Each week during the 2021 NFL season, Sports Info Solutions will highlight the spread of three games including Monday Night Football.
Panthers vs Cowboys
The Panthers and Cowboys enter their matchup a combined 5-1, but they have won through very different means.
The Panthers currently have the number one ranked defense by Total Points Saved. This includes the top-ranked pass rush, sixth-ranked run defense, and sixth-ranked coverage unit. On the other sideline, the Cowboys have the league’s third-ranked offense in the Total Points Earned.
The Cowboys offense is led by Dak Prescott, who ranks third in Passing Points Earned and leads the league in Completion%. Even so, he has left some plays on the field when pushing the ball vertically. His On-Target% of only 44% on throws at least 15 yards down the field ranks 27th.
The Cowboys backfield duo of Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard have each performed well this season, ranking 12th and ninth respectively in Rushing Points Earned. Pollard has been the more explosive back, averaging over two more yards per carry. One of the reasons behind Pollard’s success is that he is being hit at or behind the line of scrimmage on only 15% of his carries, compared to 46% for Elliott.
This phenomenon could be the result of many factors and is not directly attributable to each running back, but there is a pattern that is consistent regardless of where the run is designed to go. Pollard has been hit behind the line much less often than Elliott on outside runs (20% to 80%), off-tackle runs (21% to 38%), inside runs (0% to 33%), and runs against 7+ defender boxes (8% to 54%).
The Panthers rushing attack took a big hit with Christian McCaffrey’s hamstring injury. His replacement, rookie Chuba Hubbard, has had a poor showing through three weeks. Hubbard’s -6 Rushing Total Points on 19 carries ranks 188th out of the 189 players who have carried the ball this season.
Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold has benefited from the change of scenery this season, as he ranks 10th in Passing Points Earned. He has also improved on throws at 15 yards downfield, raising his On-Target% by around eight percentage points from last season to 62.5% this season.
As mentioned above, the Panthers’ defense has been the driving force behind their 3-0 start. They will be without standout rookie corner Jaycee Horn, who was allowing only 2 yards per target, had one interception, and dropped another.
They still will have Shaq Thompson, who has been stellar in coverage so far this season. He is allowing only 3.7 yards per target, a 45.5% Completion%, and has made a play on the ball on three of his 11 targets.
Up front, the Panthers are led by bookend pass rushers, Brian Burns and Haason Reddick. They both rank in the top 10 in Pressure%, both pressuring the quarterback on 16.2% of their pass rushes.
Ravens vs Broncos
The Broncos enter Week 4 as one of only four remaining undefeated teams, which is a nice surprise for a team that hasn’t posted an above .500 record since 2016. Their strong start to the season has been helped by facing three of the worst teams in the league. Their first three opponents currently have a combined 0-9 record, and they faced two rookie quarterbacks. This week’s matchup against the Ravens will be their first true test.
Unlike the Broncos, the Ravens have already been tested this season, with mostly positive results. They fell to the Raiders in a crazy opening Monday night game, but then staged a double-digit fourth quarter comeback against the Chiefs and beat the Lions by the slimmest margin possible on a record-breaking field goal.
Speaking of field goals, possibly the best matchup to watch this game will be among the kickers. Justin Tucker and Brandon McManus rank first and second among kickers in Total Points Earned over the past three seasons.
If a truly great kicking matchup doesn’t pique your interest, this game should also have some good offensive and defensive matchups.
Teddy Bridgewater is off to the best start of his career and ranks sixth among quarterbacks in Total Points Earned. He has been pushing the ball downfield more often this season, with an ADoT of 9.2 compared to an ADoT of 7.2 in 2020 and 6.1 in 2019. This hasn’t necessarily always been to his advantage. On passes at least 15 yards downfield, Bridgewater has been average, ranking 14th in Passing Points Earned per Attempt. In contrast, he has excelled on shorter passes, where he has always shown elite accuracy. On passes under 15 yards, he leads the league with a Completion% of 86.3% and ranks third in Passing Points Earned per Attempt.
