The Houston Texans have been below-average against the pass this year — ranking 20th in DVOA while ranking in the lower-middle of the pack in both opponent aDOT and catch rate. Only two players have topped 106 yards against them through the air (with those two games coming on heavy volume to Keenan Allen and Michael Thomas), but the list of players who have gone for 70+ yards and a touchdown in this matchup is long :: Hunter Renfrow // Tyrell Williams // Eric Ebron // T.Y. Hilton // Tyreek Hill (two touchdowns) // Calvin Ridley // Zach Pascal (two touchdowns). With J.J. Watt no longer putting pressure on quarterbacks for this defense, the pass game matchup is even softer.
The loss of J.J. Watt is also a ding against the Texans’ run defense, though his absence doesn’t create nearly the same level of impact here, as the Texans still have D.J. Reader and Zach Cunningham up the middle and have a solid unit all the way around — ranking sixth in DVOA and allowing the sixth fewest rushing yards to running backs (with zero notable stat lines allowed on the year). All of which is an interesting place to begin our exploration of this game, as the Ravens offense flows through Lamar Jackson; and while he can certainly produce through the air, the main reason he draws the eye for us in DFS is his role on the ground — with a historic 78 rushing yards per game and six rushing touchdowns, at 6.6 yards per carry.
Before we go a layer deeper in the matchup, it’s worth pointing out that Lamar is a different beast than most, with a unique skill set that players constantly say they couldn’t really appreciate until they tried to stop him. As such, even difficult matchups for Lamar should be considered winnable matchups (with the tributary toward a slate-winning score getting narrower, but certainly never drying up). But the next layer here is the question: is this a difficult matchup for Lamar, specifically? And when we go a layer deeper, it’s interesting to note that the Texans have allowed an explosive run (10+ yards) on 8.1% of carries over center, guard, and tackle; but they have allowed an explosive run on 25% of carries to the edges — where Lamar does a large chunk of his damage. Granted: the sample size to the edge is smaller (with nearly four times as many carries to the other areas), but especially without Watt available to set the edge on his side of the field (where teams were mostly avoiding running when he was out there), Lamar has some paths to another big day on the ground.
Lamar has also generally produced better overall fantasy numbers in spots where he can attack effectively through the air — which should certainly be the case here, with the biggest question being whether or not any individual pass catcher can benefit enough to matter in DFS. While the quick-and-easy answer is, “Yes, Marquise Brown has speed for days and only needs one catch to post a strong game, and Mark Andrews has five touchdowns on the year and an ability to break off 30+ yard gains,” the real question is whether or not enough volume will pile up for these guys to maximize their chances of hitting.
Lamar has averaged only 20 pass attempts per game across his last three contests, with the Ravens dominating the Seahawks, Patriots, and Bengals and leaving no reason to lean on the pass when their philosophy for winning games is built around playing slow (32nd in pace), keeping the ball on the ground (31st in pass play rate), and controlling the clock (first in time of possession) before blitzing opponents on the other side of the ball and trying to create short opponent possessions to start the cycle again. To reiterate: the Ravens dominated both the Seahawks (in Seattle) and the Patriots behind Lamar and their rapidly improving defense — so just because we have Deshaun Watson on the other side of this game does not guarantee a close contest and a game in which Lamar is called on to throw the ball enough for volume to pile up for Brown/Andrews (though the chances of such a game are obviously heightened compared to lesser competition). We’ll get to the Texans’ offense in a moment, but the biggest takeaway here is that if you want to roster Brown/Andrews for more than just “hoping for a big play or a touchdown,” you should include pieces from the Texans’ passing attack as well, as the clearest path to volume for those guys is the Texans keeping this game competitive throughout. Lamar has four games this year of 33+ pass attempts, and Brown was healthy in three of them. In those games, he saw target counts of 13 // 9 // 7 (compared to five or fewer in his other four games). Andrews has been less dependent on Lamar’s volume for his own (incredibly seeing seven to nine targets in all but one game, in spite of so many low-volume games from this passing attack as a whole), though the risk of volume dipping increases if Lamar throws less often — especially as Andrews already has a tough matchup against Tashaun Gipson, who is set to return this week where he’ll look to keep up his stellar tight end coverage on the year. The rest of this passing attack, of course, is scraps (which is what happens when Andrews has an ungodly 43% target share in his recent games that came “not against New England”), but if going elsewhere on this squad, Nick Boyle (who generally sees three to five targets) is the next most likely player to connect for multiple receptions and a touchdown.
