With Week 7 of the 2016 NFL season upon us, Director of Analytics Nathan Jahnke digs through the Pro Football Focus database to bring you 30 unique pieces off PFF data you need to know for this week's upcoming matchups.
Chicago Bears @ Green Bay Packers
1. WR Cameron Meredith averages 2.62 yards per route run, sixth-most among NFL wide receivers.
Over the first four weeks of the season, the 2015 undrafted rookie saw only 40 offensive snaps. After Kevin White went down with injury, though, Meredith became the full-time starter and has been excellent over the past two weeks. He’s seen 20 catches on 27 targets for 243 yards and a touchdown. This week, Meredith has a chance for the rest of the world to learn his name against the Packers' secondary. Green Bay's top cornerback, Sam Shields, landed on injured reserve this week, while their other starters Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins both have groin injuries, forcing them out of the lineup on Thursday night. Meredith could have a big game against some backups.
2. OLB Nick Perry owns a 13.7 pass-rushing productivity mark, third-best for 3-4 outside linebackers.
After making slight improvements each year, Nick Perry is finally starting to look like the player the Packers wanted when they drafted him in the first round in 2012. He has five sacks, two hits, and 17 hurries on the year even, though he is coming off of a game against Dallas where he failed to record a QB pressure. This week, he will face right tackle Bobby Massie more often than not. Massie has allowed three sacks, four hits, and 16 hurries on the year, so this should be an opportunity for Perry to add to his pressure numbers.
New York Giants @ Los Angeles Rams
3. Giants HB Bobby Rainey averages 2.37 yards per route run, fourth-most among halfbacks.
After Shane Vereen went on injured reserve, Bobby Rainey took over as the Giants' receiving back. He has caught 16 of the 18 passes thrown his way for 135 yards, and has had four defenders miss tackles on his catches. The Rams haven’t surrendered many yards to running backs the last two weeks, but earlier in the season, they allowed 41 receiving yards to David Johnson and 69 yards to Charles Sims. With the Rams pass rush, the Giants could be looking to make more short passes under pressure to Rainey.
4. When WR Kenny Britt has been targeted, Case Keenum has an NFL passer rating of 132.5, the second-best rating for any wide receiver.
Kenny Britt is coming off of one of the best games of his career. He recorded 136 receiving yards on seven catches, as well as two touchdowns. Los Angeles has such a high passer rating when targeting Britt, both because has a high catch rate, at 75 percent, and a high yards-per-catch mark, at 16.4; typically a receiver is good at one or the other. This week he will constantly be lined up against Janoris Jenkins or Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Both cornerbacks are coming off of great games against the Ravens, where they allowed a combined 50 percent catch rate and had two passes defenses each.
New Orleans Saints @ Kansas City Chiefs
5. Since Week 4, DE Cameron Jordan has recorded seven combined sacks and hits, tied for the most among 4-3 defensive ends.
He’s accomplished this despite the Saints having their bye week over this timespan. Jordan is often forgotten in elite defensive player discussions, thanks largely to the team he plays on, but over these last two games, few players in football have been better. This week, more often than not he will face Chiefs RT Mitchell Schwartz. While Schwartz had a rough start to the season in pass protection, over the last three games, he has not allowed a sack or hit, and has surrendered just one QB hurry. Something will have to give in this key one-on-one matchup.
6. Chiefs LB Derrick Johnson has allowed 0.39 yards per coverage snap, third-least among middle/inside linebackers.
Year after year, Derrick Johnson has been among the best coverage linebackers in the NFL. His play against the run has regressed at the age of 33, but in coverage, he’s been as good as ever. He has yet to allow more than 25 yards in a game, and is at just 68 yards surrendered on the season. While Drew Brees has remained good on deep and intermediate passes, he hasn’t been as good on short passes this year. Johnson should have another solid game and limit where Brees can throw the ball.
