Welcome to the Week 10 edition of Snaps & Pace, where we examine trends in play volume and game pace. It is meant to be a 30,000-foot view of upcoming contests, with the goal of identifying which matchups will – and which will not – be played on fertile fantasy soil. For a primer on why this is important, click here.
Six bye weeks is a lot of fantasy juice taken off the table, even if there’s not much to squeeze from Washington and Denver. From a pace angle, only the Texans and Patriots are technically “up-pace” – and New England can use the breather – so we still have plenty to work with. Let’s find our red Kangol and dive right into the big one.
UP IN PACE
Arizona Cardinals at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Cardinals still operate more quickly than average, but nowhere near their frantic September speed. Arizona’s plays per game have steadily dropped, from 69.7 in their first few games, to 65.3 in the next three, and to 53.3 in their most recent three contests. Their no-huddle rate has plummeted over the same span (43% > 29% > 21%), and the Cardinals’ seconds-per-snap pace has slowed in kind (24.3 > 26.0 > 29.0). During the last month, they have the 24th-most pass-heavy offense (53%). After the first month, they ranked second (69%). The good news is the offense showed signs of life when using tempo against the 49ers’ defense. The better news is they aren’t facing the 49ers’ defense this week. Arizona’s going up against a pass funnel, and they feature one of their own.
The Cardinals have the league’s worst-graded coverage via PFF, and opponents are throwing against them at the ninth-highest situation-neutral rate during the last month (62%). Of course, all funnels pale in comparison to the league’s premiere punching bag. The Buccaneers’ seventh-worst-graded coverage has faced the second-highest situation neutral pass rate (65%). They’ve allowed the fifth-most yards and third-most touchdowns through the air. In a happy coincidence, the Cardinals have allowed the most. During the last month, Tampa Bay is passing at the seventh-highest situation-neutral rate, operating at the second-quickest seconds-per-snap pace, and no other team’s games average more combined plays.
An intimidating but not prohibitive matchup with the Bucs run defense is complicated by Kenyan Drake and David Johnson’s unknown workload split – although elevated snap volume and Arizona’s recent run commitment should make each one playable. Cardinals wideouts are fantasy viable in this spot as well, particularly slot men Christian Kirk and Larry Fitzgerald. Jumping the gun on Andy Isabella feels thin after his long touchdown in an island game, yet this would be the game to take a leap of faith and Kliff Kingsbury could simply be lying. Bruce Arians wasn’t lying about making Ronald Jones his lead back, and he can be confidently rolled out for the Bruce Bowl. As for fantasy-viable ancillary Bucs, Breshad Perriman and, if you’re feeling brave, O.J. Howard qualify based on matchup and the game’s expected play volume spike.
Atlanta Falcons at New Orleans Saints
There is an excellent chance the Falcons get run right out of the Superdome, even with Matt Ryan back behind center. Either way, the Saints will produce plenty of plays. Whether Atlanta snaps it enough for multiple weapons to factor in fantasy is the question. Their games average the 11th-most combined plays (127.3), and since the Falcons have a slightly positive snap differential (+0.8), they’ve at least hung in there from a play volume perspective. They pass at the fourth-highest rate when games are within one score (65%), operate at the eighth-quickest pace during neutral situations, and rank second in no-huddle rate. On defense, the only heat Atlanta brings is from the embers of their second-worst-graded pass coverage. If snap volume took steroids, they’d look a lot like this year’s Falcons.
The fly in this ointment is New Orleans’ propensity to plod, as their situation-neutral snaps pace ranks ninth slowest. While the Saints have thrown at a higher rate when games are within one score during the last four weeks (62%), it’s questionable whether they’ll come out of their bye with a pass-heavy game plan when they are nearly two-touchdown favorites. One bit of good news is their defense is a pass funnel. New Orleans faces the eighth-highest pass rate during neutral situations, as their sixth-best-graded run defense is more intimidating than their merely strong pass rush and coverage.
With Mohamed Sanu no longer syphoning targets, Atlanta’s potential lack of play volume is slightly mitigated among their pass catchers, and Devonta Freeman’s matchup renders him little more than a contrarian dart. That leaves Julio Jones, Austin Hooper, Calvin Ridley, and (big gap) Russell Gage as options in a high-ceiling matchup with a worryingly low snap volume floor for the Falcons. As for the Saints, it’s a classic “fire the cannons” spot in which both running backs and every starting piece of the passing game is fantasy viable – including Jared Cook and, in most leagues, Ted Ginn.
