The NFL is a matchup-driven league. Offensive coordinators are always looking to scheme their playmakers into one-on-one situations against a defender, while defensive coordinators will attempt to do anything in their power to upset the timing and rhythm of the opposing QB.
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Despite the obvious impact that defenses have on opposing offenses, fantasy players and fans alike are often left with one-way metrics to describe offenses and defenses that they are then forced to compare against each other in an attempt to identify mismatches.
The goal here is to provide easy-to-decipher charts and notes to define each week’s key matchups and advantages on both sides of the ball in:
- Explosive Plays
- Yards Before Contact
- Passing Game
The following charts display matchup-specific information meant to highlight the largest mismatches in these ever-important facets of football to ultimately gain actionable betting and fantasy takeaways. And, of course, to have fun.
Note: Data is from Week 1-10, 2021. Key discrepancies will be highlighted in the ensuing paragraphs.
Big plays make the football world go round. Matchups between explosive offenses and leaky defenses are exactly what we’re looking for when compiling game stacks in DFS, or when betting an over.
- Explosive Pass Rate: The sum of an offense’s rate of 20-plus yard completions per pass attempt and the opposing defense’s rate of 20-plus yard completions allowed per pass attempt. A higher percentage is better for offenses (blue is good, red is bad).
- Explosive Run Rate: The sum of an offense’s rate of 15-plus yard gains per rush attempt and the opposing defense’s rate of 15-plus yard runs allowed per rush attempt. A higher percentage is better for offenses (blue is good, red is bad).
Mismatch Manifesto Week 11: combined explosive play rate.
Higher or lower % = large or small combined sum of the pass/rush big-play rate from the matchup's offense and defense (blue = good, red = bad)
Big pass play: 20+ yds
Big run play: 15+
All data from 2021, PFF pic.twitter.com/j6fDUDemqq
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) November 17, 2021
These offenses breed explosive plays: Seven offenses are averaging an explosive pass play on at least 10% of their dropbacks: Raiders (12.4%), Patriots (11.4%), Cardinals (11%), Bengals (10.8%), Cowboys (1.8%), Buccaneers (10.7%) and the Rams (10.5%). Unfortunately the times are a changin’ for the former squad’s explosive passing attack.
Nobody likes a cold streak in Vegas: Derek Carr has turned in his two worst performances of the season in PFF passing grade in back-to-back weeks without Henry Ruggs in action. It’s rather easy to see that this passing game has become a shell of itself without the services of the field-stretching ace:
- Carr in Weeks 1-8: 90.2 PFF passing grade (No. 4 among qualified QBs), 8.5 yards per attempt (No. 6), 9.2 yard average target depth (No. 7)
- Weeks 9-10: 51.4 PFF passing grade (No. 27), 6.9 yards per attempt (No. 19), 6.9 yard average target depth (No. 24)
This is just a small sample size, and DeSean Jackson should help matters down the stretch as long as he can remember where the end zone is. Still, things are so much easier for everyone involved in this Raiders offense when the opponent has to respect the deep ball; reduced efficiency could become a more constant occurrence for this passing game during the second half of the season.
The Bengals’ 11th-ranked defense in EPA allowed per pass thrown 20-plus yards downfield probably isn’t the sort of get-right spot this passing game needs; Carr and company need a tuneup in order to stay competitive in the ever frightening AFC West.
Good offense beats good defense in today’s NFL: Offenses set up to thrive in their quest to create some explosive pass plays include the Cowboys, Patriots and Dolphins. The two former squads are both led by quarterbacks who have truly played largely exceptional ball this year.
Yes, I’m talking about everybody’s least favorite potential No. 3 overall pick ever: Mac Jones has been the best rookie quarterback this season and now finds himself ranked among the league’s very best at the position regardless of experience.
- PFF passing grade: 85.4 (No. 6 among 37 qualified quarterbacks)
- Big-time throw rate: 4.6% (No. 17)
- Turnover-worthy play rate: 2.0% (No. 7)
- Yards per attempt: 7.2 (No. 19)
- Adjusted completion rate: 76.8% (No. 13)
Jones ranks ninth and sixth from a clean pocket and under pressure in PFF passing grade, respectively; the rookie has largely passed every test thrown his way through 10 weeks of action. New England’s status as the league’s fifth-most run-heavy offense in non-garbage time situations reflects the reality that Jones isn’t exactly handling the position’s largest workload; just realize the 2021 NFL Draft’s No. 15 overall pick sure looks the part of the team’s future at quarterback.
Seriously: Some of these throws from Week 10 were absurd.
Mac Jones had some pretty, pretty, pretty good throws in Week 10 pic.twitter.com/t1iyrtZieT
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) November 15, 2021
Perhaps Jones’ fantastic real life play will better translate to counting stats against a Falcons defense that has allowed the fourth-most fantasy points per game to opposing signal-callers this season.
If I had a dollar for every explosive pass play the Cowboys have had, I would have $39, which, hey, that’s better than nothing: Few have been better than Dak Prescott this season at creating big plays in instances when he’s had all day to throw. The following metrics denote his performance when taking 2.5 or more seconds to attempt a pass:
- PFF passing grade: 85.4 (No. 4 among all quarterbacks)
- QB rating: 115.6 (No. 1)
- Passing touchdowns: 12 (No. 2)
- Yards per attempt: 9.7 (No. 4)
- Adjusted completion rate: 72.3% (No. 13)
It makes sense that defenses have had all kinds of problems containing the likes of CeeDee Lamb, Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup when unable to force Prescott to get the ball out quickly. The Chiefs’ sixth-ranked pass rush in quick pressure rate will certainly have a better chance of bringing out the worst in Prescott if all-world LT Tyron Smith (ankle) remains sidelined.
