With Week 4 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 the upcoming matchups.
Miami Dolphins @ Cincinnati Bengals
1. Dolphins S Reshad Jones has recorded 12 stops this season, the most among safeties.
Jones has been a force in both the run and pass game, where he ranks among the top three in stops in both categories. The Bengals' offense has been playing well on a per-play basis, but has yet to put up a lot of points. If the Dolphins are going to hold Cincinnati to a low score, they need Jones to continue his dominance.
2. Bengals OLB Vincent Rey has recorded the second-best run-stop percentage for 4-3 outside linebackers this season.
In 2013 as a part time linebacker, Rey showed a lot of potential. He received more playing time in 2014 and 2015, though he didn’t play at the same level. Now in 2016, it looks like Rey is again at that 2013 level. He currently owns an overall grade of 90.0, tied for third-best among linebackers. The Dolphins will be without Arian Foster for Thursday Night Football, and will likely use a heavy rotation. If Rey can stop the run early, it could make the Miami offense one-dimensional.
Indianapolis Colts @ Jacksonville Jaguars
3. Colts LG Jack Mewhort has gone 925 consecutive pass-blocking snaps without allowing a sack, the most in the league for a non-center.
The streak dates back to 2014, back when Mewhort was still playing right tackle. Since the move, he’s been among the better pass-blocking guards in the league. So far this season, he has yet to allow a sack or a hit. This week, he will have the challenge of facing DT Malik Jackson on most passing snaps. Jackson has a pass-rushing productivity of 13.7, the best for defensive tackles this season. If anyone is going to stop Mewhort from reaching 1,000 pass blocks without a sack, it will be Jackson.
4. Jaguars TE Marcedes Lewis is averaging 2.44 yards per route run, the most for tight ends this season.
The Jaguars have plenty of younger, more exciting receiving options, but when Lewis has been asked to run a passing route, he’s been very effective. Lewis is currently on pace for his best season receiving since 2012. The Colts just allowed Chargers rookie Hunter Henry to have a breakout game, with five catches on five targets for 76 yards. Lewis could have another big day against the Colts' secondary.
Buffalo Bills @ New England Patriots
5. Bills DL Kyle Williams has seven run stops this season, the most for 3-4 defensive ends.
Despite Kyle Williams being one of the oldest defensive players in the NFL, he is still producing at a high level against the run. His 82.6 run-defense grade is fourth-best among interior linemen in the NFL this season. He is facing a New England offense that has both quarterbacks hurting. The Patriots' run game is going to be very important, and Williams will be one of the most imperative players in stopping it.
6. Patriots DE Chris Long has recorded the best pass-rushing productivity among 4-3 defensive ends with at least 70 rushes this season.
After three games, Long is looking more like the player he was from 2010–2013, when he was constantly getting double-digit sacks, rather than the player from 2014–2015, who was either less-productive or out with injury. On the season he has two sacks, three hits, and eight hurries. Half the time he will be facing Jordan Mills at right tackle. Year after year, Mills has improved his pass-blocking, and so far this season, he’s averaging just one pressure allowed per game. The other half of the time he should be facing Cordy Glenn. Glenn missed the last two games with an injury, but is practicing again. The Bills will need both tackles at their best to help slow down Long.
Tennessee Titans @ Houston Texans
7. Titans RB DeMarco Murray has forced 12 missed tackles on carries this season, tied for second-most among running backs.
After three weeks, the DeMarco Murray era in Tennessee has been very successful. Murray has been averaging 6.0 yards per carry, in large part thanks to a big game against the Raiders, and a 67-yard run the week before against Detroit. This week, he faces a Houston defense without J.J. Watt. The Texans' outside linebackers have helped keep Houston’s pass-rush strong, but no one has been able to fill the void against the run. Murray could be in store for another big game.
8. Texans CB Kevin Johnson has surrendered 0.55 yards per coverage snap this season, third-least among cornerbacks.
After an okay rookie season, Johnson has stepped his game up in his second year. Over three games, he’s only allowed two catches on nine targets. Considering that the Texans are only using him on 60 percent of snaps, it will be awhile before he joins the list of elite cornerbacks, but after three games, that's still an impressive mark. The wide receiver he will see the most is rookie Tajae Sharpe. Sharpe has been averaging 50 yards per game, and hasn’t recorded his first NFL touchdown yet.
