This week, Seattle beat writer Michael-Shawn Dugar referenced Pete Carroll’s philosophy of “playing to give his team a chance in the fourth quarter” — which is a perfect description of how the Seahawks call a game. This is why Seattle has called on MVP candidate Russell Wilson to throw the ball 28 or fewer times in half their games, while calling on him to top 35 pass attempts only twice. On the season, this has created an interesting setup for Seattle (I was about to say “a maddening setup” — then I realized we’ve had a great handle on this team so far this year; it has been more maddening for the field, which has seemed to be flying a bit blind with this team). Russ has posted one game with 295 passing yards, one game with 300 passing yards, and one game with 406 passing yards, and has been at 268 or below in every other game (including two games below 200 yards passing) — but then, this team with the 15th fewest pass attempts in the league (with their bye still upcoming) ranks third in the league in red zone passing. With all of this, Russ is rarely picking up enough yardage for slate-breaking scores, and this team is rarely piling up enough receptions on individual players for pass catchers to have much utility in PPR and half-PPR scoring. But with Russ ranking first in the NFL in touchdown passes and Chris Carson having only four carries inside the five-yard-line and 11 carries inside the 10 (ranking 27th and 11th, respectively), it’s been difficult to pick up slate-breakers from this rushing attack as well.
To further simplify all of this :: Carson has only been rosterable this year in matchups that set up well on the ground, as even his volume-driven role isn’t producing monster stat lines outside of those spots. (Carson’s role isn’t quite as guaranteed-full-time as most seem to want to pretend, either; last week, for example, Carson played only 68.3% of snaps — and while that can change from week to week…well, that’s sort of the point; it can change from week to week, so at his price, you better be sure you’re getting the touches or a great matchup for him to be more than just “hoping for a multi-touchdown game” with a de-emphasized role in scoring position).
As for Russ :: his only high-volume games (50 attempts against the Saints; 41 against Baltimore) have come in spots in which the Seahawks fell behind. A bet on Russ, then, is a bet on one of two things :: 1) the Bucs jumping out to a lead (more on this in a moment), or 2) Russ producing big numbers on low-ish volume (like his 23-attempt, four-touchdown game against the Rams).
The Bucs’ pass defense has been better than most people probably realize this year — shaving almost 7% off the league-average catch rate and almost 12% off the league-average YAC/r rate — with a deep aDOT (+17% against the league average) and volume (the sixth highest opponent pass play rate in the league) being the main things that have made them appear so attackable. To put that another way: volume is the most valuable element to target against the Bucs — and with the Seahawks “playing to have a chance to win in the fourth quarter,” volume has been difficult to come by. Even a two-touchdown game from DK Metcalf last week produced only 16.3 DK/FDraft points and 14.8 FanDuel points, while a two-touchdown game from Jaron Brown a few weeks ago produced only 17.9 DK/FDraft points and 16.4 FanDuel points. Brown has not topped 60 yards this year. Metcalf has not topped 69 yards since Week 1. It’s been almost impossible to find slate-breaking scores from the Seahawks passing attack — with the lone, even remotely “have to have it” score belonging to Tyler Lockett (11-154-1) in Russ’ 50-attempt game against the Saints. In every other game this year, Lockett has finished significantly below the 26 to 30 points you really need from him on DK/FDraft at his Week 9 salary, while on FanDuel (of course) he would need to produce one of the highest wide receiver scores on the slate (something he has also done only once this year). The matchup should not be a major deterrent for Lockett — but at his price, he either needs to get extremely lucky on low volume, or he needs the volume to spike this week.
The best path for “the volume spiking this week,” of course, would be for the Bucs’ relentlessly aggressive passing attack to hit for some big plays early and force the Seahawks out of their “wait for the fourth quarter” shell.
When the Bucs run the ball (which they certainly will do; they rank 20th in rush play rate and are averaging 21.9 rush attempts per game between their two backs), they’ll take on a talented but underperforming Seattle run D (19th in DVOA; 27th in yards allowed per carry), while splitting work fairly evenly between Ronald Jones and Peyton Barber (with neither topping 15 touches in five of seven games on the year — the lone exceptions being a fairly random 25-touch game for Barber in Week 2 and a fairly random 20-touch game for Jones in Week 4). Either of these guys can be rostered for “savings and hoping to guess right on an unpredictable multi-touchdown game,” but the real focus on this side of the ball swings to the passing attack, where Jameis Winston ranks first in the league in average intended air yards and Mike Evans and Chris Godwin both rank top five in the NFL in both receiving yards per game and receiving touchdowns. (More on these guys in a moment…)
JM’s Interpretation ::
While the Seahawks have players who are talented enough to produce outside of the following scenarios, the template for rostering Seahawks across the last year and a half has been clear enough (and the field has done a poor enough job picking up on this) that it has been wildly +EV to simply stick to the following set of guidelines ::
Russ can be rostered naked in any matchup for his ceiling, but his floor is always a bit low for the price because of the risk that the volume simply isn’t there.
