Action Network senior editor Bryan Mears introduced a funnel defense metric in 2017, which helps identify potential value spots in which units can outperform expectations.
Let’s start with a brief explanation and then examine how to leverage that data in Week 3 of the NFL season.
Funnel Defense Explained
Funnel defenses are either successful at defending the run or the pass, but not both. In essence, the top funnel defenses will “funnel” the opposition towards its statistical weakness.
These are not defenses that are overwhelmingly strong or weak overall as a team. Rather, they are exceptionally strong or weak at one defensive aspect. In 2018, the Houston Texans were very strong against the run but poor against the pass. The Denver Broncos? The exact opposite.
Using data to quantify the weekly strength of a defensive funnel is multi-dimensional. We consider the following factors:
- How effective is a defense against the running game and passing game? We employ Football Outsiders’ DVOA to measure this.
- What is the difference between DVOA production defending the run versus the pass? The larger the differential, the higher the probability of a funnel.
- What are the typical run/pass splits for the offense?
There are other factors you could consider, like defensive run/pass ratio, but those are less predictive. For this piece, we’ll use the three data points listed above.
Last week, we correctly identified Philadelphia-Atlanta as an ideal pass funnel game. Both teams ran for fewer than 58 yards, with Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan totaling 320 passing yards and three touchdowns. While the Eagles lost wide receivers Alshon Jeffery and DeSean Jackson early in the game due to injuries, quarterback Carson Wentz was still able to help Nelson Agholor crest 100 receiving yards, joining Falcons receivers Julio Jones (106 yards) and Calvin Ridley (105 yards).
Let’s take a look at the top funnel games for Week 3.
Potential Pass Funnels
New York Giants at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The last time we saw the New York Giants on the road, they were allowing 405 passing yards and four touchdowns to Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott. We could potentially see more of the same this week when the Giants head to Tampa Bay to face Bruce Arians’ pass-heavy offense. This projects as the strongest pass funnel game, with the Giants having the third-highest pass funnel rating and the Buccaneers ranking as the sixth-highest pass funnel team.
The Giants rank 30th in total defense DVOA and 31st in pass defense DVOA. The Buccaneers have suffered through poor quarterback play from Jameis Winston (201 passing yards per game, two touchdowns, three interceptions) and poor production from wide receiver Mike Evans (six receptions, 89 total yards) and tight end O.J. Howard (four receptions, 32 total yards). This week should provide Howard his best opportunity to get back on track against a Giants team that allowed 81 receptions, 959 receiving yards and six touchdowns last season to opposing tight ends.
The 48-point over/under is the third-highest on the Week 3 slate, indicating both teams will have scoring success.
The Giants running game will be challenged by a Tampa Bay run defense that ranks first overall in run defense DVOA through two games. While a pass-heavy game script could be suboptimal in rookie quarterback Daniel Jones’ first start, the Giants will need to score points to stay competitive at Tampa Bay. Jones could get enough volume to be viable in fantasy, and New York tight end Evan Engram (17 receptions, 164 receiving yards, one touchdown) should be the primary beneficiary.
Best Fantasy Plays: Evans, Godwin, Winston, Howard (Tampa Bay); Engram, Jones (New York)
Atlanta Falcons at Indianapolis Colts
The second-highest pass funnel game for Week 2 features Atlanta at Indianapolis. The Falcons’ offensive numbers have been greatly skewed by their poor Week 1 showing at Minnesota. In his career, Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan has been at his best in dome games.
Throughout his career, 26 of Matt Ryan’s 37 highest-scoring fantasy games (70%) have come in a dome. Last year he averaged 23.8 fantasy points per game in a dome but only 20.1 fantasy points per game when outdoors. https://t.co/06bLRchaD1
— Scott Barrett (@ScottBarrettDFB) April 18, 2019
New offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter has already skewed pass-heavy, with the Falcons ranking 27th among all teams with only 34 rushing attempts through two games. Lead running back Devonta Freeman is off to a miserable start, averaging just 2.2 yards per carry. In two career games against Indianapolis, Ryan is averaging 277.5 passing yards, three passing touchdowns and 25.2 fantasy points per game.
The Colts offense has been surprisingly efficient under quarterback Jacoby Brissett. Indianapolis ranks fourth and ninth, respectively, in run and pass offense DVOA. Despite starting the season with two difficult road games (at Chargers and at Titans), Brissett has thrown five touchdowns and just one interception.
Indianapolis wide receiver T.Y. Hilton has been prolific at home regardless of his quarterback. He has shined in his 48 home games since 2013, including 14 games with Brissett under center.
The Colts also feature wide receiver speed with rookie wideout Parris Campbell (4.31-second 40-yard dash) and second-year Clemson product Deon Cain (4.43-second 40-yard dash).
The Colts also feature efficient tight end Eric Ebron, who led the position with 14 total touchdowns in 2018, and reliable veteran Jack Doyle. Indianapolis has a ton of weapons who are even more dangerous at home.
An over/under of 47 points indicates a shootout, and the controlled dome environment will favor the speedy playmakers for both teams. Look for Atlanta’s anemic running game to trigger a pass-heavy script that the Colts will be happy to match at home in Lucas Oil Stadium.
