REDSKINS // TITANS OVERVIEW
This game pairs two teams that have been “find a way to win” squads all year — with neither likely to scare most quality opponents, but with the Titans sitting at 8-6 and still fighting for a playoff berth with two weeks left in the season, and with the 7-7 Washington Redskins still technically in the hunt in the NFC in spite of playing with their fourth string quarterback. Neither team is aggressive (or powerful) on offense, with the Redskins ranked 28th in points per game and the Titans ranked 27th — and with both teams preferring to slow down the pace and lean on the run whenever possible, we are unlikely to see this turn into a particularly exciting DFS affair. In games like this (games that would be largely unlikely to catch our eye on the Main Slate), broken plays and touchdown-only options are likelier than normal to become useful — which is something to keep in mind if playing the one- or two-game “slates” centered around this game. This game opened with an Over/Under of 37.0, with the Titans installed as stunning 10.0 point favorites — coming off back-to-back wins of 21.0 and 17.0 points.
REDSKINS PASS OFFENSE
Josh Johnson has looked quietly competent since taking over the starting job for the Redskins, completing 65.9% of his passes for 346 yards (8.4 yards per attempts), with two touchdowns and one interception. Johnson has added 16 carries for 94 yards across about 80 minutes of action. He has struggled when under pressure this year, but he has a chance to “not fail” again in this spot against a Tennessee defense that ranks 22nd in adjusted sack rate. Standing in between Jackson and a “non fail” is a disciplined Tennessee secondary that now ranks fifth in fewest yards allowed per pass attempt, on the strength of the second lowest YAC/R rate allowed. Tennessee has improved their assignments and coverage schemes throughout the season and are allowing the fourth lowest catch rate as well — behind only Baltimore, Chicago, and last week’s Washington opponent, the Jaguars.
With both teams slowing down the game and leaning on the run, volume is unlikely to be in favor of the Redskins’ pass catchers, which leaves you betting on efficiency if betting on this attack. Target counts among Washington pass catchers last week against the Jaguars looked like this:
Obviously, it would feel far more comfortable to bet on a bad offense if they had a narrow target distribution — as betting on a bad, low-volume offense that spreads volume so thin is truly little more than guessing.
If guessing here, Crowder is your likeliest bet for floor and ceiling, while Floyd and Harris are likeliest to break off a lucky-long play. None of these guys would be recommended plays on the Main Slate.
Behind these wide receivers, Davis ran 17 pass routes last week at tight end while Sprinkle ran 16. Only five teams have allowed fewer yards to the tight end position than the Titans. (NOTE: Vernon Davis now appears unlikely to play this week with a late-announced concussion. With Reed already announced as out, it will be Sprinkle manning the tight end snaps.)
REDSKINS RUN OFFENSE
Unsurprisingly, this Tennessee team that is now tied with the Ravens for the fewest points allowed per game in the NFL is also strong against the run, ranking 12th in yards allowed per carry while impressively allowing the fewest running back touchdowns in the NFL this year. Part of what makes the Titans’ defense so stout is their ability to put together an opponent-specific game plan each week that takes away an opponent’s strength while forcing them toward their weakness. Look for Tennessee to sell out against the run this week, doing what they can to ensure that Peterson is not the player who beats them.
Peterson has been one of the most game flow dependent backs in the NFL this season, with recent touch counts of 21 // 16 // 14 // 9 // 11 // 21. The 20+ touch games came in Washington wins, and the middle four games came in losses (with the higher-touch games, of course, coming in closer losses). Put simply: the Redskins will need to keep this game close in order for Peterson to pile up touches. The matchup is not great, but he’ll have a chance to rip off a long run or perhaps even punch in a touchdown if enough touches pile up.
TITANS PASS OFFENSE
Washington has continued to force short passes with their zone-heavy coverage scheme (second shallowest aDOT allowed in the NFL), but with a league-average catch rate and periodic struggles after the catch, this team ranks 21st in yards allowed per pass attempt. Across the board, this unit has neither raised nor lowered expectations for quarterbacks or wide receivers — swinging us over to the Titans’ passing attack itself, as their ability (and desire) to beat a mediocre matchup will be their largest roadblock to success.