Detroit Lions @ Chicago Bears
9. Lions WR Marvin Jones has 208 yards on deep passes this season, most among NFL wide receivers.
Marvin Jones has reached that mark on five deep catches (throws traveling 20+ yards in the air), and two have led to touchdowns, also the most for receivers. The Lions' offense has been keeping them in every game this season, including their victory against the Colts, and Jones has played a big role with his new team. While the Bears have had more than their share of injuries on defense, players like Adrian Amos and Bryce Callahan have helped limit opposing passers. The Bears have allowed just four of 14 deep passes thrown against them to be caught, so Jones will face a tougher test than usual on Sunday.
10. Bears OLB Willie Young has recorded five run stops this season, tied for third-most among 3-4 outside linebackers.
Teammate rookie Leonard Floyd is not far behind, at four. The Bears have had several injuries on defense, which have led to below-average play against the run, but these two have helped prevent more big plays. This week, they're facing a Detroit offense that lost Ameer Abdullah to injury, and the team hasn’t fully recovered yet. If the Bears can stop the run in this game thanks to players like Young, it will go a long way towards keeping the Lions' offense off the field.
Carolina Panthers @ Atlanta Falcons
11. Panthers LB Luke Kuechly has made 27 tackles this season without missing an attempt.
Kuechly was by far the best linebacker in 2015, and has already reached the top of our linebacker grades this season, with a 91.2. The Panthers will need Kuechly to help stop the run, as the Falcons have the fourth-highest team run-blocking grade this season. They can also use him in coverage, as Matt Ryan has graded best throwing in the middle of the field. Last year, Kuechly’s worst game came when the Panthers travelled to Atlanta, but it’s unlikely he will have a performance that bad this time around.
12. Falcons RB Tevin Coleman has recorded 3.52 yards per route run this season, best among running backs.
Coleman's 176 receiving yards are second-most for running backs through three games. His success in the passing game is a big reason why the former Hoosier has earned as much playing time as he has. So far this season, however, Carolina has only allowed 10 passes for 81 yards to running backs, making Sunday Coleman’s toughest test yet this season.
Seattle Seahawks @ New York Jets
13. QB Russell Wilson has an adjusted completion percentage of 82.6 percent when under pressure this season, best among quarterbacks through three weeks.
Wilson has faced pressure on 36.8 percent of his dropbacks thus far, the fourth-highest rate for quarterbacks. It doesn’t matter as much as it does for other quarterbacks, however, because Wilson avoids bad decisions under pressure. The Jets' pass-rush hasn’t been as strong as one would expect with Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson, who have seven QB pressures each this season. The Seahawks' offensive line presents a perfect opportunity to get things back on track, however, though it might not matter if Wilson can keep hitting his receivers when he’s facing a strong pass-rush.
14. Jets RG Brian Winters has a pass-blocking efficiency of 99.4 this season, tied for the best mark among guards.
In every year since being drafted, Brian Winters has improved his pass blocking. This year, he’s taken an even bigger step, and is entering his seventh straight game with no sacks or hits allowed. He will at times face Michael Bennett, who splits his time on the left and right, and at times rushes from the inside. Bennett has two sacks this season, but both have been on the offense’s left side. If Bennett still doesn’t have a sack from the offense’s right, Winters will play a part in that.
Oakland Raiders @ Baltimore Ravens
15. Raiders RB Latavius Murray is averaging 3.5 yards after contact per carry, third-best for backs with at least 20 carries.
After a disappointing 2015 season, Murray has been more consistent in 2016. Even though he has yet to have a carry for more than 22 yards, he has been consistently gaining yards after initial contact, which has helped Oakland have one of the best offenses so far this season. Last week, however, the Ravens held Jacksonville to 2.3 yards per carry. Baltimore has earned the second-best run-defense grade this year, meaning Murray’s production may take a dip this week.
