:: We have reached the end of a golden era, my friends. After seven weeks of OWS targeting “cheap Josh Allen and his cheap pass catchers while everyone else is ignoring them,” it seems the tide has turned. Prices are rising. Ownership began to rise last week. And it won’t be long before we see a week in which this is the unit everyone is “scared to not play,” turning them into appropriately-priced chalk. We had a good run. A moment of silence, if you will.
Okay. So what about this week?
The first thing we should note is the matchup, against a defense that is completely attackable from a talent perspective (DK Metcalf went 4-89-0 against them in his first career game on only six targets, and Deebo Samuel went 5-87-1 in his second career game on only seven targets), but that stonewalled Tyler Lockett in Week 1 and slowed down George Kittle last week. It has been clear through two weeks that Josh Allen is going to target John Brown (and it has also been clear that Brian Daboll is going to scheme targets to Brown around what the matchup allows; last week, Brown ran a completely different route tree than he ran in Week 1) — but this also makes it clear to the Cincinnati defense that their best bet for a win is to limit what Brown can do, and force the Bills to beat them through the air with Cole Beasley and his limited downfield skill set, or with Zay Jones and his inconsistency.
What does this mean for us?
While we shouldn’t expect the Bengals to erase Brown (Brown can actually do a lot more than Lockett can do — as counterintuitive as that seems, given public perception of these two players), we should mark this as a less likely spot for him to pop for slate-breaking upside. (Of note: while the Bengals are not a talent-rich defense on the back end, they’re not as bad as they looked last week, when busted assignments and poor tackling really boosted the 49ers’ output.)
We should also expect Daboll to counter somewhat by doing things with Isaiah McKenzie and possibly even Robert Foster that the Bengals cannot have prepared for. (McKenzie played 16 snaps last week and has picked back up the gadget role he had late last year; Foster played a quiet 24 snaps last week.)
The Bills may also attack more heavily on the ground this week — both because of matchup and because of the potential for Brown to be slowed, and for this to slow the Bills’ passing attack. If Daboll were fully adaptable, it would be worth noting that the Bengals match up far better against Frank Gore than they do against the speed to the second level of Devin Singletary; but after Gore nearly doubled Singletary’s snaps last week (43 : 23), this play would be purely speculative, and would be best saved for large-field tourneys only.
JM’s First Interpretation ::
Between Beasley’s lowered usefulness outside of the player block (he was great when paired with cheap Brown/Allen, as he provided floor while also giving you insurance against a touchdown or two going his way; but as a solo piece, he’s tougher to fall in love with) and Zay’s inconsistency, it’s tough to get too excited about pieces beyond Brown. (Though I will note that in ultra-large-field play, it only takes three targets for Robert Foster to go 3-100-2.) And if you think the Bengals sell out to keep Brown from having a big game, you should lower his chances of hitting upside. With that said: Brown is still in play in tourneys for me, as A) he is so heavily emphasized in this passing attack, B) he’s less likely than Lockett was to get completely stonewalled, and C) it only takes one play for him to post a nice day. Naturally, Allen is in play with him. These guys aren’t the lock-and-load plays they were at their previous prices, but the ceiling remains high. I’ll also likely grab some Singletary in large-field tourneys for the sneaky upside he offers if the Bills give him more work.
The Bengals will follow up a trip to Seattle and a home game against the revamped 49ers defense with a visit to the tough environment of New Era Field.
The Bills are most attackable on the ground, where they have allowed 4.6 yards per carry to running backs in the early going while ranking 27th in run defense DVOA (compared to seventh in pass defense DVOA). The early results for the Bengals run game have been beyond disappointing (32nd in DVOA — with Joe Mixon picking up only 27 yards through two games, on 17 carries), but if you want to bet on the fact that good players don’t stay bad, and that below-average offensive lines can still produce big games for really good running backs, then it’s worth noting that Mixon was 0.48% owned in the DraftKings Milly Maker last week. He was dealing with the ankle sprain heading into that game, which contributed to the low ownership, but it’s unlikely that his performance through two weeks is going to send people flocking back to him in this spot.
The Bengals have been much more impressive through the air (with Dalton posting a 99.3 quarterback rating while piling up 729 yards through two games); and while the Bills present a daunting matchup, there are three reasons for optimism here:
1) The Bills’ biggest weakness on their defense is their pass rush. (Last year, only six teams had fewer sacks than Buffalo.) And Andy Dalton is a much better quarterback when he isn’t pressured. The Bills have improved in this area, but they are not yet a unit to fear.
2) Tyler Boyd will primarily match up in the slot with Siran Neal and Kevin Johnson — neither of whom can hang with him all game.
3) Tre’Davious White has had a rough start to the year, allowing 10 catches on 11 targets; and in joint practices with the Panthers during training camp, White got burned for long touchdowns on back-to-back days by Curtis Samuel — who is a much better route runner than John Ross, but whose speedy skill set is similar. Micah Hyde will be able to help with deep coverage, but he is also prone to missed tackles — which could lead to another long play or two for Ross in his new, legitimate, tailored-to-his-strengths role in this offense.
JM’s Second Interpretation ::
Zac Taylor mentioned this week that there will be games in which Mixon sees more touches — and given that this coaching staff has proven to be extremely adaptable, and that the best way to beat the Bills is on the ground, Mixon is a much stronger on-paper play than just about anyone will realize. The issues with the offensive line drop him pretty quickly from Tier 1, as his floor (you might have noticed?) has proven to be extremely low. But in any tourneys with a steep payout structure and/or tens of thousands of entries (i.e., tourneys in which you basically need to grab one of the top few spots or it really doesn’t matter — so who cares if you have a couple lower-floor pieces), Mixon is the type of play that would make you a lot of money over time: an excellent player with a likely 18- to 22-touch role this week against an attackable run defense, at a discounted price and low ownership. None of this guarantees that Mixon hits (or that he even has a solid game); but he’s more than 0.48% likely to. I’ll have some Mixon exposure. And while I may find that I don’t trust the Bengals’ offensive line quite enough to put Mixon on a tighter build, I at least won’t cross that idea off my list at the front end of the week.
Beyond Mixon, I may build a small number of large-field rosters that center around the Bengals passing attack. But ultimately, there are a lot of strong offenses in better spots that I’ll be likelier to target on tighter builds this week.