The goal of a real-life NFL defense is to prevent the other team from scoring points. When we select a defense to roster, we’re trying to score the most fantasy points. It’s a subtle shift in thinking, but an important one.
The optimal way to select a defense in DFS is to think in terms of big events, not points allowed. Just 2.3% of games last season ended in a shutout and only 9.7% ended with one team being held to six points or fewer. In other words, targeting the “points allowed” category is a fool’s errand.
The real fantasy points come from sacks, forced fumbles, interceptions and defense touchdowns. These events are by far the most likely to happen when a quarterback is under pressure. The best possible outcome on a single play for our defense is a strip sack which results in a defensive touchdown as we get one DraftKings point for the sack, two for the fumble recovery and six for the touchdown.
With that in mind, below you’ll find the biggest mismatches between defensive and offensive lines for Week 10. The objective is to project QB pressure through film study, injuries, scheme, coaching and talent.
Biggest Week 10 DL > OL Mismatches
1. Saints DL (3rd) vs. Falcons OL (26th)
2. Cowboys DL (12th) vs. Vikings OL (17th)
3. 49ers DL (1st) vs. Seahawks OL (19th)
4. Bucs DL (10th) vs. Cardinals OL (28th)
5. Steelers DL (15th) vs. Rams OL (22nd)
6. Colts DL (27th) vs. Dolphins OL (32nd)
Biggest Week 10 OL > DL Mismatches
1. Saints OL (1st) vs. Falcons DL (28th)
DL > OL
1. Saints DL vs. Falcons OL
Key matchups: DE Cameron Jordan vs. RT Kaleb McGary, DTs David Onyemata/Sheldon Rankins vs. OGs Jamon Brown/Wes Schweitzer/James Carpenter
Notes: The Saints DL are 6th in adjusted sack rate, 24th in team pass rush win rate, 5th in sacks per pass attempt, and are tied for 10th in total sacks with 24. DE Cameron Jordan ranks 4th out of all EDGE rushers in pressures off the left side (41) and 2nd in QB hurries (30). Atlanta’s OL ranks 13th in adjusted sack rate, 29th in team pass block win Rate, 11th in sacks per pass attempt, and tied for 16th in sacks given up with 21. Atlanta’s top three guards (Carpenter, Schweitzer, and Brown) were limited in practice on Wednesday. Carpenter missed Week 8 but has a chance to return this week at LG.
Both the Falcons and Saints are coming out of a bye week, albeit in two very different positions with the former on a 6-game losing streak, and the latter on a 6-game winning streak.
Atlanta’s right side of the OL has been a weak spot this season due to injury and rookie RT Kaleb McGary struggling to adjust to NFL-caliber edge-rushers. McGary’s adequate quickness limits his ability to ‘get to this spot’ in pass-protection, meaning he often undersets high-quality speed-rushers, giving them a two-way go.
Jordan is probably the most well-rounded edge player in the NFL with the capability to win outside with speed, down the middle with power, or inside with advanced hand techniques. McGary will struggle to handle Jordan’s refined pass-rush plan, especially if the Falcons fall behind early, making this single mismatch lopsided enough to warrant their inclusion on this list.
With a shuffling set of guards flanking the rock solid Alex Mack at center, there will be plenty of opportunities for Sheldon Rankins and David Onyemata to push the pocket and create leakage through the ‘A’ and ‘B’ gaps to force QB Matt Ryan off his spot. Expect this Saints DL to have a huge impact on the game in front of their ruckus home crowd.
2. Cowboys DL vs. Vikings OL
Key matchups: DTs Michael Bennett/Maliek Collins vs. Minnesota’s interior OL, DE Robert Quinn vs. LT Riley Reiff
Notes: The Cowboys DL are 22nd in adjusted sack rate, 2nd in team pass rush win rate, 16th in sacks per pass attempt, and tied for 15th in total sacks with 22. Their defense has 20 sacks in their last 6 games since Robert Quinn returned from suspension in Week 3 and ranks 2nd in ESPN’s disruption rate. The Cowboys run defense is one of 12 teams in the NFL averaging less than 100 yards given up per game (97.3), ranking 11th in the NFL. DT Maliek Collins is 8th out of DTs in pressures (27) & 6th in QB hurries (21). Minnesota’s OL are 15th in adjusted sack rate, 11th in team pass block win rate, 7th in sacks per pass attempt, and are giving up the 7th fewest sacks with 16.
