Reading the Defense: Week 2

A weekly look at IDP trends with a mix of metrics, film study and matchup strategy

well, that went just as planned...

Maybe some of you are saying that. But I'd bet the majority of you are not.

There's variance on both sides of the ball in the early weeks. Coaches are still working through lineup issues. Matchups and subpackages play an ever larger role. I had a sense as I was putting together last week's every-down linebacker table that Week 1 would bring more surprises than usual on the depth charts. Unfortunately, that's what occurred in many places. I think Week 2 brings the same, as I believe many situations remain unsettled. More than ever, it's important to know snap counts and tackle opportunity.

Which leads me to the following...

idp public service announcements

1. Don't panic after Week 1.

Seek out whatever information you can find about what went as planned and what didn't. Err on the side of continuing to start your most talented players with the highest expected snap count percentages. Don't be on the wrong side of Lady Variance when she shines upon the players you feel are your strongest. Don't be the owner who pivots away from a stud. Every player -- except J.J. Watt, but he may not be human -- has a minimum of four below average weeks every season. Some of those will naturally occur in Week 1.

2. Be patiently aggressive. 

If you see something pushing you to reconsider your preseason feeling -- a player doesn't look to have the range he's had in the past, a player unexpectedly being put in a much better role than we saw previously, etc. -- move on it immediately. You don't have to wait to see a trend. But, if you cannot identify a reason for a shockingly fast or disappointing start, don't reflexively assume all the consideration you put into that situation is wrong after just one week.

3. Use Larry Thomas' IDP Matchup Sheet

You can find this on the inseason content page by Wednesday every week. Tackle opportunity trends, pressure trends, run-pass ratios, stat crew anomalies, and lots, lots, lots more are there for you to take advantage of. It'll be a lot to digest the first time you look at it. But make the effort. Before we had Larry enter this data, I'd do many of these things by hand every week. He's made these trends and metrics easier to read and expanded it tremendously in the few years since he's joined our IDP team. It's a huge asset for me and my writing. It should be for you, too.

4. Snap counts are coming

With the unexpected demise of Pro Football Focus' Premium Statistics subscription, there's no good outlet for snap counts. FootballOutsiders has them but they're displayed poorly. The Gamebook display isn't much better and those books are getting harder and harder to find. But, our database guru Doug Drinen is coming to the rescue. Our stat provider is providing counts this year. We didn't learn of this until after Thursday's game. Doug spent the weekend putting together the framework to display these counts in the same way we do player targets, redzone chances, goal line targets, etc. This week, we've only been able to get the infrastructure together to do offensive counts. With luck, defensive counts are coming next week.

depth chart nuggets and key injury replacements

I focus primarily on linebackers early in the season. As the season progresses and we get a few more data points, important issues in defensive end and secondary rotations will become more clear and make their way into this section more regularly.

***Patriots rotated Jerod Mayo and Dont'a Hightower. Mayo played in base packages only. Hightower in subpackages other than the dime. If that continues, and I expect it will, you'll need to avoid Mayo altogether and target Hightower in home games where the Patriots are likely to be ahead for much of the game.

***Colts played a lot of dime subpackages. D'Qwell Jackson went to the bench.

***Green Bay lost Sam Barrington to injured reserve with a foot injury. Nate Palmer replaced him and played every down. If he plays well, Jake Ryan likely remains a reserve. Also notable: Clay Matthews didn't move outside much, even in subpackages. Micah Hyde started for Morgan Burnett (calf).

***Chiefs started Josh Mauga over Ramik Wilson. Wilson played zero defensive snaps. Mauga sat in dime packages, playing 50 off 77 snaps (65%). Hold Wilson for now in deep dynasty leagues, but this was disappointing to see. Dontari Poe was active and played 32 snaps. Safety rotation included Husain Abdullah (66 - 86%), Eric Berry (48 - 62%), and Tyvon Branch (7 - 9%). That's a great start for Berry. I expect he'll see more time in base looks very soon.

***Texans started Quintin Demps (87%) over Eddie Pleasant (21%) at safety.

***Carolina played A.J. Klein every down at middle linebacker after Luke Kuechly's concussion.

***Browns heavily rotated Craig Robertson (base) and Chris Kirksey (some nickel only). Neither played in a 3-3-5 subpackage look the Browns used frequently.

***Washington used Trenton Robinson over Jeron Johnson as Duke Ihenacho's replacement.

***Dolphins benched Kelvin Sheppard in the nickel for Koa Misi after doing the opposite throughout the preseason. I suppose this could mean Misi is finally healthy enough to play every down, but it was an unexpected development. I'm recommending moving on Misi now, but don't put him in your lineup until we get another week of every down play.

***Arizona played all four safeties heavily as expected. As it should be, Deone Bucannon and Tyrann Mathieu both played every down. Whether that continues in week where the Cardinals don't play as many subpackages remains to be seen, but it's a huge boon to Bucannon's value. Tony Jefferson (78%) and Rashad Johnson (84%) were also heavily involved. Kevin Minter (84%) still isn't playing every down, with Sean Weatherspoon becoming an afterthought (12 snaps - 16%).

