Each week of the NFL season, Sports Info Solutions previews several key games. They’ll dive deep into the numbers and break down important storylines.
Here is the Week 4 edition:
Washington Commanders (1-2) at Dallas Cowboys (2-1)
The loss of Dak Prescott has naturally led to two wins for the Cowboys.
The offense was pitiful against the Buccaneers in Week 1 (three points and less than 250 total yards), so some regression to the mean was in order. Additionally, Cooper Rush has kept the offense on the rails.
In terms of production and accuracy, Rush has been pretty average. He’s 18th in Positive% (the percentage of plays with a positive Expected Points Added), and 16th in On-Target%.
His ability to limit mistakes and push the ball down the field has been helpful. He has only completed 7-of-15 passes of at least 15 yards downfield, but he’s the second-most accurate quarterback on those throws when compared to any quarterback with at least as many downfield attempts. And he has yet to throw an interception.
On the other side of the ball, the Commanders are looking for answers after a drubbing at home against the Eagles. From an accuracy and efficiency perspective, Carson Wentz was on par with his first two games. But yielding a sack half the time you’re pressured is a recipe for…well, exactly what happened against the Eagles.
From a blocking perspective, Washington actually did just as poor a job the week before against the Lions. The Commanders blew 10 blocks in the passing game, compared to 11 in Week 3. Schematically, they tried to get the ball out quicker, calling only five deep drops (five steps or more) compared to 22 and 17 in the prior weeks. But even on those few plays, Wentz failed to complete a pass and was pressured on four of those five dropbacks, with two sacks.
Denver Broncos (2-1) at Las Vegas Raiders (0-3)
While there is talk about transferring Russell Wilson’s contract to the Broncos’ punter, they’re in a great spot compared to the Raiders. Denver actually leads the NFL in Total Points per play, primarily because of a defense that has allowed the sixth-fewest yards per play and the second-fewest points.
Wilson currently ranks ninth-worst in On-Target% among quarterbacks with at least 50 attempts, and all but one of the eight below him is throwing more aggressively on average. If we isolate just the short throws (10 yards or fewer downfield), he’s the second-least accurate quarterback.
As for Las Vegas, perhaps it was a bit presumptive to assume the Davante Adams acquisition would make them more serious contenders. That said, perhaps it wouldn’t have been unreasonable if Derek Carr was still playing at the same level he had established.
There’s room for improvement, but they’ve dug themselves a hole and might not have the horses on defense to stay in games against tougher AFC opponents.
L.A. Rams (2-1) at San Francisco 49ers (1-2)
Like the Broncos, the Rams are in a better spot than the perception of them might suggest. However, they don’t have quite the underlying metrics to support them. Los Angeles is 13th in Total Points per play, and their point differential suggests they should have a losing record.
While the offense has not been outstanding, it’s really the pass rush that is letting the team down. Last season, the Rams generated the fourth-most pressures in the league and converted the third-most sacks. So far this year, they rank 26th and 12th, respectively.
This could be a get-right game for the Rams — if we choose to ignore the recent history of the 49ers owning them — as San Francisco is yielding the 10th-highest pressure rate this year.
This will particularly be a focus if San Francisco calls some deep balls. Jimmy Garoppolo is 1-for-6 in terms of throwing an accurate ball on a deep drop so far this year, and he has been pressured three times and sacked once.
That might make them shy away. The Cardinals dialed up 13 deep drops against the Rams but mostly squandered those plays, so perhaps that game plan can be better implemented by San Francisco.
Tennessee Titans (1-2) at Indianapolis Colts (1-1-1)
The 2021 Titans were one of the least-impressive No. 1 seeds we’ve seen in a while, and this year’s model is showing results more consistent with their quality.
The run-Derrick-Henry-into-a-wall plan might continue this, but the recent returns for the Colts’ defense suggest they are up to the task. They have the 10th-lowest rate of missed or broken tackles and have stuffed ball carriers for no gain at the fourth-highest rate.
The Colts have relied on single-high coverages while much of the league has moved away from them, and they’ve been punished for it. They are second in single-high usage rate and 31st in the percentage of positive EPA plays allowed.
Ryan Tannehill has been more aggressive against those coverages this year, throwing an average of 11.5 yards downfield (9.7 last year) and producing more than nine yards per attempt. He ranks as the least-effective passer against two-high coverages by SIS’s Independent Quarterback Rating.
Matt Ryan can only laugh so much at Tannehill’s struggles against two-high coverages this season. He places sixth-worst on the same list and has done so on nearly twice as many attempts. During the last two seasons, he has seven interceptions and has not thrown a touchdown against those coverages.
The Titans have been one of the heavier two-high teams this year, and like the Colts they’ve been underperforming when they use it.
Alex Vigderman contributed to this report.