Picking up the pace: The Saints could get back on track

More snaps means more fantasy production, so Pat Thorman looks for the games that promise the most (and least) action this week.

| 7 months ago
(AP Photo/Bill Haber, File)

(AP Photo/Bill Haber, File)

Picking up the pace: The Saints could get back on track


Welcome to the Week 14 edition of Snaps, Pace & Stats, where we examine trends in snap totals and no-huddle usage. It is meant as a 30,000-foot view of upcoming games, with the goal of identifying which matchups will — and which will not — be played on fertile fantasy soil.

The Superdome turf was supposedly fertile last week, but the Lions salted it with the tears of countless Saints investors. Fifty seven snaps and 13 points wasn’t expected, to say the least, for a team that had averaged 69.5 plays and 30.4 points. We should keep in mind that before Week 13, the Lions’ production was muted as well. They averaged a skimpy 57.1 plays and 20.8 points per game since Week 4. With their wide offensive touch distribution, are typically not fantasy-friendly affairs.

While Detroit has hidden their overmatched defense since October started, they aren’t the only outfit masking deficiencies with deliberate offensive pace — just the most successful this side of Dallas.

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The Texans allow the fewest plays per game (59.8), at least in part due to shielding their league-worst-graded quarterback. Last year they had the fifth-quickest seconds-per-snap pace. Now they rank 11th, and even lower during the last month (19th). Houston allows the fifth-fewest targets per game to receivers, the 10th-fewest to tight ends, and running backs have the 15th-most rushing attempts against them. They are a volume-sapping landmine the sure-to-be-popular Colts will try to avoid on Sunday.

The Jaguars are muting the Blake Bortles Experience as best they can, short of having their improved defense tackle a pick-six-returning opponent. Over the last month they are operating at the 17th-quickest seconds-per-snap pace, versus the second-fastest before then. Prior to the last four weeks, they allowed the seventh-most plays per game (66.4), versus the second-fewest since then (56.0). We weren’t looking to start many Vikings this week, but either way, volume likely won’t be on their side.

Up in pace

Rank Week 13 Snaps 2016 Snaps/Game Opponent Wk 13 Snaps 2016 Opp Snaps/Gm
1 Jacksonville (81) Arizona (70.3) Denver (81) San Francisco (69.4)
2 Philadelphia (80) Tampa Bay (68.6) Cincinnati (80) N.Y. Giants (69.1)
3 New England (75) New Orleans (68.5) Los Angeles (75) Denver (67.8)
4 Arizona (72) Baltimore (67.7) Washington (72) Kansas City (67.2)
5 Seattle (71) Jacksonville (66.4) Carolina (71) Miami (66.7)

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New Orleans Saints at Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Buccaneers run the second-most plays per game (68.6) and the Saints the third-most (68.5). Their games average the most (132.8; New Orleans) and sixth-most (131.1; Tampa Bay) combined snaps. The Saints score the fifth-most points per play (0.42), and allow the third-most (0.43). They operate at the sixth-quickest pace on a seconds-per-snap basis. New Orleans has averaged 29.3 points and 74.3 plays in their four most recent road games, throwing cold water on the “Saints offense doesn’t travel” theory. The matchup features the only 50-plus-point over/under of the week. So, what could go wrong?

The full-season snapshot has this matchup in the “Up in pace” section, but like last week’s Saints game, there is risk from a play-volume perspective. Over the past month, the Buccaneers are allowing the fewest plays per game (55), the third-fewest points per play (0.24), and they’re operating at the league’s fifth-slowest seconds-per-snap pace. Tampa Bay’s defense graded above-average in all four games after doing so once — against the 49ers — in their prior seven. New Orleans has shown keep-away offensive tendencies as well. Yet, improved run-stopping on both sides, along with overall offensive firepower, should keep the pace elevated. After last week’s Saints game, it’d better.

Seattle Seahawks at Green Bay Packers

The Seahawks have run the 11th-most plays per game over the last four weeks, after averaging the 29th-most through Week 9. Russell Wilson’s dropbacks have risen from 34.4 per game to 40.8 during the last month. Seattle is allowing the eighth-most plays to opponents on average (66.1), and 70.0 since their Week 5 bye. Their run defense grades second-highest and they allow 3.6 yards per carry (third-lowest). The Packers run at the league’s second-lowest rate and very likely do not have a Christine Michael revenge game prominent in their plan for attacking the Seahawks. They’ll be throwing.

