Sets, Snaps, & Stats: Divisional Playoffs

| 3 years ago
Ladarius Green

Sets, Snaps, & Stats: Divisional Playoffs


Ladarius GreenThe 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.

Has there ever been a Divisional round of the NFL playoffs in which each of the four games goes under the Vegas forecast points total? Unless a lot of action comes in on the under and those predicted totals fall (specifically the San Diego/Denver game), we just may see that unlikely event occur. Considering that heavy action on the ‘under’ is about as likely as ‘heavy action on Trent Richardson to eclipse 100 yards rushing’ we have a real shot at seeing it happen.

Daily fantasy players can deal with this low-upside situation by, and please excuse the baseball metaphor, just making contact. Resisting the urge to swing for the fences, except for the occasional Hail Mary play in tournament formats (had to get a football one in there), will be the name of the game this weekend. Glancing at your lineups will not inspire the dumping of your entire bankroll into daily leagues this weekend, and that is a good thing considering that the low differentiation between entries during playoff weeks creates more luck-based outcomes than in the regular season. Tread lightly, my friends. Or don’t, you hopelessly wonderful degenerates.

This week we will break from the traditional format of S, S, & S to take a closer look at the AFC playoff matchups, while examining a couple of specific players along the way…

Indianapolis Colts at New England Patriots

Team

Snaps/Gm (rank)

Sn/Gm Last 4

Opponents Sn/Gm

Opp Sn/Gm Last 4

Colts

63.9 (17th)

67.0 (10th)

64.2 (18th)

64.0 (14th)

Patriots

71.1 (3rd)

71.3 (3rd)

69.8 (3rd)

68.8 (7th)

The above figures are from the regular season, but the Colts ran 67 plays in their Wild Card win over the Chiefs so there is nice symmetry there. As we mentioned last week they had run just 62.9 snaps per game through their first 12 contests, and added 3.2 points scored per game to their average during the last month on top of the extra plays. Also mentioned was that they have used the no-huddle on an increasing basis. Their Week 15 game against Kansas City saw them use tempo on 8.8 percent of snaps, including four snaps of a game opening touchdown drive. Sound familiar?

The first time the Colts had the ball in the Wild Card matchup with those same Chiefs, they passed their way down the field in seven plays, five of which were no-huddle (5 for 5, 44 yards, TD), to tie the score at seven apiece. While the way the game unfolded obviously added to the amount of snaps on which they skipped a huddle, and their ultimate points total, the start of the game showed a continuation of an increasing trend. In Week 16, Indy went up-tempo on 20.8 percent of snaps, and followed that up by using it on 28.6 percent during the last game of the regular season.

The Patriots should not expect a repeat of the Colts’ 52.3 percent no-huddle figure from the Wild Card round, but it is clear that they have noticed their opponents’ building affinity for using tempo. Bill Belichick noted how “It looks like they’ve gone to a no-huddle, up-tempo type of game” in his very first remarks on them early in the week – a tendency that Pep Hamilton’s offense has not been commonly associated with this season. New England has faced its fair share of no-huddle attacks this year and they have struggled at times (Pittsburgh comes to mind), but more important than how it will affect them is what it does for Indianapolis. It clearly has served to spark the Colts’ once dormant offense.

Running Back

Shane Vereen has fallen off the radar a bit of late, mostly due to the groin pull he suffered in New England’s Week 16 game in Baltimore. He only played seven snaps in that one, and in the Patriots’ Week 17 contest against the Bills was on the field for just 19 of their 68 plays. His 27.9 percent snap figure was roughly half of what he was seeing before his injury. All reports are that he is fine and projects to be a large part of the offensive game plan on Saturday night.

From Week 11 through Week 15, Vereen was the seventh highest scoring fantasy running back in PPR leagues, just 1.5 total points out of fourth place. The ranking was not built cheaply, as he scored just one touchdown within that snapshot. Ironically, he hit paydirt in both injury-shortened games since then. Vereen led all rushers in catches during those five weeks (36), with the next highest total being Pierre Thomas’ 25. His 49 targets topped all backs as well, with Le’Veon Bell’s 32 a distant second. His receiving yardage also beat his peers (323), with Jamaal Charles trailing him by 57 yards for the runner-up spot.

It would not require Bill Belichick-level defensive acumen to realize that the Colts struggle defending pass catching running backs. Just last week they allowed Dexter McCluster to haul in all seven targets within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage for 52 yards, most of it after the catch (44). He beat five different defenders in the process, including linebacker Jerrell Freeman, who is the Colts’ worst graded pass defender (-5.7) and allows nearly 80 percent (79.7%) of passes in his coverage to be completed. Knile Davis feasted within those very same areas of the field to the tune of seven catches on seven targets for 33 yards and a score, after Charles was concussed early on.

For daily fantasy league purposes, instead of trying to guess with Belichick about whether LeGarrette Blount will continue to receive the most carries, or if Stevan Ridley has found his way out of the doghouse, it is safer to go with the slightly more expensive (in FanDuel) Vereen.  Indianapolis’ middling run defense (18th in PFF grades; +16.0) presents an enticing target for an early down running back, but until that role is more clearly defined in this backfield, roll with the high-ceiling/high-PPR floor back whose job is guaranteed not to be shared.

