(Doc’s Note: I’d like to introduce you to @FantasyOMatic. Give him a follow on Twitter and check out his take on the Tampa 2 below.)
No one missed the huge stat line that Jermichael Finley posted against the Bears in week three: 7 Receptions for 85 Yards and 3 touchdowns.
So was this just a huge breakout game by an uber-talented tight end or was something else going on here that might be useful to fantasy owners who do not own Finley?
Certainly Finley is talented, but he is also the prototypical new style pass catching tight end. NFL Films analyst Greg Cosell likes to use the term “Joker” to describe a tight end who is aligned all over the formation — on the line of scrimmage, in the slot, split out wide, or in motion.
What appears worth examining is how this type of tight end fares against specific defensive formations. In particular, this new style of tight end is especially valuable against a “Cover-2” defense that leaves the middle of the field open to exploitation.
We saw evidence of that in week three with Finely and even last season when Finley burned the Cover-2 Bears for 115 yards on nine catches. Bears CB Tim Jennings even indicated back then that a big TE like Finley is, “a cover-2 beater”.
First, a quick explanation of the (Tampa) Cover-2 defense and then on to how you can exploit this as a fantasy owner.
In traditional Cover 2 schemes the free safety (FS) and strong safety (SS) have deep coverage responsibilities, each guarding their own half of the field. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Minnesota Vikings, Chicago Bears and now the Colts, all run a variant of this defense.
In cover-2 the cornerbacks have increased run stopping responsibilities and generally defend against shorter passes, although if two receivers run a deep route on a certain side of the field, that side’s corner has deep coverage responsibility as well.
For baseball fans, you might recognize this defensive approach as akin to playing your outfielders deep to decreases the opponent’s slugging percentage. Thus, giving up shorter plays for single base hits, rather than long balls for extra bases.
The advantage of cover 2 is that it provides great versatility to the defense as the corners can play run, short pass, and deep pass with the confidence that they have support from two deep safeties.
However, the most useful fact about the cover-2 for fantasy football purposes is that the main weakness of the cover-2 occurs in the middle of the field between the safeties.
When the ball is snapped, many times the safeties will move toward the sidelines in order to cover any long passes to quick wide receivers. This movement creates a natural hole between the safeties that can be attacked.
By sending a receiver or a Joker tight end into the hole, the offense forces the safety to make a decision: play the vulnerable hole in the middle of the field or help out on the wide receiver.
The quarterback reads the safety’s decision and decides on the best matchup. With big tall Joker TEs, that matchup is nearly always the TE on a size mismatched safety. A potential flaw with the Cover-2 is that blitzing often creates greater areas of weakness in the defense than other coverages. Thus, unsuccessful blitzes can prove to be more productive for the offense than in other schemes.
How can you benefit from this weakness? Well, you want to get yourself a Joker TE who gets to face as many of these defenses as possible this year.
So who are the TEs that will face cover-2 coverage this season?
W4 Greg Olsen
W5/W10 Brandon Pettigrew
W6 Visanthe Shiancoe
W7 Kellen Winslow
W9 Brent Celek
W12 Kevin Boss
W13 Leonard Pope
W14 Daniel Fells
W15 Zach Miller
W16 Jermichael Finley
Facing Tampa Bay:
W4 Dallas Clark
W5 Vernon Davis
W6/W9 Jimmy Graham
W7 Kellen Davis
W10 Owen Daniels
W11 Jermichael Finley
W12 Jared Cook
W13/W16 Greg Olsen
W14 Mercades Lewis
W15 Jason Witten
W4 Leonard Pope
W5 Todd Heap
W6 Kellen Davis
W7 Jermichael Finley
W8 Greg Olsen
W10 Jermichael Finley
W11 Zach Miller
W12 Tony Gonzales
W13 Daniel Fells
W14 Brandon Pettigrew
W15 Jimmy Graham
W4 Kellen Winslow
W5 Leonard Pope
W6 Jermaine Gresham
W7 Jimmy Graham
W8 Jared Cook
W9 Tony Gonzales
W10 Marcedes Lewis
W12 Greg Olsen
W14 Ed Dickson
W15 Jared Cook
W16 Owen Daniels
OBSERVATIONS: There are clearly some big name TEs in this bunch, not the least of which is Finely. He faces four more cover-2 matchups this season (on week 15) with one big success already under his belt.
This advantage can certainly help breakout TE Jimmy Graham propel toward a huge season. Graham has four of his own matchups still to come in 2011, with one in the fantasy playoffs.
Deep sleeper TE Jared Cook has three matchups of his own, which combined with the departure of Kenny Britt, might help him realize his sleeper potential. He is a guy to watch regardless.
Looking a little closer you see a couple names pop up that might not be rostered players. Former Bears TE Greg Olsen will see 5 cover two matchups and will have three of those between W12 and W16 which could mean he could help save your TE position if you lose a starter to injury or simply give up on your current TE before the playoffs. He could be a stash until then since he next up against his old team CHI in week 4 and could be the next TE to punish the Bears cover2. If that happens, he will be rostered everywhere.
Lions TE Brandon Pettigrew is not only part of a prolific passing offense, but also faces three cover-2 defenses himself.
In all, this list may be helpful to you if you are playing matchups each week on TEs of looking for guys on waivers.A lot of these guys enjoy these matchups during BYE weeks too, so check the list above and matchup against your starting TE’s BYE week.