STEELERS // BUCCANEERS OVERVIEW
As noted previously on the site, I try to take Mondays off in order to rest my mind and put myself in the best possible position for the next crazy week. I also tend to not watch Monday Night Football live, as I can learn more in an hour of watching game film than in three hours of watching the television feed interspersed with cheerleaders and Jason Witten and commercials. But I just might make an exception this week.
Currently, we are looking at an Over/Under of 53.5 in this spot, behind only the 49ers/Chiefs game on the weekend. Two weeks into the season, these teams rank first (Bucs) and second (Steelers) in total yards, while ranking second (Bucs) and ninth (Steelers) in total points. Only Kansas City has allowed more yards than Tampa, and only seven teams have allowed more yards than the Steelers. Each team ranks in the bottom six in points allowed per game.
This game is going to be a blast.
STEELERS PASS OFFENSE
So far this year, Tampa Bay is allowing a 77.4% completion rate — an absolutely unheard of number — while allowing the eighth-most yards per pass attempt. The matchup is favorable across the board for the Steelers, at all levels of the field.
Last week, Jesse James flukily caught five passes for 138 yards and a touchdown, on only five targets, while playing only 45 of a possible 71 snaps. He did this with counterpart Vance McDonald returning to the field for 37 snaps and more pass routes (34) than James (31). This is a weird place for me to start, on a team with Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster, but this is sort of the point: after the uncertain timeshare at tight end, this passing attack is all about A.B. and JuJu.
Through two games, Antonio Brown has 33 targets. Unsurprisingly, this leads the NFL. But what may surprise people is that JuJu has 27 targets of his own — good for fifth in the NFL. Let go of any concerns about these guys “canceling each other out” right now. It’s not possible for each to maintain a top-five target rate, but the fact that they have even been able to carry that achievement through two games shows us just how involved each guy is in this offense.
Juju is seeing his average target 6.5 yards downfield in the hopes of creating room to work after the catch, while A.B. is seeing his average target 11.1 yards downfield. The one thing that Tampa is extremely good at doing on defense is stopping yards after the catch (the Bucs ranked top five in the NFL last year in YAC per reception), so while the reception floor is high for JuJu this week, he may have a tougher time breaking off one of his monster plays. Each guy is a strong play at his price, even on the full-weekend slate; but A.B. is the preferred target in this one, even with price considered.
James Washington rounds out this passing attack, after playing 66 snaps and running 61 pass routes last week. These snaps led to one catch (a touchdown) for 14 yards, on five targets — a perfect imitation of a Justin Hunter stat line. Washington should have a big game or two this season, and this is as good a spot as any — but the floor is obviously close to zero.
STEELERS RUN OFFENSE
James Conner has played on a monstrous 89.8% of the Steelers’ snaps to begin the season, running 86 pass routes and carrying the ball 39 times. Last week was a worst-case setup for Conner, with the Steelers not only falling behind early, but falling into such a deep hole that they couldn’t even afford to take short gains on passes underneath. Conner still saw five targets one week after seeing six, and he should step into anywhere from 18 to 30 touches, depending on the flow of the game. Tampa has been solid against the run so far this year (seventh in yards allowed per carry), but they rank 23rd in DVOA, and Conner’s role essentially makes him matchup-proof. He’s a strong play on the full-weekend slate, and is obviously one of the top options in the Showdown.
BUCCANEERS PASS OFFENSE
The Bucs have been one of the most aggressive offenses in the NFL this year, with only Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, and Deshaun Watson notching a deeper average depth of target to begin the year, and with their average pass traveling more than two yards beyond the first down marker. DeSean Jackson leads the NFL in receiving yards and has the deepest aDOT in the NFL by a full 2.1 yards. Jackson has seen target counts of only five and four, but has hauled in every one of these targets, going for 275 yards and three touchdown. These rate stats are obviously unsustainable, but they have been fun to watch so far.
Mike Evans is seeing a very healthy 32.9% of the Bucs’ air yards himself, with target counts of seven and 12.
Chris Godwin is also getting his share of the fun, with 22.1% of the Bucs’ air yards on target counts of four and six.
The incredible thing about this run for the Bucs is the efficiency — though that obviously introduces some scary floor. Ryan Fitzpatrick has completed an impossible 78.7% of his passes (a stat made all the more impossible by how often the Bucs are throwing deep).
On the other side of that fear, however, is the fact that the Steelers are likely to put up points in this spot — so even if Fitzpatrick does not secure efficiency this time around, his volume will have to rise to compensate, as the Bucs are sure to be leaning pass-heavy after ranking only 29th in passing play percentage to start the year. Those three wideouts have combined for 62.3% of the total targets on the Bucs so far, and it’s fair to project 35 to 38 pass attempts. If Fitzpatrick hits the higher end of that range, we would likely see around 12 to 14 targets for Evans, with around six apiece for DeSean and Godwin.
Behind these guys, O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate have combined for eight total targets. Brate has only played 38 snaps to begin the year, and Howard will need a big play in order to pay off.
BUCCANEERS RUN OFFENSE
Although the Bucs have remained committed to the run while playing with a lead through the first two games, their offensive line ranks 31st in adjusted line yards, ahead of only the Giants. This has led to Peyton Barber averaging an embarrassing 2.6 yards per carry — and with the explosive Steelers on the other side, it is difficult to envision a scenario in which Barber would be able to take over this game. The Bucs’ downfield weapons are just too good, and their mindset is just too vertically-oriented. In spite of running 28 pass routes through two games, Barber has seen only two targets on the year.
In this game, I like all of the obvious candidates and none of the non-obvious ones, as these are two of the most usage-secure offenses in the NFL.
Each quarterback has at least a 15-point floor, with ceiling north of 30.
Antonio Brown, Mike Evans, and JuJu Smith-Schuster (in that order) are high-floor, high-ceiling guys who should see monster usage.
James Conner remains one of the top running back plays on the weekend.
DeSean Jackson, Chris Godwin, and — to a lesser extent — James Washington all belong in the iffy-floor, high-ceiling discussion.
Behind these clear tiers, there is really nothing that pops off the page in this game, especially compared to the upside that these plays all carry.
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