Minnesota Vikings at Chicago Bears
This is a line that has changed course tremendously since the lookahead entering last week.
The betting line on this game was the Bears -2.5 prior to Week 9.
The expectation in week 9 was the Bears would lose to the Titans by 6.5 points and the Vikings would beat the Lions by 4 points.
However, the Lions Matthew Stafford missed the entire week of practice due to COVID protocols and was playing without his #1 WR who was injured the week before.
Sure enough, both results occurred. The Bears lost and the Vikings won.
Against a great run offense, the Bears held the Titans’ Derrick Henry to just 3.2 YPC, 33% success and 0 TDs.
Even in the first half, before the Titans were running out the clock, Henry averaged just 2.0 YPC with a 31% success rate and zero explosive rushes.
The Bears Defense also held the Titans passing offense in check. They sacked Ryan Tannehill 3 times in the first half and held him to a 31% success rate on passes. Over the entire game, Tannehill was just 10/21 and threw for 158 passing yards.
The problem for the Bears is they are completely one dimensional. They could not run the ball at all. And that’s been the case all season long.
In fairness to the Bears, they have played the NFL’s toughest schedule against the run since week 1. They’ve played 3 top-5 run defenses and 7 top-15 run defenses in 8 games since week 1.
Now they face the Vikings, who rank #19 against the run. The only games the Bears have played against run defenses outside the top-15, they’ve won (2-0).
Meanwhile, the Vikings Offense has played one of the 5 easiest schedules of defenses this year. They have played just one defense that ranked above #18 all season (the Colts) and scored 11 points. In every other game, they’ve scored 23+ points.
Their last 5 games have come against defenses that rank: #27, #25, #24, #21 and #20.
Now they must face #4 Chicago, who has put up that strong ranking against the 10th toughest schedule of opposing offenses.
We’ve seen Dalvin Cook burst out the last two weeks, but he’s done so against two very bad run defenses (Packers and Lions). Now he must face the #7 Bears.
Cook himself has yet to find success against the Bears on the ground, rushing for 12, 39, and 35 yards in three games versus the division rival.
The Bears should increase play action usage as the Vikings struggle tremendously to stop early down play action
On early downs, examine league-wide average defensive pass efficiency splits with/without play action:
With play action: 56% success, 8.4 YPA, +0.11 EPA/att
W/O play action: 54% success, 7.0 YPA, +0.05 EPA/att
But examine the Minnesota Vikings Defense:
With play action: 67% success, 9.6 YPA, +0.30 EPA/att
W/O play action: 54% success, 7.1 YPA, +0.09 EPA/att
The Vikings are the NFL’s worst defense against play action in the NFL.
This was not the case in 2019, but Zimmer’s defense is younger and much more susceptible to being fooled by early down play action.
Since Nick Foles began as a starter in week 4, the Bears are passing on 65% of first down plays, which is the highest rate in the NFL.
This is probably wise, considering first down runs posting the worst efficiency numbers in the NFL: 2.8 YPC, 26% success rate and -0.22 EPA/att.
However, the Bears could improve passing efficiency on these first and 10 plays by using less play action from 11 personnel.
The Bears are great passing with play action on first and 10 in almost all groupings but 11. Splits:
11 personnel: 56% success, 5.4 YPA, -0.14 EPA/att, 19 att
12 personnel: 100% success, 17.0 YPA, +0.56 EPA/att, 6 att
01 personnel: 75% success, 5.8 YPA, +0.03 EPA/att, 4 att
13 personnel: 100% success, 7.0 YPA, +0.40 EPA/att, 1 att
02 personnel: 100% success, 11.0 YPA, +0.59 EPA/att, 1 att
Whether looking at success rate, EPA or YPA, examine how much better the Bears are when using first down play action from groupings other than 11 personnel.
This is likely because when the Bears are in 11 personnel on first and 10, they are passing the ball on 73% of dropbacks. So defenses are already playing pass, and are treating it as a passing down.
As a result, the pressure rate on these first and 10 dropbacks with play action is enormous, as defenses are recording pressures on 58% of attempts. Given the pressure, if Nick isn’t hit, his average depth of target (aDOT) is only 3.4 yards past the line of scrimmage on virtual check downs.
Throwing short on play action typically will not result in bigger gains. Play action is used to bring second and third level defenders closer to the line of scrimmage with a false step and/or get them to hesitate in their drops into coverage. But shorter passes play right into their path, and hurts production. First down play action should look to target at least 5+ yards downfield. But we will cover that momentarily.
Examine the Vikings tendencies vs first and 10 play action by personnel since week 4:
11 personnel: 40% success, 5.8 YPA, +0.01 EPA/att,
12 personnel: 63% success, 11.3 YPA, +0.54 EPA/att
13 personnel: 100% success, 5.0 YPA, +0.05 EPA/att
Against the Vikings, the Bears should look to increase their usage of 12 personnel and 13 personnel on first and 10, and the Bears should use play action.
