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 4 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 to consider such as defensive run/pass ratio, but those are less predictive. For this piece, we’ll use the three data points listed above.
In Week 5, we correctly identified the Atlanta Falcons at the Houston Texans as an ideal pass funnel game. That game produced the overall QB1 (Deshaun Watson), QB2 (Matt Ryan), WR1 (Will Fuller), and WR14 (Calvin Ridley) in a 53-32 Texans win.
We are now six full weeks into the 2019 season, meaning that all data is now solely based on this year’s results.
Let’s take a look at the top funnel games for Week 7.
Potential Pass Funnels
Los Angeles Rams at Atlanta Falcons
Our top pass funnel game for Week 7 features two teams desperate for a win. Both the Rams (85.3) and Falcons (79.7) profile for high pass volume opportunities.
The Rams have lost three games in a row while struggling on offense. In their 20-7 Week 6 home loss to San Francisco, quarterback Jared Goff threw for a career-low 78 passing yards. Los Angeles has lost three games in a row for the first time under head coach Sean McVay.
LA still has the offensive firepower to score points, as illustrated by Goff’s 517 passing yards against Tampa Bay in Week 4. The Rams also bring one of the most explosive wide receiving groups in the league with Brandin Cooks, Robert Woods, and Cooper Kupp. Kupp currently ranks Top 3 in targets (69), receptions (45), and PPR fantasy points per game (20.3).
The Rams would also be wise to target tight end Gerald Everett against a Falcons team that has allowed three touchdowns to opposing tight ends since Keanu Neal’s (Achilles) injury. Despite their recent losing streak, the Rams are fortunate to face a Falcons defense that has been the cure-all for any struggling offense.
The Falcons struggle to put pressure on the quarterback, currently tied with Miami for the fewest sacks (five) among all teams. They have allowed the second-most fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks and wide receivers, having really struggled after losing Neal for the season. They also do not currently have a cornerback ranked in the Top 50 in pass coverage at Pro Football Focus.
They will also likely also be without top cornerback Desmond Trufant, who is still recovering from a toe injury.
The Falcons are even more desperate for a win, having lost four consecutive games. Atlanta must score points each week to compensate for their porous defense.
Quarterback Matt Ryan ranks second with 335.2 passing yards per game and first overall with 15 passing touchdowns. Besides explosive wide receivers Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley, the Falcons also feature the current top tight end in the NFL in Austin Hooper.
Hooper leads the position in receptions (42) and PPR fantasy points per game (18.1).
The 54.5-point over/under is the highest on the Week 7 slate and combines two explosive offenses with short-handed and inefficient defenses. Both teams should lean heavily on their passing games as the most efficient way of generating points in this likely shootout.
Best Fantasy Plays: Goff, Kupp, Woods, Cooks, Everett (Rams); Ryan, J. Jones, Ridley, Hooper (Falcons)
Arizona Cardinals at New York Giants
This game features the fourth-highest pass funnel rated New York Giants hosting our sixth-highest rated Arizona Cardinals.
The Giants offense should be bolstered by the returns of running back Saquon Barkley and tight end Evan Engram. Both players should find success against an Arizona defense that ranks 30th in overall DVOA. The Cardinals have been particularly poor against both positions, allowing the second-most fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks and most fantasy points to opposing tight ends.
Giants quarterback Daniel Jones should also be able to generate yards on the ground, as only the Cincinnati Bengals have allowed more rushing yards to opposing signal-callers.
The Cardinals offense also has a juicy matchup against a Giants team that is 28th in pass defense DVOA. Quarterback Kyler Murray has improved every week and notched consecutive Top 5 fantasy quarterback performances.
Arizona’s wide receiving core should be back to full strength with the return of Christian Kirk. Before the injury, Kirk ranked third among all wide receivers in targets. New York allows the third-most points to opposing fantasy wide receivers.
Both the Giants (eighth) and Cardinals (first) play at an extremely quick pace, which combines with the second-highest over/under of 50.5 points to provide confidence in a high-scoring battle.
The Giants decent run defense combined with an injury to Arizona lead running back David Johnson makes an Arizona pass-heavy game script the optimal efficiency game plan.
Look for the Cardinals and Giants to provide a fast-paced, high-scoring, pass-heavy game with plenty of fantasy production for both offenses.
Best Fantasy Plays: Murray, Fitzgerald, Kirk (Cardinals); D. Jones, Barkley, Engram, Tate (Giants)
Potential Run Funnels
Baltimore Ravens at Seattle Seahawks
The highest projected Week 7 run funnel game projects as the Ravens vs. the Seahawks. Baltimore carries the third-highest run funnel rating (68.9) while the Seahawks (60.6) rank seventh this week.
Seattle running back Chris Carson had a monster game in Week 6, totaling 124 rushing yards and a touchdown. Carson is currently fifth among all running backs with 505 rushing yards.
This week’s signing of cornerback Marcus Peters pairs two of the NFL’s top cornerbacks, which should limit the Seahawks top receivers. Last week, cornerback Marlon Humphrey held Cincinnati’s Tyler Boyd to just three receptions and ten receiving yards.
Seattle is averaging 130.5 rushing yards per game, ranking ninth-best among all teams. Meanwhile, Baltimore is the most dominant rushing team in the league, averaging over 200 yards on the ground per game.
The Seahawks will not only have to contend with running back Mark Ingram (10th in rushing yards) but also quarterback Lamar Jackson who ranks first among all quarterbacks with 76.7 rushing yards per game. Seattle’s 21st ranked run defense will face their toughest challenge of the season.
This game presents a run-heavy script in two very different ways. Baltimore will want to run and should face little resistance from Seattle’s defense. The Seahawks are much more efficient with the pass (first in pass offense DVOA) but will likely face resistance from an improved Ravens secondary.
Look for both the Ravens and Seahawks to attempt to dominate time of possession in our strongest run funnel Week 7 game.
Best Fantasy Plays: L. Jackson, Ingram (Baltimore); Carson (Seattle)
Other games to consider
San Francisco at Washington Redskins: Expect a heavy dose of Tevin Coleman and Matt Breida for San Francisco against the 20th ranked run defense DVOA. Both backs benefit a San Francisco offensive line that ranks second in adjusted line yards and fifth in team yards per carry. The 49ers rank only behind the Ravens in rushing yards per game.
The last time the Redskins faced an opponent that even approaches the 49ers run efficiency, they allowed 6.3 yards per carry to Dallas in Week 2. With a league-high 56% run rate, San Francisco will likely skew run-heavy and attack the biggest mismatch against the Washington defense.
Pictured above: Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2)
Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports