Enjoy rooting for the underdog? If you took the opportunity to watch some Week 10 action, seven ‘dogs pushed the Vegas money aside to claim a tie or victory last week. You read that correctly, half of the games played last week flipped the moneyline. Over the last two weeks, 46.4% of the games were taken by the longshots. What in the name of Taysom Hill is going on around here? It’s not rushing production. Rushing TD rate and YPC are both up over the last two weeks, compared to the previous eight. If it’s not the ground games, then we know we should be looking at the passing numbers. And that takes us directly to the culprit.
Over the last two weeks, league-wide passing YPA has declined from 7.4 the first eight weeks to 6.9, passer rating from 94.1 to 86.7, and TD rate from 4.74% to 3.74%. The passing TD rate took a cliff dive at a 21% clip. Looking further, the TD-to-INT ratio from the first eight games dropped from 2.14-to-1 down to 1.5-to-1, a 29.8% free fall. A decline in league-wide QB efficiency clearly plays to the benefit of teams without elite signal callers. In fact, the average scoring differential from 2020 to this season (-1.6 PPG) is tied with the decline between the 1969 and 1970 seasons for the most significant decrease in NFL history — since 1922. While significant, keep in mind that the average scoring last season (24.8 PPG) is the highest in league history. And that the average scoring this season (23.2) is the league’s fifth-highest ever. However, we can plainly see that the recent rule alterations toward protecting player’s health are no longer handicapping defenses, as widely believed.
We know rushing efficiency is fine, scoring is down to pre-’20 levels, and that overall passing efficiency has taken a dive. You might be wondering, what exactly is going on with the passing games? In last week’s column, it was reported that a 15.7% decline in throws of 20-or-more yards compared to the first seven weeks had been registered. And that drop in number was accompanied by an 11.7% drop in YPA, 10.4% in completion rate, 25.9% decline in TDs thrown per INT, 32% decrease in TD rate, and 14.7% dip in passer rating. Those numbers did not improve in Week 10. To the extent that the average passer rating (67.9) and TD-to-INT rate (0.75-to-1) on throws of 20-or-more yards declined to season lows. You can see the results for yourself in the chart below:
The highlight of Week 5 was an explosion on deep passing with the highest attempt rate of the season (13.43%), and resulting in a season-high of 18 TDs. Dak Prescott, Josh Allen, Justin Herbert, Ben Roethlisberger, Jameis Winston, and Davis Mills each threw for two TDs on 20-plus throws that week. Over the last three weeks combined, 20 TDs have been collected on deep throws. And, as is depressingly depicted by the chart above, the deep passing decline has been on a downward slope for five straight weeks. Assuming the trend continues, in order to take home the top prize in large-field GPPs, there is zero room for error at QB, WR, and TE. Without the ability to count on the most explosive playmakers doing what they do best, we are left with an overreliance on our QBs doing the most damage with their legs, and volume-based results from our receivers. As for the RBs within an assumed air-depression continuance, we should be able to proceed as normal with league averages in our favor.
You’ll see a number of coverage metrics throughout this series. The following chart provides the full names for the acronyms and the average numbers for each position group through Week 10:
To magnify their importance toward processing the matchup data, familiarity with these abbreviations is key. The full names of the data points in the headers of the data table above will not be written out in full within the specific matchups. You’ll find the following acronyms frequently used whenever referencing defensive coverage statistics:
Yards Allowed Per Coverage Snap = YPCS
Fantasy Points Allowed Per Coverage Snap = FP/CS
Air Yards Allowed Per Coverage Snap = AY/CS
Targeted Passer Rating (i.e., Passer Rating on Targets into Coverage) = TPR
Offensive abbreviations used when referring to QBs/RBs/WRs/TEs:
FPs/Dropback = FP/Db
FPs/Route = FP/Rt
FPs/Touch = FP/Tch
Yards/Route Run = YPRR
Air Yards/Target = AY/Tgt
Yards/Target = YPT
Targeted Passer Rating (i.e., QB Passer Rating When Targeting Receiver) = TPR
If you’d like to learn more about/refresh yourself with each of the defensive coverage shells and other relevant schematic details mentioned throughout this series, utilize the following resources:
Fantasy Shells: Coverage Glossary
Fantasy Shells: Cover 1
Fantasy Shells: Cover 2
Fantasy Shells: Cover 3
Fantasy Shells: Cover 4
One particular alteration of note: now that we are 10 games into the season, the offensive success vs. coverage data utilized will now only date back to Week 1 of the 2019 season — playoffs included, as always. While that is obviously under three years worth of information, I will still refer to the period of time as “the last three years.”
