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Snaps, Pace, & Stats: How Week 4 shapes up for fantasy

By Patrick Thorman
Sep 26, 2018

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HOUSTON, TX - NOVEMBER 05: T.Y. Hilton #13 of the Indianapolis Colts runs the ball after a reception defended by Marcus Gilchrist #21 of the Houston Texans in the third quarter at NRG Stadium on November 5, 2017 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)

Welcome to the Week 4 edition of Snaps, Pace, & Stats, where we examine trends in snap totals and no-huddle usage for fantasy football purposes. It is meant to be a 30,000-foot view of upcoming games, with the goal of identifying which matchups will – and which will not – be played on fertile fantasy soil.

Week 3 brought regression in some spots and blow-ups in others – most notably in Atlanta and Kansas City. Overall, per-game scoring averages fell for the second consecutive week, from 23.9, to 23.2, to 22.6 points. Per-game snaps averages did the same, from 64.9, to 63.2, to 62.8 plays. Finally, no-huddle rates declined similarly, from 12.4 percent, to 10.2 percent, to 8.3 percent.

While these slides won’t materially change the way we operate our fantasy teams, they are trends worth monitoring considering last year’s dip in offensive production. For now, we’re on to Week 4.

Up in pace

Rank Week 3 Snaps 2018 Snaps/Game Opponent Wk 3 Snaps 2018 Opp Snaps/Gm
1 New Orleans (77) Baltimore (75) Atlanta (77) Cincinnati (74.7)
2 Philadelphia (77) Cleveland (73) Indianapolis (77) San Francisco (70.7)
3 Cleveland (74) Pittsburgh (72.3) Miami (74) Arizona (70.4)
4 Oakland (74) Philadelphia (72) N.Y. Jets (74) Kansas City (74.4)
5 L.A. Rams (72) Detroit (70) L.A. Chargers (72) New England (70)

Houston Texans at Indianapolis Colts

There isn’t enough peyote on earth to properly get your mind around an AFC South matchup these days. We do know some things, however. We know the Texans have been as disappointing as gas station sushi, and their season is already circling the drain. We know they have been playing fast, with the fourth-quickest seconds-per-snap pace. They have a solid run defense, which grades ninth-best and is not the ideal spot for the run-game-deficient Colts to attack. Houston’s pass coverage grades fourth-worst, presenting a more inviting – and play-volume-enhancing – attack surface. The Texans also ranked first in no-huddle rate before going away from it in Week 3. That didn’t go well.

Wrapping your mind around Jim Irsay’s team is similarly challenging. Will their defense continue to impress? Can the running game get on track? Will Andrew Luck’s arm land farther than the ball if he attempts a Hail Mary? We know the Colts have the third-highest pass rate during neutral situations. Their games have averaged the ninth-most total plays. Their run defense, while consistently earning strong PFF grades, has begun opening eyes and should push opponents to the air – especially if Indianapolis can’t find a pass rush. The Colts also operate at the league’s quickest snaps pace and have hinted at a heavy home no-huddle split, which, when combined with the Texans tempo, could turn this matchup into a back-and-forth affair. Then again, we should tread lightly. This is the AFC South, the NFL’s version of Bat Country.

Cincinnati Bengals at Atlanta Falcons

On the surface, this does not look like a high-play-volume matchup. The Bengals rank 26th in plays per game — they famously finished last in 2017 — and they’ll face a deliberately paced Falcons offense that ranks 21st in snaps. Look under the hood, however, and there is potential for more – even if play counts don’t crest 70. Cincinnati’s contests rank fourth in average combined snaps, in large part because they allow a league-high plays-per-game rate. Their offense has not needed elevated play volume to score, as they’re fifth in points per snap, while operating at a respectable 14th-quickest in seconds-per-snap pace. The Bengals rank fifth in situation-neutral pass rate, and if Joe Mixon is healthy enough to play, he’ll see plenty of passing game work. No team has faced more running back targets than the Falcons (15.7 per game), and their pass rush grades second worst.