Offense is easier when the defense sucks: The only five defenses allowing an explosive pass play on at least 10% of their opponent’s dropbacks are the Jets, Ravens, Lions, Chiefs and Jaguars. It’s too bad there really isn’t a receiver to truly feel good about against the etroit Lions this week (get it, because they have no D).
Related content for you: Week 11 WR/CB mismatches and shadow coverages to leverage in DFS & fantasy football leagues via Ian Hartitz
Cleveland doesn’t really rock at the moment: Baker Mayfield hasn’t cleared 33 pass attempts in a game this season. He’s clearly operating at well less than 100%, but wants to continue to play through the pain. The results speak for themselves: This offense has scored 17 or fewer points in all but two of their last seven games. Only the Bears and Titans have thrown the ball at a lower rate in non-garbage time situations.
Jarvis Landry (knee) hasn’t scored all season and has finished with fewer than 70 receiving yards in every game since Week 1. Donovan Peoples-Jones has regularly flashed as a downfield threat, yet has three or fewer targets in all but three games this season. Rashard Higgins hasn’t caught a pass since Week 8. David Njoku is one of just five tight ends averaging at least 2.0 yards per route run this season, so naturally he has three or fewer targets in all but three games this season. None of these receivers “suck”; it’s just an effect from playing with a banged-up Mayfield inside one of the league’s most run-heavy offenses. Try to avoid playing anybody involved in this passing game if you can help it despite this more than smashable matchup; there’s a very real chance that Nick Chubb and D’Ernest Johnson simply take over this game from the start.
Not every passing attack is meant to fly: The clear-cut bottom-five offenses in terms of expected failure in creating big plays through the air feature the Colts, Saints, Falcons, Steelers and Seahawks. Seriously, what the hell was that last week, Russell Wilson?
Don’t do anything drastic Pete Carroll c’mon man: D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett led the NFL in unrealized air yards last week. It’s fair to wonder just how quickly those will turn into actual production with Russell Wilson (finger) clearly operating at less than 100%, but it’s still a positive that this passing game is back to feeding its undisputed top-two options plenty of fantasy-friendly deep ball opportunities.
Problem: This week doesn’t present the sort of get-right spot that this passing game badly needs. Chandler Jones is a candidate to wreck any offensive line during any given week, while this secondary has held up strong against passes thrown at least 20 yards downfield:
- Yards per attempt: 11.9 (tied for No. 8)
- Explosive pass play rate: 33.3% (tied for No. 9)
- Contested target rate: 36.7% (No. 6)
Last year Wilson (inexplicably) decided against targeting Metcalf against Patrick Peterson, leading to Lockett posting humongous 15-200-3 and 9-67-1 performances. Perhaps this will again be the case, but the present edition of this Cardinals secondary doesn’t have a body capable of physically matchup up with Metcalf.
We’ll truly ring the panic bells if Wilson looks as bad as he did in Week 10 again, but for now treat Metcalf (my WR8) and Lockett (WR16) as recommended starts. This passing game is capable of toppling just about everybody when they’re clicking; here’s to hoping they get back on track in a hurry.
It’s hard to too fully trust Carson Wentz but … : Michael Pittman has essentially only busted once during his short career when afforded an even halfway decent number of targets. Overall, he’s had at least eight targets in seven career games:
- 7 receptions-101 yards-0 TD (8 targets)
- 2-28-0 (9)
- 5-90-0 (10)
- 8-123-0 (12)
- 6-68-0 (12)
- 6-59-0 (8)
- 10-86-2 (15)
The latter performance came in Week 8. Pittman sandwiched that game with 4-105-1, 5-64-1 and 5-71-0 receiving lines on a combined 15 targets. When Carson Wentz throws the ball to Pittman the two most-likely scenarios are 1.) he catches the ball, or 2.) some poor cornerback is forced to commit pass interference. This week’s spot against the Bills’ league-best defense in PPR points per game to opposing wide receivers obviously isn’t ideal, but it could present the sort of negative game script that this Colts offense needs in order to feed Pittman an adequate number of targets. I’m buying the potential for enhanced volume in this spot and fading the idea that Tre’Davious White and company will shut down the rising second-year talent; Pittman is my WR17 on the week ahead of guys like D.J. Moore, Brandin Cooks and Amari Cooper.
Don’t let these run games get hot: The Mount Rushmore of rushing attacks expected to find all sorts of success in creating chunk plays: Colts, Bears, Bills and Lions. At least three of these squads supply fairly featured backs!
Everyone loves a three-down running back: Credit to D’Andre Swift on putting forward his best game of the year in Week 10 from a rushing standpoint. Overall, Swift forced just five missed tackles as a rusher in Weeks 1-8; he had seven broken tackles on the ground in Week 10 alone. The second-year talent also averaged a season-high 2.8 yards after contact per carry against the Steelers; it was truly an impressive performance.
D'Andre Swift had some fun runs in Week 10 pic.twitter.com/BtPiqYzaHx
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) November 16, 2021
The performance would have been even bigger for Swift if Igwebuike and Jefferson didn’t “vulture” 42- and 28-yard touchdown runs. Still, his week-high snap rate reflects the reality that the Lions are comfortable using him as much as possible for however long Jamaal Williams (thigh) remains sidelined.
