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 11 DL > OL Mismatches
1. Bears DL (17th in Brandon Thorn’s latest rankings for pressure) vs. Rams OL (22nd in offensive line rating)
2. Vikings DL (4th) vs. Broncos OL (25th)
3. Chiefs DL (13th) vs. Chargers OL (29th)
4. Eagles DL (9th) vs. Patriots OL (10th)
5. Rams DL (7th) vs. Bears OL (24th)
6. Panthers DL (6th) vs. Falcons OL (26th)
Biggest Week 11 OL > DL Mismatches
1. Raiders OL (5th) vs. Bengals DL (26th)
DL > OL
1. Bears DL vs. Rams OL
Key matchups: DE Khalil Mack vs. RT Rob Havenstein, DT Roy Robertson-Harris vs. LG Austin Corbett
Notes: The Bears DL ranks 14th in adjusted sack rate, 14th in team pass rush win rate, 16th in sacks per pass attempt, and Khalil Mack ranks 5th among edge-rushers in QB hurries with 34. The Rams OL ranks 3rd in adjusted sack rate, 25th in team pass block win rate, 5th in sacks per pass attempt, 2nd in the most pressures given up (143), and 1st in the most QB hurries given up (20 more than any team) with 113. Center Brian Allen & RT Rob Havenstein are out this week (Allen for the season).
The Rams OL are coming off a game against the Steelers that they were absolutely dominated in, partly because they played seven total linemen with three different interior combinations due to injury. This is a reeling unit that will need to prove they can reach a competent level again before we can restore any confidence in them holding up, especially against defensive lines with an elite rusher or more.
Khalil Mack has had a relatively quiet season compared to last year but it doesn’t mean he still isn’t an elite-rusher with the capability to take over a game. Mack will have plenty of opportunities to do that in this one with a right tackle in Bobby Evans making his first career start at the position and LT Andrew Whitworth coming off his worst game in years. The interior is a disaster at this point so guys like Roy Robertson-Harris, Eddie Goldman, and Nick Williams should be able to have their way up front.
2. Vikings DL vs. Broncos OL
Key matchups: DEs Everson Griffen & Danielle Hunter vs. OTs Garret Bolles & Elijah Wilkinson
Notes: The Vikings DL ranks 4th in adjusted sack rate, 26th in team pass rush win rate, and 12th in sacks per pass attempt (7.7%). DEs Everson Griffen & Danielle Hunter each rank inside the top 3 out of edge-rushers in pressures and hurries while combining for 16 sacks. The Broncos OL ranks 29th in adjusted sack rate, 27th in team pass block win rate, and 29th in sacks per pass attempt. RT Ja’Wuan James was limited in practice on Wednesday and his chances of playing are at “50-50 or less” per head coach Vic Fangio. NT Linval Joseph is out with a knee injury.
The Broncos are coming out of their bye week and will likely have some new wrinkles in the game-plan to combat what the Vikings do well both offensive and defensively, but they have to travel to Minnesota in a hostile environment against one of the league’s best defenses with Brandon Allen at QB. Making matters worse is that their offensive tackle pairing is severely outmatched against the league’s best pass-rushing duo, so there is only so much they can do to scheme up their protections when each side is at a disadvantage.
If Ja’Wuan James plays the prospects of their OL holding up in pass-protection bump up but only marginally since he will be fresh off a nagging knee injury that has kept him out the majority of the season while having to deal with the league-leader in pressures in Danielle Hunter. This is the exact sort of matchup that Garret Bolles could have another meltdown in having to block Everson Griffen and his repertoire of potent pass-rush moves.
3. Chiefs DL vs. Chargers OL
Key matchups: DT Chris Jones vs. Chargers’ interior OL, DE Frank Clark vs. OTs Trey Pipkins & Trent Scott
Notes: The Chiefs DL ranks 5th in adjusted sack rate, 28th in team pass rush win rate, 7th in sacks per pass attempt, tied for 5th in total sacks (30), and DT Chris Jones ranks top 5 out of DTs in pressures (34) & QB hits (9). The Chargers OL ranks 14th in adjusted sack rate, 16th in team pass block win rate, 1st in most pressures & QB hits given up, and 9th in sacks per pass attempt. Starting LT Russell Okung is a game-time decision.
Chris Jones has been a tear since returning from injury in Week 9, and absolutely dominated against the Chargers last season racking up 3 sacks and 7 QB hits in two games. The Chargers OL has a backup at center, right tackle, and likely left tackle if Russell Okung doesn’t play. Jones has owned LG Dan Feeney in prior matchups, with this having potential to be a disastrous game for the Chargers interior.
Frank Clark returned to action last week after missing the previous couple weeks and it’s since been revealed that he has had a pinched nerve in his neck since training camp, which helps explain the drop-off in play. Even with Clark at about 80-85% of what he is capable of the Chargers have the worst tackle duo in the NFL when Okung isn’t playing, so the potential is there for a big game from him as well.
The difference in the Chargers’ performance as an OL with and without Okung is striking and these last two weeks against the Packers (with Okung) and Raiders (without) are evidence of that. The Raiders are not a very good pass-rushing unit yet without Okung they were able to amass 16 QB hurries, 4 QB hits, and 7 sacks in week 10. If it is announced later this week that Okung can’t play, move the Chiefs defense up on your priority list.
