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Welcome to Week 8 of the 2022 Footballguys Roundtable. Our intrepid panel of fantasy pundits discusses and debates four topics every week. Topics are now split into separate features.
This week's roundtable features these four topics:
- Is the NFL's Passing Fest Over? (see below)
- NFL Trade Fallout: Old Faces in New Places
- NFL Trade Fallout: The Leftovers
- Four Veteran NFL QBs Walk into a Bar...
Is the NFL's Passing Fest Over?
Matt Waldman: The 2022 NFL season may be known as the season of two-high shells. This has been something I've been writing about in a variety of Footballguys features and discussing with guests on a lot of podcasts. Opposing defenses have responded to the collegiate influences that have trickled into the NFL offenses over the years with the use of two-high safeties, nickel/dime defenses, and lighter box defenders to limit passing games.
Offenses are discovering that one of the best ways to combat these looks is to run the football. One of the specific methods is the use of more gap plays (pulling guards, lead blockers, etc.), which allows offenses to exploit smaller defenders with the size of their offensive linemen and tight ends and the speed of their runners.
Michael Lopez, the NFL's Director of Analytics, publicly examined this situation a few weeks ago. Adam Harstad labels him "the best of us" when it comes to the rigor with which he examines data. Scoring was down by five points per game versus the same time last year.
He then looked at Expected Points. FGs, Penalties, and Extra Points were essentially flat with minor fluctuation. Rush Efficiency is up -- the highest or the second highest since 2011, depending on the model you use. Pass Efficiency is way down -- the lowest or second lowest since 2011, depending on the model.
As a result, the gap in efficiency between rushing and passing plays is the smallest it has been since 2011. Harstad looks at these trends and without taking a super close look but knowing the history of them, he estimated this was probably as low as it has been since the early 2000s.
While 50 games isn't a huge sample, it's not a trivial one, and based on what we've seen since, I'd hazard a guess that the last three weeks haven't changed significantly to favor passing. Defensive shifts are largely driving this, according to Lopez.
Adam Harstad: Here’s the full look by Michael Lopez for those who want to read it: https://operations.nfl.com/gameday/analytics/stats-articles/where-have-all-of-the-nfl-points-gone/
His department also added follow-up on high-level personnel trends over the last decade: https://operations.nfl.com/gameday/analytics/stats-articles/the-evolution-of-personnel-groupings-and-usage/
And fine-grained personnel versatility: https://operations.nfl.com/gameday/analytics/stats-articles/
Waldman: Thanks, Adam. Based on this information and what we've observed of the game thus far, I have some questions.
First, do you see passing offenses making meaningful adjustments to return to a higher standard of productivity this year?
Jeff Bell: This conversation is fascinating because if defenses have found a skeleton key, it is not working at the top. Josh Allen is posting career highs in passer rating and yards per attempt and is on pace to break the yardage record while seeing a career-low sack rate. Patrick Mahomes II lost Tyreek Hill yet is seeing his best statistical season since his 50 touchdowns in 2018. Joe Burrow just posted the second 480+ yard passing day since 2020. The Dolphins have increased their passing yardage by nearly 70 yards per game.
The bottom seems to be where it’s fallen out. Since 2012 no NFL offense has finished under 170 yards per game. In 2022, there are currently five teams under that number: Chicago (126), Atlanta (151), New York Giants (160), Tennessee (165), and Carolina (169). Dallas (183) and Baltimore (189) are running at levels that would have placed them at the bottom in 2021.
Waldman: There will always be exceptional options that challenge the curve.
Bell: True. And most interesting to this point, all of these teams but Carolina are in the heart of the early playoff race. The Giants, Titans, Cowboys, and Baltimore stand a combined 19-8, while the Falcons and Bears are early-season surprise stories at 3-4. The Cowboys can likely be excluded with Dak Prescott missing time, but the other teams have rolled back the clock and embraced a physical style that relies on running the football and playing defense. In a league that largely strived for one ideal style of football, it is fascinating to see how many new coaches are willing to play different styles that fit their team strengths.
Jason Wood: Any way you slice the data, NFL offenses are struggling this year. Scoring is at a decade low, and as Matt points out, the blame falls entirely on the passing game. In fact, by many measures, the rushing attack is more productive than we've seen in a generation. But from a fantasy perspective, while league-side rushing stats look great, the last time the NFL was this run-heavy, we still had the mandate to use feature backs for most downs. But in today's league, committees are standard fare, so the fantasy impact of the rushing resurgence feels less impressive than the overall numbers suggest.
I'm not sure we should expect a significant improvement in passing attacks this season. While the league follows cycles, it rarely changes in-season. Teams need to make adjustments in the form of new coaches, new personnel groupings, and the installation of counter-punches into the playbooks. This isn't the first time we've seen a defensive shift hurt offenses, and it won't be the last. And in a season or two, the NFL offensive minds will have figured out the counter, and the defensive coaches will be back on their heels. But in 2022? Expect little improvement.
