NFL coaching carousel will change tempo
During the last three seasons, the 49ers featured the NFL’s fourth-lowest snap rate (61.2 plays per game), while their new head coach had the Eagles pumping out an NFL-high 68.4 on average. At the same time, Chip Kelly’s snap-generating effect was also felt on the other side of the ball. Philadelphia gave up the most plays per game (71.1) during his three seasons there. Over that span, the 49ers allowed 64.4 snaps on average (20th).
We will hear plenty in the coming months about which players will benefit and suffer from Kelly changing coasts. Colin Kaepernick, Carlos Hyde and Torrey Smith have seen their dynasty values juiced to varying degrees. We should count the rest of the NFC West among them. If Kelly brings his breakneck-paced offense to San Francisco, and all indications are he will, it’s good news for fantasy weapons on the Cardinals, Rams and Seahawks.
At the same time, owners of NFC East talent are sad to see Kelly go. Dez Bryant faced the Eagles in 12.2 percent of his regular season games over the last three years. He saw 13.9 percent of his targets and scored 16.4 percent of his fantasy points in those games. Pierre Garcon saw 15.6 percent of his targets and scored 17.7 percent of his points while facing Kelly’s Eagles in 12.5 percent of his games. Rueben Randle saw 16.6 percent of his targets and tallied 18.4 percent of his points in 12.5 percent of his games.
A disproportionate amount of players’ production coming against the Eagles can’t be entirely chalked up to their lightning-quick tempo. After all, they did have Duraflame logs like Bradley Fletcher, Cary Williams and Byron Maxwell running around their secondary. Plus, despite having plenty of ground to make up, the 49ers’ pass coverage could improve by September. They graded 27th-best last season (-33.7), while the Eagles ranked 21st (-15.9).
While the increased production margins of the receivers mentioned are not eye-popping, they are noteworthy. And simply because we can’t ascribe their existence exclusively to Philadelphia’s elevated pace, we shouldn’t overlook them. In DFS we targeted the Eagles in large part due to their tempo’s snap-generating properties. By assigning a value bump to Kelly’s new divisional opponents – even a small one – we can scrape some profit off the margins.
The Eagles will fill Kelly’s void with former Chiefs’ offensive coordinator Doug Pederson. His stint in Kansas City overlapped Kelly’s in Philadelphia, but similarities appear to end there. While Kelly’s Eagles were ripping off no-huddle plays at an NFL-high 67.1 percent clip since 2013, Pederson oversaw a Chiefs offense that went up-tempo on 3.9 percent of snaps (29th-highest). Over that time, Kansas City ran the sixth-fewest plays per game (61.4), while Philadelphia led the league (68.4).
The Eagles also allowed nearly six more plays per game (5.9) than the Chiefs did during the last three seasons. Pederson tapped the often underrated Jim Schwartz to run Philadelphia’s defense. Last seen in 2014 while coordinating a Bills defense that allowed the third fewest points per play (Buffalo slipped back to 15th-fewest in 2015), Schwartz is plenty capable of turning around a unit rich in front-seven talent. If their offense indeed begins to resemble Kansas City’s, fantasy matchups against the Eagles will quickly go from favorable to formidable.
Another notable new coaching hire, from a no-huddle perspective, is Adam Gase getting the head job in Miami. Over his last three seasons with the Broncos (2013-2014) and Bears, offenses coordinated by Gase had a 39.3 percent no-huddle rate. That would rank second only to the Eagles during that span. The Dolphins, on the other hand, used tempo on just 6.3 percent of snaps (21st-highest) and ran the ninth-fewest plays per game (62.9).
