Week 4 Matchup Manifesto: Bears Defense Poised to Sink the Buccaneers
USA Today Sports. Pictured: Khalil Mack
- The Bears' ability to create turnovers and pressure the quarterback isn't great news for the Buccaneers offense.
- The Colts-Texans matchup could be a sneaky shootout spot based on the matchup's combined pace.
- The Ravens-Steelers and Chiefs-Broncos matchups are shaping up to be every bit of the shootout that the public is hoping for.
The NFL is a matchup-driven league. Offensive coordinators are always looking to scheme their playmakers into one-on-one situations against a defender, while defensive coordinators will attempt to do anything in their power to upset the timing and rhythm of the opposition’s quarterback.
Despite the obvious impact that defenses have on opposing offenses, fantasy players are often left with one-way metrics to describe offenses and defenses that we’re then forced to compare against each other in an attempt to identify mismatches.
My goal is to provide easy-to-decipher charts and notes to identify each week’s key matchups on both sides of the ball in:
- Explosive Plays
- Trench Battles
- Turnover Margin
The following charts display matchup-specific information meant to highlight the largest mismatches in these ever-important facets of football to ultimately gain actionable betting and fantasy takeaways. Please remember that this data is based on what has happened in Weeks 1-3, so it’s a small sample size and doesn’t factor in new injuries (e.g. the 49ers).
Big plays make the football world go round. Matchups between explosive offenses and leaky defenses are exactly what we’re looking for when compiling game stacks in DFS, or when betting an over. We can calculate this with help from NFL.com’s team-based statistics.
- Explosive Pass: The sum of an offense’s rate of 20-plus yard completions per pass attempt and the opposing defense’s rate of 20-plus yard completions allowed per pass attempt. A higher percentage is better for offenses (green is good, red is bad).
- Run Explosion Rate: The sum of an offense’s rate of 20-plus yard gains per rush attempt and the opposing defense’s rate of 20-plus yard runs allowed per rush attempt. A higher percentage is better for offenses (green is good, red is bad).
- The 49ers were in a good spot until Jimmy Garoppolo suffered a torn ACL during their Week 3 loss to the Chiefs. Accordingly, their offensive metrics in Weeks 1-3 should be taken with a grain of salt.
- Pass offenses that appear to be set up for the most success: Chiefs, Broncos, Rams, and Buccaneers. The Chiefs-Broncos’ matchup presently boasts a slate-high 56-point over/under.
- Only the Buccaneers, Chiefs and Rams have an explosive pass play rate above 15% through three weeks.
- The Bears, Titans, and Cowboys have worked as the league’s least-explosive pass offenses this season.
- The above sums demonstrate the higher prevalence of explosive plays in the passing game vs. the rushing game. The Falcons, 49ers, and Chargers are set up particularly well on the ground.
- The Lions-Cowboys and Eagles-Titans matchups feature four combined offenses that have largely struggled to consistently create big plays this season in both the pass and run game.
Fast-paced games lead to more plays which lead to more points. There are several games that could resemble a track meet based on their combined situation-neutral pace ranking (Football Outsiders).
- Combined Situation-Neutral Pace: Represents the combined situation-neutral pace between each matchup’s two offenses. A lower number indicates fewer average seconds per play (green = fast-paced game), while a higher number indicates more average seconds per play (red = slow-paced game).
- The Texans (No. 5) at Colts (No. 1) and Ravens (No. 4) at Steelers (No. 15) are the top matchups in combined quickest pace. The Texans-Colts matchup is particularly intriguing considering it’s the week’s only meeting between top-10 teams.
- Four matchups have a combined pace below 60: Texans-Colts, Bengals-Falcons, 49ers-Chargers and Ravens-Steelers.
- Each of the four aforementioned matchups boast an over/under of at least 47 points and rank among the week’s top-eight highest-implied games.
- The Lions-Cowboys matchup is easily projected to be the week’s slowest-paced game. The total has moved down a half point since open despite 59% of tickets coming in on the over.
- Other potential slow-paced matchups include: Eagles-Titans, Bills-Packers, Seahawks-Cardinals, Browns-Raiders, and Saints-Giants.