One of the biggest mistakes fantasy managers make is looking at Year N and assuming that's the "new norm" when drafting Year N+1. We see it every draft season. In a year when running back scoring is down, everyone turns their attention toward receivers in the early rounds. In a year when quarterback scoring is down, you can expect most to discount the position even more than they do currently.
By the time most people followed a Zero RB strategy, it was smarter to zag back into drafting elite tailbacks because the discount had gotten too pronounced. So in answer to your question Matt, I think the smart play for 2023 drafts is to assume an improved passing attack. I do think an argument should be made (and I've been making this for some time), that we need to get back to properly valuing the quarterback position.
Elite quarterbacks are very valuable. Just as elite tight ends, running backs, and receivers are. As an industry, we've fallen into the lazy analysis of "oh, just wait on a quarterback; they're all the same," and it drives me nuts. In a way, what we're seeing this year is punishing that laziness, and I'm here for it.
Bell: The league is accelerating towards a “have and have not” in offensive production. This low passing volume is removing entire passing games from fantasy consideration.
Drew Davenport: For me, this question puts coaching staffs under the microscope. The best coaches adjust series by series, quarter by quarter, and game by game. This is leading to more of a stratification of offensive success, with elite coaching staffs (and quarterbacks) providing a massive difference in production over offenses that are considered middle of the pack in 2022. There's only so much you can do in the middle of the season, but the best coaches and quarterbacks will do it, and the vast majority won't. I wouldn't expect a huge adjustment this year, but just as Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes II have had to evolve the past 25 games, the best ones find ways to succeed, and we'll continue to see mediocre to poor play in far more situations than we want.
Andy Hicks: It has always been assumed that defenses have the early season advantage. As the season wears on, defensive depth is tested and weaknesses exploited. This season it has taken longer. Perhaps due to teams treating preseason as a joke. The constant revolving door of coaching staff also doesn’t help. It takes time for players to understand nuance and develop chemistry. I am confident the passing revolution will level out as the season wears on. The worst of the worst will do the usual cycle of firing the coaching staff, getting new schemes and players, and being impatient when things don’t click immediately.
Matt Montgomery: Yes, Andy. Just as teams make adjustments at halftime of actual games, whole units and teams also make meaningful adjustments throughout the year. Seeing as how we are at week 8, we are almost at “Halftime” of the season and will really see what teams can manage through this and what teams will falter. A great example was Joe Burrow’s performance from weeks 1 & 2 to now. They were being shown lots of cover two and two high safety looks, and it resulted in some ugly offense. They have made adjustments, and the team as a whole look more comfortable.
Joseph Haggan: I don't see many teams making the necessary adjustments needed to make a meaningful impact for 2022. The problem seems to be consistency in the situation and coaching. If you look at the top 7 or 8 fantasy scorers at QB this year, the thing that links them is having the same coach and system in place as they have had for at least 2 full seasons. It helps with overall offensive cohesiveness.
After the top guys, most of the remaining QBs, outside of Kirk Cousins, Jimmy Garoppolo, and Tom Brady, all have either new teams or new head coaches. The most notable effects of the change of scenery are Russell Wilson and Matt Ryan. It seems that QB production has a lot to do with familiarity with coaching, scheme, and staff.
I don't think this year changes much but 2023 could see some spikes in value once these QBs have full seasons under their belts with coaching, location, and scheme.
Kevin Coleman: The lack of production with passing offenses is an issue in the league, with many variables contributing to it. One of the most significant variables is the poor quarterback play around the league. We are in the midst of a shift in the quarterback position in the NFL; the issue is the quarterbacks that were supposed to take the reigns in the league have struggled out of the gate.
The 2021 quarterback class consisted of Justin Fields, Trevor Lawrence, Mac Jones, Davis Mills, Trey Lance, and Zach Wilson have all struggled to develop into top-tier quarterbacks in the league, which has caused this shift to feel incomplete. On top of these quarterbacks struggling, we have seen the older quarterbacks also struggle, which is one of the reasons we have seen passing offenses not be efficient in 2022. There is an argument to be made that these inefficiencies are mainly due to personnel, not necessarily passing schemes. There just is an apparent lack of depth at the quarterback position.
Waldman: Perhaps, but these quarterbacks were developing against defenses that didn't play these shells, so it may not be fair to label them bad. It would be like telling you to write next week's fantasy article while Joe Bryant is throwing footballs at you, and when you didn't finish the job on time or had more errors, you were labeled unfit for the role.
Coleman: Not exactly an equally-weighted analogy, but I get the point. Still, they're not performing at the end of the day, and will their team leadership take it into consideration? Probably. Will they hold off on looking elsewhere for talent that can do the job immediately? Probably not.
Waldman: Probably not. Next question: If defenses continue to limit passing offenses this year and hold them to significant lows versus recent years, how does this change your valuation of each position moving forward? Please address each fantasy position: QB, RB, WR, and TE.
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