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NFL Week 9 Trench Matchups: The Washington DL prepares to feast against the Giants, Dolphins vs. Cardinals offers an intriguing matchup

Oct 18, 2020; East Rutherford, New Jersey, USA; New York Giants running back Devonta Freeman (31) carries the ball as Washington Football Team defensive end Chase Young (99) tackles during the first half at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Our track record of predicting the battle in the trenches has been very good in recent weeks, and we hope to continue the positive trend in this week’s edition. 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.

How did things go last week? Very well for our predictions and for the Green Bay Packers … well … their offensive line, that is. While the Packers' defense couldn’t stop Kirk Cousins and Dalvin Cook at all, the offense also wasn’t dominating like in other games — the offensive line isn't to blame, though. Aaron Rodgers faced quick pressure (pressure within 2.5 seconds of the snap) on only 6% of his dropbacks, the lowest rate for the week.

We also figured that Drew Lock would face quick pressure fairly often, and despite his late-game heroics to bring back his Denver Broncos against the Los Angeles Chargers, this projection wasn’t wrong. The Chargers managed to pressure Lock within 2.5 seconds 28% of the time, significantly above average. Interestingly, the comeback wasn’t sparked by the pass rush slowing down in the fourth quarter, as the Chargers maintained that rate throughout the fourth quarter. It was the Chargers' coverage unit that broke down and allowed Denver to score three consecutive touchdowns.

Now, onto Week 9.

Favoring the offensive line: Pittsburgh Steelers OL vs. Dallas Cowboys DL

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