With Week 15 of the 2016 NFL season upon us, Director of Analytics Nathan Jahnke digs through the Pro Football Focus database to bring you 32 unique pieces off PFF data you need to know for the upcoming matchups.
Los Angeles Rams at Seattle Seahawks
1. Rams SCB Lamarcus Joyner has surrendered 8.9 yards per catch this season, tied for the fourth-lowest average among cornerbacks targeted 50 or more times.
Most of the Rams' problems this season have been with the offense, as the defense remains one of the best in football. One of their solid role players on defense is Joyner, who fills the slot role in Los Angeles' nickel defense. This week, he will see a lot of Doug Baldwin, who is one of the best slot receivers in football. Joyner had one of his best games of the season when the Rams and Seahawks last faced off, surrendering just 6 yards per catch and a 50 percent catch rate.
2. Over the last three weeks, Seahawks DT Tony McDaniel has a run-stop percentage of 23.7, which leads all defensive/nose tackles.
In the past three games, McDaniel has nine run stops on 38 run snaps. Throughout his career, he’s been a rotational defensive tackle, and recently, we’ve seen some of his best performances. All season long, the Rams have tried to get the best out of Todd Gurley, but haven’t had help from the offensive line. In Week 2 against Seattle, Gurley averaged just 2 yards before contact through the entire game. McDaniel will try to limit his yards before contact to a minimum again Thursday night.
Miami Dolphins at New York Jets
3. Dolphins QB Matt Moore attempted a deep pass (traveling 20-plus yards in the air) on 17.0 percent of his throws in 2011, the fourth-highest rate among quarterbacks that season.
In comparison, Ryan Tannehill attempts a deep pass on just 9.8 percent of his dropbacks, tied for the fifth-lowest rate among NFL QBs. Tannehill will likely miss this week's matchup, so Moore will likely see his first start since 2011. That should bring more deep pass attempts, and this week, the Dolphins face a Jets' defense that has allowed 861 yards on deep passes this season, sixth-most in the league. This could lead to some highlight-worthy plays out of Moore.
4. Jets RB Bilal Powell averages 3.2 yards after contact per carry, second-most among backs with at least 70 attempts.
The Dolphins might not be the only team without a star player. Matt Forte went down with an injury in Week 14, and could be missing this game, which would lead to Powell becoming the lead back. Against the 49ers, he ran the ball 29 times for 145 yards, had two touchdowns, and forced seven missed tackles. In Week 9, the Jets were able to run the ball 21 times for 132 yards, mostly from Forte, so Powell could be in store for another big game.
Cleveland Browns at Buffalo Bills
5. Last week was the first time all season where Browns LT Joe Thomas didn’t allow a single pressure.
This season, Thomas has already allowed 27 pressures, which is the third-most for him in his career; if he allows two against the Bills, that will be up to second most. Despite a slight decline in his play both against the run and the pass, he still owns a PFF grade of 88.3, tied for fourth-best among tackles. This week, he will see a lot of Lorenzo Alexander. Alexander hasn’t been recording a sack per game like he was in the first half of the season, but has continued to get a few pressures per game against quarterbacks. Thomas will do his best to stall Alexander's strong season strong by adding another shutout.
6. Since Week 11, Bills NT Marcell Dareus has recorded 11 run stops, the most among defensive/nose tackles.
One of the best players on the Bills' roster this decade has been Marcell Dareus. This week, Dareus will face the Browns and Isaiah Crowell. Crowell had an impressive start to the season, then hit somewhat of a lull, but now is coming off one of his best games of the year. He recorded 113 yards on 10 carries in Week 14, with three missed tackles forced. Dareus will be one of the main players responsible for stopping Crowell in Week 15.
Detroit Lions at New York Giants
7. Lions DE Kerry Hyder owns a pass-rushing productivity of 11.1 when rushing from the left, the fifth-best mark among 4-3 defensive ends with at least 200 snaps from the left.
The Lions have been one of the more surprising teams this season. One of the reasons why is 2014 undrafted defensive end Kerry Hyder, who has emerged as a great pass-rusher. He has recorded a QB pressure every game this season, and has one sack, three hits, and seven hurries over the past three weeks. In Week 15, he will see a lot of Bobby Hart, the Giants' right tackle. Hart has only allowed one or two pressures in each of the last five games, and hasn’t surrendered a sack in that span. It will be a more difficult test than usual if Hart keeps up this good play.