Gase’s arrival has been hailed as positive for Ryan Tannehill. Many are down on him after his -4.5 passing grade ranked 24th of 37 qualifying passers, one year after he placed ninth out of 39 (+9.3). While that may be the case with Gase – he did help boost Jay Cutler’s passing grade ranking from 35th in 2014 to 15th this season – the Dolphins’ overall snaps are not a lock for top-10 status. The Bears ran the fourth-most no-huddle in 2015 (26.2 percent), but still finished 18th in plays per game (64.1). Their 29.2 seconds-per-snap rate was the ninth-slowest, and a reminder that no-huddle rate alone does not always equate to a higher snaps pace.
Will Dirk Koetter’s ascension to Buccaneers head coach juice their no-huddle usage in 2016? In 2013, as offensive coordinator in Atlanta, he had the Falcons run the hurry-up on 11.9 percent of snaps (10th-most), and they were in that range again the following season (12.2 percent; 10th-most). In 2015, while in charge of Tampa Bay’s prized rookie, he gave Jameis Winston more to chew on as the season progressed, and he responded. His -6.1 passing grade through eight games ranked 25th, while a +10.6 grade in his final eight contests ranked seventh-best of 37 qualifying quarterbacks.
If we ignore the Buccaneers’ Week 1 blowout, when they essentially played catch-up all day, it becomes clear how Koetter was slowly mixing in tempo. In Tampa Bay’s next five games, they used 4.2 percent no-huddle. The following five contests saw it rise to 10.6 percent, and in the final five it reached 15 percent. The Bucs’ 21 percent hurry-up rate in Weeks 16 and 17 ranked ninth-highest. With the conservative Lovie Smith out of the picture and Koetter in control, there should be more tempo in Tampa.
Super Bowl 50: To Huddle or Not To Huddle?
The Broncos had something of a no-huddle revival late in the season, and it carried over into the playoffs. After an uncharacteristically low 7.9 percent hurry-up rate through Week 15 (13th-highest), Denver used tempo on 30.5 percent of their snaps once Manning returned to the lineup for Weeks 16 and 17 (fifth-highest).
They followed it up with 26.8 percent no-huddle snaps against the Steelers in the Divisional round before relying on their defense and a slower pace against the Patriots (4.6 percent). It is hard to see them, as six-point underdogs, altering that throttled-down approach in the Super Bowl. Far more interesting is what their opponents will be doing before the snap.
As they have been building to all season, the Panthers reached a point in home games where only Kelly’s Eagles could claim a decidedly higher no-huddle rate. In their last three contests, all played in Carolina, they went to the hurry-up on 46.4 percent of snaps — which would have ranked third on the season behind the Eagles (71.8 percent) and Giants (54.0 percent). That includes a pair of playoff games in which they took their foot off the gas in the fourth quarter (26.5 percent hurry-up), after skipping huddles on 50 percent of their snaps until that point.
On Sunday, the Panthers will be far from home – where their 33.8 percent no-huddle rate dwarfed the 8.1 percent mark they posted in away games. Will they take a more deliberate approach, ignoring that their quarterback played better when using the hurry-up and at home – where they scored more points per game (34.4 versus 29.5)? Cam Newton’s yards per attempt (8.9 versus 6.9), touchdown percentage (8.0 versus 5.8), and quarterback rating (106.1 versus 94.5) were finer in Carolina. And while the gap between his no-huddle and huddled quarterback rating shrunk late in the season, his hurry-up mark still has the edge (113.5 versus 103.9).
In a limited sample, the Broncos allowed a slightly higher completion percentage (60.7 versus 59.2), yards per attempt (7.4 versus 6.2), and quarterback rating (82.2 versus 77.3) against the no-huddle. They also blitzed less often against hurry-up dropbacks (30.6 percent versus 38.7 percent), although the rate fluctuated significantly depending on opponent. With Newton one of the league’s highest-rated passers against the blitz (118.7 QBR; +16.7 PFF grade), Denver may opt to back down. If Carolina indeed opts to crank up the tempo, their chances against PFF’s highest-graded defense should rise along with it.
Pat Thorman is a Lead Writer for PFF Fantasy. You can follow him on Twitter at @Pat_Thorman