NFL franchises use contextualized data to create competitive advantages. In order to realize an edge, teams need to employ the right data in the right way at the right time. This means distilling, interpreting and applying only the most influential data in a framework that accounts for their personnel, their opponents and their evolving game situations. My goal is to be your analytics department. Each week this season, I want to work for you by giving you a peek into which numbers flag in my models as the most impactful … or the most misunderstood.
As always, let me know if your eye test is picking up on something interesting, or if there’s a stat/trend you’d like me to take a deeper look at. You can hit me on Twitter @cfrelund. As with any great analytics department, the more collaborative this is, the more value we can create.
This week, the primer is a little shorter because my coding timeline was condensed, thanks to the three-game football feast on Thanksgiving. Next week will include one of my favorite topics, though: the remaining games with the biggest impact on shaping the playoffs. Without further ado, let’s dig into the relevant data heading into Week 13 of the 2019 NFL season:
WEEK 13 SLEEPER TEAM
ARIZONA CARDINALS: Hosting the Los Angeles Rams.
The Cardinals‘ offensive line ranks among the bottom five in terms of win share, which is how my metrics measure a player and/or unit’s impact on the offense earning first downs and touchdowns — and consequently, wins. Positive or negative values can be assigned on each snap, then the sums are compared. But I digress. Point is, Arizona’s O-line leaves much to be desired. Yet Kyler Murray has only been under pressure on 12.6 percent of dropbacks this season, per Next Gen Stats, which is the lowest rate in the NFL. Murray is overcoming his porous front and escaping from pressure at the highest rate in the NFL; per NGS, the rookie evades pressure on 28.6 percent of dropbacks when hurried.
The Rams‘ defense has pressured opposing quarterbacks at the highest rate in the NFL this season: 32.7 percent of dropbacks, per Next Gen Stats. However, when opposing offenses have successfully prevented L.A. from applying pressure, the Rams have allowed a 100.6 passer rating — which ranks 21st in the NFL — and 16 touchdowns against only four interceptions.
The Cardinals have scored 25 or more points in six of their last seven games, including twice against the mighty 49ers, who have only allowed 25-plus points in three games total. Over his past three games, Murray has thrown seven touchdown passes against only one interception, driving a 106.7 passer rating over that time. A key to Murray’s recent surge has been his development on passes of 10-plus air yards. In Weeks 1 through 8, he posted a passer rating of just 81.3 in this area, with a 2:3 TD-to-INT ratio. But over his past three games, Murray has significantly boosted those figures: 128.4 passer rating, 5:0 TD-to-INT ratio.
WEEK 13 SLEEPER PLAYERS
Chris Conley, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars: Conley and D.J. Chark are tied for the most intermediate receptions on the team, meaning both he and Chark (who isn’t a sleeper, but rather just a really good fantasy option this week) are likely to see opportunities in the 10-to-19 air-yard range. It’s worth pointing out that Conley has a 57.7 percent catch rate in this range (15 catches on 26 targets), which is slightly higher than Chark is tracking at 46.9 percent (15 of 32). The Jags’ matchup with the Buccaneers carries a lot of potential upside for Conley, as Tampa Bay has allowed eight touchdowns on intermediate passes — tied for third-most in the NFL. Overall, the Bucs have the 31st-ranked pass defense, yielding 289.9 yards through the air per outing. Tampa has allowed 26 passing touchdowns (tied for 29th).
Benny Snell, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers: Snell’s 21 rushes in Week 12 against the Bengals marked the second-most carries logged by a Steeler in a game this season — behind only James Conner‘s 23-carry, 145-yard day against Miami in Week 8. Pro Football Focus notes that Snell forced three missed tackles against Cincinnati, also the best effort by a Steeler outside of Conner’s game against the Dolphins (when he forced four missed tackles). OK, so that shows a strong probability for volume … Now the production part! Using Next Gen Stats to measure Snell’s impact last week, I see that he averaged 5.4 yards per rush on the 13 runs where he faced eight or more defenders in the box. That makes him just the ninth player to log 12-plus rushes into a box of eight-plus men in a game this season — and Snell is the only one to average more than 5 yards per rush. The Browns allow 4.77 yards per rushing attempt overall, which ranks 27th in the league.
Follow Cynthia Frelund on Twitter @cfrelund.