Best Fantasy Plays: Ryan, J. Jones, Ridley, Hooper (Atlanta); Hilton, Ebron, Brissett (Indianapolis)
Detroit Lions at Philadelphia Eagles
This game features two of the top-10 teams in Week 3 pass offense DVOA.
Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford has averaged 315 passing yards and 2.5 touchdowns per game with a 65.3% completion percentage. While dealing with injuries to several receivers, Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz has still managed to post averages of 272 passing yards, two touchdowns and a 64.6% completion percentage.
The Eagles have been stout against the run, ranking second-best in run defense DVOA, which should limit the Lions’ run-heavy preference. In their Week 1 tie at Arizona, Detroit failed to have a running back reach 50 rushing yards despite facing one of the league’s worst run defenses. In this road game at Philadelphia, Stafford will need to lean on his strong receiving group of Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones, Danny Amendola and rookie tight end T.J. Hockenson.
The Eagles enter this game with a limited receiving unit but still feature top tight end Zach Ertz and wide receiver Nelson Agholor, who totaled 11 targets, eight receptions, 107 receiving yards and one touchdown in Week 2.
Philadelphia will also try to attack the Detroit defense through the air with pass-catching running backs Miles Sanders and Darren Sproles. The Lions have allowed the fifth-most receptions and fourth-most receiving yards to opposing running backs through two weeks.
The 46.5 over/under is still fairly high, and the staunch Philadelphia defense will force the conservative Lions to attack through the air. Ignore the injuries and run-heavy Detroit narrative; this game could be surprisingly pass-heavy.
Best Fantasy Plays: Ertz, Wentz, Agholor, Sanders, Sproles (Philadelphia); Golladay, Stafford, Jones, Hockenson (Detroit)
Other games to consider…
Pittsburgh Steelers at San Francisco 49ers: Pittsburgh projects as the highest pass funnel team against a San Francisco squad that ranks seventh in run defense DVOA. With running back James Conner dealing with a knee injury, quarterback Mason Rudolph could find himself in a similar situation to New York’s Daniel Jones.
Minnesota Vikings vs. Oakland Raiders: With Oakland ranking fourth in run defense DVOA, Minnesota could potentially attack the Raiders’ 27th-ranked pass defense, which is now without rookie safety Johnathan Abram. The Vikings have the highest run percentage (60%) of any NFL team this season but have elite weapons in wide receivers Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen. Will this be the week quarterback Kirk Cousins breaks into the top-12 fantasy quarterback rankings?
Potential Run Funnels
Los Angeles Rams at Cleveland Browns
The highest projected Week 3 run funnel game total surprisingly belongs to the Rams at the Browns. The Browns carry the third-highest run funnel rating this week while the Rams rank eighth.
The key to this run funnel is the difference in home/road splits for Los Angeles quarterback Jared Goff.
Cleveland’s pass defense sits eighth-best through the first two games, led by superior play from rookie Greedy Williams.
#Browns Greedy Williams is off to a strong start in his rookie year. His Defensive and Coverage grades from last week (86.2 / 87.5) ranked him 3rd among 100 qualifying CBs.
Through 2 wks, he leads all rookie CBs in Defensive, Coverage, Run Defense, and Tackling grades.
— PFF CLE Browns (@PFF_Browns) September 18, 2019
The Browns rank just 20th defending the run, so look for a heavy dose of Rams running backs Todd Gurley and Malcolm Brown.
The Rams pass defense has been even more efficient than Cleveland’s. Under the guidance of defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, Los Angeles ranks fourth against the pass with star cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters.
The Browns passing game has struggled this season, as quarterback Baker Mayfield ranks only 11th in passing attempts and has thrown just two touchdowns. Cleveland also lost starting tight end David Njoku to a concussion and wrist injury in Week 2.
This game has the second-highest over/under at 49 points, and it’s possible both teams could rely on the running game to advance the ball. Look for the running backs from both teams to shine, led by Gurley and Cleveland’s Nick Chubb.
Best Fantasy Plays: Gurley, Brown (Los Angeles); Chubb (Cleveland)
Other games to consider…
Chicago Bears at Washington Redskins: The Bears have the second-highest run funnel ranking in Week 3. Chicago could unleash rookie David Montgomery, veteran Mike Davis and satellite back Tarik Cohen against a Washington team that ranks fourth-worst against the run. The Redskins are also poor against the pass, but the Bears could try to limit quarterback Mitchell Trubisky’s attempts given his turnover issues. Look for the Chicago three-headed monster to receive significant volume.
Buffalo Bills vs. Cincinnati Bengals: The Bills may be without electric rookie running back Devin Singletary, leaving 36-year-old Frank Gore and T.J. Yeldon to feast on a Cincinnati defense that ranks second-worst in run defense DVOA. Buffalo was dominant on the ground at home last season, averaging 124.6 rushing yards and 1.4 rushing touchdowns at New Era Field. The Bills have the fourth-highest run offense funnel rating this week.
Pictured: Julio Jones
Photo credit: USAToday Sports