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Sunday's Best

Week 6 Marquee Matchups

by Warren Sharp
Updated On: October 17, 2020, 5:09 pm ET

Green Bay Packers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Tampa Bay has faced a tough schedule of opposing defenses this season.  The 5th toughest, to be precise.  And it’s been the 6th most difficult schedule of pass defenses.  They’ve had to deal with the Bears, Chargers, Panthers and Saints, all of which inside the top-15.  

For the first time this season, the Bucs will face a pass defense which ranks in the bottom-10 of the NFL.  And the Packers pass defense is actually worse than it’s #26 ranking.

That’s because their defense has not yet faced a single team playing with their #1 WR / deep threat.

Week 1:  Vikings were not starting Justin Jefferson yet (also first game without Stefon Diggs)
Week 2:  Lions without Kenny Golladay
Week 3:  Saints without Michael Thomas
Week 4:  Falcons with an injured Julio Jones (played only 21% of snaps) and a banged up Calvin Ridley
Week 5:  bye

Tampa Bay had been dealing with the absence of Chris Godwin and the injured Mike Evans.  But both are likely to be back for this game.

But where the Bucs have been strong is passing from 12 personnel.  And even though they are down TE OJ Howard, they still were productive last week against the tough Bears Defense.  Passes from 12 delivered +0.31 EPA.  The extra rest heading into this game should allow Bruce Arians to uncover who his other TE will be alongside Rob Gronkowski, as he worked many into the mix last week.

On the season, Tampa is gaining 9.3 YPA, a 56% success rate and +0.25 EPA/att when passing from 12, and the Packers haven’t faced much 12 but have allowed a 67% success rate and +0.25 EPA/att on passes from 12.  

That’s not new for the Packers, as they struggled to stop 12 last year, allowing 9.0 YPA, 54% success and +0.24 EPA/att to 12 while faring much better vs 11 personnel.

Tampa uses a lot of 12 to take advantage of this mismatch so that’s gravy for them.

What’s not gravy is the fact the Bucs are not using nearly as much play action as they should.

Tampa uses just 25% play action on early downs, which sixth least in the NFL.  But look at their splits:

With play action:  10.2 YPA, 54% success, +0.22 EPA/att
W/o play action:   6.4 YPA, 45% success, -0.05 EPA/att

Only 4 teams see a larger swing in EPA (+0.27):  the Saints, Vikings, Ravens and Falcons and only 3 teams see a larger swing in YPA (+3.8): the Saints, Titans and Vikings

The Packers struggle against play action and Tampa Bay is great, but I don’t see any logical reason to use less play action.

On the other side of the ball, the Packers will welcome back Davante Adams and all the explosiveness he brings to the table.  The matchup when Aaron Rodgers has the ball will be must-see TV.  The Packers have the #2 pass offense, the #1 pass blocking line and the #7 most explosive passing attack.  The Bucs have the #4 pass defense, the #4 pass rushing line and the #4 explosive pass defense.  An absolute monster matchup of strength on strength.

But I look at the QBs the Bucs pass defense has faced, and I’m not overly impressed:

Rookie Justin Herbert
Backup Jeff Driskel
Backup Brett Rypien
Nick Foles
Limp-armed Drew Brees
Teddy Bridgewater

There’s no one on that list that completely frightens a DC in 2020.  In 2018, Drew Brees absolutely.  But that’s about it, and certainly not in 2020.

Now they must go up against Aaron Rodgers.  Additionally of note, starting SS Jordan Whitehead didn’t practice on Thursday after practicing on Wednesday.  That type of mid-week downgrade to “DNP” typically is a huge red flag, but let’s see what Whitehead does on Friday.

The Bucs #3 run defense received bad news last week as Vita Vea went down with an injured ankle and was lost for the year.  Tampa has played three bottom-10 rushing offenses in their last 3 games, and now must face the #11 run offense of the Packers without Vea.  

What will really be interesting is whether the Packers can generate explosive gains on the ground.  The Bucs run defense ranks #1 in explosive run defense but has faced the #1 easiest schedule in the NFL.  The Packers rank #8 in explosive run rate offensively. 


Kansas City Chiefs at Buffalo Bills

The Chiefs rank #2 against the pass and #28 against the run.  For some teams, they would look to switch approaches to run more on the Chiefs weak run defense.  But the Bill rank #3 when passing and #32 when rushing.  As such, rushing may now be productive enough even if it’s the weak link on the Chiefs Defense.

Secondly, examine the two team’s schedules for toughest passing opponents:

The Bills already played the Rams and Dolphins, both of which rank #3 and #9 against the pass respectively.  Buffalo won both games.

The Chiefs toughest passing opponents were the #5 Raiders and the #8 Chargers.  The Chiefs nearly went 0-2 in those games (instead going 1-1).  The Chiefs won by double digit margin over the two opponents with the worst passing offenses (#19 Ravens and #24 Patriots).

As such, while passing may not be easy, it still is what the Bills do best and an efficient passing strategy is the most direct path to victory.

Additionally, of note for someone trying to make a case for the underdog Bills:  the Chiefs pass defense has performed extremely well against heavier sets (12 personnel, 21, etc) but has been at it’s worst vs 11 personnel passes

Splits for the Chiefs Defense:

Vs 11:    51% success, 9.0 YPA, +0.20 EPA, 106 rating
Vs 12:    47% success, 7.9 YPA, -0.03 EPA, 104 rating
Vs 21:    33% success, 5.2 YPA, -0.23 EPA, 65 rating

The Bills use the most 11 and 10 (4-wides) personnel of any team in the NFL.

Warren Sharp

Warren Sharp is a football betting analyst for NBC Sports. As a leading voice in football analytics, Warren writes a yearly book previewing the upcoming season from all angles at his Sharp Football Analysis website. You can follow Warren Sharp on Twitter @SharpFootball.