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  • The Falcons' offensive statistics are down across the board—and while the team wasn't expected to maintain its gaudy numbers from last season, no one expected this much of a dropoff.
By Michael Beller
October 18, 2017

It was reasonable to expect some regression from the Atlanta offense this year. It’s hard to sustain the level of production they had in 2016 for a second season, even without personnel changes. The Falcons racked up 6.7 yards per play last year, the most since the Saints hit that same mark in 2011, and they averaged 415.8 yards and 33.8 points per game. Matt Ryan threw for 9.26 yards per attempt, third most in NFL history, and most ever for a quarterback with at least 400 pass attempts. Any team that checks all those boxes for 16 games is an outlier. One that does it for 32 would be unprecedented.

On top of that, the Falcons lost offensive mastermind Kyle Shanahan to the head coaching job with the 49ers. Ryan, Devonta Freeman, Julio Jones, Tevin Coleman and a stout offensive line put Shanahan’s scheme into action, but his departure gave even more reason to expect the Falcons to come back to earth a bit in 2017.

However, there was no reason to anticipate this dramatic of a fall. The Falcons are still getting 6.2 yards per play, but that’s where the comparisons end. They’re down to 378.4 yards and 24.2 points per game. Ryan is getting just 7.98 YPA. Freeman is running for fewer yards per carry, while Coleman hasn’t been quite as effective as a receiver. Jones still doesn’t have a touchdown, and has surpassed 90 yards just twice in five games. The offense is demonstrably worse, and it has a lot to do with a lack of big plays.

Ryan was one of the most prolific deep-ball passers last season. According to Pro Football Focus, he went 32-of-63 for 1,149 yards, 11 touchdowns and zero interceptions on passes that traveled at least 20 yards in the air. His 63 deep attempts ranked just 18th in the NFL, but he was fifth in yards, second in touchdowns and second in YPA. His accuracy rate, which adds drops to completions and divides that total by attempts, was second at 57.1%. Add it all up, and he had a quarterback rating of 136.1 on deep passes, easily the best in the league.

All that has changed this season. Ryan is an ugly 4-of-19 for 201 yards, two touchdowns and one pick on deep balls. His YPA is down nearly eight full yards, while his accuracy rate has dipped a shocking 36 percentage points. Ryan’s 84.3 rating on deep passes is tied for 18th in the league, behind Mike Glennon, Josh McCown and Case Keenum. Here’s the root of Atlanta’s problems, and it’s on Ryan. He has been under pressure and sacked less frequently, as a percentage of dropbacks, than he was last year.

Put simply, Ryan is missing passes that he hit last year. Like this one from the team’s Week 4 loss to the Bills.

Or this one, from the Falcons win over the Packers in Week 2.

And also this one, from their narrow escape against the Lions in Week 3.

That’s one big play in three of the team’s five games, all of which were layups a season ago, where Ryan and his intended receiver failed to connect. That leaves some reason for optimism, given that it’s an execution issue, but Ryan needs to turn it around sooner rather than later.

With that, let’s get to the rest of the Week 7 Target and Snap Report. Remember, you can get all the target, snap, touches and red-zone data you need to get an edge on your league from our partners at 4for4.

Aaron Rodgers’s hidden value

Given that Rodgers is the best player in the league and does seemingly countless things that show up in the box score, it shouldn’t be a surprise that there are also a few things the typical stat line fails to capture at which he excels, bringing more value to the Green Bay offense. If you’re still invested in Jordy Nelson, Davante Adams or Randall Cobb, you’ll want to pay attention.

Thanks to Rodgers’s greatness the Packers have thrown the ball in the red zone as much as, if not more than, any team in the league for years. In fact, the last season in which Rodgers didn’t lead the league in pass attempts inside the 20 was 2013, when he missed half the season with his first broken collarbone. He led the league in passes inside the 5-yard line in 2014, was third in ’15, and fourth in ’16. Through five games this season, Rodgers was first in the NFL with 31 red-zone pass attempts. Even after spotting everyone a game, he’s still first with 11 attempts inside the 5.

The Packers ran 11 plays in the red zone in their week 6 loss to the Vikings after Rodgers’s injury. Nine of the 11 were passes, though the final five came on the Packers last possession of the game, when they were trailing by 13 points. Hundley went 2-for-9 on those plays for 21 yards, one touchdown and one interception. They did not run any plays inside the 5-yard line with Hundley under center.

