O-Line Rankings and Matchups to Exploit: Week 4
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. These numbers will continue to strengthen through more data points as the season progresses and when compared to a team’s advantages within the trenches will expose fantasy pieces we may not have otherwise considered.
Let’s begin by diving into the passing game to see what o-line/defense match-ups we can exploit.
Favorable Quarterback Matchups
Patriots vs. Buccaneers
In what could likely be the most-watched regular-season game of all time, Tom Brady and Bill Belichick will face off for the first time in their decades-long careers and Mac Jones’ dink-and-dunk style of play could equate to fantasy goodness on Sunday Night Football. Tampa Bay’s secondary is in such shambles that Brady reached out personally to Richard Sermon to coax him onto the team and Sherman agreed, as the signing will attempt to fill a hole left by injuries to Jamal Dean, Carlton Davis, and a trip to the IR for Sean Murphy-Bunting. It’s hard to know exactly what impact Sherman would have on this game, but a beat-up secondary paired with a stout New England offensive line should allow Mac Jones to get the ball out in time to begin a trend of supporting multiple pass catchers.
Suffering from negative game script through much of Week 3, both Kendrick Bourne (6-96-1 on eight targets) and Jakobi Meyers (9-94 on 14 targets) were peppered on underneath routes, the area of the field that Mac Jones (or the coaching staff) feel most comfortable with at this stage of his young career. Their trepidation checks out when you look at the numbers; Jones ranks 28th in on-target% (42.9%) and 33rd in yards per attempt (6.5) on pass attempts traveling 20 or more air yards. Bourne, Meyers, and possibly even Hunter Henry should be in store for high-floor, low-ceiling games this week.
Saints vs. Giants
The New Orleans offensive line is dealing with injuries right now, most notably left tackle Terron Armstead, but they still have pieces to make their front a strength, particularly against a Giants pass rush that has forced pressure on only 29.2% of opponent dropbacks (28th). This opens up the opportunity to hop back on the roller coaster that is Jameis Winston for the risk-tolerant. Hold on to your butts because this is also a great matchup for Marquez Callaway, who has managed a paltry 63 receiving yards through three contests. The Giants currently rank 31st in aFPA to the wide receiver position, and if Callaway can’t make it into our lineups four weeks into the season in this cushy spot, he really shouldn’t be on our rosters.
Bills vs. Texans
The Houston Texans’ defeat of the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 1 is already far in the rearview mirror after surrendering 55 points over the following two weeks. Now they head into Buffalo and will attempt to get after Josh Allen, who will be standing behind an offensive line that has allowed an adjusted sack rate of 4.0%, a mark that ranks fourth in the NFL. In a game with a moderate total of 48.0, the Bills are laughably a 16.5-point favorite, so if that sort of outcome holds, Buffalo likely won’t have to grind their way to a win with extreme pacing or huge passing volume. As such, I may try to lean away from volume-needy players such as Cole Beasley and lean towards big-play guys like Stefon Diggs. A rising tide does lift all boats though, so it may be unwise to completely fade any of the Bills options this week.
Favorable Defensive Matchups
Chargers vs. Raiders
Monday night’s AFC West contest has the second-highest total on the week, matching the fourth (Chargers) and first (Raiders) most prolific passing offenses through the first three weeks of the season. Undoubtedly, Las Vegas has made do with their offensive line up to this point, scoring the sixth-most points in the league (72) but that could come crashing back down to Earth if and when they face a defense that can take advantage of their ineptitudes.
While Joey Bosa typically plays both sides of the line throughout a contest, it may behoove Los Angeles to post him up across from rookie right tackle Alex Leatherwood who has had his issues in pass protection against lesser competition. Bosa has 16 pressures on the year, with 10 coming last week against the Chiefs, who boast a much better unit.
Titans @ Jets
A promising young offense just one month ago already looks like the worst in the league after only three games. The Jets have managed 20 points to this point, including being shut out last week, a feat in and of itself in the year 2021. Now they and their 31st-ranked adjusted sack rate (11.5%) will host a Tennessee Titans team that has logged pressure on 43% of its opponent’s dropbacks, the seventh-highest rate in the league. New York has failed to score a rushing touchdown on the year while quarterback Zach Wilson has passed for only two while throwing seven interceptions.
Joe Redemann’s defensive streaming article also points out the Titans as a great option this week, mentioning Zach Wilson’s high turnover-worthy plays and a high average depth of target combining to create a good opportunity for defensive scoring.
Favorable Running Back Matchups
Football Team @ Falcons
Week 4 will present a great opportunity for the Washington run game, and in particular, Antonio Gibson, to go wheels-up for the first time this season against an Atlanta Falcons team that ranks 28th in aFPA to the running back position. The Falcons have allowed 19 receptions to running backs through these first three weeks, and if Gibson could edge out J.D. McKissic even just a little bit more often on third downs we could start to see a much better return on investment for managers who drafted Gibson at the end of the second round. As of yet, we still have a ways to go, as McKissic has run 25 routes on 27 Taylor Heinicke and Ryan Fitzpatrick dropbacks while Antonio Gibson has run exactly one.
Both running backs are worth starts depending on league size and format, while Gibson is a borderline RB1 and McKissic is more of an RB3/desperation flex.
Colts @ Dolphins
The dream of a top-five running back season for Jonathan Taylor had been taking hits before the season even began. Injuries to the quarterback and along the offensive line paired poorly with a return from Marlon Mack, who was thought to have a chance at usurping some of Taylor's usage. While the injuries are still floating around, no one was certain that Carson Wentz was going to return to 2017 form anyways, and the offensive line has merely fallen from elite status to “good” status, something that can’t be said for other lines dealing with injuries, such as the Ravens or Eagles. As for Mack, he is likely to be traded as early as this week, and at any rate, he only logged 12 offensive snaps through three weeks.
Looking ahead to this weekend, Jonathan Taylor has a shot at regaining ground as an RB1 against a Dolphins team that just got steamrolled by Peyton Barber, who I was unaware played for the Las Vegas Raiders before Sunday. Much like Antonio Gibson, Taylor probably doesn’t have the opportunity to take over the third-down back receiving role anytime soon, but the offense is very likely to run through him in the immediate future, particularly during this Week 4 matchup.
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:
- Ty’Son Williams/Latavius Murray, Ravens
- Mark Ingram, Texans
- Mike Davis, Falcons
- Ty Johnson/Michael Carter, Jets
*All “pressure” info comes from Sports Info Solutions, pace and adjusted sack rate/adjusted line yards come from Football Outsiders