The rest of the passing attack for the Seahawks is “betting on volume or hoping for luck.” If betting on volume, the best way to get there is with the opponent taking a big lead — and as such, any rosters with Seattle pass catchers should have players from the opposing team as well that can help create that lead.
The rushing attack can be targeted in soft matchups and is best left alone otherwise, as touchdown opportunities are a bit slim and yardage often needs to pile up. This backfield belongs largely to Carson, but Rashaad Penny will occasionally mix in more than expected, with no real visible rhyme or reasons to the Seahawks’ usage patterns here.
The only piece outside of those guidelines I’m lightly considering is the Seahawks tight ends, as tight end is a fairly ugly position this week, and the Bucs have allowed the fourth most receptions and the second most yards to the position. Last week, Jacob Hollister saw only two targets on only seven pass routes run, while Luke Willson saw one target on 14 pass routes run. Neither player is attractive, but Hollister (eight targets the last two weeks to two for Willson) appears to be the preferred pass game option at the moment in spite of Willson seeing more snaps, and it’s not crazy to bet on the Seahawks looking to take advantage in this spot.
As to the “betting on volume spiking for Seattle” — it’s not a crazy bet if you want to stack this game this week. The likeliest way for this game to play out is for the Bucs to be aggressive, but for them to make enough mistakes for the game to remain close and the Seahawks to inefficiently bang Carson into the Bucs’ elite run defense until the fourth quarter. But the Bucs also have enough juice to their offense that all their downfield passing could lead to a couple early scores against a Seattle pass defense that ranks 19th in DVOA and 27th in yards allowed per pass attempt, while so far allowing the eighth most catches and 10th most yards to the wide receiver position. John Ross, Cooper Kupp, Odell Beckham, and Julio Jones have all topped 100 yards against them.
While Evans or Godwin almost have to be played opposite any Seahawks pass stack rosters, a case could actually be made right now (I actually made this case to myself last week in a much tougher matchup against Tennessee) that a Bucs wide receiver needs to be on every roster you build, every week. We’ll use DK/FDraft scoring for this illustration, but the numbers are impressive no matter what site you look on.
In the Buccaneers’ last six games (that is to say: in every game since Week 1, when Mike Evans was playing through flu-like symptoms against the 49ers) Godwin // Evans have combined for DK/FDraft scores of ::
39.2 // 55.0 // 63.1 // 34.5 // 48.7 // 57.1
And if you took only the best score from between those two each week, you would have grabbed ::
29.1 // 48.0 // 44.2 // 34.5 // 28.1 // 45.8
To put that another way: if you had paired these two receivers each of their last six games — even at their lofty salaries — you would have been on a slate-winning pace three times, and you would have had only two games that would have slightly hurt you (“slightly” in that you would have been averaging over 17 points per player, but their salaries really still require them to go for more). And if you had been able to guess correctly between these two each week, you would have essentially exposed yourself to an extra Christian McCaffrey. Last week, I believe I had at least one receiver from the Bucs on 17 of my 19 Wildcat rosters against the Titans (with the two receivers paired on about half of those). I’ll be looking to play things similarly this week. (On that note: Godwin sets up better in this matchup against the zone defense of the Seahawks that tries to take away downfield shots — though I felt Godwin set up better last week as well and used him on my main roster over Evans, marking three straight weeks in which I nailed a spot but picked the wrong guy for my main roster. Ouch! I was, however, stoked to see that ownership on Evans in the OWS For Life tourney was more than double the ownership of the field in other contests last week!)
The last spot to consider on this side of the ball — in this ugly tight end week — is Cameron Brate. O.J. Howard looks set to miss again this week; and if he does, Brate should again see five or six targets with a low yardage ceiling but a decent chance of striking for a touchdown.
:: Compete against the OWS fam in the One Week Season Survivor contest!