With the 2017 season in full swing, there's no question that excitement is in the air. One of the developments that should have fans of the league and fantasy football alike thrilled is the evolution of the Next Gen Stats data tracking here at the NFL.
Through the first two years of their existence, the Next Gen Stats have quickly progressed, not only in their depth and insight but also in their utility. Now that we've spent the last two NFL seasons exploring and tracking the data provided by the microchips in the players' shoulder pads, we're ready to take the information and its practical value to the next level.
Week 11 provided us a special circumstance with two of the three big-name quarterbacks from the 2016 NFL Draft set to face-off this Sunday. Both Carson Wentz and Dak Prescott continue to develop into NFL stars while Jared Goff is enjoying a bounce-back season few saw coming. For this week, we'll take a break from sleeper matchups and dig into how these three sophomore quarterbacks have fared so far in 2017 and explore their outlook for Week 11.
Los Angeles Rams at Minnesota Vikings (1:00 pm EST on Sunday)
The hottest offense in the NFL takes on one of the league's best defenses. Interestingly enough, that could be said for either side of this matchup. However, we'll drill down on the Rams scoring attack and specifically whether their quarterback can stay hot against a strong Minnesota stop unit.
The No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft continues his excellent rebound sophomore season and has been extremely hot of late. Jared Goff has seven combined touchdown tosses over the last two weeks. However, that came against soft defenses in the Giants and Texans that, for one reason or another, aren't playing anything like we expected them to this season. Goff will find a much greater challenge and perhaps his biggest test yet as the Rams travel to Minnesota.
The Vikings pass defense is littered with studs both up front and in the secondary. The team as a whole has only allowed 10 passing touchdowns, the fifth-fewest in the NFL, and recorded eight picks. Elite pass rusher Everson Griffen looks set to return after missing Week 10's win over Washington. Griffen leads the league with 45 individual pressures on the season. Not far behind him is teammate Danielle Hunter with 35. Hunter stepped up with Griffen out last week, muscling over Washington's injured offensive line for nine pressures and a sack on 44 pass rushes.
Los Angeles' offensive line has been a much-improved unit this year, especially as run blockers, but ranks a solid 13th with 85 pressures allowed on the year. The addition of Andrew Whitworth at left tackle has paid huge dividends. The Rams have given up just six sacks on the left side of their offensive line this season, a mark bested by only six teams in the league. Andrew Whitworth and company can certainly help in holding back some of the edge pressure Minnesota puts on opposing quarterbacks. Even if the Vikings get through the Rams' line, Goff has shown well when defenses get heat on him, ranking inside the top-10 best passers in multiple efficiency stats when under pressure.
Jared Goff's passing under pressure (ranks out of 35 qualifying QBs)
Yards per attempt: 7.5 (8th)
Adjusted yards per attempt: 7.7 (9th)
Interception rate: 1.4 percent (9th)
Passer rating: 83.2 (9th)
If Goff can once again stand in the face of the pass rush on Sunday, he should find solid spots to pick from with his bevy of diverse pass-catchers. We know that Sean McVay and the improved receiver corps has made life much easier on the young quarterback this season. Goff's tight window throw percentage is down a whopping 12.5 percentage points from his rookie season. The player with the second highest negative differential is Jay Cutler with a -6.8, showing what a stark difference a year and the new staff has made for Goff.
While the scheme is helping and Goff doesn't have to drill the ball into tight coverage as often as he did as a rookie, he's still showed off his raw talent plenty this season. Especially lately, Goff has offered some of the best deep throws of the season. Goff is tied for the fourth-most 50-plus air yards completions and has a 119.3 passer rating on passes of 20-plus air yards, ranking fifth-best in the NFL.
Meanwhile, the Vikings allow a passer rating of 98.5 on deep passes (20-plus air yards) this season, eighth-worst in the NFL. Given that the team employs shutdown corner Xavier Rhodes and Pro Bowl safety Harrison Smith, that's quite surprising. However, you can pick on some of Minnesota's other secondary members, as deep threats like DeSean Jackson and Martavis Bryant have shown this year. With how precise he's been as a deep passer the last two weeks, Goff could threaten to uncork a few more long balls in Week 11.
Philadelphia Eagles at Dallas Cowboys (8:30 pm EST on Sunday night)
It's a matchup between that everyone will be talking about in Week 11. The Dallas Cowboys welcome the 8-1 Philadelphia Eagles coming off their bye in a bid to upset their division rival and avoid falling to .500. In an NFL world where we all must stand our ground and plant flags for what we believe in, there is pressure to choose which player is superior among these second-year quarterbacks. Several of the respective strengths and weaknesses of Dak Prescott and Carson Wentz will be put them to the test in this Week 11 contents.
