Yardbarker's Michael Nania analyzes the biggest positional mismatches each week during the NFL season.
DVOA (Defense-Adjusted Value Over Average): A method of evaluating teams, units or players in a comparative fashion. It takes every play during the NFL season and compares each to a league-average baseline based on situation.
EPA (Estimated Points Added): The measure of a play’s impact on the score of the game. It represents the difference between a team's "expected points value" (the net point value a team can expect given a particular combination of down, distance and field position) before and after a play.
Packers edge rushers Za'Darius Smith, Preston Smith vs. Bears offensive line
Where Green Bay has edge: The Packers doled out a combined $118M to the Smiths, hoping they could form one of the NFL's most destructive pass-rush tandems. They have delivered. Za'Darius is tied for second in the league with 73 pressures, and Preston is tied for 25th with 47. The duo has combined for 51 quarterback hits, which includes 21.5 sacks.
In addition to their pass-rushing ability, Preston and Za'Darius are assets in coverage, playing 113 cover snaps, second most among edge defenders. Za'Darius is also strong against the run, ranking 24th in Pro Football Focus' run defense grade out of 64 qualified edge defenders.
Why Chicago will struggle: Chicago struggled against the Smiths in a 10-3 loss to the Packers in Week 1. Za'Darius Smith had 10 pressures, tied for the most of any player in Week 1. Preston Smith added six pressures, tied for sixth most that week. Bears QB Mitchell Trubisky was sacked five times, tying a career-high, with Preston collecting 1.5 sacks and Za'Darius adding another.
Fantasy impact: Trubisky is a fantasy factor again, leading quarterbacks with 56 fantasy points (standard scoring) over the past two weeks. However, that hot streak could end Sunday -- Trubisky has averaged only 14.3 fantasy points in four games against Green Bay.
How Green Bay does it: In Week 1, Za'Darius Smith did his damage from all over the line. In addition to lining up on the left and right side, Smith created heat from outside and inside. One of his great traits is his ability to win match-ups against any position on the offensive front. Here, Smith (#55) stands up over the inside shoulder of the right tackle, then rushes the outside shoulder of the right guard. Smith attacks the gap to create penetration, then throws a quick inside spin to pressure Trubisky into an incomplete pass, finishing off the play with a crushing hit.
Titans QB Ryan Tannehill vs. Texans defense
Where Tannehill has edge: He has played at a supreme level since he took Marcus Mariota's job in Week 7. In seven starts, Tannehill has averaged 9.9 yards per pass attempt, tops among qualified quarterbacks since Week 7 and 1.3 yards per attempt ahead of second-ranked Philip Rivers. That difference is about equal to the margin between Rivers and 14th-ranked Jacoby Brissett. Tannehill's 121.7 passer rating as a starter is second best since Week 7, behind only Lamar Jackson (125.2).
Tannehill's play has elevated Tennessee from one of the more anemic offenses to one of the most explosive. Under Mariota, the Titans scored 15.2 points per game, posting three single-digit scoring efforts. Under Tannehill, Tennessee averages 28.6, posting at least 20 points in each game. Under Mariota, Tennessee scored a touchdown on 15.7 percent of drives, 28th in the NFL. Since Tannehill took over, the Titans have scored a touchdown on 35.1 percent of their drives, second to only the Ravens.
Why Houston will struggle: The defense is a liability, ranking 26th in EPA, 27th in DVOA, and 28th in points allowed per drive (2.24). Over the four games since their Week 10 bye, the Texans have allowed 29.5 points per game and registered two takeaways. They are averaging an awful defensive EPA of minus-16.5 over that span. How bad is that? It is worse than the Cardinals, who rank last in defensive EPA (minus-12.4 per game).
The Texans are especially poor on pass defense, ranking 27th in DVOA. Houston's defense also has struggled in the red zone, ranking 31st (67.5 percent touchdown rate allowed). The Texans have allowed a conversion on 43.5 percent of red-zone pass attempts, worst in the NFL. Conversely, the Titans lead the NFL in red-zone touchdown rate (73 percent), and since Tannehill took over, they lead the NFL in conversion rate on red-zone passing plays (54.2 percent) by a wide margin.
Fantasy impact: Since Week 7, Tannehill ranks second in fantasy points per game among quarterbacks (22.0), trailing only Lamar Jackson (28.1). A home matchup against Houston's awful defense gives Tannehill an excellent chance to keep rolling.
How Tannehill does it: The Titans have done plenty to help Tannehill thrive (quality run game, great offensive line play, explosive playmaking from the receiving core), but he is still playing at an extremely high level independent of that aid. Look at this Week 14 throw against Oakland. Under heavy duress and about to take a shot from two Raiders, Tannehill drops a perfect dime into the hands of wide receiver A.J. Brown that travels about 50 yards in the air. Brown cruises for a 91-yard TD.
Steelers pass defense vs. Bills passing attack
Where Pittsburgh has edge: The Steelers' elite defense is ranked third in defensive DVOA and EPA, and has yielded just 1.53 points per drive, fourth fewest in the league behind San Francisco, Buffalo and New England. Coordinator Keith Butler's unit has played its best over Pittsburgh's current 7-1 stretch, allowing 14.9 points per game and amassing 21 takeaways (2.6 per game).
Pittsburgh's pass rush is the driving force behind its dominance. The Steelers lead the NFL in pressure rate (31 percent) and quarterback hits (96), and rank second in sack rate (9.8 percent), behind only the 49ers. The Steelers' pass rush is even more productive at home, where it leads the NFL in sacks per game (5.0) and sack rate (12.7 percent). The Steelers, who have 35 sacks in Pittsburgh, need seven against Buffalo to top the 1985 Raiders' season record of 41 sacks at home.
Why Buffalo will struggle: Buffalo is below average offensively, ranking 19th in EPA, 22nd in DVOA and 23rd in points per drive (1.74). The Bills' offense has struggled against top defenses. In six games against teams ranked in the top half of defensive DVOA, the Bills have averaged 15.5 points per game, never topping 20.
In those six games against top-half defenses, Josh Allen has posted an average passer rating of 67.7 (league average for all games 91.2) and thrown for a measly 5.8 yards per attempt. Buffalo's offensive line ranks 11th in pass-blocking efficiency, but it has become an issue recently. Over the past two weeks, Allen has been sacked 10 times.
Fantasy impact: The Steelers' defense is a must-play at Heinz Field. Pittsburgh leads the NFL in interception rate (4.6 percent) and sack rate (12.7 percent) at home, and ranks fourth in scoring defense (17.1 points per game).
How Pittsburgh does it: No player has more sacks at home than edge rusher T.J. Watt (10), who has picked up at least one sack in each of his seven games at Heinz Field. Watt does most of his damage from the left side of the defense, where he is second in the NFL with 70 pressures. He will be an immense challenge for Buffalo's rookie right tackle Cody Ford, who ranks 52nd out of 59 qualified tackles in pass-blocking efficiency.
On this sack of the Browns' Baker Mayfield in Week 13, Watt shows off how quickly he can beat a right tackle one-on-one and blow up a passing play, effortlessly bending the edge against tackle Chris Hubbard.
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