8. Over the last three weeks, Giants WR Odell Beckham Jr. has averaged 2.93 yards per route run, second-best for receivers with at least 70 routes run.
While Beckham’s final numbers on the season might not end up as impressive as in previous years, he has remained one of the best receivers in the NFL. Beckham is coming off of three straight games with 94 or more yards. This week, he will see a lot of Darius Slay, who over the last three games, has only allowed four catches. It will be a matchup of strength vs. strength among young stars.
Philadelphia Eagles at Baltimore Ravens
9. Since Week 6, Eagles S Malcolm Jenkins has 14 run stops, the second-most among safeties.
While Jenkins' play in coverage hasn’t quiet lived up to his excellent 2015 season, his play against the run has been roughly as good. He has made more plays against the run than most safeties, which has led to the Eagles' run defense being average. Ravens RB Kenneth Dixon seems to have taken over the lead running back role for Baltimore. Dixon forced eight missed tackles over the last three weeks on his carries. Jenkins will want to make sure the rookie RB doesn’t have a breakout performance in Week 15.
10. Since Week 8, Ravens RT Ricky Wagner is the only offensive tackle to have over 150 pass blocks and not allow a sack or hit.
In the six games Wagner has played over that time, he has only allowed 10 QB pressures. Wagner had a breakout season in 2014, but regressed in 2015; now we are starting to see Wagner at his best again. This week will be one of Wagner’s most difficult tests of the season, however. He faces DE Brandon Graham, who has recorded 65 pressures this year, second-most among 4-3 defensive ends.
Pittsburgh Steelers at Cincinnati Bengals
11. Since Week 4, Steelers RB Le’Veon Bell has forced 35 missed tackles on his carries, second-most in the league in that span.
That is the week Bell returned from suspension, and since that point, he has been among the top backs in the NFL. In Week 15, he faces a Bengals team that has missed 55 tackles on run plays this season, third-most in the NFL. Bell should have another chance to have an excellent game.
12. Bengals LT Andrew Whitworth has a pass-blocking efficiency of 97.7, second-best among all tackles.
Year after year, Whitworth has been among the best left tackles in the NFL. On the same note, James Harrison has been among the best pass-rushers. Over the past six weeks, Harrison has recorded five sacks, two hits, and 14 hurries. In 2015, Whitworth’s three worst games of the season all came against the Steelers, but in their matchup in 2016, he held Harrison to just one QB hurry. Whitworth just celebrated his 35th birthday on Monday, while Harrison is 38, and both are slated to be free agents. This could very well be the last time these potential Hall of Famers go head-to-head.
Indianapolis Colts at Minnesota Vikings
12. Since Week 11, Colts DE Hassan Ridgeway has a pass-rushing productivity of 12.8, the best mark among 3-4 defensive ends.
Ridgeway is a fourth-round rookie who began the season as part of the Colts' defensive-line rotation, and has started three of the last four games. Over those last four games, he has consistently been getting a few pressures each game, including his second sack of the season last week. If he continues to improve while facing one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL, Ridgeway could be in store for a big game.
14. Vikings QB Sam Bradford has an adjusted completion percentage of 80.2 when kept clean, the fourth-best mark among quarterbacks.
As long as no pressure is on him, Bradford has been among the best quarterbacks in the league this season, recording a 10:2 touchdown-to-interception ratio. The Vikings' problem as the season has gone on, however, is that Bradford has been under pressure more and more. This week, he faces a Colts' defense that has one of the worst pass-rushing units in the league; if the Vikings can stop one of the few reasons for Indy optimism in Ridgeway, Bradford should have a chance to shine.
Green Bay Packers at Chicago Bears
15. When Packers WR Jordy Nelson has been targeted, Aaron Rodgers has a passer rating of 116.7, the best mark among receivers with 100 or more targets.
This season, 18 wide receivers have hit the 100-target mark, with Nelson being the most effective. This includes 90+ yards in five of his last seven games, and seven touchdowns in that span. The Bears have a good run defense and good pass-rush, but their biggest weakness is in coverage. That means Nelson should be able to have a better game compared to his one-catch performance in Week 7 against the Bears.
