BRONCOS // RAVENS OVERVIEW
So far this season, Denver ranks 24th in DVOA against the pass and ranks 30th in yards allowed per pass attempt (Note: In the Key Matchups chart at the top of each game, we are still using 2017 DVOA data for one more week, in order to give things time to settle in place for 2018. If you are unfamiliar with DVOA, I have a brief breakdown for you here.) One week after getting picked apart at home by the revived shell of Derek Carr, the Broncos will try to shut down the revived shell of Joe Flacco. This game creates a potential situation for low-owned fantasy goodness, as most of the field will see “Broncos” and look away. At 24.25, the Ravens’ suddenly-hot offense has one of the higher Vegas-implied totals on the slate, and the Broncos will be looking to keep up against the stout Ravens defense.
BRONCOS PASS OFFENSE
Even after giving up some glossy stats to Andy Dalton last week, the Ravens have allowed the lowest yards per pass attempt in the NFL to begin the season; and sure, they have played Nathan Peterman (for a half), Josh Allen (for a half), and Andy Dalton. But let’s not pretend that Case Keenum is Joe Montana. The Ravens rank seventh in DVOA against the pass through the first two weeks.
Emmanuel Sanders has been the main functional piece in this Broncos passing attack, with 14 catches and 231 yards on his 15 targets, while Demaryius Thomas has only 11 catches for 81 yards on his 21 targets. Demaryius is expected to draw plenty of Brandon Carr’s shadow this week. Carr has started the season hot, allowing only three catches for 42 yards on 10 targets in his direction. Sanders will see equal amounts of second-year man Marlon Humphrey, who is prone to inconsistency but is a future star, and slot corner Tavon Young — the weakest link in this secondary, who got flamed for a 6-80-2 line last week on only six targets.
Although my boy Courtland Sutton has yet to pop off for a huge game, he has gone completely unnoticed by everyone in the DFS community. Sutton has 11 targets so far, and he has run only two fewer pass routes than Demaryius Thomas. He has been the first read on a number of plays in each game. This is not a great spot for him, but I’ll continue to give myself at least a small amount of exposure to him every week, as I’ll be one of the only ones on him when he puts together his first career 20-point game at a basement-level price.
BRONCOS RUN OFFENSE
On a full slate, this is a really difficult spot to get excited about, as Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman continue to split time, with Devontae Booker mixing in. Lindsay once again was the star of this group in Week 2, making a couple runs that Freeman is just not capable of making, but head coach Vance Joseph again quoted this as a “hot hand” situation. The Ravens rank sixth in DVOA against the run so far this year after ranking ninth last year. Even if you “guess right” in this spot, you’re looking at a strong game, rather than a week-winning game. There are too many one-man backfields and bankable 65/35 splits in the NFL right now to go chasing something like this.
RAVENS PASS OFFENSE
I went back and watched the game film of the Raiders // Broncos game to see if I could get a feel for how it was possible for Derek Carr to go 29 of 32 against this defense. And really…it seems that this Broncos pass defense might just be an attackable unit. So far, they rank 30th in yards allowed per pass attempt and 24th in DVOA against the pass. And while Gruden had some clever concepts and route combinations in place to get guys open — including at least one thing I can’t remember ever seeing before — a lot of it was just simply…guys being open. Similar to our breakdown of the Bucs against the Eagles last week, this is a spot that stands out as surprisingly appealing.
John Brown has seen 24.6% of the Ravens’ targets so far, and his 35.8% share of team air yards ranks 15th in the league. He moves around the formation enough to avoid Chris Harris, and even when Brown is in the slot, it’s often part of a bunch formation, which will enable the Ravens to create traffic that can spring Brown open.
Michael Crabtree has seen 28.1% of the Ravens’ targets himself, though his average depth of target of 9.3 is less exciting than John Brown’s mark of 19.8 — fourth-best in the league. Crabtree is also a more coverable wide receiver at this stage in his career (though he should be able to get Roby’s hips turned on a couple of these deep outs up the right sideline). He’ll need a touchdown in order to really pay off this week. So far on the season, Brown has three targets inside the 10-yard-line, compared to zero for Crabtree.
Willie Snead has matched John Brown’s target share, though his actual opportunity (volume plus depth of target) is lower than Brown’s, as Snead is seeing most of his work closer to the line of scrimmage. His aDOT of 9.7 is slightly higher than Crabtree’s, and on a normal week, they are actually pretty interchangeable right now (similar route tree; similar target share; similar aDOT), but Snead should run into Chris Harris most often this week.
With these three commanding over 75% of the Ravens’ targets and a few key shootout spots anchoring this slate, it makes no sense to look further than Brown, Crabtree, and Snead on our rosters this week.
RAVENS RUN OFFENSE
With the Broncos allowing only 3.6 yards per rush attempt so far this season and ranking fourth in DVOA against the run, they are going to become a pass funnel if they continue to struggle through the air; and with how ineffective Alex Collins has been thus far (16 carries for 48 yards), I will not be surprised if the Ravens come into this game with a pass-heavy game plan from the start — especially as their fallback option behind Collins is pass-catching back Javorius Allen.
Typically on a guy like Collins, we would point to “guaranteed workload,” but even with Kenneth Dixon out, we cannot point to that. This is a tough matchup for a running back who has struggled out of the gate and has seen very uneven volume.
I really have no interest in the Broncos this week, outside of some cheap investments into Sutton on the off chance that this is the week in which he goes off (and really, at this point, I just don’t want to miss it when it happens…). I do think that Lindsay brings an element to this offense that Royce Freeman can’t, but in a tough matchup, with the coaches still calling this a split backfield, I would have a hard time putting any money on him. Emmanuel Sanders is the one guy on this team I feel comfortable could beat this matchup — but the chances of a week-winning game are slim, and there are far better spots on the slate.
I think that one of Brown, Crabtree, or Snead will have a really nice game in this spot. Through two games this year, the Broncos have gotten flamed repeatedly over the middle (especially the deep middle) and down the right sideline. These happen to be the two spots where Brown has done most of his damage. Given his role in this offense and how inexpensive he is, I’ll have legit interest in him this week.
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