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 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 analysis 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.
You are very welcome to a new season of the IDP Matchup column here at Footballguys. I have been penning this defensive diary for the past several years and I am delighted to be able to share some tidbits to help you secure a league title come December.
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. 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.
A new season brings with it a new set of players, challenges, and decisions. With no data to underpin this week’s picks from our matchup spreadsheet, I will rely more on offensive line vs. defensive line strengths, team trends, and some personal insight.
Without further ado, let’s kick off with this week’s match-ups.
Pass Rushing Match-ups to Exploit
Buffalo front seven vs. New York Jets offensive line
The Jets enter the 2020 season with more questions than answers, particularly regarding head coach Adam Gase and just how long a lifeline he has in the big chair. While Sam Darnold should take a step forward after a forgettable 2019, the offensive line remains one of the most suspect units in the NFL, ranking 31st per our offensive line guru Matt Bitonti. Defenses should have an advantage in early weeks as offenses adjust to their timing and rhythm. As a result, Darnold could be under fire early and often.
Vegas has the Bills installed as a firm six-point favorite at home, a nod to their superior talent and the perception surrounding them as a legitimate contender this season. The Bills have a rock-solid defensive unit capable of locking down the Jets’ receivers and forcing Darnold to hold the ball, inviting pressure from the likes of phenom interior presence Ed Oliver and new edge rusher Mario Addison, formerly of the Panthers. The game script calls for a Buffalo romp on opening day, one that could yield major fantasy dividends from a pass-rushing perspective.
Key stat: The Bills applied pressure on 15.2% of opponent dropbacks in 2019.
Pittsburgh front seven at New York Giants
The first taste of Monday Night Football this year features two teams that, on paper, are destined for divergent paths. The return of Ben Roethlisberger has the Steelers thinking big, especially with an expanded playoff field allowing seven teams into the tournament. Defensively, Pittsburgh hardly put a foot wrong in 2019; the unit will hope to reproduce those types of dominant performances, starting in MetLife Stadium. The Bud Dupree-T.J. Watt edge-rushing axis should be giving Daniel Jones nightmares.
The Giants quarterback, after all, made a habit of being too sanguine in the pocket in his rookie campaign, oblivious to pressure to a fault. Jones’ tardiness in releasing the ball invited hits, sacks, and, often, devastating turnovers that crippled the G-Men in key moments. The revamped Giants offensive line, featuring top-10 pick Andrew Thomas at left tackle, should be able to hold its own for a while, but the Steelers are fancied to get a road win and have much more continuity than their opponents. Advantage, Pittsburgh pass rush.
Key stat: The Giants offensive line allowed 7.3 quarterback hits per game last season, with the average at 5.54.
Pass Rushing Match-ups to Avoid
Jacksonville pass rushers vs. Indianapolis offensive line
Our offensive line expert Matt Bitonti has the Colts’ unit ranked as the best in the league, and few would disagree with that assessment. The quintet has developed a reputation for pulverizing opponents, led by All-Pro guard Quinton Nelson. While new Indianapolis quarterback Philip Rivers is unlikely to have an armchair ride this Sunday, the Jaguars pass rushers may have a hard time creating consistent pressure. Rivers likes to get rid of the ball quickly as it is; having a superior offensive line to his days with the Chargers will feel like a whole new world to him.
Josh Allen and K'Lavon Chaisson are a nice edge-rushing pair for the Jaguars, but they lack a legitimate interior threat, and the Colts line will expect to keep them at bay. In a nod of recognition to the Jaguars’ supposed tanking, Vegas has made the Colts a massive seven-point road favorite. Expect a run-heavy approach from Indianapolis to shorten the game and limit any Jaguars momentum.
Key stat: Indianapolis’ offensive line allowed only two sacks per game last season.
Tackle Match-ups to Exploit
Miami defenders at New England
Stadium TVO rank: 1st (2019)
Foxborough has consistently been a haven for strong tackle production for IDP owners, with the sample size over the past few years suggesting the trend will continue. The addition of Cam Newton boosts that appeal even further and indeed may give the Dolphins defense fits on Sunday. How Josh McDaniels deploys Newton – whether as a designed runner or with option plays – could boost the tackle opportunities for Miami, whose defenders hold intriguing upside this week. New England’s offense may not look like it used to, but that does not mean it will not yield ample opportunities.
Miami has had a facelift on both sides of the ball since the last time these teams met, though it is on defense – where former Patriots Kyle Van Noy and Elandon Roberts take up residence – that the changes are most obvious. Middle linebacker Jerome Baker should see plenty of work and makes a great plug-and-play option. The Vegas experts have the Patriots strong favorites, so a second-half tackle bonanza for the Dolphins could be on the cards.
Key stat: The Patriots stadium statistics crew had the highest percentage of solo versus opportunity (SVO) in 2019, with a staggering 91.5% of tackle opportunities being turned into solo tackles.
Carolina defenders vs. Oakland
Stadium TVO rank: 7th (2019)
The Panthers made history this offseason, becoming the first team to draft all defensive players. Interestingly, all seven made the team, hammering home just how transitional and ever-changing this roster is. Phil Snow’s defense features several fresh-faced youngsters and could struggle to coalesce with so little practice time behind them. It is on the defensive line where the Panthers are probably strongest, with an interior duo of Kawann Short and first-round pick Derrick Brown, but the Raiders have one of the best offensive lines and could create problems.
With a solid home stat crew in tow, the Panthers are expected to put up a game effort at home, but ultimately end up falling to the Josh Jacobs-fueled Raiders attack. The men from Vegas have plenty of new offensive toys to show off, and this could be the perfect curtain-raiser for them. Still, the likelihood is a game script controlled by the road team, with Shaq Thompson, Tahir Whitehead, and perhaps linebacker/safety hybrid Jeremy Chinn the beneficiaries.
Key stat: The Panthers stat crew awarded the highest percentage of assists versus tackle opportunity (AVO) in 2019.
Tackle Match-ups to Avoid
Chicago and Detroit defenders
Stadium TVO rank: 32nd (2019)
Mitchell Trubisky will be handed one more chance to salvage his career with the Bears after being named the starter against Detroit. How the pressures on Matt Nagy will play out over the season – to bench or not to bench – and whether Trubisky can take a step forward in his development will be key to the team’s fortunes. From an IDP perspective, Ford Field is not the venue to be leaning on for tackle production. A three-year sample size of TVO puts it close to last place.
While Detroit’s offense may be a little more inspiring than Chicago’s and may yield some better tackle production from the Bears’ usual suspects on defense, the smart play is to fade this game entirely and focus on some of the juicier tackle opportunity match-ups outlined above. In a season of unknowns, this is a game best categorized as a known unknown – and one to avoid.
Key stat: The Bears offense averaged 56.9 tackle opportunities allowed on the road last season, compared to 50.9 at home.
Houston and Kansas City defenders
Stadium TVO rank: 27th (2019)
The opening game of the season on Thursday night may feature plenty of fireworks but will be lacking the spark of tackle production. That is because the Chiefs’ home stadium ranks among the worst venues for defenders, with only marginal improvements in the TVO factor over the past few years.
A high-tempo game could go some way towards negating that poor TVO, but the wise option is to resist temptation and go with the trends. As a contest, the likelihood is that the Texans defenders will be on the field more and would hold more value in an outlier scenario for tackle production. Fade this and get your popcorn ready instead.
Key stat: Kansas City’s offense averaged just 47.8 tackle opportunities allowed last season, among the bottom six in the league.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org, or if you prefer you can tweet me @davlar87.