LIONS // DOLPHINS OVERVIEW
The up-and-down, 2-3 Lions enter this spot as the second team in two weeks to come off a bye and travel to Miami, where they will take on a quietly solid 4-2 Dolphins team. People want to nitpick the Dolphins’ success and say they haven’t beaten anyone, but as we have been talking about all season: this is a coaching staff that is capable of finding ways to win ugly. One of the things that made Adam Gase stand out so much as an offensive coordinator was his ability to create successful offenses at various stops, with completely different types of players. The Dolphins’ offense is low on talent, but Gase and company will figure out a way to keep this game competitive against a surprisingly-favored Lions squad. This game is likely to remain tightly contested right down to the end.
While this game will likely be fun from an “NFL fandom” perspective, it will probably stand out less for DFS, as Miami ranks dead last in pace of play, while the Lions rank 31st in situation neutral pace. The Lions rank 21st in yards per game on offense, and the Dolphins rank 27th.
LIONS PASS OFFENSE
One of my favorite things about this article is the fact that we dig into every game and try to set aside preconceived notions as we enter into the research. This allows us to uncover interesting elements that go overlooked by those who are eyeballing things on a more surface level.
This week, it stands out to me that the Dolphins have been surprisingly mediocre against the pass on the season, in spite of their talent and their strong DVOA mark (11th in pass defense DVOA). The big issue has been a pass rush that ranks 29th in adjusted sack rate, so realize that we could start seeing improvement from this unit with Cameron Wake set to return this week — but the Lions have had a top 10 offensive line to begin the year, and Wake is coming off a knee scope that may limit his snaps. This still sets up as a surprisingly attackable matchup.
Miami has allowed average aDOT and catch rate numbers, but they have allowed more YAC per reception than any other team in the league. Among players with 25 or more receptions on the season, only George Kittle, Dede Westbrook, and Cooper Kupp have racked up more YAC per reception than Golden Tate. Tate has target counts across his last three games of only eight, eight, and seven, and Miami has faced a below-average number of wide receiver targets, so the guaranteed floor here isn’t quite what we typically expect from Tate — but against a team allowing a massive, YAC-driven 9.4 yards per pass attempt to wide receivers, he should have a couple opportunities to break off bigger plays.
The Dolphins have also been susceptible to vertical routes and deep crossers — the routes that Kenny Golladay is frequently being used on. They have been hit hard on a number of go routes this year, from player types ranging from Jordy Nelson to Taylor Gabriel. Golladay has only one game this year under seven targets, and he sees enough intermediate routes to carry floor to go with his ceiling.
The most boom/bust piece on the Lions is Marvin Jones — though realize that he does genuinely carry a ceiling that is just as high as what Tate and Golladay boast. He has the largest share of the team’s air yards, backed up by the sixth-deepest average depth of target in the league, with at least six targets in all but one game this year, and with the seventh-most targets in the NFL inside the 10-yard-line, in spite of an early bye. Jones and Matthew Stafford have connected on under 50% of their opportunities, so “floor” concerns remain. But he carries sneaky-big upside for his price.
LIONS RUN OFFENSE
The Dolphins have been hit hard this year by speedy, pass-catching running backs, though in the past, it has not been in the nature of Jim Bob Cooter to proactively scheme usage to a particular running back based on matchup. Unlike Matt Nagy last week (who we hypothesized might give another elevated workload to Tarik Cohen in this matchup), we have to assume that game flow, rather than matchup, will dictate running back deployment here — hurting the chances of a sneaky Theo Riddick explosion. When Riddick is on the field, his matchup will be good; but he should continue to “be on the field” only on third downs and obvious passing situations. (Note: Riddick missed practice on Wednesday with a knee issue. If he fails to get cleared this week, we could see an expanded role for Kerryon Johnson.)
I am going to guess that Kerryon Johnson will become somewhat chalky this week on DraftKings and FantasyDraft, where he is so inexpensive, and where tight pricing necessitates guesswork-driven moves. The thinking would be fair in this spot: Kerryon has significantly outplayed LeGarrette Blount, averaging 5.7 yards per carry and hauling in 13 catches on 15 targets — compared to a pathetic and embarrassing 2.5 yards per carry and three receptions (on three targets) for Blount. Touches given to Blount are completely wasted, and it is incredible that an NFL coaching staff would go so far out of their way to take away touches from one of their best weapons. “Surely,” the thinking will go, “the Lions will have used the bye to commit more fully to Kerryon.”
Obviously, we have no idea whether or not this will prove to be the case, so it is merely guesswork at the moment. So far, Kerryon has yet to play more than 50% of the Lions’ offensive snaps in a game — and given what we know about Matt Patricia, I honestly expect the workload distribution to remain in the same range moving forward. Here are the touch counts for these two backs, starting with Week 1:
Kerryon :: 8 // 13 // 18 // 10 // 14
Blount :: 4 // 9 // 18 // 7 // 12
Blount has six carries inside the 10-yard-line, to only two for Kerryon. Blount also has both of the carries inside the five. (#SMH)
Miami has been solid against the run, ranking 10th in yards allowed per carry and 10th in DVOA — while also ranking 10th in Football Outsiders’ adjusted line yards. They are stout up the middle, where Blount is given most of his carries, and they can be had for chunk gains to the outside, where Detroit uses Kerryon more frequently.
