Each week during the 2021 NFL season, Sports Info Solutions will highlight the spread of three games including Monday Night Football.
Last week Matt Manocherian talked about how Carson Wentz didn’t need to be an MVP-level player to make the Colts a threat to come out of the AFC South, he just needed to be more consistent with his pre-2020 self. In Week 1 against Seattle, he did just that, albeit in a losing effort.
However, the Rams defense poses quite a different conundrum than the Seahawks, who pressured Wentz at a rate higher than the Colts allowed in all but one game last year. That one high-pressure game was against the Steelers, one of only a few teams with a defensive front as frightening as the Aaron Donald-led Rams. Don’t expect the Colts to light up the scoreboard here.
In Matthew Stafford’s debut for Los Angeles, he completed five of six passes thrown at least 15 yards downfield for a total of 197 yards. The yards and EPA gained on those throws were both the best the Rams have had in a game since mid-2019. And despite their reputation as a bend-but-don’t-break defense, the Colts allowed the sixth-most EPA per attempt on those throws in 2020.
One thing to watch for in LA’s receiving corps is the breakdown between Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods against Indy’s zone-heavy defense. While their overall lines were similar last season, Woods was notably less productive versus man coverage, garnering fewer targets and a yard less per target. With the opportunity to find holes in the defense, expect a better showing from Woods after Kupp had the spotlight last week.
The Dolphins could find themselves unexpectedly in the driver’s seat in the AFC East with a win at home here. They’ll need to do better than the 24th-best yards-per-play in the league against a Bills offense that, despite its somewhat lackluster showing against the Steelers in Week 1, figures to put up a pretty good fight.
The Bills’ offense lit up the Dolphins in two games last year, scoring a combined 87 points with Josh Allen posting a combined 10.7 yards per attempt and 142 Independent Quarterback Rating (think Passer Rating with adjustments for drops and non-competitive throws). Stefon Diggs was a force—despite any concerns about Xavien Howard on the other side—with a combined 15 receptions for 229 yards.
The big key here is the accuracy of the QBs in this matchup, and there is reason to doubt each passer in this regard.
Allen had one of the more surprising accuracy improvements we’ve ever seen in 2020, and a single game against the Steelers probably shouldn’t change his outlook much. One thing to keep an eye out for is how the Bills’ offensive line holds up against the Dolphins. The Bills blew more blocks than anyone in Week 1, and the Dolphins pressured Mac Jones 19 times without getting home for a sack. That could bode poorly for Allen, although he was one of the more productive passers when under pressure in 2020 (top-five in Passing Points Earned).
Tua Tagovailoa had the worst On-Target% of any QB in Week 1 (63%). In 2020, only Carson Wentz and Dwayne Haskins were on-target with their throws less frequently than Tua was. Obviously, he can look to the other sideline for an example of a highly-drafted quarterback with accuracy issues figuring it out over time, but it’s an ignominious start.
Lowest On-Target %, 2020 (min. 200 attempts)
|Player||On-Tgt%||Avg Throw Depth|
Tagovailoa’s pass-catchers could do better to pick him up, though. As a team, their On-Target Catch % of 81% was fourth-worst in the league in Week 1.
Aaron Rodgers is obviously the headline here. He had his worst On-Target% in years (64%) against the Saints.
You might recall that last October he had a similarly heinous performance against the Bucs. In the surrounding games, he completed 50 of 67 passes (75% on-target) for a combined 610 yards and 8 touchdowns with no interceptions.
Against the Lions in 2020, he combined for an 80% On-Target% with a combined 530 yards and five touchdowns with no picks. The biggest note here, though, is the pressure rate of just 16% in those games. Rodgers should have time to work. And yes, if you like, you can add in that extra little something that we see with Rodgers in primetime hosting a division foe. If the Packers don’t put up a big number here, then you have my permission to stop R-E-L-A-Xing.
That down game from Rodgers probably dipped the line a bit, and we might have been looking at a two-touchdown line if the Lions hadn’t surged back in the fourth quarter of their loss at home to the 49ers.
Through three quarters, the Lions were down by three touchdowns and Jared Goff had less than 6 yards per attempt with an average throw depth of 3 yards. In TWENTY-NINE fourth-quarter attempts, he tripled his average throw depth… and still had 6 yards per attempt.
Like with Tua in Miami, Goff wasn’t helped by his receivers. Their -0.06 Receiving Points Earned per play in Week 1 was the worst in the league thanks to a concerning seven drops.