The Packers do, however, plan on operating at a deliberate pace. Their seconds-per-snap rate ranks 10th-slowest, and would likely be even more slothlike if they hadn’t been trailing on an uncharacteristically high 46 percent of plays (18th). Green Bay allows the second-fewest snaps per game (59.8), but give up the fourth-most points per snap (0.42). Over the last month, however, they average the 10th-most plays and surrender the 20th-most. Similar to the Seahawks, the Packers’ run defense grades well (fourth). Although they’ve been run on at times, those offenses had highly graded run-blocking units. Seattle’s grades 30th-best. Plenty of balls should be in the air against Seattle’s short-handed secondary and Green Bay’s 29th-graded coverage unit.

Baltimore Ravens at New England Patriots

This matchup doesn’t look like a high-volume affair at first glance, as both the Patriots (63.1) and Ravens (60.4) rank in the bottom-12 for average plays surrendered. However, they’ve run the fourth- (69.8) and sixth-most (67.0) plays per game during the last month, respectively. New England scores the eighth-most points per snap and should receive a boost from Baltimore’s renewed dalliance with the hurry-up (more in no-huddle notes). We often see up-tempo offenses spike the play counts of their opponents, and half of the top-10 teams in plays-surrendered currently reside in the top-10 in no-huddle rate.

Both the Ravens (first) and Patriots (third) grade top-three in run defense, and they give up the fewest (73.8) and 10th-fewest (94.3) rushing yards per game. Baltimore has the third-lowest run rate in the league (35.3-percent) despite trailing on only 33.4-percent of snaps (third-lowest). New England has Tom Brady and a path-of-least-resistance approach. Only Carson Wentz has more pass attempts the last three weeks and nobody has thrown more touchdowns. It is logical to project plenty of passing, frequent clock stoppages, and elevated play volume. Over the last month, both offenses rank top-11 for quickest pace on a seconds-per-snap basis.

Low volume outlook

Rank Week 13 Snaps 2016 Snaps/Game Opponent Wk 13 Snps 2016 Opp Snaps/Gm
32 Kansas City (48) Miami (57.1) Atlanta (48) Houston (59.8)
31 Dallas (49) Detroit (60.2) Minnesota (49) Green Bay (59.8)
30 Los Angeles (49) Los Angeles (60.3) New England (49) Baltimore (60.4)
29 N.Y. Jets (52) Chicago (60.7) Indianapolis (52) Detroit (60.8)
28 San Diego (53) Cleveland (61.1) Tampa Bay (53) Philadelphia (61.2)

 

Chicago Bears at Detroit Lions

The last time these teams met, it was the Lions’ last dance with their up-tempo experiment. They finished Week 4 with the third-highest no-huddle rate (46.1-percent) and their third loss of the season. Since then, they’ve gone to the hurry-up on 3.4 percent of snaps and have lost once in eight games. For the season, they operate at the fifth-slowest pace on a seconds-per-snap basis and allow the fourth-fewest plays per game (60.8). Over the last month, they allow the sixth-fewest points per snap (0.26) and third-fewest snaps per game (57.3). Their “Dallas North” strategy is working, and they have no reason to stop.

The Bears feature a flaccid combination of fourth-fewest plays per game (60.7) and fourth-fewest points per play (0.28). Their passing-game issues are well-documented, but Chicago has a top-10 run-blocking grade and Jordan Howard’s rushing grade ranks top-five. The Lions’ run defense grades third-worst. We know what the Bears will try to do — and do it slowly. They have allowed the 10th-fewest plays per game over the last month and held Detroit to 56 snaps in their first meeting. Chicago posted seconds-per-snap rates above 31 seconds three times in their last five games, and they were getting smoked in the other two. If the game is remotely close, the Bears will grind clock right along with the Lions.

Atlanta Falcons at Los Angeles Rams

The Falcons run the 21st-most plays per game (62.7) and the ninth-fewest over the last month (60.3) — during which time they’ve allowed 61.7 on average and are operating at the 22nd-quickest seconds per snap. They still lead the league in points-per-snap (0.51), but have slipped a bit during the last four weeks (0.44; fifth-highest). They face a Rams defense with a run-stopping grade that’s slid to 17th-best, but still ranks 11th in pass coverage and leads the league in pass rush. Atlanta’s likely positive game script on the road — where they skew run-heavier (42.3 percent vs 39.9 percent at home) — will lead to clock-draining handoffs.

