Snaps, Pace, & Stats – Divisional Round
Pat Thorman examines the impact of up-tempo offenses and other snap-based emerging trends entering divisional weekend.
Snaps, Pace, & Stats – Divisional Round
Welcome to the Divisional Round edition of Snaps, Pace, and Stats, which takes a macro view of trends in snap totals and no-huddle usage. This year, I’ve also been examining individual players in a Friday column that revolves around recommended DraftKings plays.
Below, we’ll touch on each of the playoff matchups through a snaps-based lens to gather impressions of potential game scripts and identify players who will benefit. At first glance, it appears that this will be an uneven week for running back performance.
Over their last four games played, the remaining teams are allowing a cumulative 3.69 yards-per-carry average to running backs. Half of the teams boast top-10 ranked run defenses, and just one (Green Bay) ended in the bottom-10. For this reason, we’ll focus on running back options to target and avoid this weekend.
|Rank||Snaps Per Game||Points Per Snap||No-Huddle Percentage|
|1||Indianapolis (69.1)||Green Bay (0.49)||Green Bay (30.5%)|
|2||New England (67.1)||Dallas (0.46)||Denver (30.3%)|
|3||Carolina (66.71)||Denver (0.45)||Carolina (17.6%)|
|4||Denver (66.69)||New England (0.44)||Indianapolis (10.4%)|
|5||Seattle (63.8)||Indianapolis (0.412)||New England (7.6%)|
|6||Baltimore (63.4)||Baltimore (0.408)||Dallas (3.8%)|
|7||Dallas (63.1)||Seattle (0.39)||Baltimore (3.0%)|
|8||Green Bay (62.6)||Carolina (0.32)||Seattle (2.6%)|
*Wild Card round team data based on 17 games played
Colts at Broncos (-7; 54)
Have the Colts finally found the handle on their perennially porous run defense? They’ve allowed 4.6 yards per carry to running backs through Week 11, and only 3.8 after that point. Inside linebacker D’Qwell Jackson’s run defense grade is +9.0 since Week 11 (2nd-best), versus -8.0 during his first nine games (54th). Denver plow horse C.J. Anderson averaged 5.6 yards per carry in his first four outings as the starter, but just 3.86 in his most recent four. With Ronnie Hillman now nibbling at his workload, Anderson is slightly less attractive.
In the event that Denver’s ground game is held in check, Julius Thomas should (finally) pick up some slack. He’s played less than two games worth of snaps (121) in more than two months—79 of which came in the two contests before the Broncos’ bye week. Indianapolis surrendered the third-most fantasy points to tight ends during the regular season and weren’t exactly tested by Ryan Hewitt and company last week. Thomas also happened to catch seven of eight targets for 104 yards and three scores when these teams met in September.
The Colts’ 30th-ranked pass rush (-16.7) will feel like a warm breeze to Peyton Manning as he sits behind the sixth-graded pass blocking unit (+9.0), and it’s hard to envision Indy keeping Denver within striking distance of their offense for long. The Colts are the only remaining team that ranks in the bottom-half in point-per-snap rate over the last four games (0.30; 20th). However, Dan Herron appears to be a solid fantasy option in any game script. He’s been on the field for more pass plays than runs in every game since Week 12, when he first became a real factor for the Colts, and the Broncos also have allowed 4.6 yards per carry over in their last four contests.
Panthers at Seahawks (-11; 40)
If Mile High will offer fertile fantasy ground this weekend, CenturyLink is closer to salted earth. The Seahawks (0.15) and Panthers (0.23) have the league’s lowest and fourth-lowest point-per-snap-allowed rate over their last four games, respectively. While their 10th-best (+30.7; Seattle) and 13th-best (+10.8; Carolina) run defense grades don’t jump off of the page, the Seahawks allowed the second-fewest fantasy points to running backs, and the Panthers’ average points-surrendered to the position since Week 11 would rank them as the toughest in the league for the full season.
Despite inconsistent workloads, either due to injury or indigestion, Marshawn Lynch has managed to remain the RB7 in PPR leagues since Week 10. He’s done it against stiff competition and hasn’t been overly touchdown-dependent (25.7 percent of point total). That’s good because Vegas projects Seattle for a middling 25.5 points, and Marion Grice’s 1-yard fumble-score last week was Carolina’s first rushing touchdown allowed since Week 10. Like last year, Lynch should have his workload ratcheted-up for the playoffs—which he’ll need if he’s going to pay off his DFS price.
Over the last five weeks, Jonathan Stewart has averaged 20.6 carries for 105 yards and 0.4 touchdowns, while adding 1.5 receptions for six yards and 0.2 scores through the air. Unfortunately his production against the Bucs, Browns, and other assorted cupcakes won’t help him against a fully-operational Seahawks defense. Since Jamaal Charles got the better of them in Week 11, Seattle is allowing 2.82 yards per carry and 0.17 touchdowns-per-game to running backs. Stewart is relatively cheap and will be a contrarian play, but that’s the best thing that can be said about him this week.
|Rank||Snaps Per Game Allowed||Points Per Snap Allowed||RB Rush Yards Allowed (Dec.)|
|1||Green Bay (65.9)||Carolina (0.37)||Carolina (4.82)|
|2||Baltimore (65.1)||Dallas (0.3560)||Denver (4.59)|
|3||New England (64.6)||Indianapolis (0.3555)||Indianapolis (3.78)|
|4||Denver (64.5)||Denver (0.34)||Baltimore (3.71)|
|5||Indianapolis (62.7)||Green Bay (0.33)||Green Bay (3.37)|
|6||Carolina (61.53)||New England (0.30)||New England (3.43)|
|7||Dallas (61.47)||Baltimore (0.29)||Dallas (3.02)|
|8||Seattle (57.8)||Seattle (0.27)||Seattle (2.82)|
*Wild Card round team data based on 17 games played
Cowboys at Packers (-6; 53)
The NFL’s first and second-most efficient offenses on a point-per-snap basis will feature the most attractive pair of fantasy running backs in action this weekend. It’s no secret that Dallas wants to continue to ride DeMarco Murray, to both protect an overmatched defense and keep Tony Romo upright. He was smacked around last week (6 sacks, 4 hits, 13 hurries) and was fortunate that the Lions backed off of their blitz-heavy plan in the second half. Their run blocking ranks second (+59.7), and there’s no better place to lean on it than in frigid Green Bay.
