Welcome to the Week 9 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.

At first glance, Week 9 does not shape up as high scoring. It definitely doesn’t project for elevated snap volume. Not only do we have a four-bye week, with an early Sunday game in London tacked on, but the resting teams include the first-, third-, and seventh-quickest offenses – plus the Brees-enhanced Saints. Not great, Bob.

There are always diamonds in the rough, however, so let’s double-bag this slate and get after it.

 

UP IN PACE

Houston Texans at Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jaguars-Texans rematch offers mixed signals from a pace perspective. It almost certainly will be faster than their Week 2 game, which produced a paltry 25 points and 121 snaps. Both teams are playing more quickly during the last month, with Jacksonville (13th) and Houston (14th) registering lower seconds-per-snap rate than they were after two weeks – which was 32nd and 15th, respectively. Jaguars games are averaging the third-most combined plays during the last month, and the Texans rank seventh. Opponents are passing against Houston at the fourth-highest rate during neutral situations (64%), while Jacksonville ranks eighth highest (62%). It’s obvious why the Texans’ worst-graded pass coverage gets picked on, and the Jaguars’ secondary is thinned by injury and the Jalen Ramsey trade. If the Jets weren’t such a smoking crater last week, we’d view Jacksonville’s defense less favorably.

There is no doubt this matchup has the potential to be not only high-scoring, but to also be accompanied by an elevated play count – if the coaches cooperate. Of course, Bill O’Brien and Doug Marrone are about as cooperative as peyote-fueled pit bulls. The Texans will repeatedly put the ball in Carlos Hyde’s belly, whether we like it or not. They rank top 12 in run rate during neutral situations (44%), and with their offensive line reverting to Swiss cheese last week against the feared pass rush of the Raiders, we should see a heavy dose of Hyde against a relatively vulnerable Jaguars run defense. Relative to their pass rush, anyway. Jacksonville hands off at an even higher rate than Houston, and might be just stubborn enough to resist the Texans’ pass funnel for the game to bog down.

While it’s unfortunate for them, injuries to Will Fuller, Dede Westbrook, and Marqise Lee at least trim the target trees enough that Kenny Stills, Chris Conley, and Keelan Cole join alphas DeAndre Hopkins and D.J. Chark as playable Week 9 wideouts. We’re not getting cute with DeAndre Carter, but his developing downfield role bears watching. Darren Fells has separated from Jordan Akins and has received enough high-leverage targets to be used as a borderline TE1. In the backfields, Hyde is once again a viable, if not somewhat depressing option — and nobody should need to be told to start Uncle Lenny Fournette. While this feels riskier than a typical “fire the cannons” situation, we’re going to need to take on a little more risk than usual. Playing slates that include the London game offer a few more outs.

 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Seattle Seahawks

The Buccaneers have fostered elevated snap volume environments all season. Their games lead the league in average combined snaps (133.9) due mostly to being the NFL’s largest pass funnel. Tampa’s stout run defense grades third best via PFF, and allows the fewest yards per carry (3.0). Opponents pass against them at a league-high 65% rate while games are within one score. Bucs contests may not always be pretty – Jameis Winston and earth’s ugliest backfield see to that – but they do score the eighth-most points on a per-snap basis and allow the third most. What Bruce Arians’ boys lack in aesthetics is made up for in fantasy juice. They probably won’t leave Seattle with a win, but considering the Seahawks are a fellow pass funnel (64% opponent pass rate; third highest), if the Bucs can hang around long enough to make Russell Wilson more than an overqualified decoration, we should be in business.

Despite playing a snap-volume catalyst in Atlanta, the Seahawks stubbornly slowed down after opening up a 24-0 halftime lead. They continued handing off as their lead dwindled to a seven-point margin, with Wilson throwing only five second-half passes – completing them all for 72 yards (14.4 per attempt). Their 13 second-half runs gained 1.6 yards per attempt. As a near-touchdown favorite and playing at home, how long Seattle beats their heads against Tampa Bay’s run-stopping wall is an open question. Most teams willingly tear into the Bucs’ pass funnel. Pete Carroll willingly tears off his nose to spite his face. Points should be scored almost at will in this matchup, and on a thin week, we can’t ignore it. Yet, from a snap volume standpoint, there is a wide range of outcomes – and they depend on how often the Seahawks do the obvious.

A lack of snaps doesn’t affect the Bucs as much as other offenses, as Mike Evans and Chris Godwin enjoy the narrowest of target distributions. Cameron Brate is in a relatively similar situation, sitting third on the target totem pole. The three-headed backfield is another story, although if you’re fishing in that pond, play volume is not your biggest issue. For Seattle, Chris Carson’s ridiculous backfield share somewhat mitigates this subpar defensive matchup and overall snap volume worries. Tapping Tyler Lockett and D.K. Metcalf is almost as easy as with their Tampa counterparts. A cherry matchup overshadows volume (and in Metcalf’s case, rising ownership) concerns. The subdued scoring outlook on the main slate argues strongly for at least some exposure to these passing games.