Atlanta allows the seventh-most plays per game, and their contests average the eighth-most combined snaps. They score the eighth-most points on a per-snap basis, while allowing the 11th-most – a mark that is rising since the Falcons lost the guts of their defense to injury. Without both safeties, their secondary will be increasingly targeted, and opponents already throw against them at the 10th-highest situation-neutral rate. Atlanta’s offense ranks 10th in situation-neutral pass rate, and they’ll deploy a diminished rushing attack against our fifth-highest-graded run defense. With the Falcons clicking through the air, playing their second straight game inside their dome, and neither defense able to cover pass-catching running backs – this shapes up as a pass-first matchup. Those usually lead to elevated play volume.

Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers

While it isn’t on the main slate, and past matchups have typically been low-scoring, head-hunting tractor pulls, the current incarnations of these teams can pile up plays and points – if they can keep from killing each other. The Ravens lead the league in plays per game, and their contests average the third-most combined snaps. They pass at the league’s highest situation-neutral rate, have earned better grades for pass than run blocking, operate at the second-quickest seconds-per-snap pace, and score the ninth-most points on a per-snap basis. Ravens coaches have an odd fascination with passing-down back Javorius Allen, and Joe Flacco appears rejuvenated – also known as “finally about average again” – and has his best passing-game weapons in years. They will be throwing against our 24th-graded pass coverage.

The Steelers return home after a wild win in Tampa Bay, and if history is any indication, the no-huddle and “Home Ben” will figure prominently. This year, they’ve run 34 percent of plays in Pittsburgh from the no-huddle, and only five percent while on the road – which matches their trend in recent seasons. Last year, they averaged 8.4 more plays at home, and so far this year they are plus-2.5 snaps per game in Pittsburgh. They rank third in overall plays per game, and their contests average the league’s most combined snaps. The Steelers score the 11th-most and allow the ninth-most points on a per-snap basis. They throw at the 12th-highest rate during neutral situations and operate at the seventh-quickest seconds-per-snap rate. It may appear to be a divisional slog, but this is not a matchup to fade on Thursday-to-Monday DFS slates.

Low volume outlook

Rank Week 3 Snaps 2018 Snaps/Game Opponent Wk 3 Snaps 2018 Opp Snaps/Gm
32 Miami (39) Arizona (47.3) Oakland (39) L.A. Rams (53)
31 New England (47) Miami (51.7) Detroit (47) Oakland (54.3)
30 Arizona (48) Dallas (55) Chicago (48) Detroit (55.3)
29 L.A. Chargers (52) Kansas City (59) L.A. Rams (52) Chicago (57)
28 Washington (55) New England (60) Green Bay (55) N.Y. Giants (58)

Philadelphia Eagles at Tennessee Titans

The Eagles run plenty of plays, aided by a top-three offensive line and our second-highest-graded defense. Their 72 plays per game rank third, and with Carson Wentz back behind center, they pumped out 77 snaps while holding the ball for a greedy 40 minutes and 20 seconds against the Colts. Opponents average 59.7 plays against Philadelphia, and it’s falling: 65 to Atlanta, 58 to Tampa Bay, and 56 to Indianapolis. The Eagles operate at the 10th-slowest snaps pace, and they will find the Titans softer against the run (graded 20th) than the pass (graded 12th in coverage and eighth in pass rush). Wentz is still not 100 percent after tearing his knee late last season, and despite deploying the second-highest hurry-up rate of Week 3 (more in No-Huddle Notes), we saw Philadelphia move to ball-control mode once a lead was established.

After their soul-sapping, snap-sucking, slow-paced Exotic Smashmouth offense, there was hope the Titans would at least push the pace to a league-average degree. Three weeks into 2018, they rank eighth-lowest in plays per game (61), they allow the sixth-fewest snaps (58.7), and Tennessee operates at the league’s eighth-slowest pace despite rarely controlling games. Their ninth-best-graded defense has held opponents to the seventh-fewest points on a per-snap basis, and the Titans are scoring the fourth-fewest points per play. Tennessee has handed off the second-most often during neutral situations (57 percent), but, on a rare snap-friendly note, the Eagles’ defense has faced the highest pass rate when games are close (72 percent). It would be nice if the Titans had an un-concussed quarterback who could feel a football.

Seattle Seahawks at Arizona Cardinals

Coming off of a scintillating matchup with the black hole of pace, also known as the Cowboys, the Seahawks now travel to the desert wasteland of play volume. This matchup could only be more depressing if Seattle actually wanted to attempt forward passes. Their cutting-edge formula calls for defense, repeated handoffs and, of course, controlling field position with the kicking game. That’s why it’s called “football.” Look it up in your analytics books, professor.

