I’ll be leveraging my experience as a fantasy analyst with a statistics background and a high school football coach to identify aspects of one matchup every week that you can take advantage of while setting your fantasy football lineups and/or placing bets on the upcoming slate.
For Week 7, we’re focusing on the Sunday matchup between the Carolina Panthers and Philadelphia Eagles, with an emphasis on Philly’s defensive scheme and weaknesses.
A Great Defensive Line
Fletcher Cox has been a top-10 defensive tackle since 2015 according to Pro Football Focus, and only Aaron Donald has graded out higher than him this season. Brandon Graham, Chris Long, and Michael Bennett are all inside the top-16 graded edge defenders. Both Graham and Long were in the top 20 in 2017 as well for the Eagles, while Bennett replaced Vinny Curry, who was inside of the top 30.
The Eagles have one of the best defensive lines in football.
Because of the talent on the defensive line, defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz rarely blitzes. The Eagles were 26th in blitz rate in 2017, and 30th in blitz rate on first down. Even blitzing at such a low rate, Philly was eighth in overall pressure rate according to Football Outsiders.
Even though the Eagles have still rated highly up front in 2018, they have generated a lot less pressure.
Getting after the QB drives everything else that happens for a defense- these teams are applying the most pressure this season.#LARams #GoPats #DUUUVAL #HereWeGo #GoPackGo #RaiderNation #GoBucs #FlyEaglesFly pic.twitter.com/PPsl77uc91
— NFL Matchup on ESPN (@NFLMatchup) October 9, 2018
The Eagles’ pressure struggles are bad news against Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, who has massive splits against pressure this season. Newton owns a PFF grade of 91.2 when not facing pressure so far, and just a 44 grade when under pressure.
Newton is third in accuracy percentage when kept clean this season according to PFF. He is an elite quarterback without pressure.
Personnel and Coverage Changes
The Eagles have also had to deal with a major injury this season. Safety Rodney McLeod tore his MCL after Week 3, and is out for the season. He has been replaced by Corey Graham, who has just a 60.8 defensive rating per PFF. This is a significant downgrade from McLeod, who graded at 74.4 in his three games, and was up over 76 last season.
The loss at safety has the Eagles playing some different coverages. They are typically a base Cover 3 team under Schwartz. Over the last three weeks, they have been running a lot of Cover 2 Invert or Cover 2 Robber, depending on your verbiage of choice.
Standard Cover 2 is played with two deep safeties, who are each responsible for a deep half of the field. The middle backer is a “hole” player, who progressively gains more depth in the middle of the field. The corners are responsible for the flats, while the remaining backers play hook-to-curl zones.
In Cover 2 Invert, the defense lines up in a single-high safety look, akin to what you would expect from a team running Cover 3. Instead, the corners bail and are responsible for the deep halves, while the free safety becomes the hole player. The strong safety and opposite outside linebacker cover the flats, and the responsibility of the remaining backers stays the same.
The biggest difference between Cover 3 and Cover 2 Invert is that you likely are losing a deep coverage player. Since the free safety is coming up to rob the middle of the field — usually looking for crossers and curls — it is difficult for him to give help to the corners, who would be expecting some on deep routes in Cover 3. This puts a lot of stress on the corners, and has led to the Eagles allowing 20% more passes of 20 or more yards with McLeod off the field.
Ride Cam Newton to Victory
The results of losing McLeod have been pronounced. In the first three weeks of the season, Philly was allowing just a 6.6 adjusted yards per attempt, top 10 in the NFL. Without him, they are bottom 10 in AYA allowed at 8.3, good for an increase of 27%.
Newton is having his best season since he won the MVP in 2015. His 6.8 AYA is the highest he has had since then, and his 65.9% completion rate is by far the highest of his career. He is also on pace for a career high in rush attempts.
Our fantasy rankers have Newton as the fourth best quarterback option for Week 7. However, he is just the 10th highest priced quarterback on DraftKings on the Week, seventh highest on the main slate. Newton seems like a clear steal given his success against teams unable to apply pressure, and Philadelphia’s struggles in coverage.
Carolina also seems like a sharp bet this week as 4.5 point road underdogs. As of this writing (see live odds here), the Panthers have received just 37% of the tickets, but 55% of the money for Sunday’s matchup. If Newton is able to exploit the defense, the Panthers should be able to keep this game close.