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The Funnel Defense Report: Divisional Round

Below is a look at the league’s most extreme run funnel and pass funnel defenses through Super Wild Card Weekend — teams being consistently attacked on the ground or through the air regardless of game script.

Having an understanding of which defenses are being bludgeoned via the rush or pass should help us identify matchups that may be better than we think in Super Wild Card Weekend DFS contests and other fantasy formats.

Not every game, of course, features a clearcut run or pass funnel defense. I’ve broken down each of this weekend’s four games, even if there are no trends in how a defense is being attacked. My hope is to provide a basis from which you can make your all-important lineups decisions in this condensed slate.

And please remember at all times: The process.

Ravens vs. Texans

Baltimore ended the regular season as a slight run funnel, on par with defenses like the Chargers and Commanders, who never established themselves as true funnel defenses either way.

Ravens opponents in 2023 had a 56 percent neutral pass rate (when the game was within seven points), the ninth lowest mark in the league. That rate ticked up to 58 percent in the second half of the season.

The Texans in the regular season were very much like the Ravens, showing no signs of being a funnel defense. In fact, Houston was smack dab in the middle of the league with a 57 percent pass rate against them in neutral situations.

What it means for the Divisional Round: What you really want to know is how these teams attacked each other in Week 1. With the caveat that September was several lifetimes ago in football time, Houston’s offense posted a 67 percent neutral pass rate against the Ravens; only four teams had a higher rate in the season’s opening week. The Texans passed at a 71 percent rate while trailing the Ravens in what would be a 25-9 beatdown.

The problem with OC Bobby Slowik’s Week 1 approach was being massively run heavy on first down. Houston was 12 percent below its expected pass rate on first downs, with a drop back rate 8 percent over expected. In other words, the Texans were (very) pass heavy on second and third downs. Slowik, thank the analytically-inclined gods, has moved away from this retro play calling: Over the past five games, the Texans are 3 percent over their expected pass rate on first downs. It’s a sign they’ll be aggressive against Baltimore. That’s good. We like that.

Nico Collins will remain the main beneficiary of any kind of pass-first game plan for Houston. That goes without saying (or writing). Dalton Schultz had a less-than-desirable 66 percent route rate last week against Cleveland while Brevin Jordan had a 38 percent route rate and turned his lone target into a 76-yard score. An increase in play volume — CJ Stroud had 54 drop backs in Week 1 against Baltimore — should be good for both Texans tight ends.

John Metchie becomes not entirely uninteresting with Noah Brown (shoulder) on IR. Metchie trailed only Collins in pass routes last week against the Browns; he caught all three of his targets for 44 yards. Metchie should get something close to a full complement of routes against the Ravens.

The Ravens passed on 50 percent of their plays in neutral situations against the Texans in Week 1. Todd Monken leaned on the run, with a drop back rate 4 percent under expected. Lamar Jackson didn’t do much as a passer or a runner with the Ravens playing from ahead. It’s noteworthy, I think, that Zay Flowers enjoyed a 50 percent target share against the Texans. Jackson targeted the rookie on nearly 36 percent of his pass routes.

Lions vs. Bucs

The Lions, as outlined in this space last week, have been among the most reliable pass funnels in the league since September. Detroit opponents have every reason to avoid a decent rush defense and pick on a terribly vulnerable secondary. Only the Eagles saw a higher neutral pass rate against them in the regular season. The trend has been exacerbated since Week 12, with Detroit opponents passing at a 66 percent neutral clip — the highest in the league over that six-week stretch.

The Bucs have gone from a slight pass funnel to a definite run funnel over the past couple months. A once-stout rush defense has been exploited, leading to a lowly 56 percent neutral pass rate against Tampa Bay over the season’s final month and a half.

What it means for the Divisional Round: The Bucs are practically begging the Lions to establish it against them. The Lions, 3 percent below their expected drop back rate this season, throw the ball on a mere 50 percent of their plays when they have a lead. They happen to enter this Divisional Round matchup as heavy home favorites. That the Lions were a whopping 12 percent above their expected drop back rate against the Bucs in Week 6 doesn’t mean much today. Tampa’s defense has been treated like a run funnel for months. Look for Jahmyr Gibbs and David Montgomery to easily exceed 30 combined touches against the Bucs.