This week’s matchup against Myles Garrett and company isn’t ideal, but Swift is one of just five backs averaging at least 19 expected PPR points per game this season. This sort of workload makes matchups largely irrelevant in fantasy land; squeeze Swift into fantasy lineups of all shapes and sizes as the RB1 he’s been virtually all season.
That dude from Wisconsin is pretty good, huh: Jonathan Taylor is tied with James Conner for the most total PPR points above expectation this season. The Colts’ stud second-year back should probably be in any conversation surrounding the game’s top-five players at the position. All Taylor has done since entering the league in 2020 is function as one of the single-best running backs in the league:
- PFF rushing grade: 90.2 (No. 4 among 70 running backs with 100 carries since 2020)
- Yards per carry: 5.4 (No. 3)
- Yards after contact per carry: 3.2 (No. 14)
- Missed tackles forced per carry: 0.2 (tied for No. 14)
- First down/touchdown rate: 31% (No. 2)
At this point, complaints about Taylor being used enough are mostly overblown. Marlon Mack has played five offensive snaps since Week 7 and has been a healthy scratch in back-to-back games, while Taylor (35 targets) barely trails Nyheim Hines (39) in pass-game opportunities on the season.
Taylor’s world-beater status will be tested against the Bills’ league-best defense in PPR points per game allowed to opposing backs; just realize he’s impossible to fade in season-long fantasy thanks to his elite combination of talent and volume. The RB2 in PPR points per game this season, Taylor is a weekly upside RB1 regardless of the matchup.
These offenses might just want to pass the ball: Offenses that look pretty screwed in creating big plays on the ground this week: Bengals, Raiders, Eagles, Titans and Dolphins. Of course, the latter squad is playing the Jets. There’s always a chance when you’re playing the Jets, I don’t care what the question is.
Hear me out: he catches passes: Myles Gaskin continues to dominate usage with Malcolm Brown (quad, IR) out of the picture. Unfortunately, his production has been awfully sporadic, posting PPR RB2, RB47, RB9, RB35, RB8 and RB42 performances over the past six weeks of action.
Good news for Gaskin arrives in the form of the Jets’ league-worst defense in PPR points per game allowed to opposing backfields. There’s certainly a chance the Dolphins’ 30th-ranked offensive line in team PFF pass-blocking grade still can’t get much going on the ground. Still, Gaskin should at least be able to thrive as a receiver, something each of Christian McCaffrey (9-89-0), Jeremy McNichols (8-74-0), Cordarrelle Patterson (7-60-0), Brandon Bolden (6-79-1), James White (6-45-0) and Joe Mixon (4-58-1) managed to do without too much difficulty against this very defense.
Gaskin is projected to see 19.4 combined carries and targets this week — the 12th-highest mark among all running backs. This sort of volume locks him in as an RB2; don’t be a victim of the moment and fade Gaskin purely because of last week’s down Thursday night performance.
Fast-paced games lead to more plays, which lead to more points. Every week usually consists of at least a few games that could resemble a track meet based on their combined situation-neutral pace (Football Outsiders).
- Combined Situation-Neutral Pace: Represents the combined situation-neutral pace between each matchup’s two offenses. A lower number indicates fewer average seconds per play (blue = fast-paced game), while a higher number indicates more average seconds per play (red = slow-paced game).
Mismatch Manifesto Week 11: combined situation-neutral pace.
Low combined numbers (blue) = two fast-paced offenses
High combined numbers (red) = two slow-paced offenses
Data from 2021, Football Outsiders pic.twitter.com/ZeZbN1YYE4
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) November 17, 2021
Get ready to see a track meet: This week’s sponsored Ricky Bobby “I want to go fast” highest-projected matchup features the Cowboys (No. 2 in situation neutral pace) at the Chiefs (No. 9). Honorable mention goes to the Steelers (No. 14) at the Chargers (No. 3).
We’ll be moving plenty fast elsewhere too: More matchups expected to feature plenty of total plays include Giants-Buccaneers, Cardinals-Seahawks and Patriots-Falcons. Every primetime game accounted for. Thank you NFL. Great day to be great.
Unfortunately some offenses are slow and lame: The single-slowest matchup of the week pits the Lions (No. 27) at the Browns (No. 28). Not even that mad about it, to be honest. The less we see of Jared Goff and Baker Mayfield, the better, at least these days.
Seriously, what are you waiting for: More matchups that might not supply the sort of volume fantasy managers are hoping for include Bengals-Raiders, Ravens-Bears and Packers-Vikings. The most egregious slow-moving offense continues to be the Bengals (No. 31). Let. Joe. Cook.
An overmatched offensive line can result in poor fantasy days for all skill-position players involved. Meanwhile, QBs with all day to throw can help generate points in bunches. We can determine which offensive lines might be especially better (or worse) this week with help from PFF’s offensive and defensive pressure statistics.
- Combined Pressure Rate: The sum of the offensive line’s rate of pressures allowed per dropback and the opposing defense’s total pressures generated per dropback. A higher percentage (red) is better for defenses and indicates that quarterback could be under fire, while a lower percentage (blue) indicates that matchup’s quarterback could face reduced pressure.
Mismatch Manifesto Week 11: combined pressure rate
Sum of pressure rates between opposing offenses and defenses.
