Week 5 Matchup Manifesto: Can the Vikings Handle the Eagles’ Ferocious Defensive Line?

Oct 04, 2018 2:21 AM EDT
  • The Eagles' defensive line boasts massive advantages over the Vikings' offensive line in both the run and pass game.
  • The Colts-Patriots and Ravens-Browns matchup could turn into track meets based on their combined pace.
  • Several running backs, including Melvin Gordon, Christian McCaffrey and T.J. Yeldon, are set up for success.

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 opposing 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
  • Pace
  • Pressure
  • Trench Battles
  • Turnover Margin

Last week’s manifesto helped us correctly forecast the end of the FitzMagic era, a sneaky shootout between the Colts and Texans, and Ezekiel Elliott’s breakout spot against the Lions.

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.

Note that this data is based on what has happened in Weeks 1-4, so it’s a small sample size and doesn’t fully factor in new injuries (e.g. the 49ers).

Explosive Plays

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 Rate: 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).
  • Explosive Run 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 Raiders and Chargers each rank among the league’s top eight offenses in 20-plus yard completions, as well as the league’s bottom five defenses in 20-plus yard passes allowed.
  • The Broncos-Jets, Jaguars-Chiefs and Raiders-Chargers matchups are the only games featuring two offenses with combined explosive pass rates greater than 20%. Broncos-Jets consists of two below-average offenses in pass attempts.
  • Colts-Patriots and Titans-Bills are the week’s only matchups that feature teams struggling to create explosive plays, but succeed at preventing them on defense.
  • Marshawn Lynch and Christian McCaffrey boast the week’s best matchups in combined explosive run rate at 10%. No other back is higher than even 7%. Lynch has a pedestrian 2-4% ownership rate on DraftKings in our Pro Models.
  • Nobody has completed more 20-plus yard passes than the Rams this season, and they’ll face a Seahawks defense without Earl Thomas (leg, IR).

Pace

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 Colts (No. 1) at Patriots (No. 5) is the top matchup in combined quickest pace. Neither offense has been particularly explosive this season, but their veteran quarterbacks have helped them sprint down the field in short spurts.
  • The Ravens (No. 2) at Browns (No. 15) and Rams (No. 8) at Seahawks (No. 13) are the next quickest-paced matchups. The latter matchup’s over/under has increased by 2.5 points since opening at 48.
  • The Packers (No. 26) at Lions (No. 28) features the week’s slowest matchup, followed by the Giants (No. 31) at Panthers (No. 21).
  • The Jets are easily the league’s slowest-paced team. The Broncos-Jets over/under has fallen from 43.5 to 42.5 behind just 46% backing from the public.

Pressure

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 Chargers and Raiders could each be without their starting left and right tackles Sunday. Be sure to monitor our Injury Dashboard for their statuses, as their otherwise pressure-free matchup would obviously be influenced.
  • The Cardinals have allowed pressure on a league-high 53% of their quarterbacks’ dropbacks. The 49ers aren’t much better at 42%. The Cardinals-49ers’ 41-point over/under is the week’s second-lowest mark.
  • The Eagles’ defense boasts the week’s second-biggest pressure advantage. The Vikings are one of four offenses allowing a pressure rate of at least 40%, while the Eagles have pressured a league-high 56% of dropbacks.
  • The Rams, Cowboys and Steelers appear to be best positioned to dominate the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. Each of the Seahawks, Texans and Falcons defenses are also far from healthy.
  • Packers-Lions, Ravens-Browns and Raiders-Chargers are all offensively fantasy-friendly matchups featuring good pass-blocking offensive lines and porous pass rushes.

Trench Battles

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.

  • Last week only featured one team (Dallas) with a rate greater than 9.5 yards; this week there are five.
  • The running games of the Jaguars (T.J. Yeldon), Packers (Aaron Jones), Panthers (Christian McCaffrey), Chargers (Melvin Gordon) and Saints (Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram) are expected to boast huge advantages at the point of attack.
  • Once again, the Vikings’ offensive line faces a steep challenge at the line of scrimmage against the Eagles’ No. 1 ranked rush defense in adjusted line yards allowed per rush.
  • Additional road rushing attacks that could have more trouble than anticipated include the Titans, Falcons, Giants, Cardinals, Chiefs and Redskins.
  • The Saints boast the week’s largest advantage in rush offense (Perfect timing for Ingram).
  • McCaffrey and the league’s best rushing attack in adjusted line yards per rush are expected to welcome back starting guard Trai Turner (concussion) vs. the league’s corresponding 21st-ranked defense.

Turnovers

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 only two matchups with a combined turnover rate greater than 10% are the Broncos-Jets and Dolphins-Bengals. These two matchups join Colts-Patriots as the week’s only games with an over/under that has dropped since opening.
  • Colts-Patriots and Rams-Seahawks are the next-best options for consistently sloppy football.
  • The Chiefs have only turned the ball over once all season and face a Jaguars defense that is tied for 25th with just three takeaways this season.
  • The Falcons, Packers, Panthers, Texans and Redskins also feature turnover-adverse offenses against takeaway-shy defenses.
  • The Browns (No. 1) and Jets (tied for third) both rank among the league’s top five defenses in takeaways and are the only home defenses with a combined turnover rate better than 5%.
Credit:

Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Chris Long (56) and defensive end Fletcher Cox (91) react after a sack on Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) during the fourth quarter at Lincoln Financial Field.

Follow Ian Hartitz on Twitter
@IHartitz

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