Luckily for the Seahawks and fans of short games, the Cardinals are an inviting target for rushing attacks. Their run defense grades fourth-worst, and opponents are handing off against them at the league’s highest rate during neutral situations. Whether you and Russell Wilson like it or not, expect a slow and grinding offense on Sunday – with extra clouds of dust.

The Cardinals are off to a historic start, and not in a good way. Their 47.3 plays per game are the fewest recorded through three games since the league merged in 1970. They allow the third-most plays per game (70.3) and their contests still easily average the league’s fewest combined snaps. Arizona’s 0.19 points-per-play rate is roughly half of the 31st-place mark, and their 106.7-point full-season pace would qualify as the second-lowest since 1970. A lack of opportunity is crushing the few fantasy options the Cardinals have, and a significant turnaround is doubtful. Despite perpetually trailing, Arizona operates at the ninth-slowest pace, and won’t soon be picking it up after having just shoved first-round quarterback Josh Rosen onto the field looking for a game-winning drive. He couldn’t find one.

Cleveland Browns at Oakland Raiders

The Baker Mayfield era is upon us, finally. While this kindles fantasy hope among Cleveland’s pass-catchers, the Browns remain likely to skew run-heavy with their prized rookie under center. They hand off at the fifth highest situation-neutral rate (50.3 percent) and, this week, will face our 24th graded run defense. Mayfield may eventually need to chuck it around the Black Hole if game script turns negative, but expect a deliberate, ground-based approach while the scoreboard stays tight. Cleveland’s snaps and pace numbers are skewed by a Week 1 overtime game and Thursday night’s nearly full-game deficit. If Mayfield and the Browns’ improving defense – which has been better against the pass than the run – manage to hold them in more games, their pace rates should settle down.

The Raiders, on the other hand, are a slow-paced outfit by every measure. Their games average the sixth-fewest combined snaps. They hand off at the 12th-highest situation-neutral pace. Oakland has the third lowest point-per-snap rate – a result of an unholy combination of the second slowest snaps pace, the third highest time of possession, and the fifth lowest point total. They are playing a perverted version of keep-away, and allow their opponents only the second fewest snaps per game – but the Raiders don’t actually do anything with the ball. There are enough interesting names in this matchup to draw some contrarian fantasy attention, but it’s unlikely those plays are buoyed by robust play volume.

