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Next Gen Stats: Alex Smith poised for more success

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Now in its third season, Next Gen Stats has quickly exploded. The statistics are featured on Sunday Night Football, they are leveraged in countless articles, tweets, and podcasts throughout the week, and the database is free to access for anyone.

In this weekly column, we'll dive deep into Next Gen Stats' metrics and explore player and team-based matchups. The goal is simple: Next Gen provides truly unique analytical data we can use to uncover edges when making fantasy lineup decisions. Most importantly, Next Gen Stats' deep data coffers make us more informed viewers of the game.

Let's dive into the Week 2 slate through the lens of Next Gen Stats.

After reading this column, check out more of the Next Gen Stats data for yourself!

Philadelphia Eagles at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1 p.m. ET)


Key Matchup: Struggling Nick Foles vs. Struggling Bucs' Secondary

After a poor Week 1 opener against Atlanta (19-of-34 passing, 117 yards, INT, 50.7 Rating), Nick Foles travels to Tampa Bay to face a hurting Bucs' secondary. Tampa will likely be down two starting cornerbacks against Philadelphia, as Brent Grimes (groin) hasn't practiced all week and slot-man Vernon Hargreaves (shoulder) is on injured reserve. This is a dream bounce-back spot for the Eagles' usually high-flying aerial attack. In Week 1 vs. New Orleans, the Bucs' allowed a monster 128.2 passer rating, forced a tight window throw just 11 percent of the time (ninth-lowest rate), and pressured Drew Brees on just 8.7 percent of his dropbacks (fourth-lowest rate). Per Next Gen Stats, Nick Foles' completion percentage was just 41.7 percent and he averaged just 3.3 passing yards per attempt in Week 1 when under pressure. Foles should be a little more comfortable in Week 2 against a weak secondary and front seven that failed to get after the quarterback last week.

Indianapolis Colts at Washington Redskins (1 p.m. ET)


Key Matchup: Alex Smith vs. Air Yards

In Week 1, the old (original) Alex Smith returned. After a high-flying 2017 with Tyreek Hill and the Chiefs in which he led all QBs in passer rating on throws over 20-plus yards in the air, Alex Smith didn't attempt a single pass over 20 air yards in Week 1. That's right. Not a single one. In fact, 28 of Smith's 30 attempts versus Arizona in Week 1 traveled fewer than 10 yards in the air (93.3 percent). Even if Smith and the 'Skins continue their dink-and-dunk attack with Chris Thompson and Jordan Reed, this is an exploitable matchup for Washington's pass offense. In Week 1, Indianapolis allowed 8.7 passing yards per attempt despite facing just 6.0 air yards per throw (fourth-lowest in Week 1). The Colts' thin secondary forced a tight window throw just 7.1 percent of the time (second-lowest rate) on Opening Day.

Kansas City Chiefs at Pittsburgh Steelers (1 p.m. ET)

Key Matchup: Patrick Mahomes' Aggressive Aerial Approach vs. Steelers Secondary

It's incredible that we've already seen what the Chiefs' offensive ceiling could be. In Mahomes' first real start in the NFL, he paced all Week 1 passers in air yards per attempt (12.7) and threw six deep balls that traveled 20-plus yards in the air. Here's the breakdown of Mahomes' first 2018 start versus peak Alex Smith in 2017.

With Mahomes' rocket arm, Kansas City's entire offensive lid is lifted higher. It also helps that Mahomes has, inarguably, the NFL's best deep threat right now in Tyreek Hill. Per Rich Hribar of Rotoworld, Hill has caught 21-of-24 targets (87.5 percent) for 351 yards (14.6 yards/target) from Mahomes, including the 2018 preseason. Mahomes has completed just 51.3 percent of his passes for 239 yards (6.1 yards/target) to all other Chiefs players over that span.

Cleveland Browns at New Orleans Saints (1 p.m. ET)

Key Matchup: Saints' Reeling Secondary vs. Tyrod Taylor

Thanks to his legs (8/77/1 rushing), Tyrod Taylor finished as fantasy's QB6 (23.6 points) in Week 1 despite struggling through the air against the Steelers. Taylor had a hard time completing passes at all field depths on Opening Day:


New Orleans has notoriously started slow out of the gates for multiple years in a row, but Taylor is an intriguing Week 2 streamer in the Superdome. Even if the Saints' pass rush and strong secondary returns this coming week, Taylor can find ways to beat the pressure with his legs and accurate arm. Since 2017, Taylor leads all QBs in completion percentage under pressure at 56.3 percent.