 

Dallas Cowboys at New York Giants

This game isn’t on the main slate, but few high-snap-volume matchups are. The Cowboys did pretty much anything they wanted against the Giants defense back in Week 1, while producing 35 points on a tidy 62 plays. They’ve averaged nearly four more snaps per game since then, rank fourth highest in plays-per-game during the past month (69.7), and are top-10 in seconds-per-snap. The Cowboys (and Giants) rank in the top seven for no-huddle rate, and only two teams have scored more offensive points than Dallas (27.1). While they are by no means the Chip Kelly Eagles in terms of tempo, the Cowboys no longer actively attempt to smother game pace. If the Giants can hang with a healthy and tuned-up Dallas offense coming off their bye, both sides will enjoy elevated play volume.

When the Giants last faced the Cowboys and produced 13 points, they were still led by Eli Manning. While that probably should say it all, it’s worth mentioning they’ve averaged nearly a touchdown more per game since then. Daniel Jones is coming off of two straight solid starts and Sterling Shepard’s possible return would finally outfit the rookie with a full complement of weapons – not that Darius Slayton has been a slouch as a field-stretching No. 2 wideout. New York’s games have produced the 10th-most combined snaps, and they’ve operated at the sixth-quickest seconds-per-snap pace. Their porous pass coverage grades fourth worst, and Dak Prescott will be treated to the soothing breeze of the Giants’ sixth-worst-graded pass rush.

With the look of an old-school Monday Night Hammer, exposure to this matchup will be key on full-weekend slates. Aside from the usual big-three suspects in Dallas’ offense, Michael Gallup is firmly in play — and even Jason Witten qualifies as a hair-on-fire option against the Giants’ tight-end-friendly defense. On the other side, Golden Tate and Evan Engram join Saquon Barkley as enticing options in what should be a high-scoring affair with, at the very least, solid snap volume.

 

Slow-Paced Slogs

 

Indianapolis Colts at Pittsburgh Steelers

The Colts remain one of the league’s slowest offenses, ranking 29th in neutral situation pace. Their contests average the ninth-fewest combined snaps, due in large part to Indianapolis holding opponents to the fifth-lowest plays-per-game average (58; overtime excluded). While they trust Jacoby Brissett in times of trouble, the Colts primarily lean on the run – handing off on 50% of snaps while games are within one score (fourth highest). Opponents find the sledding easier against Indianapolis’ third-worst-graded run defense, which is surrendering the fifth-most yards per carry (4.8). While the Steelers have a banged-up backfield, it’s easier to see them trusting whatever warm body they have taking handoffs, rather than slow-processer Mason Rudolph against a defense adept at limiting the downfield shots he’s reliant upon.

Far from the Ben Roethlisberger Steelers, Pittsburgh is averaging the third-fewest plays per game. They operate at the third-slowest seconds-per-snap pace, and are second slowest during the last month. Only the Jets and Redskins average larger negative snap differentials, and Pittsburgh ranks bottom 10 in time of possession. The Steelers have a quality defense, but their top-graded pass rush forces opponents into a ground-heavy approach. Only five teams face a higher run rate in neutral situations, and a side effect is slower game pace. It’s no stretch to project the run-committed Colts to follow the same trodden path on the road in Pittsburgh. By the time one side forces the other out of their comfort zone – the game is currently a pick’em – we may be well into the second half.

Beyond Marlon Mack and T.Y. Hilton, we’re basically guessing – even if Zach Pascal appears to have made inroads as the No. 2 wideout. With Parris Campbell getting stronger, a frustrating tight end split, a run-heavy offense, and a low-snap-volume environment, we’re not loading up on Pascal based on a short sample. On the Steelers side, injuries to James Conner and Benny Snell make Jalen Samuels interesting in the absence of alternatives. We also aren’t jumping off JuJu Smith-Schuster after his best game of the season. After that, the options thin out along with the projected snap volume.

 

 

Cleveland Browns at Denver Broncos

Few will be tempted to invest highly in this tractor pull, but just in case you were overly inspired by Cleveland scoring a touchdown against the Patriots, or Joe Flacco ethering his coaches, step back from the ledge. The Browns operate at the league’s 10th-slowest neutral pace, and memory of their briefly successful dalliance with the no-huddle apparently faded during the Week 7 bye. Not only have they averaged a pitiful 55 plays during the last month (third fewest), they’re scoring the seventh-fewest points on a per-snap basis. Basically, Cleveland’s fantasy weapons receive opportunity slices from a tiny pie that tastes like Freddie Kitchens’ challenge flag.

