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 15th 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 in full swing, so it is time to bear down and prepare for the sprint to the finish line. Finding an edge is critical in these final weeks, which is why pinpointing the match-ups continues to be a vital tool in our arsenal. In conjunction with this article, I would encourage you to check out the rest of the IDP content at Footballguys to brush the competition aside in Week 15.
Without further ado, let’s kick off with this week’s matchups.
Pass Rushing Match-ups to Exploit
Pittsburgh front seven at Cincinnati
Rarely a week goes by that the Steelers pass rush fails to deliver, despite the team’s slowing momentum in recent games. The loss of Bud Dupree for the season has dented the unit’s upside, but it still leads the league in pressure rate at 23.5%, with 3.5 sacks and nine quarterback hits per game. The Steelers are overwhelming favorites heading into Cincinnati on Monday night and should be able to exorcise some of the demons of recent times into a dominant victory, powered by their defense.
The Bengals under Brandon Allen have been as anticipated: a low-wattage offensive unit that offers little in the way of a consistent threat. The offensive line has been torn apart all season, and in the last three games, they have allowed an average of 3.33 sacks. Curiously, Cincinnati has surrendered significantly fewer sacks at home (12) compared with their travels (34). Look for a peeved Steelers team to buck that trend.
Key stat: The Steelers defense leads the league in sacks, but they have seen a steep drop-off in that number on the road (14) compared to at home (31).
LA Rams pass rushers vs. NY Jets
The Rams pass rush has been utterly dominant when playing at home, averaging 4.3 sacks per contest and wreaking havoc on opposing offenses. As 17-point home favorites, the game script will be there against a porous Jets offensive line to tee off on Sam Darnold and bring into reality the tongue-twisting Donald on Darnold sack. Expect Jared Goff and the Rams offense to build a lead early with quick strikes, opening a pathway to pass-rushing nirvana for the defense.
The Jets are trundling towards the end of the season. Though they have shown some glimmers of life in recent weeks, they are still giving up three sacks per game on average over their last three along with 6.8 quarterback hits. There will be fewer better match-ups for pass rushers this season, so be sure to get a piece of the Rams this week.
Key stat: The Jets offense has allowed pressure on 20.4% of plays despite just 33.6 dropbacks per game.
Pass Rushing Match-ups to Avoid
Houston pass rushers at Indianapolis
Even with a hobbled Philip Rivers at the controls, the Colts offense has been a tough nut to crack for opposing pass rushers. That trend is likely to continue in Indianapolis this week as the seven-point favorite Colts welcome a reeling Texans team to town. Despite the heroics of J.J. Watt, the Houston pass rush has been lacking a spark this campaign, averaging pressure on just 13.6% of dropbacks. While there is always a chance Watt and his band of merry men could rally against their division rival, it is a low one.
The emergence of Jonathan Taylor as a true force in the backfield has given the Colts offense a freshness that they desperately needed. They have tallied 26 and 29 rushing attempts, respectively, over their previous two games and will look to hammer at Houston’s front seven early. The game script favors the home team to take care of business and limit the Houston pass rush’s opportunities.
Key stat: The Colts offensive line has allowed just 1.2 sacks per game.
Tackle Match-ups to Exploit
Washington defenders vs. Seattle
Stadium TVO rank: 11th
The belief is that Alex Smith will be forced to sit this week due to a calf injury, meaning a start for oft-criticized back-up and former first round pick Dwayne Haskins. The news completely changes the complexion of this match-up, the knock-on effect being a less efficient Washington offense paving the way for more tackle opportunities for the Football Team defense. And while that unit that played a massive part in recent victories, bottling up Russell Wilson may be a step too far.
The TVO rank in Washington is very solid, with home and away players seeing the same number of solo tackles awarded per game. This game could end up being closer than many expect, but Haskins is more likely to make the critical error that will give Seattle additional possessions. Pete Carroll will be aware of how dangerous the Washington pass rush can be and will likely run straight at their front four to keep Wilson clean. This is a terrific spot for Football Team defenders.
Key stat: Seattle’s offense has provided 53.3 tackle opportunities per game and has averaged 28.3 rushing attempts per game over their last three games.
NY Giants defenders vs. Cleveland
Stadium TVO rank: 2nd
The Browns have a clear identity: be more physical than their opponents. That starts with the combination of Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt, and a punishing, bulldozing offensive line that takes no prisoners. With question marks over the status of Daniel Jones, suddenly the Giants offense looks a lot feebler and could struggle to sustain drives. Baker Mayfield could conceivably take a back seat as the ground game takes control for Cleveland.
At the same time, the Giants defense has been a tough and physical unit and will not shy away from the challenge. The offense will need to hold up its end of the bargain to give them any chance, however, as the body blows delivered by the Browns could prove too much after a fashion. The best play here is to plug in your Giants in an excellent TVO spot and let things play out.
Key stat: The Browns are averaging 31 rushing attempts per game, a departure from the league average of 26.1.
Tackle Match-ups to Avoid
Philadelphia and Arizona defenders
Stadium TVO rank: 32nd
The bottom-ranked State Farm Stadium takes the gloss off the IDP options in what could have been a terrific spot – if only it had been in another venue. Philadelphia’s offense has been reignited by Jalen Hurts, who faces his first road start this week, but how sustainable is his early success? Averaging 53.2 tackle opportunities per game, if you are thinking of plugging in players from this game, then Philadelphia is the right side.
Arizona’s much-maligned offense under Kliff Kingsbury has been stop-start of late, but it is still one of the highest tempo attacks and has averaged 55.8 tackle opportunities allowed per game. The advice here is to proceed with caution if you are considering players from this contest. With a rookie quarterback on the other side, Arizona could face more rushing attempts than usual. Unfortunately, the TVO factor caps the upside in a week when upside is paramount.
Key stat: Arizona’s offense runs the football on 45% of its plays, with the league average at 41.2%.
Buffalo and Denver defenders
Stadium TVO rank: 25th
Much like Arizona, the TVO factor in Denver is crippling to the potential value of several IDP options in this game. The Bills are expected to take care of business according to Vegas, and indeed the Denver defense is the more attractive unit having averaged 53.4 tackle opportunities per game, but with so many more enticing match-ups on the slate, the best move is to fade this clash.
Denver’s offense has managed just 47.3 tackle opportunities allowed per game. The explosion of points and touchdown passes last week by Drew Lock was the exception and not the rule, so be careful not to get pulled in by recency bias. Look elsewhere on this most pivotal of weeks.
Key stat: The Buffalo offense averages just 24.1 rushing attempts per game.
Best of luck with Week 15 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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