BUCCANEERS // BEARS OVERVIEW
This week, “the second best offense in football” (second in total DVOA, third in points per game, first in yards per game) is taking on one of the best defenses in the league in the Bears (fourth in total DVOA, eighth in points allowed per game, fifth in yards allowed per game) — and Vegas has unsurprisingly sided with the home team coached by Vic Fangio and headlined by Khalil Mack, over the road team quarterbacked by Ryan Fitzpatrick. After posting point totals of 48, 27, and 27 to begin the year, the Bucs enter this week with a Vegas-implied total of 21.75, and are a clear candidate to return to Earth in Week 4 against this no-joke Chicago D.
On the other side of this game, we have a disappointing offense in the Bears, with Mitchell Trubisky showing early on that he has problems of his own that stretch beyond his 2017 coaching. While there were hopes that a switch from John Fox to Matt Nagy would free Trubisky (in the same way the switch from Jeff Fisher to Sean McVay freed Jared Goff last year), the quarterback still has to make reads and throws in order to be successful; and thus far, Trubisky has been inaccurate at key moments throughout each game, while failing to make quick reads or put the ball in spots that will lead to yards after the catch.
This lowers overall excitement on this game (as evidenced by the early-week Over/Under of 46.5 — by no means a “low” total, but lower than we have come to expect for games with the Bucs’ offense and defense) — though we should keep in mind that the Bucs love to attack downfield, and their pass defense is awful on the other side, which opens opportunities for things to get crazy from time to time.
BUCCANEERS PASS OFFENSE
Chicago’s big advantage on defense so far has been their pass rush. While the Bears have been fairly average across all areas of the secondary (actually coming in below-average early in the year in expected yards per target), they rank first in Football Outsiders’ adjusted sack rate, and their ability to get after the quarterback is going to make it difficult for the Bucs to attack downfield in the way they want.
With that said: Tampa’s offensive line has held up well to begin the year, ranking 10th in adjusted sack rate and allowing Fitzpatrick to rank fourth in average intended air yards to begin the season, behind only Deshaun Watson, Patrick Mahomes, and Josh Allen. No team has more pass plays of 20+ yards to begin the season than Tampa, and no team has more pass plays of 40+ yards.
This is the signature approach of this Todd Monken offense — which is relentlessly forcing teams to account for the deep ball with DeSean Jackson (fourth in aDOT) and Mike Evans (11th in aDOT). Chris Godwin is also getting into the mix downfield (31st in the NFL in aDOT), while O.J. Howard‘s aDOT of 10.3 is on the higher end for tight ends. Last week, Godwin had only three targets within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage, and Evans had only one.
In spite of the low Vegas-implied total, there is no reason to be scared away completely from this Bucs passing attack just yet — especially in tourneys. The usage for Evans (seven, 12, and 11 targets — with so many of these looks coming downfield) will make it difficult for him to “fail,” and the upside is still there for a big game. Godwin has seen four, six, and 10 targets of his own, and he played on just over half of the Bucs’ plays last week. He should be in line for six to eight targets again in this game. DeSean Jackson will round out the core pieces in this attack, with a snap rate around 60% and with several deep shots each game. As we saw last week, DeSean’s floor is low when he fails to hit; but his upside remains tremendous.
Behind these three, Adam Humphries continues to play more snaps than Godwin or DeSean, but he has yet to top five targets in a game, and his aDOT of 1.7 is almost impossibly low. O.J. Howard (32 pass routes last week) and Cameron Brate (28 pass routes last week) continue to hold down roles as well, and each will produce unpredictable spiked weeks all season long; the issue in targeting these two, of course, is that they tend to post duds when they don’t hit for a big play (Howard) or a touchdown (Brate).
BUCCANEERS RUN OFFENSE
The Bucs’ rushing attack has been in tatters to begin the year, even with all of the downfield attention their passing attack commands. Through three games, Tampa ranks dead last in adjusted line yards and dead last in run offense DVOA. No team has posted fewer yards per carry than the Bucs, and only two teams have fewer rushing yards per game. Tampa has started the year against two pass funnels in their first three games (New Orleans ranks first at the moment in DVOA against the run, and Philly ranks second), but Chicago is a tough matchup on the ground as well, and Tampa was unable to get any ground game efficiency going last week against the Steelers (22nd in DVOA vs the run). Peyton Barber has disappointingly averaged only 2.9 yards per carry to begin the year, on 43 rush attempts in all. He’ll need a multi-touchdown game or a complete breakdown on the Bears’ defense to become a respectable DFS piece this week.