DOLPHINS PASS OFFENSE
Here are the target counts on the year for Miami’s three primary pass catchers:
Kenny Stills :: 5 // 3 // 5 // 6 // 5 // 2
Albert Wilson :: 4 // 5 // 2 // 6 // 6 // 9
Danny Amendola :: 6 // 4 // 3 // 3 // 4 // 11
Amendola has an aDOT of only 6.3, and Albert Wilson has an aDOT of only 6.4. Wilson has posted a couple big games with a league-leading YAC per reception of 14.8, but his expected YAC per reception of 6.5 tells a different story. To give an idea of how we should look at a play like Wilson: he has averaged 5.3 targets per game, though we can bump him up to six targets per game for these calculations, since he has been seeing more work lately. If we went overboard for these projections and gave him a 100% catch rate, his six catches at an aDOT of 6.4 would lead to 38.4 receiving yards before any yards after the catch. Add on his xYAC/R of 6.5 per catch, and his matchup-neutral output on an unlikely six catches would yield a line of six catches for 77 yards as a realistic ceiling, with four catches for around 52 yards a realistic floor on six targets. This gives you a baseline idea of what Wilson can do in a game, while his speed gives him opportunities to break the slate open at his price. That’s not a poor “reasonable floor/ceiling range.” Detroit has been below-average this year in expected yards per pass attempt, though they are so bad against the run, teams have been largely ignoring the pass.
Amendola has no “big play” to his role in this offense, and he’ll need a touchdown or two in order to stand out on this slate.
Stills drew only two targets from Brock Osweiler, who will be starting again this week. With targets spiking on Wilson/Amendola last week, realize the Dolphins ran an uncharacteristic 79 plays — after play counts of 64 // 49 // 44 // 60 // 62 across the previous five weeks. Detroit ranks top half of the league in fewest opponent plays per game allowed, so the play volume should trickle back down in this spot.
DOLPHINS RUN OFFENSE
Miami ranks 21st in pass play rate, as they would prefer to win games by bleeding the clock (32nd in pace of play), running the ball, and shortening games as much as possible. This will be a great week for them to stick with this run-heavy approach, as Detroit has been detonated by running backs this year — allowing the third-most yards per carry in the league, and allowing the fourth-most rushing yards to running backs, in spite of their early bye.
Miami has apparently decided that 35-year-old Frank Gore and his shocking 4.9 yards per carry will be their “between the tackles” guy, with Kenyan Drake operating in a change-of-pace and pass-catching role. While we can knock it from a DFS perspective, it is working for the Dolphins, and there is no reason for them to change. Across the last three weeks, Gore has carry counts of 11 // 12 // 15, while Drake has carry counts of 3 // 6 // 13. Gore has only three catches across those games, compared to 12 for Drake.
Inside the 10-yard-line, Gore has five carries to three for Drake, and they have combined for only one red zone rushing score. Much like Patricia’s Patriots units, Detroit tightens up against the run near the goal line, as they have allowed only three touchdowns to the running back position. Detroit ranks eighth in red zone touchdown rate allowed overall, while the Dolphins rank 26th in red zone touchdown rate on offense.
Nothing in this game pops off the page, as this should be a “move the ball, stall out in the red zone, and kick field goals” affair — limiting upside on all players. But there are a few pieces that will make my list, and perhaps one of these guys will sneak onto my main team.
On the Lions’ side, I like all of Tate, Golladay, and Jones — though in a sense, that makes it difficult to truly gravitate toward one. All three guys have things that set up well in their matchup, and given pace concerns in this game and strong red zone scoring defense on either side (Miami ranks sixth in red zone touchdown defense, and they have impressively allowed only five touchdowns to wide receivers), it is likely that only one of these three posts a really strong game, while the other two fall a bit below expectations. In a “guess which one will hit” spot, this will make it difficult to pull the trigger.
Kerryon Johnson is worth considering for his upside and for the way his skills match up nicely with Miami, though I don’t expect him to rise above his typical 12 to 16 touches, and goal line work should remain with Blount.
Gore is worth considering on the other side for this tremendous matchup — but with no pass game role and a slim shot at touchdowns, upside looks thin.
Albert Wilson should also be locked into five to seven targets again, giving him a decent floor and a decent shot at hitting for another long YAC play. Regression is coming, but he’s still a strong player with the ball in his hands.
FRIDAY NIGHT UPDATE // Full “Updates” List
Theo Riddick will miss this game. He has played 134 snaps this year (the same number as Kerryon Johnson). If we assume rational coaching, Kerryon Johnson will soak up most of Riddick’s role — being called on for work on third downs and obvious passing situations. This would provide a big boost for his outlook. There is some concern, however, that Ameer Abdullah will be foolishly called upon to take on part of Riddick’s role. The uncertainty is uncomfortable, but Kerryon does have a valuable role already, mitigating some of the risk. If he remains in the same role, he likely doesn’t kill your roster. If he takes over Riddick’s role, he could be a difference-maker. For me, he’s worth considering in tourneys.