Only three teams have thrown more interceptions than the Buccaneers in the early going, and only eight teams have taken more sacks. This week, Tampa will travel across the country to take on a Rams defense that has been excellent early on — ranking fourth in overall DVOA, while ranking fifth against the pass and ninth against the run.
Against the pass ::
The Buccaneers’ passing attack should be looked at through the lens of price this week, as Mike Evans is the fifth highest-priced wide receiver on both DraftKings and FanDuel, and Chris Godwin ranks ninth on FanDuel and 15th on DraftKings — with a much tougher matchup on hand this week than they had last week against the coverage-deficient Giants.
Disappointingly, Evans and Godwin are combining for only 15.7 targets per game so far this year — and while the “score from anywhere on the field” skill set of these two wideouts means that they can produce big scores on lower volume, the paths to a big game get slimmed when these two are not pushing for the double-digit-average we were expecting each of them to carry coming into the season.
This week, the paths to upside are further slimmed by the fact that the Rams have a secondary that does a good job keeping the ball in front of them in an effort to prevent the big play.
We should expect the Bucs to counter the matchup this week by moving their wideouts around in the hopes of mixing up communication and freeing one of these two for a big play. Evans is the better bet for an “all on his own” play, as he ranks sixth in the NFL in average depth of target at 17.1 — and Bruce Arians will surely try to find a couple opportunities to take advantage of the aggressiveness of Marcus Peters with run action and/or a double-move designed to spring Evans deep.
Godwin is likely to be the forgotten man in the DFS community, but he is not the forgotten man in this offense. Although he is being given fewer opportunities for big plays than Evans (requiring a touchdown, a broken play, or a spike in volume to hit in a tough matchup at his price), and although he has target counts on the year of 6 // 9 // 4, there will be at least a couple games in which he sees double-digit looks this year. Based on matchup and to-date usage, Godwin is overpriced this week; but with the Bucs likely forced to chase points as this game moves along, the tributaries that could lead to a big game from Godwin are not entirely dry.
The Bucs’ passing attack (supposedly) wraps up with O.J. Howard, who has been disappointingly under-involved so far this year. Between Cory Littleton, Taylor Rapp, and John Johnson, the Rams have the pieces on defense to slow down tight ends; but they mix and match coverages enough that they sometimes have breakdowns against the position (leading to this team allowing the the third most yards to the position last season, in spite of ranking 10th in receptions allowed).
Against the run ::
The Rams have also tightened up against the run this year after making this a point of emphasis in the offseason — though this is still a team that is going to fundamentally be willing to give up yards on the ground between the 20s if this means more attention dedicated to the pass rush. While it is good to have this information, the information we don’t have is “who the lead back is on the Bucs.” Peyton Barber took over the lead duties in Week 2 after being outperformed by Ronald Jones in Week 1 — then in Week 3, Jones played 23 snaps and Barber played 26. This entire backfield is simply guessing-and-hoping at the moment.
On the Rams ::
Rams writeups could almost be template-driven from week to week, as the only major variable for this team is the matchup. The Rams are going to lean heavily on three-wide sets — with roles broken down as follows ::
>> Cooper Kupp :: SHORT // intermediate
>> Robert Woods :: INTERMEDIATE // deep
>> Brandin Cooks :: intermediate // DEEP
The Buccaneers have improved significantly on defense this year, with a legitimately good run defense anchored by Ndamukong Suh in the three-technique (returning to face his former team), and with a pass defense that has gotten more disciplined and difficult to read as well. With that said: the Bucs have little enough in the way of pass rush — and are still talent-deficient enough on the back end — that the Rams should have no trouble picking them apart.
Kupp is, of course, the safest play of the bunch with target counts on the year of 10 // 9 // 12, and with the most guaranteed red zone role on this offense. As always: he needs touchdowns or a broken play to realize his upside, given his short-area role — but the floor is secure enough (and the red zone usage is real enough) to keep him in the conversation almost every week.
It is often a fool’s errand to try to project Cooks and Woods, but targets so far have gone Cooks :: 6 // 4 // 12, Woods :: 13 // 2 // 8. (Woods also has five carries for 43 yards.)
From a price-considered standpoint, it is extremely rare that one of these wide receivers posts a game you have to have in order to win — but there is also enough floor on these players, in this offense, for them to be considered in all contest types. (Cooks and Woods are likeliest to reach week-winning upside in a shootout; so if playing one of them in tournaments, it’s best to bring back a piece from the Bucs’ side as well. Kupp can be played independent of game flow expectations.)
In the run game, Todd Gurley quietly played his most snaps of the season last week at 73.4%, and he seems to be comfortably settling in as a 70% to 75% player. So far, this has led to touch counts of only 15 // 19 // 14, but there are going to be games this year in which this touch total rises to 20+ — and we should keep in mind the fact that players like Dalvin Cook and Austin Ekeler have hovered just above the 20-touch mark (and have produced at elite levels). The suddenly difficult matchup plus the limited workload combine to give Gurley a low floor at his price, but the upside is still there for 100 yards and a multi-touchdown game, keeping him in the tournament conversation in spite of his slow start to the year.
JM’s Interpretation ::
Unlike last week, the late games give us less to be excited about than the early games — with this spot representing one of only two games that will attract much attention at all (and with plenty of reasons for us to be cautious at the high prices at which we’ll have to take our plays from this game). Nothing in this spot shapes up as a core-level play for me, as the Bucs have a really tough matchup traveling across the country to take on the ascending defense of Wade Phillips’ Rams, while the Rams’ offense is unpredictable enough in where spiked scores will come from that they are best to leave alone in cash games (and I’ll likely do the same in tighter builds). With that said: the matchup is great for the Rams through the air, and we should see one or two strong scores emerge from this side of the ball. It isn’t crazy in tournaments to bet on the Rams’ offense in this matchup and hope you guess right on where the spiked week will come from; and if you feel like betting on talent winning out over matchup, it also isn’t crazy to bring that back on the other side with a pass game piece from the Bucs.