This is a circle-the-calendar type of game, between two teams with bad pass defenses that have combined for nine games already in which the final score totaled 53 or more points.
As we have explored throughout the season: the Cardinals (with only four teams in football producing a lower average intended air yards) don’t have all the elements of true shootout-producers. But they remain the fastest-paced team in the NFL (situation neutral), and while they rank only 19th in points per game and 20th in yards per game themselves, they are allowing the fifth most opponent plays per game and have given up the fifth most points per game. The Giants, Bengals, and (rather randomly) Ravens are the only teams that have not gone for 27+ against them. The Cardinals have also faced a slew of run-heavy teams (Ravens // Seahawks // 49ers included) and have notably allowed 33 to the Falcons, 31 to the Saints, and 38 to the Panthers. The Buccaneers offense ranks fourth in points per game and is in a great spot at home against an Arizona team that has allowed a 21% increase on the league-average catch rate.
One of the more interesting elements in this Tampa passing attack has been their tendency to focus most of the action in one game on a single receiver. Here is a game-by-game list of who led the Bucs in targets each game (starting with the most recent), with that player’s targets followed by the other’s ::
Evans :: 16 || 9
Evans :: 12 || 8
Evans :: 17 || 12
Godwin :: 9 || 3
Godwin :: 14 || 7
Evans :: 15 || 5
Godwin :: 9 || 8
Godwin :: 6 || 5
As the season has progressed, Evans has obviously seen his usage jump; but also, we have seen this team pile up six consecutive games of lopsided usage.
Last week, I ended up pulling a Costanza and using Evans quite a bit more than Godwin even though I liked Godwin more (while pairing the two in places and using at least one on every roster — which, as we explored the last couple weeks, should be considered a strong strategy every week right now), but last week it was also quite a bit less clear where the Bucs would lean. This week — at least on paper — Godwin has the better matchup, as Patrick Peterson should be expected to shadow Evans. Peterson has looked really rusty so far this year — getting beat in man coverage and making assignment-based mistakes in this new-to-him defense, so there is very clear potential for Evans to light up this spot regardless; but we should also keep in mind that these are not “numbers on a page” that play the games, but are instead actual human beings. Peterson isn’t the first human being to struggle in his first bit of action after a long layoff (both Zeke and Melvin Gordon have talked about the extra time it took them to settle back into the speed of the game), and given his work ethic and attention to detail, it’s likely he comes around at some point in this season. If single-entering and choosing only one of these guys, Godwin looks like the player likeliest to soak up double-digit looks; though if multi-entering, it’s obviously strong form to pair these two on some rosters and use Evans solo on some others. Again: as laid out last week, rostering “the higher-scoring Bucs receiver” each week would have basically given you a second Christian McCaffrey every week except Week 1 vs the 49ers, making it difficult to create a case for not isolating Buccaneers across the board.
My biggest mistake last week was playing Cameron Brate on my main roster (he played only 11 snaps — almost certainly due to the rib injury that had held him out of practice earlier in the week), as I had Doyle on pretty much every other roster and cost myself five figures in additional profit with that one move. Ouch. This week, Brate should be healthy, but O.J. Howard is returning as well. Brate was seeing two to three targets when Howard was active, while Howard was seeing three to five looks. Given the matchup against Arizona, it seems likely that Howard manages at least four looks, while he has an outside shot at five or six (which would, incredibly, be a season-high). Howard comes with a low floor, but he has genuine upside if he sees five or more targets.
It is noteworthy that Ronald Jones played 42 snaps last week while Peyton Barber played only nine — and while this wasn’t the first time RoJo saw a snap spike compared to Barber (and wasn’t even the first time Bruce Arians had said that Jones had earned a bigger role (after Barber out-snapped RoJo just the week before, coming off the bye no less)), it does seem somewhat likely that this usage sticks around for another week, potentially opening a path to Jones’ third 20-touch game this year. The Cardinals have been attackable no matter how teams choose to go after them, so 20 touches could easily lead to a solid game.
By now, we all know about the Bucs’ top-ranked run defense, which has led to this team facing the fourth highest opponent pass play rate in the league — though this matchup blends strangely for the Cardinals, as the Bucs are shaving over 11% off the league-average catch rate and 15% off the league-average YAC/r rate, while allowing an aDOT boost of over 31% (the largest aDOT boost in the league). To put that another way: the way to attack the Bucs is with downfield passing, as short-area throws against a lower-catch-rate team that tackles well and prevents YAC isn’t a great recipe for upside. The Cardinals, meanwhile, have been one of the most “horizontal” teams in the league. Starting with Week 3 (when the Cardinals began to find their shell), here is the biggest individual yardage game from a Cardinals receiver each week:
59 :: Christian Kirk (10 catches)
47 :: Larry Fitzgerald (five catches)
58 :: Larry Fitzgerald (six catches)
69 :: Larry Fitzgerald (six catches)
29 :: Pharoh Cooper (four catches)
79 :: Christian Kirk (eight catches)
88 :: Andy Isabella (one catch)
Kirk’s usage has separated from the pack when he has been healthy, with target counts of 12 // 8 // 12 // 5 // 11 // 5 in his healthy games this year, and is the best bet for the double-digit targets likely required to produce a big game from a pass catcher in this offense.
Behind Kirk, Fitzgerald will remain a “bet on broken play or touchdown” option as he continues he continues to slow down throughout the year. No other wide receiver on the Cardinals played more than 25 snaps last week, making the rest of this squad a speculative bet.
The Cardinals backfield is also speculative in a brutal matchup, with David Johnson set to return and Kenyan Drake having surely earned something of a role. If DJ returns to the role he had before and Drake merely scoops up the Chase Edmonds touches, DJ will have an outside shot at producing an elite score in the pass game (he’s been the leading receiver for this team twice already, and was one yard shy another time). This offense spreads the ball around plenty, so even with the matchup cooperating, nothing is guaranteed.
JM’s Interpretation ::
It surely goes without saying that I like Jameis Winston, Chris Godwin, and Mike Evans this week. Given the tournaments that are standing out to me the most this week and the way the slate sets up, I plan to roll with nine rosters for Week 10 (likely without trying to cut down to one “main roster” — which, by the way, is something we’ll be talking about in the Chat Pod this week(!), as we got a couple questions centered around that topic), and I’ll have some form of Bucs exposure on every one of them. Some with Jameis. Some with both wide receivers. Some with one or the other. And perhaps at least one roster with a cheap shot taken on Howard, as he can’t kill you at his price (on DK and FDraft) even with another disappointing showing, and he’s one of the few players priced near the minimum who could pop off for a big game if things break his way. (He’s a low-floor bet, but he’s intriguing for the upside.) I also don’t hate the idea of rolling with Ronald Jones; the Bucs backs have also showed all year that they can produce a solid price-considered game without significantly detracting from the passing attack.
The horizontal, spread-it-around Cardinals are less standout-attractive, but this sets up well for Kirk to push for double-digit looks, which would likely be more than enough for him to produce at his salary. Behind Kirk, David Johnson and Kyler Murray are the next most attractive options, with “hoping to guess right on a Fitz touchdown or a busted play” your best bet from there.
:: Bonus feature: find current NFL Defensive Identities here!