O-Line Rankings and Matchups to Exploit: Week 3
Evaluating offensive line play regarding its effect on fantasy football output has been a stone unturned throughout 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.
Chiefs vs. Chargers
With Kansas City’s improved offensive line coalescing throughout the year, it’s likely that they find themselves in this space periodically over the season. To offer you advice that goes beyond starting Patrick Mahomes/Tyreek Hill/Travis Kelce, we’ll take a look at the ancillary pieces and decide who could benefit enough to consider plugging into your lineup. Though it’s not time quite yet, we could be looking at an emergence of a true third-down back worthy of consideration in Kansas City with Clyde Edwards-Helaire proving to be a mediocre running back. With possibly the best offensive environment in the league, it’s worth keeping an eye on Darrel Williams who could benefit just as much from a stout offensive line as Edwards-Helaire has.
Beyond the big three offensive pieces, it truly seems as if third-year wide receiver Mecole Hardman could be amid a breakout. Hardman (35), Kelce (34), and Hill (33) have nearly the same amount of snaps out of the slot through two weeks, giving defenses three completely separate weapons to deal with, and Hardman’s receptions (8) and targets (11) are firmly third on the team, solidifying his place as the little brother on the target tree behind Hill and Kelce.
The Chargers have kept passing attacks in check through the first two weeks of the season, but Week 1 had them facing off against Taylor Heinicke taking over for an injured Ryan Fitzpatrick while in Week 2 we saw Tony Pollard and Ezekiel Elliot combine for 180 yards on the ground. Things are sure to be more difficult this week.
Colts @ Titans
There’s no denying that injuries have forced regression on Indianapolis’ offensive line but they’ll try to make things right against a pedestrian Titans defensive front this Sunday. Left tackle Eric Fisher looks to be back to full health, and that bolsters the left side of the line also occupied by All-Pro guard Quenton Nelson, pair that with a return to form from either/or center Ryan Kelly and Mark Glowinski and you have a line that can return to their top-five ways by the end of the season.
For this week’s battle, they will take on a Tennessee defense that has only one player with double-digit pressures on the year (Harold Landry - 10) and could be one factor in how two teams have combined to score 68 points on them thus far. At the time of writing, Carson Wentz is being tested for his sprained ankle and his status is still questionable which is unfortunate for Michael Pittman, who seemed to be building a rapport with the quarterback after his 11-target 8-106 breakout game against the tough Rams defense in Week 2. Even if it is Jacob Eason this Sunday, it would be logical to expect success for Pittman against a team that has already allowed 6-83-2 (DeAndre Hopkins), 5-70-2 (Christian Kirk), 5-95-1 (Freddie Swain), 6-53 (DK Metcalf), and 8-178-1 (Tyler Lockett) stat lines to the position this year.
Eagles @ Cowboys
Fantasy’s overall QB5 takes on a Dallas Cowboys team that has allowed the second-most passing yards on Monday Night Football in Week 3. Adding to woes in the secondary, the Cowboys have also managed the second-lowest Adjust Sack Rate (2.5%) according to Football Outsiders, being forced to move linebacker Micah Parsons to defensive end to help the pass rush compensate for injuries last week (though in all honesty, Parsons performed admirably). Jalen Hurts currently owns the seventh-highest yards per attempt (8.8) mark in the league from a clean pocket and when all else fails, his 72 rushing yards per game trails only Lamar Jackson amongst quarterbacks.
From a receiving standpoint, rookie DeVonta Smith has led the team in targets (15) through two games, but those have equated to only 87 yards, while Quez Watkins (5 targets, 140 yards) has turned four catches into 49 yards, and the majority of his production on one giant 91-yard touchdown. The biggest beneficiary this week is likely to be Dallas Goedert, as Zach Ertz has landed on the COVID-19 list ahead of this game. Without Ertz in the lineup over the last two seasons, Goedert has averaged 4.2 receptions, 53 yards, and 0.4 touchdowns, numbers that would fall into the TE5-TE7 in a typical week.
Favorable Defensive Matchups
Dolphins @ Raiders
Las Vegas certainly doesn’t feel like a team we should be picking on after two impressive wins over the Ravens and Steelers to start the season, but this isn’t necessarily a spot in which we care whether our fantasy defense gets the win or not. It is true that for the time being, Derek Carr is being more aggressive than at any other point of his career but the questionable offensive line, the loss of Josh Jacobs, and his ankle injury could come to a head here against a Dolphins defense that has a too-wide disparity between pressure% (43.4%, sixth-highest) and actual sacks (two, second-lowest).
If you have better options on your waiver wire, I understand not wanting to play a defense for a team that just lost 35-0, but they should be in heavy consideration as a cheap defense while making DFS lineups.
Panthers @ Texans
The Carolina Panthers defense makes for a much more obvious play this week, and according to Joe Redemann’s defensive streaming article, they were somehow only rostered in 20% of Yahoo! leagues before waivers ran. This young, ascending defense has 10 sacks on the year and has allowed opposing rushing attacks to average a mere 46.5 yards through two contests. A plodding backfield and a third-round rookie in Davis Mills shouldn’t be a threat to overturn the apple cart this week, even if the offensive line (currently 24th) has dug itself out of the bottom five of my rankings for the first time in a couple of dozen weeks worth of ranking.
Favorable Running Back Matchups
49ers vs. Packers
Green Bay has started off the 2021 season just as vulnerable to the running game as they have been in recent years; allowing 279 yards on 58 carries (4.8 yards per carry) while sporting the 30th-ranked defensive Adjusted Line Yards (5.05) after games against the Saints and Lions. This week they will face their third straight stout offensive line as the Elijah Mitchell-led rushing attack of the 49ers invite the cheeseheads to San Francisco. Both JaMycal Hasty (ankle) and Trey Sermon (concussion) look to be on the path to miss this Week 3 matchup, leaving a majority of the work to Mitchell alone. If he is allotted 18-22 touches against this Green Bay defense, we could very well be in store for a top-15 running back performance.
Cardinals @ Jaguars
Through two weeks of play, the Cardinals backfield is split almost exactly the way we would expect it to be, and it’s hard to complain about it considering the draft capital that was spent to acquire Chase Edmonds or James Conner. According to 4for4’s RBBC Report, Edmonds has out-snapped Conner 61%-to-45% and out-produced him in terms of total yards, 181-to-79 while receiving 100% of the pass-catching work out of the backfield.
Arizona’s offensive line has been a surprising plus for the team through two weeks and the addition of veteran center Rodney Hudson this offseason can’t be overstated for a team that cycled through below-average options in 2020. The Cardinals can move the ball through the air at will and Kyler Murray’s wheels are a massive plus, but if the offensive line can continue as a top-10 unit in Adjusted Line Yards, this offense will be next to impossible to stop. The rushing attack to help them cruise to a win in Jacksonville on Sunday.
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