16. Bears LG Josh Sitton has a pass-blocking efficiency of 98.7, third-best among NFL guards.
Right before the season, the Packers released Sitton. He’s been playing the same position in Chicago, and has looked as good as ever. Over the season, he hasn’t allowed a sack or hit, and just six hurries. He was injured for the first Packers-Bears game of the season, but should be ready to go this time. This week, he'll see plenty of his former teammates.
Tennessee Titans at Kansas City Chiefs
17. Titans WR Rishard Matthews has dropped just one of the 50 catchable passes thrown his way; he has the most catches among all wide receivers who have dropped just one pass.
Over the last two months, the Titans have had one of the best passing offenses in the league, and one of the reasons why is the career year for Matthews. He has reached new highs in catches, yards, touchdowns, tackles avoided, and has done it all with rarely dropping a pass. This week, he will see plenty of Marcus Peters, as well as the rest of the Chiefs' secondary, which will make life difficult for him.
18. Kansas City's safeties have 17 combined interceptions and pass breakups this season, the most for any team.
Ron Parker has seven pass breakups, which leads all NFL safeties, while Eric Berry has four interceptions, tied for second-most at the position. The Chiefs' safeties are a big reason why the defense has played as well as it has. In Week 15, they'll face Titans QB Marcus Mariota, who only has two interceptions over his last seven games.
Jacksonville Jaguars at Houston Texans
19. Jaguars DT Malik Jackson has a pass-rushing productivity of 9.1, fourth-best among defensive tackles.
Jackson has been one of the bright spots for the Jaguars this season. Earlier in the year, he had one of his best games of the season against the Texans, recording four stops, one hit, two hurries, and a batted pass. For the Jaguars to win on the road, they’ll need Jackson to again make a big impact.
20. Texans CB A.J. Bouye has yet to surrender more than 57 passing yards in a game.
Despite being targeted nine or 10 times in some games, Bouye has just once allowed more than 41 yards into his coverage. He's recorded a 54.1 percent catch rate, a low 8.5 yards-per-catch mark, and just one touchdown surrendered. He wasn’t able to play against the Jaguars in Week 10, and that led to WR Allen Robinson having his best game of the season, with nine catches, 107 yards, and a touchdown. Bouye would like to limit Robinson this time around.
New Orleans Saints at Arizona Cardinals
21. Saints DE Darryl Tapp has a run-stop percentage of 11.2, fifth-best among 4-3 defensive ends.
The veteran defensive end has been a rotation player for most of his 11-year career, but in 2016, he has found the fountain of youth, and is having the best year of his career. That includes consistently making a play or two against the run each season, which is especially impressive, considering his playing time. This week, he faces the Cardinals, who have one of the best backs in David Johnson; it will be even more important this week that Tapp makes an impact.
22. Cardinals OLB Chandler Jones has 42 pressures when rushing from the right side, second most among 3-4 outside linebackers.
Jones had an excellent start to the season, and looked like he was heading for an All-Pro-type year. His season has since slowed down, and he’s only recorded eight pressures over his last four games. This week might be the week where Jones gets back on track. Saints left tackle Terron Armstead landed on injured reserve, so Andrus Peat will move to left tackle, where he’s played on and off all season. Last week at left guard, Peat allowed six QB pressures, and the week before at left tackle, he allowed five. That is a good sign for Jones.
San Francisco 49ers at Atlanta Falcons
23. 49ers rookie DE DeForest Bucker has 24 run stops, tied for the most among 3-4 defensive ends.
As the season has gone on, Buckner has shown why he was worth the seventh-overall pick in the draft. Over the last two weeks, he’s played all 127 of the 49ers' defensive snaps, and in that time, has recorded two sacks, three hits, two hurries, and 11 additional stops. This week, his goal will be to stop RB Devonta Freeman, who is coming off of his worst game of the season. Freeman had six carries for 6 yards in Week 14. If the 49ers can stop the run game, that will help limit the Atlanta offense.
24. Falcons WR Taylor Gabriel averages 2.47 yards per route run, fourth-most among receivers with 200 or more routes run.