Higher percentage: that offensive line could be in trouble (red)
Lower percentage: not expecting much pressure on QB (blue)
Data from 2021, PFF pic.twitter.com/lUmgc3t4QN
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) November 17, 2021
Under pressure: good song, bad for fantasy football: Quarterbacks that could feel the heat this week include: Carson Wentz, Tua Tagovailoa, Joe Flacco, Jared Goff and Cam Newton. Oh wait, Cam is back!
Yeah, I’m thinking I’m back: Newton was responsible for the best feel-good moment of Week 10, yelling “I’m back” into the camera after finding the end zone in his first snap back in a Panthers uniform. He then threw a short touchdown to Robby Anderson on his next snap, ultimately getting nine reps in during the Panthers’ 34-10 beatdown over the Cardinals.
Last season wasn’t a complete waste for Newton in New England, as he turned in a top-12 fantasy performance on six separate occasions thanks in large part to his ever-dominant ability near the goal line. The Panthers sure don’t seem poised to abandon this skill set in 2021 if last week was any indication; Newton has the potential to work as a weekly upside QB2 in fantasy land thanks to his fantasy-friendly dual-threat ability.
The Football Team wasn’t exactly a matchup to fear in the first place, and this point is more true than ever with Chase Young (ACL, IR) done for the season. Fire up Newton as arguably the week’s single-best streaming option against the Football Team’s league-worst defense in fantasy points per game allowed to opposing quarterbacks.
Do clean pockets really matter in Detroit?: Kalif Raymond deserves better.
Poor Kalif Raymond pic.twitter.com/TKNtBBxrq9
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) November 17, 2021
Alas, Jared Goff (oblique) remains his quarterback, so Raymond will continue to boast a zero-point fantasy floor despite regularly proving capable of getting open downfield. He’s a boom-or-bust WR5, while Amon-Ra St. Brown is more of a low-ceiling WR4. Neither are recommended fantasy options if you can help it; nobody is implied to score fewer points than the Lions (17) this week.
Some offensive lines and quarterbacks are just more prone to pressure: The Dolphins (43%), Colts (36%), Seahawks (35%) and Titans (35%) are the league’s only five offenses that have been pressured on at least 35% of their dropbacks this season. For the love of every football god out there: Please keep Ryan Tannehill upright long enough to get his No. 1 receiver going.
Related content for you: The Fantasy Football Utilization Report: Week 11 waiver, trade and drop candidates via Dwain McFarland
It’s always AJB WR1 szn: A.J. Brown had just one reception and a lone rush attempt in Week 10, which was rather shocking considering, you know, both Derrick Henry (foot, IR) and Julio Jones (hamstring, IR) are out for the foreseeable future.
R-e-l-a-x. AJB had at least nine targets in each of his four previous games and remains one of the league’s single-best talents at his position. It’s safe to say the Texans don’t boast a cornerback capable of hanging with him for 60 minutes:
- Desmond King: 42.8 PFF coverage grade (No. 122 among 126 qualified corners)
- Terrance Mitchell: 59.8 (No. 78)
- Tavierre Thomas: 69.5 (No. 37)
PFF only has four receivers projected to score more fantasy points than Brown this week; fire him up as an upside WR1 with all the confidence in the world. Any start/sit questions directed my way including AJB will be taken as a personal insult.
Sundial joke about having a ton of time to throw: Mac Jones, Dak Prescott, Tom Brady as well as whoever winds up under center for the Steelers and Cardinals are set up the best to work from consistently clean pockets this week. Things could either be quite cool, or incredibly lame, depending on which signal-caller gets the draw in Arizona.
Nothing is worse than hurt quarterbacks: Hopefully Kyler Murray (ankle) and DeAndre Hopkins (hamstring) are back in action this week, but it’d make sense if the Cardinals are extra cautious with a Week 12 bye right around the corner.
This entire passing game will be limited if Colt McCoy (chest) is back under center. He was atrocious before getting injured in Week 10 and has posted a mundane 5.9 yard average target depth on the year — the second-lowest mark in the league among 43 qualified quarterbacks.
Christian Kirk is the only receiver you can trust at the moment if Nuk is again sidelined. He’s turned in PPR WR17, WR17, WR51, WR17 and WR30 finishes over his past five games. Kirk is my WR26 on the week ahead of guys like Emmanuel Sanders, Corey Davis and Michael Gallup.
Ideally, Rondale Moore would be thriving with this extra opportunity, but he played a season-low 18 snaps in Week 10. It’s unclear if this was simply a game-plan decision, or a factor of Moore being questionable going into the game due to a neck/concussion injury. The severity of that type of injury makes it awfully strange to play the rookie in any capacity, but perhaps that was coach Kliff Kingsbury’s reasoning. Either way: Moore can’t be trusted as a viable fantasy option until it’s clear he’s back to playing a full-time role.
This Seahawks secondary is exploitable with Murray under center, but there are too many concerns in terms of both volume and efficiency to trust anyone other than Kirk if McCoy is once again that guy, pal.
Pass rushes that haunt the dreams of your favorite quarterback: The league’s best pass rushes feature the Dolphins, Raiders, Jaguars, Bills, Buccaneers, Ravens, Chargers and Browns above all else. Our next list is unsurprisingly littered with talents from each of these squads.
