The clear-headed thought entering this game goes something like this: The Ravens used Marlon Humphrey to erase Odell Beckham last week, and the Browns countered by hammering passes to Jarvis Landry. It seems likely the Ravens try to take out JuJu Smith-Schuster in the pass game, which should leave the Steelers leaning on Diontae Johnson through the air. One key difference, of course, is that the Browns are an aggressive offense that wants to pass, while the Steelers are looking for creative ways to move the ball while shortening the game. This limits some of the appeal, but it still warrants a deeper look at how Johnson is being used.
Last week, Diontae had only two targets that came more than five yards beyond the line of scrimmage, and only one target that came more than 10 yards downfield — though that one target was a downfield shot that the Steelers spent all game trying to set up (and the week before, Diontae saw a pair of downfield shots). And really, that’s a great snapshot of what we’re looking at here: locked-in targets (somewhere in the five to eight range) designed to get the ball in his hands; but he needs a long play or a touchdown, because otherwise it’s just a lot of really short stuff. The targets alone don’t raise floor high enough given the way he is being used — but he does kick off this game for us as an interesting tournament piece.
This swings us over to JuJu, who honestly still needs his price to drop a bit before we can consider him to be appropriately priced in his new role in this new offense. Outside of his 76-yard “do the work on his own” touchdown in Week 3, JuJu has five catches for 20 yards (on 10 targets) across two full games with Mason Rudolph — so while that “do the work on his own” potential remains, it’s a thin bet this week against Humphrey, especially at his price.
The Steelers will also be looking to involve Vance McDonald in the short passing game to some extent (assuming he makes it back onto the field this week), and James Washington will continue to be given a couple chances as well — though in this Rudolph-led popgun attack, you’re just hoping to guess right on a YAC play from Vance or a big play from Washington.
Beware Fantasy Points Allowed ::
When looking at the Steelers backfield, we should realize that the Ravens’ “fantasy points allowed” numbers are skewed by matchups against the Chiefs running backs and Nick Chubb — while filtering out those matchups leaves us with only the Dolphins and Cardinals. Frankly, the numbers just don’t yet give us a clear enough snapshot of this run defense; but personnel-wise, this should still be a tough unit to contend with; and coaching-wise, we can fully expect the Ravens to look to force Mason Rudolph to beat them. This team won’t be caught off-guard by any crazy multi-back formations (and frankly, it wouldn’t be all that surprising if Randy Fitchner called very few of those plays this week), so a lot of the paths to upside are at least made murkier this week than last.
Nevertheless, the involvement James Conner has in all facets of the game and his potential to be the main touchdown-scorer for this team keep him in the tourney conversation. If Conner misses, Jaylen Samuels would vault to the top of the conversation on this slate from a role-driven standpoint (especially on PPR sites FantasyDraft and DraftKings), given his cheap price and his pass-catching skill set as a college H-back // tight end.
Beware The Ravens Passing Floor ::
Last week, Cleveland was able to get Marquise Brown working sideways (instead of moving up the field), which sapped a huge chunk of his upside. (Not one of Brown’s targets last week came more than 20 yards downfield, and none of his catches came more than 10 yards downfield. Every single one of his Week 5 targets also came with him facing the line of scrimmage or moving sideways across the field.) From a zone-coverage-ability standpoint, the Steelers are well-equipped to force Baltimore into a similar setup this week.
There are also plenty of weapons Pittsburgh can throw at Mark Andrews — whose hot start (as noted last week) was at least somewhat a byproduct of playing Arizona and Miami; though he is a favorite target for Lamar Jackson (target counts of 8 // 9 // 7 // 8), and his downfield usage continues to provide him with enough juice to be in the mix in tourneys.
The Steelers won’t be able to generate pressure the way they were able to last week against the poor offensive line of the Bengals, but this is still a deceptively difficult spot for Baltimore through the air — and it won’t be a surprise if this offense leans on the run this week.
Ravens Run ::
Pittsburgh has been stout up the middle this season, but they have been attackable everywhere else — and Mark Ingram is having his usage adjusted from game to game by Greg Roman to account for the matchup. (This is part of the reason the Ravens overpaid for Ingram in free agency, as he just offers so much more depth and versatility than a guy like Gus Edwards can offer.) With this game unlikely to get away from the Ravens against the safety-valve offense of the Steelers, Ingram should be in line for a clear 16+ touches with goal line work this week.
JM’s Interpretation ::
Lamar can always do enough on his own to be in the mix in all contest types, even at his elevated price. He has just been remarkably consistent so far in his career, and the Ravens are a good/adaptable enough offense to lean heavier on the run with Lamar in this spot if that’s what it takes to win. Part of the beauty of Lamar is that he can be rostered without his pass catchers if you want to shrug off some uncertainty and risk, as Lamar can get you a big score without carrying his pass catchers with him; and if one of his pass catchers has a big game, you still have access to some of those points through Lamar. While the quarterback in this offense is viable in all contest types, the core pass game pieces are tourney-only this week with fewer paths to upside against a Steelers defense that sets up well against them, and with more of these Upside Paths closed off by the way Pittsburgh wants to take the air out of their games. This offense wraps with Ingram, who is solid for his upside, but who is behind a number of other backs this week from a floor/ceiling sense.
Conner is behind a number of other backs as well (though he does have a few paths to a big game if he plays, given his rock-solid workload), and Samuels vaults up at his price if Conner is out.
Diontae is really interesting for what should be another six targets and could turn into eight or nine; but he’s still lacking that rock-solid floor you would love to secure for cash. I like him in tourneys this week.
I’ll likely avoid JuJu. It’s not impossible for him to hit, of course; but it’s unlikely enough that he’s a fade for me until his price drops some more.