The Rams aren’t injecting snap volume into this matchup. They run the third-fewest plays per game (60.3), and even fewer during the last four weeks (57.0). When combined with a league-worst point-per-snap rate (0.25), they’re essentially doing next-to-nothing with very little. Despite trailing on the 10th-highest percentage of snaps, they operate at the ninth-slowest seconds-per-snap pace. They will run, slowly, at the Falcons’ 24th-graded run defense and chew up clock. Then they probably will capitulate like last week — when the Rams kicked off down two scores with 1:15 and two timeouts left, so the Patriots could kneel twice. At least there are two compelling games on the late-afternoon slate.

Dallas Cowboys at New York Giants

The frenetic–tempoed Giants host the ponderously paced Cowboys on Sunday night, and something has to give. When they met in Week 1, Dallas’ offensive machine was only tuning up — but so was New York’s defense. The sum of its imported parts was still greater than the whole. Still, they essentially held Ezekiel Elliott to half (2.6) of his seasonal yards-per-carry rate (4.9), while the Cowboys kept the Giants to what is still a season-low 54 offensive snaps. While New York has faced only three offenses with rushing grades better than 15th since then — 4.4 yards per carry and two touchdowns allowed to those running backs — they also feature the fifth-highest-graded pass coverage.

Despite the Giants’ league-high 62.8-percent no-huddle rate, they run the sixth-fewest plays per game (61.3). During the last month, their contests average only 125.5 combined plays (20th), in part due to the defense’s improvement. It has also shown up on offense, as the New York’s three slowest-paced performances have come in the last three weeks. The Cowboys’ approach has not changed. They operate at the league’s slowest seconds-per-snap pace and allow the sixth-fewest plays per game (61.8). Over the last month, they’ve averaged 57.5 plays per game (29th), but score the third-most points per snap (0.48). Of course we’re rolling out our big fantasy guns here, but the matchup may not have enough juice to elevate the supporting casts.

 

No-huddle notes

Rank Wk 13 No-Huddle % 2016 No-Huddle % Wk 13 Seconds/Snap 2016 Sec/Snap
1 N.Y. Giants (69.1) N.Y. Giants (62.8) Philadelphia (24.0) San Francisco (25.4)
2 San Francisco (60.0) San Francisco (56.3) New Orleans (24.4) N.Y. Giants (26.2)
3 Baltimore (42.9) Baltimore (21.4) N.Y. Jets (24.9) Jacksonville (26.5)
4 Buffalo (14.5) Carolina (19.9) Baltimore (25.1) Cleveland (26.7)
5 New Orleans (12.3) Pittsburgh (19.9) Jacksonville (25.6) Denver (26.8)

 

  • With the Texans in town, the Packers ran their fewest no-huddle snaps during a home game (four) in over three years. The seven-percent no-huddle rate was their third-lowest of the season, regardless of venue, and brought Green Bay’s overall hurry-up mark to its lowest point of the season (17.8 percent). Perhaps it was the weather or Aaron Rodgers’ gimpy hamstring, but considering they’ve looked sharper over the last couple weeks with a combined 4.8-percent hurry-up rate, it’s fair to wonder if they will continue to huddle at their highest rate in years. We will get a better idea on Sunday, after a visit from the Seahawks — against whom they went no-huddle on 58 percent of snaps in Lambeau last year.
  • Last week we noted the Ravens’ 50-percent no-huddle rate against the Bengals was a season-high, but they scored only 19 points and yielded zero fantasy difference-makers. In Week 13, the former repeated itself, while the latter was vastly different. Baltimore went to the hurry-up on 42.9 percent of snaps in Week 13, their second-highest rate of 2016 — but this time Joe Flacco and Dennis Pitta were the week’s second-best fantasy quarterback and tight end, respectively. Terrance West and Breshad Perriman finished top-12 at their position, while Kenneth Dixon and Mike Wallace were usable in deeper leagues.
    Over the last two weeks, only the 49ers (63.2 percent) and Giants (50.4 percent) are using more no-huddle than the Ravens (46.4 percent) — with no other team reaching 15 percent of dropbacks. During that time, Flacco completed 71 percent of his 42 attempts from the hurry-up, for 350 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions (120.1 passer rating). He has a 114.9 no-huddle passer rating for the full season, versus a 73.9 rating after huddles. With the Ravens continuing to skew pass-heavy (Flacco ranks third in attempts), on top of this spike in tempo, their offense is finally worth spending some extra time examining down the stretch.



Pat Thorman is a lead writer for PFF Fantasy and a Fantasy Sports Writers Association award winner.

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