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 second 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.
It is tempting after two weeks to get caught up in data-driven decisions, but there is always room for gut calls. The fine line between sticking to your guns on teams and abandoning ship is a difficult one to master, but if you can tread it carefully and correctly you can come out on the other side with a shiny new trophy.
Whether you’re 0-2 or 2-0, the key is to remain humble each week and treat it like it is a new season. Be aggressive on the waiver wire and acquire defensive gems that could change your season. Being prudent with your research on the IDP side of things can yield huge dividends. It all starts with the matchups, of course, so let us examine this week’s slate with the assistance of Aaron Rudnicki’s spreadsheet.
Pass Rushing Matchups to Exploit
New England front seven vs. Houston offensive line
The numbers on Houston’s offensive line are ugly, ladies and gentlemen, and Bill Belichick knows this. Former protégé Bill O’Brien comes to town for a clash that should resemble something like David vs. Goliath – except this time Goliath stomps David. The Patriots pass rush came alive last week against the Saints, with rookie Deatrich Wise Jr Jr. making his presence felt. There is enough of a track record to trust Belichick, no matter what defensive personnel he has at his disposal, to produce a respectable pass rushing unit. Players like Kyle Van Noy and the aforementioned Wise could have big outings.
Key stat: Through just two games the Houston offensive line has given up pressure on 20.5% of dropbacks (league average is 15%) along with 6.5 sacks per game and 7.5 hits per game.
Tennessee front seven vs. Seattle offensive line
In what should be one of the more fascinating encounters on the Week 3 slate, the Titans host the Seahawks and their porous offensive line. You have to feel for Russell Wilson, who has been hung out to dry by this regime due to their lack of investment in the big guys up front. The Titans pass rush hasn’t quite gotten into gear yet, so that gives me some pause here (pressure applied on 11.4% of opponent dropbacks), but the Seahawks matchup can cure all ills. Trust the trend here and err towards playing your Titans.
Key stat: Seattle’s offensive line has the unenviable honour of being the unit that gives up the most pressure. Russell Wilson has been under duress on a stunning 23.6% of his dropbacks, and the line has given up 8.5 hits on their star quarterback per game.
Pass Rushing Matchups to Avoid
Washington pass rushers vs. Oakland offensive line
It seems no matter what pass rushing unit the Raiders offensive line faces, they find a way to chew them up, spit them out and watch as Derek Carr cocks and throws touchdown passes for fun. The Titans and Jets are certainly matchups you would expect this team to win, but that doesn’t take away from how strong this unit has played. The Redskins bounced back on the road last week, and return home in primetime here. The Washington pass rush has been very solid through two games, applying pressure on 18.8% of dropbacks, so the Raiders may not have it all their own way here. Still, the Raiders have shown more often than not that their line is capable of blotting out even the most fearsome pass rush. Fade the Washington rushers if possible.
Key stat: The Raiders offensive line has allowed just two sacks so far and has allowed pressure on an impressive 4.8% of Derek Carr’s dropbacks. This line is as close to untouchable as any in the league.
Tackle Matchups to Exploit
Jacksonville defenders vs. Baltimore
The smart money is on Baltimore to continue their momentum and secure a victory over in Wembley Stadium. The Ravens have played it very cool on offense through two games, nursing leads and not asking Joe Flacco to do too much as his recovery continues. The Ravens defense should be licking their chops ahead of a shot at Blake Bortles, who showed last week why the Jaguars want to minimise his influence as much as possible. The only way Jacksonville can keep this on their script is by establishing a lead, but ultimately the better and more veteran-laden team will come out on top. That should lead to a healthy dose of tackle opportunities for the so-called home team.
Key stat: Baltimore’s offense has allowed a staggering 55 tackle opportunities per game, with 36.5 rushes per game sure to perk up the antennae of IDP aficionados. That puts their rush percentage at 57.5. Jacksonville, meanwhile, have faced 28.5 rush attempts per game.
Cincinnati defenders at Green Bay
How much longer does Andy Dalton have? Well, an encouraging performance here would go a long way – but can you really see that happening? A stagnant offense for the Bengals has seen the defense spend a lot more time on the field than their play warrants. The defense has faced 38.5 rush attempts per game and has 52.5 tackle opportunities per game through two weeks. Against a high-powered Packers offense that, admittedly, may be missing Jordy Nelson, this is a recipe for big tackle numbers from your Bengals. Green Bay’s lack of a truly sustaining rushing attack may give you pause, but my advice is to trust your eyes here.
Key stat: Lambeau Field ranks 12th among stat crews in terms of tackle versus opportunity (TVO), which corresponds to the total number of tackles (solo and assist) awarded in relation to tackle opportunities.
Tackle Matchups to Avoid
Atlanta defenders at Detroit
The Falcons defense impressed the football cognoscenti on Sunday night in its demolition of the Green Bay Packers. Dan Quinn finally has the pieces he needs to make this speedy unit viable and give opposing offenses fits. The stat crew is stingy in Detroit, however, and the Falcons defense has a league average 49.5 tackle opportunities per game through two weeks. The Lions offense may allow 53 tackle opportunities per game, but that number is skewed by the comeback effort in Week 1. This should be a tighter game, and the TVO factor swings it to the ‘stay away’ category.
Key stat: Detroit’s home stat crew ranks among the worst in TVO (explained above) at a paltry 1.020, meaning Atlanta’s upwardly mobile defense may find it hard to secure fantasy points.
Chicago defenders vs. Pittsburgh
I wouldn’t blame you if you looked at this game on paper and assumed the Bears would have a hatful of tackle opportunities. Not so fast, though. The Steelers offense has tripped over itself at times during the first two weeks, allowing only 22 rush attempts to opposing defenses and just 47 tackle opportunities overall. The Bears are a prideful bunch and you have to expect their defense to put forth a more credible effort in Week 3. In a lower scoring game than you might think, the best bet is to avoid the IDPs on both these teams.
Key stat: Keeping up the stat crew trends in the NFC North, the Bears, like the Lions, have a low TVO factor (1.043) and thus all IDPs need to be downgraded on their turf.
Best of luck with Week 3 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.