The advanced stats I like to use may not signal a glaring mismatch, but there is additional context that other numbers and most importantly, the tape provides. I included the Cowboys run defense numbers because the key to creating pressure against this Vikings offense lies in slowing down the league’s 3rd ranked running game (153 yards per game).
That is no easy task but with the Cowboys having an above average run defense, being at home, and with LB Leighton Vander Esch having a chance to play after missing his first career game last week, there is a path for them to force the Vikings into some obvious passing situations.
When focusing solely on the personnel for each side of the line of scrimmage there is no question that this Vikings OL are severely outmatched against a Cowboys DL that is growing increasingly strong as the season progresses. After acquiring DL Michael Bennett from the Patriots, Dallas added a versatile disruptor on the interior to pair with the underrated Maliek Collins, forming a solid pass-rushing duo, particularly on stunts.
DE Robert Quinn is leading the team in sacks (6.5) and has the get-off speed and signature pass-rush move (cross-chop) to make LT Riley Reiff’s day miserable while the DeMarcus Lawrence vs. Brian O’Neill matchup is more even, although the advantage is on D-Law’s side there as well.
LG Pat Efllein and C Garrett Bradbury’s inability to anchor and set a firm pocket has become a major problem for this OL when teams have the interior rushers to make them pay. The Cowboys not only have that in Bennett and Collins but boast a top 6-7 edge-rushing duo that will give this OL fits assuming they aren’t able to totally control the game with their rushing attack.
3. 49ers DL vs. Seahawks OL
Key matchups: DE Dee Ford vs. RT Germain Ifedi, DT DeForest Buckner vs. Seattle’s interior OL, DE Nick Bosa vs. LT Duane Brown
Notes: The 49ers DL ranks 1st in adjusted sack rate, 16th in team pass rush win rate, 1st in sacks per pass attempt, and are tied for 3rd in total sacks with 30. DE Nick Bosa is 2nd in the NFL out of edge-rushers in pressures from the right side with 36. The Seahawks OL ranks 20th in adjusted sack rate, 27th in team pass block win rate, 18th in sacks per pass attempt, and are tied for 19th in sacks given up with 22.
Seattle has a top 3 offense per DVOA primarily due to an MVP-caliber season from their QB Russell Wilson. Their OL is built with size and strength so they can control the game on the ground while Wilson covers their warts as pass-protectors. This is generally a winning recipe with an elite QB but in terms of expected pressure this is a bad matchup for them against the league’s best defensive line.
After an off-season of adding the likes of Nick Bosa in the draft, Dee Ford in free agency, and hiring Kris Kocurek to coach the DL, the unit has been transformed into a deep, devastating group.
Bosa and Arik Armstead man the starting defensive end spots (Bosa in the wide-9 alignment over the LT, Armstead on the strongside over the RT) in the 49ers base defense while DeForest Buckner and D.J. Jones line up on the interior. What makes this unit terrifying is on obvious passing downs when Armstead kicks inside and Ford replaces him off the edge, making their front four from left-to-right Bosa, Buckner, Armstead, and Ford.
Germain Ifedi is the weak link of the Seahawks OL and struggles most with elite speed-rushers off the edge, which is how Ford makes his money. Bosa is a mismatch against virtually every LT in the league minus a few, giving him the upper-hand against Brown. It gets interesting on the interior since part of the reason the Seahawks signed LG Mike Iupati from the Cardinals this past off-season was likely due to his stellar Week 8 performance last season against Buckner. This rematch will be a priority for me to go back on once the coaches tape drops while Armstead against RG D.J. Fluker should be a fun battle between two enormous, powerful humans.
The 49ers defense has weaknesses vs. the run (especially when Sheldon Day rotates in at DT) and at the second-level with Kwon Alexander recently put on injured reserve, but their favorable matchups as pass-rushers are significant enough that they shouldn’t have any issues creating a high rate of pressure in front of their home crowd.
4. Bucs DL vs. Cardinals OL
Key matchups: DE Shaq Barrett vs. LT D.J. Humprhies, DTs Ndamukong Suh/Vita Vea vs. Arizona’s interior OL
Notes: Tampa Bay’s DL ranks 23rd in adjusted sack rate, 1st in team pass rush win rate, 24th in sacks per pass attempt, and 23rd in total sacks with 19. DT Vita Vea ranks 4th out of DTs in QB hits (7) and DE Shaq Barrett leads the NFL in sacks with 11. Arizona’s OL ranks 28th in adjusted sack rate, 10th in team pass block win rate, 26th in sacks per pass attempt, and is tied for 29th in sacks given up with 30. Justin Pugh moved from LG to RT last week to replace the injured Justin Murray, while Mason Cole stepped in at LG. This lineup is slated to remain the same this week. DE Carl Nassib left Week 9’s game after 9 snaps with a groin injury but “has a chance” to play this week per head coach Bruce Arians.
