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 the third edition of the IDP Matchup column here at Footballguys in the 2020 season. 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.
Injuries took their toll in Week 2, forcing a reshuffle of the pack for fantasy rosters heading into this week. Rolling with the punches is part and parcel of a fantasy football season, so we should expect more of the same moving forward. The key is being nimble enough to dodge the knockout blows, build strong depth, and ride out the storm to the playoffs. Teams are beginning to show their true colors, making match-up selections easier to target.
Without further ado, let’s kick off with this week’s match-ups.
Pass Rushing Match-ups to Exploit
Pittsburgh pass rushers vs. Houston offensive line
The Steelers, despite their defensive dominance over two weeks, have just a +1 turnover differential. This unit is nasty, fired up, and creating havoc for opposing quarterbacks, as they did last week with Drew Lock, knocking him out of the game. Expect a similar onslaught against the Texans who, despite having an above-average offensive line, conspire to give up pressure in droves – in large part due to Deshaun Watson’s unwillingness to give up on a play when it is clearly over.
T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree are particularly appealing options in a game that should feature plenty of Watson dropbacks, with the home team favored by four points. The chemistry is not there offensively for the Texans to sprinkle magic dust and make the DeAndre Hopkins-sized gap in their attack to simply evaporate overnight. The Steelers are notorious for letting games against lesser opponents linger, but Mike Tomlin’s men are unlikely to take a perennial AFC contender lightly. Back the Steelers to ride their defense to a victory.
Key stat: The Texans have a -3 turnover differential over the first two weeks.
Indianapolis pass rushers vs. New York Jets offensive line
When your most trustworthy option in the passing game is Chris Hogan, you know you have problems as an offense. Sam Darnold has been thrust into a near-impossible situation, forced to create something out of nothing behind a poor offensive line. The Jets offense is not equipped to handle a burgeoning force of a pass rush such as that the Colts can boast.
Indianapolis leads the league in yards allowed per game (208) and the pundits are caught up more in how Philip Rivers looks at his ripe old age than crediting the most dangerous unit on the team: the defense. This could be a walk in the park for the Colts, who are 10.5- to 11-point favorites. The game script favors a Jonathan Taylor-led offensive game plan, combined with a stifling defensive performance featuring plenty of pass-rushing opportunities. Plug in your Colts if you have them.
Key stat: The New York Jets offensive line ranks 31st in the league, according to our Matt Bitonti.
Pass Rushing Match-ups to Avoid
New England pass rushers vs. Las Vegas offensive line
The balanced approach of the Raiders offense, with Jon Gruden reaching back to his playbook from the Tampa Bay years in some cases, makes them a difficult team to pin down from a pass-rushing perspective. While Bill Belichick is a defensive mastermind and has bamboozled better quarterbacks than Derek Carr, the Patriots pass rush does not have the horses right now to consistently trouble a top-quality offensive line such as that the Raiders possess.
Although the home team is favored to get a comfortable win according to Vegas, there is a sense that this could be a tighter affair on the scoreboard, especially with how Gruden likes to keep things close to the vest with the ground game. Expect the Vegas offensive line to control things up front, nullifying the Patriots pass rush and reducing the appeal of their frontline defenders.
Key stat: The Raiders offense ranks 26th in passing play percentage at 51.82%.
Tackle Match-ups to Exploit
New York Giants defenders vs. San Francisco
Stadium TVO rank: 3rd (2019)
The Giants have consistently been a team to target for tackle production when they are at home, especially in recent years as their record has been awful and their on-field play a good deal worse at times. The visit of San Francisco may not be the daunting challenge it used to be considering the injuries the men from the west coast have endured, but it is still a tricky assignment. After all, the home team lost star running back Saquon Barkley this week, putting the load on Daniel Jones’ shoulders.
The game script favors a run-heavy 49ers approach – much like last week against the Jets – with Jerick McKinnon getting plenty of work in Raheem Mostert’s absence. Clearly the better team even with the injury bug biting hard, Kyle Shanahan will not overcomplicate the game plan, leaning on the Giants defensive front seven with his varied and creative offensive structure. Nick Mullens can do a serviceable job in relief if needed. The smart play is to plug in all your Giants this week.
Key stat: The 49ers have averaged 27 rushing attempts per game, down from their lofty 2019 average of 32.1.
Dallas and Seattle defenders
Stadium TVO rank: 4th (2019)
Two highly efficient offenses meet in a tantalizing late afternoon clash on Sunday, but it may be the defensive stars that benefit in the box score. From an IDP perspective, this is a near-perfect match-up, featuring as it does one of the most tackle opportunity-friendly stadiums in Seattle and a pair of top-class quarterbacks in Dak Prescott and Russell Wilson. Neither defense has been particularly adept at stopping opponents through two weeks, either.
The script here figures to be back and forth, with each team seizing momentum at different moments. That opens an appealing situation in which both sets of defenders become viable, making this match-up the equivalent of a DFS stack for IDP purposes. Plug in as many Cowboys and Seahawks defenders to squeeze the value out of this potential bonanza.
Key stat: Dallas and Seattle’s offenses rank 3rd and 7th, respectively, in completions per game through two weeks.
Tackle Match-ups to Avoid
Philadelphia and Cincinnati defenders
Stadium TVO rank: 29th (2019)
Seeking tackle production in Philadelphia has been a fool’s errand for many seasons in a row, and that looks unlikely to change in 2020 with a dysfunctional Eagles offense coughing and spluttering its way to an 0-2 start. Much is being asked of Carson Wentz; perhaps, too much. The team is faltering, but even if they get back on track here, the defensive options do not hold much appeal. The high volume of passing attempts for Cincinnati is likely to remain as such if they are in comeback mode, but that still doesn’t take the gloomy visage off this match-up from a tackle perspective.
The optimal play here is to sit out completely, with the outside possibility of production from Cincinnati’s defenders if the game script tilts heavily in Philadelphia’s direction.
Key stat: Cincinnati and Philadelphia rank 1st and 4th, respectively, in passing attempts per game.
Cleveland defenders vs. Washington
Stadium TVO rank: 28th (2019)
With the Browns heavily favored to take care of business at home – Vegas has them as seven-point favorites – the expectation is for a ground game-centric approach that boosts the appeal of Washington’s defenders. The only issue is the poor TVO in Cleveland, a stadium that has typically been where tackle production goes to die. The likes of Kevin Pierre-Louis and Landon Collins could be decent flier options, but their upside would be severely capped.
As the key statistic below mentions, the Washington Football Team is likely to be in a pass-first mode, basically eliminating the appeal of any Cleveland defenders to produce. While there is an outside shot of Washington keeping things interesting, it would be unwise to predict that. Instead, look elsewhere for your tackle upside this week.
Key stat: In a game they trailed and were the underdog in last week, Washington ran the football on only 38.3% of snaps. The Browns are favored by a touchdown in this game.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org, or if you prefer you can tweet me @davlar87.