A rough start to the season to say the least. Through week two, readers of the column are 0-3 (-4.35x). This week the focus is set on two totals in primetime.
Jared Goff Regressing But Market Hasn’t Adjusted Accordingly
As with any handicap on the Los Angeles Rams, there are two questions that need to be asked when assessing the offensive matchup:
- Will Jared Goff potentially be under pressure?
- Is Jared Goff playing in Los Angeles?
The answer to the question this week is most likely, and no, against the Cleveland Browns in the state of Ohio.
This is not new, but for some reason, the market continues to price the offense on the upside, rather than address the downside.
In week one against the Carolina Panthers, Jared Goff was under pressure on 35% of his dropbacks. His completion percentage dipped from 59% to 25% and his yards per attempt fell from just less than 6.0 to 2.8.
In week two against the New Orleans Saints at home, Jared Goff was under pressure on 56% of his dropbacks. His completion percentage dipped from 92% in a clean pocket to 47% when under pressure. His yards per attempt held steady at 10.1 YPA thanks in part to a big 51 yard gain which accounted for 33% of the passing yards. Looking at the qualitative grades from PFF, he dipped from 84.7 in a clean pocket (3rd highest) to 52.0 under pressure (4th lowest).
It is important to look at where the pressure comes from too.
The Rams as noted heading into this season have the most inexperienced interior offensive line trio. Last week, the RG, C and LG position accounted for 16 of the 23 pressures (70%) on the offensive line. In week one, the same three positions accounted for 8 of 13 pressures (61%). In total, 24 of the 36 pressures (67%) this season have come directly up the middle. But what becomes even more interesting is looking at how the pocket breaks down. Goff is continuously forced to his right due to a lack of support from the left of the line.
In week one against Carolina, Addison and McCoy averaged a separation from Goff of 3.78 and 3.90 yards respectively on the left half fo the line. In week two, Onyemata and Jordan averaged a separation from Goff of 3.14 and 3.48 yards. This brings Myles Garrett well into play who likes to attack from the left and averaged a separation of 3.47 and 3.99 yards in Weeks 1 and 2. To put those numbers into context, the league average is 4.49 yards after Week 2.
Not only can the Browns gets pressure on Goff, but they are strong where the Rams are weakest.
Garrett vs Noteboom (LG) and Whitworth (LT) is a huge matchup on Sunday night that could derail the Rams offense but ties in directly with the Goff home/road splits. In terms of YPA this year, the Rams passed for 10.1 YPA at home and 4.8 YPA away. Goff’s passer rating was 112 vs 69.
It might seem like a small sample size, but this is the trend we have seen for an extended time. In 2018, Goff led the Rams to a 55% success rate at home, and 50% on the road. His YPA dipped from 8.6 to 7.5, passer rating 105 to 83 and TD to INT went from 22:5 (home) and 11:10 (away).
Quite confident to say that we will see road Goff in true form and this offense focuses more on the run and run game extension rather than forcing the ball downfield on a consistent basis.
Lots to Dislike About Baker’s Performances
If you watched the Browns game on Monday Night against the Jets there is a good chance that you left your couch before the game was finished out of boredom – but likely feeling quite strongly about Cleveland bouncing back. While only out-gaining the Jets by +0.4 yards per play (suggesting a winning margin of 2 points, not 20), when removing the single OBJ 89 yard score play from the equation is reason enough for concern, digging into the play of Baker Mayfield suggests there is something going on the market may not be adjusting for (Browns re-opened 1 point lower than was available before MNF kickoff and the total went up 0.5 points).
To the eye test, he was holding the ball…forever in the pocket.
Next Gen Stats can confirm that the eye test was in fact true. No quarterback in the NFL held the football for longer each snap than Baker Mayfield at 3.35 seconds from snap to throw. His judgement was extremely suspect too, forcing the ball to receivers with a defender closer than 1 yard in coverage on 20% of attempts. At a 54% completion rate, he ranked among the six least accurate passers of the week (Ben, Fitzpatrick, Newton, Cousins and Rosen for context).
Where things get oddly concerning is the fact that all six of those passers had expected completion percentages AT LEAST 11% higher (all above 60%) than their true rate (all sub 55%). Baker Mayfield, on the other hand, outperformed his expectation by +0.2%. You have to go 9 quarterbacks higher in rank to Kyler Murray to find the next passer that threw for a completion percentage of 62% or less that overperformed on accuracy.
So what does this mean?
It means that Baker Mayfield is holding the ball for longer than any quarterback (indecisive), throwing the ball extremely far downfield (11.2 intended air yards per throw) into very tight coverage windows (20% aggression rate) and slightly OVER performing completing 54% of his passes.
The same numbers applied for the Titans game where he was more appropriately awarded for his recklessness throwing 3 INT’s.
Pressure numbers don’t do Baker any favours. In 16 dropbacks under pressure vs the Jets (42%), Mayfield’s YPA dipped from 12.3 to 4.2 and his passer rating dropped from 121.6 to 19.4 In week one against the Titans in 12 dropbacks under pressure (27%), his YPA dropped from 7.6 to 6.9 and his adjusted completion percentage dropped from 74.2% clean to 56.1% pressured.
The Rams pressure rate of 33% falls right in line with the allowance of the Browns allowed rate which means we can all but remove 12-16 dropbacks from the upside of what Baker Mayfield presents.
Fading Both QBs Leads Me To The Under
The Rams are the sixth most run-heavy team through two games in neutral game state situations (games within 7 points) calling a run on 46% of snaps – 6% above league average. Those rushes have been very effective too, outgaining league average by 0.6 yards per rush.
