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CFL DFS Defense Strategy: Ticking Time Bomb-ers
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I’ve been a defensive football coach for a decade now, and so nothing gets me more excited than a good old fashioned 8-6 final score, defensive struggle of a football game. Unfortunately for me and my ilk, Commissioner Jeffrey Orridge and rules guru Glen Johnson essentially decided to make playing defence illegal as of the 2015 season. The result has been the utterly pass heavy CFL game that we are all witnesses to today…

All this being said, offensive plays are where fantasy points are scored the vast majority of the time. Everyone knows who the teams and players are that score the most points. The competitive edge is knowing what the defences are doing that give you the matchups to attack and avoid. Let the defensive nerdulation begin:

Points Against and Total Yards Allowed

Generally speaking there is a strong correlation between the yards a team’s defence gives up, and the number of points that are scored against them. It’s basic football logic. There are always small statistical anomalies that mean that a team like Hamilton is 3rd in the league in yards allowed (3975), but ranks all the way down at 6th in points allowed (302). For the most part though, looking over the defensive stats so far this season yields expected results. Calgary and BC are essentially the top two defenses in the league ranking 1\4 and 3\2 respectively in points and yardage allowed. If you can avoid a matchup with these defences you probably should. On the flipside, look to roster viable players facing Edmonton (8\7) or Saskatchewan (9\9) as both of these defences rank at the bottom of the league in all the wrong categories.

dr_300x250_nflThere were a couple significant outliers that are worth noting. The Winnipeg Blue Bombers are the leagues 2nd best defence in terms of points surrendered (239), but rank all the way down at 8th in yardage (4550). There’s a few different things that could explain this, but I’ll get to that a little later on. Suffice it to say, for now, that I think the Blue Bombers are destined to crash. The opposite of this outlier stat is found in Ottawa, where they rank 5th in points allowed (255), but are the leagues best defence in terms of yardage (3743). Some of this can be explained in that they were off last week and as such have an advantage in total yards, but it’s fair to say that the discrepancy here means they may in fact have a little more to offer than what they’ve shown so far.

PASSING YARDS PER ATTEMPT ALLOWED

Calgary 6.8
Hamilton 7.0
BC 7.1
Ottawa 7.2
Montreal 7.4
Winnipeg 7.5
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Toronto 7.8
Edmonton 8.1
SSK 8.9

To gauge a defence’s competency against the pass or rush, we’ll look at yards per attempt rather than total yards allowed. It’s a little bit more fair measure as it can eliminate some of the affects of game flow in looking at a defences actual abilities. Most of the teams lump together within less than a yard difference of each other. There’s generally only about a tenth of a yard difference between teams in the upper two thirds. However, starting with Toronto the gaps begin to widen to 0.3 yards per attempt and then stretch almost a full yard more to get down to the Roughriders. Saskatchewan allows more than two yards more per passing attempt than the top ranked Stampeders. Weekly players this season have known to target Edmonton and Saskatchewan defensive passing matchups this season, but it’s really quite amazing to see just how bad they are.

RUSHING YARDS PER CARRY ALLOWED

Hamilton 3.99
Ottawa 4.16
Calgary 4.33
Winnipeg 4.54
BC 4.69
Edmonton 4.69
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SSK 5.12
Montreal 5.31
Toronto 5.38

Again, there’s a pretty strong grouping amongst the top thirds of defences in the league. There’s only a 0.7 yard difference between top ranked Hamilton and 6th ranked Edmonton. But then there’s a significant drop off to the bottom three ranked teams, with an almost half a yard difference between Edmonton and Saskatchewan. The difference is again expanded when we drop down to the Alouettes and Argonauts. Giving up over five yards a carry is near disaster in a league where you only get three downs. A good rushing team can really abuse defences like this maintaining possession and stringing out long drives. The Lions are really the only offence that stresses running the ball, but as you look for matchup plays each week at RB, these are the teams to target.

FIRST DOWNS ALLOWED

BC 202
OTT 217
TOR 222
HAM 234
SSK 238
MTL 239
EDM 243
Calgary 254
WPG 260

First downs allowed is a stat that’s a little tougher to know how to target. It’s really helpful in letting you know how well a defence is able to make plays to get off the field when they have the opportunity. Before you write this off as a trip down narrative street, like talking about a scrappy middle infielder with INTANGIBLES, hear me out. There’s a lot of correlation to other defensive markers here with aforementioned BC, Ottawa and Hamilton at the top of the list. There’s also correlation on the bottom with Edmonton and Winnipeg scraping the bottom of the barrel.