16. Ravens DE Timmy Jernigan is the only 3-4 defensive end with three sacks so far this season.
Jernigan also has three QB hits and two hurries for a total of eight pressures on the season. Over the last few years, the Ravens had great edge rushers, but so far in 2016, their most impressive rusher has been Jernigan. It will be more difficult for Jernigan to get a sack this week, as the Raiders' offensive line is the only one to not allow a sack so far this season. If Jernigan is able to get more pressure—and potentially a sack—it could help them remain undefeated.
Cleveland Browns @ Washington
17. Since moving to DE, Stephen Paea has recorded the best pass-rushing productivity mark among 3-4 defensive ends with at least 10 pass rushes.
In Week 1, Paea primarily played nose tackle, but since then, he’s played almost exclusively as a 3-4 defensive end, and has done very well as a pass-rusher after the move. Over the last two games, he has one QB hit and five hurries on 24 pass rushes. He has been by far Cleveland’s best interior pass rusher on the season. Washington has been one of the best teams in pass protection, so it will be difficult for Paea to get a lot of pressure on Sunday. Washington’s offensive line has a pass-blocking efficiency of 84.5, seventh-best in the league this season.
18. Redskins TE Jordan Reed has forced five missed tackles on his receptions this season, the most for tight ends.
New teammate Vernon Davis is tied for second, at four missed tackles forced. Tight ends have been a big part of Washington’s offense, and they should remain so against Cleveland. Last week, the Browns allowed Dion Sims to have four catches for 46 yards, and the week before, Dennis Pitta recorded 102 yards on nine catches. Washington’s tight ends could have their best game yet on Sunday.
Denver Broncos @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers
19. Broncos WR Demaryius Thomas averages 2.80 yards per route run, third-most among wide receivers this season.
After a down year in 2015, Thomas is off to a good start in 2016. Despite only seeing six-to-seven targets a game, Thomas had a 100-yard outing against the Bengals, which was preceded by a 90-yard game against the Colts. This week, he'll face the Bucs' duo of Brent Grimes and rookie Vernon Hargreaves. Both are in their first season with Tampa Bay, and so far they’ve had up-and-down performances. If they are down on Sunday, Thomas could have a third straight big game.
20. Buccaneers LB Kwon Alexander has 11 run stops this season, tied for second-most among linebackers.
While Alexander made a lot of good plays as a rookie, he also had a lot of bad ones mixed in. This year, he is still making some big plays, but with less of the bad. So far, Broncos running back C.J. Anderson hasn’t had the best start to the season, and if Alexander can pull together one of his great games, it would make the Denver offense one-dimensional.
Los Angeles Rams @ Arizona Cardinals
21. Rams DT Aaron Donald has recorded 17 QB pressures this season, the most for any defensive player, regardless of position.
Despite how much pressure Donald has, he has yet to record his first sack of the season. He owns an overall grade of 94.9, highest for any player, regardless of position. If Donald is going to start getting recognized by the rest of the world as the best defensive player in football, he will need to begin registering some sacks. They could very well come against the Cardinals; guard Evan Mathis has played better as a run blocker these past two seasons rather than a pass protector, and he missed the last game with injury. Center A.Q. Shipley has also been better as a run blocker than as a pass protector. Carson Palmer has been sacked on 23.7 percent of the plays he’s been under pressure this season, the fifth-highest rate in the league, so this very well could be the game where Donald records his first sack of the season.
22. Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald has 20 catches and no drops this season; no other wide receiver has more catches without a drop.
Fitzgerald is typically one of the most reliable receivers in the NFL at catching passes. Last year, he had an abnormally high five drops, with two coming in the conference championship game. He’s off to a good start this season, and the Cardinals could use it against the Rams. Los Angeles has one of the best defenses in the NFL, mostly thanks to their front-seven. If they have one weakness, though, it’s their secondary. In order for Arizona to take advantage, they’ll need one of their receivers to have a big game.
Dallas Cowboys @ San Francisco 49ers
23. Cowboys WR Cole Beasley has averaged 2.77 yards per route run in the slot this season, third-most for slot receivers.
