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 12th 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 regular seasons in fantasy leagues entering their final lap, pinpointing the key match-ups and squeezing every point out of our line-ups is critical to success. With 11 weeks of data in the rearview, that task has become easier for us. At the same time, we must be mindful of changing team situations and always be willing to accept the new reality before it bites us. It is time to finish strong.
Without further ado, let’s kick off with this week’s match-ups.
Pass Rushing Match-ups to Exploit
NY Giants pass rushers at Cincinnati
The injury to Joe Burrow hammered home the necessity of investing in the offensive line where a promising rookie quarterback is involved. There were recriminations aplenty this week as the Bengals processed the blow as an organization. With Ryan Finley taking over, this match-up – one that has been attractive for pass rushers all season – becomes even more appealing. Cincinnati’s line has allowed 3.6 sacks and 8.7 hits on the passer per game, numbers that should be music to the ears of a surprisingly efficient pass rush in Big Blue.
Those Giants, you ask? Why yes. Joe Judge’s defense has steadily climbed up the ranks in terms of pressure applied, with the unit averaging seven quarterback hits per game despite facing just 38.8 dropbacks on average. The game script should heavily favor the Giants to get ahead and go to work on the Bengals’ flimsy offensive line. Vegas has the G-Men as 5.5-point favorites, and while that may be a little rich there is every reason to believe they can produce some game-changing plays defensively to put the Bengals to bed quickly.
Key stat: The Giants pass rush has applied the fifth-most pressure in the league at 18% of opponent dropbacks.
LA Rams pass rushers vs. San Francisco
Despite averaging just 35.5 dropbacks per game – likely to protect their quarterbacks – the 49ers have been a sieve against the pass rush. Giving up pressure on 20.8% of dropbacks, expect the pattern to continue against the Rams. Nick Mullens will get the start, so Kyle Shanahan will have to construct a game plan around short passing and handing the ball to a returning Raheem Mostert to give his team a chance.
The Rams are coming off an impressive pass-rushing performance on Monday night that forced Tom Brady off the spot at times, flustering him just enough to force mistakes. Though Los Angeles has averaged pressure on just 15.8% of dropbacks, the sacks (3.2) and hits (6.8) would suggest they are close to a breakout. This could be the week against a division opponent on its last legs.
Key stat: San Francisco has allowed 7.4 quarterback hits per game compared to the league average of 5.58.
Pass Rushing Match-ups to Avoid
Tennessee pass rushers at Indianapolis
It is a classic match-up of weakness against strength when the Titans defense lines up on third down to rush the passer in this clash. Few offensive lines have been as dominant as the Colts’, while few pass rushes have been as feeble as that of Tennessee. Allowing just one sack per game and pressure on just 8.8% of plays, the formula is there for the Colts to dictate the tempo and stymie the Titans up front.
Tennessee’s rushers have averaged just 1.2 sacks per game and an 11.1% pressure applied number, both in the lower reaches of the league’s hierarchy. Add in that the Colts have found something of an offensive rhythm with Jonathan Taylor and this could be a fait accompli before it has even started. Err on the side of benching your Titans defenders.
Key stat: The Titans have a sack percentage of just 2.3% on the road, ranking 30th in the league.
Tackle Match-ups to Exploit
New England and Arizona defenders
Stadium TVO rank: 1st
Both New England and Arizona defensive stars stand to benefit from the best TVO factor in the league on Sunday. Fortunately, the stat crew is equally generous to both sets of tacklers, and the match-up is tremendous. The Cardinals’ up-tempo offense allows 55.7 tackle opportunities per game and rushes the ball 30 times per game. Their opponent, New England, has a similar formula and averages 31.5 rush attempts per game, though without the explosiveness of the men from the desert.
This is a match-up that should be exploited to the fullest by plugging in as many key defenders with high snap percentages as possible. With the implied game script set to be close – Vegas has Arizona as narrow favorites – both running games should remain viable and provide a gateway to production from both sides.
Key stat: Gillette Stadium’s statistics crew doles out solo tackles evenly to home and road teams, averaging a total of 85.4 solo tackles per game.
Tampa Bay defenders vs. Kansas City
Stadium TVO rank: 9th
A curious aspect of Raymond James Stadium (as covered in the key stat below) sheds light on why the Bucs defenders hold extra appeal in a plum match-up against Kansas City. The speed and sideline-to-sideline hunting of the Tampa Bay linebackers will be tested against an offense that prides itself on testing defenses vertically as much as horizontally. The Chiefs average a solid if unspectacular 52.2 tackle opportunities allowed per game, so the Bucs will have their chances.
The Chiefs are not primarily a running team, but their offensive efficiency (3rd in pass completions per game) should offset any concerns about them abandoning the run completely against the Bucs’ vaunted front seven. With a 3.5-point favorites tag in their favor, the Chiefs will stick to their script and keep the Bucs defenders on their toes throughout. Plug in your Tampa defenders this week.
Key stat: Due to a favorable statistics crew, the Buccaneers defenders have averaged 10 more solo tackles per game than the visitors.
Tackle Match-ups to Avoid
Dallas defenders vs. Washington
Stadium TVO rank: 27th
The Thanksgiving feast will be a little tastier for one of these NFC East rivals when all is said and done on Thursday night, but it might be Dallas’ defenders who are left wanting leftovers. That is because, as the key stat shows, Dallas defenders tend to be given fewer solo tackles when playing at home compared with the visiting team. The Washington offense lacks consistency as it is, averaging just 24 rushing attempts and allowing 50.9 tackle opportunities per game. This stat crew quirk only makes the match-up less attractive for the Dallas players.
While Dallas is laying just three points, there is every chance that Andy Dalton gets them out to a commanding lead against a conservative Washington offense, further capping the appeal of the Cowboys defenders. The game script is always difficult to predict in these wacky NFC East encounters, but there is no doubt that, of both sets of defenders, Dallas' should be faded.
Key stat: The Cowboys’ defenders average 10 fewer solo tackles per game than the visitors when they play at AT&T Stadium.
New Orleans defenders at Denver
Stadium TVO rank: 24th
With an unfavorable TVO factor capping the upside of both sets of defenders, it is the New Orleans players you should fade. Favored by six points on the road and coming off a dominant defensive performance, the Saints defense is playing itself out of tackle opportunities. The unit ranks 30th in the league in that statistic, and that trend looks to continue against Drew Lock and the inefficient Broncos attack.
Taysom Hill at quarterback likely means more time of possession for New Orleans as well, with more rushing attempts on the cards. That will further reduce Denver’s opportunities. If anything, the Saints defenders make a decent upside bet for big-play production, but as far as tackle production there are better match-ups to target.
Key stat: The Denver offense allows just 48.3 tackle opportunities per game, below the league average of 51.5.
Best of luck with Week 12 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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