Welcome to the Week 11 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.
UP IN PACE
Dallas Cowboys at Detroit Lions
The Cowboys once again operated quickly on offense during their loss to the Vikings – with some predictably prehistoric Jason Garrett hiccups. At least Garrett, or Kellen Moore, or whoever gets the credit/blame on a drive-to-drive basis in Dallas, have mostly recognized that Dak Prescott butters their bread. This has aligned with a rise to fourth quickest in situation-neutral pace and an almost-modern 59% pass rate while their games are within one score. Cowboys contests average the eighth-most combined snaps (128.4), with even more coming during the last month (131.7; fourth most). Against the deliberately paced, run-heavy Vikings, there were still a healthy 139 total plays and 52 points produced.
Over the past month, Cowboys games have generated the ninth-most combined points (51.1) – up nearly a touchdown from four weeks ago (44.5) — and they’ll face the team ranked sixth-highest (54.3). Even without Matthew Stafford on Sunday, the Lions cranked out 75 plays and Jeff Driskel was periodically competitive against a tough Bears pass defense. Detroit’s backfield wasteland continues to prevent a ground-based attack – even Ty Johnson’s 4.9 handoffs per game are now stuck in concussion protocol — and the Lions rank seventh lowest in situation-neutral run rate during the past four weeks. They’ve operated at the fourth-quickest seconds-per-snap pace over the last month, and Lions games average the second-most combined plays this season.
It is possible Detroit forces things to the ground if a gimpy Stafford talks his way into playing, but there’s only so long that can persist with a running back clown car. If they don’t scrape some plodder off his couch and onto the field, J.D. McKissic is worth a PPR flier. It would also be confirmation of a continued pass-heavy stance, and regardless of who’s behind center, Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones remain fantasy viable. If you’re tempted to start Danny Amendola or T.J. Hockenson, try sobering up – but at least be sure Stafford projects to play a full game. The Dallas side is, as usual, fairly straight forward – and extra projected volume only makes it easier to lock in Michael Gallup alongside Amari Cooper. Randall Cobb feels point-chasey, but the matchup supports the play. Ezekiel Elliott is an eruption spot against PFF’s sixth-worst-graded run defense, but you knew that already.
Atlanta Falcons at Carolina Panthers
Despite an uncharacteristically deliberate pace during their upset of the Saints, the Falcons are operating at top-eight seconds-per-snap rates both on the season and during the last month. Their games average the ninth-most combined snaps, and even as they earned Week 10’s most surprising result in New Orleans, overreacting to one game is usually a mistake. The 133 snaps for which they combined with the Saints would rank as the third-highest average on the season. Atlanta still throws at the seventh-highest rate while games are within one score, and they didn’t miraculously solve their fifth-worst-graded pass coverage simply by rearranging deck chairs coaches during the bye week.
Whether or not the Falcons are able to pull off a second consecutive division upset, the pace projects to remain high against the Panthers. Carolina operates at the seventh-quickest situation-neutral snap rate and their games average the fourth-most combined plays. While they have the league’s most dynamic running back, the Panthers pass at the 11th-highest rate while games are within one score – a large part of why Christian McCaffrey is the league’s most dynamic running back. Coming off of a loss in Lambeau in which Carolina still managed nicely with 69 snaps, we can expect them to convert their play volume into points at a higher rate against a Falcons defense allowing the third-most points on a per-play basis.
Even with Brian Hill looking serviceable and, based on matchup, extremely fantasy viable — the loss of Devonta Freeman figures to enhance Matt Ryan’s role. With Mohamed Sanu’s and Austin Hooper’s thick branches trimmed from the target tree, more volume should flow to Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley and slot man Russell Gage. All are in play for a strong volume-based matchup, if not necessarily a favorable on-paper draw. As with Atlanta, a relatively narrow touch distribution in Carolina simplifies our decisions on D.J. Moore, Curtis Samuel, and Greg Olsen – plus their matchup is far softer. The projected volume, condensed touch trees, and mostly-soft defenses make this one of the week’s most stackable games.
