Welcome to The Forward Pass. This piece offers a few usage notes from Week 9 and makes some forward-looking statements about Week 10 and beyond.
1. No Leo, No Problemo
Jacksonville entered Week 9 leading the league with a 53.1 percent rush rate. Even with the surprise inactivation of running back Leonard Fournette, the Jags still ran on 40 (51.3 percent) of their 78 offensive plays. Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor Chris Ivory and T.J. Yeldon in a committee will keep the Jags from grinding. In Week 10 the Jags host the Chargers, who entered their Week 9 bye ranked 26th against the run in Football Outsiders’ Defense-Adjusted Value Over Average. The Jags are -4.0 favorites and seem likely to continue to pound the ball with positive game script regardless of whoever is carrying the mail.
2. Wentz is a Mensch
In Week 9 second-year quarterback Carson Wentz and the Eagles took on the feared Broncos defense. Even though Wentz entered the game leading all quarterbacks (minus the injured Deshaun Watson) with 19 touchdowns and a 7.2 percent touchdown rate, many people doubted that Wentz would have success against the Denver secondary. Wentz was owned at just 3.43 percent in the DraftKings Millionaire Maker, and we projected Wentz for low ownership rates in our Models. The Eagles won 51-23 as Wentz nonchalanced his way to four touchdowns passing on just 27 attempts. Even with minimal usage, Wentz has incredible touchdown upside as the Eagles have exhibited a willingness to let their emerging superstar throw the ball in the red zone. The Eagles are on bye in Week 10, so people might underown them in Week 11. Don’t be one of those people.
3. The Saints are Front Runners
As mentioned in our preseason preview, the Saints entered 2017 with 10 top-five seasons in passing volume out of the last 11 years. With Drew Brees as their quarterback, the Saints should probably skew to the pass — but the one year they committed to the running game, finishing outside of the top 10 in pass volume, they won a Super Bowl. This year they once again have deemphasized the pass and are using their running backs. Last year they were 28th in rush rate at 36.6 percent; they entered Week 9 ranked 14th at 42.7 percent, and against the Buccaneers in the Superdome the Saints continued to run with 32 rushes to just 27 passes. As the Saints travel to Buffalo in Week 10, they’re likely to highlight their dynamic backfield duo of Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara, as they’ve done since returning from bye in Week 6. The Saints are early -2.0 favorites in a game with a 48.5-point over/under.
4. Hilton is Dome-inant
With no more than 30 yards receiving in four of his last five games, wide receiver T.Y. Hilton was priced at a personal all-time low $4,900 on DraftKings for Week 9. The market jumped all over the discounted Hilton, giving him the second-highest ownership rate in the Milly Maker at 32.8 percent, and Hilton didn’t disappoint, turning nine targets into a 5/175/2 receiving line. Although Hilton was on the wrong side of his home/road splits, he was on the right side of his indoor/outdoor splits, as Hilton has been dominant in stadiums with domes and retractable roofs (82.8 yards per game) and merely mediocre in outdoor venues (60.6 yards per game). In Week 10 the Colts host the Steelers at Lucas Oil Stadium, where Hilton can leverage his speed in a climate-controlled FieldTurf-ed environment. This will be a tough matchup for Hilton — the Steelers have held wide receiver units to bottom-three marks of 24.0 DraftKings and 18.6 FanDuel points per game (PPG) — but exposure to Hilton in guaranteed prize pools is almost compulsory when he’s indoors. The Colts have opened as +10.5 underdogs and will likely need to throw to stay competitive.
5. The Robin Hood of Targets
This offseason the Redskins lost two 1,000-yard wide receivers in DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon. Although there was organizational hope that the addition of Terrelle Pryor, development of Jamison Crowder, and improved health of Jordan Reed would allow the team to make up for the departed targets and yards, that hasn’t happened. In Week 9, No. 2 tight end Vernon Davis, No. 2 running back Chris Thompson. and No. 2 wide receiver Josh Doctson led the team in targets with a combined 20 (66.7 percent). Whereas in previous seasons quarterback Kirk Cousins has concentrated on a couple of playmakers — in 2015, Reed and Garcon had 0.24 and 0.20 targets shares; in 2016, Garcon and Reed both had 0.19 — no player entered Week 9 with more than 0.18. Cousins has spread the wealth this year, and we’re likely to see that trend continue in Week 10 when the Redskins host the Vikings, who have held quarterbacks to the fifth-fewest fantasy points with 13.9 DraftKings and 13.4 FanDuel PPG. Given the relatively even distribution of targets and the Vikings’ strong pass defense with edge ends Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter, tackle Linval Joseph, shadow cornerback Xavier Rhodes, slot corner Terence Newman, safety Harrison Smith, and strongside linebacker Anthony Barr, it might be hard to trust any of Cousins’ pass catchers. The Redskins are implied for only 20.25 points as +2.0 underdogs.
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