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We want to know -- we need to know -- how defenses are being attacked.
Though it won’t translate perfectly from week to week, understanding which NFL defenses qualify as run funnels and which are pass funnels can and should change the way we create our daily fantasy lineups. Is a team’s stalwart run defense forcing opponents to the air at a remarkable rate? How about secondaries so dominant (or teams so bad) that opposing offenses are turning to the run more often than usual?
In this space, I’ll highlight which players may benefit from squaring off against a run funnel or pass funnel defense in a given week, along with run-back options on the opposing team.
Analyzing pass and run funnel defenses can often generate DFS stacking ideas, both team stacks and game stacks. I’ll highlight stacking plays -- for DFS tournament purposes -- where I see fit. I’ve found evaluating run and pass funnels is an excellent starting point for exploiting matchups and crafting correlated lineups. A tightly correlated DFS roster means you have to get less right, a welcoming prospect in a wildly difficult game.
I’m going to approach this column a little differently this week and going forward. Instead of painstaking deep dives citing a dozen metrics for every player, I’m going to profile matchups against the NFL’s three or four most extreme pass funnel and run funnel defenses, highlighting which players could benefit from their team leaning into the pass or the ground game. I hope that provides some more thought material for you, a DFS thought leader.
Lions (-2) vs. Vikings
Lions implied total: 27.5
Vikings implied total: 25
Another funnel column, another Lions write up. So it goes. This game will undoubtedly be a popular one to stack, and I’m not sure that should compel us to look elsewhere, especially if we’re making multiple Week 14 lineups. Last week a few major tournaments were taken down by folks stacking the popular Jaguars-Lions matchup. Sometimes our galaxy brains can cost us money.
Minnesota has been a pass funnel defense all season; they now sit as the fourth most extreme. Just last week, the run-first Jets were 3 percent over their expected pass rate against the Vikings as Mike White had 57 drop backs -- practically Flaccoesque.
Jared Goff is once again a low-cost tournament option who has run hot of late. Only three quarterbacks have more expected passing points than Goff over the past couple weeks. Amon-Ra St. Brown is a must-stack if you’re rolling with Goff since there is no scenario in which Goff goes off and St. Brown posts a dud. D.J. Chark, who led the Lions with 108 air yards (45 percent air yards share) and an average depth of targets of 18 in Week 13, should receive strong consideration as a stacking play with Goff and St. Brown. All it takes for Chark to hit is one downfield grab.
Then there’s D’Andre Swift, who in Week 13 ran a route on 51 percent of Detroit’s drop backs -- his highest rate since Week 8 -- and caught four of his six targets. It’s a good spot for the resurgent Swift. The Vikings have allowed 73 running back receptions, the sixth highest mark in the NFL. Hopefully Swift’s route participation rate bumps up a bit.
Justin Jefferson, of course, gets the nod as a high-ceiling play in a potential shootout. He’s viable both as a skinny stack option (one that does not use a QB) or alongside Kirk Cousins. Detroit, after all, allows the fifth highest rate of positive pass plays and the third highest drop back EPA. It might be best to use Jefferson by his lonesome. Cousins has struggled mightily against man coverage in 2022 and Detroit is top five in man coverage rate through Week 13.
T.J. Hockensen and all his volume-based appeal has my interest this week. Hock is second in expected receiving fantasy points over Minnesota’s past four games, and he leads all tight ends in pass routes and receptions (with a rock-bottom 1.11 yards per route run). He also happens to be (very) low in fantasy points over expected, suggesting a run at regression in the coming weeks. It could very well come against a Lions defense giving up the tenth most receptions to tight ends. Vikings tight ends in Week 4 against the Lions combined for six receptions and 80 yards on ten targets. Hockensen could be the contrarian run-back option with Goff and a couple of his pass catchers.
In this game, I lean toward a QB-less stack with Hockensen and Swift or St. Brown, or Jefferson with St. Brown or Swift.
Titans (-4) vs. Jaguars
Titans implied total: 22.5
Jaguars implied total: 18.5
Only the Cardinals are a more extreme pass funnel than the Titans. Last week we saw the Eagles -- who had been balanced or even run-first in recent weeks -- go ultra pass heavy against Tennessee before putting the game out of reach. The Titans are giving up the eighth highest EPA per drop back this season (while Jacksonville is seventh). Teams simply do not run the ball against a Titans defense with the league’s second lowest rush EPA allowed.
