O-Line Rankings and Matchups to Exploit: Week 6
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 —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.
Steelers vs. Browns
Big Ben and the Steelers took advantage of a good Week 5 matchup versus the Philadelphia Eagles; racking up 239 yards and three touchdowns through the air, all of which went to rookie Chase Claypool. The injury news is mostly hopeful in Pittsburgh, as both center Maurkice Pouncey and wide receiver Diontae Johnson look as if they’ll be starting this Sunday against Cleveland, but things aren’t shining quite as bright on Pro Bowl guard David DeCastro who will cede his starting job to rookie Kevin Dotson because of an abdominal injury.
If you’re going to be down a guard, Cleveland would be the best-case scenario as an opponent. Despite edge rusher Myles Garrett’s 25 pressures on the year (second-most in the league), the team as a whole ranks 26th with a 31.5% pressure rate, getting practically nothing out of the interior defensive line. Though this is a juicy matchup, the up-and-down usage of all the Steelers’ wide receivers likely makes Ben Roethlisberger the best play this Sunday.
Rams @ 49ers
An intriguing game in what is in my opinion the most exciting division in the NFL, the Rams and their surprisingly stout offensive line, will take on a 49ers team that has lost their best pass rusher (Nick Bosa) for the remainder of the season. San Francisco strung together back-to-back wins against each of the struggling New York teams before giving up a combined 68 points against the Philadelphia Eagles and Miami Dolphins over the last two weeks. Ryan Fitzpatrick carved them up to the tune of 350 yards and three touchdowns while supporting fantasy-relevant days to each of; Preston Williams (4-106-1), Mike Gesicki (5-91), and DeVante Parker (2-50-1).
Cooper Kupp is 4for4’s WR8 in half-PPR leagues while Robert Woods is one of the best floor plays in the league right now; he has either six catches or a touchdown in 11 of his last 12 games. Tyler Higbee is someone you probably have to start if he’s on your roster and if the 49ers pass rush can’t get to Jared Goff, he should stroll right into another 300-yard game.
Vikings vs. Falcons
Coming out of a brutal loss at the hands of the Seahawks, the Vikings are gifted another flimsy secondary in the form of the Atlanta Falcons. Atlanta’s newly appointed interim Head Coach Raheem Morris will attempt to right the ship and avoid an 0-6 start, but that is likely easier said than done. His defense has allowed the second-most yards through the air in 2020 and the second-most passing touchdowns, which would in all likelihood be dead last if Dak Prescott didn’t score three of his touchdowns on the ground back in Week 2. Opposing quarterbacks have thrown for 300+ yards and multiple scores in each contest this year except for a Week 3 performance by Nick Foles in which he only needed 188 yards to find the end zone three times.
This is all to say that Kirk Cousins has a mouth-watering matchup, and a prime spot to eclipse 300-yards for the first time this year before his team heads into a bye week to regroup. Adam Thielen is an obvious play across any and all formats but rookie wide receiver Justin Jefferson shouldn’t be flying under the radar. Tertiary pieces have been eating against the Falcons defense as well, with D.J. Moore (4-93-1), Robert Tonyan (6-98-3), Jimmy Graham (6-60-2), and Dalton Schultz (9-88-1) providing examples of secondary options running free through the Falcons defense.
Favorable Defensive Matchups
Giants vs. Football Team
The New York Giants welcome Kyle Allen and/or Alex Smith into the MetLife Stadium in hopes of boosting their mediocre sack total against a Washington squad that boasts a league-worst 10.1% adjusted sack rate. The left side of the Football Team’s line is particularly nausea-inducing, as tackle Geron Christian Sr. and guard Wes Martin have combined to allow 34 pressures and nine sacks which are as many as some teams’ entire lines. The Giants don’t have an Aaron Donald —who terrorized Washington with four sacks last week— but we don’t have to depend on another game with eight sacks to have a fantasy-worthy start here.
