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(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?

Facing Chicago:

W4 Greg Olsen

W5/W10 Brandon Pettigrew

W6 Visanthe Shiancoe

W7 Kellen Winslow

W9 Brent Celek

W11 Gates/McMichael

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

W12 Gates/McMichael

W11 Jermichael Finley

W12 Jared Cook

W13/W16 Greg Olsen

W14 Mercades Lewis

W15 Jason Witten

Facing Minnesota:

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

Facing Indianapolis:

W4 Kellen Winslow

W5 Leonard Pope

W6 Jermaine Gresham

W7 Jimmy Graham

W8 Jared Cook

W9 Tony Gonzales

W10 Marcedes Lewis

W12 Greg Olsen

W13 Gronk/Hernadez

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.

7 Responses

  1. John Barleycorn says:
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    Wow, thanks for this article. THIS is the type of fantasy advice that other sites don’t offer. Keep it up! Very informative.

  2. BAM says:
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    Awesome piece…I’d just picked up Olsen yesterday and was debating between playing him and Keller but this helped make the decision that much easier. Cover 2 Defense, A solid Panthers Passing Attack and Retribution (against his old team) could make this a HUGE game for Olsen.

  3. Rags says:
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    I second John Barleycorn’s comment. Excellent article. More like this, please.

    I don’t know if there’s enough for an article here, but I realized today I know nothing about offensive lines, other than that they are important.

  4. Matt says:
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    Anyone facing the Indy defense is a must start at this point.

    Superb article.

  5. Stink Nuggets says:
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    Awesome article. As I’ve only been following football for about 4 years, it’s great to hear more about systems and the reasons people excel rather than just look at pure stats, which obviously don’t tell the whole story. It helps us make better judgment calls.

    That being said, the format is really very difficult to understand. The two ways I would look at this is “What weeks do my tight ends have favorable matchups?” and “I’m hurting this week, who should I start?”

    This format isn’t conducive to answering either of those questions. This is more like “I want to play a TE against Indy every week of the season, who should I continuously stream?” which doesn’t really make much sense. I would appreciate this article even more if it were in a format like:

    Week 4 – Olsen (Chicago), Clark (Tampa Bay), Pope (Minnesota), Winslow (Indianapolis) – possibly with them sorted in A) Ownership %, or B) According to how much these defenses have struggled against TE’s to date.

    Probably the second most helpful format would be something like listing TE’s in order of who faces the most cover-2′s throughout the year, this way you could see who a good bench stash/spot starter might be.

    It would be a lot more helpful if the format were a bit different. Love the material though, thanks for the article!

  6. birrrdy! says:
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    Great piece. Waaay above what else is out there in FF circles…

  7. Totally agree on format of the information. Here is a list of all the TEs who have multiple cover2 opponents, ranked most to fewest:

    (5) Greg Olsen
    W4 CHI
    W8 MIN
    W12 IND
    W13/W16 TB*

    (4) Jermichael Finley
    W7/W10 MIN
    W11 TB
    W16 CHI*

    (4) Jimmy Graham
    W6/W9 TB
    W7 IND
    W15 MIN*

    (3) Brandon Pettigrew
    W5/W10 CHI
    W14 MIN*

    (3) Jared Cook
    W8/W5 IND
    W12 TB

    (3) Leonard Pope
    W4 MIN
    W5 IND
    W13 CHI

    *indicates fantasy playoffs

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