Sets, Snaps, & Stats: 2013 Wrap-Up

Pat Thorman examines the fantasy impact of up-tempo offenses and other emerging trends after 17 weeks of NFL action.

| 3 years ago

Pat Thorman examines the fantasy impact of up-tempo offenses and other emerging trends after 17 weeks of NFL action.

Sets, Snaps, & Stats: 2013 Wrap-Up

Ryan MathewsThe weekly Sets, Snaps and Stats report is a summary of participation, formation, target and other data mined by PFF’s game charters. Used with PFF Fantasy’s own signature stats, our aim – as always – is identifying relevant trends to provide our subscribers with a competitive advantage.

With 17 of the shortest weeks on the calendar in the books, we can best ease our sorrow by focusing on the NFL Playoffs. First let us take one final look at the 2013 snaps leader (and laggard) boards, followed by some thoughts on this weekend’s Wild Card matchups and individual players of note for fantasy purposes.


Week 17 Snaps

2013 Snaps (Avg/Gm)

Opponents (Avg/Gm)


Green Bay (76)

Denver (72.2)

Philadelphia (71.9)


Washington (75)

Green Bay (71.2)

Minnesota (70)


Denver (73)

New England (71.1)

New England (69.8)


Arizona (72)

Buffalo (69.8)

Cleveland (69.3)


San Diego (71)

Washington (69.2)

Miami (68.8)

It is interesting that just four of the top 10 teams in most plays run this season are going to the playoffs. In fact, Buffalo (69.8), Washington (69.2), Detroit (68.6), Houston (68), and Cleveland (66.7) were not very close in the end. Baltimore (68.1) almost snuck in, while Cincinnati (68.5) ran away with the AFC North. The top three (Denver, Green Bay, New England) did all make it.


Week 17 Snaps

2013 Snaps (Avg/Gm)

Opponents (Avg/Gm)


Chicago (49)

Oakland (58.3)

New Orleans (58.8)


St. Louis (50)

Dallas (59.8)

San Diego (59.8)


New Orleans (55)

San Francisco (60.1)

Houston (59.8)


Minnesota (56)

St. Louis (60.4)

Carolina (60.9)


Carolina/Houston (57)

Seattle (60.8)

Detroit (61.4)

When looking at a plays surrendered snapshot of the most recent four weeks it stands out that seven of the eight teams who have allowed the fewest snaps are in the playoffs. Those teams are the Saints (55), Chargers (57.5), Bengals (58.3), Packers (58.8), Seahawks (59.5), Cardinals (60), Broncos (60), and 49ers (60.3).  The Cardinals (60) just missed getting in themselves.

Wild Card Matchups

Kansas City Chiefs at Indianapolis Colts

The Chiefs allowed three more plays per game (70.3) than their seasonal average (67.3) over the last four weeks. Since their Week 10 bye they have given up 27.7 points per game, while they averaged 12.3 points allowed in the previous nine contests. The Colts ran four additional snaps per game in their last four contests (67) than they had before that (62.9). They have scored over three more points per game during that time (26.5 vs. 23.3). Indy went no-huddle on 28.6 percent of their Week 17 snaps, 20.8 percent of their Week 16 plays, and on six snaps in the first three Week 15 drives – two of which resulted in touchdowns. Against the Chiefs two weeks ago their 15 no-huddle snaps all came in the first half as they built a lead they would never relinquish. Their occasional use of tempo has sparked a once slumbering offense.

New Orleans Saints at Philadelphia Eagles

While the Eagles finished the season on top of the most plays surrendered list (71.9), they have been stingier over the last month. 64.8 snaps allowed in their last four games ranks as the 13th most, and they should find success with their rushing attack against a Saints’ run defense that ranks 28th in yards per carry allowed (4.6). For their part, New Orleans has continued a season-long trend of limiting their opposition’s plays. They have allowed just 55 snaps per game over the last month, the fewest in the NFL. That is an improvement on their 58.8 plays surrendered seasonal average – also good for the fewest of any team. While this matchup does scream ‘shootout’ at first glance, there may be fewer snaps to go around than most assume.

