- Frank Reich is 2-0 vs Marrone/Wash at home: 29-26, 33-13; and 0-2 on the road: 0-6, 20-38
- Rivers vs the Marrone/Wash Jaguars (’16, ’17, ’19) has a 9:1 TD:INT ratio and has scored in DK pts: 23.8, 16.4, 27.56
- Through 2019 Week 7, Rivers had 2 duds (11.9, 6.1) and 5 strong games (27.9, 23.6, 23.4, 20.8, 24.2)
- With starting linemen Pouncey & Lamp both then put on IR, Rivers only had one more notable fantasy game the rest of the season: his 27.56 DK pts vs JAC
- Brandon Thorn ranks the Colts offensive line 20 spots higher than the Chargers line, and that’s with the Chargers improving from last season
- In Hilton’s first six games of the season, he averaged 5.33 receptions for 60yds & 0.83 TD
- After his calf injury, Hilton averaged 3.25 receptions for 35.25yds & 0 TD for the rest of his season (4 games)
- In 2019, IND ran for 175+ yards in 5 games vs rush efficiency defenses ranked 25th (LAC), 29th (KC), 31st (JAC), 22nd (HOU), 32nd (CAR)
- Four RBs surpassed 30 DK pts vs JAC in 2019: McCaffrey (50.7 DK pts), Henry (33.5), Ekeler (37.3), D Freeman (33.7); and 3 more surpassed 100+ rush yds: Hyde (19.0), J Williams (18.7), Mack (19.9)
- All 5 of Mack’s games above 18+ DK pts came against teams ranked poorly in rush efficiency defense: #25 LAC, #29 KC, #31 JAC x2, #32 CAR
- Jonathan Taylor was 23 yards short of finishing with 2000+ rushing yards in all 3 of his NCAA seasons, and his PlayerProfiler best comp is Ezekiel Elliott
- Rivers has targeted RBs at least 100 times in every season of his career, and his top targeted RB has ranked either 1st or 2nd in team targets in 4 of the last 5 years
- In 2 seasons together, Hines has 107 rec to Mack’s 31 rec
- Taylor’s best receiving year was nearly identical to Mack’s best college receiving season, and Mack actually caught 23 more total passes than Taylor did in his 3 college seasons
- In 2019, IND allowed six 300+yd passers (and three more who missed the bonus by 11 combined yards), five 3+ touchdown passers, and only 2/16 passers who finished below 30 attempts
- Foles & Minshew were 2 of the 3 passers to barely miss the 300yd bonus, and they finished with 18.8 & 25.5 DK pts, respectively
- Chark played with Foles for just 18% of his season, but 24% of his fantasy production came with Foles
- While IND D is designed to limit big plays, they ranked just 24th in Explosive Pass rate allowed to WRs, and were hit for some big WR fantasy performances in 2019: allowing eight WRs to finish between 24 and 34 DK pts
- DJ Chark’s second best fantasy performance of the season was his 33.4 DK pts vs IND
- IND’s 2019 ranks in RB defense: 20th in Rush Efficiency Def, 6th in rushing yards allowed, 2nd in TDs allowed, 32nd in receptions allowed, 10th in receiving yards allowed, 9th in DK pts allowed
- Leonard Fournette’s only single-digit carry game (of 15) was against IND (8 att, 7 rec)
- Fournette’s departure leaves behind 17.7 att/g & 6.7 targets/g to disperse between Ryquell Armstead, Devine Ozigbo, & Chris Thompson
- In the final game of 2019 when Fournette did not play, Armstead led Ozigbo 10 att/9 targets to 9 att/5 targets, and he outproduced him 85 total yds & TD to 50 total yds
- In 46 college games, Armstead caught just 29 total passes; In 39 college games, Ozigbo caught 49 total passes
- Chris Thompson has 206 receptions in his 60 games as an NFL rotation player, and has averaged 5.4 targets/g in his last 3 seasons
How Jacksonville Will Try To Win ::
We’ll actually begin our exploration of this game by moving away from this game and talking for a moment about Raiders head coach Jon Gruden.
