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Funnel defense report: Week 12 defenses with ample pass opportunity

FOXBORO, MA - JANUARY 14: Kareem Jackson #25 of the Houston Texans reacts over Dion Lewis #33 of the New England Patriots in the second half during the AFC Divisional Playoff Game at Gillette Stadium on January 14, 2017 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Welcome to the Week 12 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 esteemed Adam Levitan coined the term “funnel defense,” or “pass funnel defense” several years ago. It has become common parlance among DFS players and other fantasy aficionados, and refers to defenses that 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.

(For brevity’s sake, all references to pass or run rates/percentages are in terms of neutral game situations. Unless otherwise stated, we will reference one-score situations [plus/minus seven points] to get a truer representation of game plan.)

Cleveland Browns

The Jaguars did enough on the ground — and nothing through the air — to get the win in Cleveland as their running backs gained 3.4 yards per carry. Due to their own ineptitude, the Browns’ inability to do anything on offense, and perhaps because of the inclement weather, Jacksonville chose to run on a Week 11-high 57.9 percent of plays. A week after losing Jamie Collins, defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah has been lost for the season. Cleveland also lost run-stuffer Jamie Meder. While our sixth-highest-graded run defense still leads the league in rushing yards-per-attempt (3.1), we may begin to see softening against running games.

Week 12: The Bengals are probably not the offense to exploit any developing cracks in Cleveland’s run defense. They average a league-low 3.0 yards per carry, and their offensive line is so pathetic that Cincinnati can’t hold the ball long enough to get the running game going. They average the fewest plays in the league (55.1), only 48.8 since Week 5, and no team over the last decade has produced less than 56.7. As much as we want Joe Mixon to be a thing, he has no shot through no fault of his own. If we want to attack the Browns this week, all signs point to the passing game, and we should tread lightly when we do it.

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