QB Streaming: The Role of Rushing Defenses

Apr 15, 2015
QB Streaming: The Role of Rushing Defenses

We’ve all been there, we’ve all thought it, sometimes in the relative calm of a weekday morning, sometimes while your adrenal glands are in full force at 12:52 on a Sunday afternoon.

"I can’t start that quarterback. His team has a solid running game... Their opponent has a weak run defense that both bends and breaks... Coaches talked up the running attack all week... I can’t start that quarterback. He’ll be nothing more than a handoff machine while his team bludgeons the opposition on the ground, and only on the ground."

It’s low-level crystal ball reading, game script style.

And it makes some semblance of sense: a good – even a decent – running attack squaring off against one of the league’s worst run defenses makes passing seem ancillary, and we don’t want ancillary. We want some guarantee of usage. Right? We want usage, yes?

You may or may not remember our look at the roles of volume and efficiency in identifying viable streaming quarterback plays in 2014. We found, in short, that while volume can be the warm blanket for those who stream quarterbacks, efficiency proved to be key, though a balance between the two remained ideal.


Teams Being Ground Down via the Ground

I took a look at the 10 NFL teams that faced the most rushing attempts per week in 2014, along with the number of passes they saw come their way, and crosschecked that information with how many schedule-adjusted fantasy points those defenses allowed to signal callers.

We use adjusted fantasy points because allowing 27 fantasy points to Sam Bradford is most definitely not the same as giving up 27 to Peyton Manning.


2014 Defenses: Most Runs Faced Per Game
Team Runs faced per game Passes faced per game QB aFP allowed
Titans 32.2 34.1 16.5 (19th)
Browns 31.2 36.7 13.3 (5th)
Jaguars 31.2 33.8 14.6 (11th)
Raiders 30.2 33.6 19.4 (30th)
Eagles 29.7 36.9 17.0 (23rd)
Buccaneers 29.2 35.2 13.4 (7th)
Packers 28.4 34.1 15.5 (15th)
Dolphins 28.3 33.6 16.3 (17th)
Vikings 28.1 33.4 16.4 (18th)
Falcons 27.7 35.4 15.9 (16th)


Not every look at a data set paints a crystal clear picture of who we should target and avoid in the construction of our fake football squads. That’s what we have here. Many of the defenses that saw the most running attempts every week were middling matchups for quarterbacks, while some were fine and dandy matchups.

We have three defenses on this list stingy against opposing quarterbacks – the Bucs, Browns and Jaguars. Was that because those teams sported rock-solid secondaries, their front sevens were exploitable or opponents simply built big leads that called for a heavy dose of the ground game once the advantage is established?

It’s a song that's been sung before: NFL teams run when they win, but they don’t necessarily win when they run.

Perhaps it’s worth noting that all but a couple of the teams listed above were terrible or something close to terrible in 2014. Lots of leads were built against these defenses. Hence, the high average number of rushing attempts and the relatively few passes tossed against them.


Looking at FPAT Against

We know that efficiency is much more closely correlated with quarterback fantasy production than volume, so we shouldn’t automatically beg off a quarterback matchup against an exploitable run defense.

We might do well to see how the defenses listed above fared on a per-pass basis. Below is a look at each defense’s fantasy points per attempt (FPAT) allowed – a useful measurement we used in 2014, and one I hope to improve upon in 2015.


2014 Defenses: Most Runs Faced Per Game (FPAT, YPA, QB aFPA)
Team FPAT allowed Yards per attempt QB aFP allowed
Titans .455 (10th) 7.3 16.5 (19th)
Browns .366 (30th) 6.4 13.3 (5th)
Jaguars .464 (9th) 7.7 14.6 (11th)
Raiders .477 (6th) 7.4 19.4 (30th)
Eagles .473 (7th) 7.8 17.0 (23rd)
Buccaneers .454 (11th) 7.6 13.4 (7th)
Packers .396 (23rd) 6.9 15.5 (15th)
Dolphins .430 (16th) 7 16.3 (17th)
Vikings .430 (16th) 7.1 16.4 (18th)
Falcons .411 (17th) 8.2 15.9 (16th)


Four of these 10 teams were, on a pass-by-pass basis, solid matchups for quarterbacks. Jacksonville, Tennessee, Oakland and Philadelphia were all more than generous per attempt, while Green Bay and Cleveland were the stingiest among teams seeing the most running attempts per game.

There’s more than enough in this second table to show defenses targeted via the ground don’t necessarily make an awful matchup streaming signal callers. Seven of these 10 teams were among the top half in FPAT allowed, with eight of these 10 giving up at least seven yards per pass attempt.


The Lesson: Don’t Look Away

If it’s efficiency we seek – from our preferred quarterback or the defense he faces – then we see plenty of it here.

When a quarterback is squaring off against a team seeing a ton of runs attempted against it every week, we have no concrete reason to discount that signal caller simply because the opponent is a) weak against the run, b) a bad team all around or c) decent against the pass. Some of the defenses allowing the most rush attempts per game in 2014 were still gouged on a per-attempt basis through the air.

It’s important to be wary of discounting a streaming option simply because his running back has a tasty matchup against a defense seeing a high volume of weekly running attempts.

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