Advanced NFL Defensive Statistics Reveal Chiefs And Rams Could Struggle Week 3

Written By Eli Hershkovich on September 26, 2021

Let’s dig into NFL Week 3 betting angles, as the various markets allow us to gauge how both public and sharp bettors are reacting to the small sample size thus far. Advanced NFL defense stats can also help us draw better conclusions.

Below we will apply two defensive metrics towards the slate, success rate and EPA/play. Read on to see a pair of teams potentially exposed by these advanced NFL defense stats.

These aren’t necessarily bets I’m placing just yet. However, it is one important way I look at handicapping NFL matchups each week. You can find my final NFL betting card each week on TheLines Twitter page or by clicking here.

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What Is Success Rate And EPA Per Play?

There are two key metrics to focus on for the defensive side of the ball: success rate (SR) and expected points added per play (EPA/play). These numbers give us a wider view on how to approach defenses before placing your Week 3 bets.

For starters, a play is deemed successful if teams generate:

  • 50 percent of the yards needed to move the chains on first down
  • 70 percent of yards to gain on second down
  • 100 percent of yards to gain on third or fourth down

Moreover, EPA/play defines the value of individual plays by computing:

  • Expected points scored based on the down, distance, and field position at the start of a play while juxtaposing it with the end result

NFL Defense Stats: SR & EPA/play

Below are where team defenses rank within each category through two weeks of the 2021 NFL season, via RBSDM. The higher the number, the more success opposing offenses are having against that defense.


Los Angeles Chargers at Kansas City Chiefs

Through the first two weeks of the season, Andy Reid’s defense has been dreadful, ranking dead-last in SR and letting up the fourth-highest EPA/play.

Moreover, the rushing defense for the current Super Bowl favorite is at the bottom of the barrel in both categories. Kansas City allowed Cleveland and Baltimore to dominate on the ground before setting up their play-action passing attacks. The Ravens led the league in percentage of passing yards off play-action in Week 2 (54.0%).

Baltimore offensive coordinator Greg Roman attacked Chiefs defensive end Chris Jones, who’s playing on the edge for the first time in his career. Granted, Baltimore’s rushing attack is propelled by an elite scheme and an elite duel-threat quarterback in Lamar Jackson.

Nevertheless, this area has been troublesome for Steve Spagnuolo’s defense over the past two seasons as well:

  • 2020: No. 26 in success rate; No. 19 in EPA/play
  • 2019: No. 23 in success rate; No. 18 in EPA/play

Now the Chargers are up next, ranking No. 16 in EPA/play despite settling in at No. 27 in points per drive (0.264). They’re also No. 13 in both EPA/rush and dropback success rate, respectively.

Additionally, Los Angeles hasn’t shied away from play-action this season, as Justin Herbert is tied for the second-most attempts in those situations. Couple that with the Chargers never punting in their Week 2 loss against the Cowboys while racking up 10 offensive penalties for 80 yards, and this feels like a possible breakout spot for Los Angeles’ loaded offense.

Potential Betting Angle: Chargers

Miami Dolphins at Las Vegas Raiders

The Raiders‘ defensive standing might be the most surprising unit to date, ranking No. 3 in SR and No. 12 in EPA/play. Facing an inconsistent Steelers’ offense in Week 2 will turn some heads, but Las Vegas’ prowess for generating pressure with mostly just its front four shouldn’t go unnoticed.

Gus Bradley’s unit pressured Ben Roethlisberger on 31.0% of his dropbacks — the second-highest percentage he’s endured since 2020. They amassed a 54.5% pressure rate versus Lamar Jackson in Week 1 as well.

The Dolphins are on-deck, and their offensive line ranks dead-last in pass blocking (via Pro Football Focus). That correlates to a league-low in passing success rate and the second-lowest EPA/pass attempt.

Nevertheless, the look-ahead line for this game was Miami -1, and it’s shifted 4.5 points the other direction. Even with the improved Raiders’ defense and Tua Tagovailoa (ribs) questionable, there won’t be value in the favorite, especially if Derek Carr (ankle) doesn’t suit up.

Potential Betting Angle: Pass For Now

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Los Angeles Rams

You bet we saved the best Week 3 game for last. I’m admittedly not as high on the Rams as my colleagues, and some negative regression could be in store for their defense.

Los Angeles has surrendered the 10th-highest success rate in the league despite ranking No. 5 in EPA/play. Its Week 1 win against an offensively-challenged Bears offense was a prime example, as Chicago finished with the third-highest offensive success rate while notching the sixth-lowest EPA/play.

Regardless of the Rams’ improving in Week 2, the Colts only cashed in on one of their four red zone opportunities. The full body of work indicates that the loss of Brandon Staley, LA’s former defensive coordinator-turned-Chargers head coach, could be felt more so versus an elite offense.

Enter Tom Brady and Buccaneers, which sit No. 6 in success rate and No. 15 in EPA/play, respectively.

Even though Brady averaged just 3.3 yards per attempt (YPA) when pressured in the Rams’ win in Tampa Bay last season, Byron Leftwich’s offense had yet to round into its Super Bowl-winning form. Expect an adjustment with Brady aiming to get rid of the ball quicker off the snap.

Despite the betting market adjusting the look-ahead line a bit (LAR -1.5), wagering on the road team would be the play here.

Potential Betting Angle: Buccaneers

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