The NFL is a matchup-driven league. Offensive coordinators are always looking to scheme their playmakers into one-on-one situations against a defender, while defensive coordinators will attempt to do anything in their power to upset the timing and rhythm of the opposing QB.
Despite the obvious impact that defenses have on opposing offenses, fantasy players and fans alike are often left with one-way metrics to describe offenses and defenses that they are then forced to compare against each other in an attempt to identify mismatches.
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The goal here is to provide easy-to-decipher charts and notes to define each week’s key matchups and advantages on both sides of the ball in:
- Explosive Plays
- Yards Before Contact
- Passing Game
The following charts display matchup-specific information meant to highlight the largest mismatches in these ever-important facets of football to ultimately gain actionable betting and fantasy takeaways. And, of course, to have fun.
Note: Data is solely from Week 1, 2021. There are obviously plenty of limitations to this due to the small sample size at hand; key discrepancies will be highlighted in the ensuing paragraphs and the metrics will get stronger as the season continues.
Big plays make the football world go round. Matchups between explosive offenses and leaky defenses are exactly what we’re looking for when compiling game stacks in DFS, or when betting an over.
- Explosive Pass Rate: The sum of an offense’s rate of 20-plus yard completions per pass attempt and the opposing defense’s rate of 20-plus yard completions allowed per pass attempt. A higher percentage is better for offenses (blue is good, red is bad).
- Explosive Run Rate: The sum of an offense’s rate of 15-plus yard gains per rush attempt and the opposing defense’s rate of 15-plus yard runs allowed per rush attempt. A higher percentage is better for offenses (blue is good, red is bad).
Mismatch Manifesto Week 2: combined explosive play rate.
Higher or lower % = large or small combined sum of the pass/rush big-play rate from the matchup's offense and defense (blue = good, red = bad)
Big pass play: 20+ yds
Big run play: 15+
All data from Week 1 2021, PFF pic.twitter.com/DPYEDc1Ypr
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) September 15, 2021
These offenses breed explosive plays: Six teams managed to rack up a gain of 20-plus yards on at least 12% of their dropbacks in Week 1: 49ers (17.9%), Cardinals (16.7%), Seahawks (14.3%), Texans (13.5%), Browns (12.5%) and Buccaneers (12%). Seeing Jimmy Garoppolo and Kyler Murray up top is a good reminder that not every explosive play is created equal; good thing all the yards count the same in fantasy land.
Speaking of the former No. 1 overall pick: Murray put together one of the better highlight reels of Week 1, tossing a pair of dope touchdowns to DeAndre Hopkins and Christian Kirk while also finding the end zone as a rusher on one occasion.
Still, it was his extended run before finding Rondale Moore downfield that truly demonstrates the level of stress the Cardinals’ 5-foot-2 quarterback places on opposing secondaries.
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) September 12, 2021
Murray has the sort of speed to be an open-field nightmare for just about anyone, while his ability to precisely launch the ball from awkward arm angles is largely unmatched in the league aside from that Kansas City dude. There might not be a defense in the league capable of shutting down Murray when he’s clicking; don’t expect the Vikings to be that guy, pal.
Good offense beats good defense in today’s NFL: Six quarterbacks seem to be especially set up well in their quest to create big plays this week: Russell Wilson, Murray, Matthew Stafford, Lamar Jackson, Aaron Rodgers and Tyrod Taylor. Credit to the latter quarterback on one helluva Week 1 performance even if he only cracks this list for a week.
Oh snap the Rams got themselves a quarterback: The Rams made easy work of the Bears on Sunday night, as Stafford and company hit a number of big throws that were largely unhindered. This was always the allure of pairing Stafford with Sean McVay: The former No. 1 overall pick has always had the talent to operate as one of the league’s best quarterbacks, but the Lions often left much to be desired in helping the man out.
- Play-action rate: Rams No. 1; Lions No. 27
- Pressure rate: Rams No. 12; Lions No. 15
- Screen rate: Rams No. 7; Lions No. 14
- Drop rate: Rams No. 2; Lions No. 13
- Shift/motion rate: Rams No. 7; Lions No. 27
- Targets to open or wide open receivers: Rams No. 4; Lions No. 21
Obviously Stafford benefited from playing alongside great receivers like Calvin Johnson, Golden Tate, Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones over the years; that doesn’t mean his time in Detroit couldn’t have been made a bit easier by utilizing some of these easy real-life cheat codes for improving offensive efficiency.