Wide Receiver

Everyone wants to dive into the hot slot action in this game, and for good reason. Thirteen catches on 18 targets, for 224 yards and two scores in the Wild Card round has made T.Y. Hilton the man of the hour, and the question of the game is how the Patriots will choose to defend him. The guess here is that no one player will match up on him throughout, and he will see a combination of rerouting at the line by various Patriots, with safety help over the top at all times – mainly courtesy of PFF’s top rated cover safety (+14.1) Devin McCourty. He will still get his on short-to-intermediate routes, but it is doubtful we will see a repeat of the 64-yard bomb that beat the Chiefs.

The list of players that Belichick defenses have made sure to not allow to beat them this year is both long and distinguished. It includes Vincent Jackson (6 targets, 3 catches, 34 yards, zero touchdowns), Julio Jones (13, 6, 108, 0), A.J. Green (8, 5, 61, 0), and of course Jimmy Graham (6, 0, 0, 0). Not surprisingly it also includes a certain slot receiver that defected to Denver (8, 4, 31, 0 for Wes Welker), as part of a strategy that allowed 280 yards on the ground by begging Peyton Manning (19 of 36 for 150 yards, 2 TD/1 INT) to keep handing off.

The key is that these game plans give to get. Tony Gonzalez caught 12 of 14 targets for 149 yards and two touchdowns while New England concentrated their coverages on the outside, but they doubled him on the game’s final series when the Falcons were threatening to tie from the Patriots’ 13 yard line. Belichick has turned this trick since way back before Super Bowl XXV, when he coordinated a defense that let Thurman Thomas run up and down the field, but gave very little to Jim Kelly, during the New York Giants 20-19 upset of the Buffalo Bills (a game plan that resides in the Hall of Fame today).

The Patriots will work to take away Hilton’s big plays, but will also need to utilize plenty of zone coverage to keep eyes on Andrew Luck and combat his ability to extend drives with his feet. There will be holes in that zone that can be exploited by Hilton and Griff Whalen (18th most expensive wideout on FanDuel), so while daily fantasy players should not expect a repeat of last week’s fireworks (as if that should ever be “expected”), completely shying away from him is an overreaction. He is less expensive than all three Broncos receivers in FanDuel, including the fresh-from-a-concussion Welker after a month of inactivity.

As mentioned above, the likelihood of lower scoring games this week necessitates hitting singles instead of trying to go yard on every swing.  The slot guys for the Colts, as well as Julian Edelman on the other side of the field, are very attractive contact hitters.

San Diego Chargers at Denver Broncos

Team

Snaps/Gm (rank)

Sn/Gm Last 4

Opponents Sn/Gm

Opp Sn/Gm Last 4

Chargers

65.3 (13th)

66.3 (12th)

59.8 (31st)

57.5 (31st)

Broncos

72.2 (1st)

71.8 (1st)

66.9 (11th)

60.0 (26th)

For most of the second half of the season we have harped on the fact that San Diego has won by controlling the ball and limiting the number of snaps that their opponents run. While their ground game has gotten a lot of credit for their success, and deservedly so, the Chargers’ ability to convert third downs to keep the chains moving has been equally important. Denver also has benefited from doing well in this area and, along with their incredible skill and pace on offense, have run the most plays in the NFL for the majority of the 2013 season.

The Broncos were second only to the Chargers on third down conversions this season. Their 46.3 percent rate trailed San Diego’s 49 percent, but was nearly as impressive a figure. The fact that they were just two for nine in that department during a Week 15 upset at the hands of the Chargers goes a long way toward explaining how they were able to be kept off the field. San Diego reaching their seasonal average by going six of 12 in third down situations helps to complete the picture.

The Broncos did not have the services of Welker in that meeting, and it played a role in their disappointing third down production. Despite a relatively quiet Week 10 game against the Chargers (6 targets, 3 catches, 21 yards), two of Welker’s catches were good for first downs and one of those missed targets came on third down.  Tight end Julius Thomas also converted three targets for first downs, in addition to his touchdown grab. Thomas was still hobbled with a knee injury during their Week 15 rematch. Both are healthy for Sunday and the bet here is that it will contribute to an improvement on that 22 percent third down conversion rate.

During the Week 15 game, Ryan Mathews ran for 127 yards on 29 carries, including a 23-yard touchdown. He converted an impressive seven first downs, two of which came as third down conversions. Unfortunately for the Chargers, Mathews has been dealing with an ankle sprain for weeks and despite starting last week against the Bengals, was forced from the game and only had 15 touches – all of them coming early in the contest. That had a lot to do with San Diego only converting four of 12 third down situations.