The league’s finest individual rushers of the passer: Just 10 defenders have racked up more than 40 pressures this season: Maxx Crosby (63 pressures), Myles Garrett (50), Harold Landry (48), Matthew Judon (46), Jeffery Simmons (46), Raashan Gary (46), Shaquil Barrett (45), Denico Autry (43), Trey Hendrickson (42) and Aaron Donald (42). Imagine being on the bad side of literally any of these guys. I’m sure they’re nice and everything, but sheesh. Especially Donald. That dude trains with knives.
RBs receive most of the praise for an offense’s rushing output, but an overmatched offensive line can thwart a team’s run game before it even has a chance to get started. We can determine the offensive lines that might be especially better (or worse) off this week by looking at yards before contact.
- Combined Yards Before Contact Per Rush: The sum of an offensive line’s adjusted line yards per rush and the opposing defense’s adjusted line yards allowed per rush. A higher number (blue) is good for running backs, while a lower number (red) indicates that matchup’s offense could have some trouble consistently running the ball.
Mismatch Manifesto Week 11: combined yards before contact per rush
Sum of each offense and defense's YBC/carry.
High number: Good run-blocking o-line vs. bad run-defending D (blue)
Low number: Bad run blocking o-line vs. stout D against the run (red)
Data from 2021, PFF pic.twitter.com/jarZOUzVhE
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) November 17, 2021
Great day to be a great running back: The Mount Rushmore of backfields set up well to run the ball this week: Ravens, Bills, Dolphins and Chiefs. There is some RB2 goodness to be had with both the former and latter squads.
Perhaps Devonta Freeman will retain his role as the starting back even once Murray is back. The ex-Falcons talent has been the group’s best option all season and still has some gas in the tank:
- PFF rushing grade: 80.7 (No. 10 among 74 backs with at least 25 carries)
- Yards per carry: 5.2 (No. 10)
- Yards after contact per carry: 2.4 (No. 58)
- Missed tackles forced per carry: 0.23 (tied for No. 8)
- First down/touchdown rate: 30.2% (No. 8)
Up next is a Bears front-seven that is nearing full health with coach Matt Nagy “hoping” Khalil Mack (foot) will be able to return to the lineup Sunday. Ultimately, Freeman has earned borderline RB2 treatment thanks to a more cemented role out of the Ravens’ Week 8 bye that has consisted of 30 combined carries and targets on season-high snap rates in back-to-back weeks. I’d try to refrain from starting either Freeman or Murray if the latter back is healthy enough to return this week. Ty’Son Williams would likely only have a few touches if Murray remains sidelined..
Arrowhead Stadium is in Kansas City Missouri, not Kansas City, Kansas: Darrel Williams caught all nine of his targets for 101 yards during the Chiefs’ Sunday night blowout victory over the Raiders. This included a rather electric 38-yard touchdown catch; it’d make sense if the Chiefs continue to keep “The Mentor” fairly involved even once Clyde Edwards-Helaire (knee, IR) manages to return.
Look no further than the end of 2021 for evidence that CEH being active doesn’t guarantee he’ll get his usual role back. Williams was the more-utilized player in both the AFC Championship and Super Bowl once Edwards-Helaire returned from injury. Obviously, those loser-leaves-town matchups would warrant playing through the pain more so than a ho-hum Week 11 contest; that doesn’t mean the Chiefs won’t choose to more evenly distribute this backfield’s usage in the near future.
CEH was just the RB32 in expected PPR points per game in Weeks 1-4 largely because he only totaled eight combined targets. Consider: Williams nearly had more targets Sunday night (9) than CEH (10) has all season. Historically, targets are worth roughly 2.7-times more than carries in fantasy land; it’s going to be tough to squeeze Edwards-Helaire into the top-24 if his pass-game work doesn’t increase in a hurry.
The Cowboys’ speedy defense has allowed the eighth-fewest PPR points per game to opposing backfields this season; try to find a better option than either CEH or Williams if both are active in this one due to workload concerns. Williams will continue to be a volume-based low-end RB2 if Edwards-Helaire is sidelined for another week.
Personal note: Check out my Week 11 Backfield Report for more specific information on the league's ever-evolving running back stables.
More running backs expected to have a little thing called success: The Vikings, Cowboys, Seahawks and Buccaneers also stand out as groups that should see more open lanes than usual this week. Three of these four teams have a highly drafted running back leading their backfield. Coincidence? Well, probably.
There’s a star on his helmet for a reason (he plays for the Cowboys): Ezekiel Elliott only out-snapped Tony Pollard 36 to 25 in the first three quarters of the Cowboys’ blowout victory over the Falcons in Week 10. It makes sense to keep Pollard plenty involved on the ground; he finds himself alongside the elite of the elite when looking at yards after contact and missed tackles forced per carry.
RB ranks in yards after contact and missed tackles forced per carry in 2021 (rushing only, min. 50 carries, PFF)
Further up: Racks up yards after contact
Further down: Not getting much YAC
Further right: Forces a ton of missed tackles
Further left: Not making defenders miss pic.twitter.com/Gnql5dIbzG
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) November 16, 2021
Elliott is the RB11 in PPR points per game this season, which is fine, but Pollard’s increased involvement on the season has been the difference in Zeke working as an RB1 vs. potentially *the* RB1.
