The Eagles “Air Raid” Offense and More Air Yards Analysis Through 2 Weeks
In case you missed it, I wrote an article before week 1 using air yards to evaluate which teams had the most efficient and least efficient offenses from 2016 (hint: The Jets were terrible and the Patriots and Saints were awesome). Using the same method I used for that 2016 article, I decided to look at which teams have offensive strategies that standout and which are having success through 2 weeks of the NFL season.
A note before we start. These numbers don’t include 2 weeks of Lions, Giants, Buccs, or Dolphins stats because we don’t have a 2 game sample from either of these teams. So, while they will be included in the tables below, the numbers may be a little misleading.
For those who are too lazy to read my 2016 article, here’s a tl;dr. Air yards = aDot * targets. Air yards do not take into account sideways yards. To take that into account, I scale up air yards to WRs and scale down air yards to RBs, assuming that WR targets will be likely more down the sideline and RBs will be closer to the middle of the field. This gives us an even better idea of which teams are having their QB throw the balls the farthest. Then, I total those numbers for each team and then divide by total targets. What we get is a number I call “True Air Yards Per Target.” A bar chart for air yards per target by team is below.
One thing that immediately stands out is the Philadelphia Eagles, who are #1 in air yards per target in the league by a margin of two yards. This came as a total surprise to me, so I looked at some Eagles highlights from their game vs the Chiefs, and the eye test did back up this data. Their strategy on offense (so far this season) has been an “Air Raid” approach, throw it deep constantly and see what happens. As I stated in my 2016 article, I don’t feel like this is a good strategy on offense, unless your quarterback is very, very good. But the results have actually been good, with the Eagles performing in the top 10 of receiving yards per target in the league. I think there will certainly be some disappointing games from the Eagles this season with such a high variance strategy, but clearly Carson Wentz and these receivers are talented enough to execute a very tough offense through 2 games.
For fantasy purposes, I do have a hypothesis about offenses like this that throw deep more often. I think match up, particularly the quality of the opponent pass rush, is going to matter a lot more for teams like the Eagles, Steelers, and Buccaneers. So keep an eye on these offenses when they play teams like the Colts, Saints, or Browns.
Another team that stands out to me is the Kansas City Chiefs. Their air yards per target is 5th lowest in the league, but they are top 3 in receiving yards per target (the bar chart for receiving yards per target is below). The efficiency is unbelievable. But is this luck or skill? One piece to consider is match up, if the Chiefs had played some easy defenses, maybe this offensive skill is more of a consequence of luck of the draw than anything else. But the Chiefs faced the Patriots and Eagles defenses, two defenses that most rate as middle of the road at the very least. So I think we can safely ignore that conclusion.
What I think helps the Chiefs offense tremendously is where their talent lies, at RB with Kareem Hunt, at TE with Travis Kelce, and with a WR/Hybrid in Tyreek Hill. In 2016, RBs had 2.4 receiving yards per target, 3 times as many as WRs, who had a paltry 0.8. TEs fared better at 1.15. My conclusion from these stats was that NFL teams may be better served passing more to the TE and RB, and that’s exactly what the Chiefs are doing. Travis Kelce has received almost 1/3 of the teams targets (TEs as a whole with almost half), and Tyreek Hill is not that far behind. Hill is a unique WR who KC will line up out of the backfield, giving him some easier targets than most WRs and essentially serving as a pass catching RB. Kareem Hunt has also emerged as a receiving talent at RB, catching all 5 of his targets so far.
The Chiefs other “true” WRs have also been enjoying efficient years so far, and I think it’s due to this strategy as well. It’s kind of like how modern pitchers in baseball are throwing off-speed pitches more, foregoing common strategy to “establish the fastball.” When they do throw the fastball after throwing several curveballs, it’s a lot more effective. In the same way, a strategy that throws a lot of short, efficient passes, helps WRs on the outside because the defense is lining up to stop this short passing game, leaving the WRs with better match ups and opportunities. Albert Wilson and Chris Conley have caught 13 of 16 targets so far and have a combined Receiving yards per air yard (RACR) of over 1.5. No one would consider either of these guys talented WRs.
Sadly for daily fantasy purposes, Hill, Kelce, and Hunt’s prices have all skyrocketed on FanDuel and DraftKings. And despite the fact that I love this offense, I think we’ll actually see a little more production from Albert Wilson and Chris Conley in future weeks given their efficiency. So as DFS plays at the moment, Kelce, Hill, and Hunt are not fantastic.
One last team that stands out is the LA Rams, who are leading the league in receiving yards per target through 2 weeks. Jared Goff is a talented QB who is only in his 2nd year and Rams head coach Sean Mcvay is clearly an offensive genius (he was the OC for a surprisingly amazing Redskins offense last year), and it’s really showing. One thing to consider, however, is they faced one of the worst defenses in the league in the Colts in week 1, and their week 2 opponent, the Redskins, are likely bottom 10 as well. While I don’t expect this production to keep going, I think it’s likely they finish as a top 15 offense by the end of the year, which is an outstanding turnaround from a year ago.
For fantasy purposes, a couple of notes. Todd Gurley has fared surprisingly well this season, but not from running the ball, as most expected before the year started. His strides have come in the passing game, where he’s caught 8 of his 10 targets and has a ridiculous 5.78 RACR. As long as Lance Dunbar is out, expect Sean Mcvay’s offense to continue to feed Gurley in the passing game and he could be in for some huge games if he ever gets that running production up in the coming weeks. He seems like a top 5-10 RB this year.
I also am not giving up on Sammy Watkins at all. He currently has a target share of 12%, but he’s caught all 7 targets and possesses a RACR of 2.26. I think as the year goes on, the Rams will involve him more in the passing game. Look for him to breakout in week 4 against the Cowboys after a long week following Thursday’s game against SF (and hopefully not before, so we can take advantage on the main slates).
Questions or Comments? Tweet me @maxjsteinberg or find me on the Daily Fantasy Winners Forums.
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