-point line in Kansas City’s favor could see a pass-heavy approach from Carolina, which would cap the appeal of the Chiefs’ players as far as tackle production. Interestingly, the Chiefs have faced 29.3 rushing attempts per game. If Carolina were to stick doggedly to that approach, there might be some residual value to be had – but the TVO of 29th really puts the clamps on any true upside.
Key stat: The Panthers offense has averaged 49.9 tackle opportunities allowed per game, below the league average.
Best of luck with Week 9 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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