*36-46 (44%); 2-11 in Week 10 😧>😳>😩>😰>🤮
New England Patriots (-6.5) at Atlanta Falcons
Tennessee Titans (-10.0) vs. Houston Texans
Chicago Bears (+6.0) vs. Baltimore Ravens
Green Bay Packers (-2.5) at Minnesota Vikings
San Francisco 49ers (-6.0) at Jacksonville Jaguars
Cleveland Browns (-10.0) vs. Detroit Lions
Carolina Panthers (-3.5) vs. Washington Football Team
New York Jets (+3.5) vs. Miami Dolphins
Las Vegas Raiders (+1.0) vs. Cincinnati Bengals
Dallas Cowboys (+2.5) at Kansas City Chiefs
Arizona Cardinals (-2.5) at Seattle Seahawks
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-11.0) vs. New York Giants
*30-34 (47%); 7-3 in Week 10
New England Patriots at Atlanta Falcons (Under 47.0)
Indianapolis Colts at Buffalo Bills (Over 50.5)
Houston Texans at Tennessee Titans (Under 44.5)
Baltimore Ravens at Chicago Bears (Over 45.5)
Green Bay Packers at Minnesota Vikings (Under 49.0)
San Francisco 49ers at Jacksonville Jaguars (Under 45.0)
Washington Football Team at Carolina Panthers (Over 43.0)
Miami Dolphins at New York Jets (Over 45.0)
Cincinnati Bengals at Las Vegas Raiders (Over 49.5)
Dallas Cowboys at Kansas City Chiefs (Under 56.5)
Arizona Cardinals at Seattle Seahawks (Over 48.5)
Pittsburgh Steelers at Los Angeles Chargers (Under 47.0)
*50-31 (62%); 4-9 in Week 10
New England Patriots (-280) at Atlanta Falcons
Tennessee Titans (-450) vs. Houston Texans
Chicago Bears (+205) vs. Baltimore Ravens
Green Bay Packers (-130) at Minnesota Vikings
San Francisco 49ers (-250) at Jacksonville Jaguars
Cleveland Browns (-435) vs. Detroit Lions
Carolina Panthers (-180) vs. Washington Football Team
New York Jets (+155) vs. Miami Dolphins
Las Vegas Raiders (+100) vs. Cincinnati Bengals
Dallas Cowboys (+120) at Kansas City Chiefs
Arizona Cardinals (-125) at Seattle Seahawks
Los Angeles Chargers (-255) vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-550) vs. New York Giants
Matchups to Target
Pat Freiermuth, PIT ($4.2K DK | $5.2K FD) vs. Kyzir White, LAC
With a target share of at least 18% in four straight games, Pat Freiermuth has cemented his status as the present and future at TE for the Steelers, and as a weekly DFS consideration. Freiermuth had comfortably provided profit over his floor before dealing with rain-sogged conditions in Pittsburgh in Week 10. The Chargers have yet to figure out a way to slow down opposing TEs. They are permitting the fifth-most FPG to the position (16.6). Both of these teams are hanging onto their playoff lives, but the Steelers badly need the victory here to avoid looking ahead to 2022 preparation before the season has even concluded.
Final notes on Pittsburgh
The Steelers really didn’t suffer without Ben Roethlisberger ($5.3K/$6.6K) last week. First of all, Mason Rudolph ($4.8K/$6.3K) was provided with little prep time with knowledge he’d be thrust into the starting lineup. Second, the weather put a quality cap on both passing offenses. Third, Rudolph did not have the luxury of Pittsburgh’s most athletic wideout with Chase Claypool ($5.9K/$6.2K) inactive. Rudolph will have all three of those handicaps eliminated in Week 11 if Big Ben is unable to take the field. And Rudolph has been quite the Cover 6 monster during his career. LAC is using Cover 6 at the fifth-highest rate this season. Najee Harris ($8.4K/$8.7K) is most definitely not disappointing during his rookie season. He is the likely front runner for the Offensive Rookie of the Year. But he has fallen short of value in three consecutive games. Even with the Chargers delivering the seventh-most FPG to RBs (27.3), I will not be paying out those premium dollars on Najee this week. Diontae Johnson ($6.5K/$7.0K) is worth his pricing on a weekly basis. That said, it will be interesting to see how Chase Claypool is targeted by Rudolph if Roethlisberger is out and Claypool is active, of course. It’s almost storybook verbiage that Rudolph found James Washington ($4.1K/$5.2K) for his scoring strike last week. Just do not count on lighting striking twice for Ray-Ray McLoud III ($3.7K/$5.4K) this week.
Final notes on Los Angeles
Teams invested in analytic trust are taking advantage of Justin Herbert’s ($6.7K/$7.7K) issues with man coverage. He’s been assaulted with high rates of Cover 1 in three of his last four games. However, the Steelers have not shown us anything this season that would indicate they’d be prepared to flip their schematic rotation to Cover 1 to defend Herbert. I’d consider it a near-100% likelihood that Pittsburgh will maintain their current shell devotion.
As obvious as recommending Keenan Allen ($6.9K/$7.1K) might seem, the numbers left me with no choice in the decision. Pittsburgh has dedicated just under 70% of their defensive snaps between Cover 3 and 2. The 3 is listed ahead of the 2 since the Steelers have recently taken their Cover 3 devotion to cult-like levels. They put a three-high on the field in Week 10 on nearly 75% of their plays. With a soft promise of Cover 2 looks, Mike Williams ($6.2K/$6.5K) would get to involve himself in a bit of the fun. But Pittsburgh devoting all of their resources to Cover 3 places a solar spotlight on Allen. Jalen Guyton ($3.1K/$4.7K) is still lingering just ahead of Josh Palmer ($3.0K/$4.9K) in the pecking order. However, we can be guaranteed the staff is focusing all of their attention on putting a stop to a skid that has seen them lose three out of their last four games rather than making slight adjustments in favor of a rookie wideout. To be continued at a later date.
