Last season, the 49ers ranked 11th in net passing yards allowed per game and 14th in net rushing yards allowed per game, but they ranked 28th in points allowed per game. How did this happen? For starters, San Francisco intercepted only two passes all season – a stunning level of ineffectiveness that was part of this team forcing only seven turnovers all year (for reference: the second worst team in the NFL forced 14 turnovers), which led to the 49ers ranking 24th in drive success rate allowed, 18th in yards allowed per drive, and 26th in points allowed per drive. Only 10 teams allowed fewer receptions to wide receivers, but at 27 touchdowns allowed to wideouts, the 49ers were three touchdowns worse than the next worst team in the league.
Meanwhile, the Buccaneers’ struggles on defense were well documented last year. Only the 49ers and Raiders allowed more passing touchdowns then the Bucs; only the Chiefs, Eagles, Saints, and Bengals allowed more passing yards; only the Bengals, Falcons, and Chiefs allowed a higher drive success rate; and this team also ranked bottom five in turnovers forced per drive and points allowed per drive. No team allowed more touchdowns to running backs last year than the Bucs; only five teams allowed more receptions to wide receivers; only three teams allowed more touchdowns to wide receivers; and only three teams allowed more receiving yards to tight ends.
Both of these defenses are expected to show improvement this year. Todd Bowles is taking over the Buccaneers defense, and there are two main things we should expect him to bring to the table. Firstly, we should see multiple looks from this defense throughout the season, with unique, opponent-specific game plans designed to take away what the other team does best; and secondly, we should see Bowles lean on his typical aggressiveness, which mixes well with the identity of head coach (and former collaborator) Bruce Arians. Bowles and Arians both want to be aggressive, attacking on both sides of the ball and hoping to exert their will throughout the game. This should lead to the Buccaneers doing better this year in takeaways (sixth worst in the NFL last year) and interceptions (19th in the NFL). Though realistically, this team does still have personnel questions, and an aggressive approach from a talent-iffy defense can open the door for big plays, and can help to stimulate a back and forth affair.
The 49ers, meanwhile, are switching to a wide nine base defense – a defense that sometimes leaves lanes open against the run, but that is designed to get after the quarterback as often as possible. Although Nick Bosa may miss Week 1, this team still has a defensive line with the pieces to be special; and with the addition of Kwon Alexander at linebacker and with Richard Sherman now fully recovered from his Achilles injury, this defense as a whole has a chance to surprise this year.
These elements are noted more, however, because there is a chance for one of these units to turn in a quality DFS score at the bottom of the price barrel than because we should be scared to attack this game. This figures to be one of the more popular spots on the slate; and while there are obviously scenarios in which this game becomes lower scoring than most will expect (scenarios potentially worth trying to exploit with some large-field tourney builds), the fundamental aggressiveness of both of these offensive coaches should lead to some big plays piling up throughout this game (with this path widened by the fact that each of these defenses wants to play aggressively as well), making this one of the more obviously attractive games to look toward in Week 1.
Part of the beauty of targeting the Buccaneers offense is that they have a new head coach in Arians who has a long track record of maximizing talent (that is, Arians is going to feed the ball to his best players, rather than wasting touches on players who shouldn’t have the ball in their hands). And while this Buccaneers roster has a lot of talent at the top, it is one of the thinnest rosters in football from a depth perspective. This means that most weeks, volume in this offense will be heavily concentrated on a small number of players. In the passing attack, this is Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, and O.J. Howard.
This week, Howard runs into one of the toughest matchups he will see all year (last season, only three teams allowed fewer targets to tight ends than the 49ers, and only four teams allowed fewer yards). Howard has matchup-busting ability, but by the research, we should expect an even heavier dose of targets than normal to flow to Evans and Godwin. With very little for the Bucs to target at running back, it isn’t crazy to project Evans and Godwin to combine for around 20 targets. For that matter, it won’t be crazy if we see both of these guys individually push for double-digit targets. The Buccaneers finished near the bottom of the league in nearly every run blocking metric last year, and they have a pair of extremely underwhelming backs in Peyton Barber and Ronald Jones. While one of these guys could theoretically break off a long play or fall into the end zone a couple times, Arians will be centering his game plan around his three elite pass catchers – and given the matchup, Godwin and Evans are the two who stand out the most.
San Francisco is a bit more difficult to get excited about, as this team wants to spread the ball around quite a bit more than the Buccaneers do. Entering Week 1, we should expect Tevin Coleman and Matt Breida to split carries at somewhere between a 50/50 to 60/40 rate. (Honestly, there is not even a guarantee heading into the season that Coleman will end up with the fat end of this split. By all accounts, Breida has been the best back for the 49ers this summer.) The 49ers also have a number of wide receivers that they want to get the ball to, with Dante Pettis, Jalen Hurd, Deebo Samuel, and Marquise Goodwin all carving out space for some looks (on top of the targets that this team wants to filter to running backs). Although the matchup is not particularly daunting, it is difficult to project any of these wide receivers for more than seven targets in a likeliest-ceiling scenario, leaving all of them more as tournament shots than as set-and-forget pieces. Pettis theoretically has the highest upside of the group, though the 49ers like Hurd’s physicality and may try to exploit that near the goal line. Goodwin settles in as an iffy-usage, big-play threat. Samuel is a wildcard – and frankly, with how much 21 personnel this team runs, playing time among all these wide receivers is an open question, leaving them as hope and pray tournament plays rather than guys you should genuinely rely on.
Note :: Hurd is looking unlikely for Week 1, which is starting to tighten up the 49ers’ passing distribution. We’re still looking at a team that wants to target the backs and Kittle, but it should be Pettis and Goodwin on the outside and Deebo in the slot, with all of these guys likely seeing north of 60% of the snaps (and with one of them – likely Pettis – seeing close to 100%). You could do worse in MME than Goodwin’s downfield skill set or Deebo’s floor/ceiling combo from the slot. These are not staple plays, but they do make some sense.