New York Giants at New York Jets
This clash of the titans is about as aesthetically pleasing as the Jersey swamp they’ll play in, and nearly every other game has a higher projected point total. However, if we’re looking for the darkest of horses to provide outsized snap volume and fantasy opportunity, these may be your huckleberries. Giants games have averaged the 10th-most combined plays during the last month, and eighth-most on the full season. They operate at the ninth-quickest situation-neutral pace and, during the last four weeks, throw the ball at the ninth-highest rate when games are within one score. Of course, Daniel Jones gets turned over more often than most porn stars, but against the 25th-highest-graded pass rush of the Jets, at least he’ll be able to take his time. Considering the Jets have the third-highest-graded run defense and are allowing a league-high 72 snaps per game during the last month, we can be certain the ball will be in the air often – which won’t hurt play volume, if nothing else.
The Jets actually opened last week’s loss to the Dolphins with an 11-play touchdown drive on which they used tempo and resembled a real offense. Sam Darnold completed all three of his no-huddle passes (to Jamison Crowder for 38 yards) and looked reasonably poised when he had time to throw. Against the 26th-highest-graded pass rush of the Giants, he’ll at least be occasionally comfortable. That’s all he should need while facing New York’s second-worst-graded pass coverage. With the Giants allowing the eighth-most plays per game during the last month, the Jets will have opportunity as well as a favorable matchup on their side. Whether either one of these teams is a dumpster fire is not the point – they’re both dumpster fires – and this debacle might set football so far back that Bill Callahan recognizes it, but at least there’s a shot at elevated play volume.
As embarrassing as the season has been for these teams, there is no shortage of fantasy-viable options on both offenses. Nobody is sitting Saquon Barkley or Le’Veon Bell, even when they’re not facing sieve defenses. Evan Engram belongs in every lineup when healthy, and Golden Tate is a starter in most leagues. As long as he’s getting nine targets like last week, Crowder is as well. Robby Anderson is worth a dart against a pass defense allowing the most yards per attempt and most receptions of 20-plus yards. As for the quarterbacks, that requires more of a leap of faith due to the likelihood of full-scale meltdowns and the availability of other fantasy options. Yet if there’s a spot for these misguided youths to thrive, this is the beautifully ugly matchup for it.
Slow Paced Slogs
Buffalo Bills at Cleveland Browns
While it will probably produce more snaps than Buffalo’s bulldozing of Washington, their trip to Cleveland projects for poor play volume. Bills games average the 21st-most combined snaps (124.4), and even fewer during the last month (117.7; 31st). Buffalo’s sixth-best-graded coverage and fifth-graded pass rush is enticing opponents to keep it on the ground. They’re facing the second-highest situation-neutral run rate over the last four weeks (51%) – albeit aided by facing the ground-bound Redskins, wind-restricted Eagles, and talent-bereft Dolphins. During that same stretch of games, the Bills are handing off at the fifth-highest rate while games are close (49%). Considering their opponent, their emergent rookie running back, and this matchup’s likely tight script (they are less than field-goal underdogs), we have a good read on Buffalo’s plan.
The Browns are an inviting target for ground attacks. Their fourth-lowest-graded run defense has faced the seventh-highest situation-neutral run rate (46%), and it’s risen during the last month (51%; third highest). With an intermittently formidable pass rush – they grade seventh highest according to PFF – it’s no surprise Cleveland’s opponents have been running at a high rate. Of course, facing handoff aficionados like the Broncos, Seahawks, 49ers, Ravens, and Titans also has had an effect. The Browns’ flaccid offense, which averages the eighth-fewest points per game (19), also hasn’t exactly forced teams into a passing stance. Cleveland is operating at the 12th-slowest situation-neutral pace and their games average the sixth-fewest combined plays (123). One week after a Brandon-Allen-led Broncos offense looked dynamic by comparison, Baker Mayfield is staring blankly at another trench-coat game.
We are firing up Devin Singletary with gusto in a choice matchup with solid projected game script. After that, options begin thinning out along with the expected play volume. John Brown has been as steady as they come and still possesses the ceiling of his days in the desert, while Cole Beasley’s volume-reliant profile makes him an uncomfortable start – although recent usage suggests otherwise. On the Browns side, Nick Chubb’s been too good to run away from, but the return of Kareem Hunt siphons away an indeterminate number of touches in what should be a low-play-volume environment. It makes Chubb more of a tournament type than safe option. Browns passing game options are all subject to fantasy benchings in favor of comparable players with better matchups — including the Tre’Davious-White-shadowed Odell Beckham.