New Orleans Saints at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Neither the Bucs nor the Saints play at an overly brisk pace. Tampa Bay ranks 15th in situation-neutral seconds-per-snap, and New Orleans is 10th slowest. This hasn’t stopped the Bucs from tilling some of the most fertile fantasy soil in the land, as their games rank first in average combined snaps (135.6), with even more coming during the last month (138.7). While the Saints are closer to the opposite side of that spectrum on the season – eighth lowest – their games are eighth highest in average combined plays over the last four weeks. Or course, running extra plays against the Buccaneers’ 23rd-highest-graded defense typically bears more fruit – particularly in the passing game — than facing the Saints’ seventh-highest-graded unit.
Tampa Bay’s pass rush grades 26th and their coverage ranks 27th highest. PFF’s fifth-best-graded run defense mixes in to create the league’s preeminent pass funnel. The Bucs face a 66% pass rate while games are within one score (second highest), and during the last month, it’s up to a league-high 69%. During that same span, Saints opponents have hiked their situation-neutral pass rate from only 56% (11th lowest) to 67% (second highest). New Orleans’ own pass rate has jumped from a middling 59% through six weeks, to 65% during the last month (sixth highest). That may be something of an anomaly, but a road date with the Bucs is unlikely to prompt a switch back to a run-based approach.
Even if both offenses are as balanced as in their Week 5 meeting, they still produced a combined 55 points and several standout fantasy days – including 300-plus yards and four touchdowns for Teddy Bridgewater. Despite the road venue, Drew Brees is ripe for a bounce-back, and nobody needs to be told to start Michael Thomas or Alvin Kamara. Jared Cook is also in a plum spot, while Latavius Murray is best suited for deeper leagues due to matchup — although as a solid favorite, he has game-script based contrarian appeal. As for the Bucs, the question is not if we play them, but how much Chris Godwin and Mike Evans do we roll out? For reference, Godwin caught seven passes for 125 yards and two touchdowns against the Saints in Week 5, while Evans didn’t have a catch – albeit with the now-injured Marshon Lattimore in his back pocket. O.J. Howard is back on the radar and firmly in play for this potential shootout. Just be sure to keep the Jack Daniels handy.
Slow Paced Slogs
Jacksonville Jaguars at Indianapolis Colts
The slow-paced Jaguars return from their bye, and a disastrous trip to London, with a new/old quarterback for a road divisional matchup. They have plenty of reasons to want to #EstablishIt. Nick Foles’ first game back from a broken collarbone doesn’t scream “50 dropbacks,” and neither does Jacksonville’s fourth-highest run rate while games are within one score during the last month. For some reason, Jaguars coaches watched rookie Gardner Minshew melt down on a 70% situation-neutral pass rate, when until that point, that mark had been 56%. This will be corrected as long as Jacksonville remains in a favorable game script. Against the Colts seventh-worst-graded run defense, chances are Leonard Fournette will find enough success to pile up touches and grind down clock.
The Jaguars rank fourth slowest in situation-neutral pace, and the 27th-ranked Colts crawl to the line as well. They didn’t have that luxury against the reportedly tanking Dolphins, cranking plays out at a 24.8-second-per-snap rate between Brian Hoyer turnovers. Also out of character was a 59% situation-neutral pass rate, when before Week 10 they ranked third lowest (51%). It was an odd turn, as Hoyer isn’t good at football and the scoreboard didn’t force their hand. Whether Jacoby Brissett returns from injury or they trot Hoyer back out, we can expect more running. With both sides grinding clock, this game might finish quicker than Minshew Mania.
After Uncle Lenny and D.J. Chark, the Jaguars pickings are slim. Rolling Foles out for his first game back would be aggressive, to say the least – although his return is generally positive for Jacksonville wideouts. This is a week to just watch, however. Despite the absences of T.Y. Hilton and Parris Campbell, Indianapolis still offers a wide range of receiving options, none of whom are particularly compelling due to sub-optimal quarterback play and a tough matchup. With apologies to the many Marcus Johnson truthers, Zach Pascal is the only playable wideout here. Game-script puppet Marlon Mack whiffed in what looked like a prime home-favorite spot against the Dolphins, and this is far from that. Expect to see plenty — but not quite enough — of Nyheim Hines, per usual.