On the year, the Seahawks are the only team in football that has run the ball more frequently than the Titans, which has led to this team attempting only 383 pass attempts on the year (27.4 per game), and has led to the third fewest passing yards in the league. Marcus Mariota has not topped even 24 pass attempts in five of his last six games, and he has failed to top even 100 passing yards in two of his last five games. In order for the Titans to pile up yards through the air in this spot, they will almost certainly have to A) run into some busted plays, or B) allow the Redskins to take a lead that will force them to the air.
Recent target counts among primary Tennessee pass catchers look like this:
Davis is the biggest talent of the bunch, but his results will remain up-and-down for as long as he is attached to this non-aggressive, run-leaning offense. Taylor continues to mix in one or two downfield routes most weeks with his otherwise strictly short-area looks. Sharpe has filled an underneath role in this offense that requires volume or a broken play in order to lead to upside. Obviously, none of these three would be recommended plays on the Main Slate, but a Showdown slate this ugly (as well as the two-game Saturday slate) may require some attention here. If your hand is forced on this slate, Davis is obviously the top play of the bunch, but you could make a clear case for chasing Taylor’s big, ball-in-his-hands upside. Sharpe has maybe a 5% chance of outscoring each of these other two on this slate.
The Titans ran a three-man tight end rotation last week, with Luke Stocker (46 snaps) and MyCole Pruitt (40 snaps) operating primarily as run blockers, while Anthony Firkser (15 snaps) operated primarily as a route runner. Obviously, all of these guys are simply guess-and-hope plays — with Firkser the likeliest bet for volume, but with a slim path for any of these three to find their way into the end zone.
TITANS RUN OFFENSE
Washington has been attackable on the ground this year — ranking 21st in yards allowed per carry while ranking middle of the pack in running back rushing yards allowed — though they have shown an ability to clamp down on the run against one-dimensional offenses. While their chances of succeeding from start-to-finish with this approach are slim, look for the Redskins to focus on slowing down Derrick Henry and the Titans’ rushing attack in an effort to force this Titans team to the air. The Titans are likely to win this battle, but it could prove to be slow-going for large chunks of the game.
It may have gone overlooked by the fantasy community heading into last week that Dion Lewis still held a commanding lead in the snap department in this backfield over Henry — though Henry shook things up last week, playing 49 snaps to 23 for Lewis. After failing to top 18 carries all season (and topping 12 carries only three times all year), Henry was given a ridiculous 33 carries in the Titans’ Week 15 win — grounding and pounding his way to 170 yards and another two touchdowns. If we assume similar usage moving forward, Henry shapes up as one of the top plays on this Showdown, and as one of the better plays on the two-game Saturday slate, as 30+ touches (or even 25+ touches) from any running back is automatically valuable on slates this small. From a DFS strategy perspective, however, it is also worth keeping in mind that the Titans have been one of the most opponent-specific teams in the league — adjusting game plan week to week in order to account for their perceived “best way to attack.” Realistically, the best way to win this game would once again be with a “defense and ground-first” approach — favoring Henry. But much like Josh Adams’ usage in the Philadelphia backfield, it should not be taken as a foregone conclusion that this backfield belongs to Henry the rest of the way. These are thoughts to balance when considering rosters for the Saturday slate(s) this week.
Across these two Henry-dominant weeks, Lewis has still seen touch counts of 15 and 10, keeping him in the small-slate conversation. At this point, Henry is far more likely to see touchdown opportunities and is the more valuable on-paper back, though Lewis’ role in the pass game (14 catches across his last four games, to five for Henry) puts him at a lower likelihood of an outright dud as well. Both guys can be considered on the one-game or two-game Saturday slates.
It’s difficult to find a game more ugly than this, and the ugliness of this game is further heightened by this game taking place on small slates that force you to consider at least some of these plays. If playing these slates to win, you will have to first be willing to lose — i.e., being willing to take on some plays that feel thin/ugly, but that carry enough upside to potentially carve a way to the top. On the Redskins’ side of the ball, the matchups and offensive setup are not great, but Josh Johnson, Adrian Peterson, and perhaps one or two pass catchers all have a shot to be relevant. On the Titans’ side, Henry is obviously the standout option — but there are more paths to a disappointing day than most will assume, keeping variable approaches in play. Lewis will still be given opportunities to matter on Saturday, while the Titans’ pass catchers will be involved enough for something to potentially break their way.