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 eighth 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.
The weekly challenge of putting together a viable line-up of defensive players is getting increasingly difficult. With the data at our disposal, however, we can more accurately eliminate duds and focus on studs, targeting the match-ups that are likely to produce the best outcomes. The show doesn’t stop.
Without further ado, let’s kick off with this week’s match-ups.
Pass Rushing Match-ups to Exploit
Philadelphia pass rushers vs. Dallas
The Cowboys have fallen off the cliff edge and are currently spiraling towards irrelevance in the 2020 season. Things could not have started off any worse for an under-pressure Mike McCarthy, who is at risk of losing his troops. With uncertainty over the quarterback position and persistent offensive line woes, whether Andy Dalton or Ben DiNucci is immaterial. This should be a field day for the Philadelphia pass rush either way.
The Eagles pass rush has been solid this year, applying pressure on 22.1% of dropbacks, a number that could see a significant uptick this week. This is a perfect storm for the likes of Brandon Graham and Fletcher Cox. The game script heavily favors the home team, who should be able to have their way with the Dallas defense and then tee off defensively. Try to get an Eagles pass-rusher into your line-ups.
Key stat: The Eagles pass rush has averaged 3.4 sacks per game and has a 10.5% home sack percentage.
Tampa Bay pass rushers at New York Giants
In my other column this week, I mentioned that the Giants will be treated like lambs to the slaughter when they face the Bucs on Monday night. The numbers bear that out, as the Bucs have averaged pressure on 18.5% of dropbacks and record 7.3 quarterback hits per game. With Daniel Jones’ propensity to hold on to the ball for a tick – or sometimes many ticks – too long, this one could get ugly, fast.
There is always an outside chance that the Giants’ underrated defense could slow the Tom Brady-led attack, but it seems unlikely given the momentum of these teams could not be any more different. It is notable that the Bucs’ sack percentage drops from 10.5% at home to 8.1% on the road, but that shouldn’t be a problem in this plum match-up.
Key stat: The Giants offensive line allows pressures on 19.5% of dropbacks, compared to the league average of 15.1%.
Pass Rushing Match-ups to Avoid
Minnesota pass rushers at Green Bay
The Packers recovered well from their Tampa Bay blip to steamroll the Texans. They remain one of the stingiest offensive lines to penetrate, giving up pressure on just 10.6% of dropbacks and allowing an average of 1.3 sacks per game. A clean Aaron Rodgers is a happy Aaron Rodgers, and there should be little fear of that trend changing this week.
Minnesota is well rested off the bye, but the mentality of the team must be a question entering this week. The players will know they are going nowhere this season, so will they be able to summon up a valiant effort against their rivals? The Vikings pass rush, previously dominant, has lost key pieces and has averaged pressure on just 12.1% of dropbacks. That will not be enough to trouble Rodgers.
Key stat: The Packers boast a sacks-allowed percentage of just 3.7%.
Tackle Match-ups to Exploit
Carolina and Atlanta defenders
Stadium TVO rank: 5th
The last time these teams met in Week 5, the Falcons were without Julio Jones. This time around, the offense has more upside with the All-Pro receiver on board. Even through the torrid losing, the Falcons have been on, the offense has managed to remain viable as a producer of tackle opportunities. The TVO factor in Charlotte makes this an extra appealing match-up for an undermanned Carolina defense.
Indeed, the Falcons defenders have appeal as well, but the Panthers offense is not quite the same level, averaging 51.1 tackle opportunities allowed per game. The possible return of Christian McCaffrey would certainly give that a boost, but the sense is that the team will wait until Week 9. Teddy Bridgewater is more than capable of carving up the Atlanta defense as he did in the previous meeting, so both sides are excellent options for plug-and-plays this week.
Key stat: The Falcons offense averages 56.4 tackle opportunities allowed per game, with the league average at 51.8.
Miami defenders vs. Los Angeles Rams
Stadium TVO rank: 7th
The TVO factor makes this a good option for tackle joy, but there is also the Tua Tagovailoa factor. The Rams are comfortable road favorites, with the implied game script suggesting they are primed to take the spoils in Miami and, perhaps, take advantage of the inexperience of the rookie passer. Sean McVay’s team have transformed their offensive approach to one that relies on the ground game, perfect for tackle production.
With the possibility of Tagovailoa mistakes, the Dolphins could see the field a lot on Sunday, paving the way for a big day from their leading defensive stalwarts. Interestingly, the Dolphins have only averaged 48.5 tackle opportunities per game and have only had 24 rushing attempts per game against them. This is going against a trend somewhat, but the TVO factor and the strength of the Rams offense make it a good bet.
Key stat: The Rams offense averages 30.1 rushing attempts per game and runs the ball on 47.7% of plays.
Tackle Match-ups to Avoid
New Orleans defenders at Chicago
Stadium TVO rank: 29th
The Chicago offense offers little and the Saints should not exactly be on edge when they are lined up against Nick Foles and company. The Bears run the ball on just 33.6% of plays and have an average of 48.1 tackle opportunities allowed per game, both numbers that scream from the hilltops: "Stay away." The TVO factor hammers the nail firmly in the coffin of this game as a productive one for our purposes, with Soldier Field ranking 29th in the league. The Saints should be able to control this one, creating a little bit of appeal for the Bears defenders, but not enough to plug into your line-ups unless you are in desperation mode.
Key stat: The Bears average just 21.1 rushing attempts per game, well below the league average of 26.2.
Indianapolis and Detroit defenders
Stadium TVO rank: 27th
Neither side is especially enticing in this match-up in Detroit, where the TVO factor is poor and the teams are unpredictable. The Colts defense has managed to stay off the field enough to reduce the appeal of their leading tacklers, but Detroit has averaged 28 rushing attempts per game against them and could, if the game script allows, be viable.
Still, the smart play here is to trust the trends and target some of the higher upside match-ups mentioned above rather than plumb the depths of this Ford Field clash.
Key stat: The Colts defense averages just 46.8 tackle opportunities per game, with the league average at 51.8.
Best of luck with Week 8 and make sure to check back next week for more match-up 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.
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