Arizona had a bottom 5 OL before having to shuffle their starting five in Week 9 with Justin Pugh moving from LG to RT and Mason Cole replacing him at LG. This made an already weak interior weaker by losing the continuity they had built up together as a trio despite gaining some athleticism with Cole. Justin Murray is listed as day-to-day and even if he can go may not get his job back since he was the clear weak link. Regardless of how the lineup shakes out, it wouldn’t change this from being one of my top mismatches of the week.
Center A.Q. Shipley is a hard-nosed physical player but is severely lacking in quickness while the guards on each flank struggle as pass-blockers, especially against power-rushers. You won’t find a more powerful duo at DT than Vita Vea and Ndamukong Suh, making it difficult to see how the Cardinals have success running up the middle or in keeping the inside of the pocket in tact. Couple that with the Bucs having a strong trio of edge-rushers in Jason Pierre-Paul, Shaq Barrett, and Carl Nassib (if he plays), with two of them that can kick inside and give guards fits (JPP & Nassib), and this Cardinals OL will be outclassed at basically every spot.
An interesting sidebar is that Tampa has two of the fastest, most athletic linebackers in the league with Lavonte David and Devin White, making for a fascinating matchup between them and QB Kyler Murray’s propensity to threaten defenses with his legs.
5. Steelers DL vs. Rams OL
Key matchups: OLB T.J. Watt vs. RT Rob Havenstein, DT Cameron Heyward vs. LG David Edwards
Notes: The Steelers DL ranks 2nd in adjusted line yards, 4th in team pass rush win rate, 4th in sacks per pass attempt, and 5th in total sacks with 29. The Rams OL ranks 3rd in adjusted sack rate, 23rd in team pass block win rate, 4th in sacks per pass attempt, 32nd in QB hurries given up (per PFF) with 97, and are tied for 4th in fewest sacks given up with 12.
The Rams OL have underwhelmed this season largely due to RT Rob Havenstein taking a significant step back this year after a career best season in 2018. His matchup with T.J. Watt looms large as one of two glaring mismatches that put their OL on my radar for this article.
The other is LG David Edwards having to go against Cam Heyward and his elite bull-rush. Heyward’s bull-rush and overall power got the best of Quenton Nelson last week so there’s no doubt that he will be able to cave in the interior of the pocket this week. Bud Dupree is having a shockingly good season and has really come on as of late, so he should at least be able to challenge LT Andrew Whitworth.
Rams head coach Sean McVay is coming off a bye week and has had extra time to prepare his team as they travel to Pittsburgh so expect some new wrinkles and a quality game-plan, but there is only so much he will be able to do to patch up a leaky OL against a stingy defense with overmatched personnel at multiple spots.
6. Colts DL vs. Dolphins OL
Key matchups: DEs Jabaal Sheard & Justin Houston vs. OTs J’Marcus Webb & Jesse Davis, DT Denico Autry vs. LG Michael Deiter
Notes: The Colts DL are 13th in adjusted sack rate, 21st in team pass rush win rate, 18th in sacks per pass attempt, and tied for 20th in total sacks with 20. The Dolphins OL is 30th in adjusted sack rate, 31st in team pass block win rate, 30th in sacks per pass attempt, 32nd in QB hits given up, and 30th in total sacks given up with 32. Miami has had six different OL combinations in eight games this season with 11 players having at least one start. C Daniel Kilgore has a chance to return after a 3-week hiatus due to injury. C/G Evan Boehm is questionable with a hip.
Aside from being the worst OL in the NFL, the Dolphins are perpetually changing their starting lineup up front, robbing their chances of building continuity with one another in favor of seeing what they have for the future. I can make the case that this isn’t helping them get a true read on the majority of their players since none of them can settle in, but either way this is a terrible football team.
Justin Houston is in for a huge game against LT J’Marcus Webb while Denico Autry should have his way with Michael Deiter and this Dolphins weak interior. There isn’t much reason to not expect this Colts DL to move up a couple spots in some of their pass-rushing metrics after this game.