Minnesota Vikings at Green Bay Packers (1 p.m. ET)


Key Matchup: Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen vs. Packers Secondary

With the cornerback selections of Jaire Alexander and Kevin King in the last two NFL Drafts, Green Bay has completely revamped their secondary. Still, even with an infusion of talent, the Packers young pass defenders have a tough Week 2 test against what may already be the best WR duo in the NFL. For fantasy purposes, the Vikings' pass attack offers the most concentrated source of stats in the NFL. In Week 1 with Kirk Cousins making his debut, Thielen and Diggs combined to account for a ludicrous 90 percent of Minnesota's air yards and 51 percent of targets.

Granted, these results were before Green Bay loaded up on talent at corner and Kirk Cousins was still in Washington, but both Diggs (9/182/1, 4/29/1, 5/60/1) and Thielen (4/41, 12/202/2, 9/96, 2/24) have had their way against the Pack over the last two years. The Packers' re-tooled secondary against Diggs and Thielen is one of the best matchup-based storylines to watch in Week 2.

Carolina Panthers at Atlanta Falcons (1 p.m. ET)


Key Matchup: Christian McCaffrey vs. Keanu Neal- and Deion Jones-less Falcons' defense

Unfortunately, the Panthers and Falcons Week 2 bout is one plagued by injuries. Carolina will be down Greg Olsen after he re-fractured his foot in Week 1, while the Falcons lost two difference-makers on defense in safety Keanu Neal (ACL) and linebacker Deion Jones (foot).

Of course, this is a stars-aligning matchup for pass-catching maven Christian McCaffrey. In Week 1, McCaffrey played on 86 percent of Carolina's snaps vs. Dallas, the highest single-game snap rate of his career so far. McCaffrey also out-snapped Anderson eight to four in the red zone. Officially a workhorse against a Falcons' side that is now down Neal and Jones after allowing the most RB receptions in back-to-back years, McCaffrey is in a Week 2 blow-up spot. It also doesn't hurt that McCaffrey averaged 5.9 receptions and 44 receiving yards (on 8.1 targets) per game when TE Greg Olsen was not in the lineup last year.

Miami Dolphins at New York Jets (1 p.m. ET)


Key Matchup: Sam Darnold vs. Miami's Open Passing Lanes

Despite a pick-six on his first ever NFL pass, Sam Darnold was excellent in Week 1 vs. Detroit. He completed 76 percent of his passes, tossed two TDs, and owned a 116.8 passer rating in the Jets easy road win over the Lions. As the youngest rookie QB ever, that's an incredible accomplishment. Understandably, New York was fairly cautious with Darnold in his debut. Just two of Darnold's 21 attempts traveled 20-plus yards in air, one of which was a gorgeous 44-yard TD to Robby Anderson:

Darnold now gets an excellent Week 2 draw against a Miami secondary that has forced a tight window throw just 13 percent of the time since 2017, the lowest rate in the league. The Ndamukong Suh-less 'Fins forced pressure on just 7.9 percent of their dropbacks faced the third-lowest Week 1 rate. Darnold's matchup in his second-career start couldn't be more pristine.

Houston Texans at Tennessee Titans (1 p.m. ET)


Key Matchup: Deshaun Watson vs. Pressure

Since the start of 2017, Deshaun Watson has the largest passer rating differential when under pressure vs. a clean pocket. When facing heat, Watson's passer rating falls by 63.9 points, a catastrophic dip compared to the league average differential when under pressure (-28.3):


Watson is dynamic when kept clean and has the legs to escape the rush, but he's struggled to be efficient when he throws against pressure. When he's kept clean, Watson shreds. In fact, Watson (8.1) trails only Matt Ryan (8.2) in Pass YPA when facing four or fewer pass rushers since the start of 2017. If the Titans front seven can force Watson off of his spot and get him throwing under duress, they will knock the Texans' offense off-schedule in Week 2. Houston also just lost starting RT Seantrel Henderson (ankle) for the season, exasperating Watson's need to improve under duress.

Los Angeles Chargers at Buffalo Bills (1 p.m. ET)


Key Matchup: Keenan Allen vs. Bills' Interior Defense

Last week, Keenan Allen resumed his normal role out of the slot -��� running 60.4 percent of his routes from the interior. Unfortunately for Buffalo, Allen does most of his damage within 10 yards of the line-of-scrimmage, an area the Bills secondary struggled to defend in Week 1. On all throws that traveled between 0-9 yards in the air, Buffalo allowed an efficient 106.6 passer rating (seventh-highest) and coughed up 3.5 yards of separation at the target point, tied for the sixth-most in Week 1. Since the start of last season, 45 percent of Allen's targets have come within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage.

Detroit Lions at San Francisco 49ers (4:05 p.m. ET)


Key Matchup: Jimmy Garoppolo in Bounce-back Matchup vs. Lions

After facing one of the NFL's best and most-feared defense on the road in Week 1, Jimmy GQ travels back to the comfy confines of San Francisco to face a Detroit side that just yielded 34 offensive points to the youngest starting QB in league-history. The Lions undoubtedly had the worst defensive performance of any team in Week 1, forcing a tight window throw just 4.8 percent of the time (worst) while coughing up 4.1 yards of separation at the target point. That was second-most behind Indianapolis (4.3 yards of separation) in Week 1.