Alex Smith has the best feel-good story of an otherwise depressing year but he and Kyle Allen are set up for failure behind this offensive line and we should be picking on them with anyone but the absolute worst defenses.
Patriots vs. Broncos
With all the COVID scares and schedule restructuring, it feels like we haven’t seen the Patriots take the field in months, but barring a rash of further positive tests this game looks all good to go. A developing story as I get ready to send this to my lovely editor; Drew Lock might be playing in this game, which seems to have come out of nowhere. If Drew Lock is the player behind center, I would back off this play a little bit as we would clearly rather see the New England defense attack a far less talented, turnover-prone Brett Rypien.
Regardless of who is throwing the ball, we can be certain that there will be a high level of pressure on the quarterback due to a fledgling Broncos offensive line. As was my concern while digging through all 32 units in the preseason, I didn’t quite understand letting Connor McGovern walk in free agency and rookie Lloyd Cushenberry has unfairly has had to shoulder the pressure (no pun intended). Of the 32 starting centers in the National Football League, Cushenberry leads them all with a 5.03 Blown Block% in pass protection.
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.
Bears @ Panthers
At this point in the 2020 season, it simply makes sense to include “what running back is playing Carolina this Sunday” into your weekly process. A “run funnel” in the truest sense of the phrase, the Panthers have stymied passing attacks to a paltry 1,111-6-3 line through five games but have allowed 5.4 yards per carry and eight scores on the ground. While they’ve done well to cap production to the wide receiver and tight end positions, they have been very giving to players running routes out of the backfield; a league-high 38 completions and sixth-most 239 yards of production have come from players lining up behind or next to the quarterback.
This bodes well for David Montgomery who has been heavily featured in the passing game since Tarik Cohen went down for the season in Week 3. Montgomery has accumulated a 10-60-1 receiving line on 14 targets in the two games since the pass-catching specialist tore his ACL. Clearly, 4.3 yards per target isn’t going to break the slate but that kind of usage is a huge boost to a floor that was at times subterranean during Montgomery’s rookie season. After managing 56 rushing yards on 20 carries against stout rush defending teams Indianapolis and Tampa Bay, the Bears offensive line should be able to impose their will more easily against a young developing Panthers d-line.
Colts vs. Bengals
Cincinnati managed only three points in Week 5 —on a last-minute field goal at that— and now they are set to take on an even more talented defense than the Baltimore group they just had to take on. As of Wednesday’s practice, it would seem that Colts’ Pro Bowl middle linebacker Darius Leonard won’t be playing which puts a bit of a damper on Indy’s play-making ability but it certainly doesn’t eliminate them from serious consideration as a defense to target. Further dampening what would otherwise be an absolute slam dunk of a play is the miserable play of Philip Rivers, who is unlikely to turn this into a blowout which would really put the heat on rookie Joe Burrow behind what is likely the worst offensive line in the league.
Even with the dings against Indianapolis due to Leonard (likely out) and Rivers (is bad at football), they still get to face off against a line that has supported less than 300 total yards in two out of five games this year.
Titans vs Texans
It’s not as if you needed a reason to start Derrick Henry, but use this as comfort that Henry won’t be rushing for 57 yards again against a Houston defense that has allowed three 100-yard rushing performances and 802 yards on the ground through five games. Tennessee has a slightly above average rush-blocking unit since they allowed rush-blocking maven right tackle Jack Conklin to walk in free agency, but more importantly, the Texans defensive line has been pushed around consistently in the run game; their 5.07 adjusted line yards allowed ranks 30th, a far cry from their league-leading 3.56 mark in 2018.
Henry ranks numero uno in 4for4’s half-PPR rankings and though rookie Darrynton Evans is an intriguing talent, it’s clear the team will not be using him to spell the Big Dog for any sort of significant stretches without an injury shake-up.
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 ASR/ALY come from Football Outsiders