Up next is a Colts defense that Stafford ripped apart for 336 yards and a trio of scores in 2020; don’t be surprised if he achieves similar results without having to throw the ball 42 times this time around.
Offense is easier when the defense sucks: A few more quarterbacks are popping in the ole color-coded chart, as each of Zach Wilson, Baker Mayfield, Teddy Bridgewater, Mac Jones and Patrick Mahomes seem to be set up well in their respective matchups. Of course, the latter signal-caller is pretty much set up well against anyone. It’s truly ridiculous how good Mahomes is. Anyway, moving on.
Shout out to the artist known as Teddy two-gloves: I’m a bit of a Drew Lock apologist in my spare time, but give credit where it’s due: Bridgewater had himself a great debut with the Broncos. He extended the play before completing a pass with the help of a fairly lethal stiff-arm not once but twice in Week 1. It was truly a fun time for everyone involved (except the Giants). Additional credit goes to Bridgewater for missing out on a 50-yard score due to K.J. Hamler having a case of the butter fingers.
Bridgewater’s debut as a whole went about as swimmingly as possible, and he’ll be rewarded next with a date against the Jaguars’ potentially league-worst defense. Seriously, if the Texans hung 37 points on this group, what could the Broncos do? Unfortunately Bridgewater will be without the services of Jerry Juedy (ankle) for a while, but the likes of Courtland Sutton, Noah Fant, Tim Patrick and Hamler still provide plenty of firepower. The ex-Vikings, Saints and Panthers quarterback deserves to be one of the week’s top streaming options at the position in fantasy land ahead of this dream spot.
Not every passing attack is meant to fly: Signal-callers not expected to have much success in creating explosive plays through the air include: Ryan Tannehill, Matt Ryan, Carson Wentz and Andy Dalton.
Seriously, Matt Nagy hurry up already: Dalton’s debut went predictably bad; his 4.5 yard average target depth and zero big-time throws reflected the reality that this offense was largely content to cruise to an opening day loss. Just how risk-averse were the Bears in Week 1? They were literally the only offense in the league to not even attempt a pass over 15 yards downfield.
Benching Dalton mid-game against his former employer isn’t the nicest thing to do, but a rough first half could lead to a state of chaos at Soldier Field if Matt Nagy doesn’t make the switch to Justin Fields. I vote for Chicago faithful to turn their backs to the offense during every play that features Dalton under center instead of Fields.
Don’t let these run games get hot: Rushing attacks set up to ball out include the Eagles, Ravens, Steelers, Raiders and Dolphins. The first two teams demonstrate the reality of how great it is for a run game to possess a dual-threat quarterback. Imagine being Lamar Jackson for a play. Like that old Mike Vick roller coaster commercial. That’s my dream.
Too bad it’s anyone’s guess what’s going to happen in Lamar’s backfield: Ty’Son Williams was dominating usage early in the Ravens’ Monday night loss to the Raiders, but Latavius Murray wound up pounding away down the stretch. It’s encouraging to see this backfield 1.) involve Williams as a receiver, and 2.) largely only consist of two backs, but the reality that Williams couldn’t establish himself as the undisputed workhorse just three days after the Ravens signed Murray is concerning for his role moving forward.
Le’Veon Bell and DeVonta Freeman lurk on the practice squad; the running back to roster in fantasy land will likely reveal himself over the course of the next month or two. For now Williams remains the preferred option, but Murray might just boast some RB3 potential himself if this Gus Edwards-esque role persists.
We can live with two-back committees in fantasy land; the problem is everything is condensed for these backs with Jackson essentially working as the offense’s No. 1 threat in the run game. Treat both Williams and Murray as top-40 options at the position, although neither needs to be squeezed into starting lineups ahead of a matchup against the Chiefs that could feature a negative game script for everyone involved. Coach John Harbaugh noting the team is “blessed” to have four running backs like Williams, Murray, Bell and Freeman adds credence to the idea that this is about to be a muddled committee best approached with extreme caution in fantasy land.
These offenses might just want to pass the ball: I mean, technically every offense should probably just pass the ball every play, but we’ll save that discussion for later. The Chargers, Jaguars, Giants and Falcons stand out as the four teams that could struggle mightily to create explosive plays on the ground. Note the Chargers could have more success than expected now that stud Cowboys DE Demarcus Lawrence (broken foot) is sidelined indefinitely.