As you know by now (OWS reader that you are), Gruden — philosophically — wants to run the ball in order to set up the pass. And while that idea sounds backward analytically, the truth is, we still have a few years (and a lot more research) to go before the analytics in the NFL catch up to where they need to be in order to truly understand football the way it should be understood. What I mean by that ::
There are a handful of coaches around the league — examples include Gary Kubiak, Kyle Shanahan, Sean McVay, Greg Roman, Arthur Smith (all good coaches) — who essentially use the run and the pass to stretch the defense horizontally in the same way Andy Reid is able to use speed and the strength of Mahomes’ arm to strain the defense vertically. We talked in the audio note here about how much open space Andy Reid can create by using speed at all areas of the field — straining the defense and giving “space running backs” like CEH // Damien Williams // Kareem Hunt // Jamaal Charles room to operate in space and make big plays. It’s the same thing Bruce Arians did in 2016 with David Johnson (and is part of the reason DJ had such a tougher time last year under Kingsbury’s well-designed, but much more condensed passing attack). The analytics you’ll hear me talk about throughout the year (in terms of what people are getting right, and what still has room to grow) have a harder time taking into account talent on individual teams and what can actually be done to a defense with that talent. While in baseball, it’s very easy to break down a pitcher-versus-batter matchup and extrapolate that over 600 at-bats, and then apply that to the small sample size of three at-bats in a single game in order to know what’s likeliest to happen (note: analytics-based predictions in baseball tend to be highly accurate over a full season, with 600 at-bats), in football, it’s much more complicated to account for things purely through analytics. A defense, for example, is a dynamic unit of 11 players working under a coach who is making decisions in a chess match against the opposing coach. The question in football (unlike baseball — where offensive production doesn’t change or strain defensive responsibilities) is not “How do we score the most points,” but “How do we effectively strain the opposing defense, in concert with the strengths and weaknesses of our own defense (and in further concert with the strengths and weaknesses of the opposing offense) so we can score more points than the other team?” Maybe you don’t have the explosive pieces on offense that you wish you had; but if you can figure out how to win in other ways on offense and then build a good defense on the other side, this keeps you in most games you’re playing.
Obviously, we’ve made huge advancements in advanced analytics over the last few years (and some of what has been developed has been excellent) — but as I’ve noted a number of times over the last couple years: we’re still in the stone ages of NFL analytics, and some of the stats that people think we should be paying closer attention to at the moment will turn out to be proven fairly incorrect within the next 10 to 15 years.
That brings us back to the game at hand, where Jay Gruden has tried to take his brother’s philosophies — but has seemingly had no idea how to do it. Gruden tends to play slowly and use the run to set up the pass, but without the sideline-to-sideline strain that these other coaches are able to create (for example: outside-zone run action moving to the left while the quarterback is rolled out to the right with flood concepts from receivers giving him options at multiple levels). It’s almost as if Jay Gruden has about 85% of what he needs in order to be a winning offensive coach; but the NFL game is a game of inches, and he leaves too many openings for the opposing team.
The Jaguars will try to win this game with a balanced attack that leans slightly toward the run, and they will try to get Gardner Minshew on the move a bit. Long-term, Ryquell Armstead should be the lead back for this team; but with Armstead on the Reserve/Covid list, this should vault Devine Ozigbo to the top of the running back pile here. Ozigbo will likely handle early downs, with Chris Thompson mixing in on third downs and obvious passing situations. Assuming Ozigbo gets about 75% to 80% of the early-down work, he should be in line for two to four targets (though these are unlikely to be schemed targets). (Note :: It’s looking increasingly likely that James Robinson will eventually take over the job here, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if he splits work with Ozigbo in Week 1.)
