XANDAMERE’S SHOWDOWN SLANT
We get our first London game, which of course means an extra Showdown! The Falcons and the Jags travel across the pond this week for a 43.5 total game with the Jags favored by three. This line seems to reflect the early season struggles of the Jags offense, which has scored just 57 points in their first three games. Eek. Not a great start for Jacksonville considering their 2022 season and the lofty expectations for this year, but obviously plenty of time to turn it around. It also creates an interesting dynamic for this slate in which I expect the field will largely be on Jacksonville, but you can take the angle of, “but, what if they actually ARE bad this year?”
We’ll start with the Jags and their run game. Travis Etienne has a stranglehold on this backfield, playing at least 71% of the snaps in each game, with preseason and Best Ball darling Tank Bigsby stuck in the 20% or less range. Etienne has 49 carries and a healthy 13 targets (expanding on his passing game role from last year a bit in which he saw 45 targets in 17 games played, 12 starts), but the matchup here is not great against an Atlanta team that plays slow, suppresses opposing team plays (ATL is allowing just 61 opposing plays per game so far), and has a solid run defense. Etienne is also losing close-in work to Bigsby. Even though Tank only has nine carries on the season, three of them have come inside the 5-yard line, while Etienne does not have a single carry inside even the 15-yard line, much less the 5. I don’t expect that Etienne will get completely ghosted on close-in work for the whole season, but what the Jags have shown us in the early going is they clearly don’t want to overexpose him to those bruising goal line carries. Etienne’s overall role is strong, his passing game role is ascending compared to last season, but everything else – his price, the matchup, the pace of play, and the goal line work – point to this being a hard spot for him to find a ceiling performance. Bigsby’s workload is minimal and you’re just hoping for a goal line plunge or something that increases his usage, and at $3,200 he isn’t exactly cheap enough to be used as a pure punt play.
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The passing game is where the Jags are more likely to find success. Zay Jones looks likely to miss again this week (coach Peterson described him as a “long shot” to play), which would solidify Christian Kirk’s role, as Kirk was somewhat surprisingly not a primary in 2-WR sets in both preseason and Week 1. With no Zay, we can expect to see Calvin Ridley and Kirk as the primary wideouts, with Jamal Agnew, Tim Jones, and perhaps Jacob Harris supporting. Ridley smashed out of the gate in Week 1 before the Jags entire passing game collapsed in Weeks 2 & 3 (8/101/1 Week 1, 5/72/0 on 15 targets since). The volume is there, and how to approach the Jags passing game overall is a critical strategic decision that we’ll get into later. For now, we can simply say that Ridley is a really good receiver in a positive matchup who’s seeing a lot of volume, and at $9,600 he’s priced below where we normally see WR1s of his caliber. Kirk at $8,000 also looks cheap for his workload – he’s seen 20 targets the last two weeks after being mostly MIA in Week 1, turning that into a 15/164/1 line. Agnew saw a healthy five targets last week while leading the rest of the WRs in snaps and routes, and at $2,800 he’s a solid value option as long as Jones is out. Tim Jones saw three targets and can also be viewed as a non-crazy punt option, while Jacob Harris only played 10% of the snaps and went back to the practice squad after the game (if he’s called up again, he’s a thin punt option). Tight end is primarily Evan Engram, with Luke Farrell and Brenton Strange backing him up. The latter two are just punt options, but Engram is continuing his strong 2022 season in the early going with 21 targets so far on the year for an 18/173/0 receiving line. Here’s a weird stat for you: when you take Zay Jones out, the only Jacksonville pass catcher who has seen a target inside the 20 is Calvin Ridley, with a whopping five (Zay also has five). Nobody else has a single one. Obviously, this won’t continue all season, but just something to note when we often think of tight ends as “guys who are heavily utilized inside the red zone and have great touchdown equity.” Engram had a great season last year but only scored four touchdowns and he only saw nine red zone targets (all three primary JAX WRs last season had 10+, and even Agnew had six). Engram’s a fine play here but just recognize he’s more of a between-the-20s yardage guy vs. a high red zone usage guy.