“Okay, what about Kittle?” Well…that’s a different story.
George Kittle closed the season last year seeing eight or more targets in seven straight games (going 10, 13, nine, nine, eight, 12, 14 – with 70 or more yards in five of those games on the strength of his unique after-catch ability). The Buccaneers, for all their struggles last year, did shave 9% off the league average yards after catch per reception rate, but they also allowed the fourth most yards and the fifth most receptions to the tight end position. From a standard projections standpoint, Kittle comes in a bit lower than some of the other elite tight end options this week; but given the expected aggressive nature of this game and the unique skill set that Kittle has, he’s very much in play in all DFS formats.
JM’s Interpretation ::
On the Buccaneers side, Godwin and Evans stand out as two of the top on paper plays this week, while Jameis Winston is worth considering for the upside available in this game, and Howard is a fine large field tournament piece for his matchup-busting ability. (As for the running backs: you’re flying blind here on a bad backfield with a split workload, leaving these two as nothing more than hope and pray plays.)
On the 49ers side, Kittle stands out as the strongest piece, while the rest of the wide receivers and running backs on this team carry uncertain volume – leaving them as theoretically viable darts in tournaments for the overall upside this game could prove to carry, though leaving all of them as rather iffy options in smaller field tournaments and cash games. There is also a sneaky case to be made in large field tournaments for rostering Jimmy Garoppolo naked – as he is one of the rare quarterbacks, in this offense, who could post a week-winning score without bringing any individual pass catchers with him. —
From OWS Collective ::
:: JMToWin —
This collective ( phi_eagles05 ) does a good job looking at alternate angles. It caught my eye for two reasons. Firstly, he nailed the way the Bears/Packers game ended up playing out. Secondly, he brought up some good points on the tight end matchup for OJ Howard, and the fact that San Francisco didn’t really play many high-quality tight ends last year. He followed that up with, “Curious what JM has to say here.” Which made me curious as well.
Tight end coverage is one of the knottiest elements to figure out in DFS. “Allowed” numbers are obviously flawed, as these are so matchup-dependent. And DVOA numbers are flawed as tight end coverage is so nuanced, given all the different types of tight ends. For example: calling Kyle Rudolph a tight end, and Travis Kelce a tight end, and George Kittle a tight end, and Evan Engram a tight end…it’s like we’re not even talking about the same position or players. Furthermore, teams use linebackers, corners, safeties || man coverage, zone coverage, hybrid coverage, etc. to account for tight ends, and each team’s approach will likely be different against each team they face.
The best way to get about 60% of the picture is to look at fairly large-sample-size “Allowed” numbers, as opponents always look to isolate and attack a good matchup. If a team is easy to attack with tight ends, tight end numbers against that team will spike. A great example is the 2018 Browns, who allowed the most tight end targets in the NFL (11.5% more than any other team!!!), and yet faced only two elite tight ends all season (Travis Kelce and O.J. Howard). In fact, their tight end schedule wasn’t too dissimilar from the 49ers (who faced the fourth fewest tight end targets). The Browns’ schedule included:
Panthers without Olsen
Kyle Rudolph had his fewest targets of the season vs SF
Travis Kelce went 5-72 against Reuben Foster and Malcolm Smith, neither of whom are on the 49ers anymore; he couldn’t get much going against the rest of this defense
Jimmy Graham hit a 54-yarder when Fred Warner got sucked up in play-action; Warner is typically a disciplined player, however; and this week — vs a Bucs team that isn’t much of a threat in the run game but is incredibly strong with the pass — Warner should be coached all week to pay attention to his keys and not get sucked up on play action
Evan Engram (who as a player may be the closest comp to Howard…with the possible exception of Kittle — more on him in a moment) went 2-40 vs Exum Jr., who shouldn’t be in coverage on Howard much now that Jaquiski Tartt is back
Of course, this introduces another layer, as Tartt is the main guy who will be assigned to Howard; and Tartt has played hurt (and missed about half his games) in most of his time under Saleh.
Tartt was extremely strong against tight ends early in 2017 (he held Ertz to one catch for 14 yards; Ertz went 4-34 in all in that game; Jordan Reed wasn’t targeted when Tartt was covering him; Greg Olsen went 2-18 vs the 49ers, and wasn’t targeted in Tartt’s coverage), but he struggled with injuries that year and then missed the second half of the season. Last year, he was in and out of the lineup with injuries and missed several games; so while he didn’t look as dominant individually, it’s fair to question the validity of that.
It is also worth noting that almost all of Tartt’s coverage reps in practice come against Kittle — with Tartt having a chance each day to square off with him one-on-one. Kittle and Tartt work together to refine both of their techniques, and this should help Tartt in his matchup against Howard, as he has a sounding board that is on that same level.
And yet(!) — with all that said — Howard is going to split out wide; Howard is going to go in motion; heck, Howard may even start in the backfield one play and run a route from there. The Bucs have only three guys they really want to throw to (Perriman will get a couple shots, but things won’t center around him), and the Bucs want to throw. They’ll do what they can to get Howard involved, without a doubt; and he could easily break off a big play or two, or catch a couple of short scores (last year, they loved sprinting Howard into the flat near the end zone), or have any number of other things break his way.
If we’re talking “Optimal” builds, Engram (and Henry, and Kittle, and Kelce) are better plays than Howard this week. But if we’re talking guys who could smash anyway, “and who cares if they have a slightly lower floor,” I definitely agree that Howard — with all the moving parts in this matchup, and with his game-breaking talent — is very much in play in tourneys.