The hope is that the Bucs let Baker bake here. The Lions secondary is being humiliated by all comers; Matthew Stafford last week was 7 percent over his expected competition rate and threw for 367 yards and two touchdowns. There’s reason to believe the Bucs will lean hard on the pass, as Tampa’s 76 percent drop back rate against the Lions in Week 6 was 11 percent over expected. That Mayfield struggled mightily (10.5 percent below his expected completion rate) is another story entirely.

Both Chris Godwin and Mike Evans, who combined for a 52 percent target share in Week 6 against Detroit, should be in position to see double digit targets, barring weird game script. Trey Palmer, who was targeted on a not-hateful 23 percent of his pass routes against the Lions in Week 6, is firmly in play as a beneficiary of drop back volume for Mayfield.

Packers vs. 49ers

Readers of the Funnel Defense Report skipped right to this game because they know by now that no team is a more extreme pass funnel than the Niners. And it’s been that way since Week 1.

49ers opponents passed at a 62 percent clip in neutral situations from Week 1-17 (I’m throwing out their meaningless Week 18 game against the Rams). No team saw a higher pass rate over expected against them than San Francisco.

The Packers are and have been on the other side of the funnel spectrum. Green Bay was the league’s seventh most pronounced run funnel in the regular season, with the Cardinals as the only team to face a lower neutral pass rate.

What it means for the Divisional Round: Yes, teams almost always go pass heavy against the 49ers. But the data does not tell us the Niners are invincible against the rush: During the regular season, they allowed the seventh highest rushing success rate and the seventh highest EPA per rush. They rank 23rd in stuff rate against the run and have allowed the seventh most yards after contact per rush. It paints a picture of a run defense that can be had in the right game script. Aaron Jones is not in the nightmare spot you might think he is.

If the Packers drop back and fling it against the Niners, Jayden Reed — the team’s de facto WR1 over the season’s second half — should be in a proverbial smash spot. Try your best to forget Reed posted a donut on three targets in the Wild Card round.

Christian McCaffrey, assuming he’s fully healthy, is set up for a glut of touches against the run funnel Packers. The Niners, who finished the regular season 2 percent below their expected drop back rate, should be able to bludgeon Green Bay’s front seven. Thirty-eight percent of the yards gained against the Packers this season have come via the rush, the eighth highest rate in the NFL.

This isn’t to say that Brock Purdy and the San Francisco pass catchers aren’t in a good spot: The Cardinals, Commanders, Bengals, and Titans were the only teams this season to allow a higher drop back EPA than the Pack. I like George Kittle’s chances to continue the streak of tight ends ripping the Green Bay coverage unit.

Bills vs. Chiefs

Teams facing both Buffalo and KC this season had a 57 percent neutral pass rate, in the bottom half of the league but not on the extreme end of run funnel defenses. While the Chiefs saw little change in how teams attacked them in the season’s final month, the Bills became something of a pass funnel: Only seven teams saw a higher neutral pass rate against them from Week 14-18.

What it means for the Divisional Round: Both teams went unapologetically pass heavy in the Week 14 Kadarius Toney Bowl. The Bills were 10 percent above their expected drop back rate in what would be their last pass-first approach of the regular season. From there on, Buffalo was 9 percent below its expected drop back rate. Only the Cardinals and Steelers have a lower neutral pass rate than the Bills from Week 15 to 18.

The Bills’ total abandonment of the pass has fueled touches for James Cook, as you surely know by now. Cook now has at least 17 touches in five straight outings; his 74 rushes rank seventh among all running backs since Week 15. Cook, at worst, has a solid touch floor against a Chiefs team allowing the tenth highest rate of explosive runs (rushes of at least 15 yards). It’s not just Cook’s rushing volume that has seen a boost during the Bills’ run-first streak. Josh Allen has 57 rushing attempts — designed and otherwise — over his past five games. It’s a far cry from his 4.1 rushes per game in the season’s first half. The Bills have decided to let Josh be Josh.

Kansas City was 8 percent above its expected drop back rate against Buffalo in Week 15, right in line with its season-long rate. Their neutral pass rate stood out though. The Chiefs passed on 79 percent of their offensive snaps in neutral situations against the Bills, far higher than their 63 percent season-long rate. A pass-heavy script for KC should fuel volume for Rashee Rice and Travis Kelce. This is where I tell you Mecole Hardman somehow ran a route on 44 percent of Patrick Mahomes’ drop backs last week against Miami. Rice was the only receiver with more routes.