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 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:
The Giants are slightly above-average at containing tight ends instead, being susceptible to all other areas of the field. That’s fine with me, because I have no interest in playing Jason Witten past 2015 anyways. Michael Gallup was not able to take advantage of Amari Cooper playing only one series in Week 6, but we can actually interpret that as a positive; when both of these players are on the field it benefits not only Dak Prescott, it helps each receiver. The table below shows the production of the top two Cowboys receivers and Prescott when all three have been on the field together (I’ve excluded Week 6 when Cooper left early).
*Week 1 versus the New York Giants
With both receivers coming out of the Cowboys bye week evidently healthy, the passing game trio is faced with a juicy matchup. Both Cooper and Gallup have a propensity to line up in the slot, meaning they will likely see each of the Giants trio of cornerbacks Janoris Jenkins, Grant Haley and DeAndre Baker. Baker has allowed a 130.15 QBR while being targeted (10th-worst) and Haley has allowed a 123.33 mark (15th-worst), according to Sports Info Solutions (min. 10 targets).
This is a rare game featuring a completely healthy Dallas offensive line getting a mediocre Giants pass rush - even with the addition of Leonard Williams. I am taking this opportunity to load up on this passing attack.
Tyrell Williams’ return would be quite the boon to the Raiders offense if it weren’t for the injury to center Rodney Hudson. It’s impossible to quantify this addition-subtraction from two very different positions so I’m comfortable calling it a wash. Whether Oakland decides to go with Richie Incognito or backup Andre James (who is also dealing with an ankle injury), the interior matchup shouldn’t be too difficult to neutralize. The Detroit rotation of John Atkins (2018 UDFA with 126 career snaps) and Damon “Snacks” Harrison (notorious run-stuffer with questionable pass-rushing chops) should be deftly kept from putting pressure on Derek Carr.
Not in the Bengals/Dolphins level of ineptitude, but Detroit has allowed 7.2 yards per pass attempt, leaving them in the bottom third of the league. Passing game production has come to a head over the last three weeks, with Daniel Jones, Kirk Cousins and Aaron Rodgers combining for 952 yards and ten touchdowns in Weeks 6-8 against the Lions. This boosts the likely outcomes of the only two people Derek Carr wants to throw the ball to; Darren Waller and Tyrell Williams. In the five games Tyrell the Gazelle has been healthy in 2019, he has been the clear deep-ball option (41% of the team’s air yards with a 15.6 average depth of target) and Darren Waller has been the oft-used safety blanket (28% target share, 190[!] yards after catch).
I’m not ashamed to admit that I thought Tyrell’s skillset was not aligned with Carr’s passing ability (even wrote an entire article about it in the offseason) and it’s clear that I was blatantly wrong. Williams is averaging 16.14 PPR points per game, even though he has been held under 50 yards in three of five games. There’s enough of a floor to feel comfortable plugging him in your lineups as a WR2 and he’s certainly in consideration for DFS cash games.
Baltimore has consistently shown over the season that their defense is not what it used to be. Teams have been picking them apart, and considering the high level of play from third-year cornerback Marlon Humphrey and new addition Marcus Peters, we can rightfully turn an admonishing eye to the pass rush. Baltimore’s 5.0% Adjusted Sack Rate ranks 29th in the Football Outsiders metric. Regardless of the injuries that have plagued the Patriots offensive line all season, they still hold on to a top-ten unit. A unit that may not be mauling the opposition anymore, but are still committing fewer mistakes than the competition.
The time allotted to Tom Brady combined with the Ravens tendency to allow deep plays (6th highest Explosive Pass Play percentage allowed according to Sharp Football Stats), this could all point to a fruitful day for Phillip Dorsett. Dorsett, who leads the team with a 12.6 aDOT, has played in 90% of snaps in the last two weeks since returning from his hamstring injury.
It’s fair to worry about what will surely be a constant rise in Mohamed Sanu’s usage for the remainder of the season but if New England attacks Baltimore where they are susceptible - through the air - there will be plenty of three wide receiver sets and Dorsett will remain on the field regardless of Sanu’s involvement. For now at least.
Favorable Defensive Matchups
The Browns came out of their bye hoping to reinvigorate their season and they’ll have to do so against back-to-back-to-back tough defenses. The tough stretch continues against the likes of Von Miller, Bradley Chubb, DeMarcus Walker and Derek Wolfe (oh my!). These four defensive linemen/edge rushers will face off against left tackle Justin McCray, who will be making his second career start and right tackle Chris Hubbard. This pair alone allowed nine combined pressures to the New England Patriots last week, contributing heavily to the five sacks Baker Mayfield absorbed. That pressure has contributed heavily to Mayfield’s league-leading 12 interceptions. The Broncos are an auto-click in all of fantasy this week.
Washington has by far the lowest implied team total of Week 9 - a wretched 13.5. With the Bills not allowing a single pass catcher to reach 100+ yards (the only team remaining who can make that claim) and the possibility of a mistake-prone Dwayne Haskins starting the game, Washington is a full fade and the Bills are a high floor/low ceiling easy choice.
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.
There are only three teams in the NFL with a rushing play percentage north of 50%, with the Minnesota Vikings sliding into the second-highest position right in between the 49ers and Ravens with a 53.35%. This has helped to catapult Dalvin Cook up to fantasy's overall RB2 as he continues his third-year breakout we have all been so patiently waiting on. I’m not trying to take anything away from how impressive Cook has been, but his offensive line ranks fourth in Adjusted Line Yards (4.89) and has no doubt helped him reach this pinnacle.
The success appears to be continuing in Week 9 against a Kansas City defense that has yielded an average of 34 touches, 197 total yards and 1.8 total touchdowns to opposing backfields in the last four games (hat tip, Sneaky Starts). The Chiefs are an extreme run funnel defense, ranking 30th in DVOA against the run and fourth against the pass. aFPA will agree with this sentiment, as Kansas City’s adjusted fantasy points are a very average 17th against quarterbacks but a near league-worst 30th against running backs. It’s not all from the ground game either as the Chiefs have given up the second-most receiving yards out of the backfield as well. Lock Dalvin Cook into your lineups everywhere, even at that monstrous $9,500 DraftKings price point.
In the last three games, the Chargers have allowed David Montgomery to have a breakout game (27-135-1, 4-12 on five targets), Derrick Henry to catch a pass (and go 22-90-1), and let James Conner and Benny Snell to combine for a 33-116-1 on the ground and 8-92-1 through the air. This week they get the fire-and-ice tandem of Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams. Everybody has seen the limitless ceiling of Aaron Jones this season but it may be of some surprise that Jamaal Williams has double-digit PPR points in each of the last five games in which he’s played more than one snap.
Williams is a worthwhile Flex option this week, especially on teams struggling with byes. If Davante Adams is forced to sit out another week of action, Williams becomes a much cleaner option and a consideration for your RB2 slot.
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:
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!