Nobody likes a whiner; continue to fire up Zeke as a weekly top-12 option at the position with all the confidence in the world. This is especially true against a Chiefs defense that might not be built to deal with PFF’s top-ranked offensive line in team run-blocking grade:
- PFF team run defense grade: 43.3 (No. 30)
- Rush yards before contact per attempt: 1.6 (tied for No. 27)
- Rush yards after contact per attempt: 2.8 (No. 16)
- Rush yards allowed per carry: 4.6 (No. 27)
- Explosive run play rate: 12.6% (No. 17)
Pollard has posted RB5 (Week 2) and RB17 (Week 10) finishes this season, but also posted production that ranked outside of the week’s top-36 backs on five separate occasions. Treat him as a low-end RB3 in a game that doesn’t figure to yield Dallas the sort of exceptionally positive game script that their overqualified backup needs to really rack up volume. There isn’t a more valuable handcuff in fantasy.
Lombardi Lenny szn: Leonard Fournette overcame a surprising negative game script in Week 10 to the tune of a PPR RB14 finish. Preseason hesitations surrounding Fournette revolved around: 1.) Ronald Jones splitting early-down work, and 2.) Giovani Bernard soaking up most of the targets. Neither scenario has played out for most of the season, as Fournette’s workload is as elite as they come:
- Najee Harris (22.5 expected PPR points per game)
- Derrick Henry (21)
- Christian McCaffrey (20.5)
- Alvin Kamara (20.4)
- D’Andre Swift (19.6)
- Dalvin Cook (18.7)
- Fournette (17.9)
The RB17 in PPR points per game, Fournette has been a bit unlucky this season and has room to shoot up the ranks during the Buccaneers’ final stretch run. That gets started on Monday night against the Giants’ 26th-ranked defense in fewest PPR points per game allowed to opposing backfields; fire up Fournette as a volume-based borderline RB1. Nobody is implied to score more points than the Buccaneers (30.5) this week.
Let Dalvin cook (see what I did there): Dalvin Cook is the RB6 in expected PPR points per game this season but the RB14 on a per-game basis in realized production. He simply hasn’t been the same world-beater we usually saw over the past few seasons:
- 2021: 66.9 PFF rushing grade, 4.6 yards per carry, 2.8 yards after contact per carry
- 2020: 90.2 PFF rushing grade, 5.0 yards per carry, 3.3 yards after contact per carry
- 2019: 83.5 PFF rushing grade, 4.6 yards per carry, 3.1 yards after contact per carry
- 2018: 70.4 PFF rushing grade, 4.7 yards per carry, 3.0 yards after contact per carry
- 2017: 76.6 PFF rushing grade, 4.9 yards per carry, 2.7 yards after contact per carry
Cook exploded for 30-163-3 rushing and 2-63-1 receiving lines the last time he faced this Packers defense. Credit to Green Bay for holding up more than well over the past three weeks in tough matchups against Kyler Murray, Patrick Mahomes and Russell Wilson; Cook continues to warrant top-five treatment at the position thanks to carrying one of the largest weekly workloads in the league. Mattison remains nothing more than a top-tier handcuff and doesn’t possess any standalone value.
Gotta love a good run game scheme: Only five offenses are averaging at least 1.8 yards before contact per carry: Ravens (2.1), Chiefs (2), Colts (1.9), Bills (1.9) and Eagles (1.8). Call me crazy, but having a mobile quarterback might just help matters.
Best Steven Tyler voice: Run away, run away from the pain yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah: The Falcons and Bears look like the most screwed offenses in terms of expected success on the ground before contact. Make sure you check out the PFF Fantasy Football Twitter for a Thursday night Twitter Space going over what to expect from the Atlanta backfield depending on whether or not Cordarrelle Patterson (ankle, questionable) plays through the pain.
Some pass offenses are obviously more efficient than others, while certain secondaries are seemingly capable of shutting down any aerial attack. We can determine the week’s biggest mismatches in the passing game using each offense and defense’s pass yards per dropback.
- Combined Passing Yards Per Dropback: The sum of an offense’s passing yards per dropback and the opposing defense’s passing yards allowed per dropback. A higher number (blue) is good for quarterbacks and receivers, while a lower number (red) indicates that matchup’s pass offense could be in trouble.
Mismatch Manifesto Week 11: combined pass yards per dropback
Sum of offense's pass yards/dropback with defensive rate.
Higher number: efficient pass offense vs. bad pass defense (blue)
Lower number: inefficient pass offense vs. good pass defense (red)
Data from 2021, PFF pic.twitter.com/O6boUa4Lnm
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) November 17, 2021
Sometimes it just looks so easy: Dak Prescott and Jimmy Garoppolo stand out as the week’s top-three quarterbacks in expected success through the air. As much as I’d enjoy seeing what Trey Lance has to offer: Jimmy G has undoubtedly played some good ball in recent weeks. Of course, it helps when you have one of the best playmakers in the game at your disposal.
“Why be a king, when you can be a God.” — Deebo Samuel: Pick any receiving efficiency metric you want: there’s a good chance Samuel is No. 1 in it:
- PFF receiving grade: 86.9 (No. 4 among 89 qualified wide receivers)
- Yards per reception: 18.1 (No. 4)
- Yards after the catch per reception: 9.6 (No. 1)
- Yards per route run: 3.46 (No. 1)
The only knock on Samuel this season are his league-high nine drops. Much like with Diontae Johnson and D.K. Metcalf before him: We don’t care about drops in fantasy land because they generally signify a receiver that is consistently getting open as opposed to someone that is simply incapable of catching a football.
