REDSKINS // SAINTS OVERVIEW
A few facts:
Last year, with Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara both in the fold, the Saints ranked 20th in passing play percentage. Mark Ingram had four to six receptions in 10 of 16 games, and he had double-digit carries in each of the last 14 games of the year. A reasonable weekly expectation for Ingram last season was 14 carries and four or five catches, with plenty of work near the goal line. Only four running backs had more carries inside the five than Ingram’s 13. Ingram has averaged 5.0 yards per carry across the last two seasons.
Because the Saints leaned on the run last year, Kamara was still able to dominate the NFL as well, with at least five catches in all but three games last year, and with five to seven catches most weeks to go with a steady range of eight to 12 carries. With both of these guys healthy, Drew Brees’ pass attempts went down, and these two carried the load. While Kamara has a 15-catch game this year, he has catch counts of nine, six, and five in his other games — not too far off his 2017 range.
The Redskins rank third in DVOA against the pass and 31st in DVOA against the run.
More thoughts on this spot in a bit…
REDSKINS PASS OFFENSE
Through the first three weeks of the Redskins’ season, Jay Gruden and Alex Smith have embraced “game manager life,” with the lowest passing play percentage in the NFL, and with the 27th-ranked pace of play (30th in situation neutral pace). On top of all this, Smith has an average depth of target of only 6.6, as he is hammering the underneath areas of the field and leaving the downfield attack alone.
In theory, Washington will be forced away from this approach in Week 5 against the Saints’ high-powered attack — but given the way Washington’s defense filters opponents toward the ground, the scoring may still end up being more about “long, methodical drives” than about “quick strikes.” Drew Brees has quietly ranked near the bottom of the league in aDOT as well (7.0), leaning on Alvin Kamara and using Michael Thomas in a possession receiver role. New Orleans ranks fourth in drive success rate, while Washington ranks eighth, and each team also ranks top eight in time of possession per drive (with Washington ranking first in the league). Points will be scored in this game — but expect both sides to score these points primarily by marching methodically up and down the field.
The good news for this passing attack is that as much as Washington may want to lean run-heavy, New Orleans ranks first in the NFL in both DVOA against the run and yards allowed per carry. This should lead to elevated volume across the board.
In an “elevated volume” spot in Week 2 against the Colts, Chris Thompson saw the biggest spike in usage, with 14 targets — and against a Saints team allowing only 3.2 yards per carry on the year, it seems likely that usage tilts his way as this game moves along.
Jordan Reed saw the next biggest bump, with eight targets that week, and he looks like a healthy force at the moment, with yardage totals of 48, 55, and 65.
Alex Smith pushed six passes to Paul Richardson in that game and seven passes to Josh Doctson. Neither player is a great route runner, and their downfield skill sets are wasted in this offense; but on the Showdown slate, each has a projection of around six to eight targets, with “ball in their hands” upside against a New Orleans team that ranks dead last so far in expected yards per target.
Jamison Crowder has disappointingly see target totals of four, four, and four to begin the year, and he has yet to top 39 yards. He’ll need a total breakdown in coverage or a multi-touchdown game in order to stand out.
Washington’s winning formula in Weeks 1 and 3 was to lean on Adrian Peterson, feeding him 26 and 19 carries in those weeks. Peterson is tied with Todd Gurley and Kareem Hunt for the second-most carries in the NFL inside the five-yard-line, and he has a “revenge game” narrative behind him, after the Saints had no use for him last year. Obviously, the matchup is a challenge, and Peterson’s limited role in the pass game puts him at high risk of falling out of the game plan by the second half of this affair.
SAINTS PASS OFFENSE
Washington’s pass defense has faced the lowest aDOT in the NFL to begin the year, and with a below-average catch rate allowed and strong tackling after the catch, they are allowing the second-fewest yards per pass attempt early on — sandwiched between the Ravens and the Jags. We could point to early opponents as part of the reason for this (Sam Bradford and Andrew Luck in Weeks 1 and 2, before facing Aaron Rodgers in Week 3), but we should also keep in mind that Brees and Michael Thomas have been more about “volume” and “catch rate” than about explosive plays. Last year, only two teams allowed a lower catch rate than the Redskins.
