Matt Schauf of RapidDraft.com stops by once a week to talk individual defensive players, “IDPs” for those in the know.
When someone asks me to pick starters among several similar defensive players, I usually tell them some version of “pick some good players and roll with them.”
Aside from the sheer fact that I want to put as little effort into answering questions as possible, I’ve been burned (not literally) more than enough times by chasing matchups. I don’t have extensive numbers to back it up, but I tend to believe that the farther you play from the ball, the more variables enter your fantasy scoring.
Think about it: As a defender, you begin every play at the mercy of the other team’s play call. You have to either have the ball come near you or win your way to the quarterback. You have to have the pass thrown close enough for you to make a play on to put up coverage numbers. You need teammates in front of you to not make the tackle if you hope to pad your numbers at safety. You get the point without further hypotheticals.
Of course, just like at any position on the field, matchups certainly come into play for defenders. There are teams that run the ball more or tend to keep it a while and allow for more tackles. There’s Jay Cutler.
So with about half the season gone, I’m going to start going through some of the more positive matchups for the different defensive positions, beginning up front.
Chicago vs. Denver
Everyone knows about the Bears’ trouble with protecting the quarterback (or the Bears’ quarterback’s trouble with protecting himself), so it should come as no surprise that the Bears have allowed the most sacks per game so far to defensive linemen. The Broncos might be a less obvious entrant, but the fact that they’ve attempted the second most passes in the league take some of the shock out of them ranking second here. The two present some interesting differences, though.
Denver leads the league by having allowed at least one sack to 13 different defensive linemen. Chicago, meanwhile, allowed 8.5 of their 16.5 D-line sacks to the New York Giants. That means that in their other six games, the Bears have yielded just eight sacks to linemen. Four of those also came from the Lions, who happen to rank second behind the Giants in fantasy points by linemen so far.
Does that mean the Bears don’t present a helpful matchup? No. Whenever a team leads the league in sacks midway through the year, you don’t have to think too hard to figure that there’s some opportunity for a pass-rushing position. Those opportunities just haven’t been spread around as much as they have for Broncos opponents.
The Panthers rank second behind Chicago in most fantasy points yielded to linemen, but the total has been inflated a bit by two interceptions and four fumble recoveries. Those simply aren’t predictable plays for linemen, and each ties for the league lead in its category.
The Panthers’ 12.5 sacks allowed to linemen are seventh most in the league, but 6.5 of those came from three players – two of them fairly random. The fact that Tim Crowder and Israel Idonije each registered at least two sacks against Carolina would seem to bode well for future opponents, but four of the past five teams to face the Panthers have posted one or fewer sacks by their lines. Only one from that group ran a 3-4 base defense (San Francisco). Also, although the difference is slight, Jimmy Clausen has taken sacks just a bit more often than Matt Moore this season (once every 10.1 compared with 11.4).
Finally, Carolina ranks ninth in total tackles allowed to the biggest dudes. All in all, that doesn’t make the team a poor matchup, just perhaps not quite as good as you’d initially think.
The Chargers sit third on the list of fantasy points allowed to fatties (sorry, big-bonedies) by virtue of both yielding the fourth most solo tackles to linemen and sitting tied for third in sacks enabled. San Diego has attempted the third most passes in the league but still had to play some catch-up on the sack total after allowing just 0.5 to linemen through the first two games, against Kansas City and Jacksonville.
Since then, Seattle has registered four sacks in a game by linemen, and St. Louis has tallied five. Those teams both rank among the league’s top nine in total sacks, but each has only reached three in one other game and never surpassed it.
Unlike with the numbers mentioned above for the Giants and Lions, I think those are the kinds of occurrences that can provide hope to future opposing lines. And if they Chargers ever decide to run the ball a bit more, there should only be further tackle chances.
Seattle & Washington
Rounding out the top five in D-line sacks allowed are Seattle and Washington (the latter tied with San Diego). The Seahawks either had their number inflated or their weakness exploited last week by a Raiders team that compiled seven takedowns up front. Their high sack totals can’t be blamed on the ankles of rookie tackle Russell Okung either. In the three games in which he has played more extensively, two have seen opposing lines register at least three sacks.
Washington also got hit hard last week, allowing three Detroit linemen to combine for six sacks. Two of those players are ends: Cliff Avril and Kyle Vanden Bosch. The other, Ndamukong Suh, is whatever the heck he wants to be.
Neither team has been as bad overall as some of those listed before, but each certainly does have a protection weakness. That bodes particularly ill for Seattle as a meeting with the Giants approaches. Washington at least gets a bye, but we’ll see what happens when they meet the Eagles for the second time after that.
But I can tackle
Not surprisingly, Oakland and Kansas City lead the NFL in tackles per game by opposing defensive linemn. I say it’s not surprising because those two offenses also lead the league in rushing attempts. It doesn’t take deep thought to figure out that a team that runs the ball more often will create more tackles chances for opposing linemen. Neither of these squads seem likely to take it off the ground any time soon. Baltimore isn’t far behind either, at third in tackles and tied for fourth in carries per game on offense.
I still don’t advocate playing the wire every week to try to exploit strong matchups, but these things can be tiebreakers when you look at a pair of players or signal some sleepers. As with anything in fantasy, try not to overrate the impact.
Matt Schauf is the senior football writer for RapidDraft.com and the brains behind (or would that be inside?) the “Suit” character in their FREE fantasy football game. Draft against him and 10 other fantasy Pros in RapidDraft Weekly every week (hence the name).