***Detroit used Travis Lewis and Josh Bynes at outside linebacker in the base defense. Neither played every down. Conflicting reports remain on how close DeAndre Levy is to returning.

***San Diego went back to their dime package for much of the second half last week, with Donald Butler sitting. It worked well, so expect Manti Te'o to be the lone every-down linebacker for now.

***Broncos played a lot of dime. David Bruton replaced Danny Trevathan in that package, but I suspect Trevathan will see more snaps once he's fully conditioned.

***Shawn Williams saw lots of playing time for George Iloka. He'll be a productive tackler if that continues.

***Raiders continued to use Malcolm Smith and Ray-Ray Armstrong in the nickel. Armstrong will begin losing time to Aldon Smith soon.

***Tennessee linebacker snap counts look scary, with four inside linebackers playing significant snaps. Though Wes Woodyard did play two of the first eight series for Avery Williamson, the split counts had more to do with the lopsided score than a defensive game plan for the future.

***Tampa Bay rotated all four safeties heavily. Bradley McDougald (81%) and D.J. Swearinger Sr (54%) may have lost some time due to the big lead, but Major Wright and Chris Conte were both seen earlier in the game.

***Philadelphia is bringing Kiko Alonso back slowly to prevent a recurrence of knee tendinitis, but he looked too good to keep off the field. I wouldn't shy away even if the base rotation with DeMeco Ryans continues.

***Vikings continued to use Eric Kendricks with Anthony Barr in the nickel. The Niners are arguably the worst matchup in the league for nickel only players, so the snap count and production of Gerald Hodges and Kendricks are a bit of a red herring this week.

***Niners used Jaquiski Tartt in a Deone Bucannon like role. Michael Wilhoite sat in the majority of subpackages.


Still some situations left to settle here. I expect more of the unexpected this week, and probably until the end of September.

ARIZONA Alex Okafor Kevin Minter Daryl Washington Weatherspoon in rare base snaps only
ATLANTA Paul Worrilow : Justin Durant      
BALTIMORE C.J. Mosley : Daryl Smith   Terrell Suggs  
BUFFALO Preston Brown : Nigel Bradham      
CAROLINA Thomas Davis : A.J. Klein   Luke Kuechly Klein every down after Kuechly suffered concussion 
CHICAGO Shea McClellin : Christian Jones : Pernell McPhee      
CINCINNATI Vinny Rey   Vontaze Burfict  
CLEVELAND Karlos Dansby : Paul Kruger     Messy rotation b/t Robertson (base) Kirksey (some subs)
DALLAS Sean Lee Anthony Hitchens    
DENVER Von Miller : Brandon Marshall : Demarcus Ware     Trevathan still out in subpackages
DETROIT Stephen Tulloch   DeAndre Levy Strongly favored dime w/ Tulloch only ILB
GREEN BAY Clay Matthews : Nate Palmer Julius Peppers Sam Barrington  
HOUSTON Brian Cushing   Mike Mohammed  
INDIANAPOLIS Jerrell Freeman : Erik Walden D'Qwell Jackson : Trent Cole Robert Mathis Colts used some dime w/ Jackson sitting
JACKSONVILLE Paul Posluszny : Telvin Smith Sr      
KANSAS CITY Derrick Johnson : Justin Houston Tamba Hali    
MIAMI Jelani Jenkins Koa Misi   Misi over Sheppard in nickel in W1
MINNESOTA Anthony Barr      
NEW ENGLAND Jamie Collins Sr     Patriots rotating Mayo (base) Hightower (subpackage)
NEW ORLEANS Stephone Anthony : Hau'oli Kikaha     Kikaha stayed on field in subs, Hawthorne sat
NEW YORK GIANTS Uani 'Unga, Devon Kennard   Jon Beason  
NEW YORK JETS David Harris : Demario Davis Quinton Coples : Calvin Pace    
OAKLAND Malcolm Smith : Khalil Mack : Ray-Ray Armstrong      
PHILADELPHIA Kiko Alonso : Mychal Kendricks : Brandon Graham : Connor Barwin      
PITTSBURGH Ryan Shazier : Lawrence Timmons      
ST. LOUIS James Laurinaitis : Alec Ogletree      
SAN DIEGO Manti Te'o : Melvin Ingram III Donald Butler   Chargers played lots of dime, Butler out
SAN FRANCISCO NaVorro Bowman : Ahmad Brooks Aaron Lynch    
SEATTLE Bobby Wagner : K.J. Wright      
TAMPA BAY Lavonte David : Kwon Alexander      
TENNESSEE Zach Brown : Avery Williamson Derrick Morgan : Brian Orakpo   Wes Woodyard rotated for Williamson at times
WASHINGTON Keenan Robinson : Perry Riley : Ryan Kerrigan      

I'll update this table every week between now and Week 17.

unexpected performances

Henry Anderson 8-1, 3 TFL >>> I took some grief after slotting Anderson above Leonard Williams on my rookie draft board. That had as much to do with Anderson's talent as it did my concerns about Williams' snap count early this year. Anderson won't put up eight solos every week, but he fits the profile of fantasy relevant 3-4 defensive end perfectly. Sacks will come here, too. Don't overpay for him and don't assume he's an every-week DL2+ yet. But he's worth rostering.

