BUCCANEERS // RAVENS OVERVIEW
The Ravens’ stretch of 3-1 play has come with wins against the 5-8 Bengals, the 3-10 Raiders, and the 4-9 Falcons, and with a loss to the 11-2 Chiefs. Incredibly, each of these four teams ranks bottom seven in defensive DVOA. Even more incredibly, Baltimore has yet another matchup this week against a team that ranks bottom seven in DVOA, vs the 5-8 Buccaneers. As for the Bucs: they will have their toughest test in a while, on the road against a Ravens defense that ranks second in DVOA, and that has allowed the fewest points and the second fewest yards in the league. This game is a microcosm of what this strange slate offers, with the attractive offense going on the road for an extremely difficult matchup, and with the less attractive offense pulling the better matchup. This game opened with an Over/Under of 47.0, with the Ravens installed as 8.5 point favorites. As of this writing, the Ravens are tied with the Patriots for the highest Vegas-implied team total on the Main Slate — though as you will see in a moment, this does not guarantee that there will be much for us to comfortably target in this spot.
Lamar Jackson is going to maintain the starting job for this team for at least another week, though there is obviously a chance that Joe Flacco mixes in for a few passes in this game. Jackson has made easy throws look difficult since ascending to the starting job — leading to fewer than 180 passing yards in all four of his starts. Boosting Jackson’s isolated DFS appeal is a huge role in the run game — with 70+ yards on the ground in all four of his starts, and with almost all of his rushing yards coming on designed runs (as opposed to quarterback scrambles). This is a valuable note, as schemed runs introduce less volatility than scramble runs (like the kind Josh Allen has been getting lately), as schemed runs tend to be called as part of the rotation of plays week in and week out in an offense like this. With the threat of Flacco taking away some passes, and with Jackson’s poor to-date performance through the air, he carries some floor concerns, but his likeliest scenario is another game in the serviceable range in which he has recently landed.
Of course, the passing yardage totals for Jackson of 150 // 178 // 125 // 147 (with three total passing touchdowns across his four starts) have left his pass catchers completely unusable beyond simply guessing and hoping — especially as this team continues to spread the ball around, with Michael Crabtree notching three straight games of only four to six targets and John Brown notching three straight games of only four to seven targets. Behind these two, Willie Snead has gone 8 // 0 // 3 // 7 in Jackson’s four starts, while the four-man tight end rotation on this team continues to split targets. Through Jackson’s four starts, not one pass catcher on the Ravens has posted a usable score.
This run-heavy offense has a good matchup on the ground against a Bucs team that has been decked by running backs lately, though the Ravens are also sapping fantasy value in this spot by rotating work among three guys — with Gus Edwards seeing 16 carries last week, Kenneth Dixon seeing eight carries and one reception, and Ty Montgomery seeing two carries and one catch of his own. Gus Gus has zero catches in his four games in the starting role, making him extremely yardage-and-touchdown dependent. Dixon looked good on his limited touches last week, and the Ravens’ coaching staff talked up their desire to get him more involved, which could turn this into a true, split-down-the-middle backfield (with Montgomery taking on a few touches of his own). A multi-touchdown game or a couple of busted plays are your best bet for production from this Ravens backfield.
The Bucs enter a tough spot this week against a Ravens defense that has been one of the places where offenses go to die this year. It is not impossible to pick up yards or put up points against the Ravens, but individual players have consistently topped out at average-at-best fantasy scores against this team, as the Ravens play tight, aggressive defense that does not make it easy for any one player to pile up big volume or yardage (i.e., this is not a “scheme” defense that allows an offensive coordinator to call plays that benefit a particular weapon; instead, this defense plays tight across the board, and the quarterback is often forced to go to whichever guy is the least covered). Here are some notable recent stat lines for wide receivers against the Ravens:
:: Tyreek Hill — 8-139-0
:: Julio Jones — 2-18-0
:: Tyler Boyd — 4-71-0
:: Antonio Brown — 5-42-1
:: JuJu Smith-Schuster — 7-78-0
:: D.J. Moore — 5-90-0
:: Michael Thomas — 7-69-1
:: Corey Davis — 1-24-0
:: Jarvis Landry — 5-69-0
:: Antonio Brown — 5-62-1
:: JuJu Smith-Schuster — 4-60-0
Taking away the Hill game (whose skill set is obviously not represented among the Bucs’ pass catchers), the remaining names on the list give us a good idea of the general production range in which we can expect Mike Evans and Chris Godwin to land — with Julio // A.B. // Thomas // Davis most closely replicating the perimeter-dominant roles that Evans and Godwin carry in this offense. Either guy would need a lot of things to go right in order to post a score you have to have in order to win this week, against a Baltimore unit that has allowed the sixth fewest wide receiver catches in spite of facing the 13th most wide receiver targets.
Behind these two, Adam Humphries should be able to soak up his typical 5-50 level of production on underneath passes, with a chance to produce a solid game with a touchdown. Obviously, there are safer places to go than this.
This attack wraps up with Cameron Brate, who has the best matchup of the bunch against a Ravens team that has allowed the fourth most receptions to the tight end position. Working in Brate’s favor is a big end zone role that is locked in place with O.J. Howard on I.R. (a touchdown in Week 12 // a dropped touchdown in Week 13 // two touchdowns in Week 14). Working against Brate are yardage totals of 16 // 26 // 36 // 12 since taking over the starting role, with no games north of three receptions. When he fails to score, he typically fails to do much of anything at all.
Swinging over to the Bucs’ backfield: the Ravens rank fifth in yards allowed per carry, and they have allowed the third fewest rushing yards and the fourth fewest touchdowns to the running back position — a poor setup for a running back in Peyton Barber who relies on yards and touchdowns for his production. Barber will need a multi-touchdown game to make a dent on this slate.
The Bucs do not stand out at all in this spot — operating as little more than tourney darts with nearly invisible paths to slate-breaking upside. Even at sub-1% ownership, these guys would be tough to pull the trigger on. The guy likeliest to pop for a big point-per-dollar day is Godwin, but I won’t be going there myself.
On the Ravens’ side, there is not a ton to love in spite of the solid likelihood of points for this team, as this offense simply spreads the ball around too much for anyone to be a comfortable floor play — while this offense as a whole has provided almost no ceiling the entire year. To illustrate the extent to which the Ravens spread the ball around, here is a screenshot of the early-season box score between the Ravens and the Steelers, with every player listed who saw a touch or a target. Notice how many names are listed for the Ravens in a typical game, compared to a Steelers team that has one of the most refreshingly narrow workload distributions in the league.
Lamar Jackson is in the conversation at quarterback, but I will otherwise be leaving this offense alone.
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