O-Line Rankings and Matchups to Exploit: Week 12
Evaluating offensive line play regarding its effect on fantasy football output has been a stone unturned throughout the course of our game within a game. Here at 4for4, we’re dedicated to looking at fantasy pieces from all angles, and that includes the positive and negative impact an offensive line has on that team’s fantasy assets.
Below I’m going to be digging into specific weekly matchups between offensive lines and the opposing defense's aFPA (https://www.4for4.com/reports/sos/adjusted)—one of the many useful tools available to us here at 4for4. Many sites publish raw fantasy points allowed by position, but 4for4 goes a step further and adjusts those numbers for a defense’s relative year-to-date schedule strength. Beginning this week and moving forward, aFPA will reflect the current season since we believe the three weeks of information begins to show reliable numbers and patterns.
Let’s begin by diving into the passing game to see what o-line/defense match-ups we can exploit.
Favorable Quarterback Matchups
By comparing a team’s offensive line ranking to the aFPA of their opponent for the week, we can look for beneficial discrepancies to attack for offensive and defensive players. The higher the “Difference” column, the better the matchup for a quarterback; the lower the difference, the better the matchup for the defense.
Raiders @ Falcons
As I mentioned last week in this space, the strength of the Raiders offensive line should be a reflection of how good a job offensive line coach Tom Cable has done after years of disappointing line play when he was with the Seattle Seahawks. Despite a multitude of injuries, the Raiders have remained playing at a high level all season long. As those injuries go, there have been bad and, well, very bad news to come out of Las Vegas already this week; Trent Brown still has an unknown return date and Richie Incognito is having season-ending foot surgery. This news certainly shouldn’t have Radiers fans exulted, but with how the line has been playing thus far without the two veterans, it shouldn’t put any question to their fortitude moving forward. Especially not this week against an Atlanta Falcons team that ranks 32nd in aFPA to the quarterback position.
Darren Waller will be the clear-cut option in this game that has a chance to out-pace its current 55.5 game total, but the rest of the passing game options aren’t quite as sexy. Nelson Agholor is the most obvious second choice, as he’s been averaging double-digit half-PPR points over the last six games (10.8), but he’s done so with two of those games netting him under 2.0 points. Gross. Yet, the gap of usage between Agholor (4.8 targets per game over the last six) and the next in line (Hunter Renfrow, 3.0 targets) is a wide berth. Instead of the thoroughly unexciting Renfrow, I would rather just take a stab at woefully unproductive rookie Henry Ruggs. Ruggs still incredibly leads the team in Air Yards per game (60) and is liable to have a second-half coming out party at some point. He certainly makes for a cringy redraft play, but why not put him in some DFS lineups?
Colts vs. Titans
Indianapolis’ run-blocking metrics remain in the bottom-third in the league across the board, but —much more importantly— is among the best pass protecting units, sliding in at sixth in Football Outsiders’ Adjusted Sack Rate while allowing a league-low 10 sacks. For those unfamiliar with ASR, it represents sacks divided by pass plays and adds adjustments for opponent quality, as well as down and distance. Being a better pass pro unit is much more important for fantasy football, where pass plays are considerably more valuable to our fantasy teams’ player output.
This week the mighty pass-blocking unit will take on a Titans team that puts pressure on the quarterback on a lowly 30.8% of their snaps, ranking 28th in the league. Part of this can be blamed on a very toast-able secondary that allows the separation needed for a QB to get the ball out quickly. As mentioned in the Week 12 QB Streaming article, Chris Allen earmarks Philip Rivers as his number one streaming option of the week, mentioning the Titans’ recent string of high passing yardage allowed and Rivers' own recent success against them (308 yards, one touchdown, 74% completion percentage in Week 10) as the baseline.
Rookie Michael Pittman Jr. moves all over the field but will see a majority of snaps lined up across former Pro Bowl cornerback Malcolm Butler, who has been targeted more than any cornerback in the league this year (69) according to Sports Info Solutions. If Philip Rivers and the Colts decide to go down the path that the rest of the league have taken when playing the Titans, it could be a continuation of a very successful string of games for the rookie from USC. Securing an 80%+ snap rate over the last three Colts games, Pittman has also easily been the most productive wide receiver on the team, scoring 12.5 Half-PPR points per game over that three-game span while Zach Pascal (6.7), T.Y. Hilton (5.6, Weeks 10 and 11), and De’Michael Harris (4.2) wallow in fantasy irrelevance.
Patriots vs. Cardinals
Out of 73 qualifying guards, left guard Joe Thuney ranks sixth in blown block% in the passing game (0.37%). Blown Blocks is a stat that Sports Info Solutions uses to measure any time a blocker does not successfully block the defender they attempted to engage with and, as a result, allows the defender to negatively affect the play. With only one blown block on the season and an easy matchup against a weak interior Arizona defensive line, Thuney is likely to open up holes on the left side of the line for Cam Newton to accumulate yardage with his feet and force the defense to respect his wheels (if they didn’t already). A rushing floor will be in place to make Newton a fantasy starter this week, but what about his pass-catchers?