In the pass game, Dede Westbrook, D.J. Chark, and Chris Conley all deserve targets, while Laviska Shenault is sure to get some early reps (and may even be more involved right away than anticipated) — all on a team that doesn’t necessarily want to throw the ball. We should also note here that the Colts have allowed the second fewest wide receiver targets in the NFL across the last two seasons, as their Tampa-2 scheme (as we all know by now) aims to A) keep the ball in front of them, and B) filter targets toward the middle of the field. This could have Jacksonville leaning on Tyler Eifert a bit more in this game than they will in others, as they look for ways to gain ground against an above-average, bend-but-don’t-break defense.
How Indianapolis Will Try To Win ::
I like the Colts’ offense quite a bit this year. That is, I like them quite a bit in a big-picture sense — in that they seem to be going overlooked compared to what their expectations are. As you know by now: Frank Reich is one of our favorite coaches, as he’s highly adaptable, and is excellent at utilizing the strengths of his best players. Schematically, the Colts want to win games by establishing the run with their mauling offensive line, and with what is now a strong two-headed backfield with Marlon Mack and Jonathan Taylor. Reich wants to do this using two tight ends often, while looking for ways to aggressively exploit mismatches and attack the defense. In the Colts’ two games against the Jaguars last season, including a 38 – 20 loss in Week 16, Indy averaged only 24.5 pass attempts per game. Of course, as we just said: Reich is one of the most adaptable coaches in football, and in 2018 the Colts averaged an astonishing 40.25 pass attempts per game in Luck’s final season; and with Philip Rivers in the fold, it shouldn’t surprise us if this team tries to keep opponents off-balance by attacking more aggressively through the air once again.
One way or another, the Jaguars should have one of the lesser defenses in the league; and while Todd Wash’s system generally does a good job filtering targets away from wide receivers (the Jaguars have allowed the third fewest wide receiver targets over the last two years — only two more than the Colts), there is a large enough talent gap that everybody is in play for the Colts as a means to move the ball. Through the air, the target pecking order should be T.Y. Hilton, the tight ends, and some third-tier combination of Parris Campbell, Michael Pittman, and Nyheim Hines. This gives the Colts a lot of ways to move the ball against this weakened Jaguars defense.
Likeliest Game Flow ::
The likeliest scenario in this game has the Colts hammering different angles against the Jaguars in the early going until they find what’s working best. They have enough weapons — and enough different ways to keep the Jaguars off-balance — that they should be able to put up points in this spot throughout the course of the game, with Reich eventually finding the weaknesses that he can most aggressively exploit.
I could see the Jaguars taking an early shot downfield in the hopes of jumping out to a lead or “setting the tone,” but outside of this, they will likely look to establish the run in the early going while mixing in shorter passes and occasional shots as the game moves along. We should see them hitting some underneath routes to keep the ball moving up the field — though with the Colts’ Tampa-2 defense, it will be more difficult than normal for “all at once” upside to be found. As always: it only takes one play for upside to hit, and the tackling issues that could come from a shortened offseason increase the chances of this happening; but we should ultimately expect Jacksonville to be playing from behind, with the Jags eventually being forced to “let Minshew cook” (that’s not a thing…) with 34 to 40 pass attempts.
As with any game, an early mistake by the Colts offense could swing this game the other way. For example ::
Let’s say the Jags start with the ball and march the field, bleeding five or six minutes off the clock, and then they finish their drive with a field goal. After this, Rivers takes over and marches the Colts past the Jags’ 45-yard-line (taking up another three minutes of clock), and then he gets aggressive on an outside-breaking route that he is no longer capable of making in quite the tight windows he used to be able to hit, and the Jags get a pick-six that all of a sudden has them up 10-0, eight or nine minutes into the game. From there, the Colts pick up two or three first downs and then stall out again, and about three minutes into the second quarter, the Jags get lucky with an offensive touchdown to go up 17-0.
