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 10th 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.
We have officially entered the beginning of double-digit weeks on the NFL calendar, and with that comes the realization that the fantasy playoffs are on the horizon. Fine-tuning our line-ups, not just for this week but for the long run, will be crucial in edging opponents in tight races for postseason berths. With the data at our disposal thanks to the match-up spreadsheet, we can more accurately project and target match-ups and get a leg up on our opponents during this stretch run.
Without further ado, let’s kick off with this week’s matchups.
Pass Rushing Match-ups to Exploit
Pittsburgh pass rushers vs. Cincinnati offensive line
Picking the Steelers is almost too easy every week, but not recommending them would be a dereliction of duty for this column. Their blistering pace of applying pressure on 27% of opponent dropbacks is unheard of over the past few seasons, with the average standing at 14.9%. The match-up this week is a good one despite Cincinnati’s glimpse of competence on the offensive line in their previous outing. The pattern with the Bengals has been clear – one of Joe Burrow under constant duress – and we should not change our opinions based on one data point.
The Bengals line has allowed 3.5 sacks and 8.3 hits on average as Burrow drops back an average of 44.9 times per game. Listed as 7.5-point underdogs on the road, the Bengals are in a tough spot and, even if Ben Roethlisberger does not play, will struggle to move the ball consistently. The numbers all point to a Pittsburgh rout; make sure you get a piece.
Key stat: The Steelers lead the league in sack percentage at 10.7%. That shoots up to 13.9% at home.
New Orleans pass rushers vs. San Francisco offensive line
Our resident offensive line guru Matt Bitonti has the 49ers’ unit ranked 24th in the league, a fair reflection of their general level of play. Having dispatched the Bucs, with an offensive line that was vaunted prior to last week, the Saints pass rush should be able to capitalize in the Superdome this week. The Saints have averaged pressure on 17% of dropbacks with 2.8 sacks per game – not elite numbers, but strong.
The pressure numbers for San Francisco say they are allowing pressure on 21% of dropbacks, a number that could skyrocket if the game script goes south on them. Vegas has them as 9.5-point underdogs, and with Nick Mullens at quarterback, there could be ample opportunities for the Saints to gobble up some big plays and create turnovers. This is a prime match-up, so try to slip in a Saints player or two into your line-up.
Key stat: The Saints have recorded eight sacks over the past two games.
Pass Rushing Match-ups to Avoid
Tennessee pass rushers vs. Indianapolis offensive line
The Colts may not be making splashy plays or creating much buzz, but they are a solid team bolstered by one of the best, if not the best, offensive lines in football. That wall in front of Philip Rivers has one sack and 3.1 hits per game on their veteran passer. This is a formula for success against Tennessee, whose lack of pass rush has been their Achilles heel all season.
The Titans average pressure on just 12.2% of dropbacks and have averaged just 1.3 sacks per game. The cutting of Vic Beasley Jr was an admission of frustration by the coaching staff, but it remains to be seen how quickly Mike Vrabel can turn things around. Interestingly, the Titans have recorded eight sacks at home and just two on the road. Nonetheless, this is an excellent match-up for Indianapolis and one to avoid from a pass-rushing perspective.
Key stat: The Colts are allowing pressure on just 8.7% of dropbacks, well below the league average of 14.9%.
Tackle Match-ups to Exploit
New England defenders vs. Baltimore
Stadium TVO rank: 1st
The Patriots have faced an average of 28 rushing attempts per game, with teams figuring out their weakness is very much on the ground. With that in mind, there is no mismatch more ill-suited to their defensive capabilities right now than the Baltimore Ravens’ run-heavy attack. With a rush percentage of 51.9%, the multiple Ravens offense is built to bowl you over.
This should be a match-up filled with tackle upside, given that the Patriots are one of the run-heaviest offenses as well, with a rush percentage of 50%. In a game that could be wrapped up for Al and Cris within two-and-a-half hours, the New England side is favored to produce the biggest points output. Down as 6.5-point home underdogs, Baltimore should stick to their script and take care of business. Indeed, both sets of defenders are appealing here, so in DFS terminology you could definitely stack this one.
Key stat: No venue is better for tackle production than Gillette Stadium, which has a TVO factor of 1.229.
Miami and Los Angeles Chargers defenders
Stadium TVO rank: 5th
Little known fact: the Chargers lead the league in tackle opportunities allowed. With an average of 31.9 rush attempts per game and a highly functioning quarterback in Justin Herbert, they have been a plum match-up for all opponents. The Dolphins defense has been stouter of late, but they still average 52 tackle opportunities per game. With their home stadium boasting a strong TVO number, this is a potential bonanza spot for the Dolphins.
And let us not forget the Chargers, who seem to invite close games. As such, running the ball will rarely be out of the question for both teams, with Miami averaging 26 rush attempts per game. In what should be a back and forth affair, be sure to plug some Dolphins and Chargers defenders into your line-ups for additional punch.
Key stat: The Chargers offense has allowed an average of 58.6 tackle opportunities per game, significantly higher than the league average of 51.7.
Tackle Match-ups to Avoid
Buffalo and Arizona defenders
Stadium TVO rank: 32nd
On paper, this is a match-up that would invite IDP enthusiasts to salivate over the possibilities for tackle production. Unfortunately, despite the exciting match-up of young passers in the desert, the TVO factor essentially craters the value of leading IDP producers. Could they still produce despite the handicap? Perhaps, especially considering Arizona’s 46.1% rush percentage and 55.9 tackle opportunities allowed. Then again, it is a risk that one need not take in a week full of better options.
The Bills should be able to move the ball at will against a Cardinals defense that relies on pluck rather than execution. The side of the ball that appeals most if you fancy taking the chance here is of course the Buffalo defenders, who will be kept on the field and active due to the up-tempo Arizona attack. Still, the advice is to fade this one if possible.
Key stat: Despite a rush percentage of 46.1%, the Cardinals’ home stadium is the worst in the league for tackle production.
Minnesota defenders at Chicago
Stadium TVO rank: 26th
There is little to get excited about when you think of the words: Chicago offense. In fact, the two words don’t belong in the same sentence. For the longest time, the Bears defense has been propping up their counterpart, but every unit has its breaking point. The low ceiling of the Bears offense and the poor TVO factor slots this game firmly into the fade section of the column.
The Vikings are favored on the road and should, barring a Kirk Cousins collapse, be able to take care of business. If anything, that game script favors the Bears defenders and their tackle upside, but the advice is to stay well away from this game and its potential pitfalls.
Key stat: Chicago’s offense has a rush percentage of just 32.6% and could be without David Montgomery on Monday night.
Best of luck with Week 10 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.