After starting the season 5-2 (including an overtime loss to the Chargers in Week 1 and a one-score loss to the Raiders, alongside wins over the Titans, Chiefs, and Texans), the Colts have tumbled in the opposite direction, and they now enter their Week 14 game against the Buccaneers on life support with a 6-6 record. They will be taking on an aggressive Buccaneers team that has found its way to 5-7 (with wins in three of four) in spite of myriad flaws on defense and at the quarterback position.
The setup in this game is interesting, as the Colts (while dealing with the retirement of Andrew Luck and a seemingly endless string of injuries to skill position players — and in spite of a .500 record) are the fifth run-heaviest team in football, trailing only the Ravens, 49ers, Vikings, and Seahawks, and slotting in ahead of Buffalo // Oakland // Tennessee // Houston. The Buccaneers, meanwhile, rank first in DVOA against the run and are facing the highest opponent pass play rate in the league, with opponents averaging a whopping 41.7 pass attempts per game in this matchup. Furthermore, the Colts run one of the shortest-area passing attacks in the league, while the great benefit of the matchup against the Bucs is 1) volume, and 2) the fact that the Bucs have allowed opponents to attack them a bit deeper down the field.
We should expect the Colts to enter this game looking to slow things down with a slower-paced, control-oriented approach (only three teams play at a slower pace in neutral situations), while looking to account for injuries by keeping this game manageable — i.e., keeping the Bucs’ explosive offense off the field as much as possible, and shortening this game as much as they can. Of course, there is only so long this approach can typically hold up against Tampa, and we should eventually expect Indy to turn their attention to the air.
As we have explored throughout the season (as unpopular an opinion as this is…), the Bucs are not atrocious against the pass, but are instead “average to slightly below-average,” and are allowing teams to hammer them on volume. Tampa now ranks 19th in DVOA against the pass, and they are beating the league-average catch rate by a couple ticks while shaving an impressive 8% off the league-average YAC/r rate. Their 7.2 yards allowed per pass attempt ranks 18th, and is within 0.1 yards per attempt of a number of teams, including the Ravens, Panthers, Chiefs, and Seahawks. To put all that another way: if the Bucs were not so tremendous against the run, the DFS public would be viewing this as a neutral matchup for pass catchers. But instead, the Bucs have allowed one of the longest lists of notable stat lines to pass catchers in the league:
6-110-0 Greg Olsen
11-182-2 Mike Thomas
8-114-1 Mike Thomas
6-85-1 Ridley (14 targets)
With T.Y. Hilton expected to miss another game and Parris Campbell on track to return, three-wide sets for the Colts this week should feature Marlon Mack in the backfield (assuming he returns), Jack Doyle at tight end, and Zach Pascal // Campbell // Marcus Johnson at wideout — with the action through the air primarily funneled through Doyle // Pascal // Campbell.
We’ll take a look at Campbell first, as he has a shot to become one of the more popular plays on the slate at the bottom of the price barrel. Campbell will be the fastest player on the field, and as he’s coming back from a hand injury, his conditioning shouldn’t be a major issue. He has had only two opportunities this year to be featured as a healthy piece with Hilton out — drawing eight targets on 51 snaps in Week 4 and five targets on 48 snaps in Week 9. The Colts threw 46 and 31 times, respectively, in those games, but the Colts also featured Chester Rogers (six and five targets) in those spots. Campbell’s 13 targets in those two games tied Pascal for the team lead, though his 88 yards through the air fell shy of Pascal’s mark of 148.
Pascal has only one game this year of double-digit targets (Hilton has only two such games himself), so he’ll likely need game flow help to really post big numbers here at his “higher” price tag; but he should be considered the 1A in this attack.
The best matchup goes to Doyle, who will take on a Bucs team that has faced the fifth most tight end targets while allowing the fourth most yards and the third most touchdowns. With Brissett throwing 40 times last week, Pascal had 10 targets and Doyle had 11. We should never “expect” 40 attempts from these Colts, but that’s certainly within range; Nyheim Hines and Marcus Johnson will soak up a few of those looks, but Pascal // Doyle // Campbell should be the focal points.
While Marlon Mack (again: assuming he returns) will be a featured yardage-and-touchdown back in an awful matchup, the Bucs give us a murkier setup, with Ronald Jones “still the starter,” according to Bruce Arians, but with Peyton Barber taking over last week after RoJo missed a blitz pickup. Derrick Henry (twice) is the only running back who has posted a particularly usable stat line on the ground against the Colts, making this backfield a pure hope-and-pray option this week.
The Bucs’ passing attack is much less of a guessing game, with Chris Godwin and Mike Evans climbing back over 50% of this team’s targets over the last two weeks (which is where they had been for much of the season before a two-week blip) — though this has come with the Bucs limiting passing attempts to protect a lead in back-to-back games, leading to Jameis Winston throwing only 28 and 33 times in those spots. Indy shaves 4% off the league-average aDOT and 12% off the league-average YAC/r, though their Tampa 2 defense comfortably allows underneath completions, leading to an 8% catch rate boost. Wideouts are also able to find open spaces in the zone at times for bigger gains, with the Colts allowing the following notable stat lines on the season:
With the Colts ranked top 10 in preventing pass plays of 20+ yards and designing their defense to take away downfield throws (particularly to the perimeter), Godwin sets up better in this spot — though both Godwin and Evans are capable of hitting; and both will likely need the Colts to keep pace in order for volume to really pile up.
As we are well aware by now, the Colts also filter action to tight ends; and as we are also aware, O.J. Howard is one of the least reliable tight end plays in the league. Howard saw six targets last week — his second most on the season. Behind Howard, Cameron Brate has seen one target apiece in each of his last two games, while Breshad Perriman wraps up this attack as the speed threat — a job he now has sole possession of with Scotty Miller currently on track to miss once again. Perriman is averaging 14.1 yards per catch, but only 5.9 yards per target, as only 42.1% of his targets have been converted on the year.
JM’s Interpretation ::
Given the way the Colts play defense, and the way they should approach this game on offense, there is a solid chance the Bucs (with a Vegas-implied total of 25.0) fall shy of the 28+ points they have hit in four of their last five games. This is still an aggressive offense, however — with a pass-funnel defense on the other side — keeping Godwin // Evans // Jameis very much in the mix, with deeper-down interest in Howard and “other pieces on this offense.”
On the Colts’ side, Campbell // Pascal // Doyle should all draw somewhat heavy ownership attention — but given the state of this slate, all three warrant that attention at their affordable prices. Brissett is viable in tourneys as well, as there is a good chance he has to throw the ball 35+ times as the Colts look to keep pace with the explosive offense of the Bucs.