EAGLES // TITANS OVERVIEW
I am guessing the public is not yet appreciating just how impressive it is that this Titans team is 2-1 with what they are getting out of their offense. Mike Vrabel has shown an early willingness to “win ugly,” taking down the Texans 20-17 and then taking down the Jaguars 9-6. The offense is supposed to be the engine of this Titans team, but they are figuring out how to win in whatever way they can.
On the other side of this game, we have an Eagles team that is looking to round into form under Carson Wentz. Early in the week, it is looking like the Eagles will have a healthy Jay Ajayi (and possibly even a healthy Darren Sproles) this weekend, while the return of Alshon Jeffery (who has still not been cleared for contact) is a little further away (Note: Alshon was cleared for contact on Wednesday, and now has a shot to play; he will likely be on a snap count if cleared).
EAGLES PASS OFFENSE
Tennessee has played aggressive, opponent-specific defense, with a willingness to attack downhill and play man coverage on the back end. So far, this has led to the Titans ranking 18th in yards allowed per pass attempt, while allowing teams to throw downfield (only nine teams have faced a deeper aDOT than the Titans) and tackling well after the catch. The Titans have picked off three passes while allowing only four passing touchdowns, and their eight sacks rank 10th in the league. This is a middling to slightly below-average matchup for the Eagles passing attack — one that would neither raise nor lower expectations for this offense over a large sample size.
With that being the case, attention turns to the Eagles’ attack — which looks to get more fully on track this week in Wentz’ second game on the field. Wentz looked mentally sharp in Week 3, and he completed 67.6% of his passes, though his average intended air yards of 7.4 was a steep drop-off from his 9.9 mark last season. The absence of Alshon is likely the biggest factor here, and we may not see Wentz attack downfield as much as we would like until he has a fully healthy group of guys to throw to.
Jordan Matthews played on 22 of a possible 49 pass plays for the Eagles last week, hauling in both of his targets for 21 yards. With Matthews’ return, Nelson Agholor disappointed — posting a line of 4-24-0, on only five targets. This seems more coincidental than anything else, however; Agholor ran a route on every one of Wentz’ drop-backs and still spent plenty of time in the slot. In their game against the Colts in Week 3, Philly attacked the Indy zone using Agholor and Zach Ertz to draw defensive attention in order to free up guys like Dallas Goedert (seven targets), Josh Perkins (four targets), and Clement/Smallwood (nine targets). With Ertz seeing 10 looks, Agholor landed way down the pecking order. Keep in mind, however, that Philly is one of the most opponent-specific teams in the league, and it would make sense against the Titans’ man-heavy coverage scheme this week for the Eagles to attack one-on-one matchups with their best players. If that proves to be the case, we will see Agholor’s targets rise this week, while targets will trickle back down for Perkins and Goedert.
Zach Ertz has proven over the last year-plus that he will be involved regardless of the game plan. Not only is Ertz the most targeted tight end in the NFL so far, but only nine wide receivers have more targets than him. Tennessee has been “tough against the tight end” to begin the season, but they have faced the Dolphins, Texans, and Jaguars — all three of whom feature their tight ends lightly. There is no need to fear Tennessee’s linebackers and safeties in coverage against Ertz. Only six teams allowed more receiving yards to the tight end position last season.
EAGLES RUN OFFENSE
Tennessee has gotten smashed on the ground to begin the year, allowing 4.7 yards per carry to running backs (and 4.8 yards per carry overall), in spite of facing the Dolphins, Texans, and Yeldon-led Jaguars. As noted last week: the Titans are using personnel that indicates a willingness to give up yards on the ground against good passing attacks, which creates a nice situation for the Eagles this week.
If Jay Ajayi returns (and is deemed fully healthy), he’ll be a sneaky bet for 16 to 20 touches in this spot — especially as game flow should work in his favor. Obviously, this projection comes with some scary guesswork on an offense that likes to attack each opponent in a unique, specific way.
If Ajayi is out, we’ll see another split workload between Corey Clement and Wendell Smallwood. Clement played 45 snaps last week and touched the ball 19 times, while Smallwood played 29 snaps and had 13 touches. The Eagles, of course, cannot be expected to run 82 plays every week. If they run a more reasonable 60 to 65 plays this week, we would likely see Clement on around 35 snaps and Smallwood on about 25. Each will be involved when on the field, so while the floor is a little scary on limited work, there is enough price-considered ceiling for one of these guys to end up mattering.
If Sproles returns this week, all bets are off in this backfield, as we’ll be guessing how the Eagles want to attack with this four-part backfield.
TITANS PASS OFFENSE
It really doesn’t matter who is under center this week for the Titans, as Blaine Gabbert is incapable of attacking deep, and Marcus Mariota is dealing with a nerve issue that appears to prevent him from making downfield throws as well. Last week, in a similar setup against the Colts, the Eagles played close and tight to the line of scrimmage, forcing Andrew Luck to make tight-window throws even on underneath passes. Through three games, the bottom three quarterbacks in average intended air yards are: 1. Marcus Mariota || 2. Andrew Luck || 3. Blaine Gabbert. Only the Bills, Cowboys, and Cardinals have fewer passing yards than the Titans this year.
