Next Gen Stats

Next Gen Stats preview: Matthew Stafford vs. Cowboys' defense

There are a number of statistics and data-based tools to help us decipher which matchups to exploit and which to avoid, one of which is the NFL's Next Gen Stats package.

Here we'll look where cornerbacks and wide receivers line up, which defenses are particularly susceptible to which player packages and so much more. As the season goes along we'll have even more data to use and a better understanding of the Next Gen Stats. Here are the top matchups that could bring value in Week 16.

Matthew Stafford vs. Cowboys

Despite weaseling his way into some MVP discussion on the back of the Lions' record, Matthew Stafford has passed for 280-plus yards just once since Week 3. He has more than one touchdown in just one game since the Lions' Week 10 bye and has two games without a score.

One of those games was his road trip last week against the Giants. Stafford came into the game with a finger injury that he suffered in Week 14. The Lions quarterback's approach was noticeably different compared to the rest of his season-long averages

Matthew Stafford Week 16
Air yards per completion: 7.54 (14th)
Air distance: 20.71 (13th)
Time to throw: 3.04 seconds (29th lowest)

Matthew Stafford season averages
Air yards per completion: 6.2 (33rd)
Air distance: 19.25 (30th)
Time to throw: 2.55 seconds (8th) *QBs with 200-plus attempts

You would expect Stafford to be more cautious with a damaged finger, but that did not appear to be the case as he held the ball longer and threw it farther. Stafford may not find much success if he takes that approach against Dallas.

Much of the Cowboys success on defense is due to their keep-away strategy on offense were they play slow and limit the opponent's play count. However, they've also been quite good at limiting big plays this season. Dallas allows a 49.7 passer rating on deep passes this season, fourth-lowest in the NFL. The league average passer rating on passes that travel 20-plus yards in the air is 81.2, so the Cowboys have been hyper-effective.

Stafford typically hasn't tested defenses deep for most of this season, as his 48 deep attempts this season are the fourth-lowest among quarterbacks who have started since Week 1. Back at the beginning of the season, Marvin Jones was a downfield playmaker but he disappeared a long time ago. Jones averaged 3.0 yards of separation on his targets from Weeks 1 to 3 but just averages just 1.7 from Weeks 4 to 15. Jones' separation ranks 97th out of 97 receivers who averaged three targets per game in that span).

All of those factors should provide us some pause when confidently projecting Stafford this week, but the likely pace of this game provides the biggest hindrance to any ceiling projection. We know the Cowboys like to hold the ball on offense, and their 32:07 time of possession is the second-highest this season. However, as the season has gone on, Detroit continues to slow down the pace of their own offense. Their 33:37 time of possession the last three weeks is the fourth-highest.

It's hard to imagine Stafford approaching any kind of ceiling in this matchup. Golden Tate, who has three straight double-digit target games and averages 112.7 yards per game when Theo Riddick sits out, is the only easy player to have optimism for in this spot.

Matt Harmon is an associate fantasy writer/editor for NFL.com, and the creator of #ReceptionPerception, who you can follow on Twitter @MattHarmon_BYB or like on Facebook.

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