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NFL Week 8 Trench Matchups: There's a battle brewing in the AFC North, expect the Chargers to dominate for the second straight week

Nashville, Tennessee, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker T.J. Watt (90) celebrates the missed field goal by Tennessee Titans kicker Stephen Gostkowski (3) during the second half at Nissan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Roberts-USA TODAY Sports

Week 8 of the 2020 NFL season will feature more exciting battles in the trenches, with the AFC North clash between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens providing one of the matchups of the season along the line of scrimmage. Who will emerge as the victor?

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 number 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.

Things proceeded as we expected them to last week. Firstly, the Los Angeles Chargers‘ defensive line flat-out dominated the Jaguars up front. Despite blitzing only 20% of the time (well below NFL average, and the fifth-lowest rate of the week), the Chargers pressured Gardner Minshew on 59% of his dropbacks, and they generated quick pressure (pressure within 2.5 seconds of the snap) on 46% of his dropbacks, further highlighting the shortcomings of the Jaguars' protection. This was the third-highest quick-pressure rate of the season so far. Joey Bosa (90.2 pass-rush grade) and Melvin Ingram (86.8 pass-rush grade) were mostly responsible, as the two edge rushers combined for 15 pressures on the day.

On the other side of the spectrum, we didn’t expect the Seahawks‘ front seven to generate much pressure on Kyler Murray, and the game proved us right. Murray faced pressure within 2.5 seconds on just 11% of his dropbacks — only Tom Brady and Baker Mayfield enjoyed better protection last week. Given that the Cardinals were behind basically all game — often by multiple scores — it was a remarkable job by the offensive line. It definitely was not a good look for the Seattle Seahawks pass rush.

In our matchup of the week, we wondered whether the Chicago Bears could generate disruption up front against the Los Angeles Rams, but we projected a slight advantage for the Rams. Indeed, Jared Goff was kept clean for at least 2.5 seconds at the sixth-highest rate of the week on Monday Night Football, one of the reasons why the Bears never stood a chance, despite Goff not necessarily playing a good game.

Now, onto Week 8.

Favoring the offensive line: Minnesota Vikings DL vs. Green Bay Packers OL

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