LA Chargers at Miami Dolphins
Last week, the Cardinals outgained the Dolphins 442 yards to 312, had substantially better production through the air, but Kyler Murray had a costly fumble and the Dolphins were able to come from behind trailing in the 4th quarter by a TD to win outright.
Two weeks ago, in Tua’s first start, the Dolphins Offense managed only 145 yards offensively but thanks to getting 4 takeaways and multiple non-offensive TDs, they won that game. The Dolphins had 14 offensive drives and scored points on two of them, and neither was longer than 33 yards.
Home favorites after scoring defensive or special teams TDs in back to back games are 18-33 ATS the last 20 years and are 2-8 ATS when favored by 3 or less points at home. They’ve won just 4 of 10 games outright.
Miami’s defense has been their saving grace, but has played only 3 other offenses that rank inside the top-15. Every single one scored exactly 31 points (Bills, Seahawks and Cardinals). The Chargers pass offense ranks #6.
The Dolphins pass defense has become one of the most sensitive to play action in the NFL.
Look at these splits:
With play action: 10.0 YPA, 71% success, +0.58 EPA/att
W/O play action: 5.6 YPA, 48% success, -0.43 EPA/att
When the Chargers use play action, they average 9.4 YPA, 53% success and +0.36 EPA/att since the bye and it would be smart for them to ramp up that usage here.
With Preston Williams going down and the Dolphins WR corps being thin, as well as their RB situation being bleak and the Chargers welcoming back Joey Bosa, it’s hard to imagine the Dolphins Offense putting up a ton of points here.
Buffalo Bills at Arizona Cardinals
Looking at the Miami and Seattle games only first, and looking at early down passes only, the Arizona Cardinals Defense allowed:
Vs 12: 78% success, 8.6 YPA, +0.38 EPA, 1:0 TD:INT, 37 attempts
Vs 11: 41% success, 8.8 YPA, -0.64 EPA, 1:1 TD:INT, 18 attempts
The YPA is similar, but the early down passes from 12 have much higher success and EPA
On the season as a whole, as well as in 2019, the Cardinals have struggled when teams pass out of heavy sets.
The NFL average defense vs early down play action splits:
With play action: 56% success, +0.09 EPA, 8.4 YPA
W/O play action: 54% success, +0.05 EPA, 7.0 YPA
Arizona’s defensive splits:
With play action: 58% success, +0.24 EPA, 8.8 YPA
W/O play action: 56% success, +0.01 EPA, 7.1 YPA
Their last 3 opponents (Dallas, Seattle and Miami) all use play action at rates well below the NFL average. In fact, it’s not since the first two weeks of the season (SF, WAS) that Arizona’s defense played an offense that had an average play action usage rate at or above the NFL average.
In their Week 7 game against Seattle, the Seahawks absolutely destroyed Arizona with play action, but hardly used it. Look at their splits on early downs:
With play action: 82% success, +0.60 EPA, 10.5 YPA, 11 attempts
W/O play action: 63% success, -0.11 EPA, 7.9 YPA, 28 attempts
Seattle used it on just 28% of early down passes, well below the NFL average of 33%.
And in the second half, look at Seattle’s splits:
With play action: 100% success, +0.46 EPA, 8.5 YPA, 4 attempts
W/O play action: 57% success, -0.15 EPA, 4.4 YPA, 15 attempts
Their usage rate dropped to just 21%, even though passing with play action on early downs was so much more efficient.
The NFL average pass defense is slightly worse when the opposing offense uses pre-snap motion ahead of passes, but the improvement isn’t overwhelming.
Early downs only:
With pre-snap motion: 52% success, 7.7 YPA, +0.11 EPA
W/O pre-snap motion: 51% success, 7.3 YPA, +0.06 EPA
However, the Cardinals defensive splits are dramatic:
With pre-snap motion: 57% success, 9.0 YPA, +0.17 EPA
W/O pre-snap motion: 51% success, 6.7 YPA, 0.00 EPA
This, despite the fact the Cardinals Defense has faced the 10th easiest schedule of opposing pass offenses.
Arizona’s defense has played only THREE passing offenses that rank above average in efficiency:
Carolina, Seattle and Miami (and much of Miami’s efficiency was earned by Fitzpatrick, not Tua)
But look at those 3 offenses splits when using presnap motion on early downs:
With pre-snap motion: 73% success, 10.1 YPA, +0.44 EPA
W/O pre-snap motion: 54% success, 7.2 YPA, -0.10 EPA
Using pre-snap motion ahead of passes also reduced pressure:
With PSM: 19% pressure rate on 27 dropbacks
w/o PSM: 33% pressure rate on 71 dropbacks