No-huddle notes

Rank Wk 3 No-Huddle % 2018 No-Huddle % Wk 3 Seconds/Snap 2018 Sec/Snap
1 Minnesota (29.2) Houston (26.7) Indianapolis (21.1) Indianapolis (24.6)
2 Philadelphia (28.6) Miami (20.7) Minnesota (22.4) Baltimore (25.0)
3 L.A. Rams (25.0) Detroit (19.5) Houston (23.7) Cleveland (25.5)
4 New England (23.4) L.A. Rams (19.1) Cleveland (25.0) Houston (25.5)
5 Miami (20.5) Arizona (16.9) Cincinnati (25.7) Minnesota (25.7)
  • It was great to see Carson Wentz back leading the Eagles offense, and even better that he is already playing well. He completed 80 percent of his pressured pass attempts for 88 yards and a touchdown (136.7 passer rating) and showed he hasn’t lost his excellent pocket mobility. Wentz also piloted the week’s second-most no-huddle-happy offense (28.6 percent), mostly using tempo prior to halftime. Their 28.6 percent rate topped each of their weekly marks from 2017. On Sunday, Wentz completed 7 of 11 attempts for 52 yards and a touchdown from the no-huddle, while handing off 10 times for 52 yards. While the Eagles clamped down in the second half and played ball control, it was interesting to see a heavy dose of tempo from Wentz in his first live snaps of 2018.
  • Entering Week 3, the Lions had a 49 percent home no-huddle rate and 9.6 percent away from Detroit – essentially mimicking last season’s split (47 percent home; 18 percent road). They could not have more violently bucked the trend on Sunday night, running only a single play from the hurry-up and producing their lowest no-huddle rate (1.4 percent) since skipping huddles on every Week 15 snap back in 2015. Detroit’s 33.6-seconds-per-snap rate was the third-slowest of the week and helped keep the Patriots offense on the sideline. New England ran only 47 plays, which was their lowest total since December 19th of 2010. Plodding along, even while running the no-huddle, is nothing new for the Lions. Now that they’ve tasted success this season, the snap-sucking strategy is likely to resurface.
  • Speaking of huddle-skipping, slow-moving offenses – the Dolphins are second in no-huddle rate. We doubted they’d deliver on their annual offseason promise to pick up the pace …and they haven’t. Despite rushing to the line, Miami’s seconds-per-snap pace ranks fourth-slowest and they are averaging a comical 51.7 plays per game. If not for the Cardinals, the Dolphins would be the butt of every snaps-pace aficionado’s jokes. (We really know how to party.)
    Whatever is going on in Miami, it is too soon to draw deep conclusions. Hell, they’re currently undefeated. The Dolphins have drawn an eclectic mix of opponents, and lightning caused their opener to last longer than the first two The Godfather movies combined. It was slightly less iconic. On Sunday, Miami beat the Raiders while running only 39 plays – the fifth time in the last 30 years a winning team had 39 or fewer snaps. We know Adam Gase snuck the Dolphins into the playoffs two years ago by trying to play ball control and, huddles or no huddles, he might be at it again.
  • We feared a pair of prominent no-huddle offenses were in danger of completely falling off the up-tempo radar this season, and it appears to be the case. The Giants and Panthers, two hurry-up stalwarts of recent seasons, have scrapped their no-huddle offenses almost completely. New York huddled on every Week 3 play against the Texans, and Carolina only skipped two despite playing at home.
    The Panthers home no-huddle rate began falling off last season (12.3 percent) after reaching 27.1 percent in 2016 and contributing to Cam Newton’s positive splits in Carolina. The hiring of Norv Turner squashed it. The Giants ranked first or second in no-huddle rate each of the last four seasons, often operating at one of the league’s fastest paces. Now, their seconds-per-snap rate ranks third slowest. Although we can hope, a home game with the high-flying Saints probably won’t entice New York to open the throttle for the first time this season.
  • The Vikings dabbled with tempo in Weeks 1 and 2 at a 7.9 percent clip, representative of last season’s 9.9 percent rate. That all changed when the Bills began blowing minds on Sunday. Minnesota wound up going to the hurry-up on a Week-3-high 29.2 percent of snaps while playing catch-up all afternoon. Kirk Cousins performed similarly whether he huddled or not, but using tempo did help the Vikings’ overmatched offensive line mute Buffalo’s pass rush. Cousins was under pressure on 42 percent of his no-huddle dropbacks, versus 51 percent after huddling.
    It wasn’t a huge difference in pressure rate, but for a passer who faced heat on more Week 3 dropbacks (32) than five other starting quarterbacks faced in all three of their games this season, any little bit counts. Cousins has performed worse against pressure, relative to in a clean pocket, than an average quarterback – and the Vikings offensive line is a glaring Achilles heel on an otherwise elite roster. If they do use more tempo to slow opponents’ pass-rushers, the side benefits could be interesting for play volume production.
  • Once again, the Cowboys offense was a horror show. At least this week they weren’t on right before bed. By now we’ve heard all the gory details about Dak Prescott and the inept attack he pilots, so let’s hear a bit of good news. After looking like something Tony Romo scraped off his shoe for most of the game, Dallas dabbled with the no-huddle in the second half. Prescott was 4-for-5 for 46 yards (9.2 average) from the hurry-up (105 passer rating), versus 16-for-29 (55 percent) for 153 yards (5.3-yard average), one touchdown and two interceptions after huddling (52.8 passer rating).
    Dallas also ran for 47 yards on three no-huddle carries. The largest benefit, however, was that the Seahawks’ pass rush was muted. Prescott was pressured on 17 percent of his no-huddle dropbacks, and 44 percent after huddling. His pressured passer rating (42.7) pales in comparison to when he has a clean pocket this season (89.9). While there is only a small sample of the Cowboys running the no-huddle – because, Cowboys – they are averaging more yards per no-huddle play (7.2) than on all other snaps (5.9). With the talent level of Dallas’ offense, we can only hope – but not hold our breath – that their coaches recognize the need to think outside the box.

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