Minnesota Vikings @ Philadelphia Eagles
7. DE Danielle Hunter has a pass-rushing productivity mark of 10.6, fourth-best for 4-3 defensive ends.
Hunter has been building on his strong rookie campaign with consistent play and more snaps. In every game this season, he’s had a respectable grade of 71.5 or higher, but he’s yet to have a grade above 79,0 this year. This week could be Hunter’s chance to have a memorable performance. With Lane Johnson suspended, the Eagles have Halapoulivaati Vaitai at right tackle. Last week he surrendered two sacks, one hit, and one hurry. Hunter could take advantage of this matchup for a more impressive game.
8. DT Fletcher Cox owns a pass-rushing productivity mark 12.0, second-best among defensive/nose tackles.
He has four sacks, two hits, and 15 hurries for a total of 21 pressures, which is also second-most among defensive/nose tackles. While the move to a 4-3 defense seems to have hurt Cox's play against the run, he is currently on pace for his best season as a pass rusher. This week, he faces a Vikings team whose weakest unit is the offensive line. While Minnesota has allowed a lot of pressure, more of that has come from the tackles than the guards. The Eagles' defensive ends should get a decent amount of pressure, but if Cox can get a consistent pass-rush going, too, that could create some problems for Sam Bradford and company.
Indianapolis Colts @ Tennessee Titans
9. DE Kendall Langford has recorded an 11.0 run-stop percentage, second-best for 3-4 defensive ends.
As a run defender, Langford has been successfully blocked by offensive linemen too many times, but he’s also done a great job of occasionally making stops in the run game. This week, he faces a rival Titans team who has been run-first with DeMarco Murray. The Colts as a team have allowed several running backs to have good games against them, and in order to prevent that from happening again, players like Langford need to step up and play more consistently.
10. When CB Jason McCourty has been thrown at, opposing quarterbacks have a passer rating of 49.2, the sixth-lowest rating when targeting cornerbacks this season.
This is especially impressive, considering McCourty has been thrown at 41 times this season, tied for third-most among cornerbacks. During that time, he’s allowed less than half of the passes thrown his way to be caught, and has recorded two interceptions. Because T.Y. Hilton spends a lot of his time in the slot, McCourty will mostly go up against Phillip Dorsett and Charles Rogers. Neither player is having a strong season, so McCourty should be able to shut down one of Andrew Luck’s receiving options.
Buffalo Bills @ Miami Dolphins
11. CB Nickell Robey-Coleman has surrendered just 0.69 yards per coverage snap this season, the third-best rate among cornerbacks.
This year, Robey-Coleman has been the Bills' nickel cornerback, but he’s only allowed 9 of 22 passes thrown his way to be caught. On top of that, he has two interceptions, so he’s done a great job of shutting down slot receivers. This week he faces Jarvis Landry, who has 2.82 yards per route run, the most for slot receivers. This is going to be one of the best matchups of the weekend in terms of strength vs. strength.
12. Ryan Tannehill has an adjusted completion percentage of 79.6, the third-best mark among quarterbacks.
While the Dolphins have had problems with their offense this year, the issue hasn’t been Tannehill's accuracy. While his completion percentage is average, he has a league-leading nine batted passes, and an above-average number of dropped passes, at nine. The Bills' defense has held each of their last four opponents to fewer than 20 points, so Tannehill needs to keep throwing accurate passes against Buffalo's strong coverage.
Washington @ Detroit Lions
13. Mason Foster is allowing just 5.7 yards per catch this season, the second-lowest average for linebackers who have been thrown at 20 times or more.
Inside linebacker has been a weak point for Washington in recent years, but Foster has been performing well so far this season, making plays after the catch. Typically against Detroit, teams need to have good coverage players in the middle of the field, but Theo Riddick hasn’t been practicing and could miss this game (again). If Riddick can’t go, Foster can help ensure that Matthew Stafford has to throw to his receivers rather than his backs or tight ends.
14. Darius Slay has recorded six pass defenses, tied for third-most among cornerbacks.
Not a lot has gone right for the Lions on defense this season, but one thing that has is Darius Slay. Slay has remained one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL; he has yet to surrender more than five catches in a game, and has yet to allow more than 80 receiving yards. Against Washington, he will match up with Pierre Garçon and DeSean Jackson, who have both been close to average this year.