Considering one of the few things the Broncos have done well during the last month is to hold opponents to the third-fewest points per play, this is not a great situation for scoring. The snap volume projection for Denver isn’t any better than Cleveland’s. Broncos games average the sixth-fewest combined snaps, both on the season and during the last month. They’ve held opponents to 60 or fewer plays in more than half of their games, boast a top-three-graded pass coverage unit, and are thrown against at the league’s seventh-lowest rate. Flacco can stomp his feet all he wants, but Vic Fangio isn’t about to shift from run-leaning to risk-seeking. All it earned him is an elite shadow benching, where he’ll watch Brandon Allen sprinkle his first career passes among roughly 50 handoffs.

We’re starting Nick Chubb, who ran well against New England’s defense despite a pair of fumbles. Odell Beckham’s potential matchup with Chris Harris is a concern, but not an every-down deal breaker. Ceiling-challenged, volume-dependent Jarvis Landry is best left on the bench with all other Browns. While Cleveland’s run defense is permeable, Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman are vulnerable in low-snap-volume environments due to their near-even backfield split. They will, however, be centerpieces in an extremely conservative game plan. While Allen shouldn’t entirely torpedo Courtland Sutton and Noah Fant due to their target share, we can only guess at the level of damage. Firing them up blind takes more balls than brains, but at least ownership will be low — and there are three other late-afternoon games to watch.

 

Green Bay Packers at Los Angeles Chargers

Everyone wants a piece of Green Bay now that Matt LaFleur and Aaron Rodgers are at least in the same chapter, if not yet on the same page. Only the Texans (33.5) are averaging more points than the Packers during the last month (32.5), and Rodgers is suddenly an MVP favorite (hey, I just report the news). Green Bay hasn’t exactly been a voluminous outfit, however, and their games are averaging the 11th-fewest combined snaps over the last four weeks. While it’s been game-script influenced, their seconds-per-snap rate ranks third slowest during that time. The Packers’ seventh-highest-graded pass coverage is pushing opponents to hand off against their seventh-lowest-graded run stopping. Those in search of a scoring bonanza for Green Bay’s wide array of fantasy weapons are risking volume-based disappointment.

While the Packers have a periodically slow offense, they’re a blur compared to the Chargers. Los Angeles’ third-slowest situation-neutral pace not only drains the will to live from fantasy investors, it also smothers opponent play volume. Only the Ravens, Patriots, and 49ers allow fewer plays – and they’re legitimately strong teams, with fans and everything. Chargers contests average the league’s fewest combined snaps (117.9) and are where fringe fantasy starters go to die. While games are within one score, opponents hand off against Los Angeles at the fourth-highest rate (49%), which is something LaFleur’s Packers won’t need too much encouragement to do. With Green Bay operating at a deliberate pace, and Los Angeles’ tempo set to “mobility scooter,“ this one might finish in time for Philip Rivers to commute to San Diego and catch ‘60 Minutes.’

The Chargers were held to only three or four snaps on nine of their 10 drives in Chicago last week (the 10th was an epic 14-play field-goal march). Throw that on top of a comically poor running game the last month, and it was enough to get OC Ken Whisenhunt sent golfing a couple months early. Right or wrong, however, it might lead to former running backs coach Anthony Lynn deploying more Melvin Gordon. At least he gets a good matchup, but it won’t help play volume or his teammates’ opportunity. On the Green Bay side, I’d rather stick my face in a fan than parse their convoluted pass-catcher situation for a matchup in which snaps are hard to come by. Avoid it by riding Rodgers and sticking with both heads of their backfield. And pray for Davante Adams.

 

Pace Notes

The second of two main-slate matchups with an outsized projected total, Lions-Raiders registers higher from a scoring perspective than a play-volume angle. While Detroit’s games rank fifth in average combined plays (overtime snaps excluded), Oakland’s contests have produced the fourth fewest. The Raiders operate at the league’s 12th-slowest situation-neutral pace, in large part because they hand off at the fifth-highest rate while games are within one score.

There is no arguing this isn’t a smash spot for a Lions pass offense that’s suddenly been incentivized to chuck it around by a JAG-laden four-way backfield split. The Raiders feature coverage and pass rush units that are both graded second worst by PFF. Opponents throw against Oakland at the fifth-highest situation-neutral rate (62%) for obvious reasons – and Matthew Stafford finds himself in yet another ripe matchup. Stafford isn’t the concern, however, and neither is Kenny Golladay.

Things begin getting dicey when Danny Amendola breaks 60% of snaps — as he’s done the last two weeks – and muddies the water for Marvin Jones and T.J. Hockenson. Forget about “Marvin Hall” pulling down 47-plus-yard bombs in each of the last three weeks. The Raiders aren’t equipped for a low-play-volume environment either, with a second tight end inching toward relevance, while Hunter Renfrow and Zay Jones push for more snaps.

