This week, Sam Darnold will return to the field for a matchup against a Cowboys pass defense that has been doing its thing so far this year — shaving over 13% off the league-average aDOT and almost 8% off the league-average YAC per reception rate, while allowing the ninth fewest pass plays of 20+ yards: playing disciplined but unaggressive zone defense, keeping the ball in front of them, and forcing opponents to march the field. And given the state of the Jets’ offense to date (and given that Darnold has been dealing with a strength-sapping illness that has kept him off the practice field and will surely have him something shy of “fully sharp” in this spot), there is certainly a case to be made for sitting back this week and watching the Jets to see what we can expect from this passing attack in the weeks ahead. (Furthermore, the aggressive, no-huddle offense the Jets planned to enter the season with seems unlikely to show up in Darnold’s first game back.) With all that said: the prices on this Jets offense are cheap enough (and the Cowboys are willing enough to allow teams to eat up underneath completions), that it’s still worth taking a look at Robby Anderson, Jamison Crowder, and Demaryius Thomas in this spot.
The last time we saw Crowder working with Darnold, he saw 17 targets in a similar setup in Week 1 (“similar” in that the Bills defense takes away downfield passing and filters targets inside; though the Bills are a tougher all-around defense than Dallas) — and when we add in Darnold’s first game back and the poor state of the Jets offensive line (32nd in adjusted sack rate), a ball-out-quick approach certainly makes sense for this team. Almost all wide receiver production against the Cowboys this year has come on slants and shallow crossing routes, and this is where Crowder is going to be most heavily used.
We’ll move over to Anderson next, as he saw seven looks in an impossible Week 1 spot against Tre’Davious White and the Bills (note: Darnold did throw the ball 41 times, which should not be our expectation going into this spot), and he also showed tremendous downfield chemistry with Darnold down the stretch last year. Anderson is easy to cross off the “tighter builds” list, as the matchup very clearly works against him this week; but he is cheap enough to remain in the “only takes one play for him to hit” discussion in large-field play.
And finally, we have Demaryius — who is, of course, the toughest piece to get a handle on. Last week, Demaryius saw nine targets from Luke Falk, and while he’ll see most of his snaps on the perimeter, he does have enough of a short-area skill set to his game to have a target expectation of around five or six, with potential for more looks to flow his way from there. If any of these guys were more expensive than they are this week, they wouldn’t be in the conversation against a Dallas defense we rarely target with wide receivers; but given the lack of enticing salary savers this week and the prices and available targets in this spot, all three are at least worth keeping in the back of your mind.
Of course, the one piece on the Jets that is not quite so ugly (the piece that can be considered more than just a “back of the mind” option) is Le’Veon Bell, who has played 91.9% of the Jets snaps across the last three weeks while piling up reception totals on the year of 6 // 10 // 4 // 7 and touch totals of 23 // 31 // 22 // 22. The Jets offensive line has been brutal this season, ranking 32nd in adjusted line yards; but Dallas has unsurprisingly allowed the second most running back receptions in the league, while also allowing 4.59 yards per carry to enemy backs. With Darnold back, this offense is going to get much better throughout the remainder of the season; and while there is no guarantee that it happens in this spot (Darnold’s first game back, vs a solid all-around Dallas team), Bell is going to have some big games along the way, and he will absolutely be higher-priced than this by the end of the year.
On the other side of the ball, the matchup is deceptively difficult for the visiting team, as the Jets currently rank 11th in DVOA against the run and 13th against the pass. Only six teams have allowed a lower opponent drive success rate than Gregg Williams’ Jets, and only six teams have allowed fewer passing touchdowns. Only four teams have allowed fewer running back rushing yards as well — and while these latter two numbers are obviously boosted by the early bye week, they are still surprisingly impressive. Running backs on the whole are averaging only 3.58 yards per carry against this team, with notable numbers including 1.2 YPC to Sony Michel, 1.7 YPC to Miles Sanders, 1.8 YPC to Frank Gore, and 3.4 YPC to Nick Chubb.
The clearest place to attack the Jets (especially from a personnel standpoint) is with wideouts, as this squad has been average against the position and has potential to show worse than that — especially if the Jets offense can keep this game close enough for the Cowboys to have to pass. Attention on this spot can be further elevated by the narrow distribution of targets on the Cowboys passing attack, with the three games of Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup on the field together looking like this:
>> Amari :: 9 // 5 // 14
>> Gallup :: 7 // 8 // 14
>> Amari :: 106 // 44 // 226
>> Gallup :: 158 // 68 // 113
Although these guys will likely need the Jets to keep pace in order to smash, both are very much in play regardless for their locked-in roles, and for the fact that “through the air” will be the easiest way for Dallas to move the ball. Gallup’s aDOT sits at 11.6 and Amari’s sits at 12.7 (a fairly negligible gap), and their route trees and target shares are similar as well, making them more “1A” and “1B” at this point than clear “number 1 // number 2.” The upside would be boosted for these two if the Jets were allowing more touchdowns through the air, but this remains a strong, solid spot for each.
JM’s Interpretation ::
With this game carrying an Over/Under of only 43.0, there is obviously a chance you could get away with just ignoring it altogether; but on the Jets side, I like Le’Veon Bell in all formats — with his role keeping his floor high for cash and giving him plenty of paths to ceiling at a relative discount. I’ll also be keeping an eye on Crowder on this side the ball and (likely deeper down) Demaryius and Anderson, as this may quickly develop into the sort of offense I want to “bet on with at least a small percentage of my bankroll every week” in order to make sure I’m in place on the weeks when it hits.
On the Cowboys, Ezekiel Elliott is a “bet on volume/talent” play with touchdown upside, though the matchup is below-average and should be kept in mind given the type of score needed at his price. Dak Prescott is also in play in tourneys (though again: the matchup doesn’t point to him), with Amari and Gallup both in the conversation for their locked-in roles in a high-quality offense with the best matchup on this side of the ball. At least one of these two is likely to post a strong score this week, and I won’t be surprised to find at least one of these guys circling my late-week builds.