An overmatched offensive line can result in poor fantasy days for all skill-position players involved. Meanwhile, quarterbacks with all day to throw can help generate points in bunches. We can determine which offensive lines might be especially better (or worse) off this week with help from Pro Football Focus‘ offensive and defensive pressure statistics.
- Combined Pressure Rate: The sum of the offensive line’s rate of pressures allowed per dropback and the opposing defense’s total pressures generated per dropback. A higher percentage (red) is better for defenses, while a lower percentage (green) indicates that matchup’s quarterback could face reduced pressure.
- The pass rushes from the Seahawks, Bears, and Rams boast the week’s largest mismatches across the line of scrimmage.
- The Seahawks-Cardinals and 49ers-Chargers matchups feature the week’s largest combined-mix of pressure-heavy defenses against leaky offensive lines on both sides of the ball.
- The Rams could be without both Aqib Talib (ankle, out) and Marcus Peters (calf, questionable) against the Vikings on Thursday night, but their defensive line still holds a massive advantage over the Vikings’ injury-riddled offensive line.
- The Bears (58.4%) and Ravens (55.9%) are the only defenses to pressure the opposing quarterback on more than 55% of dropbacks this season.
- The Browns-Raiders, Saints-Giants, and Chiefs-Broncos are the week’s only matchups with combined pressure rates below 70% on both sides of the ball, indicating their respective passing attacks should have plenty of time to work.
Running backs receive most of the praise for an offense’s rushing output, but an overmatched offensive line can thwart a team’s run game before it even has a chance to get started. We can determine which offensive lines might be especially better (or worse) off this week with help from Football Outsiders‘ offensive and defensive adjusted line yards per rush statistics.
- Combined Adjusted Line Yards Per Rush: The sum of an offensive line’s adjusted line yards per rush and the opposing defense’s adjusted line yards allowed per rush. A higher number (green) is good for running backs, while a lower number (red) indicates that matchup’s offense could have some trouble running the ball.
- The Cowboys’ fifth-ranked offensive line takes on the Lions’ 31st-ranked front seven in the week’s biggest run-game mismatch. Ezekiel Elliott boasts a pedestrian (for him) 9-12% projected ownership rate in our Pro Models.
- The Broncos, 49ers, Bengals, Eagles and Rams are the only other offenses to reach the 9-yard mark. Gio Bernard’s spot is particularly intriguing considering the Falcons defense regularly allows running backs to rack up receptions.
- The Buccaneers and Giants boast the league’s worst run-blocking offensive lines and have matchups against the league’s Nos. 3- and 1-ranked front sevens against the run, respectively.
- The Ravens and Steelers are known for their physical, run-first rivalry, but their pass offenses are better off this week in a game with the second-fastest combined pace and over/under.
Matchups between two careless teams are obviously of interest when it comes to targeting fantasy defenses. Crafting a turnover differential for each individual matchup between an offense and defense can help identify when turnover-prone offenses are taking on ball-hawking defenses.
- Combined Turnover Rate: The sum of the offense’s turnover rate and the opposing defense’s takeaway rate. A higher percentage (red) is better for defenses, while a lower percentage (green) is better for offenses and indicates the absence of a turnover-prone offense or takeaway-happy defense.
- The matchups that combine an undisciplined offense with an aggressive defense include the Buccaneers offense vs. the Bears defense, the Cardinals offense vs. the Seahawks defense, and the Raiders offense vs. the Browns defense.
- The Browns defense is finally respectable. It’s racked up a league-high 11 takeaways while working as a top-seven defense in fewest yards allowed per play after three weeks.
- The Bears sport one of just four defenses to create at least eight takeaways, and are the only home defense among the top-three units in combined turnover rate. The Chicago defense is the highest-rated unit in our Pro Models on DraftKings vs. one of just seven offenses with more than five turnovers this season.
- Both offenses in Bills-Packers, Lions-Cowboys, Saints-Giants, 49ers-Chargers, and Chiefs-Broncos have a combined turnover rate below 5%. The last three matchups also boast big-play offenses on both sidelines.