There’s no guarantee that the Packers radically change their offense in the red zone, or inside the five-yard line, with Hundley in Rodgers’s place. Still, Mike McCarthy knew the risk of Rodgers turning the ball over in the red zone was almost nil. He likely doesn’t have that same level of confidence in Hundley. Plus, given Hundley’s mobility, the team could dial up more designed quarterback runs, and more read-options that end with a carry for Hundley or one of the running backs. All that could lead to fewer passing plays and a reduction in volume, as well as touchdown upside, for Nelson, Adams and Cobb.

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Long-distance troubles in Pennsylvania

According to Pro Football Focus, 11 receivers have at least 10 deep targets. Nine of them have caught at least three of those targets, and Stefon Diggs and Brandin Cooks both have catch rates on their deep targets north of 50%. The remaining two have just one deep reception, despite all the opportunity. Every other receiver in the league with at least eight deep targets has hauled in two or more of them. These two receivers, however, have combined for two catches on 21 such targets.

The ignominious duo? Martavis Bryant and Alshon Jeffery.

Jeffery leads the Eagles with 46 targets, 10 of which have traveled at least 20 yards in the air. but he’s caught just one of those for 37 yards. It was also the only one that PFF deemed catchable. This situation is curious because Wentz hasn’t struggled hitting big plays down the field to his other receivers. Take out the 10 deep targets to Jeffery, and Wentz is 9-for-19 for 379 yards, four touchdowns and one pick. His accuracy rate, not including the attempts to Jeffery, is 57.9%, which would be tops in the league, more than a percentage point ahead of Alex Smith. So what’s the difference with Jeffery? He isn’t getting open.

NFL.com’s Next Gen Stats track average yards of separation for receivers. The stat measures the average yards of separation a receiver has created between himself and his primary defender. Among the 128 receivers and tight ends with at least 15 targets this season, Jeffery ranks 126th with 1.7 yards of separation on an average target. The only receivers worse than Jeffery at creating separation this year are Bennie Fowler and Kenny Golladay.

Jeffery was supposed to bring big-play ability to the Eagles offense. So far, he isn’t living up to his end of the bargain, even as the offense soars around him.

Antonio Gates has finally passed the torch

Anyone who watched the Chargers last year could see that not only was Hunter Henry the best tight end on the team, but he also had the skill set to be one of the most dangerous players at the position in the league. Gates maddeningly held him off, leading the team in targets and snaps as he made his way to the all-time touchdown record. He got that record in Week 2, when he scored his 112th career touchdown. It also signaled the changing of the guard.

Gates played 66% of the Chargers snaps in Week 1, compared with 39% for Henry. From Week 2 through Week 4, they played essentially an identical number of snaps every game, within two percentage points of one another all three weeks. The playing time shifted dramatically in Week 5, when Henry played more than three-quarters of the team’s snaps, while Gates was on the field for just more than half. Last week, Henry’s snap rate increased again, this time to a season-high 83%. Gates, meanwhile, held basically steady at 57%.

The Chargers TE1 position officially belongs to Henry, and why wouldn’t it? Henry has three games this season with at least seven targets. In those games, he has 15 receptions for 212 yards and a touchdown. Over the last two weeks, during which he has separated himself from Gates, he has caught eight of 15 targets for 132 yards and a score. Tight ends have produced 23 80-yard games this season—Henry has two of them. The only other players at the position with more than one? That would be Rob Gronkowski, Travis Kelce and Zach Ertz. What is it those three guys have in common? Henry has the talent to join their ranks. Now, he finally has the opportunity, as well.

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A silver lining for Amari Cooper owners

There’s no doubt it’s been a bad year so far for Cooper, but there is a silver lining, and it goes beyond the fact that Cooper is obviously far more talented than his stats suggest this season.

Cooper has five targets inside the 10-yard line this season. That has him tied with seven other players for second most in the league, trailing only Jordy Nelson and Dez Bryant, who have six. Cooper has turned just one of those five targets into touchdowns, but the mere fact he’s averaging nearly one target inside the 10 per game is encouraging. On top of that, his five targets represent 50% of Oakland’s total inside the 10-yard line. Bryant is the lone receiver with a greater share of his team’s targets inside the 10, while Cooper and DeAndre Hopkins are the only others with at least five such targets and a 50% share.

