O-Line Rankings and Matchups to Exploit: Week 2
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. For now, the aFPA numbers are from the 2020 season as we allow the 2021 season to shape into form. Once we have some reliable numbers and patterns the aFPA stats will begin to reflect this season (starting Week 4).
Let’s begin by diving into the passing game to see what o-line/defense match-ups we can exploit.
Favorable Quarterback Matchups
Chargers vs. Cowboys
Dallas kicks off the season against two potent offenses helmed by men on opposite ends of the age spectrum. In Week 1’s Thursday Night Football matchup, they allowed the third-most yards on the week through the air to Tom Brady (379) and now they travel to Los Angeles to face off against Justin Herbert who wasn’t far behind (334 passing yards). The Cowboys didn’t register a sack in Week 1 but what’s more, their 18% pressure rate was the third-lowest, allowing Brady to sit comfortably and carve them up throughout the night.
They face a similarly difficult task this week as a new-look Chargers offensive line held their own against a dominant Washington Football Team pass rush, and an injury scare to OT Bryan Bulaga looks to be a minor issue moving forward. If Week 1 were any indication, the Chargers passing tree may have shrunk a little bit under new offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi, as Austin Ekeler had zero targets while the threesome of Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, and Jared Cook combined for 32 of Justin Herbert’s 47 pass attempts. All three pass catchers are in play.
Buccaneers vs. Falcons
We touched briefly on the Bucs’ offensive dominance above, and things won’t be much more difficult in Week 2 when they invite the Atlanta Falcons into town. Tampa Bay ran 62 plays while in a neutral game script (winning or losing by no more than six points) last week and passed on 79% of those plays (third-highest mark), making no concessions about how they want to be moving the ball; through Tom Brady. The Falcons’ pass rush posed no threat to Jalen Hurts in Week 1 as their 20.5% pressure rate ranked 28th on the week, and things shouldn’t be any different against this ferocious offensive line.
One of Mike Evans’ down weeks reared its ugly head against the Cowboys, but those are bound to happen when you’re sharing a depth chart with Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown. Evans will bounce back and it is unlikely Rob Gronkowski demands nine targets every week, so keep playing any Buccaneers receivers in your lineup.
Packers vs. Lions
I don’t need to tell managers who roster and started Packers’ offensive pieces that they all fell flat on their face in what was supposed to be Aaron Rodgers Revenge Tour 2021: Part Two. This shapes up to be a perfect bounce-back spot, and if Rodgers can snap out of it, they have a very solid offensive line to lean on. We are going to be picking on the Detroit Lions defensive unit all season long, as the 2020 version allowed a passer rating of 118.4 to opposing quarterbacks and regrettably just lost their third overall draft pick, cornerback Jeffrey Okudah, to a torn Achilles.
People panic-dropping Aaron Rodgers aren’t going to be thrilled after they see the box score from this one.
Favorable Defensive Matchups
Patriots @ Jets
One of my favorite players to watch, and a young man who was becoming the glue on this young, progressing New York Jets offensive line, left tackle Mekhi Becton went down with a knee injury and will be sidelined four to six weeks after arthroscopic knee surgery. In the interim, George Fant will slide into the left tackle role while former long-time WFT tackle Morgan Moses will man the right side, which is a testament to how the Jets worked on depth in the trenches over the offseason. Regardless, it is still a downgrade in talent, and this week they host a rejuvenated Patriots defense that pressured Tua Tagovailoa on 51.7% of his dropbacks (fourth-highest mark of Week 1) while limiting him to a QB22 performance in fantasy.
This week New England will bring the pressure on Zach Wilson, who looked downright disheveled through stretches of his NFL debut. Through the first half against the Carolina Panthers, Wilson was dropped for three sacks, threw an interception, and according to Sports Info Solutions’ numbers, he had an ANY/A (a metric that weighs touchdowns, sacks, and turnovers into a yards-per-attempt scale) of 0.9, a mark that would have ranked dead last if extrapolated, and I believe would be the lowest mark I’ve ever seen. Bill Belichick has a storied career of making life hell for rookie quarterbacks and we would be remiss if we ignored this opportunity for fantasy goodness.
Football Team vs. Giants
A stout Chargers offensive line was able to mostly subdue the terrifying amalgamation of Jonathan Allen, Montez Sweat, Chase Young, and the gang, but things project to be a little more difficult for the New York Giants on Thursday Night. New York’s running game was a mess in Week 1, with a possibly-still-hobbled Saquon Barkley and Devontae Booker combining for 33 yards on 14 attempts (2.4 yards per carry), with 29 of those yards coming after contact. That means running backs were an average of 0.29 yards down the field before the defense initiated contact. For comparison’s sake, Browns running backs averaged 1.8 yards before contact against the Chiefs in Week 1. That’s one easy example of how offensive lines truly affect our fantasy assets.
Favorable Running Back Matchups
Browns vs. Texans
The Cleveland Browns defense and the power-running offense could bring the Houston Texans back down to earth after their shocking 37-21 decimation of the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Texans allowed the second-most aFPA to the running back position last season and allowed both Carlos Hyde and James Robinson to average 5.0 yards per carry last week, though the game script kept them from accruing too much volume. That won’t be a problem for Nick Chubb this week, as Cleveland will have no issues feeding him 18-20+ carries on top of a few targets. I fully expect Cleveland’s offensive line to dominate —even if second-year stud Jedrick Wills is forced to sit out this week— and Chubb is very much in play as a top-three running back option on Sunday.
Seahawks vs. Titans
En route to a 38-13 drubbing at the hands of the Arizona Cardinals in Week 1, Tennessee got shoved around in the trenches on both sides of the ball, allowing a combined 116 yards rushing on 28 carries between Chase Edmonds and James Conner. Now the Titans will travel to Seattle to test a Seahawks offensive line that is becoming a strength for the team for the first time in a long time. The Seahawks’ 5.37 Adjusted Line Yards in Week 1 ranked them second only behind the aforementioned Cleveland Browns, helping to propel Chris Carson to 117 all-purpose yards and the overall RB3 finish (21.1 half-PPR points).
As is an annual tradition, Rashaad Penny’s legs have deceived him and he was forced out of last week’s contest with a left quad injury after only two carries, putting the kibosh on any theories that he would be cutting into Carson’s workload in 2021. Carson should be started with utmost confidence across DFS slates this weekend.
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