Neither coach in this game is trying to win football games. I don’t mean that either team is actively trying to lose, or that either organization was intending to tank (sadly, neither was, and both came into this year thinking they had a shot for a strong season, however delusional these thoughts may have been), but instead, I mean that each team is tending to wait out opponents until deeper into games, hoping their opponent makes a mistake down the stretch that might allow them to trip into a win. Neither team is getting particularly aggressive, and this was especially evident (and especially damning) last week for the Jets when Robby Anderson somehow saw only four targets against the Dolphins (his second fewest targets on the year, behind only the “Luke Falk vs Eagles” fiasco). Meanwhile, Sam Darnold poured eight targets to backup tight end and Texans castoff (and former UConn Husky; and player I once took a zero on in a great spot) Ryan Griffin, with another nine looks given to fellow short-area target Jamison Crowder. With the Giants relying on Golden Tate as their primary receiver and the Jets showing a willingness last week against the soft Dolphins secondary to lean on short-area throws, it’s likely that this game plays out about the way Vegas expects: decently close; decently low-scoring; with enough points scored for one or two players to potentially matter, but with price-considered slate-breakers difficult to come by.
When the Giants have the ball ::
Saquon’s matchup is quietly awful, as the Jets rank behind only the Buccaneers in run defense DVOA and have allowed the fifth fewest rushing yards to running backs in spite of their 1-7 record. Running backs are averaging only 3.22 yards per carry in this matchup. Saquon is the absolute definition of a matchup-breaker, and there is a chance that his pass game involvement rises enough this week to render the run-game matchup a non-issue; but his production here is likely to come from big plays, rather than from consistent chunk gains.
Tate has target counts of 6 // 9 // 11 // 10 // 6 and should be able to push for double-digits in this spot. In spite of the lack of talent in the Jets’ secondary, they’ve been slightly above-average on a per-pass basis (shaving 10% off the league-average aDOT, and hitting the league average in catch rate and YAC/r), but the expected volume boosts expectations enough for Tate to be considered — albeit with touchdowns or completely broken plays required for true upside to be reached.
The Giants offense wraps up with Darius Slayton (more on him in a moment) and underwhelming athlete Rhett Ellison (how’s this for a scouting report — from the NFL’s combine page: “Ellison is not very fast, nor is he a quick-twitch athlete. This is evident when he is running deep routes and trying to work upfield. He labors to move at times and can struggle in hard moves on his routes.”). Ellison saw seven targets against the Patriots when Engram last missed and should be able to push toward that range again here, though he’ll also face coverage from Jamal Adams. He’ll need a touchdown for upside but should be able to provide a few steady points through short-area catches.
Slayton has five or fewer targets in all but one game and is unlikely to catch a ton of extra downfield looks just because Engram is missing in the short areas of the field, so consider him what he has been each week he has been active: an intriguing tourney piece for his downfield role, but with a low floor on what is typically around five targets on a below-average offense.
When the Jets have the ball ::
On the defense, the Giants have allowed the fifth most yards per game and the fourth most points per game while getting attacked heavily on the ground (only four teams have faced a higher opponent rush play rate). Only two teams have allowed more pass plays of 20+ yards than the Giants. Only two teams have allowed more run plays of 20+ yards than the Giants.
Unfortunately, that also sounds a lot like we are describing the Dolphins (the Giants numbers in the secondary — aDOT, YAC/r, catch rate allowed — are all closely related to the Dolphins as well), and not only did the Jets stall out against Miami last week, but as noted at the top, they also refused to attack downfield.
There are two ways to look at this:
1) The Jets felt more comfortable allowing Darnold to pick up easy gains on underneath passes to Griffin and Crowder than they did asking him to push the ball downfield, even with the matchup downfield attackable. In this case (especially vs a Giants team that likes to be aggressive up front), Darnold could again lean heavily on Crowder and “tight end” (it currently appears that Chris Herndon will finally be truly active this week — after being “active only because the Jets had so many other injured players” last week — so we’ll keep an eye on late-week reports that hint at what his playing time might look like in his first game of the season).
2) With the game being played on the road last week, maybe the Jets preferred to rein in the downfield passing(?). And maybe at home, Darnold will be asked to attack downfield the way he did against Dallas, when Robby went 5-125-1(?). There were a few times this last Sunday when Robby was covered on what appeared to be a play designed to go to him, but he did not see the heavy game plan emphasis it was reasonable to expect him to see last week. In a perfect world, coaches like Gase — who make illogical in-game usage decisions fairly regularly — would be best avoided on our rosters; but with the sort of upside Robby carries when he hits, he still needs to be kept in mind.
The Jets will also lean on Demaryius Thomas as an intermediate option — though they extended Crowder’s routes a bit deeper down the field this last week than they have in weeks past, taking away some of these “intermediate” looks from DT.
Le’Veon Bell (whose best game this year on DraftKings was 23.2 points, and who is still priced as a player who needs, at minimum, 25 points to feel truly worth the spot on your roster) saw 25 touches last week after all the hubbub surrounding his 11 touches the week before. He has seen touch counts of 23 // 15 // 16 in his other games with Darnold, and has averaged under 3.0 catches per game with Darnold outside his eight-catch “squeaky wheel” game last week, so his workload is also not lock-and-load enough to justify the price; but from a pure “opportunity potential” standpoint and “upside due to that potential volume” standpoint, he remains in the conversation. A case can always be made for a multi-dimensional back who almost never leaves the field.
JM’s Interpretation ::
Both of these offenses have been inept enough that betting heavily on this game is unappealing — but it is also true that each defense in this game has been bad enough that there are opportunities for points to pile up. I like the idea of building game stacks around this spot with a small percentage of play if multi-entering, as players like Robby // Saquon // Slayton can score from anywhere on the field (which is a big part of shootouts developing). As for pulling out individual plays, however, things get a bit more rickety, as this game not only has strong potential to land in the “43.0” range at which Vegas has it pegged, but there are also a number of different ways in which this production could emerge. In other words: there’s already uncertainty in that this is likeliest to turn into a lower-scoring game; and there is further uncertainty on where any good scores might emerge.
If isolating individual pieces, Tate stands out the most to me on the Giants once price is considered, as a line like 6-80-0 is roughly his median projection, and it wouldn’t take a lot more for him to score a touchdown or break out for 100+ yards. He also comes with a solid floor for his almost-certain usage. Saquon is always in the Upside conversation, though the matchup at his price makes him more “roster for ceiling” than “roster for floor and ceiling.” Ellison, meanwhile, is a “play for the savings and hope something good happens for price-considered upside” option.
On the Jets, Crowder is the player with the clearest shot at a strong game, as it seems that Darnold wants to rely on him first and foremost any time he is in a soft matchup. Demaryius is a less attractive (though still realistically viable) alternative to Crowder, while Robby is a “hope upside strikes” option in tourneys. I’ll also have some interest in the affordable Jets tight end situation if we get clarity on playing time, while Bell is likely a player I’ll continue to leave alone myself, though his role gives him a solid floor, and there are some paths to ceiling.
:: Bonus feature: find current NFL Defensive Identities here!