It takes over 25 hours to put together the NFL Edge, and I typically need every bit of that time; yet for some reason this week, I wasted a good 20 minutes trying to figure out how to write up this game. Why the uncertainty? Because there are basically two very clear, but very different, ways that this game could play out, and for some reason it seemed to me that I was required to pick one of those two ways. But instead (duh), we are going to go ahead and take a look at each of these two very viable paths.
Game controlled by Titans D ::
Although this is not reflected in DVOA (the Titans rank third in DVOA against the run this year, but rank only 23rd against the pass), the Titans have generally choked out opposing passing attacks – having faced Odell Beckham, T.Y. Hilton, DJ Chark, Julio Jones, John Brown, Courtland Sutton, and Keenan Allen, and having not yet allowed a wide receiver to crack 100 yards (with none of the players on that list cracking even 76 yards!). The Titans have a talented and adaptable coaching staff that is generally able to figure out ways to slow down an opponent’s top weapons – and the best way to move the ball on the Titans this year has been with running backs and tight ends (Austin Hooper, Austin Ekeler, Hunter Henry, and Devonta Freeman all have more receiving yards against the Titans than the star wide receivers on that list; and the Austins each cracked 100 yards). With the Titans ranked third in DVOA against the run and the Buccaneers not yet figuring out how to get O.J. Howard involved in the offense, it’s not outlandish to think that the Titans could completely check the Buccaneers passing attack this week – holding both Mike Evans and Chris Godwin to below-expectation results, and slowing the entire Buccaneers offense as a result. In a similar spot in Week 4 – facing a Falcons team with an explosive offense, a strong run defense, and an attackable pass defense – the Titans took a two score lead and then gave the ball to Derrick Henry as many times (27) as they called on Marcus Mariota to pass. If the Bucs fail to get their offense on track and the Titans score early, we could see Tennessee slow down this game with a run-heavy approach in spite of the nearly impossible run game matchup, which could lead to this offensive environment as a whole disappointing, and to no players from this game posting anything resembling a week-winning score.
Every other way ::
Given how solid Tennessee has been against wide receivers and how conservative the offensive identity of the Titans is, that first tributary likely accounts for over half of the viable outcomes for this game. But every other viable tributary for this game opens up opportunities for it to become more aggressive and higher-scoring. If the Buccaneers are able to get things going with their passing attack in this spot, it is more likely than not that Tennessee would be able to get something going through the air as well. Although Ryan Tannehill is no world beater, he is perfectly competent in the short to intermediate areas of the field, and especially with the weapons he has on hand (a strong route runner in Adam Humphries, and a couple elite athletes in A.J. Brown and Corey Davis), he should have no trouble carving up the Buccaneers defense underneath, while potentially taking a couple downfield shots to A.J. Brown or Corey Davis. (Brown’s role this year has been primarily short area looks mixed with shot plays, while Davis has primarily worked the intermediate areas of the field.)
And even if the Buccaneers are unable to get things going on offense, there is still a very viable scenario in which the Titans choose to lean a bit more pass-heavy the normal, and in which they continue along this path even with a lead. If we go back to the Titans’ game against the Falcons, we can keep in mind that it took place in Week 4, before it would have been as clear to the Titans coaching staff that Atlanta was difficult to attack on the ground. This Buccaneers run defense is a completely different animal than anything else in the league (2.72 yards per carry allowed to running backs, in spite of having already faced half the elite running backs in the league). This could lead to the Titans offense having a good game through the air even without the Bucs putting up points. And as noted in the Angles email last week, the Buccaneers run defense is so good they make it difficult for opponents to bleed the clock, which could lead to enough opportunities for the Buccaneers to hit for some long plays in garbage time even if they fall far behind.
JM’s Interpretation ::
The likeliest way for this game to play out is for the Titans to remain one of the more run-heavy teams in football in spite of the matchup, while doing well enough through the air to produce solid but unspectacular games from their underpriced wide receivers (but not producing anything on offense that you “have to have” this week). In this likeliest scenario, no individual Bucs player does enough to warrant consideration at their salaries – with one of Mike Evans or Chris Godwin scoring a touchdown (possibly even both), but with neither piling up the sort of yardage or even reception totals you would want at their salary. O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate are probably both a bit more involved than normal, though in this likeliest scenario this is a lower scoring game as a whole, and even these guys don’t put up anything that will show up on a tournament winning roster. Because of this, no players beyond the Titans wide receivers stand out in cash (and even these guys are a slightly thin in that format; it is fairly likely that two of these three receivers post a strong enough price-considered score to be worth a spot on any roster, but in this likeliest scenario at least one of these three is also sure to disappoint – and it would be easy to come up with a very viable and strong defense for any of these guys as the least likely to dud, making it a bit of a guessing game across the board).
In tournaments, however, there is a fairly strong case to be made for targeting this game. The Buccaneers are similar to a really good offense in MLB DFS that you can target against even a good pitcher in the hopes of this offense producing anyway and shooting you to the top of the leaderboards with very little competition; i.e., even in a bad matchup the Bucs can be considered as shootout producers, as they have a vertical-minded offense, a bad pass defense, and a tremendous run defense that makes it difficult for opponents to bleed out the clock with a lead. If going here in tournaments, the Titans wide receivers are the sharpest starting point, with the Buccaneers having allowed the following notable stat lines to wideouts:
11-182-2 Mike Thomas
9-89-0 D.J. Moore
In spite of having already had their bye week, the Buccaneers have allowed the ninth most catches and the eighth most yards to the wide receiver position. The Titans unfortunately run a four-man rotation at wide receiver (Tajae Sharpe is in there too, though he is almost never schemed targets), while also running a huge chunk of their plays out of 12 personnel (giving us only two wide receivers on the field); but the players with the most upside are Davis and Brown, with Davis locking in the largest guaranteed target share. Humphries is also completely viable to include in tourneys, as he’s a gamer facing his old team with solid red zone skills and occasional busted-play potential in his back pocket. Jonnu Smith is also completely viable for upside if Delanie Walker misses – against a Bucs team that has allowed the fourth most catches to the tight end position while ranking behind only the Cardinals in yards allowed to tight ends. Tannehill can also be leaned on at his price, on a week in which there is not a lot to love at quarterback in the middle ranges.
On the Bucs side, the best matchup belongs to the tight ends, and at their prices a few shots as part of an MME block in large field play isn’t an outlandish bet. But the likeliest contributors are, of course, Chris Godwin and Mike Evans. You could build for this game producing enough points (especially with the home team favored) for the Titans’ pass game options to produce at a rate well above salary based expectations, while the Buccaneers pass catchers fail to produce at their higher-end salaries in the same game environment. But given how explosive this Buccaneers offense can be (24 or more points in four straight games, with two tough opponents in that mix), you could also assume one of these guys cracks this matchup and produces at a tourney-winning level. Godwin and Evans each have 55 targets on the year, while Evans has a substantially higher average depth of target (15.7 vs 11.4) and thus a much larger percentage share of team air yards (37.37 vs 27.15). Godwin’s edge in touchdowns (six to four) is more variance-driven than anything, especially considering Evans has nine red zone targets to six for Godwin. Though with that said, Godwin will see less of Adoree Jackson, and his higher-percentage routes give him far less boom/bust than Evans has in his game. With both in a tough matchup, of course, neither is a slam dunk. But both are very viable in tournaments for the upside in this spot.
:: Bonus feature: find current NFL Defensive Identities here!