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Funnel defense report: Week 9 defenses with ample pass opportunity

LANDOVER, MD - OCTOBER 15: Ahkello Witherspoon #23 of the San Francisco 49ers defends during the game against the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field on October 15, 2017 in Landover, Maryland. The Redskins defeated the 49ers 26-24. (Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images)

Welcome to the Week 9 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.

There are fewer funnel defenses to discuss this week. Of the six teams on bye, at least four of them – Bears, Browns, Chargers, and Steelers – have displayed funnel tendencies. Both the Bills and Jets have appeared in this space, and they played last night. Plus, it’s just about time to remove the 49ers’ crumbling defense from the funnel section — and leave it over with the shovels.

San Francisco 49ers

It is tough to call the 49ers a pass funnel when opposing offenses can do whatever they want. During the first six weeks, before injuries began piling up, the 49ers allowed 3.4 yards per carry. Losing defensive end Arik Armstead was a tipping point. Since then, running backs are averaging 5.2 yards per attempt. San Francisco just lost defensive end Solomon Thomas, on top of linebacker Reuben Foster’s inability to stay on the field. Not to be outdone, their league-worst-graded pass defense placed starting free safety Jimmie Ward on IR. The 49ers’ flaccid offense doesn’t force the hand of opponents, who have the 20th-highest situation-neutral pass rate.

Week 9: The Cardinals are happy to see a sagging run defense on their schedule, as the Drew Stanton Experience is once again a thing. In Week 4, San Francisco held Arizona to 51 rushing yards on 22 carries (2.3-yard average). They threw on 56 of 78 situation-neutral snaps (71.8 percent), but it came before Adrian Peterson arrived and Carson Palmer departed. After their well-timed bye week, the Cardinals will almost certainly turn away from an approach marked by a league-leading 66.8-percent pass rate. At least for this week, they face an opponent in San Francisco who likely won’t force them away from a Peterson-centric game plan.

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