Cincinnati Bengals at Oakland Raiders
Early-week projections have this matchup producing nearly 50 points, and while that may wind up happening – the Bengals allowed 49 by themselves on Sunday – the scoring may not be accompanied by elevated play volume. Cincinnati played slowly last week, which was a departure from their to-date fourth-quickest situation-neutral pace. Having rookie Ryan Finley behind center almost certainly was the primary cause. They handed off 40 times despite trailing by two touchdowns with roughly four minutes left in the first quarter – a deficit that would quickly balloon. The Bengals nearly tied their slowest seconds-per-snap rate of the year (30.7 in a one-point Week 1 loss), despite it being the biggest blowout of their season (30.2). Their approach has clearly shifted.
The 5-4 Raiders have already proven most analysts wrong, and their offense ranks top-10 in points per game during the last month. Of course, they still operate at a bottom-10 snaps pace and hand off at the league’s sixth-highest situation-neutral rate. Facing a Bengals run defense that grades third worst and is run on at the league’s highest situation-neutral rate, we have a decent idea of how Oakland will attack on Sunday. Considering they are more than double-digit home favorites, we should base our own plans off of a heavy dose of handoffs. While the Bengals defense has a “do what you want” feel to it, and Derek Carr has made considerable strides this season, this doesn’t project to be an aerial circus in a high-play-volume environment.
The Finley-led Bengals offense is mostly hands-off until further notice, even in what is normally a plus matchup with the Raiders. Joe Mixon is the glaring exception, as he will apparently be mercilessly ridden in any game script, especially with Gio Bernard injured. Tyler Boyd is a higher-risk option for the desperate and/or daring, but reasonable options end there. As for the Raiders, Josh Jacobs is an elite play in what shapes up as pristine game script with a heavy run lean. Tyrell Williams and Darren Waller are locked into lineups, but with Zay Jones and Hunter Renfrow nibbling at the edges of a fairly small target pie, all pass catchers have lower floors and ceilings than are typically expected for a Bengals matchup. The on-paper draws are more favorable here than the projected pace, and a selective fantasy approach is likelier to be rewarded than a greedy one.
Buffalo Bills at Miami Dolphins
After a game in which they handed off on a paltry 32% of plays and produced only 16 points, we can expect a ground-based game plan from the Bills when they face Miami’s second-worst graded run defense. Opponents only throw against the Dolphins on 54% of situation-neutral snaps (fifth lowest), and before Buffalo’s Week 10 trip to Cleveland, they featured a meager 51% pass rate during the prior three contests. Bills games average the third-fewest combined plays over the last month, as opponents are running against them at an elevated rate as well – no doubt influenced by Buffalo’s fifth-best-graded pass rush and fourth best coverage. The Browns averaging a meaty 5.7 yards on 26 carries against them will not go unnoticed.
The Dolphins have ridden their defense, self-defeating opposing offenses, and a sprinkle of FitzMagic to a two-game “winning” streak. While Josh Allen has counter-intuitively turned into a high-floor fantasy asset, he remains mistake prone. Miami has somehow allowed fewer points than the previous week in three straight games, which probably makes their coaches happy, if no one else. Like the Bills, the Dolphins have skewed more run-heavy while games have been close, with a 44% run rate during the last month (10th highest) – up from 35% through the first six weeks. It is always possible the Dolphins devolve back into complete incompetence, and they almost certainly will at some point – but for now, blindly attacking them in fantasy is a willfully ignorant approach.
Of course, you’d need to be blind to not want at least some exposure to Allen, Devin Singletary, and John Brown, for a solid matchup despite a potential low-play-volume environment. Miami has allowed the fifth-highest per-game rate of 20-plus-yard passes, and Allen’s 20% deep attempt rate led the league last year. This year he’s down to 14%, and after two losses in their last three (13.5 point average), it’s a good spot to open it up downfield. Playing Cole Beasley and, especially, Frank Gore might be stretching the available play volume, but is acceptable in deeper leagues. As for starting Dolphins in this matchup, maybe try something less depressing — like penny slots or pet cremation.
The slothy Chargers not only fully embrace their slow-going pace, they’ve been toying with our emotions by sprinkling in micro-doses of tempo into their game plans. On Thursday night, Los Angeles called six no-huddle plays, one of which was nullified by a Raiders penalty. All six came on first down, and five were handoffs.
Melvin Gordon averaged 8.3 yards on four carries, and Keenan Allen caught an eight-yard pass on the other (official) no-huddle play. Out of the Chargers’ 10 meaningful drives, they scored on four of them. Those were the only drives on which the league’s second-slowest situation-neutral offense used tempo – a development nearly as intriguing as it is face-meltingly frustrating. The most positive thing to be said about Los Angeles this week is at least they don’t play on the main slate.