Installed as a slight home favorite over the Lions, if the Raiders manage to control game script with Josh Jacobs against Detroit’s bottom-eight-graded run defense, it could leave fantasy investors wanting more from several players. While we can’t run away from a likely high-scoring game on a thin main slate, we need to at least be aware of a potentially shallow play-volume floor before we jump in with both feet.

 

Sunday night’s Patriots-Ravens matchup features the top two teams in average offensive plays, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we’re in for elevated snap counts. Thanks to allowing the second- and third-fewest plays per game, respectively, New England (+14 per game) and Baltimore (+13.3) rank first and second in average snaps differential. Their games average 127 combined plays, which is a mid-pack rate. The elevated play volume is due more to their game-script dominance than pace of play.

Both the Ravens and Patriots are pass funnels, with opponents throwing at the second- and sixth-highest situation-neutral rates. Of course Baltimore has the league’s run-heaviest offense, and passing against New England is …hard. Lamar Jackson will hand off frequently, and judging by the Ravens’ fifth-slowest seconds-per-snap pace, he won’t be hurrying to snap it again. The Patriots are left to push the pace on the road behind a shaky offensive line. We’ve been wrong before while trying to guess what New England does, but projecting fewer snaps than average for these offenses seems like a safe bet.

 

The pregame tailgate might feature a more attractive environment than the Washington-Buffalo game itself — a matchup that features this season’s lowest over-under (36.5). Bills contests average the fourth-fewest combined plays during the last month (120), and Washington ranks dead last (116.3). We’re well aware of Bill Callahan’s quest to run the Redskins back into the 80’s, and their 52% pass rate during neutral situations (sixth lowest) will only shrink from here – especially if Dwayne Haskins takes snaps. It may not match last week’s monsoon, but exposure in Buffalo will be unpopular.

There is a glimmer of hope, however, as the sinking Skins have the league’s worst negative average play differential (-14 per game), while the Bills are slightly above water (+1). After three easy games to open the season, Buffalo ranked sixth in plays. This is an easy game. The Bills rank a respectable 13th quickest in seconds-per-snap pace, and they sprinkled in some no-huddle throughout last week’s game. They rank fifth in hurry-up rate during the last month (11%). With a mostly condensed touch tree and a soft matchup in which they should dominate snap volume, don’t entirely gloss over the Bills on a thin main slate.

 

We aren’t expecting elevated play volume tomorrow night, mostly due to the 49ers bringing their dominant defense to the desert. The Cardinals, too, are no longer the snap catalysts they were during the season’s opening weeks. Arizona even scrapped their no-huddle against the Saints, going to it on only 4.1% of snaps. After four weeks, they ranked first in both no-huddle rate (41.4%) and seconds-per-snap rate (24.9). Since then, their hurry-up rate has dropped to 24.3% and they’ve fallen to fifth in seconds-per-snap (26.7). The Cardinals’ situation-neutral pass rate has plunged from 69% (second highest) to 58% (19th).

Undeterred by injuries to David Johnson and Chase Edmonds, Arizona recently added Kenyan Drake to the backfield mix. He’ll have his hands full on Thursday (#analysis). The 49ers face the second-highest situation-neutral run rate (50%), as their pass rush and coverage both grade top three. Arizona’s offensive shift goes beyond their specific matchup with San Francisco, however. Their snaps have decreased each week during the past month (71 > 66 > 61 > 49), while their opponents’ plays have consistently risen (62 > 63 > 65 > 72). It’s fair to wonder if Kliff Kingsbury’s much-anticipated source of offensive pace and play volume is on indefinite hold.

 

Despite our naïve hopes that this time would be different, Adam Gase has once again proven to be full of more than just unearned hubris and smelling salts. The Jets head liar said they’d use tempo. Just as he did in Miami, Gase teased us in August with a crisp hurry-up offense — frothing up the Jets faithful by slicing up preseason defenses. And as with the Dolphins, their supposedly up-tempo offensive devolved into what resembles a pack of drunken sloths humping.

Things are ugly even after eliminating the three non-Sam-Darnold games. New York averages 56.5 plays under Darnold, which would rank 29th for the full season. They are scoring 13.8 points per game (29th) and going no-huddle on only 5.3% of snaps. Even Gase’s Dolphins ran more plays (58 per game), scored nearly an additional touchdown per game (20.1 points), and went no-huddle twice as often (10.8%).

Gase is likely protecting New York’s inconsistent defense, and slowing down was game-plan-specific — at least against the Cowboys and Patriots. Yet, the Jets’ operating at league’s slowest situation-neutral pace can also be viewed as a path to friendlier losses. Either way, it’s undoubtedly an anchor on the fantasy viability of their players. If New York doesn’t pick up the pace, their softening schedule won’t matter, as play volume won’t be there to support reliable fantasy production.