The overall WR2 in PPR points per game this season, Samuel is a weekly must-start WR1 option as the centerpiece of Kyle Shanahan’s offensive attack. Concerns about enough targets to go around between him, George Kittle and Aiyuk are especially mitigated with the 49ers feeding Samuel a season-high six snaps as a true running back in Week 10.
Deebo Samuel, running back, THE running back, ya'll pic.twitter.com/QEzqiLoxzY
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) November 16, 2021
Good news: Aiyuk continues to see a weekly full-time role. Bad news: He’s the clear-cut No. 3 pass-game option in this run-first offense. Treat him as more of an upside WR3 despite the cozy matchup against the league’s eighth-worst defense in PPR points per game allowed to the position. Life could be a bit tougher than usual in this expected shadow date against Griffin, who ranks 22nd in PFF coverage grade among 126 qualified players.
Kittle has ripped off PPR TE1 and TE5 finishes since returning from the injured reserve. The NFL’s leaders in yards per route run since 2010 (min. 100 targets): Samuel, Davante Adams … and Kittle. The league’s best all-around player at the position, Kittle is a weekly top-five fantasy option and would be a more than viable FLEX in the rare instances of a fantasy squad having multiple high-end choices at the position.
60% of the time, CeeDee Lamb works every time against the Chiefs: The Chiefs don’t make a habit of moving their corners all over the field, meaning Dak Prescott should be able to avoid Rashad Fenton (PFF’s second-highest-graded cornerback in coverage) whenever he desires.
Truthfully, it might not matter who is on CeeDee Lamb at this point. All the second-year talent has done in 2021 is emerge as anyone’s idea of one of the game’s best players at the position:
- PFF receiving grade: 86.5 (No. 5 among 89 qualified wide receivers)
- Yards per reception: 15.4 (No. 15)
- Yards per route run: 2.4 (No. 8)
- PPR points per game: 17.6 (No. 9)
Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup (when active) have performed just fine in their own right; Lamb has simply established himself as the group’s alpha as of late and warrants top treatment in fantasy land.
Ultimately, starting anybody involved in the Cowboys’ top-ranked scoring offense is usually good for fantasy business. Each of Lamb (my WR6), Cooper (WR20) and Gallup (WR29) fall inside of my top-30 fantasy options at the position on the week. The game total for Cowboys-Chiefs (56) is six points higher than the week’s next-closest matchup; get your popcorn ready.
The government calls it a passing league for a reason: The Browns, Titans, Raiders, Bengals and Patriots also stand out as passing attacks that should have plenty of success through the air. Don’t be surprised if the Raiders in particular have some trouble stopping their opponent this week.
- Higgins (57 targets)
- Ja'Marr Chase (56)
- Tyler Boyd (35)
- Joe Mixon (22)
- C.J. Uzomah (21)
- Samaje Perine (13)
This isn’t to suggest Higgins should be viewed as the No. 1 receiver in Cincy; just realize the production *should* be a bit closer between the pair of outside talents in the second half compared to what we saw in the first 10 weeks of the season. Consider:
- PPR points per game: Chase (WR5), Higgins (WR33)
- Expected PPR points per game: Chase (WR15), Higgins (WR22)
Perhaps this week’s winnable matchup will bring out the best in both players. Nobody has run more Cover-3 than the Raiders this season. Overall, their 335 snaps dwarf the second-place Seahawks (267). They’ve largely been average out of this look, ranking 17th in EPA per play (-0.009) through 10 weeks of action, which is problematic considering Burrow has absolutely lit up Cover-3 this season, ranking third in PFF passing grade (83.9), 12th in big-time throw rate (4.7%) and fourth in yards per attempt (9.1) while not having a single turnover-worthy play against the look.
Squeeze Chase (especially) and Higgins (preferably) into starting lineups of all shapes and sizes, while Boyd has unfortunately been reduced to more of a clear-cut No. 3 option after leading the team in targets a season ago. Things could always change, but for now treat Boyd as more of a low-ceiling WR4 with so much of the passing game being flowed through Higgins and Chase.
These passing games might be a bit rough n’ rowdy: The Colts, Football Team and Jaguars look like the bottom-three offenses this week in terms of expected aerial success. The Lions, Vikings, Texans, Steelers, Giants and Seahawks don’t look to be in especially great spots either, but luckily sometimes wide receivers are good enough to just win anyway.
*Best That 70’s Show Voice* Hello Wisconsin!: The Packers have held Kyler Murray, Patrick Mahomes and Russell Wilson to a combined 34 points over the past three weeks. Madness. The reality that this secondary is playing better than ever without the services of Jaire Alexander (AC joint, IR) has been particularly impressive.
And yet, it just might not matter against someone as good as Justin Jefferson. All the former LSU stud has done since entering the NFL in 2020 is function as one of the league’s very best players at his position:
- PFF receiving grade: 91.2 (No. 2 among 110 wide receivers with 50 targets since 2020)
- Yards per reception: 15.2 (No. 18)
- Yards per route run: 2.51 (No. 4)
- QB rating when targeted: 117.0 (No. 16)
- PPR points per game: 17.2 (No. 9)
And then there’s Adam Thielen, who has scored seven times in nine games this season to make up for averaging a career-low 10.8 yards per reception. There’s little doubt who the real No. 1 option is in Minnesota these days; that doesn’t mean Thielen still isn’t a force to be reckoned with, particularly near the goal line. Overall, Thielen’s four scores inside the 10-yard line is tied for the fourth-highest mark in the league.
