O-Line Rankings and Matchups to Exploit: Week 9
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.
Raiders @ Chargers
So far, so good on the Raiders plan to limit Derek Carr in hopes that his shortcomings will keep them from losing games. It’s not often exciting for fantasy purposes, but Carr’s 7.2 (26th) average intended air yards has Las Vegas at 4-3 and their 1,764 passing yards are actually right in the middle of the pack at 16th in the NFL. Consulting our Air Yards App, we see that the Raiders' offensive success clearly does not come from deep passing, as only one player (Henry Ruggs - 68 air yards, 45th) on the team ranks in the top-75 in average air yards per game. Even though he leads the team in air yards, Ruggs is seeing all of that yardage volume in 3.6 targets per game. It’s all about quick-out catch-and-run ability with Las Vegas and that’s going to favor Nelson Agholor, Hunter Renfrow, and mostly, Darren Waller.
Lucky for the offensive line, Trent Brown has returned to Vegas after a scare in Cleveland last week that saw him hospitalized overnight. They’ll need him against Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram. Bosa and/or Ingram are likely to hit paydirt but this o-line is plenty sturdy to allow Carr to dink-and-dunk against a suspect linebacker-safety group. Fire up all the Waller you can.
Bucs vs. Saints
Though I’ve never been able to create (nor have I seen) a metric that can measure an offensive line’s continuity, it is intuitive that a group that plays over a sustained period of time together will begin to gel and “feel” where his teammate is without turning his head to look. Sure, Tampa Bay returned only four starters from last year (five being, of course, the optimal number), but since the first snap of the season through Week 8, all five of their starters have been on the field together for 98% of the snaps. This consistency has propelled them into the top-five of my offensive line rankings (something I’m sure they’re elated about), and currently has them tied for second in adjusted sack rate (4.1%)
The line will be tested this week with Saints edge rushers Marcus Davenport and Cameron Jordan but with the help of the second-best blocking tight end in the league in Rob Gronkowski, they should be able to keep Tom Brady clean to take advantage of a defense that ranks 27th in aFPA to both quarterbacks and wide receivers. Once-dominate cornerback Marshon Lattimore has seemingly hit a fourth-year wall, allowing a 72% completion percentage and over 11 yards per target to players in his coverage. Will that benefit Mike Evans or a limited-snap Antonio Brown? Will Chris Godwin be back? Regardless, Brady has a matchup on paper that should pencil him into a top-five finish for the week.
Colts vs. Ravens
Philip Rivers has strung together back-to-back fantasy-relevant games behind America’s favorite offensive line, combining for 633 yards and six touchdowns against the Bengals and Lions. Indianapolis likely forces the issue through the air when they take on a Baltimore defense that has allowed the seventh-least rushing yards and fourth-fewest rushing touchdowns. The chink in the armor of this Ravens defense is the productivity it allows to the tight end position; they rank 20th in aFPA to TEs, with Eric Ebron (4-48-1), Travis Kelce (6-87), and Jordan Akins (7-55) turning in great weeks at an ever-weakening position. (For what it’s worth, the ghost of Zach Ertz turned 10 targets into 33 scoreless yards against them before being sent to the IR for his troubles)
It feels gross, but with Trey Burton’s increasing comfortability with Rivers and the proclivity of both Mo Alie-Cox and Jack Doyle to find themselves on the sideline with an injury, Burton is as likely as any other tight end in the league to give you a four catch, fifty-yard performance.
Favorable Defensive Matchups
Football Team vs. Giants
As mentioned in last week’s article, the Giants offensive line is one we should be targeting more often than not, and with a healthy Washington pass rush coming out of a bye, this is an easy point and click decision. Montez Sweat and Chase Young should be frothing at the mouth at the opportunity to face off against Cameron Fleming and Andrew Thomas. The two tackles have combined to allow 64 (!!) pressures and 10 sacks on the year. I can tell you without even looking that they top the highest combined pressures for any tackle tandem in the league.
