O-Line Rankings and Matchups to Exploit: Week 8
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.
49ers @ Seahawks
You don’t have to tell me twice that loading up San Francisco’s passing offense sounds like a bad idea on the surface, but this is a plus matchup that should light a fire into an otherwise run-centric team. A once proud secondary has turned into a proverbial pass-funnel. Playing behind a defensive line that has allowed a respectable 663 yards on the ground through six games (13th), cornerbacks are not holding up their end of the deal; allowing a league-worst 369 yards per game through the air. Seattle’s defensive backs are feeling the heat from sustaining coverage for long-developing routes because of a pass rush that is sacking the quarterback on only 5.0% of dropbacks. That ranks 29th according to Sports Info Solutions. As such, the Seahawks have allowed 25 explosive plays on the season, fourth-most in the NFL behind the Falcons, Bengals, and Vikings.
With no new news on Deebo Samuel’s hamstring at the time of writing, we’ll just assume that he will miss this game and San Francisco will have to revert to the type of usage they had in the first three weeks of the season. This could mean a lot of sprinkling-in of Kendrick Bourne, Trent Taylor, and a whole lot of running backs, or it could mean we get a funneled offense that relies on George Kittle and allows Brandon Aiyuk to build on his six-catch, 115-yard performance from last week. I think we would all prefer the latter option, and that would make Aiyuk an honest to goodness WR2 option with upside for more against this shaky defense. As a 2QB or Superflex play, you start Jimmy Garoppolo if you’ve got him, and then you fold him up, stick him back in his “break in case of emergency” box and let him collect dust on your bench.
Panthers vs. Falcons
Falcons defense: check. If you’re able to load up passing games against Atlanta every week you’re doing just fine and this week will be no different as Teddy “Two Gloves” and the Carolina crew get to try their hand at an offensive explosion. D.J. Moore has proven a couple of times this season that he can blow up with double-digit targets in a game but it’s been clear all season that Robby Anderson is this team’s WR1. Anderson’s 26.6% target share on the season ranks eighth in the league and although he was typecast as a deep threat with the Jets, he has produced at all levels of the field with the Panthers, including a Week 5 matchup in Atlanta when he turned 12 targets into eight catches and 112 yards.
Russell Okung is trending towards out this Thursday but Atlanta doesn’t have the firepower to take advantage of the left tackle’s potential absence.
Raiders @ Browns
Maybe the Raiders keep this on the ground as much as possible to avoid Myles Garrett’s dominant sack streak but I have an inkling that they’ll still be able to move that ball at will despite the handful of plays Garrett is likely to corrupt. It might seem ridiculous to tout an offense that just lost to Tampa Bay 45-20, but they were missing their right tackle Trent Brown due to a positive COVID test, the rest of the four starters had to quarantine for the week with no practice and once the game actually kicked off, right guard Gabe Jackson was ejected for a ho-hum aggressive play. Though still without Brown, they’ll have an easier go of things this week against a Cleveland defense that doesn’t have much to offer outside of all-world Myles Garrett.
With the returns of rookies Henry Ruggs and Bryan Edwards, Nelson Agholor will move into a WR2 role and Hunter Renfrow will find himself as a rotational slot receiver which immediately raises the ceiling of Derek Carr, or, at the very least moves his floor to the QB15 range. With Las Vegas’ offensive line moving forward as a cohesive (and practicing) unit, this sets up as a great spot for Darren Waller, Carr/Ruggs, and even Agholor.
Favorable Defensive Matchups
Chiefs vs. Jets
Life won’t get much easier for Chris Jones and Frank Clark than lining up across an offensive line with a league-worst adjusted sack rate on Sunday. Rookie Mekhi Becton has shown promise at left tackle, and he’ll be sure to continue his growth for years to come but the talent that the Jets have been lining up next to him is not helping matters. Sam Darnold may not be a starting-caliber NFL quarterback, but, likely, we’ll never know for sure as long as he’s playing behind this line. For comparison sake, the Cincinnati Bengals —widely considered the worst offensive line in the league— have allowed a whopping 116 pressures on Joe Burrow this year. On the other hand, the Jets have allowed a league-worst 133 pressures on Darnold and statuesque Joe Flacco this season.
Buccaneers @ Giants
Not only does number four overall pick Andrew Thomas lead all rookies in pressures allowed, but he also leads the entire league in pressures allowed through seven weeks of the season. This week he’s going up against Jason Pierre-Paul, Shaq Barrett, and what is likely the best defense in the league. The Bucs are averaging 3.58 sacks per game to go along with 12 takeaways on the year, both numbers ranking third-best in the NFL. Pair that with the Giants’ 13 giveaways (29th) and we’ve got the makings for some easy fantasy goodness.
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 vs. Raiders
After a couple of weeks attempting to “mix-in” other faces behind Baker Mayfield —partly due to cramps and nicks to Kareem Hunt— Hunt took complete control of the Cleveland backfield in Week 7, accounting for a gigantic 95.5% of the running back touches. There’s no reason to believe that type of usage will not continue against a Raiders defense that has allowed the second-most schedule-adjusted fantasy points to the position this season. Cleveland has done a complete 360 from last year, putting together a top-to-bottom complete offensive line that deserves top-three consideration. I fully expect them to push around a meek Las Vegas defensive interior, even if surprise standout right guard Wyatt Teller is forced to miss more time.
Colts @ Lions
Coming out of a Colts bye week, this is typically the time that rookie running backs begin to see a heightened workload. Per my research during the offseason, rookie running backs historically have scored 40% more fantasy points in the second half of the season than they do in the first half of the season. This could have to do with several factors, namely learning the offense and earning the trust of the coaching staff. Jonathan Taylor has the added bonus of becoming the de facto number one running back due to the unfortunate Marlon Mack injury right out of the gates. Whether the coaching staff wanted to or not, Taylor’s usage was going to rise no matter what and his snap share finally reached 60% the week before their bye.
A 60/40 or —heaven forbid— a 70/30 split between Taylor and the likes of Nyheim Hines and Jordan Wilkins would be plenty of touches to produce RB1 numbers against a Detroit team that ranks 28th in aFPA to the running back position. Even better news for Taylor, left tackle Anthony Castonzo is set to come out of the bye week back to 100% after dealing with a rib issue that forced him out of an early-October game.
Rams @ Dolphins
While it’s unlikely that Cam Akers is going to touch the ball zero times again this week, the way things are trending over the last month would point towards a 50% touch share for Darrell Henderson while Malcolm Brown and the rookie are left to nibble from the rest. There’s a very strong possibility that Henderson will continue to see more than that 50/25/25 split but I’m trying to temper my expectations after the former Memphis Tiger's rookie season left me holding the bag in a multitude of dynasty leagues. I digress. Malcolm Brown is now being out-touched by Henderson 17-to-8 from inside the opponent’s 10-yard line, and that’s including the four goal-line carries (and two touchdowns) that Brown had in Week 1 against the Cowboys.
The Dolphins come into this game allowing a score on 27.7% of their opponents’ drives (31st) and eight rushing touchdowns (26th) on the year, presenting a prime opportunity for a team’s main goal-line back. The Rams offensive line looks completely rejuvenated after taking a year off and currently leads the league with 4.93 Adjusted Line Yards and ranks third in Football Outsiders’ Power Success metric, which more-or-less measures short-yardage prowess. I’ll be looking for Darrell Henderson player props heading into this game.
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