Trevor Lawrence, struggling through a toe injury that looked like a knee injury, should be forced to drop back early and often here. Christian Kirk, the team leader in air yards share and target share, is the best stacking option with Lawrence, though Zay Jones has some contrarian appeal after his nightmarish Week 13 as a chalky DFS option. Zay will still be out there running all the route in a game that could see heady play volume for the Jags.
Travis Etienne will be a decidedly unpopular DFS option this week after two straight flubs. He did, however, run a route on 70 percent of the team’s drop backs in Week 13 and caught all three of his targets. Against a Tennessee defense giving up the most catches to enemy backs this season, Etienne can (should?) be stacked with Lawrence and either Jones or Kirk.
Ryan Tannehill will go against a Jaguars defense that ranks fifth among pass funnels this year. The Jags have been bad -- real bad -- against the pass. Jacksonville gets zero pressure on the passer and has been consequently picked apart; only the Bears have allowed a higher drop back EPA than the Jags since Week 7. Jacksonville has allowed the tenth highest rate of positive pass plays. Treylon Burks would theoretically be in a blow-up spot if he’s able to suit up after his Week 13 brain injury. If he sits, I think Derrick Henry would be the only reasonable, volume-based run-back option if you’re stacking Jaguars.
Cardinals (+2) vs. Patriots
Patriots total: 23.25
Cardinals total: 21.25
I suppose this qualifies as DFS showdown analysis since the Cardinals and Patriots play on Monday night for some reason.
Arizona, as you know if you’ve faithfully read this column for the past three months, is the league’s most extreme pass funnel. Nearly every team goes pass-heavy against the Cardinals. It makes sense, as the Cards have given up the fifth lowest rate of positive rushing plays and the highest drop back success rate.
This should set up well for Mac Jones, Hunter Henry, and Jakobi Meyers. Henry has seen his route rate jump in recent weeks and Meyers leads the Patriots in target share and air yards share. New England’s offense humiliating itself before a national audience in Week 13 against Buffalo should -- I would think -- keep rosterships near rock bottom for all three of these guys.
Throw in Rhamondre Stevenson alongside Jones and Henry or Meyers and you could get very weird in an exploitable spot. Stevenson has a mind-blowing 25 percent target share since Week 9; he’s the rare Pats running back who gets all the early-down work and all the pass-catching opportunities. And there’s this: Arizona has allowed the eighth most running backs receptions in 2022.
New England is the tenth most extreme run funnel defense, setting up James Conner for a potentially massive workload in Week 14. Conner has seen 72 percent of the team’s rushes since Week 10. He’s positioned as a natural run-back option alongside a Patriots stack.
Cowboys (-17.5) vs. Texans
Cowboys implied total: 30.75
Texans implied total: 13.25
If you’re a right-thinking, well adjusted human being, you’ll consider Cowboys mega-stacks in Week 13 DFS tournaments. Some are saying Dak Prescott and his running backs and pass catchers could “pop off” against a Texans defense that’s barely there. This is the mindset of a sheep, a lemming, a half sheep-half lemming. A shemming.
I’m burying this at the bottom of this article in hopes no one will see it: Consider -- in the largest field DFS contests -- getting extremely weird with some Houston exposure. You could work it a couple different ways. The first involves a catastrophic failure on the part of the Cowboys offense that would allow the Texans to do that thing where they run it at every opportunity (successful tournament lineups often assume failure for the chalkiest offenses with the highest implied totals). That would put Dameon Pierce in play as a volume-based option against a Dallas run defense that has been atrocious through much of the season. The Cowboys have given up the 12th highest rate of long rushes and the 11th highest EPA per rush. They are the second most extreme run funnel defense, behind only the Texans.
The second way to incorporate a life-threatening amount of galaxy brain lineup building is to use Davis Mills and either Chris Moore or Phillip Dorsett alongside some high-priced Dallas players. This concedes a Cowboys blowout win and assumes Mills and a Houston receiver can get there with two or three quarters of pure, unadulterated garbage time.
Neither Nico Collins nor Brandin Cooks are expected to suit up against Dallas, opening up all the routes and targets and air yards for Dorsett and Moore (and TE Jordan Akins, I guess). Last week against the Browns, Dorsett led the team in pass routes and Moore was the team’s primary slot guy. You’re going to be horribly wrong or wonderfully right all by your lonesome if you’re brave enough to toy with a Houston stack in Week 14.
Notably, the Texans are now 11th in pass rate over expected, with the league’s seventh highest PROE on first downs. When they were humiliated by the Dolphins in Week 12, the Texans were 7 percent over their expected pass rate. It makes you think.