Sadly, Rex Burkhead is done for the season —a recurring theme— but that did immediately open the door for James White to tie a season-high with nine targets and a modest five carries. Any carries we see from White should come as a bonus, as his fantasy value lies somewhere in between a mediocre-floor and low-ceiling flex option. The more exciting options come from Jakobi Meyers’ and Damiere Byrd’s unselfish give-and-take game they’re currently playing amongst themselves. After Meyers’ four-game stretch of 27 receptions for 346 yards between Weeks 7-10, Byrd decided he wanted in on the fun and turned six targets into a career-high 132 yards and a touchdown last week.
Over the last month of the season, Meyers and Byrd have become the locked-in number one and number two receivers for the Patriots, logging snap counts of 95% and 91%, respectively. It may feel a little like point-chasing but I don’t mind plugging either of them in as a WR3/WR4 in deep leagues and/or wide receiver hungry teams.
Favorable Defensive Matchups
Dolphins vs. Jets
As you may assume by their ranking of 31st in my offensive line rankings and —more importantly— their 0-10 record on the season, the New York Jets do not have a lot to feel great about this season. One bright spot has been rookie Mekhi Becton who is all but assuredly their long-term answer as an anchor at left tackle, something a lot of teams in this league would love to have. Even if Becton is 100% the Jets have a suspect offensive line, so it’s worth noting that the rookie has either missed time or not played at all in six of the last eight games as he dealt with shoulder and chest injuries.
This week the Jets will head to Miami in a rematch of Week 6 when the Dolphins shut them out 24-0 (for what it’s worth, Becton did not play in that game). It shouldn’t make much of a difference who this New York offensive line is protecting, Joe Flacco or Sam Darnold will have their hands full against a Miami team that has the second-highest pressure% in the league (48.1%) and are tied for third in takeaways (17).
Giants @ Bengals
You could tell immediately the importance of a hyper-aware, athletic quarterback playing behind a bad offensive line when Cincinnati was forced to go with Ryan Finley after a season-ending injury took Joe Burrow away from them during the third quarter of Week 11’s game. Burrow was able to dodge, duck, dip, dive, and dodge out of the way of Washington’s pressure, keeping upright through his 35 dropbacks. Finley on the other hand, absorbed four sacks in only 15 dropbacks. While it’s unrealistic to believe the Giants pass rush will keep up that 27% sack rate (I think, at least), the high sack probability will create an exceptional floor for the New York defense this week. **Looking at Ryan Finley’s three starts last season, the Bengals scored 13, 10, and 10 points. The first of those games Cincinnati was coming out of a bye, with two weeks to prepare a gameplan for a Ravens team that throttled them 49-13.
**Wednesday afternoon update: Cincinnati has decided to name Brandon Allen the starter instead of Ryan Finley. Allen was called up from the Bengals practice squad immediately following the Joe Burrow injury and has three starts in his five-year career, all occurring in relief of Drew Lock last year for the Broncos. In 98 dropbacks he managed to get sacked nine times, threw two interceptions, and had an accumulative 46% completion rate. Ryan Finley has at least been in the Bengals' system for a couple of years, so if anything, this makes the Giants an even stronger play.
Favorable Running Back Matchups
The RB table will work just the same as the above QB table; high “Difference” numbers mean an offense has a favorable matchup, the lower the number, the least favorable.
Browns @ Jaguars
The Cleveland Browns would prefer to move the ball on the ground and they will have a prime opportunity to do pretty much whatever they want against a Jacksonville team that ranks in the bottom-ten of aFPA to quarterbacks (28th), running backs (26th), wide receivers (25th), and tight ends (26th). Cleveland will be without stud edge rusher Myles Garrett, but they are still 6.5-point favorites against Jake Luton or Gardner Minshew (or Mike Glennon, apparently). Both Kareem Hunt and Nick Chubb are confident starts behind a Browns offensive line that ranks fifth in Adjusted Line Yards.
Saints @ Broncos
The New Orleans offense ran surprisingly smooth under quarterback Taysom Hill and likely quelled some trepidation about what it would mean to Michael Thomas, Alvin Kamara, and the tertiary pieces. One of those tertiary pieces is Latavius Murray, who boasted double-digit carries for the sixth time this year, and I believe he has the steam to continue a string of games that has seen him average 12 touches and 61 total yards over the last three games. The common thread of these last three weeks; the Saints have won big and led for most of the game. Sitting at 5.5-point favorites against Denver this week, that sort of game script should continue.
Amongst all players who have carried the ball when their team was up by at least one score (there are 125 of them), #Saints Latavius Murray ranks 10th in rushing yards when adjusted by situation.
The top of the leaderboard:
1.) Dalvin Cook
2.) Kenyan Drake
3.) Ronald Jones
— Justin Edwards (@Justin_Redwards) November 25, 2020
Working behind my number one ranked offensive line, Murray could produce usable Flex numbers for RB-deprived teams.
Running Backs with Bad Matchups
As opposed to breaking down every bad match-up through the rest of the slate, here are some running backs I’m looking to avoid because of their poor offensive line and the strong defensive fronts they will be facing:
*All “pressure” info comes from Sports Info Solutions, pace and Adjusted Sack Rate/Adjusted Line Yards come from Football Outsiders