Man this Saquon situation sucks: Saquon Barkley’s 27 total yards in Week 1 mark the single worst performance of his career. He failed to break a single tackle against the Broncos and was generally stymied before being able to get just about anywhere. Up next is the Football Team’s ferocious defensive line on just three days of rest; it’d make sense if the Giants again rest Barkley to some extent.
It’s unclear what scientific evidence exists that confirms giving a returning player 10 touches instead of 20 is a good idea; why make Barkley active at all if the Giants have any hesitation about his ability to handle his usual workload? Alas, this is the state we’re in at the moment, so Barkley is better off treated as a true low-end RB2 until his typical workload returns.
Fast-paced games lead to more plays, which lead to more points. Every week usually consists of at least a few games that could resemble a track meet based on their combined situation-neutral pace (Football Outsiders).
- Combined Situation-Neutral Pace: Represents the combined situation-neutral pace between each matchup’s two offenses. A lower number indicates fewer average seconds per play (blue = fast-paced game), while a higher number indicates more average seconds per play (red = slow-paced game).
Mismatch Manifesto Week 2: combined situation-neutral pace.
Low combined numbers (blue) = two fast-paced offenses
High combined numbers (red) = two slow-paced offenses
Data from Week 1 2021, Football Outsiders pic.twitter.com/JdclD0fz9U
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) September 15, 2021
Get ready to see a track meet: There are two clear fast-paced matchups that could lead to bunches of overall plays: the Bills (No. 3 in situation neutral pace) at the Dolphins (No. 5) as well as the Falcons (No. 4) at the Buccaneers (No. 7). The matchups boast respective 48- and 52-point game totals; don’t be surprised if points are flying on the board in Florida this week.
We’ll be moving plenty fast elsewhere, too: Additional matchups between two quick-moving offenses include the Broncos at Jaguars and Cowboys at Chargers.
No. 1 vs. No. 32: Fun fact: Rams at Colts features the fastest-moving offense (L.A.) against the slowest (Indy). A tortoise and the hare situation, if you will.
Unfortunately, some offenses are slow and lame: Two matchups stand out as spots that might not feature the sort of fast-moving game flow fantasy managers hope for: Saints (No. 24) at Panthers (No. 20) as well as Lions (No. 17) at Packers (No. 29). It’s still probably not a good idea to trust the Lions to limit anything inside of the Green Bay offense: This defense has allowed 41, 37, 47, 46, 31, 30 and 41 points in its past seven games.
Seriously, what are you waiting for: Two additional matchups between slower-moving offenses feature the Titans at Seahawks and Chiefs at Ravens. Tennessee boasted the third-fastest moving offense in the league last season. Their play-action rate went from No. 1 to No. 31. Not great, Bob.
An overmatched offensive line can result in poor fantasy days for all skill-position players involved. Meanwhile, QBs with all day to throw can help generate points in bunches. We can determine which offensive lines might be especially better (or worse) this week with help from PFF’ offensive and defensive pressure statistics.
- Combined Pressure Rate: The sum of the offensive line’s rate of pressures allowed per dropback and the opposing defense’s total pressures generated per dropback. A higher percentage (red) is better for defenses and indicates that quarterback could be under fire, while a lower percentage (blue) indicates that matchup’s quarterback could face reduced pressure.
Mismatch Manifesto Week 2: combined pressure rate
Sum of pressure rates between opposing offenses and defenses.
Higher percentage: that offensive line could be in trouble (red)
Lower percentage: not expecting much pressure on QB (blue)
Data from Week 1 2021, PFF pic.twitter.com/e3jncikcIR
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) September 15, 2021
The Washington passing game suddenly looks awfully meh: It’s tough to trust Terry McLaurin as more than an upside WR3 with Ryan Fitzpatrick (hip) sidelined for the foreseeable future. The reason McLaurin was ranked so highly before the season was in large part due to FitzMagic’s history of force feeding his No. 1 receiver. A pass-happy offense doesn’t seem likely with Heinicke under center considering he dropped back to pass on just 18 of his 34 snaps (53%), which isn’t far off from the mark Lamar Jackson (51%) posted inside the league’s most run-heavy offense last season.