On the other side of the ball, the Broncos’ defense will have their hands full attempting to contain Lamar Jackson. They have allowed quarterbacks to convert five out of eight rush attempts for first downs this season. Jackson averages 6.3 yards per rush and has converted eight first downs on designed QB runs alone. He averages 11.3 yards per rush and has five first downs on scrambles.
Jackson has also been good through the air, ranking seventh in Passing Points Earned per Play. He’s been airing it out at the highest rate in the league, with an 11.9 ADoT. On the other end of those passes, Marquise Brown, Sammy Watkins, and Mark Andrews have been helping him out. All three are averaging 9+ yards per target. Cutting into that upside, Brown and Watkins have each dropped three passes so far.
The Broncos defense has been elite against the pass this season, ranking 1st in Pass Coverage Points Saved. Their trio of corners have all done well at forcing incompletions. Kyle Fuller (39% Comp% Allowed), Bryce Callahan (40%), and Patrick Surtain II (58%) have broken up two passes each, with Surtain II also adding an interception.
The Ravens defense has been below average in almost every category so far, but they do have one key trait which could prove to be trouble against the Broncos. Since Don Martindale took over as defensive coordinator in 2018, the Ravens have ranked first, first, and third in Blitz%. This season, they rank eighth at 25%, but if you remove their Week 2 game against blitz killer Patrick Mahomes, their Blitz% goes up to 31%, which would rank 4th. Against the blitz, the Broncos allow a 33% Pressure%, which ranks ninth-worst in the league.
Raiders vs Chargers
For the first time since Patrick Mahomes took over at QB for the Chiefs in 2018, the AFC West seems like it is up for grabs. It’s still way too early in the season to say for sure, but both the Raiders and Chargers look like legitimate contenders, thanks mostly in part to the elite play of their own quarterbacks.
Justin Herbert and Derek Carr rank fifth and ninth, respectively, in Passing Points Earned through the first three weeks. Both have been great against the blitz, taking shots down the field, and avoiding negative plays.
Against the blitz, Carr is averaging 12.3 yards per attempt (37 attempts) and Herbert is averaging 9.6 yards per attempt (33 attempts). In terms of individual value added, Herbert actually ranks first in Passing Points Earned against the blitz. This is mainly due to his ability to avoid big negative plays. He ranks first in Bust%—the percentage of plays resulting in an EPA of -1 or worse—at only 5.9%.
On passes at least 15 yards down the field, Herbert once again ranks first in Passing Points Earned. He has completed 14 of his 21 attempts for 334 yards. While he has only completed 66.6% of his passes, he leads the league with a Catchable% of 90.5%.
Carr ranks fifth in Passing Points Earned on passes at least 15 yards downfield, having completed 20 of his league-leading 38 attempts for 530 yards. His most impressive feat is that he is the only QB with 10+ deep attempts to have a Bust% of 0%.
Herbert has relied heavily on the duo of Keenan Allen and Mike Williams so far this season, as both rank in the top 10 in targets. Austin Ekeler has also been a reliable target out of the backfield. However, as a group, the Chargers have dropped nine passes, which ranks 29th.
Raiders receivers Bryan Edwards and Henry Ruggs have helped open up the offense. Edwards ranks 10th in ADoT (16.4) and 1st in Yards per Target (16.2). Ruggs ranks 5th in ADoT (17.3) and 7th in Yards per Target (13.2). Hunter Renfrow has provided the most overall value per play, however, leading the team and ranking 14th in the league in Points Earned per Route
Neither team has gotten much value from their rushing attacks. As a team, the Chargers rank 19th in Rushing Points Earned, while the Raiders rank 30th. This has mainly been due to each team’s inability to get their backs cleanly through the line. Raiders ball carriers have been hit at or behind the line on 57% of their carries, which ranks 31st. And the Chargers aren’t far behind, with their ball carriers being hit at or behind the line on 44% of their carries, which ranks 22nd.
On defense, each team is led by their pass rush, as they are tied for seventh in Pass Rush Points Saved. The pass rushers to watch for are Maxx Crosby for the Raiders and Joey Bosa for the Chargers. Crosby (17.1%) and Bosa (16.2%) rank sixth and ninth, respectively, in Pressure% among players with at least 50 pass rush snaps.