Miami Dolphins at Indianapolis Colts
We were all quite impressed by the plucky underdogs disregarding a lose-at-all-costs mandate and further embarrassing the supposedly shameless Jets. Now the Dolphins will get back in the tank and go to Indianapolis, where they’ll almost certainly lose to a journeyman third-stringer. Yes, the depth chart still counts Andrew Luck. The sad part is the loose, entertaining style of play that Ryan Fitzpatrick fostered in Sunday’s game probably won’t make the trip. As often happens when a slow-paced team meets a faster-paced opponent, the side that dictates game script sets the tempo – and the Colts are that side whether they’re quarterbacked by Jacoby Brissett, Brian Hoyer, or Brian Fellow.
Indianapolis is currently a double-digit home favorite, and the Colts operate at the league’s fourth-slowest situation-neutral pace. They hand off on 49% of plays while their games are within one score. That fits their opponent nicely. Although offenses not coached by Adam Gase can do whatever they want against the Dolphins’ 31st-graded run defense, 27th-graded coverage, and worst-graded pass rush – most teams have chosen to hand off. Miami has faced the sixth-highest situation-neutral run rate (47%), and the Colts will put them to the run again, no matter whether it’s Brissett or Hoyer behind center.
Losing Mark Walton to suspension, and Preston Williams to an ACL tear, are crippling blows to Miami’s fantasy appeal. That was a truly pathetic sentence. Despite Indianapolis’ 28th-graded run defense, sifting through Miami’s backfield crater to dust off Myles Gaskin or spit-shine Kalen Ballage for a low-volume tank-a-thon on the road is not a great use of our time. While DeVante Parker is the most obvious target, an emergent Mike Gesicki is set to face the Colts’ tight-end-friendly zone defense. Indianapolis’ wideouts keep dropping, sharpening focus on those who remain. Zach Pascal clearly stands out, with Chester Rogers rising as well. Even with Hoyer taking snaps, they’re in play on a thin week along with Eric Ebron and Jack Doyle. This shapes up as primarily a Marlon Mack game, however, with the Colts keeping offensive pace (and snaps) in check.
Los Angeles Rams at Pittsburgh Steelers
The Rams have again been mostly up-tempo. They operate at the second-quickest situation-neutral pace and their games average the fourth-most combined snaps on the season. Over the last month, however, that average has slipped from a league-leading 133.8 to 129.7 (sixth most). They’ve become significantly more run-heavy as well, falling from the 10th-highest situation-neutral pass rate (63%) to 20th highest (54%). With the third-worst-graded pass blocking and a regressing quarterback who wets himself in the face of pressure, more handoffs make sense. Los Angeles’ defense has faced the ninth-highest run rate while games are within one score, and that should continue this week. The Rams grade third best in pass rush, while the newly acquired Jalen Ramsey has now had enough time and a bye week to acclimate.
The Steelers are also better off attacking primarily on the ground, something they’ve done at an increasing rate. During the last four weeks, Pittsburgh has fallen to 18th in neutral-situation pass rate (56%). They ranked 13th before that (61%). Mason Rudolph is PFF’s 32nd-graded passer out of 35 quarterbacks, and his 7.7-yard average depth of target not only compresses coverage, but the short passes act as glorified handoffs that keep the clock ticking. The Steelers operate at the 19th-quickest situation-neutral pace, and they’ve moved more slowly during the last four weeks. Their games average the fifth-fewest combined snaps, and it’s nearly impossible to envision them pushing the pace. Pittsburgh features the league’s highest-graded pass rush and their opponents hand off at the fifth-highest rate while games are within one score.
With plenty of rest, we might see the Rams ride Todd Gurley more heavily – well, “heavily” for elderly Gurley. Whether or not Malcolm Brown reappears, Darrell Henderson has at least earned some more touches. The uncertainty isn’t fun, and a potential shortage of play volume lowers floors. Brandin Cooks’ concussion puts Robert Woods more prominently on the map, and Gerald Everett is hard to sit with tight end thinner than usual – but neither have cathedral ceilings. For the Steelers, Trey Edmunds getting four more carries than Jaylen Samuels was nearly as irritating as the rock in Edmunds’ shoe. With James Conner potentially back, this situation is currently clear as mud. Unlike Pittsburgh’s passing game, however, it’s worth keeping a close eye on. JuJu Smith-Schuster is the only legitimate option for a low-pass-volume matchup, and considering he’s already dealing with an opportunity crunch, even he isn’t overly compelling.
Landing a Week 10 bye is ideal in almost all circumstances, but an extra week off for wound licking is especially well timed after getting demolished on national television. The Patriots might also use their extended downtime to fine-tune what was an out-of-nowhere rebirth of their no huddle attack. New England’s 52% hurry-up rate was the NFL’s second-highest single-game mark since 2017, and the Patriots’ highest in more than five years.