Adding to McLaurin’s troubles is an expected shadow date with James Bradberry, who has emerged as one of the league’s better shutdown corners in recent years. He kicked off 2021 in style by holding Courtland Sutton (1-14-0) in check. His presence didn’t limit McLaurin (7-115-1) in their one-on-one matchup last season, although just 36 yards of that total came in the direct coverage of the Giants’ No. 1 cornerback.
McLaurin is my WR30 in this low-scoring spot: No matchup has a lower game total than Giants-Football Team (40.5). It sucks to have to consider benching someone you likely had to use a top-four round pick to acquire, but don’t be a victim of the sunk cost fallacy by letting a past decision influence a future one now that new information is available.
Kings stay kings: Brandin Cooks made a pair of spectacular contested catches in Week 1, immediately proving himself as Taylor’s No. 1 pass-game option. It would’ve been fair to doubt Cooks ahead of 2021 considering he’s essentially been the anti-Allen Robinson when it comes to his quarterbacks, but credit goes to both him and the artist known as TyGod for the stellar season debut.
Up next is a Browns defense that was dusted by Tyreek Hill on multiple occasions. Of course, Hill is too much for pretty much any defense to handle; don’t confuse this with a smash spot by any means. Still, Cooks has the sort of stranglehold on No. 1 duties to warrant weekly upside WR3 treatment regardless of the matchup; he was the only Texans receiver to play more than 60% of the offense’s snaps in Week 1. Cooks is my WR31 on the week and someone I’d start ahead of Chase Claypool and Jarvis Landry, among others.
Some offensive lines and quarterbacks are just more prone to pressure: Ryan Tannehill and Jameis Winston are also popping as signal-callers who might get tired quickly of how often they’re seeing angry defensive linemen in their face. At least Tannehill won’t have to deal with Chandler Jones this week. That’s got to feel nice. Five sacks! Sheesh.
Hopefully that Tennessee Week 1 was a fugazi: Tannethrill is truly excellent when given the benefit of a clean pocket. Otherwise things get rough in a hurry: His average of 2.8 yards per attempt when forced to move is the lowest mark among 39 qualified quarterbacks with at least 25 such attempts since 2020. Tannehill comes in at seventh when given a clean pocket and allowed to be stationary. The difference between the two rates is the single highest differential in the league.
Next up is a date against a Seahawks defense that typically relies on Jamal Adams to get the bulk of their pressure. This isn’t necessarily a bad strategy; just realizing failure to devote proper resources to the secondary can turn into a losing proposition in a hurry when facing two stud receivers like A.J. Brown and Julio Jones. I’m inclined to write off Week 1 as a fluke of sorts; continue to fire the key members of this offense as high-end fantasy options at their respective positions.
Sundial joke about having a ton of time to throw: The likes of Daniel Jones, Justin Herbert, Tua Tagovailoa and Tom Brady look poised to have all sorts of time in the pocket this week. The former quarterback is clearly the potential exception to the rule: Jones is popping more so because the Football Team couldn’t pressure Herbert to save their life last week. Don’t count on Chase Young and company staying quiet for much longer.
Blame mainstream media for this Tampa Bay offense: The Buccaneers have scored 30-plus points in eight consecutive games; no other offense has a streak longer than three. The only reason their Week 1 performance wasn’t even bigger was due to four largely unforced turnovers; TB12 is borderline unstoppable with these receivers around him.
Seriously: Antonio fooking Brown is technically the No. 3 wide receiver in this offense. How did God allow this to happen.
Bucs WR room is unfair lmaopic.twitter.com/2dKtbJxORS
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) September 10, 2021
The only real “problem” facing this offense is that TB12 only has one ball to spread around. Chris Godwin’s 13 targets in Week 1 reflect the likelihood that he’s the most consistent option out of the group, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see AB and Mike Evans rotate big games to some extent.
All three receivers deserve to be ranked inside of fantasy’s top-24 options at the position, although it’s Evans I’m most interested in this week from a blowup standpoint. He ripped off 7-104-1, 7-122-1, 2-37-0 and 3-51-1 receiving lines following his only four games with fewer than 25 receiving yards last season; don’t be surprised if Brady tries to get him going early and often against a secondary he caught nine of 11 targets for 156 yards against in two 2020 matchups.