Even if Marquise Goodwin (quad) can't play in Week 2, the 49ers have an emerging star receiving tight end in George Kittle. On Opening Day, Kittle stretched the field for San Francisco and narrowly missed out on a monster fantasy day against the Vikings. Last year, the Lions allowed 14.1 yards per reception to TEs (second-most).

Arizona Cardinals at Los Angeles Rams (4:05 p.m. ET)


Key Matchup: Todd Gurley vs. Reeling Cardinals Rush Defense

Fresh off a 42/182/1 shellacking on the ground in Week 1, the Cards' have to travel to Los Angeles to face Todd Gurley this week. No disrespect to the legend, but 33-year-old Adrian Peterson looked like he was 23-years old against the Cards, ripping Arizona for 166 yards from scrimmage on 28 touches. Dynamic back Chris Thompson added another 128 yards from scrimmage on 11 touches. Now, Arizona has the tall task of slowing Gurley at home. Good luck. Gurley had plenty of juice against Oakland on Opening Day, leading all RBs in average speed at the line of scrimmage (11.14 mph) while gaining 4.3 yards after a defender closed within a yard (sixth-best).

New England Patriots at Jacksonville Jaguars (4:25 p.m. ET)


Key Matchup: Tom Brady vs. Jags' Vaunted Defense

It's the Matchup of the week!

In a rematch of the 2017 AFC Conference Championship, Brady and Belichick travel to Duval County to face the Jags' feared defense. It's a classic strength-on-strength battle. Since the start of 2017, no quarterback has a better passer rating when under pressure than Brady (97.9). In that span, Jacksonville is fourth in pressure rate (33.2 percent) while forcing opposing QBs to a fantastic 35.1 Passer Rating when under pressure (fourth-lowest).

Oakland Raiders at Denver Broncos (4:25 p.m. ET)


Key Matchup: Derek Carr vs. Broncos' Pressure

In Week 1, Derek Carr struggled not only sensing pressure, but he failed to perform when pressure was actually present. Per Next Gen Stats, Carr's passer rating when under pressure was just 20.1 in Week 1, fourth-worst among all quarterbacks. For the Raiders sake, Carr had better learn from his Opening Day mistakes quickly. Denver's front seven was tenacious in Week 1 against Seattle, forcing pressure on 41 percent of Russell Wilson's dropbacks (third-highest rate). Considering their sluggish start in Week 1 against the Rams, Oakland's Week 2 date in Denver comes at the worst possible time. In seven career starts vs. Denver, Derek Carr has averaged an abominable 10.7 fantasy points per game.

New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys (8:20 p.m. ET on Sunday)


Key Matchup: Can Zeke Get Going Against New York's Front Seven?

After a bit of a sluggish start on the ground in Week 1, Ezekiel Elliott and Dallas' offense needs to get rolling against the G-Men. Elliott ended with a fine fantasy game (15/69/1 rushing; 3/17 receiving), but there were some worrisome signals to take away from the game. Most notably, Elliott faced a loaded box (one unaccounted for defender) on a monstrous 53.3 percent of his carries, third-most among all RBs with at least 15 Opening Day carries. Last year, Elliott faced a loaded box on a much more reasonable 41 percent of his totes (NFL average is 36 percent).


Dallas desperately needs to be more creative early in the game, too, as six of their first 10 first-down play calls in the first half against Carolina were called runs. They gained seven yards on those first-down rushes (zero percent success rate). Elliott's final carry chart looks fine, but the ancillary metrics behind Dallas' Week 1 attack provide some cause for concern.

Seattle Seahawks at Chicago Bears (8:15 p.m. ET on Monday)


Key Matchup: Khalil Mack vs. Seattle's Struggling Offensive Line

Last week, Russell Wilson was under pressure on 41 percent of his dropbacks. This week, Wilson and Co. must face a ferocious Chicago front seven led by Khalil Mack that matches Denver's high-octane pass rush. It didn't last into the second half, but Mack single-handedly shut down the Packers' entire offensive attack in the first half of Week 1, before Aaron Rodgers did Aaron Rodgers-like things after halftime.

Still, this is a potential disaster scenario for Wilson and the 'Hawks offensive line. Fresh off allowing six Week 1 sacks (most), the Seahawks now have to travel cross-country to block Khalil Mack, who leads all EDGE rushers in pressures forced since his rookie season (2014).

Graham Barfield is the managing editor for NFL Fantasy. Find him on Twitter @GrahamBarfield.

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