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 14th 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 fantasy playoffs are set to begin in most leagues this week, so it is time to bear down and prepare for the sprint to the finish line. If you were on the wrong end of some scorelines throughout the season and find yourself on the outside looking in, there is no better feeling – trust me on this – than playing spoiler. That is, of course, only true if you can’t be the one holding up the trophy at the end of the year. The trends have been set this season, but situations change frequently. Let’s dive into this week’s match-ups to gain more insight.
Without further ado, let’s kick off with this week’s matchups.
Pass Rushing Match-ups to Exploit
Tampa Bay pass rushers vs. Minnesota offensive line
The Vikings have been a Dalvin Cook-led offense all season, and as such have averaged just 32.3 dropbacks per game. This compares to a league average of 37.4; bucking the trend would be an understatement. Despite this low number of dropbacks, however, the Vikings offensive line has allowed pressure on just over one in five of them, a recipe for disaster against a rested and determined Tampa Bay pass rush. The Bucs rank seventh in the league in pressure applied and should be confident of basing any winning formula this week on getting after Kirk Cousins early and often.
Indeed, Vegas is on the side of the Bucs as well, making them 6.5-point favorites in a stark rebuke of any recent momentum the Vikings have gained with Kirk Cousins filling the air with footballs. With the stoutness of the Bucs run defense, the Vikings’ clean-cut quarterback will have no choice, and that inflated number of pass attempts will spell disaster. Even fringe Bucs defenders have added appeal in this plum spot.
Key stat: The Vikings have allowed pressure on 20.4% of dropbacks.
New Orleans front seven at Philadelphia
Poor Jalen Hurts. Taking on the Saints in his first start is the very definition of being thrown to the wolves, a sacrificial lamb. It will surprise few to learn that the Eagles lead the league in pressure allowed (24%), a number that spikes on the road (29.2%). Playing at home this week will do little to calm the nerves, however, and Hurts is certain to feel the full brunt of a New Orleans defense that has averaged 6.9 quarterback hits and three sacks per game.
Even on the road, the implied game script heavily favors a comfortable victory for New Orleans. If Taysom Hill gets the start, his rushing attempts will shorten the game and perhaps put more pressure on Hurts to produce in his meager number of drives. The likelihood of a stirring Eagles fightback is slim to none with such inexperience at the quarterback position. Plug in your Saints players with confidence.
Key stat: The Saints rank third in the league in pressure applied, bringing the heat on 18.9% of opponent dropbacks.
Pass Rushing Match-ups to Avoid
Baltimore pass rushers at Cleveland
Although Baltimore’s pressure applied number is solid at 18.8%, the Browns are primed to stop that in its tracks. Streaking to the playoffs at 9-3, Cleveland’s offensive line has formed a tight bond and is giving up pressure on just 9.8% of dropbacks. It should be noted that Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski has asked Baker Mayfield to drop back just 29.8 times per game compared to a league average of 37.4. This is good coaching and, if the game script tilts in Cleveland’s favor, will severely limit the Ravens’ opportunities to rush the passer.
On Monday Night Football under the lights, this is typically a spot in which the Browns disappoint. Somehow this team feels different, and there should be confidence within the ranks that they can at least go all the way to the wire with the Ravens. While Baltimore’s front seven is very solid, Cleveland’s offensive line is better. Expect the two-headed backfield of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt to have their say, limiting the upside of Ravens players.
Key stat: The Browns boast a sack allowed percentage of just 4.4% at home. For context, the league’s best mark is 2% (Pittsburgh).
Tackle Match-ups to Exploit
Los Angeles Chargers and Atlanta defenders
Stadium TVO rank: 2nd
The Chargers, despite their many flaws and slip-ups, continue to be one of the best tackle match-ups in football. Their offense allows 57.8 tackle opportunities per game and has averaged 29 rushing attempts to boot. Combined with the highly favorable TVO factor in Los Angeles, this has been a match made in fantasy points heaven all season. In a clash with Atlanta that is projected to be tight, the Falcons defenders hold a little bit more appeal, as the key statistic outlines.
But that does not eliminate the appeal of the Chargers defenders, either. Indeed, the Falcons offense has been more than viable as a tackle match-up, averaging 53.8 tackle opportunities allowed per game. The rushing attack has stalled at times for Raheem Morris’ team, the only blotch on an otherwise pristine page. With the famed ‘rising tide’ narrative of the 2nd-ranked TVO in play, plug in all your Chargers and Falcons defensive studs for a high upside game.
Key stat: The home team at SoFi Stadium is awarded an average of 8.7 fewer solo tackles per game than the visiting team.
New York Giants defenders vs. Arizona
Stadium TVO rank: 3rd
As the key statistic below speaks to, the Giants players hold a little bit more appeal in this match-up of playoff hopefuls. The New York bandwagon has gained steam and supporters in the wake of a stirring win in Seattle, but their defense faces an altogether different challenge this week – if, that is, Kyler Murray is Kyler Murray. Arizona’s offense has averaged 55 tackle opportunities allowed per game and has run the ball on 44.3% of its plays, but all that hinges on a functional dual-threat quarterback.
The Giants defense may play itself out of tackle opportunities in this game, though even in the victory last week they saw 54. A fast-paced Arizona offense will provide its fair share as well. The only setback would be a no-show from the Cardinals offense, but that seems unlikely as Vegas has the visitors listed as narrow favorites. Get a piece of this match-up.
Key stat: Giants players are awarded an average of 4.6 more solo tackles per game and 6.8 more assists per game at MetLife Stadium compared to their opponents.
Tackle Match-ups to Avoid
Houston defenders at Chicago
Stadium TVO rank: 30th
Despite Houston’s constant defensive struggles, even they might not be overly troubled by the putrid offense the Bears will be putting on display. For context, the Texans have faced 29.7 rushing attempts per game, while the Bears have attempted just 21.3. The fatal flaw of Houston’s defense is their inability to stop the run, but will Chicago have the patience to exploit it?
With Soldier Field representing one of the worst venues for TVO, the value of all players in this game is depressed. In a playoff week, it would be unwise to hitch your wagon to an operation as forgettable as Chicago’s offense. Seek the value elsewhere on the slate and be glad you avoided this match-up.
Key stat: The Texans average 55.7 tackle opportunities per game, but the Bears provide just 49.3 per game.
Seattle defenders vs. NY Jets
Stadium TVO rank: 25th
The Jets have shown a little life lately, but not enough to warrant much enthusiasm in this cross-country clash with the Seahawks. Adam Gase’s reign is sure to come to an end soon, and one wonders how motivated the Jets players will be in the wake of the firing of Gregg Williams and the turmoil that has come with it in the New York media.
On the field, the TVO factor in Seattle is such that only a competent, wire-to-wire performance from the Jets offense would help the Seahawks defenders to meet their expected points outputs. It is worth noting, however, that the Seahawks defense has averaged 55.8 tackle opportunities per game despite facing a low rush percentage of 34.7%. Relying on the Jets offense, however, is simply not a winning strategy.
Key stat: The Jets offense has allowed just 45.1 tackle opportunities per game, which is well below the league average of 51.4.
Best of luck with Week 14 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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