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 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 matchups we can exploit.
Favorable Quarterback Matchups
Basically, what we’re looking for here is a tall bar (a team ranked low in aFPA) towards the left of the graph (a team ranked high in offensive line play) for a positive correlation to offense and a small bar towards the right to a positive correlation for a defense. Here are the plays that stick out to me:
Dallas has had arguably the easiest starting schedule in the league and has certainly made the most of what has been handed to them. Prescott has accumulated a 9.79 yards per attempt and 10 total touchdowns en route to an impressive 27.87 fantasy points per game and a proud standing as the overall QB2. Things should continue to roll this week as the most impressive offensive line in the league will look to give Dak all the time he needs against a very burn-able secondary.
The most interesting matchup of this game won’t be any of the wide receiver/cornerback pairings but instead will occur on the right side of the line where right tackle La’el Collins will be tasked with stopping Saints edge rusher Cameron Jordan, who has spent much of his first three games terrorizing the competition. If New Orleans can get Collins some help on the right side of the line to neutralize Jordan, Prescott should have a heyday with the Saints’ below-average coverage.
Cam Jordan was dominant in Week 2.
Numbers don't tell the whole story but here are some:
2 forced holds
5 solo tackles, 1 TFL, 1 sack, 2 QB hits, 1 fumble recovery
Absolutely relentless on every snap ?️ pic.twitter.com/yCHp9UIev6
— Brandon Thorn (@BrandonThornNFL) September 20, 2019
This game presents a perfect “bounce-back” scenario for Lamar Jackson after his “disappointing” QB10 finish against the Chiefs last weekend. The strength of the Browns defense comes across the defensive line where edge rushers Olivier Vernon and Myles Garrett are complemented by seldom-rotated Sheldon Richardson and Larry Ogunjobi. This stout offensive line will attempt to countervail the defensive attack to open running lanes (currently ranked fifth in adjusted line yards) and put the pressure on the secondary to contain the speed of rookies Miles Boykin and Marquise Brown.
Jackson’s 10.7 intended air yards rank fifth according to next gen stats (and would rank third if we remove the Miami quarterbacks since they’re not really a team), showcasing his continuing big-play potential. That potential will be multiplied on Sunday if Browns cornerback Denzel Ward is forced to miss another game. Ward missed practice again today (Thursday) and is questionable to play. That’s a problem, as a back-up lined up on the other side of Marquise Brown - currently ranked 10th in aDOT - would equate to even more downfield targets.
This game has the chance to be a sneaky shootout but I’d like to focus on the New York side of the ball as their strong offensive line provides the much better matchup of the two teams. While the Giants have allowed a respectable 6.20% adjusted sack rate (15th), Washington as a defense has managed a 4.76% sack percentage - ranking them 26th. According to Sports Info Solutions, Washington only has one player in the top-75 front seven players (DE, DT or LB) in pressure percentage (Ryan Kerrigan - 50th). This adds up to a more comfortable day for Daniel Jones than his first start in which Tampa Bay’s Shaquil wreaked havoc on left tackle Nate Solder.
So why attack this offense or this game in general when we have more exciting games with higher totals this weekend? For one, Washington and the New York Giants are ranked 29th and 30th respectively in our aFPA to quarterbacks. Each team is also bottom five in fantasy points allowed to QB/WR pairings, and the Vegas odds have been raised +3.5 points with likely more to come. There’s a lot to work with here for a rookie coming off of a 364 yard, four score debut.
Favorable Defensive Matchups
Rams vs. Buccaneers
A dominant defense playing at home, favored by 9.5 points. What more could you ask for? Well, how about a quarterback with a propensity for turning the ball over and an offensive line allowing the sixth-worst adjusted sack rate? Sign. Me. Up.
This one is not so easy to justify, but it's a start I wouldn't mind making as a floor play and a not-too-terrible idea for a contrarian play in daily fantasy sports. Carolina is planted firmly inside the top-five sack rates in the NFL behind Jacksonville, New England and Green Bay while limiting opponents to 4.7 yards per pass attempt. Houston's offensive line is undoubtedly better since the acquisition of Laremy Tunsil but it's still by no means good, as reflected by their 11.4% adjusted sack rate (30th) and their lowly position in my rankings (28th). Deshaun Watson has the talent to make a play of the Panthers defense a miserable one but the comparable ineptitude of his offensive line could deliver him into the hands of a great defensive front enough times to make this a cunning play.
Favorable Running Back Matchups
The above rushing aFPA graph will work exactly the same way as the QB aFPA graph worked; tall lines on the left are areas we want to attack and short lines on the right should make you second guess the fantasy pieces associated with those offenses.
James Conner has had a miserable start to the season (34 carries, 97 yards) on the ground but just like the entire Steelers offense, the Pittsburgh fantasy pieces should be able to breathe a sigh of relief when the lowly Cincinnati Bengals come into town Monday night. A “get right” spot if there ever was one, Cincinnati has allowed 28.2 adjusted fantasy points through three games, trailing only the Miami Dolphins (29.7 aFPA). Opposing running backs have trounced the Bengals, putting up lines of; 15-46-1 and 6-35-1 through the air (Chris Carson), 12-121 (Matt Breida), 13-83 and 3-68-1 through the air (Raheem Mostert), 10-34-2 (Jeff Wilson), and 14-76-1 (Frank Gore). Yes, this team has allowed very usable fantasy production to five running backs through three weeks.
Dallas’ defensive weakness plays directly into the Saints’ limitations as an offense with Drew Brees riding the pine for the foreseeable future. In Teddy Bridgewater’s first start with New Orleans, it was apparent what coach Sean Peyton wanted out of Teddy Two Gloves; don’t push the ball down the field, and don’t turn the ball over. Check and check. Bridgewater didn’t attempt a pass further than 15 yards and his 3.3 (!!) average intended air yards weren’t just the lowest of Week 3, they were the lowest of the season.
This directly affects the ancillary pieces of New Orleans — the Jared Cooks, Ted Ginns and TreQuan Smiths of the world — quite negatively. Who is set to benefit is Alvin Kamara, who came out of Week 3 with 25 touches and 150+ total yards to cash in an overall RB2 finish to propel him back into the top-five running back picture. Dallas has already been susceptible to pass-catching backs, allowing 21 catches to the position up to this point.
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:
- Chris Carson, Seahawks (Arizona is a pass-funnel defense)
- Devonta Freeman, Falcons
- Ronald Jones, Buccaneers
- Frank Gore, Bills
That’s all I’ve got for this week, everyone. If there’s something you’d like me to dig into specifically with regards to offensive line vs. defensive lines please give me a shout! For further reading regarding our aFPA statistic and how to use it in your favor, give John Paulsen’s Sneaky Starts series a read!