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.
If last week’s slate of games didn’t humble you thoroughly and make you sit back and reconsider everything you thought you knew, I applaud you. In what was an enthralling set of games, many decided in the final moments, one could be forgiven for getting caught up in the moment and forgetting the important things.
With a few days to process things, we have more data on our hands from an IDP perspective. Suddenly the picture that was so foggy when the season began is becoming clearer and we are seeing trends emerging. If we stick to our guns too stubbornly as perhaps some of us did last week, we can be burned. If we rely too much on the data, we can be punished too, of course.
Finding the balance is the key. So with that in mind, let’s analyze the Week 4 action.
Pass Rushing Matchups to Exploit
Atlanta pass rushers vs. Buffalo
Dan Quinn’s formidable defense is blossoming before our very eyes. Home games are where this unit can thrive by pinning their ears back, letting the offense build a lead and punishing the opposing quarterback. This is a game where that exact script could play out. The game Bills have been exactly that – game – through three weeks, prompting many to sing the praises of new head coach Sean McDermott. The former Panthers defensive coordinator deserves credit, but this will be his toughest test thus far. The Atlanta pass rush should be able to feast if Matt Ryan and the offense can do their part.
Key stat: The Falcons are averaging three sacks and a whopping 7.7 quarterback hits per game, while the Bills surrender six quarterback hits per game.
Los Angeles Chargers pass rushers vs. Philadelphia
With twin behemoth edge rushers Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram III terrorising quarterbacks, it will not surprise you to learn the Chargers rank as one of the better pass rushing units in the league. Applying heat on 18.1% of opponent dropbacks, they are giving offenses plenty to scheme around. The Eagles are riding high off a division win and may take their foot off the gas a little bit for this cross-country trip against an 0-3 team. We all know the Chargers are due a win; I believe this could be the week against an Eagles offense that gives up pressure on 18.1% of dropbacks. It’s a matchup of 18.1% against 18.1%; who will blink first? I’m betting it’s Philly, who are due a loss.
Key stat: The Eagles have allowed eight sacks in their road games this season.
Pass Rushing Matchups to Avoid
Houston pass rushers vs. Tennessee offensive line
This is more a nod to the Titans offensive line’s solid play than anything else. This unit is stingy and physical, tiring out defensive fronts. Through three weeks they have given up pressure on just 4.9% of dropbacks, a staggeringly low total for any team. Houston’s pass rush is perhaps its biggest strength, so this will be a fantastic matchup to watch. The Raiders burned me last week when I backed them to shut out the Redskins, but I’m trusting the Titans here. Try to find other options apart from your Houston rushers if you can.
Key stat: The Texans have applied pressure on a below average 14.1% of dropbacks, but it should be noted they have faced a below average number of dropbacks at just 33.0 per game.
Tackle Matchups to Exploit
New York Giants defenders at Tampa Bay
If the Bucs are smart about this, they will start with the ground game to stifle the Giants. Big Blue has faced an average of 33.7 rush attempts per game as teams build leads against them and never look back. Tampa Bay’s offense should face some resistance against a solid Giants defense, but you have to think that they get right at home. With just 20.5 rush attempts per game (through only two games, mind you), the Bucs will be champing at the bit to get back to the basics. Plug in all your Giants defenders this week.
Key stat: The Bucs stat crew ranks around the middle of the pack in our TVO factor at 1.190, so there should be decent tackle opportunity to go around.
Carolina defenders at New England
A solid stat crew should provide extra incentive to play your Panthers against the Patriots this week. Fringe IDP options suddenly look like solid gold against Tom Brady, so cornerbacks James Bradberry and Daryl Worley especially are appealing. It is difficult to envisage a scenario where the Patriots don’t control this one. Stick to the script here and trust your Panthers to produce a big day. Suddenly this vaunted run defense doesn’t look so solid after what the Saints did – and Cam Newton is sure to put the defense in some bad situations.
Key stat: The Patriots allow an average of 55.3 tackle opportunities per game to opposing defenses.
Tackle Matchups to Avoid
Pittsburgh and Baltimore defenders
With a 1.039 TVO factor, the Ravens have one of the more stingy stat crews out there. For this reason and many more, your best bet might be to avoid the IDP big names in this contest. The expectation is for a better performance from the reeling Ravens, but can you really trust that to happen? If you have to play one side or the other, Baltimore is the best bet as the Steelers offense has much more to offer. Still, my recommendation would be to fade this one completely.
Key stat: Pittsburgh’s offense has averaged just 20.3 rush attempts per game through three games, a concerning stat if you are relying on tackle opportunity.
San Francisco and Arizona defenders
Like the aforementioned Steelers-Ravens tilt, this one might be one to avoid. Neither offense has shown enough consistency to trust, while each defense also has its flaws. When divisional opponents get together, sometimes we see fireworks (Thursday night last week, for example), but often you get cagey affairs. I’m betting on the latter here. The TVO factor in Arizona ranks 31st in the league; if you need any more incentive, there it is.
Key stat: The Cardinals have averaged just 20.7 rush attempts per game, while the 49ers have faced rush attempts on 51% of their defensive snaps.
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 email@example.com, or if you prefer you can tweet me @davlar87.