Defenses around the NFL might have found their groove in the passing game over the last two weeks, as NFL offenses managed to generate just 0.08 expected points added (EPA) per pass play over Week 6 and 7 after opening up at 0.14 EPA per play over the season's first five weeks.
This shift was also caused by the battle in the trenches, as the league-wide pass-rush units were able to generate quick pressure (pressure within 2.5 seconds of the snap) on 24% of dropbacks in Weeks 5 and 6, a significant upgrade over the rate of 21% through the first four weeks. How will the trench warfare shake out in Week 7? Just like every week, it's time for us to analyze the trench matchups of every contest by predicting the survival curves for the offensive line and projecting how often a quarterback will be pressured at a given time after the snap.
Going into each game, a machine-learning model incorporates a lot of features in order to come up with a prediction:
- The survival curve of the offensive line in previous games (or from last year)
- The survival curve of the defensive line in previous games (or from last year)
- The PFF pass-blocking grades of the five offensive linemen
- The PFF pass-rush grades of the pass-rushers, and the positions they are projected to line up in
- How the blend of individual grades and team-level survival curves from the past are weighted toward predicting the cervical curve depends on continuity and how far in the past the information lies. Less continuity means the individual grades are weighted more heavily.
- Schematic factors such as how often the defense is projected to blitz and how often the offense is projected to use play action, designed rollouts or six-plus-man protections.
[Editor's Note: PFF's advanced statistics and player grades are powered by AWS machine learning capabilities.]
Each week, we will use our projections to highlight the biggest mismatches in the trenches. We will also identify an interesting matchup to watch.
Last week, we nailed our projection that the New York Jets offensive line would have its hands full with the Miami Dolphins pass rush. Granted, projecting any Jets unit to struggle isn’t particularly bold right now, but the Dolphins managed to create pressure within 2.5 seconds on 43% of Joe Flacco’s dropbacks, the fourth-highest single-game mark of the season.
However, our numbers also predicted that the New England Patriots would be able to keep the returning Cam Newton free from pressure, but the team's offensive linemen had a bad day — Cam faced quick pressure at the 10th-highest rate of the week, certainly not something we would have expected from the Denver Broncos‘ pass rush. Bradley Chubb and Shelby Harris both earned 90.0-plus pass-rush grades, by far their best performances of the season.
Here are our projected mismatches for Week 7.
Favoring the offensive line: Seattle Seahawks DL vs. Arizona Cardinals OL