In PFF’s run defense rankings heading into the year, the Cardinals ranked one spot behind the Dolphins. That’s good news for the Ravens’ run game.
But let’s step a level deeper and see what that “run game” consists of. Here are the Ravens’ first quarter runs vs Miami last week:
Play 1 :: run with Ingram (first play of drive)
Play 3 :: run with Edwards
Play 5 :: run with Hill
Play 6 :: run with Ingram
Play 7 :: run with Edwards
Play 8 :: run with Ingram
Play 10 :: run with Edwards (first play of drive)
Play 13 :: run with Ingram (first play of drive)
Play 15 :: run with Hill
Takeaway 1 :: nine of the first 15 plays for the Ravens were run plays (60%), before the game got out of hand.
Takeaway 2 :: Ingram // Edwards // Hill are going to be mixed in liberally. Ingram played 25 snaps. Edwards played 29. Hill played 22. Pass routes run :: 12 for Hill // 6 for Gus Gus // 5 for Ingram. Ingram :: 14 carries, zero catches. Edwards :: 17 carries, zero catches. Hill :: seven carries, zero catches.
Of course, another interesting element to consider here is the fact that the Cardinals will push pace; and the 76 plays the Ravens saw last week by controlling the game so thoroughly vs Miami could be in play again this week vs their sped-up opponent. We could easily see another 35+ carries spread across these three backs; but without designed passes to running backs featured as a big part of this offense, and with Jackson likelier to take off with the ball than to dump off to a running back, you’re betting on touchdowns with these guys. The touches and the touchdown potential in this matchup make them worth keeping track of in large-field play; but the floor on all three guys is far too low for any of them to be considered “safe” this week. At least one will likely have a strong game; but you’re guessing on who that “one” will be (and you would be doing so on a week in which there is plenty you don’t have to guess on — including plays with high upside and likely low ownership).
In the pass game, Baltimore essentially split wide receiver snaps last week between their explosive pass-catchers and their reliable veterans for run blocking. They can’t carry over this tendency all season, but until we see something different, we should expect limited snaps for Miles Boykin (18 snaps // 10 pass routes run) and Marquise Brown (14 snaps // 10 pass routes run). As noted last week (and as we saw twice from Brown), both of these guys have the ability to score from anywhere on the field, and this always makes them attractive in large-field tourneys where you have to beat tens of thousands of entries; but both of these guys also have a floor close to zero.
Mark Andrews played only 31 snaps last week; and while he led the team in pass routes run, he didn’t run all of the available pass routes. (In fact, the first two tight end targets of the season went to Hayden Hurst and Nick Boyle, as the Ravens run plenty of two-tight-end sets and rotate all three guys.) This team is intent on spreading the ball around to three running backs, three tight ends, and at least three wide receivers; but Andrews can at least claim to be one of Lamar Jackson’s favorite targets, keeping him (as always) in the large-field discussion.
We’ll get to Lamar in the Interpretations section, but first: on the other side of this game, the Cardinals are pretty easy to break down. In any contest where you prefer to lock in some floor to go with your ceiling (this would be cash games for all of us, and — depending on your style of play — likely single-entry and smaller-field tourneys), any team traveling to Baltimore (especially with one of the worst offensive lines in football) should be left alone. But any quarterback who could throw 44 passes in regulation against the slow-paced Lions while possessing the ball for only 25 minutes needs to at least be talked about in large-field tourneys, regardless of opposing defense or environment.
Now, if we played out this slate a hundred times, the Cardinals would end up at around 25 minutes in average time of possession, as “fast play” can limit TOP against a slow-paced team like the Ravens (or the Lions); and as the Ravens are so run-heavy, the TOP gap could be even greater than that. Murray will also be facing a strong pass rush behind a bad offensive line. And while it isn’t apples to apples between last year’s team and this year’s, last year’s Ravens allowed the fifth fewest passing yards and the fourth fewest passing touchdowns. But if Murray pushes for 40 passes again and adds a few runs, there will be some opportunities — especially deeper into the game, when the Ravens may tire out — for good things to happen. With depressed prices, low ownership, and plenty of short-area receptions available in PPR and half-PPR scoring, I’m comfortable giving Murray and one or two of his pass catchers at least a 5% shot at a big game in this spot. Helping matters on our end — if we wanted to target this scenario in large-field tourneys — is the fact that the Cardinals concentrated targets heavily in Week 1, with Larry Fitzgerald seeing 13 looks, Christian Kirk seeing 12, KeeSean Johnson seeing 10, and David Johnson seeing seven.
To be clear: from a pure matchup perspective, none of these guys are in a good spot (there’s a reason the Cardinals enter the week with the second-lowest Vegas-implied team total on the slate). But taking a few swings here in an MME block is not an outlandish idea.
JM’s Interpretation ::
Lamar Jackson long ago worked his way into the “always viable in cash” discussion with the way his legs can be used to elevate floor; and with such an explosive supporting cast around him, the ceiling is attractive as well. He seems certain to go over-owned in tourneys this week; but if you want to play him, realize that it isn’t point-chasey to do so. With how fast the Cardinals play, and with how poor their defense is, there will be opportunities for Lamar once again. The biggest risk is that the running backs take every one of the touchdowns; but even in that lower-likelihood scenario, Lamar should be able to do enough to not crater your rosters. All of that adds up to a likely Tier 1 placement yet again. He’s also the only player from this game who should be thought about in cash games (or probably even single-entry/small-field play).
I’ll fade Ingram this week, simply because his percentage chances of another big game are lower than his price would indicate (i.e., he could hit a big game; but he’s overpriced for the shot), but I could see carrying a very small amount of MME exposure on one of the cheaper running backs in the hopes that Gus Gus punches in a pair of touchdowns or Hill strikes for a couple big plays.
I’ll lean Boykin over Brown this week (and am unlikely to have more than, say, 3% or 4% exposure to that play), as they have about equal shots at posting a big game, and ownership should swing heavily toward Brown.
Sticking with these “lower percentage of exposure, but still a bit of exposure” plays: I’ll probably grab Kyler at 3% or 4% as well (primarily mixed with Boykin rosters, hoping for a surprise shootout), and one of the Cardinals wideouts at maybe 2%. The best way to handle these Cardinals wide receivers would be to pick one and take a stand. There are no matchup-based reasons to target any of them individually, as this is a strong secondary even with injuries piling up at corner. Ultimately, our best bet is to hope the Cardinals bomb here and everyone gets off them before their upcoming matchups with Panthers // Seahawks // Bengals // Falcons // Giants. But given their pace of play and what that can lead to in even the toughest of matchups as plays pile up and more opportunities are created, I will make sure I have at least some exposure in MME builds in case this team hits a week early.