Mario Williams and Cameron Wake 0-0-0 >>> Fat, drunk, and stupid is no way to go through Week 1, boys. Actually, both Williams and Wake disrupted the pocket regularly. Don't bench them just yet.

Calvin Pryor 8-2, FF >>> Put an in-the-box safety in the box and look what happens to the stat line.

Uani 'Unga 10-2 >>> Unga was terrible, but has no competition for tackles other than Landon Collins and showed some fundamental tackling ability. He's an every-down player only until Jon Beason returns. Shallow league owners should let someone else overpay for him.

Anthony Barr 10-2 >>> Stud. Locked in as an every-down player. Sacks and other big plays should be coming soon here, too.

Koa Misi 9-2, TFL >>> Surprisingly played every down over Kelvin Sheppard. Misi has always been productive as an every-down player. The issue here is durability. I'd be nervous starting Misi until he shows he will remain an every-down linebacker. If that happens, you should cross your fingers he stays healthy.

Will Allen 8-0-1 >>> Starting over Shamarko Thomas at strong safety on a team likely to get good tackle opportunity and behind two inside linebackers who will allow a fair amount of opportunity to the third level.

Khalil Mack 3-1 >>> The Bengals are a very tough offensive line matchup. This line doesn't mean Mack is matchup dependent. I see it as reassuring that he can maintain a 50 solo tackle pace.

Von Miller 1-0, 3 QBH >>> My fears about Miller's tackle counts may be proving true, but he's going to get enough big play opportunity to hold value.

Alex Okafor 4-1-2 >>> His play was as good as his stat line. I just couldn't get myself to fully buy into a potential breakout before the season. Hopefully, you can still jump on his train now.

Philip Hunt 4-1-1 >>> Rotational player in Detroit benefitting from Ziggy Ansah's domination. Only played 24 snaps, so proceed with caution in most leagues.

Kyle Emanuel 2-1-1, INT >>> Rotational player in San Diego benefitting from loss of Jerry Attaochu to injury. Only played 29 of 47 snaps so proceed with caution.

Brandon Williams 6-1 >>> Priority defensive tackle pickup.

Jaquiski Tartt 4-0-1 >>> Just noting the Deone Bucannon role again. Make sure he's on your long term watch list.

waiver wire priorities

I'm checking the waiver wire in a mix of my most and least competitive leagues, including expanded lineups. If there's someone on your list who hasn't made mine, shoot me a note and I'll add them here.

DT: Tyrone Crawford ||| Brandon Williams ||| Damon Harrison | Clinton McDonald ||| Malcom Brown | Jordan Phillips | Angelo Blackson

DE: Henry Anderson | Michael Bennett ||| Allen Bailey | Mario Addison | Philip Hunt | DaQuan Jones

LB: Anthony Barr ||| Nate Palmer | Koa Misi | Alex Okafor ||| Uani 'Unga | Gerald Hodges | Aaron Lynch ||| Josh Bynes | Josh Mauga | A.J. Klein | Kyle Emanuel

DB: Calvin Pryor | Will Allen | Trent Robinson | Eric Berry | Larry Asante

tackle opportunity notes

Until we get 4-6 games under our belt, you can take advantage of overreaction to tackle opportunity variance. Footballguys has been tracking these trends for nearly ten years now. On average, a team sees about 48-50 tackle opportunities per week. You should examine Larry Thomas' IDP Matchup Sheet for the full numbers, which include long term trends, but here's a taste of why these numbers matter.

STL --- 70 opportunities || Detroit --- 67 || NY Giants --- 59 || Miami --- 59

Don't expect Glover Quin (7-1) and Josh Bynes (6-2) to continue to put up such strong numbers for their usually less reliable positions. The Rams didn't have any standouts, but corners Lamarcus Joyner, Janoris Jenkins, and Marcus Roberson all topped five solos. That won't happen again either. 

The real advantage here is understanding when poor tackle opportunity leads to a below average stat lines. I've seen studs cut in favor of guys like Koa Misi and Uani 'Unga in past years. Please don't be this owner.

SD --- 36 opportunities || Washington -- 43 || Denver --- 43 || New Orleans --- 44 || Dallas --- 45 || Buffalo -- 45

Do not panic on Keenan Robinson, Brandon Marshall, Stephone Anthony, Sean Lee, or Preston Brown. Some or all of these players will be sent to your free agent list this week. You should immediately snap any of them up and reap the benefits later.

Subscribe to The Audible on iTunes or download our weekly IDP podcast here every Thursday for injury updates, player analysis and matchup discussion. Follow and ask questions on Twitter @JeneBramel.

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