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What’s interesting is that Toronto and Saskatchewan get away with so few first downs conceded, while strangely Calgary gives up a ton. We can likely say Calgary is in for a bit of regression and may make a better matchup in the second half of the season. As for Saskatchewan and Toronto, I think it’s the case of them giving up so many big plays that they don’t allow for as many first downs before giving up a scoring play. If you are playing GPP’s than target Saskatchewan and Toronto defences that give up the deep ball and long runs regularly.

SCORING PERCENTAGE ALLOWED

WPG 25.9
CGY 26.7
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OTT 32.4
MTL 32.9
TOR 32.9
BC 34.4
HAM 34.6
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EDM 38.4
SSK 42.1

Now, let’s get down to business about this Winnipeg defence. As was noted, they give up a ton of yards, but to this point, very few scores. Compared to the Saskatchewan defence, that gives up similar yardage, Winnipeg surrenders nearly 40% fewer scoring drives. I think it goes without saying this won’t last. The previous two seasons the Blue Bombers have given up scores on an average of 30% of the time. That number would still put them in the top third of the league, but the rate they are going right now isn’t sustainable.

As noted in just about every other category so far, target the Edmonton and Saskatchewan matchups vigorously, unashamedly, and continuously. They give up yardage and scoring drives more than any other teams, and it’s not particularly close. While half the league is bunched in the middle within 2% of each other, there are clear bad matchups to avoid – Calgary and Winnipeg (so far) – and clear ones to attack. Consequently, Edmonton and Saskatchewan face each other this week. Probably, want to stack that game.

DRIVES RESULTING IN A TURNOVER

SSK 5.0
OTT 10.3
BC 10.8
EDM 11.3
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MTL 14.5
CGY 15.3
HAM 16.4
TOR 16.5
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WPG 24.1

Back to Winnipeg though. Last season Winnipeg had 12.4% of their defensive drives end with a turnover. Two years ago it was 11.7% of the time. This season so far they are running at double that rate at 24.1%. A full quarter of the time that the defence goes on the field, it comes off of the field because they created a turnover. If their own history doesn’t sway you to doubt the reincarnation of Swaggerville, the highest turnover percentage by any team last season was Hamilton at 18%. The highest two years ago was Montreal at 15%. Winnipeg, at even at the height of their nauseating Swaggerville escapades only managed about a 15% turnover rate. I am Michael Burry in The Big Short standing here drumming away to the fury of Scar Symmetry, yelling at the top of my lungs, “THE BLUE BOMBERS DEFENCE ISN’T SUSTAINABLE. IT’S GOING TO CRASH! I WANT TO SHORT THE WINNIPEG DEFENCE!” Essentially this is either the greatest defence of ALL TIME, or they are playing well above sustainable levels and are going to crash any week now. My money, literally, is on the latter.

And again, in case you have utterly skipped the entire article but stopped to read the ALL CAPS above: The Eskimos and Roughriders defences shouldn’t scare a pee-wee football team and are absolute, irredeemable rubbish. Target their defences without fear of interceptions or fumbles for your players. Negative point are hereby banished.

SACKS

BC 36
HAM 33
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OTT 28
CGY 28
MTL 26
WPG 24
TOR 23
EDM 20
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SSK 14

One more category to break down, and one more category in which the Eskimos and Roughriders are at the cataclysmic bottom of the universe’s trash heap. Always pick on these two. Conversely, you should be quite wary of playing QB’s against BC or Hamilton. They both have great defensive secondaries that create “coverage sacks”, and unruly gangs of defensive linemen that make it hard to push the ball down the field. No defence is without its flaws, but if you can avoid BC and Hamilton when picking QB’s and WR’s, you’re likely on safer statistical footing.

Well that about does it for the defensive numbers. In summary:

  1. Pick on the Riders and Eskimos.
  2. Avoid the Stampeders and Lions.
  3. Ottawa is likely going to be a tougher matchup than you’d think as the season wears on.
  4. The Winnipeg defence’s level of fantasy scoring is unsustainable and sooner or later will come crashing down.

Be sure to come join in on the rest of the conversation, thoughts, and statistical jibber jabber in the CFL DFS thread in The Forum each week. May your luck be as good as Winnipeg’s to this point!

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