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Funnel defense report: Week 1 defenses with ample pass opportunity

HOUSTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 11: Tyler Ervin #34 of the Houston Texans attempts to make a catch as Jerrell Freeman #50 of the Chicago Bears defends at NRG Stadium on September 11, 2016 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)

Welcome to the Funnel Defense Report, where we examine trends in how defenses are most commonly attacked. It is meant to help narrow our focus from overall game-selection, down to the “run versus pass” level. We as fantasy gamers, like NFL game planners, ideally seek paths of least resistance.

The term “funnel defense,” or “pass funnel defense” was coined several years ago by the esteemed Adam Levitan. It has become common parlance among DFS players and other fantasy aficionados, and refers to defenses which are simultaneously soft against the pass and stout against the run.

Identifying such characteristics is not a one-time task, as injury and performance variation create an evolving landscape. In this space we will leverage, among other resources, up-to-date PFF defensive grades and metrics to stay on top of these constant changes – and difference-making fantasy trends.

Last month we previewed which defenses stand out as being potential pass funnels. While most remain, we can already see how much can change in a short time. Here is where we stand heading into Week 1.

Top four funnels

Chicago Bears

The Bears defense has received some of buzz due to a solid August. Their starters holding DeMarco Murray, Derrick Henry, and David Johnson to a combined 2.4 yards per carry is impressive, preseason or not. Of course, Marcus Mariota and Carson Palmer combined to complete 21-of-33 passes for 260 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions (108.1 passer rating). This appears as if it will be a theme in 2017.

Chicago’s strong front-seven is deepened by 2016 third-round defensive end Jonathan Bullard, who graded well against the run over 47 preseason snaps – including a start in the dress rehearsal. The only real question concerns standout linebacker Danny Trevathan’s recovery from knee surgery, although he is on track for the regular season’s start.

Fragile free agent import Prince Amukamara hurt his ankle and is questionable, at best, for Week 1. Fellow free agent corner Marcus Cooper graded below average in coverage during the preseason, as he has every season of his career. They are the starters, and there’s even less behind them. The main threat to a Bears funnel defense candidacy is their front seven’s pass rush, which looked strong this preseason.

Week 1: Starting inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman is the Bears’ best coverage player, which is both a little comical and a lot problematic for whoever he’s assigned to. Austin Hooper is a trendy fantasy pick, but we aren’t yet sure if he’ll play full snaps – and the ones Freeman is in coverage on will be challenging. The Falcons have no shortage of clear perimeter mismatches, and against the Bears, should have no shortage of passes in general.

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