Cleveland Browns @ Cincinnati Bengals
15. Chris Kirksey has recorded 17 run stops, tied for second-most among middle/inside linebackers.
In his first two years in the league, Kirksey was a part-time player that looked like a good coverage linebacker that was a liability against the run. This year as an every-down linebacker, it’s been the exact opposite. This week, his job will be primarily to stop Jeremy Hill, a running back with only 3.6 yards per carry this season. Kirksey could have another strong performance against their in-state rival.
16. SS Shawn Williams has eight run stops this season, tied for fifth-most among safeties.
After playing well in limited time in 2015, Williams became the full-time starter for the Bengals in 2016. Williams had a strong start to the season with five run stops in his first two games, but only three run stops over his last four outings. This week, Williams faces a Browns' team that also started the season looking excellent as a run team, but over the past two games, Cleveland has only 66 total yards rushing. If either the Browns or Williams can get back to their early-season ways, it would help get their team a victory.
Oakland Raiders @ Jacksonville Jaguars
17. The Raiders' offensive line has only surrendered four combined sacks and hits this year, the fewest for any team.
In recent seasons, the Raiders have put together one of the best offensive lines in the NFL not just in pass protection, but in terms of run blocking, too. Derek Carr has been sacked seven times this year, fewest among quarterbacks to start every game. When he has been sacked, it’s typically has been his own fault, or from an unblocked rusher. Jacksonville’s pass-rush has been below-average this season, so Oakland’s line shouldn’t have much of a problem keeping Carr clean again, which could lead to a big game.
18. Jermey Parnell is one of just three right tackles to not surrender a sack yet this season.
Parnell is starting to become the player the Jaguars were hoping for when they signed him before the 2015 season. So far this season, he has surrendered one QB hit and eight hurries, with just one pressure allowed over the last two games. His challenge in this game will be facing Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin. Both pass-rushers have played well this season, although they haven’t fully lived up to expectations yet. This will certainly be a matchup to watch.
Baltimore Ravens @ New York Jets
19. NT Michael Pierce is one of seven defensive tackles to rank among the top 20 in pass-rushing productivity and run-stop percentage.
The list consists of great players like Aaron Donald and Malik Jackson, as well as the 2016 undrafted rookie from Samford, Michael Pierce. Pierce has one sack, three hits, three hurries, and five run stops as part of the Ravens' defensive-line rotation. The Ravens' run defense has been the best for any team this year, and having depth like Pierce step up is a big reason why. Early in the season, the Jets had a good run game with Matt Forte, but Forte hasn’t looked nearly as good in recent weeks. The Ravens should be able to dominate in run defense again on Sunday.
20. The Jets are the only team whose guards and center have not been charged with a sack this season.
While the Ravens' interior pass-rush might get the best of the Jets' line in the run game, it will be difficult for Baltimore to also win in the passing game. The trio of James Carpenter, Nick Mangold, and Brian Winters have allowed a combined 14 pressures on the year, but none of those pressures have converted into sacks or hits. That will be a big help for Geno Smith in his first start of the season.
San Diego Chargers @ Atlanta Falcons
21. King Dunlap has allowed just four pressures this year; tied for third-fewest among left tackles with 100 or more pass blocks.
The Chargers' line has consistently been one of the worst in the league, but a lot of that is due to players constantly getting hurt. If everyone was healthy, they would play much better. In the games Dunlap has played in, he has performed very well. Over the last two weeks, he’s gone up against strong edge rushers from Denver and Oakland, and came away surrendering just two pressures. In this game, he will often see Dwight Freeney in pass situations. Freeney has the best pass-rushing productivity mark among 4-3 defensive ends, so it will be another difficult game for Dunlap.
22. DT Grady Jarrett has a run-stop percentage of 14.1, fourth-best for defensive/nose tackles.
Last week against the Seahawks, Jarrett had his best game in the NFL with a four-stop performance, as well as having a hit and two hurries. He has been arguably the best player in the Falcons' front-seven so far this season. Part of the reason Jarrett had such a good game is that he was going up against the Seahawks, the lowest-graded team in terms of run blocking. This week he faces the Chargers, who have the fourth-lowest cumulative run-blocking grade. It could be a chance for Jarrett to have another big day.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ San Francisco 49ers
23. Bradley McDougald has recorded a 6.1 run-stop percentage, third-best among all safeties.
After going undrafted in 2013, McDougald found a part-time role in early 2014, and has been a starter since late 2014. Each year he has improved his run blocking, and now he has been one of the better safeties at making plays against the run, even though he is still missing too many tackles. This week he faces a 49ers team that needs a big run game, but will likely be without Carlos Hyde. If McDougald can have a big game in stopping the run, it will force the 49ers to reply on Kaepernick.