Pass rushes that haunt the dreams of your favorite quarterback: Six defenses managed to pressure the opposing quarterback on at least 45% of their dropbacks in Week 1: Giants (54%), Panthers (51%), Jaguars (49%), Colts (46%), Raiders (46%) and Seahawks (45%). This list demonstrates the reality that pressure is often more of an indictment on quarterbacks holding the ball as opposed to a sure sign of a bad offensive line. The respective quarterbacks these defenses faced last week: Teddy Bridgewater (30th slowest release time), Zach Wilson (tied for 24th), Tyrod Taylor (tied for 24th), Russell Wilson (21st), Lamar Jackson (31st) and Carson Wentz (29th). For some this is simply a factor of their mostly positive ability to extend plays (Wilson, Jackson, Taylor and Bridgewater last week); for others it can be the sign of processing issues (Wentz) or simply trying to make a bit too much happen at times behind a faulty front (Wilson).
The league’s finest individual rushers of the passer: Six defenders managed to rack up at least seven pressures in Week 1: Maxx Crosby (13), Cameron Heyward (12), Arik Armstead (9), Myles Garrett (8), T.J. Watt (7) and Chandler Jones (7). Crosby’s performance is the highest single-game mark dating back to Week 1 of last season. The third-year pro managed to take down Lamar Jackson twice for his trouble and also deservingly won AFC Player of the Week honors.
RBs receive most of the praise for an offense’s rushing output, but an overmatched offensive line can thwart a team’s run game before it even has a chance to get started. We can determine the offensive lines that might be especially better (or worse) off this week by looking at yards before contact.
- Combined Yards Before Contact Per Rush: The sum of an offensive line’s adjusted line yards per rush and the opposing defense’s adjusted line yards allowed per rush. A higher number (green) is good for running backs, while a lower number (red) indicates that matchup’s offense could have some trouble consistently running the ball.
Mismatch Manifesto Week 2: combined yards before contact per rush
Sum of each offense and defense's YBC/carry.
High number: Good run-blocking o-line vs. bad run-defending D (blue)
Low number: Bad run blocking o-line vs. stout D against the run (red)
Data from Week 1 2021, PFF pic.twitter.com/yDW2rNowRr
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) September 15, 2021
Great day to be a great running back: The clear-cut top-three backfields in expected success before even being touched are the Eagles, Buccaneers and Browns. The latter run game is unfair: Cleveland boasts two of the game’s best running backs in Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt while also boasting PFF’s single best offensive line entering the season. Must be nice.
Seriously, the Browns might run for 500 yards this week: Chubb and Hunt continued to each look like one of the NFL’s best players at their position against the Chiefs in Week 1. The only thing holding both back from weekly top-five status is the other; regardless, this Browns offense might be good enough to (again) enable both to great heights more weeks than not.
This is particularly true in a dream matchup against the Texans. Credit to them for largely shutting down James Robinson and Carlos Hyde; let’s not immediately crown this unit after one solid week. The list of running backs to absolutely destroy this defense in 2020 is rather absurd:
- Derrick Henry: overall RB1, RB2
- Dalvin Cook: RB2
- Samaje Perine: RB3
- James Robinson: RB6, RB26
- Jamaal Williams: RB6
- James Conner: RB7
- David Montgomery: RB6
- Adrian Peterson: RB10
- Clyde Edwards-Helaire: RB10
- Chubb: RB11
- Jonathan Taylor: RB15
- Mark Ingram: RB18
- Damien Harris: RB19
- Nyheim Hines: RB22
You’ll be hard pressed to rank 10 backs ahead of Chubb in this dream spot, while Hunt should win the majority of start/sit questions in a matchup that figures to yield plenty of garbage time opportunities.
Unfortunately Bruce Arians’ backfield is a mess per usual: Ronald Jones was benched following an early fumble, leading to coach Bruce Arians noting in the postgame presser that he felt Jones “struggled mentally” to recover from the miscue. In classic Arians fashion, he’s confirmed RoJo will get the start in Week 2.
The Buccaneers are going to put up points; the reason why everyone largely faded this backfield in offseason fantasy drafts was due to the likelihood that all three players would maintain weekly involvement. This still seems like the most likely scenario more weeks than not; don’t let a 60 minute sample completely throw out that thought. Either Leonard Fournette or Jones would warrant top-20 consideration at the position if alone; unfortunately it’s going to be hard to tell which weeks that will be the case.