It is rare for two wide receivers on the same team to be in the top five for this stat, but the Falcons have managed this with Gabriel and Jones. Gabriel has had at least 44 yards in each of his last six games, as well as five touchdowns. With Jones and Mohamed Sanu battling injuries, the Falcons will need to rely on Gabriel for their playoff run. This week, he faces the 49ers, whose biggest defensive strengths are their defensive backs and linebackers in coverage. If receivers like Gabriel can have a strong performance, the Falcons will put up a lot of points.
New England Patriots at Denver Broncos
25. Since Week 10, Patriots WR Julian Edelman has forced seven missed tackles on his catches, second-most among wide receivers over that span.
Thanks to his big play in recent weeks, Edelman has topped 10 forced missed tackles on his catches for the fourth consecutive season. His play after the catch is what makes him such a big asset to the Patriots. However, he faces the Broncos in Week 15, a team that has missed just 26 tackles in coverage this season—the lowest mark in the league. He will often see Chris Harris Jr., so this might not be Edelman’s best week.
26. Over the last three weeks, Emmanuel Sanders has 290 receiving yards, tied for second-most among receivers.
While the Broncos' offense hasn’t lived up to expectations, Sanders is still playing like one of the best wide receivers in the NFL. He’s had 21 catches in that span, third-most in the league, and has forced five missed tackles, also third-best. In last year’s AFC Championship game, Sanders also had the best offensive performance against the Patriots, with 62 yards on five catches. The Broncos will need his high level of play to continue to help keep their playoff hopes alive.
Oakland Raiders at San Diego Chargers
27. Over the last three weeks, Raiders TE Mychal Rivera has averaged 2.67 yards per route run, the fifth-best mark among tight ends.
The Raiders have had plenty of options on offense to give the ball to, including Latavius Murray, Amari Cooper, and Michael Crabtree. Over these past three weeks they’ve given second-string tight end Rivera more targets, which has led to more production. The first time the Raiders and Chargers played this season, the Raiders didn’t give their tight ends any targets. If they are able to spread the ball around more this time, they will have a decent chance of sweeping the series.
28. Since Week 10, Chargers CB Casey Hayward has allowed an NFL passer rating of 30.5, the lowest rating among cornerbacks.
Hayward has been excellent all season, but has stepped up his game, especially recently. Last week, he was thrown at twice, and batted both passes. He also has an interception in four of his last six games. The only touchdown he allowed all season was in Week 5 against the Raiders, so this week, he will look to redeem that one red mark on an otherwise great résumé.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Dallas Cowboys
29. Since Week 10, Buccaneers C Joe Hawley has recorded a pass-blocking efficiency of 98.9, tied for second-best among centers.
In recent months, Tampa Bay has been one of the teams on the rise. Star players like Jameis Winston and Mike Evans have played a big role in that, but role players like Hawley have been part of the rise, as well. Over the first four weeks of the season, he allowed two sacks, three hits, and five hurries. Since then, he hasn’t allowed a sack or hit, and just two pressures over his last four games. The Cowboys aren’t known for their pass-rush, so Winston should be kept safe for most of Sunday night.
30. Cowboys C Travis Frederick has gone 38 straight games without surrendering a sack.
There is little question Frederick is among the top centers in the NFL. This is mostly due to his run blocking, but he’s also been good in pass protection. This week, part of his responsibility will be to help stop Gerald McCoy, who has three sacks, three hits, and eight hurries over his last three games.
Carolina Panthers at Washington
31. Carolina RB Jonathan Stewart has recorded an elusive rating of 57.1, fourth-best among running backs.
Year after year, Stewart has ranked near the top of PFF's elusive rating metric. The Panthers' rushing attack relies on defenses who miss a lot of tackles. In past seasons, that would mean a big game for Stewart against Washington; in 2015, Washington’s defense missed 84 tackles against the run, which led the league. This year, that’s been cut down to 41. Stewart will need to find a way to break more tackles than Washington has been missing to force a big game.
32. Washington QB Kirk Cousins has recorded 1,092 passing yards on deep targets (throws traveling 20-plus yards in the air), the most among quarterbacks this season.
On the season, Cousins has completed half of his deep-passing attempts, with 11 of them leading to touchdowns, and only one interception. This week, he’s facing a Panthers team that has given up 750 yards and seven touchdowns on deep passes, both above league average, but they also have six interceptions on deep attempts, which is tied for third-most among defenses. Cousin’s deep attempts will be more high-risk, high-reward than usual in Week 15.