San Diego Chargers at Cincinnati Bengals

When these teams met Week 13, San Diego held Cincinnati to just 61 plays. It was seven and a half plays under their seasonal average and the Bengals would go on to average 8.75 more snaps in their final four contests. Not only have the Chargers allowed the second fewest plays this season, they have sliced more than two plays per game off that average over the last month (57.5). Cincinnati has allowed the 14th most plays per game this season (65.1), but they have cut that average by nearly seven during the last four weeks (58.3). Over that time they are tied for fourth in most plays run themselves (69.8), and if they are to avoid an upset will need to do a better job of turning snaps into points than the last time they saw the Chargers.

San Francisco 49ers at Green Bay Packers

The Packers topped all teams in Week 17 snaps during Aaron Rodgers’ return to the lineup, and their 71.8 plays per game over the last month lead the league. They used the no-huddle 11.8 percent of the time against the Bears, a week after going up-tempo on 23.6 percent of snaps. Before Rodgers went down with a broken collarbone, Green Bay was trending toward fewer huddles. The 49ers need to be ready for a higher tempo than they have seen all season long, as they have not faced a single team this season that goes no-huddle an appreciable amount. It is doubtful that they will match their offensive output against Green Bay from their last two meetings (39.5 points per game), especially with sub-zero temperatures forecast for Lambeau Field late on Sunday afternoon – despite the Packers’ undermanned defense. While plenty of points will be scored, do not expect a repeat of the offensive fireworks that this matchup has provided of late.

Running Back

Few lead running backs were as overlooked heading into the 2013 season as Ryan Mathews. Although he changed the general opinion of him with a late season surge, his viability as a fantasy producer against Cincinnati is being underestimated yet again, only for a different reason.

The Bengals’ run defense seems more formidable than it really is at this late stage of the season. Overall they have given up the fifth fewest yards on the ground (1544) and rank fourth best in rushing touchdowns surrendered (6). However those totals are skewed by the fact that they have faced the fifth fewest rushing attempts (385) in the league. Their middling rank of 15th in yards per carry allowed (4.0) hints at the fact that they can be had.

Cincinnati is ranked as PFF’s 12th best run defense, boasting a +34.0 seasonal grade. However, that includes Geno Atkins’ +4.4 mark, in addition to Leon Hall’s +0.9, and both are sidelined until 2014. It also benefits from James Harrison’s +10.7 run defense grade. After suffering a Week 15 concussion that forced him to miss the next game, he was a shadow of himself during Week 17. Harrison mainly rushed the passer, only saw the field as a run defender on four of his 24 snaps, and still managed to post a -1.4 overall grade despite reduced playing time (36.4% of plays).

Since their stud defensive tackle Atkins went down in Week 9 the Bengals have allowed Lamar Miller 129 yards on 20 touches (including 6.6 yards per carry), Chris Ogbonnaya 99 yards on 14 touches (including 8.6 yards per carry), and Le’Veon Bell 107 yards on 29 touches (including a touchdown). Two recent matchups with the snow suited ghost of Ray Rice, plus one against an injured Adrian Peterson, has helped to mask a deterioration of the Bengals’ run defense. Mathews himself averaged 4.4 yards per carry on 14 rushes against them five weeks ago. Incidentally, that was the last time all season that Mathews received fewer than 24 rushing attempts, and he has averaged 29 touches per game since.

As mentioned above, the Chargers have been successful in controlling the clock and minimizing their undermanned defense’s exposure of late, allowing just 57.5 plays per game over their last four (31st most). This is due in no small part to a commitment to the ground game in general (55.8% runs over their last four contests), and to Mathews in particular. 70 percent of their rushing attempts have gone to him during the last month, and his receptions in the second half of the season are nearly triple what they were in the first half (19 vs. 7). He is the sixth ranked fantasy back in PPR leagues during that time.

While the Chargers may ultimately fall to the Bengals in their Wild Card matchup, judging by the way they have been able to control the ball in recent weeks, it is not a stretch to forecast that they will stay within striking distance throughout. They accomplished just that five games ago, and Mathews is now a more vital part of their attack. Fantasy owners need not shy away due to fears of Cincinnati’s overrated run defense.