The Wild Card win was just the third all season in which the Chargers did not match their seasonal third down conversion rate, and the only time they have won when allowing more snaps than they ran themselves (thank you, +4 turnover differential). Since their wild Week 1 loss to the Texans, each of their six losses came when they did not reach that 49 percent conversion rate. If Mathews is forced to miss this week’s game, or even if he is hobbled, the likelihood of San Diego pulling off another upset in Denver is severely diminished.

Quarterback

Both Philip Rivers and Peyton Manning are well-equipped to handle blitzes. They lead the league in Accuracy Percentage (Acc %) when under pressure, with Rivers posting a 71.1 figure, followed by Manning’s 69.0 mark. Their previous two meetings featured a variety of blitzing strategies, with varying degrees of success. As discussed above, converting just a handful of third downs has a decisive impact on game flow, and how well each deals with a pass rush will not only decide their fantasy totals on Sunday, but the outcome of the game itself.

Unlike their Week 10 meeting, when Denver only dialed up blitzes against Rivers on 13.9 percent of his dropbacks, they sent extra rushers 35.3 percent of the time during the Chargers’ Week 15 upset. While it did hold his yards per attempt down (6.0), he completed three of five passes, while taking a sack, and posted a quarterback rating (QBR) of 77.1. They key is San Diego only dropped back 17 times all game, so the effectiveness of Denver’s blitzes was muted.

When they did not blitz, Rivers completed the same 60 percent of his passes, but his yards per attempt jumped to 9.1, he threw both of his touchdowns, and put up a 129.4 QBR. As good as Rivers is against pressure, like all quarterbacks he is better with a clean pocket and should expect an even higher percentage of blitzes than he saw three weeks ago.

The book on Manning has been about trying to get pressure with just four rushers while disrupting the timing of his wideouts by being physical at the line and rerouting them. Blitz him and he will kill you with quick decision making and a lightning release.  John Pagano obviously has not read that book, as the Chargers’ defensive coordinator blitzed Manning on 35 percent of his 80 dropbacks against them this season. Just ask Bengals’ quarterback Andy Dalton about Pagano’s creative pressure schemes. On the 13 dropbacks he was blitzed, the Red Rifle pop-gunned his way to five completions, 52 yards, two sacks, and an interception (25.8 QBR).

In Week 10, Manning survived Pagano’s blitzkrieg (39.5% of dropbacks), posting a 115.3 QBR and completing 60 percent of his passes. However, his yards per attempt were cut in half compared to non-blitzed dropbacks (5.7 vs. 11.7), he had a healthy Welker and Thomas, and when he did not face added rushers posted a sterling 145.9 QBR. Things changed a few weeks ago during the rematch, and on dropbacks in which Manning was blitzed (31%) he completed just five passes, threw a pick, and posted a 28.1 QBR, as opposed to 119.0 when Pagano did not send extra rushers.

Both passers can expect a healthy dose of blitzers being sent their way. Rivers has handled it better thus far, but now Manning gets a pair of blitz-beaters back healthy at his side. It may sound overly simplistic, and there certainly are other factors in play, but how these teams’ respective passers perform under pressure will decide who moves on to the AFC Championship.

Tight End

Ladarius Green is the obvious heir apparent for Antonio Gates’ throne as one of the premiere athletic tight ends in both fantasy and the NFL in general. In their Wild Card game against the Bengals, Green out-snapped Gates (50 to 40), out-targeted him (3 to 1), out-average depth of targeted him (11.7 yards to 5.0), out-caught him (3 to 1), out-gained him (34 yards to 5), and outscored him (1 touchdown to none).

Naturally there is positive buzz about him after that game, and some negative attention being paid to Gates, but we have danced this dance already. During a three week stretch from Week 11 through Week 13, Green averaged 5.3 targets, three receptions, 68.7 yards, and 0.67 touchdowns per game. Compared to the 1 target, 0.8 catches, and 16.4 (with no scores) that he had averaged prior to that, it was a revelation. Unfortunately he followed that impressive run up with season-ending per-game averages of 0.8 targets, 0.3 catches, 8.8 yards and a single touchdown in his last four contests.

Will it be different this time, especially with the likely need to produce points on offense against a high-scoring Broncos team? On the surface it sure looks like it. Denver allowed the sixth most fantasy points to tight ends in 2013, and Green just registered his second highest snap percentage of the season. However, a closer look shows that the Broncos have not been the easy marks for tight ends that their yearly average would indicate. Over the last month, Denver has allowed per game averages of three catches, 30.8 yards and 0.25 touchdowns in four contests. For the season, that would rank them as the stingiest fantasy tight end defense in the league.

One of those four contests was the Week 15 game between these very teams. While Green did register his third highest snap total (46) of the season, he ran his third fewest pass routes (11) since the Chargers and Broncos first met back in Week 10. During San Diego’s Week 15 upset, when they controlled the clock masterfully, Green tallied 33 run blocking snaps – second only to the 37 he just logged against the Bengals in the Wild Card round.

Green will be on the field for nearly every Chargers’ offensive snap on Sunday evening. However, rolling with him in fantasy will mean searching for the random big play among a sea of run blocks as long as the game is within San Diego’s reach – something that was the case for eight full quarters this year.

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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