With Delanie Walker out, the only show in town for the Titans has been Corey Davis, who ranks fourth in the NFL in percentage share of team air yards — behind only Julio Jones, Odell Beckham, and Robert Woods (and one spot ahead of Adam Thielen). The idea of the Corey Davis breakout is tantalizing, but his aDOT is 7.7 — an almost impossibly low number for a guy who ranks near the top of the league in percentage share of team air yards. There are just no true “upside” pass attempts in this offense at the moment.
While that’s the bad news, the good news is that Davis has seen his price drop to account for the poor state of his offense — registering at 10.6% of the salary cap on DraftKings, 10.1% on FantasyDraft, and all the way down at 9.0% on FanDuel. To be clear: this is more “Allen Robinson in Week 3” than “Robert Woods in Week 3,” from an air yards perspective. Quarterback play has to be taken into account when considering these things — so even at such a cheap price, he’s no lock to smash. But against a Philly team that filters action toward the air, his massive opportunity share is worth paying attention to.
While Corey Davis played 52 of a possible 62 snaps last week, none of Taywan Taylor, Rishard Matthews, or Tajae Sharpe saw more than 32 snaps. From a forward-looking perspective (or an “upside-hunting” perspective this week), I’ll point out that monster big-play threat Taylor saw the most snaps of the three last week, and his target count has risen from one to four to five. Taylor is being schemed short passes and wide receiver screens that get the ball into his hands, giving him some low-floor, high-upside appeal.
TITANS RUN OFFENSE
At the end of the 2017 season, the Eagles ranked sixth in fewest yards allowed per carry, and no team in the NFL had faced fewer rush attempts. This defense has picked up in the exact same spot through three weeks of the 2018 season — ranking sixth in fewest yards allowed per carry, and facing the fewest rush attempts in the league. At 54 rush attempts faced, the Eagles have faced an average of only 18 rush attempts per game — after facing only 21.1 rush attempts per game last year.
The Titans, meanwhile, have continued to split backfield usage, with Derrick Henry taking on the slightly bigger load (32 snaps, to 30 for Dion Lewis last week) against the smaller Jacksonville linebackers. This week, against a ferocious Philly front that teams routinely choose not to attack on the ground, it makes sense for Tennessee to lean on the pass-catching chops of Dion Lewis. Lewis out-snapped Henry 83 to 45 through the first two weeks of the season. Unless the Titans surprise with a big, early lead, we should see around eight to 10 carries and four to six catches for Lewis, with eight to 10 carries and little to no pass game involvement for Henry.
Carson Wentz should post a fine game in this spot — and while I would rather target a quarterback in a potential shootout, I do expect one or two of his weapons to be strong plays this week. Ertz is the safest bet — with locked-in usage and a high floor and ceiling. I also expect Agholor to step back into a heavier target share this week, against a more man-heavy coverage unit. If you wanted, you could also take a leap of faith and assume that the heavy utilization of number two tight end Goedert and number three tight end Perkins was a precursor of things to come, rather than being a game-plan-specific approach last week against the Colts’ zone defense. If that proves to be the case, each guy will provide strong value this week, after Goedert ran 29 pass routes in Week 3 and Perkins ran 16.
I like the matchup quite a bit for the Eagles’ rushing attack, but it’s difficult to take advantage with any certainty. If Ajayi returns, the secretive Eagles will almost certainly give us no indication of how much he’ll play (or of how he’ll be used). Whereas Ajayi sitting will open another split workload between Clement and Smallwood. The best thing is obviously just to avoid this uncertainty; but I am intrigued by the upside here in tourneys.
The Titans’ offense is so broken right now, I won’t be excited to go anywhere on this team — and it appears there is enough solid value available this week that I won’t try to sneak by with a Dion Lewis play in such a tough spot. But I do find Corey Davis to be interesting. He is getting too much usage to be a dud every week, and the likely pass-heavy nature of the Titans’ game plan this week gives him a chance to finally hit. But the floor is low in this offense at the moment, across the board. That obviously goes for Taywan Taylor as well, who is a deep-tourney flier for his big-play upside, but whose likeliest scenario is a disappointing game.
FRIDAY EVENING UPDATE // Full “Updates” List
Rishard Matthews pulled a Vontae Davis and literally quit on his team. I’ve had a soft spot for Matthews ever since 2015, when he made me plenty of money during his time with the Dolphins as a guy no one else wanted to play; but this one is just downright absurd. Upset because he was no longer getting the snaps he wanted, he literally quit, and the Titans released him. Anyhow. This is still a broken passing attack (as noted above), but this does open guaranteed snaps for Taywan Taylor. Potential star offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur will try to get Taylor the ball in space this week, giving him intriguing tourney upside.