While Tom Brady was sharper when New England used tempo, there was not an overwhelming difference. He completed 67% of his 24 no-huddle passes at a 7.4 yards-per-attempt clip (88.5 passer rating). On his 22 other throws, Brady had a 64% completion rate, 4.9 yards-per-attempt mark and 71.6 passer rating. They were equally mediocre on the ground with (4.4 yards per carry) and without huddling (4.3).
The Patriots ranked fifth lowest in no-huddle rate entering Week 9 (3.6%), and this was almost certainly an opponent-specific approach. Using tempo also helps slow down pass rushes – something New England’s uncharacteristically inconsistent offensive line has struggled to do. Huddles or no-huddles, they already operate at the third-quickest situation-neutral pace, but this is still an important development.
The versatile Rex Burkhead saw his snap rate nearly double from Week 8, while Sony Michel’s was essentially cut in half. While game script played a role, Burkhead and James White had seven of 10 no-huddle carries. Mohamed Sanu has quickly gotten up to speed, playing 100% of snaps after getting in 54% the prior week. Tight end Ben Watson also played a full share of snaps, as the Patriots went with 11-personnel on every play. How much carries over when they head to Philadelphia is a question we have two weeks to ponder, but it effects the opportunity of multiple fantasy-relevant weapons for potentially high-scoring games with the Eagles, Cowboys, Texans, and Chiefs.
The Packers, whose games average the fifth-fewest combined snaps over the last month, had their volume further dialed down to a miniscule 49 plays by the Chargers. Already operating at the seventh-slowest situation-neutral pace, Green Bay’s sixth-worst-graded run defense leaves their fantasy weapons vulnerable to opponents who prefer to play keep-away. While Los Angeles perfectly fit that profile, there are elements of it that align with the Packers’ Week 10 foe as well.
The Panthers operate at the seventh-quickest pace during neutral situations, but their inconsistent passing game and otherworldly running back hint at a ground-based approach in Green Bay. Last week, Carolina handed off on 55% of neutral-situation snaps (ninth highest), which was significantly more run-heavy than the Chargers were against the Packers before taking full command of their game (31%).
Green Bay is favored by just under a touchdown, but as long as the game remains close, we can’t count on the Panthers opening up their offense. Carolina’s defense also presents an appealing target for Green Bay’s running game, which won’t help elevate overall play volume. Fading Packers for a road game against the snap-sucking Chargers is one thing, and the Panthers are not as dicey a matchup from an opportunity standpoint – but a viable path to volume-based fantasy disappointment remains.
The Lions have predictably relied even more on Matthew Stafford since Kerryon Johnson went on IR, and it’s elevating their pace. Over the last four weeks, Detroit ranks fifth highest in neutral-situation pass rate (64%), whereas they were eighth lowest before that (54%). Their situation-neutral pace has crept up to 12th quickest, and during the last month, their games average the fifth-most combined plays. The extra passing-game juice has brought into play ancillary weapons like Danny Amendola, who has 24 targets in the last three games. T.J. Hockenson (19 targets over the last month) has also crept onto some fantasy radars.
This week, however, we might want to stick mainly with Kenny Golladay and, maybe, Marvin Jones. The Bears can’t do much of anything on offense besides hand off, as Mitch Trubisky continues his assault on the memory of Blake Bortles. Yet they operate at the sixth-slowest situation-neutral pace, while allowing the ninth-fewest passing yards and sixth-fewest passing scores. In a six-bye week, options are thinned out – but digging too deep into this Lions road spot risks coming up light from an opportunity angle.
The week’s only rematch will be different than the Ravens’ and Bengals’ Week 6 meeting in at least one major way. Andy Dalton will be stuck on the sideline, only this time it won’t be because Cincinnati’s defense can’t get off the field. Ryan Finley is getting thrown to the wolves, even if he might have A.J. Green at his disposal. While the rookie acquitted himself adequately during the preseason, we should assume things won’t go as well when the bullets are live, and much of what we’ve come to expect from the Bengals offense can be set aside. Except for the general sucking, which isn’t going anywhere.
The Ravens dominated play volume in Week 6, running 77 plays to the Bengals’ 55. They have the third largest positive snap differential (+12.1 per game), and both their games and Cincinnati’s contests rank top-10 in average combined snaps. Regardless of whether the Bengals operate at the fourth-quickest situation-neutral pace, the Ravens will produce enough play volume to nudge some of their ancillary fantasy options toward relevance. Marquise Brown will be popular, but Gus Edwards likely won’t – even against the third-worst-graded run defense on a thin week with six bye teams. In case the Bengals manage to scrape together enough plays to factor in fantasy, Tyler Boyd is perched near the top of this week’s Air Yards Buy Low model.