Given how immensely talented Drew Brees and Michael Thomas are, all of this would be nothing more than footnotes if we were talking about season-long, where you are concerned only with raw points; but when working under a salary cap in DFS, there are production concerns for Thomas in particular in such a tough matchup, at such an elevated price. The return of Ingram (as well as the matchup) should tilt the Saints more run-heavy than they have been so far — but Sean Payton makes it a point of emphasis to keep Thomas involved, and he averaged 9.3 targets per game last season (compared to 11.0 to begin this year), with only two games all season under eight targets. He is less likely to spike for 15+ targets in this spot, and his end zone role may take a slight hit; but he’s still going to be a steady “eight to 12 target” guy every week this year.
One of the areas where Washington sometimes struggled last season was on downfield passing — an issue that has shown up again this year. When their pass rush fails to get pressure on the quarterback, holes can open on the back end of their zone, where the Saints will look to attack this week with Ted Ginn. People will hesitate to play him on the Showdown slate, and he has a literal floor of zero, but he also has big upside with a moderate shot at hitting for a long pass play or two in this spot.
This passing attack has spread around usage behind Thomas, Kamara, and Ginn, with Cameron Meredith seeing four targets last week, Tre’Quan Smith seeing two targets last week, and Austin Carr seeing two targets on a pair of occasions. Ben Watson is the de facto “number four option,” with target counts on the year of four, five, six, and three. Obviously, any of these guys would need a busted coverage or a touchdown to become a standout play. Red zone looks flow to Thomas, Kamara, and Ingram before flowing to these guys.
SAINTS RUN OFFENSE
I do not expect Ingram to continue seeing 18 weekly touches this year to 12.5 for Kamara, but somehow the narrative took hold this offseason that Ingram would be lightly used upon his return — which makes no sense to me. Even with Ingram out of action, we have seen the Saints try to limit Kamara’s touches (two games under 20 touches), and New Orleans has been less capable of picking up tough yards. It also seems likely that the Saints want to protect Kamara’s body near the goal line when they can — giving soon-to-be free agent Mark Ingram the dirty carries inside the five, especially as he proved effective on these looks a year ago. This split should be dictated by game flow, with Kamara seeing the larger share in pass-heavy scripts, and with Ingram still pushing for 16+ touches in run-heavy scripts. This game sets up as a run-heavy spot.
Of course, you can look elsewhere this week for people who will give you all the reasons Ingram will be an afterthought moving forward — and perhaps those voices will be right, and I’ll be wrong. But in aiming to process information without judgement, this makes the most sense as the Saints’ likeliest approach moving forward.
This week, I’m looking for Ingram to carry the ball at least 13 times, with three to five catches mixed in — and with a couple scoring opportunities. I’m looking for Kamara to haul in six to eight catches, with another eight to 10 carries mixed in. Each guy will have an opportunity in this spot to hit for a big game. Ingram is the preferred point-per-dollar play.
This appears to be a poor Showdown slate for single-entry builds, while standing out as a strong week in which to spread your Showdown bankroll across at least eight to 10 lineups that mix and match different approaches.
On the Washington side, Chris Thompson has the highest floor/ceiling combo, while you could bet on Adrian Peterson in tourneys as a guy who could hit if game flow turns unexpectedly in his favor. Alex Smith isn’t too far behind Drew Brees in projections, and is probably around 35/65 to outscore him in this spot, making him an interesting tourney play on the one-game slate as well.
Jordan Reed is the Washington pass catcher likeliest to hit, but Doctson and Richardson have long-shot appeal, while even Crowder has a place in the conversation.
On the other side, Ingram is my favorite point-per-dollar play with price tags elevated so much on Kamara and Thomas — though Kamara and Thomas (in that order) are the preferred plays from a raw-points perspective, with the highest individual projections on the slate. Ted Ginn is a boom/bust play with boom potential in this spot. The rest of the Saints’ pass catchers are fighting for scraps.
Neither defense stands out on the Showdown slate.
Naturally, each kicker should be useful.