Let’s take a look at some of the numbers and unknowns with the Steelers offense as we head into Week 2.
Last year, the Steelers’ point totals on the road were :: 21 // 30 // 28 // 23 // 20 // 17 // 21 // 28
Last year, the Steelers’ point totals at home were :: 37 // 14 // 41 // 33 // 52 // 30 // 17 // 16
We all know that home games are better for scoring expectations for all teams; and we all know that home games are especially better for scoring expectations for the Steelers. We also know that the Patriots’ defense — with their elite coverage unit and their disciplined play — is exactly the wrong type of team for the Steelers to excel against (last five games against the Patriots, the Steelers produced: 16 points at home // 17 points in Foxboro // 24 points at home // 17 points at home // 3 points in Foxboro). We entered the 2019 season with only educated guesses to guide us in our assessment of this offense without Antonio Brown, and we leave the Steelers’ Week 1 game at Foxboro with very little changed in our knowledge/educated-guesses, as that matchup was always expected to be difficult. The bigger sticking point, of course, is the 16-point game from the Steelers last Week 17 at home against the Bengals — a game in which AB missed, and JuJu Smith-Schuster produced a relatively disappointing 6-78-0 line against one of the worst secondaries in the league last year.
With Jadeveon Clowney (the best edge run-stopper in the NFL) added to the mix alongside Bobby Wagner (and to a lesser extent K.J. Wright), Seattle should be able to hold their own against the run this year, and may even prove to be an above-average unit. But the Seattle secondary remains a major weakness for this team; and even if Randy Fitchner goes off brand here and decides to attack heavily on the ground in the early going, the matchup should eventually push the Steelers to the air. (And for what it’s worth: the likeliest scenario has the Steelers showing aggressiveness through the air from jump.)
No matter which way you slice it, JuJu is a very strong tournament play this week, as he’s one of the only players in football whose “likeliest scenario” has him seeing double-digit targets, and whose matchup sets up well for big production on that workload.
In his first regular action in the nominal number two role on the Steelers, Donte Moncrief looked like himself. That is to say: he looked like a talented but unreliable piece who might flash from time to time, but who — like the old days of Jared Cook, or the old days of Eric Ebron — can bomb on his own even when everything goes right. (I’m sure we all have our own Cook or Ebron story. I still remember in 2014 when Cook dropped a wide open touchdown that would have won me a live final qualifier!) In large-field play, we shouldn’t give up on Moncrief yet, as he’ll likely go pretty much unowned, and the targets could be there to some extent yet again; but his paths to a slate-winning score are slim, making it easy to justify looking elsewhere for your “no one is on this guy” tournament plays. I also like the upside of Washington, though this chart gives you a feel for the disappointingly one-dimensional usage he saw last week — usage that produces pretty hit-or-miss results:
Further complicating matters among ancillary pieces is Vance McDonald, who played a respectable 48 out of 67 snaps last week (running 36 of a possible 55 pass routes), and who has all-on-his-own potential to post a big day whenever he gets the ball in his hands. Nothing in this matchup “points to” a big game from him, and there’s a chance that JuJu and Conner soak up so much work that none of these other guys do enough to matter anyway. But all of Moncrief // Washington // Vance can be kept in mind in large-field tourneys.
Last week, James Conner played only 31 of a possible 67 snaps; and while that was almost certainly not the Steelers’ original plan, it is noteworthy that they were so willing to move away from him in catch-up mode (after all: Le’Veon Bell would have been on the field in all situations). This matchup should be considered fairly neutral to slightly-tougher-than-average until further notice. The best path to a big game from Conner — outside a multi-touchdown showing — is for the Steelers to just smash.
In 2018, the only running backs to crack 100 yards against the Steelers were Phillip Lindsay and Joe Mixon — and this defense added soon-to-be-legend Devin Bush in the draft. This is a below-average matchup for Chris Carson; and while the catches last week were encouraging, they were mostly dump-offs, with all of them coming behind the line of scrimmage. Especially with his ownership likely to stay somewhat high after his two touchdowns masked his low yardage output last week, a bet on Carson is a bet on him breaking the slate with another multi-touchdown game or a couple of broken plays. (Though it is fair to note that Carson’s floor is high enough that you’re not killing yourself if you want to chase.)
Obviously — given the immensely run-heavy nature of this offense — there is never a reason to play the Seattle pass game in cash, and it’s tough to justify this unit in small-field tourneys; but if you build around Pittsburgh scoring a lot of points, Lockett (who said he hadn’t been double-teamed the way he was last week since college) could push for eight or nine targets in what could become more of a shootout. As noted last week: going off their 2018 tendencies, the Seahawks will need to fall behind by at least three scores before becoming a truly pass-heavy squad; but while that’s an unlikely scenario, it isn’t crazy to build a few rosters around it in MME. (Even if it misses, Lockett should see six or seven targets and have enough upside to matter on those looks.)
DK Metcalf should be penciled in with about a five-target median projection in this offense, but he could rise or dip on a given week from there. There is obvious upside if you want to chase, but there is nothing that points to this being a spot with elevated expectations. (If Lockett misses, Metcalf becomes much more stable. Still not cash-stable; but at his price, he could be considered even in smaller-field tourneys, while Jaron Brown would even become a deep-tourney flier.)
JM’s Interpretation ::
In order for Ben Roethlisberger to post one of the highest scores on the slate (350+, 3+ TDs), he would need efficiency against the slow-it-down Seahawks, or he would need Lockett // Metcalf to connect on some deep balls and keep some juice going in this game. Given the ability of Russell Wilson to consistently produce big plays when his team falls behind, this is an interesting scenario to build around in large-field tourneys, as a big game from Ben could produce a big game all the way around.
Given the heavy target share that JuJu should command against Seattle’s zone-heavy scheme that typically plays fairly straight-forward, I’m likely to be comfortable with JuJu in cash if we’re isolating him independent of position. Because wide receiver is a more volatile scoring position than modern multi-use running backs, optimal salary allocation often calls for spending up at running back in cash games; but with a few solid backs this week who offer salary relief, you could justify making a move to JuJu in that format. I’ve also found myself building a number of early-week tourney rosters that feature JuJu. We’ll see where he lands on the Player Grid (I rarely include high-priced WRs in Tier 1, for the reasons noted above; but JuJu may prove to be an exception for me this week).
Washington is suited only to large-field tourneys, but he’s intriguing for the upside. (You could replace him with Crief, but in any MME blocks of mine this week I’ll include a lot more Washington. It’s likely that the targets flow elsewhere with Gilmore not on JuJu, and with Crief looking so bad last week.)
Ben isn’t necessary in cash, but he has high enough upside to be considered even in small field tourneys in a bounce-back spot vs a potential pass-funnel defense. If including Ben in a tourney roster, consider including a Seattle pass-catcher or two as well, as Seattle can keep pace through the air if forced to.
I’ll likely have little of Vance and none of Carson (not that neither can have a big game; just that there are likelier spots across the slate), but otherwise I’ll be working through some builds this week that feature a player or two from this game.