I don’t know that Cooper will definitely turn his season around, but I’d bet on it. I’d be trying to buy him anywhere I could.

Sundry data I find interesting that I think you will, too.

  • Dak Prescott has attempted just 15 deep passes, which ranks 28th in the league. He has connected on seven of them for 255 yards and two touchdowns, but it would be nice to see him uncork a few more. That could happen if Ezekiel Elliott is suspended.
  • After his 105-yard outburst last week, Chris Thompson is up to a ridiculous 3.54 yards per route run. He’s a real weapon, but he’s still too volatile to trust on a regular basis in fantsy leagues, especially when Rob Kelley returns.
  • Looking to add some cheap depth at receiver with all the byes headed our way? Two receivers almost totally off the fantasy radar getting plenty of opportunity in scoring range are Marquise Goodwin and Juju Smith-Schuster. Goodwin has five targets inside the 10-yard line, while Smith-Schuster has four.
  • The Bears offense has given Jordan Howard just four carries inside the 5-yard line this season. He has scored touchdowns on three of them. Remember when people thought Tarik Cohen was a threat to his job status?
  • I mention seemingly every week in the Start/Sit column that Frank Gore has the terrible combination of being touchdown-dependent and on an offense that doesn’t regularly produce good scoring opportunities. The proof is in the data. He has three carries inside the 10-yard line this season, which has him tied for 34th behind three quarterbacks.
  • Brandin Cooks has 472 yards, putting him on pace for 1,258 on the season. He has at least 85 yards in four of his six games. Tom Brady has a 120.9 quarterback rating when he throws to Cooks, bested only by Sam Bradford/Case Keenum to Stefon Diggs, and Aaron Rodgers/Brett Hundley to Davante Adams. Despite scoring just two touchdowns, Cooks is the No. 9 fantasy receiver on the year. That is going to change for the better.

Committee of the whole

Mining the 4for4 Running Back by Committee Report for interesting backfield data.

Arizona: Adrian Peterson handled 90% of the touches in his first game with the Cardinals, though Andre Ellington’s absence owed largely to game script. Don’t get rid of him just yet.

Carolina: Christian McCaffrey is doing just enough as a receiver to be a worthy starter in standard leagues, but he’s getting almost no time as a runner. He has also yet to show an ability to regularly make big plays.

Green Bay: The Packers were true to their word, essentially splitting the workload evenly between Ty Montgomery and Aaron Jones before Montgomery left the game. Fantasy owners should assume this will be the breakdown between the two without Aaron Rodgers.

Minnesota: Jerick McKinnon was once again the more productive Vikings back, but Latavius Murray still got 15 carries, thanks largely to a favorable game script. McKinnon is locked in as a fantasy starter, while Murray is no more than depth. It’s possible his greatest fantasy contribution will be limiting McKinnon’s ceiling.

New Orleans: In the team’s first game without Adrian Peterson, Mark Ingram ran for 114 yards and two touchdowns on 25 carries, and caught five passes for 36 yards. Alvin Kamara, meanwhile, ran it 10 times for 75 yards, and caught all four of his targets for 12 yards. Why was this not the setup all season?

New York Giants: Orleans Darkwa took command of the backfield last week, running for 117 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries. Wayne Gallman got nine carries, but it looks like this is Darkwa’s show for the time being.

San Francisco: Order was restored with Carlos Hyde playing 78% of the snaps and handling 72% of the touches.

Baltimore: More of the same, with Alex Collins totaling 74 yards on 15 carries, and Javorius Allen getting 66 total yards on 13 touches. This is a 50/50 show, with Allen handling all the passing-game work.

Houston: D’Onta Foreman got 12 carries, but many of those came with the game well in hand. Lamar Miller out-touched and out-snapped him.

New England: Dion Lewis lead the Patriots in rushing yards for the second straight week, and in carries and snaps for the first time this season. There’s never a sure thing in the New England backfield, but Lewis may have at least edged his way to the top of the depth chart.

Tennessee: Derrick Henry led the team with 19 carries last week, and while his big play, a 70-yard touchdown run, came with the result in hand, Mike Mularkey did say that the team may go with a heavier committee-based approach the rest of the season. That’s good news for Henry, and bad news for DeMarco Murray. For what it’s worth, though, Murray looked good in the win over the Colts, too, totaling 87 yards and a touchdown on 16 touches.

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