On the other side of the ball, the Ravens defense has been rapidly improving against the pass, with a number eight ranking in DVOA in spite of their rough start to the year, and with the fifth fewest passing touchdowns allowed. Only three receivers have topped 100 yards against them (and two of those came in the same game in Week 2); and with only six touchdowns allowed to wide receivers all year, it has been difficult for slate-winning production to pile up against them. Tom Brady averaged only 6.2 yards per pass attempt in this matchup; and even more impressively for the Ravens, Russell Wilson averaged only 5.9 yards per attempt in the vertical-minded Seattle offense. This squad has been playing as one of the best units in the league of late, and it will take a special effort from Watson and his pass catchers for these guys to matter at their Week 11 salaries.
Working in Watson’s favor is the fact that PFF has him charted this year with no drop-off when facing the blitz vs not facing the blitz — a valuable setup against Wink Martindale’s blitz-happy unit. Further working in Watson’s favor is an offensive line that has taken strides forward this year with the development of Tytus Howard and the acquisition of Laremy Tunsil. None of this makes the matchup any easier, but it does prevent the matchup from becoming worse than it is.
With a Vegas-implied team total of only 22.5 in a tough road environment (with prices not adjusted to account for all this), we obviously don’t have the best spot for the Texans’ pass catchers — though with the talent this unit boasts, there are always tributaries open to a big game.
On the season, DeAndre Hopkins is averaging the same 10.2 targets per game that he was averaging last year — though his drop in overall upside this year is attributable to an adjusted role that has him sitting on an average depth of target of 9.4 this year compared to 11.9 a year ago (good for a difference of over 25 air yards per game). Hopkins also — somewhat inexplicably — has only nine red zone targets and four targets inside the 10 over halfway through the season, after seeing 24 and 15, respectively, last year (with his 24 ranked fifth, and his 15 ranked first), in spite of Watson already over halfway to his 2018 red zone attempt totals. Hopkins has lost nothing in the “ability” category and can realistically win in any matchup, but a readjustment in his role would certainly go a long way toward getting him back to the level we are accustomed to seeing.
Working alongside Hopkins should be Will Fuller, who is expected to return from his hamstring issue this week (though when it comes to Fuller and hamstring issues, nothing can be taken for granted). Fuller has target counts in his healthy games this year of 3 // 7 // 7 // 6 // 16 // 9 — with a role that is mixing in some intermediate and even short-area looks to go with his downfield action.
Behind these two, Darren Fells has recent target counts of 1 // 2 // 7 // 2 // 6 // 3, while Jordan Akins has gone 4 // 1 // 3 // 2 // 5 // 3 in this stretch. Both of these players are seeing their targets close to the line of scrimmage, creating very little upside for yardage — though Fells has (maddeningly) tied Hopkins in red zone targets this year, and has six red zone scores (tied for the most in the NFL). Keke Coutee has tumbled off the depth chart lately, so expect to see Kenny Stills soaking up snaps in three-wide sets as well, with three to five looks likely set to flow his way.
In spite of a number 28 DVOA ranking for the Ravens against the run, the matchup really doesn’t get much easier for the Texans’ backfield, as the Ravens are allowing a respectable 4.2 yards per carry to running backs and (more importantly) have allowed the seventh fewest running back rushing yards in the league. Here’s a look at directional rushing production against the Ravens this year if we filter out the game from Nick Chubb (courtesy of Sharp Football Stats).
Carlos Hyde has seen 19 or more carries in four of his last five games and is likely to push for looks around this level if the Texans can spend enough time with the ball. Duke Johnson, of course, will mix in for a few carries (recent carry counts of 5 // 7 // 3 // 7) and targets (4 // 5 // 5 // 5) of his own. The Ravens have faced the second fewest running back targets in the league.
JM’s Interpretation ::
Lamar Jackson still has the highest raw projection among quarterbacks on the Main Slate this weekend — so while it’s obviously necessary to balance his expected production against his price, he sets up well for production. Given the way the matchup sets up, Mark Ingram is less attractive, of course; but he’s always a threat for touchdowns, and he has the crowd-pleasing “home favorite running back” label working in his favor. In the passing attack, Andrews’ targets have been secure all year so far; some risk still remains for a target dip in lower-volume games, and the matchup is a negative, but the touchdown upside remains. Brown, of course, can hit in any matchup, but his best bet for volume is for the Texans to keep things close (or optimally play from in front) — and as such, Brown rosters that bring back a piece from the other side of this game open the most paths to capturing a “likeliest scenario” for a blowup.
I’m not all that interested in Houston players myself (which likely means I won’t be all that interested in Brown), though this is part of the reason I’m still a bit torn on the existence of “JM’s Interpretation” in the first place, as there are certainly other ways besides the “likeliest paths” for this game to play out; and when you’re talking about an offense with as much upside as the Texans, I don’t think the middle of the week is the point where you have to make that decision yourself. For my style of play, high prices in a tough road matchup aren’t going to catch my eye — but there are certainly ways for the Texans to hit with Watson under center.