Inside Edge: 3 Week 5 NFL Matchups That Could Decide Games
When seeking value on betting lines and predicting fantasy football outcomes, the difference between success and failure can come down to a few key matchups that can have a large impact on the final outcome of those games.
Every game every week is decided by the combination of numerous matchups, but each week, some matchups matter more than others. The aim of this series is to identify a few key matchups every week that will likely have a large impact on the final outcome of select games.
Without further ado, here are three Week 5 matchups to look forward to.
Khalil Mack vs. Oakland Offense
The Chicago Bears will play the Oakland Raiders in London on Sunday, which will be the first time Chicago edge rusher Khalil Mack plays against his former team after he was traded prior to the 2018 season.
Since the blockbuster deal went through, the Raiders have played 20 games and Mack has played 18. Mack has 17 sacks, 10 forced fumbles, and 1 defensive touchdown. The Raiders have 18 sacks, 8 forced fumbles, and 2 defensive touchdowns. Per Next Gen Stats, Mack has 82 quarterback pressures on 558 pass rushes, while the Raiders have 80 quarterback pressures on 523 pass rushes (on non-blitz plays).
In other words: since he was traded to the Bears, Mack by himself (4.56 quarterback pressures, 0.94 sacks, and 0.56 forced fumbles per game) has been as productive as the entire Raiders defensive line rotation (4.00 quarterback pressures, 0.90 sacks, and 0.40 forced fumbles per game).
Mack is known as a relatively reserved player, but he recently told the Chicago Tribune, “You could say I’m suppressing the emotional side of it [playing the Raiders]. But the other side is to go out and make them pay for it.”
So far this season, Mack ranks first in forced fumbles, second in quarterback pressures, and sixth in sacks. He has a pressure rate of 17.1% and a hit rate of 8.5% per Sports Info Solutions -- each of which are career highs -- so Mack certainly hasn’t slowed down. As a team, Chicago ranks third in sacks, fourth in takeaways, and fifth in Adjusted Defensive NEP per play.
Oakland's offensive line ranks 10th in Football Outsiders’ adjusted sack rate allowed but has played a middling schedule of pass rushes so far this season. Oakland faced Denver (31st in adjusted sack rate), Kansas City (14th), Minnesota (13th), and Indianapolis (20th) in Weeks 1-4. Chicago’s pass rush is a different beast, as it ranks second in adjusted sack rate.
Last season, Raiders quarterback Derek Carr ranked 33rd out of 34 qualifying quarterbacks in Football Outsiders' efficiency rating under pressure -- ahead of only Josh Rosen. Carr also had the largest difference in efficiency under pressure versus efficiency under no pressure.
It’s safe to say Chicago’s front seven will have a large impact on how Carr plays and the way this game goes. With Mack even more motivated than usual for what will be his first career revenge game, Carr will have his hands full against the Bears on Sunday.
Chargers Running Backs vs. Broncos Defense
Los Angeles Chargers running back Melvin Gordon held out the first four weeks of the season after not receiving a contract extension during the offseason, but Austin Ekeler excelled in his place. Ekeler ranks ninth in touches, fifth in yards from scrimmage, and second in Total Net Expected Points (NEP) among all running backs.
Ekeler is getting a lot of his production through the air rather than on the ground. Ekeler ranks 17th in rushing attempts, 18th in rushing yards, and 34th in Rushing NEP. He ranks fourth in targets, second in receptions, first in receiving yards, and first in Reception NEP among all running backs.
The Chargers are the 10th pass-heaviest team in the league despite ranking third in time of possession when leading. Los Angeles was just the 17th pass-heaviest team last season, so it’s entirely possible that they have passed more often this season simply due to Gordon’s absence. Gordon -- who ranked third in Rushing NEP and 12th in Reception NEP among all running backs in 2018 -- reported last week and is expected to play against the Denver Broncos this week.
Denver ranks 31st in Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP per play and ranks 30th in rushing yards allowed, rushing first downs allowed, and yards per carry allowed. Last week, Leonard Fournette exploded for 225 rushing yards on 29 carries (7.76 yards per carry) against the Broncos after averaging 4.16 yards per carry in Weeks 1-3.
On the other hand, Denver has allowed the fewest targets, fewest receptions, and the eighth-fewest receiving yards to running backs so far this season.
So far this year, running backs have found much more success rushing than receiving against Denver. It will be interesting to see if Los Angeles will continue to pass often, especially to its running backs, or if the Chargers will lean more on the ground in Gordon’s first game back against a vulnerable Broncos rush defense.
Kyler Murray vs. Cincinnati Defense
Kyler Murray hasn’t exactly been electric in his first month of professional football. Among 32 qualifying quarterbacks, Murray ranks 27th in both Passing NEP per drop back and Passing Success Rate. He has the third-most pass attempts in the league but ranks 13th in yards and 23rd in touchdowns.
Granted, Murray is a rookie quarterback playing under a rookie head coach in an offensive scheme relatively new to the NFL. And he’s played against the sixth-toughest schedule of opposing pass defenses thus far (per Sharp Football Stats). But his schedule will soften a bit for the remainder of the season, starting this week against the Cincinnati Bengals.
The Bengals sit 31st in overall defense, per our schedule-adjusted metrics. Last week, Pittsburgh quarterback Mason Rudolph lit up Cincinnati in his second career start, as he completed 24 of 28 passes for 229 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Remarkably, just three of Rudolph’s pass attempts traveled 10-plus yards in the air, per Next Gen Stats. Twelve of his attempts were behind the line of scrimmage.
Arizona coach Kliff Kingsbury’s passing offense focuses on short, quick throws to receivers who can space out the field and create separation, which is similar to how the Steelers' offense is operating with Rudolph under center.
Rudolph's average time to throw this season is 2.63 seconds, which ranks 24th among 32 qualifying quarterbacks (Rudolph averaged 2.49 seconds to throw against Cincinnati, sixth-lowest among all quarterbacks in Week 4). Rudolph has an average depth of target of 6.0 yards, which ranks 31st (Rudolph averaged 3.2 air yards per target against Cincinnati, lowest in Week 4).
Murray averages 2.66 seconds to throw (22nd) and an average depth of target of 7.2 yards (23rd).
Murray appears to be set up for success this week in Cincinnati. Mason Rudolph logged a 56.5% completion percentage and 86.0 quarterback rating in his first two games of the season before completing 85.7% of his passes and finishing with a 124.6 quarterback rating against the Bengals. The Cardinals' offense will likely play very similarly to how the Steelers did last week, and Murray may have the best game of his young career as a result.