We know Prescott is one of the best quarterbacks on the move in the NFL. He's the master of rolling out while still delivering perfectly accurate passes for his receiver to gain yards after the catch. Just over 18 percent of Prescott's passes have come outside the tackle box this season. He maintains a sterling 57.7 percent completion rate and a 115.1 passer rating (second-best this among quarterbacks) on those throws.
With that being said, Carson Wentz is nearly as dangerous on the move. The Eagles starter has thrown 12.4 percent of his passes outside the tackle box this year, which is up from last year. While he isn't as proficient as Prescott, his 88.8 passer rating on these throws still ranks sixth-best in the NFL. Wentz has also made big plays when on the move, averaging a whopping 19.4 yards per completion when outside the tackle box.
When the two face off on Sunday night, Wentz should have the upper hand in terms of his matchup with the Dallas defense needing to defend him on the move. The Cowboys allow a 7.37 adjusted yards per attempt on passes outside the tackle box (NFL average - 6.55), which ranks inside the bottom-10 this season. The Eagles have been much better defending mobile quarterbacks in 2017, ranking fourth in adjusted yards per attempt allowed with 3.47 despite seeing more attempts than Dallas.
One of the keys to the game might be which of these young star quarterbacks handles pressure better on Sunday night. Both Dallas (31.1 percent) and Philadelphia (36.6 percent) feature defenses with pressure rates that rank inside the top-10 this season. The Eagles, in particular, have been effective at putting heat on opposing quarterbacks. The team has notched an NFL-high 142 pressures this year, while the second-place Los Angeles Rams have collected 121. Philadelphia laps the field.
So far in 2017, Dak Prescott has been the superior player when opposing pass rushers get close to him. His 84.6 passer rating under pressure ranks seventh in the NFL and he's thrown just one interception. He'll need that type of performance on Sunday, as left tackle Tyron Smith will not play this week. Smith's absence casts a shadow over the Cowboys offense last week, as Adrian Clayborn manhandled Chaz Green on way to career game.
With Smith out again this week, Prescott will once again face immense heat from his left side, even with the Cowboys replacing Green with journeyman Byron Bell as they did late against the Falcons. The Eagles have collected 74 pressures from the right side of their defensive line, bested only by the Rams and Redskins. Smith is truly a support-beam type player. The Cowboys average 7.3 yards per play with him in the lineup but just 4.5 without him. That 2.81 differential is the largest of any offensive tackle in the NFL.
On the other side of the field, Carson Wentz won't face quite the same slog in this particular game from the Cowboys pass rush but he's been a slightly more erratic player with defenders close to him this season. Wentz ranks outside the top-15 quarterbacks in both passer rating and completion percentage when under pressure. While he's made big plays with four touchdowns on those attempts, he's also thrown three interceptions.
Making his possible MVP-caliber season all the more impressive, no quarterback has thrown into tight windows more than Carson Wentz this season, with 24.1 percent of his throws going to a receiver with less than a yard of separation. He's been exceptional on those throws when you consider that volume. His 69.6 passer rating and 5.93 adjusted yards per attempt on tight window throws both rank inside the top-10 among NFL quarterbacks.
Not to be outdone, Dak Prescott has been simply masterful throwing into tight windows this season. Despite narratives that he just takes layup throws, he chucks the ball into tight windows at an above average rate (19.1 percent). Prescott's 86.1 passer rating on tight window throws trails only Russell Wilson among quarterbacks with 100-plus pass attempts this year. He also maintains the second-best completion rate at 47.3 percent.
The matchup won't be easy for either quarterback in Week 11. The Eagles have been solid in allowing a 4.21 adjusted yards per attempt on tight window throws this season, ranking 16th and just over the NFL average of 4.19. The Cowboys have been noticeably strong in defending receivers in tight coverage this season, as their 2.16 adjusted yards per attempt ranks inside the top-five. Dallas checks in with two interceptions on tight window targets.
When the two teams meet up on Sunday, Dak Prescott will find himself slightly more behind the eight ball considering Philadelphia's defensive strengths as a pass rushing unit and the absence of his All-Pro left tackle. Dave Dameshek talks about the "Jenga Piece" theory where a player's absence is just too much to overcome. Smith may well be that player for the Cowboys given how they play along the offensive line.
Prescott will need to offer up a peak performance in this game to overcome what is an overall negative spot for him. However, it's clear based on what he's shown this year he's capable of doing so. What's just as a clear is that both he and the quarterback across the field in Carson Wentz are special young talents and poised to be the face of the National Football League for years to come.