The Browns, on the other hand, have relentlessly tried to pass at the second-highest rate. To illustrate the struggles of Mayfield further, in a neutral game state the Browns have passed on 73% of snaps (13% above league average) and earned a success rate of just 36%, the lowest in the NFL and a full 10% below league average.
In this game that is projected to be competitive, the Rams would be wise to continue running the football at a high rate. If the Browns follow through with optimal game planning, they would keep the ball on the ground as well, but they are likely to continue passing, which plays in well to the under.
The market has paid for the namesake talent and scorelines more than looking into the matchup and an opportunity here exists to oppose and go Under 50.5 in a competitive game that is likely to finish in the mid 40’s.
This total will continue to tick down as we get closer to kickoff on Sunday.
Don’t Quit On Mitch Just Yet
Oh how the narratives can drive a price in the betting market!
In week one against the Packers, there was overwhelming support for the Under which resulted in just a single point of movement. Last week against the Broncos, there was even more support for the under, and again just a single point of movement. Now after back to back weeks the money on the under is likely to reach an usually high point for a prime time game and this betting market has completely bottomed out. Even at the opening number of 42.5, this number was extremely thin.
Much like the Rams Browns game, this can be looked at from a couple of different perspectives. Obviously, the overwhelming one here is the narrative.
I don’t think I have seen a quarterback take more heat in two games than Mitchell Trubisky.
I am not here to argue in favour of Trubisky, but I am here to taper the expectations against the market. Unfortunately, Trubisky draws repeated comparison to Watson and Mahomes as the Bears traded up in 2017 to get him at the second pick.
His lack of deep ball accuracy will limit him for the remainder of his career and keep him from getting close to that level – a discussion for another day. But none of that applies to this matchup. In fact, none of the Trubisky narrative is matchup focused – at all. Games against the Packers and away at Denver are two hellacious defensive matchups to begin the season.
The Packers will be a top five defense in the NFL and the Broncos game is widely acknowledged as one of the most difficult road spots in football, but still, he is getting killed in the media. (He also faced his old defensive coordinator, which has really been pushed under the rug as well).
Bears Offense To Bounce Back In DC
Week three is a fantastic spot for the Bears offense to correct itself.
Through two games the Redskins have allowed the Eagles and Cowboys to gain 8.3 yards per pass. The quick thought many may have reading this is that the Eagles and Cowboys are two great passing offenses and the number is inflated. Interestingly enough, that 8.3 yards is actually the Redskins playing exactly to expectation as the Eagles and Cowboys combined average 8.3 yards per pass throughout the first two weeks. The mark of 8.3 yards per pass puts the secondary at 26th entering Week 3.
But where the Bears have serious potential to move the football is on the ground.
At 5.5 yards per carry allowed, the Redskins rank 27th against the rush. Again, the quick thought might be that the Eagles and Cowboys are both great rushing teams, but the two teams combined after two weeks average just 4.0 yards per rush. The fact that the Redskins allowed them to gain 5.2 against them in two games combined puts them at 30% below expectation. With just two weeks of data, numbers can be misleading, so it is important to find supporting context. In this case, success rate tells an interesting story.
Looking at the effectiveness of the defense on just a down and distance comparison – not game state or team – the Redskins rank 22nd. Matt Nagy reverted back to a more familiar style of offense on the road at Denver last week, after leaving Trubisky out to die in a game where he was called to throw a pass 45 times to just 15 runs, he went 29-27 rush.
Expect a similar to even more biased run based play distribution against the Redskins who are an enormous step down in competition in run defense.
While Trubisky will have a more limited role for the second time in a week, this game sets up to be the best performance of the season – by far. The Redskins have allowed a 58% success rate on passes against this season which is the second-highest in the NFL better than only Miami. But more importantly they generate very little pressure. Washington grades out 31st in pass rush and 30th in adjusted sake rate. In total this season the team as a whole has 20 combined pressures, 9 of which have come from Ryan Kerrigan. The 25% pressure rate ranks in the bottom four of the NFL.
If there a positive from the first two games it is that Trubisky has shown significantly more promise from a clean pocket. Against Denver, his YPA increased from 1.0 (good god) under pressure to 5.2 in a clean pocket. His adjusted completion percentage jumped from 20% when pressured to 77.7% in a clean pocket. Against Green Bay his YPA increased from 2.9 to 6.2 and his adjusted completion percentage went from 50% to 72.4%.
If the Bears spread out the run game and keep Trubisky clean as they should, Chicago will have little issue moving the ball and scoring on this Redskins defense.
Skins Offense Has Been A Pleasant Surprise
As for the Redskins – what a shock they have been.
What looked like an offense that would be extremely ineffective and focused on the ground game with a trio of running backs in the preseason has emerged as one of the most aggressive units in the league. The Redskins have called a pass on 73% of plays which is the fifth highest in the NFL. That is an 18% increase vs their average from last season.
The passing game has been extremely effective as well.
Washington have a 51% success rate which is fifth highest in the NFL and rank 8th in expected points added overall as an offense.
The only weakness on the Bears defense this year has been their down to down pass defense. Their 45% success rate against ranks them in the bottom 12 of the league. The Bears team as a whole grades 17th in coverage, which came in games where the Packers averaged less than 4 yards per play and against Joe Flacco.
With back to back road games and travel mounting, the Redskins are going to throw – and throw deep.
Case Keenum has the fourth highest passer rating when using play action and his YPA balloons to over 12 yards per attempt. Keenum has also been immune to pressure, with a 103 passer rating against the blitz or rush.
The narratives are going to be extremely powerful leading up to this game, but at 41.5 this total is just too low. Big correction spot for the Bears offense and the willingness for Washington to throw put this into the high 40’s.
- Los Angeles Cleveland Under 50.5 (1.91). Risking 1.10x
- Chicago Washington Over 41.5 (1.91). Risking 2.20x