LIONS // COWBOYS OVERVIEW
The goal of this Dallas offense is to shorten the game — playing at a slow pace and running the ball at a high rate, while hoping that enough things break their way for a win to fall in their lap. The approach on the Lions’ side is the opposite, as they run plenty of no-huddle and pass the ball as often as any team in the league.
These contrasting styles have put Vegas in a bit of a bind — especially with these teams being close enough in talent for the home team (the Cowboys) to be installed as the favorite. It’s difficult to project the Cowboys for more than 21 to 24 points, which is pulling the total of this entire game down. Realistically, the Lions will have a difficult time popping off for four or more touchdowns in the slowed-down environment in Dallas, which makes this an interesting spot for us from a DFS perspective — where the matchup is not “scary,” but expectations need to be lowered a bit nonetheless.
LIONS PASS OFFENSE
It’s no secret what the Cowboys want to do on defense, as only seven teams have faced a lower aDOT than the Cowboys, and — given the slowed-down nature of the Cowboys’ games — only two teams in the league have seen fewer total air yards. Only two teams have allowed fewer total yards than the Cowboys this season. They make it tough for us to rack up big fantasy points against them.
It is going to go overlooked, but last week’s Lions/Patriots game told us a lot about the way the Lions view their wide receivers.
Through the first two games of the season, Marvin Jones and Kenny Golladay were used primarily downfield, while Golden Tate was used primarily underneath. Last week, however — against a man-heavy Patriots coverage scheme — Golladay saw his route tree go from this:
Meanwhile, Marvin Jones continued to be deployed primarily downfield — which essentially tells us that in a matchup like this one (against a zone-heavy Cowboys team that filters everything to the short middle of the field), Golladay is the receiver likelier to see his usage and route tree adjusted for the matchup. Expect Jones to continue working primarily downfield this week, against a defense that ranked top eight last year in fewest pass plays of 20+ yards and fewest pass plays of 40+ yards.
Golden Tate should continue to work the middle of the field, where the Cowboys are most attackable. He is averaging 12 targets per game to begin the year, and while his aDOT of 6.2 would be pathetic elsewhere, Tate offers enough YAC ability to put up points on such theoretically low-upside usage.
LIONS RUN OFFENSE
LeGarrette Blount played 26 snaps last week, to 32 for Kerryon Johnson; and while Johnson continues to look like the better player, the two split work down the middle — with no end in sight to this timeshare. Theo Riddick soaked up 21 snaps of his own, though his role is not predictably useful for DFS unless the Lions can be expected to fall behind big, which is not the likeliest scenario here.
The Cowboys rank fourth in the NFL to begin the year in yards allowed per carry. If you feel compelled, for some reason, to go to the Lions’ backfield, Johnson is obviously the best bet for upside, and there will hopefully be a week soon in which he finally takes on a bigger share of the workload.
COWBOYS PASS OFFENSE
There is no easy fix for this Cowboys passing “attack” at the moment, as they simply do not have NFL-caliber weapons. This last week, they gave 27 snaps and 21 pass routes to Deonte Thompson — a 29-year-old UDFA who has made his career as a special teams player and “in a pinch” number five wide receiver. He has 86 catches in his career, with nine of them coming this year.
Cole Beasley “led” the Cowboys last week, playing 42 of a possible 59 snaps (71.2%), while running 36 pass routes and going 3-46-0 on five targets. Allen Hurns ran a close second, with 39 snaps and 30 pass routes run, turning in a 2-22-0 line on four targets. Geoff Swaim has taken over the lead tight end role in this attack, with 35 pass routes run a week ago, which he turned into seven targets and five catches for 47 yards. Swaim will need a touchdown in order to really pay off. The Cowboys have been gifted three above-average passing matchups to begin the year, and Dak Prescott has yet to top 170 yards through the air in a game. He has two touchdowns to two interceptions on the year.
Why are we still talking about the Cowboys’ passing attack?
COWBOYS RUN OFFENSE
So far, Ezekiel Elliott has managed to survive a declining offensive line and an ineffective passing attack to compile three respectable fantasy days — though he did need a touchdown in two of those to save his day from disappointment. Detroit is not a daunting matchup (even after bottling up Sony Michel in Week 3, the Lions rank 32nd in yards allowed per carry), but they should be able to load the box and dedicate extra attention to Zeke in this spot, making this a more difficult matchup than it appears on paper.
The news begins to turn better for Zeke when we look at his pass game involvement, with an average of six targets per game to begin the year, and with at least three catches in every game so far. Because opposing defenses have no respect for the Cowboys’ passing attack, they have been able to effectively bottle up Zeke after the ball is in his hands (37 total receiving yards through three full games), but he obviously has the explosive “on his own” talent to break off a big play. There are a lot of negative data points for Zeke, but it only takes one or two big plays to make his day, and he is capable of notching those plays against this defense.
This game is obviously not going to be a major draw for the DFS community this week, and I’ll be surprised if any players from this game end up on my main roster; but there are a few things to at least take note of, on both sides of the ball.
Kenny Golladay carries intriguing upside as a guy who is good enough to pop off in any matchup. His floor is lowered in this spot, but his flexible usage in this offense makes him at least worthy of a mention.
Golden Tate should have an easy time reaching his floor this week, as targets will be filtered his direction, and the Cowboys are all about “forcing short targets and tackling after the catch.” They do tackle well, which will make it tougher for Tate to pop off; but it only takes one play, and ownership should be low. He’s interesting in large-field tourneys as a guy who won’t kill your roster, and who has long-shot (but very real) upside for a week-winning game.
I’m not interested in taking a shot on the Lions’ backfield or the Cowboys’ passing attack. Those are easy stay-aways for me. Crazy things happen every week in the NFL, but hunting for those “crazy things” in such bad spots leads to losses over time.
I do like Zeke as someone similar to Saquon Barkley last week: “Plenty to dislike, but enough talent and usage to pop off for a big game while everyone is looking the other way.” Again: he’s likely not a Core Roster piece for me this week, but he is at least intriguing, and I’ll add him to my list for consideration. I’ll probably end up with some Zeke exposure if I throw a few extra teams into large-field tourneys.
FRIDAY EVENING UPDATE // Full “Updates” List
Golden Tate is questionable heading into the Lions’ game in Dallas. If Tate is out, T.J. Jones will step into most of the slot snaps for the Lions, and would become a very intriguing salary-saver on full-PPR sites. He won’t grab all of Tate’s targets, but he would almost certainly see more than enough work to matter — with a high floor for his salary, and with a reasonable 15- to 18-point ceiling.