Dolphins @ Cardinals
You know you’ve got a good defensive matchup on your hands when our Mike Woellert has not one, not two, but three players from a given team on his IDP Waiver Wire article. Linebacker Kyle Van Noy, defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah and safety Eric Rowe all make the list and whether you’re in an IDP league or if you’re just looking at the Dolphins D/ST, I’m here to concur with Mike that things are looking good. Along with Van Noy and Ogbah, Shaq Lawson and Zach Sieler have contributed to boosting Miami to the third-highest pressure% in the league, behind only Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay.
The Cardinals have improved their pass protection, but they’ve faced whatever is the opposite of a murderer’s row of defensive lines as of late; the Jets, Cowboys, and Seahawks. The last time Arizona faced a team in the top-ten in pressure% was way back in Week 2, when the Washington Football Team pressured Kyler Murray 16 times, resulting in three sacks and an interception.
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.
Steelers @ Cowboys
Pittsburgh started the year off with some ho-hum rushing performances. Partially to blame is the early departure of James Conner all the way back in Week 1, but a far heavier reason is the fact that this is an undefeated team and they are often running their four-minute drill towards the end of games, dampening their efficiency numbers. As 14-point favorites over the moribund Cowboys this Sunday, we’ll gladly take volume over efficiency in a matchup that could see them running the clock out as early as the third quarter.
Run game volume against Dallas’ defensive line should turn into easy fantasy points, as the Cowboys have allowed a fourth-highest 5.01 Adjusted Line Yards on the year and will be susceptible to being pushed around by this stout offensive line. Guards David DeCastro and Matt Feiler are more than pulling their weight but tenth-year vet Maurkice Pouncey is the catalyst that keeps the interior moving mountains. Through Week 8, Pouncey is one of only two centers (Austin Reiter, Chiefs) with 300+ snaps who have yet to blow a block in the run game per Sports Info Solutions. James Conner is the obvious play here, but for the truly desperate, the game script is likely to see Benny Snell get involved. In the Steelers’ last blowout win (Week 6 - Browns) the snap counts ended up like this; Conner - 66%, Snell - 22%, Anthony McFarland - 15%, and Jaylen Samuels - 8%.
Chiefs vs. Panthers
Over the year and a half of this article’s existence, the Chiefs have found themselves in these digital pages a surprisingly few times. That’s because the high octane offense has never had much to do with its offensive line, and more to do with the brilliance of Patrick Mahomes and Andy Reid. Much to the chagrin of the rest of the league, Kansas City now has Mahomes, Reid, and a top-ten offensive line. Lord have mercy. Center Austin Reiter is becoming a consistent piece to their success in his second full year as a Chiefs starter, allowing only one pressure and committing zero penalties across 361 snaps. There’s a chance right tackle Mitchell Schwartz may be returning from injury this Sunday, as well.
As expected, Le’Veon Bell has been slowly eating into Clyde Edwards-Helaire’s workload. In Week 8, CEH out-snapped Bell 33-17, but they each received nine touches, meaning Bell touched the ball on 53% of his appearances while the rookie handled the rock on only 27%. That would seem a worrisome trend for the drafters who took him as high as the first round. The backfield is still Helaire’s but each piece is playable this Sunday against a Panthers defense that has allowed 12 touchdowns on the ground and the fifth-most schedule-adjusted fantasy points to opposing running backs. Our rankings currently have CEH as the RB12 in half-PPR scoring with Bell as the RB27.
Vikings vs. Lions
The Lions defense has shown up in wins over the Jaguars and the Falcons this season, limiting those offenses to a combined 110 yards rushing. Even with those performances, they’ve still allowed the second-most rushing touchdowns and the 10th-most rushing yards, allowing their other five opponents an average of 160 yards per game. It’s no secret the Minnesota Vikings want to run the ball. In a league that embraces the passing game more than ever, Minnesota is deciding to zig; running the ball on over half (56%) of their situation-neutral snaps. Dalvin Cook is such a slam dunk in this spot that he sort of forces Kirk Cousins into irrelevance in what would otherwise be a decent spot against a middle-of-the-road Lions secondary. In Minnesota’s two wins on the season, Dalvin Cook has rushed for 293 yards on a Derrick Henry-esque 57 attempts. They are currently 4.0-point favorites according to Vegas, spelling out a repeat performance of his 32 touch game in Week 8.
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