Week 2 fantasy options most helped and hurt by the blitz
Because I’m writing this column this season, I had an eye on team blitz tendencies in the games I watched in Week 1. And maybe it’s a bit of tunnel vision, but I believe I saw defensive aggressiveness act as a consistent lever in the choices quarterbacks made in pretty much every game I saw, in particular in the Patriots/Chiefs and Vikings/Saints games.
It helped that most teams stayed true to themselves in their blitz tendencies. Seven of Week 1’s top 10 blitzing teams were also in the top 10 in my team blitz rate projections. One exception was the Panthers, which I’ll get into later below. Another was the Cardinals, who blitzed just 18.6 percent of the Lions’ passing plays. That was 23rd-most of the 30 teams that played in Week 1. I had them projected to blitz more than anyone this season, which is where they finished last season, and they never blitzed less than 24 percent of the time in a game a year ago. They have the same head coach in Bruce Arians and the same defensive coordinator in James Bettcher. Maybe it’s a personnel-based decision? Maybe it’s a fluke? It’ll bear watching in the coming weeks.
For now, I’ll limit my recommended players to target and avoid to those in matchups I believe I have a better read on. As a reminder, this analysis is based on research I did over the offseason that showed that some players provide security blankets for their quarterbacks against blitz-heavy teams while other players see fewer targets.
Players to target
Thielen led my recommended plays a week ago, and his 9-catch, 157-yard performance versus the Saints inspired me to roll him back. I expect most people will attribute Thielen’s Week 1 success to the Saints porous pass defense, but I think his seven-target advantage over Kyle Rudolph relates more to the Saints’ reliance on blitzes. Three of his catches and 74 of his yards came against blitzes, and the Vikings face another blitz-heavy team in the Steelers this week. I have the Steelers projected to blitz 34.7 percent of the time this season, sixth-most in the league, and they came pretty close to that projection with 36.6 percent blitzes in Week 1.