The Chiefs face the Chargers in Mexico on Monday night, and it will be interesting to see if they can inject the kind of play volume the Packers and Raiders recently could not. After the Titans mashed Kansas City’s league-worst-graded run defense, we know what the Chargers will attempt to do with a juvenated Melvin Gordon. The Chiefs have the second-most efficient offense on a points-per-play basis, but if Los Angeles executes their snap-sucking strategy, even mighty Kansas City’s ancillary weapons risk fantasy disappointment.
Speaking of efficiency, there is no more glaring example of how snap volume is not a direct proxy for a productive offense than the Ravens producing more points than plays against the Bengals. Per-play efficiency and defensive scoring typically reduces an offense’s play volume. Baltimore took it to the next level with an 8.24 yards-per-play rate and a pair of defensive touchdowns. It was the second time this season they averaged more than 8.2 yards, and Cincinnati’s third time allowing it.
While on the surface the muted play volume appears unusual for an offense that entered Week 10 averaging a league-high 70.1 snaps and sporting the third-widest positive play differential, anyone who’s paid attention knows why the Ravens ran so few plays. With a reeling Texans defense on deck – they’ve allowed more than 27 points per game over their last five – we can be confident the scoring will continue even if the snaps sometimes stagnate.
Houston has skewed more run heavy over their last four contests (48%), versus a 43% rate during the first five games. While the Patriots chose to speed the Ravens up in their Week 9 meeting, that won’t necessarily be the case for a Texans team with less faith in their defense and only the 20th-fastest seconds-per-snap pace during the last month. We’re rarely tempted to stray from the Ravens core fantasy weaponry of Lamar Jackson, Mark Ingram, Mark Andrews and Marquise Brown, but if play volume is tight, the more common temptation to dabble in Houston’s ancillary pieces (Duke Johnson, Kenny Stills, Will Fuller, Darren Fells) becomes a few degrees more risky.
The pace at which the Patriots choose to play on Sunday will go a long way toward determining the game’s fantasy viability (#analysis). If New England is propelled by a similar no-huddle rate as the last time we saw them (52%), at least one offense will enjoy elevated play volume. We broke down the Patriots tempo in last week’s Pace Notes, and its effect on several of their players. Most notably, the frantic tempo narrowed personnel usage to a select few options we can ride in our lineups.
It’s well known that the Eagles profile as a pass funnel, with a stout run defense and gym-teacher cornerbacks. Opponents are throwing against them at the eighth-highest rate while games are within one score (62%). The Patriots have passed at the highest situation-neutral rate during the last month (68%), and Julian Edelman mentioned this week they plan to “start fast and get a rhythm established.” He undoubtedly is referring to getting trampled as soon as they got off the bus in Baltimore, but we saw their pace-based answer that night — and we might see it again on Sunday.
For a second straight week, the early returns were excellent. The Jets went no-huddle on over 45% of plays during their first two drives – both of which ended in touchdowns. They then ran a single no-huddle snap during their next four possessions – none of which resulted in points. Adam Gase can write a snappy pilot, but everyone’s getting fired after one season because the rest of the series sucked.
Sam Darnold was six-of-six for 70 yards from the no-huddle during New York’s opening possessions (115.3 passer rating). He had an 88.9 rating on all other passes, only one of which came while using tempo. Gase got his deodorant win, but after the up-tempo first quarter, the Giants offense scored 27 points and the Jets offense produced 13. Gase won the battle of New Jersey, but continues to lose wars.
The Jets may win their second skirmish with the NFC East, but unlike in the Giants matchup, Washington likely won’t offer fertile fantasy soil. New York’s pass-funnel profile has opponents avoiding their stout run defense by passing at the seventh-highest situation-neutral rate, which would theoretically juice play volume. That is if Bill Callahan abandons his handoff obsession – and there’s a better chance of him properly attacking a funnel of cherry White Claw than a pass-funnel defense. Redskins games rank dead last in average combined plays, and the Jets are seventh lowest. In a matchup of the 30th- and 32nd-slowest situation-neutral offenses, nobody wins other than the fans who get to head home quickly.