Showdown Slant ::
Presented by top Showdown mind Xandamere!
I’m mildly annoyed that it’s 2019 and I have to write an island game writeup for the Titans against the Jags, but here we are. This game is sitting at a total of 40.0 with the Titans installed as 1.5 point short road favorites. I think what’s largely going to get lost here is that amidst a lot of team dysfunction (Jalen Ramsey requested a trade shortly before I started working on this piece), the Jaguars are still a very, very good defense (while missing one of their starting corners, they went on the road and held the Texans to just 13 points). The Titans’ offense is not as good as Houston’s. Assuming the Jags show up to play, they have a very good chance of containing Tennessee and making this a grinding type of game. Or…they might not. As I’ll dig into a bit later, “What is most likely to happen” in this game is more difficult to figure out than most games.
The Titans are a bit simpler: they want to play slow and grind it out. They’ll lean hard on Derrick Henry and the short passing game while mixing in a handful of deeper shots to A.J. Brown and, to a lesser extent, Corey Davis. A lot of guys will mix in for snaps in the Tennessee offense, but at least so far, the volume is all going to Henry, Davis, Walker, and Brown. For example, Jonnu Smith has been on the field more than Delanie Walker but only has one target and one carry through two games. Dion Lewis has a snap count just a smidge below Henry’s, but he had three carries and one target last week in a game that was close throughout. Is it possible that the Titans get another guy involved this week? It’s certainly possible, as the Titans are one of the more opponent-specific teams in how they approach each game. But you should recognize that looking at snap counts is probably a bit less predictive with Tennessee than it would be with another team. The safest bets when taking into account both usage and matchup are Derrick Henry and Delanie Walker. The Jags can occasionally get sloppy on run defense (Henry had his massive breakout game near the end of last season against the Jags, though it was at home), while the Jacksonville pass D is….let’s go with “less elite” versus the tight end position, rather than “vulnerable to.” They’re not bad against tight ends but they aren’t as likely to completely erase Delanie Walker as they are to erase Corey Davis.
On the Jags’ side, a lot of how you attack this game depends on what you think about Gardner Minshew. His stats through his first few games are pretty impressive: 77% completion rate, 112 QB rating, 3 to 1 TD to INT ratio. He even rushed for 56 yards against the Texans, and if he’s going to use his legs like that it significantly increases both his floor and ceiling. Of course, that’s a very small sample size and against some not very impressive secondaries. What we know for sure about the Jags offense is that Leonard Fournette is not going to come off the field (he’s played 92% of the team’s offensive snaps so far) and he should see at least 20 total touches with a fair bit of pass game work. Six targets in each game so far is nothing to sneeze at and makes him a very attractive play at a slight price discount from Henry. Fournette is likely to have a tough time against the Titans run D, but the pass game involvement significantly mitigates that. In the pass game, the Jags are using DJ Chark as their deeper threat (though unlike most “deep threat” receivers his volume has been solid as well with nine targets last week). Chris Conley is being schemed the ball in the short to middle areas of the field to try and get him the ball in space and let him make a big play. While Dede Westbrook has only been targeted literally at the line of scrimmage, leaving him without access to much ceiling unless his route tree changes or he ends up with massive volume. These three receivers are all priced right next to each other, which will split up ownership. Betting on Dede is a bet on overall talent and, to some extent, coachspeak from the preseason, while Conley and Chark have shown more upside this year. Finally, the receiving corps will be thrown into a bit of disarray if Marqise Lee is active, which it looks like he will be after a full practice on Tuesday. Lee “started” in Week 1 but only played 12 snaps coming off a season-ending injury last year. But while I would predict low usage this week if he’s active, he could be a bit of a wildcard in this game if he unexpectedly plays a lot. At tight end, Geoff Swaim and James O’Shaughnessy have been splitting both snaps and targets. They’re both used near the line of scrimmage, so yardage expectations are very low for each of them, but they’ll be relevant if they fall into the end zone at their cheap prices.