This is especially true in a potential smash spot against the Falcons; throwing a dart at either early-down back makes more sense this week than it might all season. I still lean toward Fournette being the superior option in most start/sit questions; just realize this is a fluid situation. Note that Giovani Bernard’s lack of work in the run game makes him cuttable in any non-PPR format, and even then he’s an incredibly thin bench stash at best.
Personal note: Check out my Week 2 Backfield Report for more specific information on the league's ever-evolving running back stables.
More running backs expected to have a little thing called success: Additional backfields that shouldn’t have too much trouble establishing the run, as the kids say, include: Ravens, Football Team, Lions, Broncos and Bills.
Well, well, well, look what Detroit has here: Screw the good matchup for the Lions. The target leaderboard at running back across the league is as follows: D’Andre Swift (11), Jamaal Williams (9) and Christian McCaffrey (9). Madness.
Jared Goff’s 6.3-yard average target depth reflects the reality that this passing game is built to go through the running backs and T.J. Hockenson. Historically, targets are worth 2.7x as many PPR points as carries; both Swift and Williams have the potential to turn into every-week starters if this sort of usage persists. This is particularly true for the former back; Swift sure has the look of a legit top-12 option in full PPR formats.
This latter point is particularly true ahead of a ripe matchup against the Packers’ reigning fifth-worst defense in PPR points allowed to running backs; Alvin Kamara’s (RB10) Week 1 performance didn’t add much credence to the idea this unit got fixed during the offseason. Fire up Swift as a legit RB1 in this matchup, while Williams is deserving of every-week RB3 treatment as long as Goff continues to condense so much of this passing game around the backfield.
Denver is a great city, and they also have a fantasy-viable backfield: Credit to Melvin Gordon for getting loose on his 70-yard romp to the end zone, but Javonte Williams largely made the most out of his opportunities as well on his way to breaking four tackles on rush attempts alone. Life wasn't too hard for either back throughout the afternoon: Only the Eagles (3.4) averaged more yards before contact per attempt than the Broncos (2.5). Still, credit deserves to go out to both players, as the Broncos also ranked sixth in yards after contact per attempt.
Up next is a smash spot against the Jaguars’ potential league-worst defense. It’s clear Williams’ takeover will take a bit, but 15 combined carries and targets isn’t a bad floor to start with. Treat both backs as upside RB3 options who certainly have the potential to flirt with top-20 value. Perhaps it’s too early to trust Teddy Bridgewater to consistently lead an above-average scoring offense, but at least the early reviews are positive.
Gotta love a good run game scheme: Seven offenses averaged at least 2.0 yards before contact per rush in Week 1: Eagles (3.39), Broncos (2.54), Jaguars (2.38), Lions (2.29), Bills (2.16), Browns (2.15) and Falcons (2.0). One of these backfields in particular surprised fantasy investors in a major way Sunday morning.
Well that escalated quickly: Zack Moss was a healthy scratch, leading to Devin Singletary largely working as the three-down option throughout the contest. Make no mistake about it: Singletary has earned this role after consistently functioning as one of the league’s more slippery backs. The third-year back ranks favorably among 70 running backs with at least 100 carries since he entered the league in 2019:
- PFF rushing grade: 78.5 (tied for No. 17)
- Missed tackles forced per carry: 0.22 (tied for No. 7)
- Yards per carry: 4.8 (tied for No. 10)
- Yards after contact per carry: 3.1 (tied for No. 12)
Singletary will always have a rough time supplying true top-end fantasy value as long as Josh Allen remains such a threat near the goal line. Last year, this backfield usually consisted of a 50/50 split between Singletary and Moss; the former talent should be able to provide more value than we’ve seen in recent years for however long he keeps this stranglehold on lead back duties. The latter back is someone that can be discarded from benches in deeper leagues without much hesitation.
Best Steven Tyler voice: Run away, run away from the pain yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah: It’s looking like this week will be tough sledding on the ground for the likes of Saquon Barkley, the Jets’ trio of backs, Alvin Kamara (good thing he catches passes) and David Montgomery. The latter back has been on absolute fire over his past seven games, ripping off weekly PPR RB6, RB1, RB6, RB2, RB8, RB5 and most recently RB8 performances. Still, through the first three quarters of the Bears’ brutal Sunday night loss to the Rams, Montgomery held a rather narrow edge over backup Damien Williams in overall snaps (35 vs. 21) while the ex-Chiefs talent nearly saw more opportunities on pass plays (16 vs. 13). Continue to fire up Montgomery as an upside RB2 against the Bengals’ reigning ninth-worst defense in PPR points per game allowed to the position; just realize his path back to every-week high-end RB1 status depends on more pass-game work coming his way.
