Inside the Isolator – Week 4 Edition

Warren Sharp

Sunday, October 1, 2017 3:26 PM UTC

Sunday, Oct. 1, 2017 3:26 PM UTC

An “emptying the notebook” with a collection of interesting angles, concepts, matchups and other analysis I uncovered this week which didn’t make it into my write-ups or analysis that I shared with clients for the week.   

By Warren Sharp

What I saw heading into today’s action was … 

… a true whooping that didn’t translate into the final score, but should not get overlooked.  The Falcons posted edges including:  

  • 6.6 yards per play to 4.9 
  • 49% successful play rate to 38%  
  • 26-21 first down edge 
  • 9-13 third-down edge (Atlanta's offense only faced 9 third downs) 
  • 2-5 punt edge (Atlanta punted the ball just twice) 

and the Falcons almost lost the game.  That was entirely because the Lions were +3 in turnover margin and +1 in return TD margin.  Teams with this edge, like the Lions, almost always win.  Teams who lose by these margins, like the Falcons, rarely win.  They are just 3-124 (2.4%) since 2011.  But Atlanta won, which shows how dominant the Falcons were but for those huge, negative plays.   

…the Redskins defense posted their first shutout on 3rd downs since at least 1991 in a non-week 17 game.  The research tools I have don’t pre-date the 1991 season, but they held the Raiders to 0/11 on 3rd downs.  While it was a truly phenomenal performance, I do not believe the Redskins defense to be as good nor the Raiders offense to be as bad as that performance indicates. 

… Aaron Rodgers continue to demonstrate how incredible he is at this sport.  The Packers were without multiple starters along the offensive line, their starting running back went down in the game, and they also lost their #2 wide receiver in-game.  There does reach a tipping point where not even Rodgers can do enough offensively, but he’s clearly not there yet.  It’s amazing to watch a player of his skill operate.  We can only hope, as fans of great football, that the Packers will be healthy for a playoff run, unlike last year when their entire receiving corps was decimated in the postseason.   

What I want to see from teams this week is… 

… Jared Goff take an impressive next step against the Cowboys defense and deliver a solid performance.  Goff has a 118 passer rating (4th best in the NFL) and a massive 10 YPA.  But those numbers came against two highly suspect defenses that aren’t going anywhere this year:  the Colts and 49ers.  Sitting at 2-1, the Rams actually have a shot in the NFC West given the fact that the Cardinals and Seahawks are both 1-2.  The Cowboys are not an easy opponent, but Goff should be able to have success against this defense. With extra time to prepare a game plan (the Rams last played two Thursdays ago) I’m hopeful to see Goff duel with Dak Prescott in Dallas. 

… Christian McCaffrey to get usage against a highly suspect Patriots defense.  McCaffrey played two very strong RB-pass defenses to start the season.  But he found a perfect spot last week, facing the 31st RB-pass defense of the Saints while at the same time not having the injured Greg Olsen in the lineup.  McCaffrey led the team in targets, yards, YPA with 9/11, 101 yards and a 73% successful play rate.  The Patriots are allowing a 65% success rate to RB-passes (29th in the league) and a massive 11 YPA when RBs are targeted (31st).  I’m eager to watch McCaffrey work in space today in New England. 

… if Derek Carr and the Raiders offense will bounce back against the Broncos this afternoon.  The Raiders looked nothing like themselves in their last game in Washington, and now must take on their rivals who are sitting tied at 2-1 with the Raiders.  After dropping his first 3 games against the Broncos, Carr has won each of his last two games.  But in Denver, he’s struggled immensely and is now without Michael Crabtree.  We just finished talking about Aaron Rodgers’ ability to overcome multiple key players being out of the lineup.  Carr needs to do the same, and this offense is more than talented enough.  I’m eager to see if he can live up to that task this afternoon. 