As far as how the game is most likely to go, this is where it gets complex. The Titans are likely to try and tilt their defense to give up short passes while protecting against big plays early on. This will force the Jags and Minshew to try to slowly march down the field playing mistake-free football while the Titans attempt to poke holes in the Jags’ defense. If the Titans can put up some early points, they’ll likely stick with this strategy and try to stop the Jags getting back into the game. But, if the Jags can get out to a lead or even keep the game tied, the Titans may switch things up and try to take away the short areas of the field and force Minshew to beat them deep, betting that he’ll be unable to do so or, even better, create some turnovers. The most likely way this game plays out is a grinding, ugly kind of game that ends with a score like 17-13 or 20-17. You could bet on the Over and something of a shootout, though with these two teams that’s a very low-percentage outcome (perhaps not as low as ownership on it will be, though). In a game like this, you’re basically looking for guys who get strong volume and can get a tourney-worthy score without getting into the end zone (the running backs, Walker, Conley), or, guys who have good red zone usage and/or big play ability and who can hit that nice score on a single play (Chark, A.J. Brown). I always say it’s important to begin each Showdown by thinking about game flow and it’s even more important in this one. You could make different lineups that play out various scenarios: Henry gets an early rushing TD and forces the Jags to chase a bit, or thinking about different defensive schemes that the Titans could adopt and how those would affect how the Jags attack. If you’re multi-entering, I would suggest smaller builds that are focused on a specific captain and/or game script so you can really home in on who the strongest plays are in each scenario.
Some other ways the game could play out:
- While a real “shootout” is unlikely, it’s not at all implausible that all of the scoring comes in the air. Both of these teams are so run-focused that you can expect Henry and Fournette to be massively owned, so lineups that don’t have them and instead focus on QBs/receivers will be highly contrarian.
- The Jags are in a bit of disarray. They’ve lost their starting QB and they’re already 0-2. Jalen Ramsay has publicly requested a trade. We saw this defense fall apart a few times last season (including against Tennessee) and it isn’t implausible to think that these off-field issues impact them here. While I am normally underweight 5-1 onslaught lineups for road teams, especially in low scoring games against elite defenses, I’ll have a few Titans onslaughts in case the Jags just show up flat.
My favorite captain hands-down is Leonard Fournette, though I think he’s likely to be the highest owned one as well. Henry ranks up there, as do the more volatile, high-ceiling receivers and Delanie Walker for his red zone usage and matchup. It’s hard to see the quarterbacks being the highest scoring players in this one absent a rushing touchdown.
Some groups to consider:
- At most 1 kicker
- At most 1 defense
- Pair captain receivers with their QB
- Pair captain QBs with at least 2 receivers
- At most 1 of the various ancillary Titans guys (the backup TEs, Sharpe, Lewis)
- At most 1 of Swaim and O’Shaughnessy
JM’s Notes :: Xandamere and I typically talk about the Island games early in the week and sort of bounce around thoughts and ideas on the matchup and how the game will likely play out. This week, I was particularly interested to see what he would come up with for the Showdown Slant, as my main takeaway after we had talked about this game was that it was a difficult one to figure out. It’s easy to find a game like this on the Main Slate and move on from it fairly quickly; but in my mind, part of the skill Xandamere has is his unique ability to work his way through the angles on an ugly game that comprises an entire slate. These uglier games are the sorts of Showdowns in which the edge increases a bit, as a lot of our competition will have a more difficult time thinking through the tributaries for this one. If all of the “likeliest to happen” things happen, it won’t matter, as everyone can figure that out; but if we start getting into tributary territory in this game, I’ll definitely like our chances.
— Xandamere’s Advanced Showdown Course is now available through OWS :: Marketplace! This is his tournament course for Showdowns. (Which probably makes this a good place to say congrats to X for grabbing his second(!) top-two tourney finish of the year in the Sunday afternoon Showdowns. Ninth top-two finish since the start of last season. Insane.)