Some pass offenses are obviously more efficient than others, while certain secondaries are seemingly capable of shutting down any aerial attack. We can determine the week’s biggest mismatches in the passing game using each offense and defense’s pass yards per dropback.
- Combined Passing Yards Per Dropback: The sum of an offense’s passing yards per dropback and the opposing defense’s passing yards allowed per dropback. A higher number (green) is good for quarterbacks and receivers, while a lower number (red) indicates that matchup’s pass offense could be in trouble.
Mismatch Manifesto Week 2: combined pass yards per dropback
Sum of offense's pass yards/dropback with defensive rate.
Higher number: efficient pass offense vs. bad pass defense (blue)
Lower number: inefficient pass offense vs. good pass defense (red)
Data from Week 1 2021, PFF pic.twitter.com/UkwFj12IIA
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) September 15, 2021
Look out local birds: Both Matthew Stafford and Joe Burrow are popping because Stafford eviscerated the Bears last Sunday night. Otherwise, Russell Wilson, Aaron Rodgers and Baker Mayfield seem like quarterbacks set up best to slice up their opponent’s secondary with regularity.
The Browns might be the second-best team in the AFC: Mayfield was largely excellent in Week 1, but especially so when throwing downfield. Overall, he registered three big-time throws on his trio of completions on passes thrown at least 20 yards. It sucks Mayfield wasn’t able to get the ball out of bounds while being hit on his game-sealing interception; please don’t confuse that with the man having anything other than a howitzer for a right arm.
Okay Baker okay pic.twitter.com/471ngmmxJw
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) September 13, 2021
Of course, Week 2’s matchup against the Texans doesn’t figure to stretch the limits of Kevin Stefanski’s playbook: The Browns opened as 13-point favorites. Look for Mayfield to (again) make a handful of great throws, but it might take a tougher matchup to see his pass attempt total start with a three or four.
Sixty-percent of the time, DeAndre Hopkins works every time against the Vikings: The artist known as Nuk is locked in as a top-five fantasy receiver thanks to his elite combination of ability and volume. His 6-83-2 line in Week 1 was even more impressive to witness on film; it’s scary to think what he could do to this group of corners if given the courtesy of double-digit pass-game opportunities. Patrick Peterson was special back in the day; it’s no longer that day.
The rest of the group is unfortunately a bit muddled. A.J. Green looked dustier than ever in Week 1, yet started alongside Hopkins in two-WR sets and played 16 more snaps than any other receiver. Credit to Christian Kirk for hauling in two scores, but it’s unclear if his lead in snap share over Rondale Moore (57% vs. 29%) will grow or shrink in the coming weeks.
Hopkins had a relatively modest (for him) eight targets in Week 1; he surpassed that mark in all but five games last season. Kirk and Moore shouldn’t be on waiver wires, but don’t force them into starting lineups while it remains unclear if Kyler Murray and Kliff Kingsbury can consistently enable more than one high-end fantasy receiver.
These passing games might be a bit rough n’ rowdy: Carson Wentz, Matt Ryan, Ryan Tannehill, Taylor Heinicke, Ben Roethlsiberger and Andy Dalton stand out as signal-callers that maybe won’t have the easiest of times through the air this week. Hey, anything can happen, but sometimes it just looks rough. Story of life, amiright?
Thank god for Diontae Johnson: A win is a win is a win; that doesn’t mean Big Ben wasn’t borderline terrible against the Bills in Week 1:
- PFF passing grade: 48.1 (No. 28 among 29 qualified quarterbacks)
- Yards per attempt: 5.9 (No. 26)
- Adjusted completion rate: 58.1% (No. 29)
Roethlisberger's 7.7-yard average target depth was even lower than last year’s career-low mark (8.1).
The potential good news: His 34.2% play-action rate was a career high. Roethlisberger wasn’t the only veteran quarterback to have a rather atrocious Week 1 (cc. 2020 league MVP); it’s certainly possible the performance was simply a blip on the radar.