What I don’t want to see from teams this week is … 

… the Chargers run the ball on first down more than 45% of the time.  Last week they ran the ball on first down in the first quarter 75% of the time.  The problem is that after 2 weeks, the Chargers ranked as the best team on early down passing (65% success rate) but the worst team in early down rushing (27%).  It was a huge chasm between the two.  So what do you think the Chargers did in week 3?  They ran the ball 20% MORE on early downs than they had the first two weeks.  As a result, the team struggled even more and they were not even able to miss a field goal at the end of regulation in order to lose the game.  The Eagles secondary is prime for the taking given the injuries to Fletcher Cox (their best pass rusher) and DB Ronald Darby.  To run the ball into the teeth of the defense is welcoming punts.  I hope Anthony Lynn can realize this error before it is too late. 

… Joe Flacco look terrible yet again.  It’s hard to believe, but Joe Flacco is hitting the 2017 cap for the most money of any player this year.  Yes, that’s right.  The same Joe Flacco who just last week attempted 18 passes for 28 yards and posted a 12 passer rating before being yanked from the game.  I realize the offensive line isn’t healthy, but the fact the Ravens paid Joe Flacco that amount of money is criminal.  I hope we see a better Flacco now that he’s at home and plays a slightly worse pass defense in the Steelers.  But Pittsburgh and Baltimore play great battles and it will be fascinating to see Flacco attempt to bounce back. 

… the Seahawks get back on track at home against the Colts.  Seattle cannot seem to correct their problems on the road, so it is time to see this defense “tee-up “ against a far weaker opponent at home.  I don’t want to see Russell Wilson struggle nor do I want to see the Seahawks let Jacoby Brissett perform successfully like he did against the Browns at home.  Seattle has not looked good this season, even in their win over the 49ers.  It’s not just the offense, it’s the defense as well.  And if they don’t absolutely paste this Colts team at home, we might be talking about the Seahawks in a whole new light as opposed to talking about them as a team who lost on the road to two very good teams (Green Bay, Tennessee) and is still a very strong playoff contender.   

What I found is … 

… the Jets just faced the #30 ranked schedule the past two weeks of pass defenses, squaring off against the Dolphins and Raiders.  But now they must face the #1 pass defense in the league, the Jaguars. 

… the Steelers just faced the #25 ranked schedule the past two weeks of pass defenses, tangling with the Bears and Vikings.  But now they must face the #2 pass defense in the league, the Ravens. 

… the Raiders rank 30th in defensive efficiency, but it's been masked to an extent on the scoreboard by facing 3 teams who have been quite poor in the red zone year to date.  The Titans, Jets, and Redskins rank 24, 25 and 28th in my blended red zone performance, and based on pure conversion rate in the red zone, the Titans are at 40% while the Redskins are at 33%.  Both are extremely poor.  But surprisingly, this week they face the #2 most effective red zone offense year to date, the Denver Broncos.   

… The Ravens have played the 6th easiest schedule of opposing pass defenses based on my metrics published at Sharp Football Stats, but their pass offense has been incredibly bad.  They rank 26th in pass efficiency and 31st in pass success rate, checking in at 9% below average.  They are now without OT Marshal Yanda 

What you need to know is … 

… the Cowboys may be without key LB Sean Lee.  When Lee missed time in prior years, this defense fell apart.  He hasn’t practiced all week, and may try to go but could be less than 100% or would be out. 

… the Raiders will be without Michael Crabtree, who injured himself in practice on Thursday. 

… the Browns will be without DT Danny Shelton, LB Jamie Collins and are still without DE Myles Garrett. 

… the Bengals will have the services of Vontaze Burfict, who was suspended the first 3 games of the season.  Burfict is a massive upgrade to the run defense of the Bengals, and his presence might force the Browns to pass more frequently.     

About the author:  Warren Sharp (@SharpFootball) is a licensed Professional Engineer and is an inventor of custom & predictive NFL analytics/visualized data. He owns Sharp Football Analysis and Sharp Football Stats. His work has been seen at ESPN, FOX, the Wall Street Journal, Huffington Post and many other news/sports sites. He authored the bestselling 'Warren Sharp's 2017 Football Preview', available on Amazon or in PDF

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