Wide Receiver

Marques Colston is once again playing a central role in the Saints’ offense, something that figures to continue during their playoff game in Philadelphia. If Week 17’s six catch, 67 yard (on six targets) performance is excluded because he only played 60% of snaps in a blowout, Colston has been fantasy’s best PPR wideout over the last month (Weeks 14 through 16). His 7.3 catches, 11.7 targets, 93.3 yards, and a touchdown per game were good for a 22.7 point average.

Colston’s surge has coincided with that of another longtime Saint, Lance Moore. A disappointment throughout his first nine games due to injury and reduced involvement in the passing game, Moore averaged 3.8 targets, 2.3 catches, 24.3 yards and scored just one touchdown. Since Week 14 however, those per game averages have risen to 4.5 targets, 4 catches, 59.5 yards and he finished the season with a touchdown against the Bucs.

Colston and Moore have been New Orleans’ primary slot receivers, with 56.3 percent and 51.8 percent of their routes originating there, respectively. They will be up against one of 2013’s best cover men in Eagles cornerback Brandon Boykin (+14.3 coverage grade; 1st). He has been targeted heavily (75), but has held opposing quarterbacks to a 57.8 quarterback rating and has picked off a league high six passes while defending the slot.

However, the 5’09” 182-pound Boykin presents a much tougher obstacle for the 5’09” 189-pound Moore than he does the 6’05” 231-pound Colston. As good as he has been overall, Boykin has struggled when assigned larger wideouts.






L. Fitzgerald





M. Floyd





A. Jeffery





R. Streater





J. Criner





D. Thomas





V. Jackson





Most of those wideouts do not spend as much time in the slot as Colston does, and the bet here is if they did their target volume and resulting fantasy production would have been greater.

New Orleans has been most successful this season when protecting their defense by playing ball control, and Colston (9.9 average depth of target over the last four games) is clearly a more integral part of that than Moore. Boykin stands a better chance of running downfield with Moore (12.8 aDOT, last four), than fighting through box-outs from Colston. 19.2 percent of Moore’s targets have come on deep balls, while just 11.2 of Colston’s have been 20 or more yards downfield.

Fantasy owners should confidently roll with the Saints’ hulking slot receiver, but be wary of playing their more diminutive one, especially in PPR leagues.

Tight End

Since their bye week, the Eagles have passed more than they have handed off just once. It came against the Vikings and though were playing from behind all game, still had a 24-to-3 pass-run ratio while within 10 points during the third quarter. Minnesota also is the 31st ranked pass coverage team (-58.0) and 24th “best” at run stopping (-7.9). In their four games against better coverage teams than run defenses, the Eagles handed off more often in three and had an even distribution (34 each) in the fourth, against the Cardinals.

Chip Kelly has proven that he will attack what a defense does worst, and the team they will meet in the Wild Card round most definitely defends passing attacks better than ground games. PFF ranks New Orleans 12th against the pass and 18th versus the run, yet even that is misleading in that the Saints often play with a lead and are not consistently tested on the ground (6th fewest rushing attempts against). The Eagles will test them.

Rookie tight end Zach Ertz is not asked to block much, and considering Brent Celek is the alternative it is for good reason. Ertz grades as a -1.2 run blocker, while Celek has posted a +3.7 mark. It is also no surprise that since Philly’s bye, Ertz’s highest snap percentage came against Minnesota. Ertz set his season high for targets (9) and snaps (46) against the Vikings. He has not logged half as many plays in the two games since.

Celek, who has been on the field nearly double what Ertz has overall, played roughly half as much against the Vikings as he has in the other four games since their bye. He has seen no less than 80 percent of snaps in those games against easier run defenses. The veteran has averaged three catches, four targets, 65 yards, and has scored each of the last two weeks despite his offense’s emphasis on the ground game. Celek will again surpass Ertz’s play total against the Saints.

If fantasy owners are in search of a low upside tight end flier this weekend, they would do well to go with the Eagle that will play more snaps. There is little doubt that Ertz will be a force sooner than later, but at least for one more week Celek is the smarter play.

Please note that penalty plays are removed from the snap totals and will differ from what is posted in our Premium Statistics game logs.

Pat Thorman is a Lead Writer for PFF Fantasy. You can follow him on Twitter at @Pat_Thorman

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

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