The Packers graded as the fifth-worst run defense this season (-31.8). If Murray was able to scratch out four yards per carry against the Lions (+70.4; 3rd), he’ll find running room against Green Bay. He remains relevant in any game script, not only because he’s still active in the passing game (3 catches on 4 targets for 22 yards last week), but because Dallas has shown to be run-game-committed no matter the score. As has consistently been the case, Murray’s carries didn’t dwindle once the Cowboys fell behind the Lions by more than a touchdown (10), compared to when the score was closer (9).
Eddie Lacy has been gathering steam all season and might be the fantasy play of the weekend. Before Week 8, his run game grade was -3.6 (49th). Since then it’s +11.4 (4th), and he ranks first in overall grading (+19.7) thanks to his passing game prowess. He went from the RB15 in PPR leagues to the RB4. That turnaround occurred despite his offensive line’s run blocking grade falling from +9.8 to -4.7. Dallas has the 11th-worst run defense, may be without their best linebacker in Rolando McClain, and we still don’t know for sure just how gimpy Aaron Rodgers’ calf will render him.
Ravens at Patriots (-7; 47.5)
The first game of the weekend is the last place to go looking for running back value. The Ravens have the best run defense in the league (+74.6), and the Patriots rank sixth (+41.5). New England improved greatly as the year progressed, allowing 3.18 yards per carry starting with their Week 9 showdown against Denver, compared to a 4.68 average in the eight games that preceded it. Both teams have been stingy on a point-per-snap-allowed basis, surrendering the third-lowest (0.23; Ravens) and sixth-lowest (0.24; Patriots) rates over the last four games.
For New England, the clear path of least resistance is to attack Baltimore’s injury-ravaged secondary. If they can keep Tom Brady well protected—no sure thing against the league’s top pass rush (+73.6)—he will find multiple targets running free. The Patriots are the gold standard for opponent-specific game plans and will skew pass-heavy, but they won’t completely abandon the run. The problem, at least for fantasy purposes, is they’ll split the backfield workload against the league’s stingiest running back defense. Especially in PPR leagues, Shane Vereen is the best of an unappealing bunch.
While Justin Forsett is unlikely to find much running room after taking handoffs, he does stand a chance of paying off his DFS price. Unlike the Patriots, who have an advantage in the passing game, the Ravens have no easy alternative. New England’s fourth-best pass coverage (+18.3), combined with Baltimore’s recent pass blocking difficulties, will necessitate a greater reliance on the multi-dimensional Forsett. Look for him to total more receiving than rushing yards, and Hillman’s Week 9 script can be viewed as a rough projection.
The last game of the weekend will be fascinating from a tempo perspective. Denver has dialed-back their usage of the hurry-up considerably as they’ve become more run-heavy. The Colts, like last year, are going to it more often. The 20-percent no-huddle rate in the Wild Card round was their second-highest of the 2014 season, behind only a 24.3-percent Week 1 mark—which happened to come in Denver.
Last year, they used the no-huddle on 8.8 percent of their Week 15 snaps, 20.8 percent in Week 16, 28.6 percent in Week 17, and 52.3 percent during their Wild Card loss to Kansas City. That was juiced by an early deficit, something that could very well repeat itself. It sparked their offense then, not unlike Week 1 against Denver when Luck completed passes at a higher rate (73.3 percent vs 63.2 percent) and with more yards per attempt (7.7 vs 6.7) when using the no-huddle.
The Broncos’ 62.3-percent hurry-up mark against the Colts in the opener was their highest of the season, as well. If they view themselves as the clearly more talented team, it would behoove them to revive the no-huddle and maximize the amount of plays run. Either way, the weekend’s highest over/under is well-placed on this matchup.
With a paltry 14.5 projected team total, there should be painfully little fantasy juice to squeeze out of the Panthers on Saturday night. Their best bet, strangely, would be to hike the tempo. While that will likely add snaps to Seattle’s total, it’s repeatedly shown to be a boon for their offensive efficiency. The question is if they’ll attempt it in the most hostile of NFL environs. Their 1.8-percent no-huddle rate the last time they faced Seattle was one of their four lowest of the season.
Finally, it will be interesting to see how much tempo the Packers use. They were the league’s third-fastest-paced during the regular season, and are the fastest-paced team still playing. However, the Cowboys’ ideal game script is one of ball-control and the wearing down of Green Bay’s defense. The Packers ran the ninth-fewest snaps, and allowed the eighth-most, not only due to their highly efficient offense, but also because of their tempo.
Dallas would love to replicate their Week 15 smothering of the Eagles, in which they ran a season-high 76 snaps and Philadelphia could muster only 53. The Eagles kept firing away with the no-huddle and quickly dug a hole too deep to climb out of. Of course, the exact opposite happened on Thanksgiving. More than any other game this weekend, the early script in Green Bay will go a long way toward deciding the final outcome.
Pat Thorman is a Lead Writer for PFF Fantasy and was named 2013 Newcomer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. You can follow him on Twitter at @Pat_Thorman