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 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 Aaron Rudnicki 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.
With our first data point in the books, some of our hypotheses about certain teams’ weaknesses and strengths have been confirmed; some remain a mystery. What we do know we can use to our advantage, however. Waiver runs prior to the second week of the season are typically some of the most active, and owners have a chance to snag some matchup plays that could turn into fixtures of their line-up.
Less data means we have to listen to our guts as we approach a week of games that is an important building block on the way to a championship.
So, without further ado, let’s see where our gut takes us in Week 2.
Pass Rushing Matchups to Exploit
Cincinnati pass rushers vs. Houston
Most pundits will look at the Bengals-Ravens box score from Week 1 and scoff at the scoreline, disbelief written across their bunched-up face. They will point to a stagnant offense that registered zero points, but they will neglect the fact the defense, despite that offensive ineptitude, only surrendered 20 points. The Bengals front seven caused problems for Baltimore at times, and they can do the same against a Texans offensive line that made the Jaguars look like the ’85 Bears. It wasn’t just the fact that Tom Savage couldn’t move out of the pocket or Deshaun Watson was a rookie; this team simply cannot block to save their lives. The Bengals home crowd will be fiery on Thursday night, knowing that a loss could effectively put an early nail in their coffin. Expect Carlos Dunlap and company to create havoc.
Key stat: The Texans allowed pressure on 21.7% of their dropbacks against Jacksonville, while the Bengals created pressure on 16.7% on only 18 dropbacks last week
Seattle pass rushers vs. San Francisco
I’m sorry San Francisco, but you’re about to run into a buzzsaw this week in Seattle. Fresh off a loss to the Packers, the Seahawks will go back to the drawing board – and it will start with their offensive line. Fortunately they have no such issues with their defense, which stymied Aaron Rodgers effectively at times last week. The Niners have a solid offensive line, but the crowd noise and the sheer talent gap between offense and defense should yield some plum pass rushing opportunities for a hungry Seahawks front seven.
Key stat: The 49ers offensive line allowed eight quarterback hits against a formidable front in Carolina. Seattle’s front recorded the same number of QB hits against a better offensive line in Green Bay; this could be a bloodbath.
Pass Rushing Matchups to Avoid
Jacksonville pass rushers vs. Tennessee
The Titans did not cover themselves in glory against the Raiders last week, but it is too soon to throw the baby out with the bath water. The offensive line is this team’s strength, and I expect they will work hard this week in practice on getting back to basics. That involves running the rock down the opponent’s throat and pounding them into submission. It is a bold call, perhaps, to advocate fading Jaguars pass rushers after their demolition of Houston (which featured 10 sacks), but this team is notoriously up and down – and Tennessee have the horses up front to compete much better than the lowly Texans did.
Tackle Matchups to Exploit
Atlanta defenders vs. Green Bay
The Packers more or less abandoned the ground game last week, keeping it a token weapon in their arsenal. They will be encouraged by how well the Bears ran it at times last week against this week’s opponent Atlanta, though. Expect a more balanced offensive approach here from the visitors, with the Falcons defenders likely to see plenty of tackle opportunity. Deion Jones and Keanu Neal, who led the defense with 67 snaps a piece last week, figure to be the main beneficiaries. The only potential spanner in the works is the fact Atlanta is opening a new stadium. That type of emotion can either inspire or deflate a team, but I wouldn’t be worried if I were Aaron Rodgers.
Key stat: The Falcons’ home stat crew has been stingy with handing out tackles and assists in previous years, with a TVO (tackle versus opportunity) number of around 1.06. Still, the volume provided by the Packers offense should be enough to override this.
Cleveland defenders at Baltimore
The Browns won a lot of fans with their performance against the Steelers, but plaudits will only get you so far. This should be a tough test on the road for a young defense that is without stud pass rusher Myles Garrett. The Ravens know that Joe Flacco will have more rust to knock off, so expect a steady dose of Terrance West and Javorius Allen from the outset. Cleveland’s Gregg Williams-led defense showed the ability to stuff the run at times last week, but the smart play here is to bet on the home team to reign supreme and establish a lead. The game script should allow for plenty of tackle opportunity for the likes of Christian Kirksey, Jamie Collins Sr and Jabrill Peppers.
Key stat: This is one where we should take Week 1 in context before gleaning anything from the numbers. The Ravens completely bossed their game against the Bengals, running the ball 42 times and allowing an above average 52 tackle opportunities. The Browns faced only 14 rushing attempts and had a un-Browns like 39 tackle opportunities. Expect to see that script flip this week for the road team.
Tackle Matchups to Avoid
Detroit defenders at New York Giants
Painful to watch would be an understatement. I refer, of course, to the Giants’ humiliating display on Sunday night against arch rival Dallas. In truth, the offense never got out of first gear, a series of check downs to Shane Vereen the only saving grace at the end of the game. Whether Odell Beckham Jr Jr. laces up his boots or not, this offense’s problems start on the line. Detroit has shown the ability to rush the passer despite lacking the most talented personnel on paper. The main problem is the Giants’ lack of a rushing attack, which will yield few opportunities for tackles. Fade your Lions this week if possible.
Key stat: The one saving grace of this matchup for Detroit defenders might be that the Giants’ home stat crew has traditionally been generous with the TVO factor (average 1.33 over the past three seasons). This means that for every opportunity, the crew is more often than not awarding solos and assists, often spreading assists around. It would still be a stretch to trust this Giants offense, though.
Arizona defenders at Indianapolis
Scott Tolzien was predictably poor against the Rams, and so the Colts march on to Week 2 to face another wounded animal in Arizona. The Cardinals, fresh off the news that star running back David Johnson will miss two to three months, will be reeling – but there is no doubt they are the more talented team on paper. The Colts offense has the potential to be improved this week, but I wouldn’t bet on that happening. One thing that is abundantly clear is the Colts must take the ball out of Tolzien’s hands as much as possible, so expect an emphasis on the ground game. If the game script goes as predicted, however, the consistent tackle opportunities for Arizona defenders will be few and far between.
Key stat: The TVO factor for Indianapolis at home doesn’t exactly jump out and ranks among the average stat crews. All the signs point to a stay away from Arizona’s valuable IDPs.
Best of luck with Week 2 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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