24. Jeremy Kerley has 291 receiving yards when lined up in the slot this season, fourth-most among receivers.
Kerley spent 2015 with the Jets and the start of training camp with the Lions. Typically when a player moves around that much, they aren’t such a big part of an offense, but Kerley has become the best skill-player on the 49ers' offense so far this season. With Kaepernick at quarterback, Kerley had his worst game of the season, however, only catching two passes for 12 yards. Jude Adjei-Barimah was the most recent Buccaneer slot cornerback. In his career, he has allowed an NFL passer rating of 127.8 when targeted, so this game could be a chance for Kaepernick and Kerley to develop more chemistry.
New England Patriots @ Pittsburgh Steelers
25. Malcolm Butler has recorded eight pass defenses this season, tied for the most among cornerbacks.
This season, Butler has done a great job containing wide receivers, allowing just 52.5 percent of passes thrown his way to be caught. After a somewhat bumpy start, he’s allowed just 70 receiving yards over the past four games. This week he faces a Steelers team that has great receivers, but Butler’s job will be easier than expected with Landry Jones throwing passes. If a few bad throws are sent Butler’s way, he could have a big game.
26. Le’Veon Bell is averaging 4.2 yards after contact per carry; that is more than what half of NFL running backs have total before and after contact.
That is also the highest mark in the league. With Ben Roethlisberger out for an extended period of time, the run game will be more important than usual for Pittsburgh. Luckily for them, they have the best running back in football. However, this week he is going up against a Patriots defense that currently ranks second in run defense (in terms of cumulative PFF grade this season). New England knows Bell will run a lot, and will do everything they can to stop it.
Seattle Seahawks @ Arizona Cardinals
27. QB Russell Wilson owns the position's highest adjusted completion percentage under pressure this season, at 76.2.
As expected, Wilson has been among the most-pressured quarterbacks in the league this year. He’s been under pressure on 37.5 percent of dropbacks, the fifth-highest rate for NFL QBs. For most teams it would hurt the offense substantially, but because Wilson is so accurate under pressure, it ails the Seahawks less. This week, Seattle faces a strong pass-rush, as well as some of the best defensive backs, so Wilson needs to stay just as accurate to potentially get a road division victory.
28. Chandler Jones has 10 run stops this year, tied for third-most among 3-4 outside linebackers.
While Jones has made his biggest impact with the Cardinals as a pass rusher, he’s also played well against the run. Against the Seahawks, the player tasked with stopping him is Bradley Sowell. Sowell has a run-blocking grade of 42.0, second-worst for left tackles with at least 100 run blocks on the season. Jones should be able to take advantage of former Cardinal in both the run and passing game to help build a potential All-Pro résumé.
Houston Texans @ Denver Broncos
29. TE C.J. Fiedorowicz averages 2.07 yards per route run, sixth-best among tight ends.
The 2014 third-round pick had a slow start to the season, with single-digit receiving yards after three weeks. Since then, Fiedorowicz has been a much larger part of the Texans' offense. He’s caught 14 passes for 194 yards and two touchdowns over Houston’s last three games. Denver has excellent cornerbacks, so instead of Houston throwing a lot to their wide receivers, we could see Fiedorowicz having a fourth-straight strong performance.
30. WR Emmanuel Sanders is the only wide receiver with more than 30 catches with no dropped passes.
Sanders has 36 catches this season, and hasn’t dropped a pass since the divisional round of the playoffs in 2015. When Denver wins, it has been primarily because of their defense, but Sanders has been the Broncos' best weapon on offense so far this season. The WR might have an opportunity for a big game in Week 7, as Houston has had injuries at cornerback. Kareem Jackson has missed the last two games, while Kevin Johnson is now out indefinitely.