Beasley is having what could be his best season yet, with at least five catches and at least 65 yards in each of his three games so far. This week, he is facing a 49ers defense that looked excellent in Week 1 against the Rams, but their coverage has only been average these last two weeks. San Francisco just surrendered 164 yards to Seahawks WR Doug Baldwin in Week 3, so unless the 49ers can return to their Week 1 ways, Beasley could be in store for another big game.
24. 49ers DE Arik Armstead owns the best pass-rushing productivity mark among 3-4 defensive ends this season.
Armstead only has one sack so far this season, but he has an additional eight hurries, and this has all come on 63 pass rushes. Armstead typically lines up on the left side, which will often put him against Zack Martin. Martin has only surrenered two hurries with no sacks or QB hits. Armstead has been the 49ers' best pass-rushing threat, and they'll need him to get more than one or two hurries to help disrupt Cowboys QB Dak Prescott.
New Orleans Saints @ San Diego Chargers
25. Saints C Max Unger has gone 161 straight pass blocks without allowing a pressure, the most among offensive players.
In fact, Unger hasn’t allowed a pressure since the end of 2015. The Saints' offense has been strong this season, and a large part of that is the strong play of the offensive line. The Chargers have an improving pass-rush, led by Melvin Ingram, that New Orleans will need to stop. Drew Brees has an NFL passer rating of 113.9 without pressure this season, and just 62.7 with pressure. It will be a big help to Brees and the offense if Unger can maintain his streak.
26. When Chargers WR Travis Benjamin has been targeted, Philip Rivers has an NFL passer rating of 147.7—the highest mark for a single receiver this season.
Benjamin has caught 17 of 20 passes thrown his way for 229 yards and two touchdowns, with no interceptions when he’s been targeted. With Keenan Allen, Antonio Gates, and Danny Woodhead injured, Benjamin is now arguably the best target Rivers has in the passing game. The Saints have earned the second-lowest coverage grade as a team, so this could be an opportunity for Benjamin to have a big day.
Kansas City Chiefs @ Pittsburgh Steelers
27. Chiefs CB Steven Nelson has surrendered just 0.27 yards per coverage snap in the slot, the lowest for slot cornerbacks this season.
Nelson already has 102 coverage snaps in the slot this year, and in that time, he’s been thrown at 13 times. He’s only allowed four of those passes to be caught for 28 yards. For his first year as the Chiefs' slot cornerback, that's very impressive. The Steelers have been using receiver Eli Rogers in the slot. Rogers hasn’t been very effective this season, so that is one less receiving option Ben Roethlisberger can likely depend on.
28. Steelers RB Le’Veon Bell averaged 3.4 yards after contact per carry in 2015, best among running backs last season.
This Sunday night, we’ll see Le'Veon Bell for the first time this season, and he is likely to see significant playing time. With how good the Chiefs' secondary has been, the best way to attack Kansas City might be the run. Their run defense has been above-average, however, not yet allowing a 100-yard rusher. If the running back, who is arguably the best in the NFL, can change that, chances are Pittsburgh will get a home victory.
New York Giants @ Minnesota Vikings
29. Giants' Damon Harrison owns the second-best run-stop percentage among defensive tackles this season.
In each season from 2013 to 2015, Harrison led defensive tackles in run-stop percentage. After a strong Week 3, Harrison has returned near the top of the leaderboard. This week he is facing a Vikings team who has been winning despite poor play from the offensive line. There is one strong point on the line still, and that’s center Joe Berger. Berger is currently our seventh-highest graded center in football. While there will be big-name receivers in this game, this will be one of the most interesting battles of Monday Night Football.
30. When Vikings CB Terence Newman has been thrown at, he’s allowed an NFL passer rating of 33.2—lowest for cornerbacks who have been thrown at 15 or more times.
In three games, Newman has been able to shut receivers down at left cornerback. He’s allowed just a 47.1 percent catch rate, and has yet to allow a pass beyond 12 yards. Throughout the game, he will be responsible for covering Victor Cruz and Odell Beckham Jr. Cruz is coming off of his best game of the season, with three catches for 70 yards. Beckham has the sixth-most yards per route run this season, at 2.48. It will be difficult for Newman to keep up his incredible play against these receivers.