An adjustment was made to keep Jared Cook ($3.0K/$5.0K) on the field at three times the rate of Donald Parham ($2.8K/$4.6K). Cook simply chose to sign with the wrong QB as one of the most efficient Cover 1 TEs in the NFL. Like Harris, Austin Ekeler ($7.9K/$8.2K) has failed to hit value during the last two weeks. I do not have the supporting data in hand, but I do believe Ekeler has been a primetime baller in recent seasons. This could be a sneaky spot for him to get right.
Matchups to Target
Kadarius Toney, NYG ($5.0K DK | $5.5K FD) vs. Ross Cockrell, TB
I’m calling for a 100% guarantee on Tampa Bay taking the victory on Monday Night Football. The GOAT does not lose back-to-back games. It’s science. And he is going to build an early lead in Raymond James Stadium. A negative game script is something the Giants only dealt with for one minute and 38 seconds in Week 9. A game where they handed the ball off on 61% of snaps and devoted all of 6% of their 20 targets to Kadarius Toney. It was a spot against the league’s highest rate of Cover 3 that should’ve allowed Toney to go nuclear.
Not to worry. Tampa Bay is featuring cover 2 at the fourth-highest rate and Cover 3 at the 12th-highest. Fueling the Toney fire, the Bucs used Cover 3 on just under 50% of snaps last week. If Toney’s rookie numbers qualified, his 0.68 FP/Rt would rank second-best against Cover 3. He’s also adding 4.05 YPRR (the top number, if qualified), 12.5 YPT (seventh-best), and drawing 33% of the targets (second) when facing Cover 3. On 28% of rookie routes, Toney has furnished 39% of his receptions, and 46% of his yardage.
Leonard Fournette, TB ($6.3K DK | $7.3K FD) vs. Giants’ Cover 3 | 4
On the slates where he’s available, Leonard Fournette is my RB1 value of Week 11. The floodwaters have breached the perimeter defenses of New York’s run defense. Opponents are having their way with the G-men on the ground at all three levels. They are allowing 28.2 FPG to opposing RBs (fifth-most) on the season. And 13.9 of those FPG are being provided through the air (sixth-most). That’s significant for Lenny since he’s already collecting 7.4 pure receiving FPG this season (10th-most). I simply cannot get my fill of his RB16/RB13 pricing in this spot.
Final notes on New York
We don’t need Daniel Jones ($5.3K/$6.9K) to explode in order for our Toney exposure to hit. If that were a prerequisite, we’d be in trouble. Danny Dimes has seven TDs vs. 15 INTs against Cover 2 and 3 combined during his career. And his FP/Db numbers both rank him at 32nd among qualified QBs. Saquon Barkley ($6.7K/$7.0K) should just take another game off to heal up. The Bucs’ defense is not playing games with opposing RBs. And New York is already staring at 7% odds to capture a playoff spot. I’ll fall beside myself in laughter if Devontae Booker ($5.4K/$6.3K) sits this game out due to a bruised hip. Booker can begin the countdown now on the number of game starts he will see over the remainder of his career. Sterling Shepard ($5.2K/$6.1K) appears to be climbing the wrong side of Active mountain. So the Giants will once again feature Toney, Kenny Golladay ($5.1K/$5.8K), and Darius Slayton ($4.8K/$5.4K) with as many reps as they can manage. Don’t look now… or, maybe you should look now since Evan Engram ($3.7K/$5.3K) has scored in back-to-back games. His long stroll down Mediocre boulevard chipped away at his pricing enough that he’s still a value after his recent success.
Final notes on Tampa Bay
It’s the GOAT. The screaming chewer of the chud accomplishes what only the spouse of a Bündchen can under the transcendental meditation lifestyle. He takes his losses in stride, always seeming to come out on the other side all-the-better from the experience. This is a spot where we can count on Tom Brady ($7.3K/$8.0K) coming out focused, hungry. A scary sight for his opponents. I’m calling for TB12 feeding bounce-back games for both Mike Evans ($7.0K/$7.4K) and Chris Godwin ($6.7K/$7.6K).
Since it appears that neither Antonio Brown ($6.0K/$7.5K) or Scotty Miller ($3.0K/$4.8K) will be able to take the field, Tyler Johnson ($3.4K/$5.1K) had better watch his back after Jaelon Darden ($3.0K/$4.7K) appeared to be the quicker, faster, and better prepared of the two last week. It seems as though Rob Gronkowski ($4.3K/$6.0K) hasn’t played a full complement of reps since last season. The devotee to Brady’s insanely-restricted diet needs to put some Gronkage on tape this week. The opportunities for O.J. Howard ($2.8K/$4.5K) and Cameron Brate ($3.2K/$4.8K) will evaporate now that Gronkowski has been practicing in full.