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 2 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 Detroit-Arizona as an ideal pass funnel game. Both teams passed for over 300 yards, with three total receivers eclipsing 100 receiving yards.
Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford finished with the third-most passing yards (385) of any Week 1 quarterback, and Arizona rookie quarterback Kyler Murray ranked 11th (308 yards) despite a sluggish beginning to his first ever NFL start. Neither team produced a 100-yard rusher, with the run-heavy Lions failing to have a running back total even 50 yards.
Let’s take a look at the top funnel games for Week 2.
Potential Pass Funnels
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Carolina Panthers
All signs point to a big Thursday night shootout between two teams looking to rebound from Week 1 losses. The Buccaneers project as the seventh-strongest pass funnel team in Week 2, while the Panthers rank ninth.
Tampa Bay’s offense will get a boost with the return of wide receiver Mike Evans (flu) to full strength. Quarterback Jameis Winston still has superior offensive weapons in Evans, wide receiver Chris Godwin and tight end O.J. Howard. Running back Ronald Jones (75 rushing yards, 5.8 YPC last week) should also find opportunities against a Panthers defense that allowed 166 rushing yards and 5.2 YPC in Week 1 to the Rams.
I expect Carolina quarterback Cam Newton to rebound from his two turnover, zero touchdown Week 1 performance. Wide receivers D.J. Moore and Curtis Samuel bring speed and big-play ability against a Buccaneers defense that ranked 30th in pass defense DVOA last season.
This game features a 49.5 over/under. In the past four Week 2 Thursday night games, the total has exceeded 55 points three times. The 2016 game between the Jets and Bills finished with a total of 68 points.
The Panthers ranked second in offensive pace in Week 1 and should start quickly. Christian McCaffrey (10 receptions on 11 targets for 81 yards last week) is in line for another huge performance and will serve as a key weapon in the Panthers’ passing attack. Tampa Bay head coach Bruce Arians will welcome the need to put up points in this high-scoring Thursday night NFC South battle.
Best Fantasy Plays: Newton, McCaffrey, Moore, Samuel (Carolina); Winston, Evans, Godwin, Howard (Tampa Bay)
Los Angeles Chargers at Detroit Lions
The Chargers have the fifth-largest pass/run funnel differential in Week 2. Los Angeles scored 30 points in its Week 1 overtime win over Indianapolis behind 333 passing yards from quarterback Philip Rivers. Running back Austin Ekeler and wide receiver Keenan Allen combined for 17 targets, 14 receptions, 219 receiving yards and four total touchdowns.
While the Lions are a run-first team under new offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, they showed remarkable efficiency in Week 1 against the Cardinals secondary. Even with an ideal rushing opportunity against a Cardinals team that ranked 29th in run defense DVOA last season, Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford passed for 385 yards and three touchdowns.
The Chargers should find passing success against the Lions secondary. In 2018, Detroit’s pass defense DVOA was second-worst in the NFL, and Kyler Murray just totaled 308 yards and two touchdowns against them in his NFL debut.
The Chargers will lean pass-heavy against the weak Detroit secondary, while the Lions will build off huge Week 1 performances from tight end T.J. Hockenson (6 receptions, 131 yards, 1 touchdown) and wide receiver Danny Amendola (7 receptions, 104 yards, 1 touchdown).
Even with Detroit’s run-heavy preference, this game projects as a strong Week 2 pass funnel opportunity for both teams.
Best Fantasy Plays: Rivers, Ekeler, Allen (Los Angeles); Stafford, Hockenson, Golladay, Amendola (Detroit)
Philadelphia Eagles at Atlanta Falcons
Playing in the Atlanta Mercedes-Benz dome, both the Eagles and Falcons should find success through the air. This game features the highest-rated pair of Week 2 pass funnel offenses, with Atlanta ranking fifth and Philadelphia ranking eighth.
Philadelphia will hope to continue its aerial attack with quarterback Carson Wentz (313 passing yards, 3 touchdowns) and wide receiver DeSean Jackson (8 receptions, 154 yards, 2 touchdowns) leading the way. Atlanta’s pass defense DVOA ranked fourth-worst last season.
The Falcons will hope to get their explosive offense back on track after a dreadful performance at Minnesota last week. Last season, Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan averaged 306.4 passing yards, 2.3 touchdowns and 29.2 fantasy points per game at home. Wide receivers Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley have speed and big-play ability that Philadelphia will struggle to contain indoors.
With an over/under of 51 points, Vegas is expecting a shootout. Two great quarterbacks with prolific lid-lifting weapons projects as the perfect pass funnel opportunity this Sunday.