Both Jefferson (my PPR WR4) and Thielen (WR22) should be started in fantasy formats of all shapes and sizes. The 2021 version of the Vikings offense ranks a solid enough 20th in pass play rate in non-garbage time situations; there’s enough volume for both receivers to supply top-24 production more weeks than not, even in tough matchups like this week’s spot against the league’s fifth-best defense in limiting PPR points to opposing wide receivers.
Just one more personal note: Check out my Week 11 Quarterback Predictions for more fun facts and a forecast on every squad’s starting quarterback. The wide receiver-cornerback and tight end breakdown is also exclusively available at PFF.com. What’s better than this? Guys being dudes.
The Giants were widely mocked for using a first-round pick on Toney back in April. Now they’re (rightfully) being mocked for not using the electric rookie enough. He’s in some awfully elite company in terms of yards per route run through 10 weeks (min. 25 receptions):
- Deebo Samuel (3.46 yards per route run)
- Cordarrelle Patterson (3.22)
- Christian McCaffrey (3.18)
- Cooper Kupp (3.06)
- Davante Adams (2.82)
- Antonio Brown (2.82)
- Ja’Marr Chase (2.69)
- Toney (2.44)
And yet, Toney had just one target on a 55% snap rate in the Giants’ Week 9 victory over the Raiders. The Giants’ 24th-ranked scoring offense has stumbled upon a potentially special talent; now they just need to, you know, use him.
The Buccaneers’ walking graveyard of a cornerback room is a prime breakout spot for Toney, but the volume concerns are too high to fire him up as more than a boom-or-bust WR3. I’d start Toney ahead of Kenny Golladay and Darius Slayton alike, but the ceiling for all three starters is reduced by Collin Johnson (38% snaps in Week 9) staying involved for whatever reason.
Not so fast my friend: Offenses that haven’t averaged even 6.0 pass yards per dropback this season: Bears, Jaguars, Panthers, Dolphins, Lions and Steelers. Good news though, people: there’s a rookie in Chicago who is getting better by the day.
O-H (I-O): Justin Fields is 22 years of age; he’s allowed to get better with more experience. This has been the case through his first seven starts:
- Week 3: 50.2 PFF passing grade (No. 31 among all quarterbacks with 10 dropbacks)
- Week 4: 75.5 (No. 12)
- Week 5: 54.5 (No. 31)
- Week 6: 59.5 (No. 22)
- Week 7: 38.0 (No. 29)
- Week 8: 68.4 (No. 18)
- Week 9: 85.9 (No. 2)
The latter performance was particularly impressive. Fields made a number of throws that showed off the sort of tantalizing upside that made him a consensus top prospect in the first place.
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) November 9, 2021
The Ravens blitz-happy defense figures to give the rookie plenty of looks; here’s to hoping Fields continues to progress and provide the Bears with some semblance of consistent play under center.
Dope secondaries always have the best nicknames: The Bills, Packers, Panthers, Cardinals, Raiders and Buccaneers are the only six defenses to allow fewer than 6.0 pass yards per dropback. The Bills have only allowed 5.04 pass yards per dropback this season. Madness.
Points are ultimately what wins football games. We can measure the expected points of every play on offense and defense by considering the down, distance and field position before factoring in the result. Estimated points added (EPA) is thus the value of a play that takes context into account and thereby better measures efficiency at the play level.
- Combined EPA: The sum of an offense’s EPA/play and their opposing defense’s EPA/play allowed. A higher number (blue) is good for offenses, while a lower number (red) indicates that offense could be in trouble.
Mismatch Manifesto Week 11: combined EPA per play
Sum of EPA/play of matchup's offense and defense to see biggest potential overall mismatches
High numbers indicate efficient offense vs. inefficient defense (blue), lower numbers are bad for o (red)
Data from 2021, PFF pic.twitter.com/KCPdeUbfWp
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) November 17, 2021
Blowout alert: The clear top-four matchups in terms of one offense likely having a huge relative advantage over their opponent: Patriots over Falcons, Cardinals over Seahawks, 49ers over Jaguars and Cowboys over Chiefs. Maybe Patrick Mahomes and company will look like the world-beaters we saw last Sunday night against the Raiders. Maybe they won’t. That’s all I’m saying — don’t shoot the messenger.
Over alert: The highest combined matchups in expected offensive success: Cowboys and Chiefs … and that’s basically it. Everything else is rather pedestrian. To nobody’s surprise: Cowboys-Chiefs (56) has a game total that is presently 6 points higher than the next-closest matchup (Colts-Bills at 50).
Under alert: Football Team-Panthers stands out as the week’s top matchups that could feature the most overall offensive futility, while Texans-Titans and Dolphins-Jets aren’t too far behind. The former matchup isn’t as much of a knock on Taylor Heinicke as it is an example of just how good the Panthers have been on defense this year.
EPA allowed per pass/run play in 2021 (PFF)
Further down: Good against the run
Further up: Bad against the run
Further left: Good against the pass
Further right: Bad against the pass
Okay Bills mafia okay. pic.twitter.com/AfNYuaMhkE
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) November 15, 2021
Upset alert: Teams expected to have a relative offensive advantage, yet are underdogs, feature the Saints (+1.5) and Cowboys (+2.5). Both lines have swung mightily since opening at Saints (-3.5) and Cowboys (+7.5).