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 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 fourth 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.
We have three weeks of data to sink our teeth into, so it is not too early to identify patterns and exploit them. To be frank, anything less than taking a stand would be foolhardy; in order to get ahead of the pack, you have to be willing to be brave. Certain teams have already shown us who they are; it is up to us to take advantage of that grand reveal.
The trends are pointing strongly to some lay-up matchups on this week’s slate. So, without further ado, let’s see which matchups we can take advantage of in Week 4.
Pass Rushing Matchups to Exploit
Denver front seven at Tampa Bay
The discrepancy between the quarterback hits registered by the Broncos on the road versus at home is significant – 6.5 per game on their travels against nine per game at Mile High – but this matchup should allay any such fears. The Buccaneers have allowed 6.3 hits on Jameis Winston per game, despite only giving up 1.7 sacks per game. Facing this ferocious Broncos pass rush might change that metric quickly. Denver’s offense made big strides last week, so the confidence will be there to attack this Bucs secondary with Trevor Siemian. With a lead, the Broncos defense should have its way with Winston.
Pittsburgh front seven vs. Kansas City
The Chiefs have turned into a fruitful pass rushing foe in the first weeks, surrendering three sacks per game and 20 quarterback hits. Andy Reid is a master at adjusting his game plan to fit the strengths of his players, and I expect he might take a page out of his disciple Doug Pederson’s book to flummox the Steelers. The only issue here is that it is unlikely the Steelers will be fooled twice in two weeks. Could it happen? Absolutely, but NFL teams are notoriously salty after defeats and facing a similar offense might actually suit Pittsburgh. The Steelers pass rush has not been very effective, but I believe playing in front of a raucous home crowd in primetime can spur them on in a decent matchup.
Pass Rushing Matchups to Avoid
Minnesota front four vs. New York Giants
In a battle of strength against strength, the stingy Giants offensive line will face off against the unrelenting Vikings pass rush. The numbers say that New York’s line has played fantastic football thus far, surrendering only seven quarterback hits through three games. Minnesota’s defense has averaged eight quarterback hits per game. Something has to give, and I am betting on the Giants to offset the pass rush. The Ben McAdoo offense is predicated on quick releases, and although Eli Manning has a mistake or two in him, he should be smart enough to diagnose where the blitzes are coming from and stay relatively clean.
Tackle Matchups to Exploit
San Francisco defenders vs. Dallas
This represents a matchup made in heaven if you own any San Francisco players. The Cowboys have been one of the most run-heavy units in the league, with 33.7 attempts per game. They have also averaged 68 offensive snaps per game. The 49ers defense will see more of the field due to their up-tempo offensive style and they average 52.3 tackle opportunities allowed per game. All of this points to a very productive day for the likes of Navorro Bowman, Arik Armstead, DeForest Buckner and others.
Miami defenders at Cincinnati
The Bengals have faced a very tough opening schedule, but will hope to put that behind them and get back to 2-2 on Thursday night. They have an excellent opportunity to do just that as a rather hapless Dolphins team that barely squeaked out a victory against Cleveland comes to town. The Dolphins, incidentally, have faced an average of 33.3 rush attempts per game, second in the league. If there is one thing Cincinnati will want to do it is run the football down the throat of Miami’s defense. Expect a big day for Jeremy Hill and a tackle bonanza for the Miami defenders.
Tackle Matchups to Avoid
New England defenders vs. Buffalo
The Bills rank rock bottom for tackle opportunities allowed at just 42.3 per game, not good reading if you own any New England defensive players. The Patriots defense is a quality unit overall, meaning it plays itself out of high leverage tackle opportunity situations by default. The Bills showed life against Arizona, but how sustainable is that? My gut tells me the Patriots turn the screw here after an extended period to prepare and shut down the Bills offense. Keep your Patriots defenders in reserve for better matchups.
Arizona defenders vs. Los Angeles
The Rams offense may have enjoyed something of a breakout last week, but the sieve-like Bucs defense had a big hand in it. The Cardinals, angry after a humbling road loss, will not roll out the welcome mat for their division rivals the same way. The Rams allow only 44.3 tackle opportunities per game, so the Cardinals defense likely won’t get many chances to rack up the tackles. If anything, their defensive backs could post nice totals as the Rams go into comeback mode. This is a bad spot for the visitors, so fade the Arizona defenders if you can.
Best of luck with Week 4 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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