IDP Matchups to Exploit and Avoid: Week 1

An in-depth look at the key games to target for IDP production. 

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 Larry Thomas. That spreadsheet will contain a number of weekly and 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 two large tables 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.

Before we get to the hard data and matchup analysis, a quick explanation of the metrics we're using will probably be helpful. This column will be broken up into two primary sections - pass rushing matchups to exploit/avoid and tackle matchups to exploit/avoid. Each text section is followed by a table listing the relevant statistics and metrics driving our matchup decisions.

The pass rushing matchup table will include weekly averages of sacks, adjusted averages of sacks and quarterback hits and pass attempts faced. It will also have a column titled Pressure Applied, a metric we're introducing to show how often a team defense is generating pressure on the opposing quarterback. We'll be calculating Pressure Applied by dividing each team defense's sacks and quarterback hits by its total pass attempts faced. The same set of data will be provided and Pressure Allowed calculated for each team offense, to show which offenses are allowing pressure on their quarterback most often.

The tackle matchup table will include weekly averages of both rush and pass attempts faced, total offensive snaps faced and the percentage of rush vs pass attempts faced. It will also have a column titled Tackle Opportunity, a metric we introduced in mid-2007 to show how many plays a defense faced that could have ended in a solo tackle. We'll be calculating each team's Tackle Opportunity by adding all rush attempts, pass completions and sacks - the three plays that can end in a solo tackle outside of special teams and turnover plays. The same set of data will be
provided and Tackle Opportunity calculated for each team's offense, to show which offenses are allowing the most tackle opportunity to opposing defenses.

We'll be highlighting the Pressure Applied/Allowed and Tackle Opportunity metrics with color codes showing the best and worst pass rush and tackle matchups. Expect to see lots of “good” and “bad” matchups early, as a relatively low sample size will show a lot of teams outside the historical standard deviations we'll be using to focus on the key matchups. While sample size will be a confounding issue during the early weeks, we'll still make every effort to show where the data looks meaningful. Without getting into a long discussion of statistics, we recognize that these
metrics and tables will not be as predictive and reliable early in the season. We also acknowledge the noise within a set of unofficial statistics like solo tackles and quarterback hits. As the season progresses and the standard deviations of the data fall in line with prior seasonal averages, we expect that the data tables will be increasingly more reliable and useful.


You are very welcome to the first edition of what will be a season-long look at the best and worst matchups in the IDP landscape based on detailed, accurate spreadsheet data generated by Larry Thomas on a weekly basis.

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. Each and 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.

Week 1 presents a challenge in that we are operating with a blank slate. If we think of the 2016 season as a puzzle, right now we would have only the corner pieces. At the best of times, fantasy owners make educated guesses about who to start and who to bench, but the theme of this week’s article is ‘go with your gut’.

If you watched the preseason, there were definitely some valuable tidbits to stash away in your memory banks, but realise that the reality could change in an instant. Teams try new things in preseason. Coaches, like artists seeking that perfect portrait, are tinkerers by nature - but that doesn’t mean we can’t glean useful information to be deployed on the fantasy battlefield this week.

So, without further ado, let’s see where our gut takes us in Week 1.


Pass Rushing Matchups to Exploit

Houston front seven vs. Chicago

We begin with my favorite matchup of the week, as the Texans look to make a statement in the wide-open AFC South. The Bears signed Josh Sitton to bolster their line – and that should be a coup – but the Texans look to have J.J. Watt back in the fold. That can only spell bad things for Chicago, who want to be able to run the ball first and let Jay Cutler do his thing second. The Texans have an offense that can control the game and give them a platform to rush the passer; I believe the defense will respond and cause havoc.

Kansas City front seven vs. San Diego

The Chargers enter the cauldron that is Arrowhead Stadium for their opening test – and they don’t come much more difficult than this. Even with Justin Houston on PUP, the Chiefs pass rush has enough punch to cause problems for an offensive line that would prefer to be run blocking than pass blocking, to put it mildly. Philip Rivers has a penchant for the miracle play to bail out a bad line, but is that sustainable? The last time these teams met, it did not end well for the hapless Chargers. A repeat may be on the cards; crowd noise, combined with a line that is still getting their feet under them, could be the recipe for a dominant pass rushing display from the home team.

Pass Rushing Matchups to Avoid

Oakland pass rushers at New Orleans

The Saints offensive line has its warts, but the man under centre has enough intelligence and timing to get rid of the football. The Raiders boast a respectable pass rushing unit – and we have seen New Orleans lay an egg in home openers before – but a more balanced Saints offense should be able to control this one. I am not suggesting you should bench Khalil Mack; rather, a more realistic outlook might be the prudent option for a formidable test in the Big Easy.

Tackle Matchups to Exploit

Indianapolis defenders vs. Detroit

The Colts’ defensive depth chart does not inspire confidence. This is a team that will have to get by on big plays and turnovers to stifle opposing offenses, because the cupboard is fairly bare and I have no idea where the pass rush is coming from. The up-tempo Lions offense under Jim Bob Cooter should be a tricky enough test to start the season, providing the shorthanded Colts defense with plenty of tackle opportunities. The Colts home stat crew is among the best for tackle awards per opportunity, so this matchup is almost too good to be true. Even if Detroit bumbles their way to defeat, their strategy of frequent passing will not change.

Pittsburgh defenders at Washington

The Redskins home statistics crew is one of the more generous when it comes to assists, so they rank among the groups to target for solid tackle production, regardless of the matchup. A visit from the high-flying Steelers offense – albeit without some key weapons – should provide ample opportunity for tackles for Washington defenders, but it is the Steelers we should focus on. This is a team bereft of a backbone on defense, Cameron Heyward is injured and the secondary can be exploited by the right type of offense. Jay Gruden and the Redskins should be able to cook up enough of a game plan to trouble Pittsburgh. Matt Jones will not play, but Rob Kelley could step in and provide a nice steady force from running back. Tackle production should be solid in this encounter, but I like the Pittsburgh side a little more.

Tackle Matchups to Avoid

Los Angeles defenders at San Francisco

This might be going against the trend of Chip Kelly offenses, but this 49ers group just doesn’t inspire me at all. The Rams have a stifling defense capable of shutting down even the most multiple offensive attacks – and multiple is not the word to describe Kelly’s scheme. Rather it is vanilla, with a series of precepts that are adhered to, albeit with small variations. Blaine Gabbert will provide the offense with some stability after impressing in fits and starts last year, but they can’t be trusted to be a sustaining force. Avoid the Rams defenders if you have better options; better matchups are on the way.

Cleveland defenders at Philadelphia

The Eagles statistics crew is stingy when it comes to assists, essentially rendering some good work from defensive players useless. When you put the metrics aside and focus on the field, you have a rookie quarterback making his first career start and a receiving corps littered with question marks. Philadelphia’s front seven should be able to keep this game in control on the scoreboard, but only a series of mistakes by the Browns offense will yield enough snaps for the Cleveland defenders to be viable as tacklers.


Best of luck with Week 1 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
larkin@footballguys.com, or if you prefer you can tweet me @davlar87.