Don’t expect this offense to enable more than one high-end receiver in 2021, and his name is Diontae Johnson. His target totals in 13 games not impacted by injury with Big Ben under center since 2020: 10, 13, 15, 10, 11, 16, 13, 12, 7, 13, 14, 16 and most recently 10. Madness. Johnson is an every-week upside WR2 and has blowout potential against a Raiders defense that allowed a robust 6.0 yards after the catch per completion to Lamar Jackson and company last week.
I’m inclined to treat Claypool and Smith-Schuster as borderline WR3 options until further notice. The former receiver flashed in the season opener with a 25 yard rush and spectacular catch over stud corner Tre’Davious White, but the latter receiver won the target battle (8 vs. 5) and looked fairly spry during some of his YAC opportunities. They’re certainly worthy flex options ahead of this winnable matchup; just realize the 2021 version of the Steelers offense looks far less pass-happy than the 2020 edition.
Not so fast, my friend: Additional quarterbacks who don’t look especially poised for success through the air include Derek Carr, Jalen Hurts, Kirk Cousins, Dak Prescott and Jared Goff. Of the group, I’d be most confident in Prescott and Cousins bucking the trend, at least in terms of aerial assault.
Passing defenses might not matter for the Eagles’ QB1: The second-year quarterback meow has five professional starts to his name.
- Week 14, 2020: 167 pass yards-1 TD-0 INT, 18 carries-106 rush yards-0 TD, fantasy QB11
- Week 15, 2020: 338-3-0 passing, 11-63-1 rushing, fantasy QB1
- Week 16, 2020: 342-1-2 passing, 9-69-0 rushing, fantasy QB12
- Week 17, 2020: 72-0-1 passing, 8-34-2 rushing, fantasy QB20 (in three quarters)
- Week 1, 2021: 264-3-0 passing, 7-62-0 rushing, fantasy QB5
Hurts was born to be a fantasy football QB1. His rush attempts from these five starts extrapolated across 16 games comes out to 169.6, which would be good for the second-highest mark from a quarterback in NFL history. It’d hardly be surprising if Hurts puts together another top-12 fantasy performance despite the tougher matchup this week against Nick Bosa and company thanks to his borderline cheat code rushing volume.
Dope secondaries always have the best nicknames: Just four defenses held their opponent to fewer than five pass yards per dropback in Week 1: Eagles (4.2), Rams (4.8), Steelers (4.8) and Cardinals (4.9). Yes, Andy Dalton had plenty to do with the Rams ending up on this list. Also yes, Jalen Ramsey is the *best Richard Sherman voice* best corner in the game.
Best corner in the game pic.twitter.com/aboAfcR86E
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) September 15, 2021
Points are ultimately what wins football games. We can measure the expected points of every play on offense and defense by considering the down, distance and field position before factoring in the result. Estimated points added (EPA) is thus the value of a play that takes context into account and thereby better measures efficiency at the play level.
- Combined EPA: The sum of an offense’s EPA/play and their opposing defense’s EPA/play allowed. A higher number (green) is good for offenses, while a lower number (red) indicates that offense could be in trouble.
Mismatch Manifesto Week 2: combined EPA per play
Sum of EPA/play of matchup's offense and defense to see biggest potential overall mismatches
High numbers indicate efficient offense vs. inefficient defense (blue), lower numbers are bad for o (red)
Data from Week 1 2021, PFF pic.twitter.com/yv32HCD7i3
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) September 15, 2021
Blowout alert: Matchups featuring the largest difference in combined EPA between their offenses: Saints over Panthers, Rams over Colts, Broncos over Jaguars, Seahawks over Titans and Lions over Packers. Only the last one is truly laughable and should be disregarded.
Over alert: Matchups with offenses set up for major success on both sidelines feature the Texans at Browns and Chiefs at Ravens above all else. It’ll be interesting to see if TyGod and company can maintain the momentum, or if Myles Garrett will make life miserable for the entire city of Houston. Vegas sure seems to think it’ll be the latter scenario: The Browns are presently 12.5-point favorites.
Under alert: Matchups with offenses that could stall out include the Raiders at Steelers, Saints at Panthers and Vikings at Cardinals. The latter matchup seems more like a shootout to me; the discrepancy is more so due to the Titans laying an egg last week as opposed to Minnesota being an atrocious offense.
Upset alert: Applicable underdogs with the superior offensive advantage are the Raiders (+5.5), Eagles (+3.5), Bengals (+1) and Lions (+11). Each seems like a reasonable enough bet against the spread; great day to be great, people.