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Sunday's Best

Week 12 Marquee Matchups

by Warren Sharp
Updated On: November 27, 2021, 9:47 am ET

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Indianapolis Colts

The Indianapolis Colts have played just two passing offenses that rank above average since Week 2:

The 49ers and the Bills

And what was similar about both games?

No, not that they both went over the total (they did).

It was that both games were played in terrible weather conditions.

The 49ers game came in a legitimate monsoon.  No joke.  

And the Bills game came with constant wind, wind gusts into the 35 mph range, and rain.

So yes, both games did go over the total despite that, but the larger point is the Colts secondary has not been tested by a pass offense of any strong caliber yet this season.

Not only that, the Colts struggle immensely to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks, which is a horrible matchup for them in this game.

The Colts get pressure at the 4th lowest rate of any team (18%) despite the fact they’ve played the #1 easiest schedule of opposing pass blocking offensive lines.

Now, after going up against the worst collective group of offensive lines in the NFL, the Colts must face the Buccaneers offensive line, which ranks #1 in the NFL in pass block rate.

Last week, we saw Tom Brady with what seemed like an eternity to pick apart the Giants secondary.  The Giants rank 3rd worse in pressure rate at 18.1%.  The Colts are just 0.3% better, and are 4th worse.  We very well could see a similar result.

But there is a difference:  behind the Giants terrible pass rush is the #11 defense against the pass.

Behind the Colts terrible pass rush is the 10th worst defense against the pass despite facing the NFL’s 2nd easiest schedule of passing offenses.

This Colts defense is a complete conundrum.  

How do you face the NFL’s 2nd easiest schedule of pass offenses but rank 10th worst vs the pass?

How do you face the NFL’s easiest schedule of pass blocking offensive lines but rank 4th worst in pressure rate?

And now you must go up against Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, Chris Godwin, Mike Evans and the #1 pass blocking offensive line?

Gronkowski also deserves a special mention – Gronk hadn’t played a full game since Week 3 of the season.  Since Week 3, he missed every game except Week 8, when he played just 6 offensive snaps and had to leave the game.

He returned and made a huge impact on what this passing attack loves to do.  Gronk only played 59% of offensive snaps, but caught 6 of 8 targets for 71 yards (8.9 YPA).  The Bucs pulled him once it was a blowout vs the Giants on Monday night.  If this game is close with the Colts, rest assured, Gronk will be playing.

That’s because neither one of these teams can afford another loss.  Right now, the Bucs are the 3rd seed, which means they won’t have a first round bye (Cardinals are 9-2).  Right now the Colts aren’t even in the playoffs.  

The Colts are searching for their 4th straight win, and have scored 30+ points in 5 of their last 6 games.  

Much of their offensive game plan will surround a TBD player on the Bucs: Vita Vea.  If the incredibly powerful DT is able to play, the upside of Johnathan Taylor and the Colts rushing attack may be limited.  But if Vea is out, it will be fascinating to see if the Colts elect to come out with a more pass-first approach.

If the Colts have to pass, it’s likely going to come vs the blitz quite frequently.  No one has a higher blitz rate than the Bucs.  But interestingly, Wentz has been better against the blitz (7.2 YPA) than without the blitz (6.9 YPA) this year.  

Carson Wentz may not be a marquee quarterback, but the last six quarterbacks this Bucs defense has faced are:

Jacoby Brissett
Jalen Hurts
Justin Fields
Jameis Winston/Trevor Siemian
Taylor Heinicke
Daniel Jones

 

LA Rams at Green Bay Packers

This game comes entirely down to pressure.  Which team can stop it will likely determine the victor.

The Rams lead the NFL in QB pressure rate this season.  It’s been the second-highest pressure rate in a single season over the last 10 years.

Green Bay is down Elgton Jenkins and won’t get back David Bakhtiari, leaving their line potentially vulnerable to this pressure.  

And that spells trouble for Aaron Rodgers.  Rodgers has the NFL’s #2 QBR when not pressured.  But when he is pressured, his completion % drops to 32% which ranks 32nd, and his yards per attempt (3.0 YPA) and his off-target percentage both rank dead last of all qualifying quarterbacks.

On the other side of the field, stands Matthew Stafford.  Over his last two games, Stafford has a 2-4 TD:INT ratio, with all 4 of his interceptions coming when not being blitzed.  

No defense sends 4 or fewer pass rushers more often than the Packers, and they have 24 sacks with just 4 or fewer pass rushers this year, the most in the NFL.

One of the most fascinating elements of this game will be the Packers defense led by Joe Barry vs Sean McVay’s offense.

Joe Barry was with the Rams the last four seasons and was with Washington the two years prior to that when Sean McVay was the offensive coordinator.

He’s faced McVay’s offense in practice for six straight seasons and now will face him for the first time in a game.  How well will he be able to anticipate McVay’s play calls and be ready for his tendencies?

Another fascinating element of this matchup is the fact the Rams were just off of a bye and landed Odell Beckham just before that bye, while losing Robert Woods.

There always are tweaks that coaches make during a bye.  But for a coach off two straight losses, with a brand new quarterback this year and the replacement of a critical receiver, the bye couldn’t have come at a better time.  I’m excited to see what changes McVay will make.

On the other side of the ball, I’m fascinated to see who Jalen Ramsey looks to shadow, if anyone.  Last year in this matchup, Ramsey didn’t shadow Adams and while the aDOT was considerably shorter, Adams caught 9/10 passes for 66 yards and a TD.

It’s difficult to handicap this game with all the above questions.  And I haven’t even mentioned that Aaron Rodgers hasn’t practiced due to his toe injury.  He’ll play, of course, and likely will play just fine.  Rodgers finally was able to connect on deeper passes last week, connecting on 4 of 6 for 157 yards and 3 TDs as the Vikings secondary was beat deep multiple times.  But that’s a weakness of the Vikings (#26 vs deep passes) whereas the Rams defense ranks #7.

With Rodgers already nursing a sore toe and the potential for the Rams defensive line to harass him frequently vs the Packers injured offensive line, I’m not eager to look to back Rodgers and the Packers here.  But betting on the Rams means backing Stafford and this Rams line, off of two straight terrible performances, on the road, and laying points instead of catching them. 
 

Warren Sharp

Warren Sharp is a football and betting analyst for NBC Sports. As a leading voice in football analytics, Warren writes a yearly book previewing the upcoming season from all angles at his Sharp Football Analysis website. You can follow Warren Sharp on Twitter @SharpFootball.