Los Angeles Rams at Buffalo Bills
Sean McVay coached what I think might be the best game I’ve ever seen him coach last week against the Eagles. Virtually everything he called was right and delivered. But he made an interesting personnel adjustment in that after going 68% 11 personnel in the first week, which was down slightly from 73% in 2019, McVay went 90% 11 personnel in the first three quarters against the Eagles.
And they absolutely dominated from 11, passing for 9.2 YPA and a 71% success rate while running for 4.8 YPC with a 60% success rate. It will be interesting to see McVay’s strategy against the Bills Defense, because the Bills Defense has been strong against 11 personnel passes (7.4 YPA, 45% success) but weak against 12 personnel passes (9.9 YPA, 63% success). If McVay goes back to 12 personnel more often, it will show me he’s really game planning well to attack the defensive weakness.
The Bills have faced the NFL’s 8th easiest schedule of opposing defenses, including the 2nd easiest schedule of opposing pass defenses. Yes, Josh Allen has looked great, but it’s come against weak defenses.
I expect the Bills to continue to pass early, as the Rams pressure rate is only 17.9% on first down and they haven’t registered a sack on first down all season. That pressure rate nearly doubles (to 35%) with a 7% sack rate on second down. The Bills also stepped up their usage of play action, and the Rams are one of the NFL’s most sensitive defenses to play action this season.
On the season, examine their splits on early downs:
With play action: 9.1 YPA, +0.33 EPA/att, 95 rating
W/O play action: 6.1 YPA, -0.12 EPA/att, 75 rating
Only two other defenses are more “sensitive” to play action aka react worse with larger splits. Additionally, On early downs in the first 3 quarters (outside of > 10 yards to go), the Rams are currently allowing RB-targets to gain 8.3 YPA (5th worst) with a 70% success rate (8th worst).
Last season, they were top-10 in both YPA and success rate. This is because they are without Corey Littleton at LB. So far this season, on these RB targets, the Bills are gaining 5.2 YPA (14th best) with a 73% success rate (6th best).
Houston Texans at Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers Defense ranks #2 in the NFL, but they have faced the NFL’s easiest schedule of opposing offenses, taking on both the Giants and the Broncos (whose #1 QB was knocked out of the game). After taking on Daniel Jones and Jeff Driskoll, now the Steeler must face Deshaun Watson.
The key matchup when the Texans have the ball is the pressure being applied to Watson. The Texans allow the most pressure of any team in the NFL while the Steelers generate the most pressure of any team in the NFL.
In two nuggets that don’t bode well for the Texans, courtesy of Rich Hribar, the Texans have a league-worst 227 fewer rushing yards than their opponents through two weeks, and yet 51% of the yardage allowed by Houston has come via rushing, the highest rate through two weeks.
On the other side of the ball, the Steelers Offense ranks #30 on the ground, but that’s come against the #2 toughest schedule of run defenses. They should benefit by getting RG David DeCastro back this week. I’ve been very unimpressed by this Steelers Offense thus far. The Texans had value in my mind at +6 earlier in the week, but down at +4 I’m going to pass.
Detroit Lions at Arizona Cardinals
When I saw week 1’s performance from the Cardinals, I was worried about what I perceived to be a fairly conservative attack. Yes, I took the Cardinals +7 and they won outright, but watching the game I wasn’t in love with what I saw.
The Cardinals averaged just 4.9 aDOT, 4th lowest in the NFL. On early downs, it was only 3.8, 3rd lowest. Their first down pass rate in the first 3 quarters was only 41% pass, well below the 48% NFL average. And on these first down passes, they were very inefficient (45% success, 6.7 YPA, both well below average).
I didn’t know if this was schemed just for the strong defensive line of the 49ers, or if it was a new style of play.
Those fears were quickly squashed against Washington the following week.
Their aDOT increased from 4.9 (#29) to 9.9 (#5).
Their early down aDOT increased from 3.8 (#30) to 12.7 (#2).
First down pass rate increased from 41% to 55% (above average) and these passes averaged 11.5 YPA, well above average.
Even against a very strong defensive line of Washington, the Cardinals continued to throw on their secondary and Kyler Murray put up nearly 300 yards and 1 TD while rushing for 67 more yards and 2 TDs.
On the other side of the ball, I love that Matthew Stafford gets back WR Kenny Golladay for the first time this season as he looks to make a big impact on this game. Golladay brings a deep threat that this Lions attack missed and desperately wants. We saw how OC Darrell Bevell tuned things up last season.
The Lions averaged 10.6 air yards on early down passes last season when Stafford was healthy, which was #1 in the NFL.
But so far this season, they are at 8.5. This still ranks above average (8,0), but isn’t close to the 10.6 they averaged in 2019. With pristine dome conditions, I fully expect the deeper aerial attack to be back on display.
Las Vegas Raiders at New England Patriots
This game involves a really difficult spot for the Raiders. They just pulled out a huge upset on Monday night in the biggest game in years, as they opened their new stadium in Las Vegas. Derek Carr was signing the walls after the game, and the team is on little rest heading across the country with a 2-0 mark, now needing to take on Bill Belichick’s Patriots who sit at 1-1 after losing last week to the Seahawks.
A problem for the Raiders Defense will be they are terrible defending 21 personnel runs, giving up a 75% success rate and 6.8 YPC thus far this season, and the Patriots use 21 at a very high rate and are very good from it, recording a 55% success rate and 4.4 YPC. The Patriots also have been very good running from 11 this year and the Raiders are allowing a 70% success rate with 5.7 YPC.