Yesterday I looked at Fantasy Football is a volume game, and recognizing these team-level shifts can be a big piece of the puzzle for identifying under- and overvalued players.for the 2019 season compared to their 2018 results.
Equally as important as overall tempo is the run/pass split. Arizona and Baltimore are two clear examples of teams likely to move in opposite directions on the run/pass spectrum in 2019, but I covered both yesterday. Let's look at five new teams I'm projecting for increased passing and five teams I'm projecting for more runs in 2019.
Who will throw more?
Seattle Seahawks; Difference between 2018 totals and 2019 projection: +67 pass attempts
Seattle threw fewer passes in 2018 than any team in the past five seasons. As a percentage of total plays, their 52.8% rush rate was more than three percentage points higher than any team in the past three seasons!
Brian Schottenheimer took over offensive coordinator duties last season and clearly had a goal in mind in to establish the run, some would say to an almost painful degree. But even if he (likely) wants to continue that strategy, it takes a lot of factors working together to finish a season with a rate this extreme. For instance, you need game scripts to work out in the Seahawks' favor, and Seattle didn't lose a game last year by more than a single score.
I'm still projecting Seattle for the second-highest rush rate and second-most rush attempts for 2019, behind only Baltimore, yet I have them gaining more than two pass attempts per game on average. If that seems too aggressive, I'd suggest investing in Chris Carson or Rashaad Penny; even after that shift I have the duo combining for 393 touches.
San Francisco 49ers; +38 pass attempts
In Kyle Shanahan's first season in the Bay Area in 2017, Jimmy Garoppolo made five strong starts to close the season after being acquired in a mid-season trade, and the 49ers wound up throwing 607 passes, one off the league lead that year. After Garoppolo's injury last year, they ran substantially fewer plays and threw just 532 passes in a lost 2018.
Expect things to shift back for 2019. The 49ers invested second- and third-round picks in wide receivers Deebo Samuel and Jalen Hurd a year after taking Dante Pettis in the second round. George Kittle has emerged as their top offensive weapon. And while their running back situation is among the cloudiest in the league after the addition of Tevin Coleman, all three backs have solid pass-catching skills.
Chicago Bears; +34 pass attempts
The Bears won 12 games last season and did so convincingly, posting the second-highest average game script, per PlayerProfiler. Their over/under for 2019 wins sits at 9, a solid total but one that suggests they might not find themselves in quite as many run situations.
Chicago also drafted a more complete back in David Montgomery to replace the one-dimensional Jordan Howard. That would presumably allow them to be less predictable at the line of scrimmage and ultimately lead to more passing in Matt Nagy's second season.
Houston Texans; +32 pass attempts
The Texans shifted toward the run last season mostly by necessity, as their franchise quarterback was taking an unholy amount of punishment. They tried to address the offensive line with first- and second-round draft picks, and while that unit likely won't be considered plus anytime soon, it's hard to imagine they can be much worse than 62 sacks allowed.
If Keke Coutee and his miniscule 5.1 aDOT can stay healthy, Watson should have a plus outlet option for more quick passing. Improved health for Will Fuller would only add to Houston's desire to throw more, assuming the line can keep Watson upright long enough to get balls downfield to his deep threat.
New Orleans Saints; +27 pass attempts
After years of being at or near the top of the pass attempt leaderboard — Drew Brees averaged 648 pass attempts per 16 games from 2007 to 2016 — the Saints have been a completely different animal over the past two seasons, throwing fewer than 540 passes in each. They posted the league's fourth-highest rush percentage in their 13-win 2018.
They'll likely keep a rushing lean, but it's hard to string together 13-win seasons, so they may be looking at a few more passing situations. The addition of Jared Cook, the swap of Mark Ingram for Latavius Murray — which should lead to a higher share of snaps for Alvin Kamara — and the potential progression of Tre'Quan Smith all count as personnel reasons they may look to throw more in 2019, as well.
Who will run more?
Minnesota Vikings; +77 rush attempts
I could lump each of the next four teams into one bucket. They all had high hopes entering the season, all disappointed, and all tried to throw their way back into games to salvage their seasons, something we often don't see to the same degree from teams with lower expectations and less stable quarterbacks, who are often more likely to just pack it in and take their Ls. As a result, these four teams wound up with the four lowest rush percentages in the league in 2018.
I'm projecting Minnesota for the highest 2019 rush percentage among this quartet, essentially an extension of a trend we saw after Kevin Stefanski took over coordinator duties on an interim basis in the wake of John DeFilippo's firing. Everything we've heard out of Minnesota since then — including the removal of Stefanski's interim tag — suggests the Vikings would love to run more. Better game situations than their -2.01 average scoring margin in 2018 should allow that. And with Latavius Murray gone, Dalvin Cook could be in for a huge workload, if he can just stay healthy.
Green Bay Packers; +77 rush attempts
The Packers finished with the fewest rush attempts in the league, and new coach Matt LaFleur comes over from a run-heavy offense in Tennessee. Of course, LaFleur was working with an injured Marcus Mariota, not Aaron Rodgers.
I still have the Packers more pass-heavy than league average, but not by much. Their Vegas win total of 9 suggests far more opportunity to manage games than they had in their 6-win 2018 season.
Pittsburgh Steelers; +59 rush attempts
Pittsburgh finished just ahead of Green Bay in rush attempts last year, and among these four teams they are the one I have projected to keep the largest percentage of their pass lean from 2018. That's in part because Pittsburgh actually had a positive average game script last season, while Green Bay, Minnesota, and Atlanta (below) all were at -2 or worse, suggesting game situations didn't dictate as much of the Steelers passing as those other teams.
In fact, I have the Steelers leading the league in pass attempts again in 2019 as Ben Roethlisberger tries to prove he never needed Antonio Brown anyway. But for a team that typically plays up tempo, there's room for a solid uptick in rushing attempts after their paltry 345 last year.
Atlanta Falcons; +58 rush attempts
The Falcons are a tricky projection, because while it's evident their heavy pass lean was the result of a ridiculous string of bad injury luck that decimated their defense, they also moved on from Tevin Coleman this offseason and will likely incorporate the running backs in the passing game more this season, assuming Devonta Freeman stays healthy.
Because of that and the emergence of Calvin Ridley last year, I have Atlanta leaning a little more toward the pass than they did in either 2016 or 2017, but much closer to league average than what we saw in 2018.
Jacksonville Jaguars; +23 rush attempts
A 23-carry increase doesn't seem like much, but Blake Bortles has always scrambled at high rates and Nick Foles is a statue, so this projection also includes 48 fewer quarterback carries for Jacksonville this year.
In other words, we should be looking at a substantial increase in running back touches; great news for Leonard Fournette.
Jacksonville's 5-win season was an obvious disappointment a year after a run to the AFC Championship, and their Vegas win total for 2019 is eight, suggesting some expected improvement. We know they want to run, evidenced by their league-high rush percentage in 2017. Their results in 2018, including four losses of 16 or more points, dictated the shift, and we should see that swing back in 2019.