The odd thing in this spot is that this game flow would actually be less likely to produce big games in the box score than the Colts playing with a lead. (Or, to put that another way: the “likeliest scenario” is actually the best overall scenario for the offensive box score.) If the Jags jump out to a lead like this, the tendencies of their coaching staff will have them looking to protect this lead early. Reich would then notice this, and would be happy to continue running his offense and chip away until Indy takes, say, a 21-20 lead early in the fourth quarter. From here, Jacksonville would be thinking, “We just need a field goal to take the lead”; and if they get that, this becomes a potential game of field goals down the stretch. Conversely, the Jags could require a touchdown to regain the lead, and clock could bleed as they slowly march against this bend-but-don’t-break squad before stalling out in the red zone.
Point being: if the Colts have a two-score lead as this game moves along, the Jaguars will be forced into a more aggressive offensive approach. The Colts — playing from in front — are unlikely to get comfortable with this lead, and will continue attacking themselves.
DFS+ Interpretation ::
We’re unlikely to see much ownership on this game, and I pegged the line here at 46.5 to 47.0 myself (currently, the Vegas line sits at 45.0). I pinned down that line knowing that once I compared it to Vegas, I would almost certainly find my line to be higher than theirs; and this is not, by any means, a spot that “has 38-34 written all over it.” But it does have potential to be a better spot than the field will likely be assuming.
Considering game flow, of course, will be key here (i.e., if the Jaguars are chasing points in the second half, Ozigbo could actually score fewer fantasy points than Chris Thompson — etc.), and there is a further layer of uncertainty in that the Colts could very well go run-heavy (giving 14+ touches apiece to both Mack and Taylor, with neither getting the bulk of the RB pass game work, and with none of the pass catchers getting big action).
When facing a situation like this, the best thing you can do — from a “long-term net-positive ROI” perspective — is to guess as little as possible. What I mean by that ::
If a game has a ton of ownership action on it, but you really want to get a piece of that game, doing so by embracing a bit of uncertainty with a high-upside (but perhaps higher-risk), lower-owned player is a solid way to go. But in a spot like this, where you’re unlikely to be competing with much of the field in terms of ownership, getting exposure by guessing as little as possible (“embracing certainty” — as opposed to the idea of “embracing uncertainty” we often talk about for strategic maximization of your DFS play) actually makes the most sense.
For me, on the Colts, that’s T.Y. Hilton (who should get seven to 10 targets regardless of game flow — and whom Reich will almost certainly try to hit with a deep ball a couple times in his first game with Rivers). Rivers is also “in the conversation” if you want extra exposure here, while Jack Doyle, Mo Alie-Cox (filling in for Trey Burton; by the way, the Colts love Mo Alie-Cox, and four or five targets with a touchdown opportunity would not be surprising), Parris Campbell, and Michael Pittman should all see a minimum of three looks apiece, with a couple of these guys likely climbing to six or seven (assuming you want to go deeper than just Hilton).
On the Jags…well, our likeliest and unlikeliest scenarios all have the Jags maxing out at around five offensive scores, and it would be surprising if they were able to both reach that number and make four or five of those scores touchdowns. As such, I see their reasonable (85th/90th percentile) game here being 27 points, with plenty of scenarios in which they finish in the high teens or the low 20s. On top of this, Jacksonville was somewhat erratic last year in their wide receiver usage, and that may not change this year. With Laviska Shenault likely to force himself into the mix a bit in Week 1, and with Dede soaking up underneath targets, and with Conley rarely seeing big target workloads (and with us needing a monster DFS score in Week 1 in order to matter on the leaderboards), and with the game flow setting up for the Jags to eventually have to pass, and with Ozigbo and Thompson both therefore carrying only very slim paths to a 20-point game, I’ll likely turn my attention to two places if looking here :: the target-upside + big-play upside of Chark, and the target-upside + touchdown-upside of Eifert.
Realistically, I expect to mostly (if not fully) leave the Jags alone here (especially given that I expect to have 19 to 26 builds, which doesn’t quite put me into the range I would want to be in for loading up on players from the Jags). But I do expect to have a few Hilton rosters (maybe 15%?), and if that number grows, I could bring back a couple of those with Chark or Eifert.