6 Defenses to Exploit in Fantasy Football
We're five weeks into the 2014 season, and we're beginning to get a more accurate picture of who teams really are. While preseason expectations often cloud the developing reality of a new season, each week we gain a clearer understanding of what is really going on. Fantasy football owners need to be quick to adjust to the changing tides of an ever changing NFL, especially when it comes to evaluating matchups and which defenses present ideal opponents for fantasy success.
Throughout this article, we'll evaluate the adjusted defensive metrics for the worst run and pass defenses in the NFL, taking into account both overall numbers as well as strength of schedule.
While there are players in the NFL who fantasy owners would consider "matchup proof", they are the minority and identifying ideal circumstances for fantasy production can help as you make last minute roster decisions. So let's take a look at the worst pass defenses before examining the league's worst rush defenses.
Pass Defenses to Exploit
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Buccaneers are a league worst 59.29 in Adjusted Passing Net Expected Points, or NEP. Teams are completing an outrageous 71.4 percent of their passes against the Tampa defense, all while averaging 8.0 yards per attempt. Worse yet, injuries haven't even been an issue for this secondary, which boasts two Pro Bowl players in Alterraun Verner and Dashon Goldson, and two high draft picks in Mark Barron and Johnthan Banks.
Rarely do you see such efficiency and explosiveness over an extended period of time, but this Tampa Bay defense has simply offered little resistance to opposing offenses, and there is very little to indicate that will change anytime soon. Owners should feel confident starting any quarterback, receiver or tight end playing against Tampa Bay. They have been especially inept at covering top wide receivers, yielding five touchdowns in just five games to their opponents top targets. That number likely would be higher if Jimmy Graham had not left Sunday's game early with a shoulder injury.
New Orleans Saints
Of the surprises this season, the struggles of the New Orleans Saints ranks near the top. It starts with the defense, which hasn’t been able to contain opposing passing attacks, posting an Adjusted Passing NEP of 57.54. They have struggled to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks, ranking 26th in passing yards allowed per game while generating just one interceptions and just six sacks.
Of the teams in the bottom five in Defensive Passing NEP, however, the Saints are the one I wouldn’t look to exploit with just anyone. While they struggled mightily with Matt Ryan and Tony Romo, they were able to contain Brian Hoyer and the Matt Cassel/Teddy Bridgewater combination this year. The league's better quarterbacks seem to have little trouble dissecting this Rob Ryan defense, while lesser signal-callers are efficient but far from dominant.
Mike Glennon threw for a respectable 249 yards and two touchdowns on Sunday, a good but far from spectacular performance. But with tough quarterback matchups on the horizon, things look to get far worse for this defense before it gets better.
The Jaguars porous secondary has allowed a league high 1,544 yards in five games, which is an average of 308.8 per game, more than any other defense in the NFL. Opposing quarterbacks are completing almost 70 percent of their passes this season while connecting on 12 touchdowns (second highest in the league) and just a single interception. This has led to them posted a terrible Adjusted Passing NEP of 53.63.
Kirk Cousins became an overnight fantasy sensation after playing Jacksonville, and Andrew Luck and Philip Rivers bolstered their MVP campaigns while receiving little resistance from the Jaguars defense.
Even worse, teams have been so efficient at blowing them out, they have still found ample time to run the ball 151 times against them, which ranks sixth in the league in running plays against - things could look much worse if their offense could just keep games close. Perhaps the insertion of rookie quarterback Blake Bortles will make them more competitive, which would only maximize the ability of opponents to keep throwing the ball deep into the game.
Regardless, they have been terrible enough to justify owners starting any passing game players against this defense, especially quarterbacks.
Rush Defenses to Exploit
Green Bay Packers
There’s bad, there’s terrible, and then there’s the Green Bay Packers run defense. The preseason loss of nose tackle BJ Raji and the lack of dominant defenders at the point of attack has led to this unit being the defense to exploit against the run in fantasy football. With their Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP at 24.57, they sit five points higher than the next worst team.
The Packers are yielding a league high 163 yards per game on the ground, with opposing teams averaging a healthy 4.6 yards per carry. They have allowed six touchdowns on the ground this season, the second worst total in the league. They're really bad. Marshawn Lynch and Matt Forte ran at will against Green Bay, and Chris Ivory likely would have had a huge game if the team wasn’t so enamored with the mediocrity of Chris Johnson.
If you have a matchup against the Packers defense, feel very confident.
If you’re a starting running back playing the Falcons, chances are you will score a touchdown. That’s been the case so far with Mark Ingram (2), Matt Asiata (3), Giovani Bernard (1) and Andre Williams (1). The only starting back who didn’t score was Bobby Rainey during the Falcons demolition of the Buccaneers on Thursday night, a blowout that forced Tampa Bay away from the running game. Atlanta has surrendered 10 rushing touchdowns on the season, by far the highest in the league.
Their Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP sits at 19.50, and they have allowed teams to average 4.4 yards per carry and 147.6 yards per game against them in what has been a dismal defensive start to the season. The deficiencies look to be due to a lack of talent, especially in the front seven, and that isn’t changing anytime soon.
Backup running backs have also had great success against this defense, with Khiry Robinson, Jeremy Hill and Jerick McKinnon all performing well in limited roles. Andre Williams came in for the injured but highly effective Rashad Jennings and played well in relief. It speaks to the struggles of the defense, and owners could find decent flex value from backups facing the Falcons moving forward.
Considered to be one of the top defenses in the NFL, the Cincinnati Bengals have struggled to stop the run when teams have remained committed to the ground game, posting an Adjusted Rushing NEP of 15.24. Fortunately for them, teams have rarely been in a position to run the football into games, with their team often taking early leads.
That wasn't the case on Sunday night, with the Patriots just gashing the Bengals for 220 yards and a touchdown on 46 carries. For the season, they've allowed teams to average five yards per carry, which ranks 29th in the NFL, and have surrendered 140 yards per game. All this while facing subpar running backs like Steven Jackson, Justin Forsett and Bishop Sankey the first three weeks of the season.
That being said, Cincinnati won't face a true feature back until perhaps Week 12 against Arian Foster and the Texans, so we may not see the extent of their deficiencies on a weekly basis. With top linebacker Vontaze Burfict missing much of the season to this point, there is also a strong likelihood they will improve as the weeks go on. It's a situation to monitor, but the fact remains that the Bengals are not nearly as strong against the run as their reputation might indicate.