4. Eagles DL vs. Patriots OL
Key matchups: DT Fletcher Cox vs. RG Shaq Mason & C Ted Karras, DE Derek Barnett vs. LT Marshall Newhouse
Notes: The Eagles DL ranks 16th in adjusted sack rate, 7th in team pass rush win rate, 4th in pressure with four or less rushers, 11th in sacks per pass attempt (7.8%), and tied for 15th in total sacks with 24. The Patriots OL ranks 7th in adjusted sack rate, 23rd in team pass block win rate, and 4th in sacks per pass attempt.
The Patriots don’t take many sacks due to QB Tom Brady’s ability to avoid pressure in the pocket by reading the defense quickly, using subtle movements to find passing lanes, and throwing the ball away quickly if nothing is there (Brady ranks 2nd in the NFL in throwaways with 22).
When you study the Patriots’ OL on film there is a different story than some of the advanced metrics indicate starting with their two backup starters in center Ted Karras and LT Marshall Newhouse being problems, particularly as pass-blockers.
Both Karras and Newhouse struggle against top-tiered rushers that can string together multiple moves. Fletcher Cox has been dominant the last few weeks and will be able to continue that when matched up against Karras and to a lesser extent, RG Shaq Mason. Derek Barnett isn’t top-tier but is solid enough to give Newhouse some problems, while Brandon Graham can do the same to Marcus Cannon on the other side.
With the Eagles having a top 10 defense per DVOA and the capability to stymie the Patriots ground game, there should be enough opportunities for them to rush the passer on obvious passing downs. Even if that doesn’t result in many sacks, expect Brady and this passing game to have to live and die with the short passing game since any longer developing plays will only further expose their clear mismatches up front. Cementing this as a top mismatch for the week is the Eagles top 4 ranking in pressuring QBs without blitzing (sending four rushers), so Brady likely won’t have many ‘hot’ throws to rely on when protection breaks down.
5. Rams DL vs. Bears OL
Key matchups: DT Aaron Donald vs. RG Rashaad Coward, DE Dante Fowler vs. OTs Charles Leno & Bobby Massie
Notes: The Rams DL ranks 7th in adjusted sack rate, 2nd in team pass rush win rate, 9th in sacks per pass attempt (7.9%), and 1st in pressure rate without blitzing (28.5%). DT Aaron Donald ranks top 3 at his position in pressures & QB hurries while DE Dante Fowler Jr. ranks top 10 in pressures among edge rushers. The Bears OL ranks 25th in adjusted sack rate, 7th in team pass block win rate, and 26th in sacks per pass attempt (9.0%).
This is the first time all season I’ve had two different DLs from the same game as mismatches but it is certainly warranted with how well the Rams DL has been playing lately combined with how shaky the Bears OL has been.
Chicago made a switch along their interior prior to last week’s game, moving LG Cody Whitehair over to center and James Daniels to LG in an attempt to put the more experienced Whitehair at the pivot spot to help protection and communication. Having the raw and inexperienced RG Rashaad Coward alongside Daniels (first year at the position) was an issue, so Whitehair’s experience in theory should be able to assist both now that he is in-between the two.
While the new-look OL held up pretty well against the Lions front last week, the Rams DL is an entirely different animal with Aaron Donald coming off a monster day in which he dominated an excellent player in Steelers RG David DeCastro. Coward is on the opposite end of the spectrum in terms of league-wide right guards, so this is as big of an individual mismatch as you’ll find this season.
Solidifying these two teams in my top mismatches is the fact that QB Mitch Trubisky is possibly the worst QB in the league and makes his OL look a lot worse by taking sacks and failing to avoid pressure.
6. Panthers DL vs. Falcons OL
Key matchups: DT Gerald McCoy vs. RG Jamon Brown, DE Brian Burns & Mario Addison vs. OTs Jake Matthews & Kaleb McGary
Notes: The Panthers DL ranks 3rd in adjusted sack rate, 21st in team pass rush win rate, 2nd in sacks per pass attempt (11.0%), 5th in pressure rate without blitzing (26.5%), and 1st in total sacks with 36. The Falcons OL ranks 11th in adjusted sack rate, 29th in team pass block win rate, 10th in sacks per pass attempt (5.8%), and 17th in total sacks given up with 22.
Atlanta is coming off their best game of the season in a 26-9 win against the Saints and now take on another very talented defensive line in Carolina that is deeper on the interior than the Saints (where they Falcons are particularly weak as an OL), specifically at each guard spot. With Gerald McCoy, Dontari Poe, and Kyle Love, there is a solid rotation here that presents serious problems for the integrity of the middle of the pocket.
The Panthers ends are led by a rookie in Brian Burns who predominantly wins with speed and bend off the edge, making this a bad matchup for RT Kaleb McGary. McGary played a solid game last week taking on the power-rushers that the Saints have off the edge, but will have a tougher time against the likes of Burns and fellow speed-rusher Mario Addison this week.
The Falcons could have figured out what was ailing them over the first half of the season and go on a winning streak but I’m not ready to concede that their team or OL have fixed their issues with one good game. With another tough divisional road test this week we should learn how legit the Saints win was.