BEARS PASS OFFENSE
Tampa has been very attackable through the air this year, ranking 27th in DVOA against the pass and 29th in yards allowed per pass attempt. Not only is Tampa’s aggressiveness forcing opponents to become aggressive in response, but their secondary is a mess — making it easy for teams to have success attacking in this way. The Bears’ Vegas-implied total of 24.75 says a lot about how disappointing this offense has been to begin the year, as they have the pieces in Jordan Howard, Allen Robinson, and Trey Burton to post a big game in this spot.
The Bears will likely be without rookie Anthony Miller this week (dislocated shoulder), which would further tighten the distribution of targets on this team. Through three games, target counts on the Bears’ primary wide receivers and tight ends look like this:
28 — Allen Robinson // 22 — Taylor Gabriel // 15 — Trey Burton // 11 — Anthony Miller
Gabriel was functioning as a glorified running back through the first two games, seeing all of his targets close to the line of scrimmage, but the Bears threw to him 15 or more yards downfield on four different occasions last week, and he is a sneaky bet for a big game in this spot. Gabriel’s route tree from last week (below) reminds heavily of the way Nagy and Andy Reid used Tyreek Hill last year with Alex Smith: mixing in deep shots with short passes designed to get the ball in his hands. Gabriel has a quietly solid floor as a snap hog in this offense (74.3% snap rate last week — behind only Robinson among wide receivers), and Nagy will surely look to attack deep a few times against this Bucs defense.
Robinson is the target leader on this team, but he is primarily being used close to the line of scrimmage (below). It is worth noting that Tampa has accounted for their deficiencies in the secondary by trying to force short throws, with only 10 teams seeing a lower aDOT than Tampa (and with Tampa allowing the highest catch rate in the league). Only three teams are allowing a higher expected yards per target than Tampa, in spite of the low aDOT, as teams are piling up catches and easily turning these into extra yards afterward. This is a quietly good spot for Robinson as well.
Burton has disappointed to begin the year, and he will need his involvement to spike before he can be considered a reliable piece. Naturally, if his involvement does spike, he’ll be in line for a strong day — but there are no data points that allow us to comfortably predict a forthcoming rise in usage. Burton is nothing more than a bet-on-talent guessing game right now.
BEARS RUN OFFENSE
Tampa ranks 18th in DVOA against the run so far this year, but they rank seventh in fewest yards allowed per carry, and only two teams have allowed fewer rushing yards, as opponents are turning to the air in this spot. The truth of this matchup likely lies somewhere in between that DVOA mark and that “yards allowed per carry” mark, making this a somewhat middling matchup in which volume projects to be a slim concern for Jordan Howard. Through three games, Howard has touch totals of 20, 17, and 26 — with his pass work spiking in games where his rushing work drops, making him a workload-secure option on any slate right now.
The biggest drawback for Howard so far has been efficiency. He has yet to top 82 rushing yards in a game in spite of seeing three middling-to-favorable matchups. This puts him in a strange place this week for us in DFS, as it wouldn’t be surprising if he cracks 100 yards and punches in one or two touchdowns this week, but it also wouldn’t be surprising if he fails to top 82 yards again and fails to score. Howard costs 13.6% of the salary cap on DraftKings, but he is priced at a more reasonable 12.7% on FantasyDraft and 12.0% on FanDuel.
This game doesn’t pop off the page, but there are some nice pieces to consider — and it is likely that at least one or two strong tourney games emerge from this spot.
Bucs receivers have a slightly below-average matchup, but Mike Evans is seeing enough guaranteed, high-upside work to be in good position to hit once again. With his price climbing, he’s still simply “in the bucket,” instead of being locked in (the matchup introduces enough question marks that we have to have at least some “floor” concerns), but he’s the likeliest guy to hit in this game. Behind him on the Bucs, Godwin and Jackson will continue to split snaps, with Jackson having plenty of upside on his deep shots (but carrying scary floor). Godwin has decent floor for his price and solid ceiling. You could also take a shot on the upside of O.J. Howard (or even on the scoring usage of Cameron Brate), but these guys carry a lot of question marks. I’m unlikely to use Ryan Fitzpatrick in a tougher matchup than he’s had the last couple weeks, but don’t be surprised if he has another solid game.
On the Bears, I like Robinson as a floor/ceiling play and Gabriel as a price-considered floor/ceiling play. Gabriel particularly stands out on DraftKings and FantasyDraft, where his role should provide underrated PPR security, at a low price, on sites with tight pricing. There may be too much guesswork here for Gabriel to be locked into cash games, but there are things to like if you are comfortable trusting Trubisky to get him the ball.
I’ll almost certainly avoid Burton and Howard myself, but it won’t be surprising if one of them posts a strong game in this spot. For that matter, it won’t even be surprising if Trubisky posts a strong game. Hey — you only live once, right? Maybe that means you should play sub-optimal quarterbacks while you still have the chance to do so…