Best Fantasy Plays: Wentz, Jackson, Jeffery (Philadelphia); Ryan, J. Jones, Ridley, Hooper (Atlanta)
Potential Run Funnels
Buffalo Bills at New York Giants
The Week 2 slate does not provide many run funnel games, but rather specific team opportunities. The most likely run funnel is the Bills at the Giants.
The Giants are always a run-heavy team, led by All-Pro running back Saquon Barkley. The second-year back averaged an incredible 10.9 yards per carry in Week 1 against Dallas, but the Giants rushing attack was a victim of game script.
Buffalo’s stifling pass defense should ensure more rushing volume for New York this week. In 2018, the Bills featured the second-best pass defense DVOA in the league and held Jets quarterback Sam Darnold to 175 passing yards in Week 1.
Buffalo gained 128 rushing yards on 5.1 yards per carry in its 17-16 upset win over the Jets. Rookie running back Devin Singletary should be heavily featured after his four-carry, 70-yard rushing performance. Veteran Frank Gore had 11 carries, and Bills signal-caller Josh Allen ranked first in 2018 with an average of 52.6 rushing yards per game.
Both teams want to dominate time of possession, and the Bills feature one of the NFL’s best defenses. Look for a heavy run funnel game for both teams at the Meadowlands in Week 2.
Best Fantasy Plays: Allen, Singletary (Buffalo); Barkley (Giants)
Arizona Cardinals at Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens project as the strongest run funnel team and weakest pass funnel team for Week 2. They totaled a whopping 265 yards rushing in their win over Miami, led by Mark Ingram’s 107 yards and two touchdowns. New offensive coordinator Greg Roman should stay committed to the run even after quarterback Lamar Jackson’s impressive 324 passing yards against the Dolphins.
While the Cardinals did not allow a Lions running back to reach 50 rushing yards, they still project as a poor run defensive team. Last season, the Cardinals ranked 29th in run defense DVOA and could struggle mightily in Baltimore’s home-opener. The scariest part of Baltimore’s 59-point outburst last week is that the explosive Jackson rushed for only six yards.
The Ravens are one of only two teams with a double-digit Week 2 point spread: They’re favored by 13.5 points in a game with a modest 46.5 point over/under. All signs point to a big Baltimore win with a run-heavy script throughout.
Best Fantasy Plays: Jackson, Ingram (Baltimore)
Kansas City Chiefs at Oakland Raiders
The Raiders will need to keep the explosive Kansas City offense off the field, and that means a heavy run funnel game plan. On Monday night, rookie running back Josh Jacobs totaled 85 yards on 23 rushing attempts, the second-most by any Week 1 running back.
In Week 1, the Jaguars did have success running the ball, averaging 5.1 yards per carry. However, after falling behind early, Jacksonville leaned on its passing game in order to try to keep pace with Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
Oakland features the second-highest run funnel rating this week, trailing only Baltimore. The Raiders also feature the 24th-highest pass funnel rating, further supporting the likelihood of a run-heavy game plan.
This game also presents a good opportunity for Kansas City to have an efficient run game. However, the Chiefs passing attack is so prolific that they will never project as a run funnel offense unless dictated by game script. Expect Kansas City running back LeSean McCoy (8.1 yards per carry in Week 1) to have a low-volume but efficient performance.
Best Fantasy Plays: Jacobs (Oakland), McCoy (Kansas City)
New Orleans Saints at Los Angeles Rams
The Saints travel to Los Angeles to face a Rams defense that was gouged by Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey last week for 128 rushing yards at an average of 6.7 yards per carry. In 2018, the Rams ranked 27th in run defense DVOA and are currently 28th among all teams after Week 1.
New Orleans will bring a rushing attack that totaled 148 yards at an average of seven yards per carry with Alvin Kamara (97 yards, 7.5 YPC) and Latavius Murray (43 yards, 7.2 YPC). The Saints have the second-largest differential between run (3rd) and pass (29th) funnel rankings in Week 2.
Last season, the Saints handed the Rams their first loss of the season with a 45-35 win in Week 9. In that game, New Orleans rushed for 141 yards and two touchdowns.
The Rams should be able to score on a Saints defense that allowed 414 yards of offense in their thrilling 30-28 home win over Houston. The Rams’ prolific passing attack will always prevent a run funnel game plan, but it is worth noting that Los Angeles did tally 162 rushing yards (5.2 YPC) and two touchdowns in its 30-27 win over Carolina.
Best Fantasy Plays: Kamara, Murray (New Orleans); Gurley, Brown (Rams)
Pictured: Carson Wentz
Photo credit: USAToday Sports