NFL Divisional Round Funnel Defense Ratings: Eagles Could Spoil Saints’ Super Bowl Run

NFL Divisional Round Funnel Defense Ratings: Eagles Could Spoil Saints’ Super Bowl Run article feature image
  • Ryan Collinsworth breaks down how you can leverage matchups against funnel defenses.
  • The New Orleans Saints could be vulnerable to the Philadelphia Eagles' passing game.

Our funnel defense ratings use advanced data to analyze situations in which teams are more likely to pass or run than they usually do. Let’s start with a brief recap of the metric, then dig into the Divisional Round ratings and how to leverage them.

Funnel Defense Explained

Funnel defenses are successful at defending either the run or the pass, but not both. Strong funnel defenses are so good against either the run or the pass that they tend to “funnel” offensive play-calling toward their complementary weakness.

Measuring the Strength of a Funnel Defense

Using data to quantify the strength of a defensive funnel is complex. We must weigh several factors simultaneously:

  1. How good is a defense versus the running game and passing game? We employ Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric to measure this.
  2. What is the difference between DVOA production defending the run versus the pass? If the differential is great, it would imply the probability of a funnel.
  3. How good is an offense in the running game and passing game? We can use DVOA here, as well.
  4. What is the difference between offensive DVOA production?
  5. What are the offense’s typical run/pass splits?

Our metric weighs each of these statistical factors and produces weekly matchup-based ratings for each NFL team.

Divisional Round Funnel Ratings

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Potential Shootout Games

By averaging the pass funnel ratings for both teams in a given matchup, we can more easily identify games that could favor a passing-game script on both sides. Heavy passing volume presents an opportunity for a potential shootout.

Consider rostering or stacking players from these high-volume games in DFS, and also consider taking the over on games toward the top of this list.

Philadelphia Eagles at New Orleans Saints

Philadelphia could once again turn to Nick Foles to conjure his playoff magic. Foles leads an offense that ranks 11th in pass offense DVOA, 10th in Pro Football Focus passing grade and seventh in pass-rate (61.8%).

The Saints defense is also particularly vulnerable against the pass. They allowed the second-most fantasy points to quarterbacks (21.0) and most fantasy points to wide receivers (28.6) per game during the regular season. New Orleans also boasts an elite defensive front-seven and ranks third in PFF’s run defense grade.

The Saints’ acumen in stuffing the run further amplifies the Eagles’ passing probability.

Alshon Jeffery is perhaps the best Eagles’ skill position player to target in this matchup. Since Foles took over for the injured Carson Wentz, Jeffery has seen his receiving production increase from 54.2 to 95.8 yards per game. He’s also led the team in average depth of target (15.3), air yards market share (36%) and PPR points per game (15.8) over that span.

Meanwhile, New Orleans ranks dead-last in DVOA against deep passes. Philadelphia should take advantage of that huge mismatch by targeting Jeffery on downfield 50-50 balls.

On the other side of the ball, the Saints could absolutely shred the Eagles’ soft coverage unit. Philadelphia’s secondary ranks 30th in passing yards allowed per game (269.2) and has allowed the sixth-most fantasy points per game (26.2) to wide receivers this season.

Additionally, the Eagles boast a solid run defense that ranks seventh in rushing yards allowed per game (96.9). They’ve also played particularly well over their past four weeks, conceding on average just 57.5 rushing yards per contest.

The Saints could attack the Philadelphia’s poor secondary by targeting Ted Ginn Jr., who is finally returning from a regular-season knee injury. His presence as a deep field-stretcher should be a big boon to the offense, especially considering how disappointing Tre’Quan Smith has played in fill-in duty.

In four healthy games this season, Ginn led the team in aDOT (16.4) and air yards market share (33%), and he averaged 12.8 PPR fantasy points per game.

Other Notable Team Funnels

To analyze other potential team funnels, I’ll appeal to season-long pass funnel averages.

I examined each team’s weekly regular season pass funnel ratings and cross-referenced them against their resultant pass-rate in each matchup, then ran a Pearson’s correlation for those data arrays, yielding an “r”-value for each team. That correlational coefficient reflects how strong a team’s pass funnel rating relates to its pass-rate.

So if a team boasts a coefficient of, say, r=0.40, we can assume that it is generally more prone to being funneled — either to the run or to the pass — according to our metric. But if a team’s coefficient approaches zero, that suggests no meaningful relationship between pass funnel ratings and resultant pass-rate.

Negative correlations indicate that a team on average runs more in advantageous passing matchups — or passes more in advantageous rushing matchups.

Kansas City Chiefs

  • Correlational Coefficient: r= -0.576
  • Current Pass Funnel Rating = 83.87
  • Season Average Pass Funnel Rating = 58.77

The Chiefs report by far the strongest negative correlational coefficient this season. This suggests that Andy Reid defiantly plays into the teeth of the opposing defense.

In apparent rushing mismatches, Reid employs a pass-heavy game script. In apparent passing mismatches, he runs the ball like crazy.

Therefore, Kansas City’s 83.87 team pass funnel rating paradoxically suggests that the Chiefs could run the ball more than usual. Snow, wind and sub-freezing temperatures is also forecasted for their matchup against the Colts. Home running backs excel in similar conditions, while both home and road quarterbacks suffer declines in production.

So in this case, our conclusion matches up with an on-field trend. This lends substantial support to rostering Damien Williams — and perhaps even fading Patrick Mahomes.

Indianapolis Colts

  • Correlational Coefficient: r= -0.383
  • Current Pass Funnel Rating = 37.10
  • Season Average Pass Funnel Rating = 63.44

The Colts’ negative correlational coefficient suggests moderate aversion to being funneled by opposing defenses. Nonetheless, this coefficient is not statistically meaningful and should be dismissed.

However, Indianapolis does draw a huge mismatch in the rushing game. Kansas City ranks dead-last in run defense DVOA, so it’s clear that the Chiefs are vulnerable against the run. Additionally, the Colts offensive line ranks fourth in adjusted line yards per rush. So, Indianapolis’ greatest offensive advantage is running the football.

That conclusion happens to also correlate with the Colts’ 62.90 team run funnel rating this week. Marlon Mack has more than 100 rushing yards in three of his past four games and has scored five rushing touchdowns over that span.

Ride the hot hand, and fire up Mack once again this week.

Los Angeles Chargers

  • Correlational Coefficient: r= -0.277
  • Current Pass Funnel Rating = 51.61
  • Season Average Pass Funnel Rating = 48.28

The Chargers’ correlational coefficient suggests moderate aversion to being funneled, but it is not a strong enough result to be conclusive. As a result, this game likely comes down to positional matchups and game conditions.

The Patriots rank second in PFF’s team coverage grade but just 14th in run defense. Football Outsiders grades the Patriots even more harshly, ranking them 19th in rush defense DVOA.

Since New England is particularly weak against the run, it would behoove the Chargers to feed Melvin Gordon as many carries as he can handle. Plus game-day temperatures project below freezing, which adds even more support for elevated rushing volume.

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