REDSKINS // CARDINALS OVERVIEW
This is a fairly unattractive game at first-glance, with a lot of question marks on both teams and an early Over/Under of only 44.0, but this late game in the desert may also go overlooked by the DFS community, making it a fun game to dig into as we move through the slate.
REDSKINS RUN OFFENSE
Last season, only two teams allowed fewer yards per carry than the Cardinals, and with new head coach Steve Wilks coming over from Carolina, there is no reason to expect that to change. Washington’s offensive line ranked 21st in Football Outsiders’ adjusted line yards last year, making this a difficult spot for any running back.
Of course, Adrian Peterson isn’t just “any running back.” He’s a 33-year-old running back who ranked 39th in the league last year in yards after contact per attempt and 31st in PFF’s elusive rating — averaging 3.4 yards per carry along the way. I’m as big of a fan of the AP glory days as anyone, but anyone who hypes up AP as a clear and obvious upgrade over Rob Kelly is not paying attention. If considering AP for your rosters this week, replace his name in your mind with Rob Kelly’s, and see if you would still make the same roster decision against a top-three run D. AP is a touchdown-dependent back who will likely have a couple two-touchdown games this season; but he will also post plenty of five- to eight-point duds.
Chris Thompson will handle third downs, two-minute situations, and a smattering of other looks after averaging 5.4 targets per game last year. The Cardinals allowed the fifth-most receptions to the running back position last year, and Thompson has the talent to pop off for a long play or a big game — though it should be noted that he will have to do so in a low-volume role, placing his floor fairly low.
REDSKINS PASS OFFENSE
Last year, Steve Wilks oversaw a Panthers pass defense that posted below-average marks in catch rate, average depth of target, yards after catch, passing touchdowns, and basically all other passing metrics. He is moving to an Arizona defense that is completely bereft of quality corners behind all-world talent Patrick Peterson — and similar to the way the Panthers used Josh Norman in the past, the Cardinals plan to keep Peterson on one side of the field this year, rather than having him shadow top receivers. Alex Smith should be able to work away from Peterson and have success.
Journeyman (and Wilks favorite) Bene Benwikere will likely man the slot, creating a great matchup for Jamison Crowder — who is the only locked-in reliable wide receiver on this team. It will not be surprising if Crowder clears eight targets, and he’ll have moderate involvement in the red zone this year as well. Paul Richardson and Josh Doctson will each see Peterson about an equal amount, and neither’s downfield skill set meshes well with Smith’s tendencies toward safety. This games shapes up more as an opportunity to see how Washington is planning to use these weapons this year than as an opportunity to load up on perimeter wide receiver plays.
The final piece of this passing attack is a currently-healthy Jordan Reed, taking on an Arizona defense that finished ninth in the NFL last year in receptions allowed to the position. While linebacker and safety coverage skills and speed are a big part of what cause tight ends to have success or failure against a defense, scheme is also a big part of things, and as such it should be noted that Wilks’ scheme allowed the Panthers to finish last season with the fourth-fewest receptions allowed to the tight end position.
CARDINALS RUN OFFENSE
Welcome back, David Johnson.
On a Cardinals team that legitimately has no established weapons behind Larry Fitzgerald (more on this in a moment), David Johnson should step right back into his every-down role, and while the public will likely play things safe here — with concerns about a new coaching staff, or DJ’s long layoff — I see this as a spot to “be greedy when others are being fearful.” There is no reason to expect anything but vintage DJ usage, as there are simply too few options on this offense for the Cardinals to get cute. Mike McCoy is stepping in as OC this year, and while he was not suited to be a head coach, he is a strong and capable offensive mind, and he’ll feature his best players.
From a matchup standpoint, this spot looks great, as Washington allowed the fourth-most yards per carry in the NFL last year. The one big dent in the matchup for DJ comes in the Washington pass defense, which is solid all the way around — including posting average marks last year against running backs. We should see around 25 touches for DJ, and the positive run game matchup makes up for the ding to his pass game looks.
CARDINALS PASS OFFENSE
Washington was quietly awesome against passing attacks last year, and the loss of Bashaud Breeland should not have a major impact, with Quinton Dunbar stepping in to provide serviceable replacement value after allowing a QB rating of 71.2 in limited action last year. Only two teams in the NFL allowed a lower catch rate than Washington last year, and teams strongly preferred to attack Washington on the ground, as they faced the fourth-most rush attempts but the 12th-fewest pass attempts.
From a macro perspective, I have faith in Sam Bradford as an above-average quarterback for as long as he remains healthy — a guy who can make good decisions and make accurate passes — and this should especially benefit slot legend Larry Fitzgerald, whose short-area routes align perfectly with what Bradford likes to do. Further elevating the usage floor for Fitz is the lack of additional weapons, as Brice Butler, J.J. Nelson, and Chad Williams would all be clear number four or five options on nearly every other team in the NFL — instead of battling for number two duties, as they will be doing for Arizona. At least two of these three guys should see significant time on the field, but outside of designed shot plays and a few unpredictable looks as second- or third-reads, these guys will be uninvolved.
Later in the season, the Cardinals will hopefully find a way to work future superstar Christian Kirk onto the field, but Kirk has mastered the slot receiver role like few rookies in the past — and his path to snaps are blocked by one of the best receivers in history holding down his spot in front of him. Until we see the Cardinals find a way to work Fitz and Kirk onto the field together for 50+ snaps a game, he should remain an afterthought for us.
While it will not be unexpected for Fitz and DJ to combine for 16 to 20 targets per game through the early portions of the season, this should still leave around 10 to 15 additional targets for us to play around with in this game — with likely only five to seven of those going to the “number two” receiver(s). This creates an opportunity for college-WR-turned-TE Ricky Seals-Jones to soak up five to seven targets from time to time. RSJ has been on the field with the first team offense through almost all of the preseason, and he is a sneaky bet for four or five looks in this game against a Washington defense that was middling last year in receptions allowed to tight ends, but that allowed the fourth most yards to the position.
I entered my research for this game expecting to like more than I actually do — and while I expect a solid score from Alex Smith and think that Jamison Crowder and Jordan Reed are strong plays, none of these guys jump off the page to me. Reed’s discount makes him the most obvious candidate for a roster spot, but it’s not so difficult this week to find the salary for Delanie Walker in that matchup against the Dolphins, or to climb all the way up to Gronkowski. Reed is on my list, but he’s probably my fourth or fifth option at tight end. Crowder will likely be in my cycle of considered plays, as will Alex Smith, but I don’t expect to put a significant chunk of bankroll behind either.
David Johnson is not a significantly better play than Leonard Fournette, Kareem Hunt, Christian McCaffrey, or Alvin Kamara this week, and his price is higher than all of them except Kamara (note: on DraftKings, he’s priced higher than Kamara as well). But he is in the same tier as those guys, with his locked-in usage giving him the potential for a monster score. From a salary allocation standpoint, the cheaper guys from that group are better plays; but from a strategy standpoint, DJ’s upside will be tempting in tourneys if he projects for low ownership.
Larry Fitzgerald and RSJ are in consideration as well — with Fitz offering high floor and moderate ceiling, and RSJ offering solid point-per-dollar ceiling but iffy floor. Neither jumps out as a “clear top play,” but each guy is definitely in the mix.