FALCONS // REDSKINS OVERVIEW
From time to time, we talk in this space about the ways in which DFS/fantasy influence the public perception of “which teams are good” and “which teams are bad,” and I got a kick a few weeks ago out of seeing how many fantasy writers were referring to the Washington Redskins as “bad” or even “pathetic.” This week, the 5-2 Redskins are early 1.5 point favorites against the high-powered, 3-4 Falcons. With the Saints running away with the NFC South and plenty of competition for the two Wild Card spots in the NFC, this is a must-win game for the Falcons, who have had two weeks to prepare. Outside of their blowout loss to the Steelers, they have lost by six points to the Eagles, by six points (in overtime) to the Saints, and by one point to the Bengals. They should be able to give Washington a run for their money this week, and it will be interesting to see how this game of contrasting styles plays out.
While Atlanta is not a pace-up team (they rank 14th in pace of play), they do try to put strain and pressure on opponents, with the sixth highest pass play rate in the league, and with an aDOT of 9.2 (only 0.1 yards behind Patrick Mahomes, and only 0.3 yards behind Deshaun Watson).
Washington, on the other hand, ranks 28th in pace and 29th in pass play rate. Only the Eagles have notched a higher time of possession than the Redskins this year, and only six teams have allowed fewer opponent plays per game.
REDSKINS RUN OFFENSE
We are going to shake things up in this spot by kicking things off with the run offense for the home team, as this will be the piece that is likeliest to dictate how this game plays out. Early in this game, the goal of Jay Gruden and the Redskins will be to A) run the ball, and B) bleed time off the clock with long, sustained drives. We know this will be their goal, as this is their goal every week — and this focus will be enhanced against the high-powered Atlanta offense.
While Washington was ill-equipped to execute this strategy in their last loss (a blowout at the hands of the Saints, who boast the best run defense in football), they’ll be in strong shape against a banged-up Atlanta defense that ranks 26th in yards allowed per carry and dead last in the NFL in drive success rate allowed.
This creates an interesting scenario, as Adrian Peterson is obviously going to be the focal point early in this game — though it is Chris Thompson who has the pristine matchup as “a pass-catching back against Atlanta.” Expect Thompson to only see the field on third downs and obvious passing situations for as long as this game remains close — lowering his floor if this game stays out of shootout mode.
On the other hand, expect the Redskins to feed a heavy workload to Peterson as they try to pile up six- to seven-minute drives. Peterson has only nine receptions all year, making him the definition of a yardage-and-touchdown back, but Washington should be able to build some sustained drives by riding him, and only three teams have been worse at red zone touchdown rate allowed than the Falcons.
REDSKINS PASS OFFENSE
With everyone looking the other way, Washington has quietly become more willing to attack downfield, with Alex Smith attempting 10 passes of 25+ yards across his last four games. That’s not going to set the DFS world ablaze, but it does open opportunities for pass catcher upside — if the Redskins are forced to open things up through the air. In Washington wins, Smith has piled up pass attempt numbers of only 30 // 20 // 36 // 25 // 32. In losses, he has thrown the ball 46 and 39 times.
Of course, one reason people have not noticed that Smith is attacking downfield more often is because his primary downfield target has been Josh Doctson, who has hauled in only 16 of 29 targets this year (even after going five-for-five last week), and who has yet to reach even 50 receiving yards in a game. Joining Doctson on the perimeter is Paul Richardson, who has been a bit less embarrassing, with 18 catches on 29 targets, and with two games of 50+ yards. Neither player has posted an impact game this year, and these two will be dealing with the lone remaining strengths on this defense in Robert Alford and Desmond Trufant. Realistically, Richardson will be in line for a strong game if he sees eight or more targets, but he has not topped six targets in a game this year, and he has not topped five targets since Week 2. If Atlanta grabs an early, multi-score lead to force Washington to the air, this team is likelier to attack with Chris Thompson and the tight ends.
While no wide receiver on this team has seen more than seven targets in a game (Jamison Crowder has gotten there once; Doctson has gotten there once), Jordan Reed has target counts on the year of 5 // 8 // 7 // 2 // 9 // 4 // 12. Incredibly, he has not topped 50 yards in his last four games, and he has not scored since Week 1; but against an Atlanta team that allows the third highest catch rate in the league, he’ll have a shot at producing a respectable line regardless, with upside for a strong showing if Washington falls behind.
If Jamison Crowder returns this week, he should see four to five targets, with slim upside for more. His looks are primarily coming within five yards of the line of scrimmage, but he’ll get a couple looks downfield if this game opens up. If Crowder misses, Maurice Harris will fill in once again.
FALCONS PASS OFFENSE
Washington has been strong against the pass this season — forcing the fifth lowest aDOT in the NFL, while holding opponents to an average catch rate and a slightly below-average YAC/R rate. Add it together, and only four teams have allowed fewer yards per pass attempt than the Redskins.
The good news for Atlanta’s passing attack is that teams have tended to avoid Washington’s run defense (no team has faced fewer rush attempts on the year), making a matchup against them non-lethal from a “floor” perspective. Tre’Quan Smith and Odell Beckham are the only receivers to top 100 yards against Washington so far, but the list of guys who have gone for at least 70 yards is lengthy (Larry Fitzgerald // T.Y. Hilton // Geronimo Allison // Michael Thomas // Devin Funchess // Michael Gallup // Allen Hurns), and the pass-leaning Falcons (sixth in pass play rate on the year) should be able to add one or two receivers to that list. Even with Washington doing such a great job limiting opponent plays, the high pass play rate they are forcing (second highest opponent pass play rate in the NFL) has led to them facing 37.1 pass attempts per game, which largely removes volume concerns for the Falcons’ aerial attack.
Ryan has thrown 35 to 41 pass attempts in each of his last five games, leading to the following target counts among primary Falcons pass catchers:
:: Julio Jones — 6 // 12 // 9 // 14 // 12
:: Calvin Ridley — 8 // 6 // 5 // 3 // 6
:: Mohamed Sanu — 7 // 9 // 7 // 2 // 2
:: Austin Hooper — 4 // 2 // 12 // 10 // 4
As always, it is maddeningly futile to try to discern what Steve Sarkisian is thinking — in terms of when (and why) usage will flow in certain directions — but Julio’s only target dud in that stretch came in the shadow coverage of Marshon Lattimore, and it is reasonable to project him for nine to 12 targets this week. Naturally, it should be noted that Julio has an embarrassing three red zone targets (zero red zone catches) seven games into the season. Last year, it was around this time when Julio went from “almost no red zone work” to “an abundance of red zone work,” so perhaps a similar shift is in store this year.
Ridley is priced like a guy who sees more targets than he does, but his red zone role (five red zone targets; four red zone touchdowns) gives him some ceiling in this offense.
Sanu was dealing with a hip injury in the games in which his targets dipped, though more uncertain is his role, as he has been used this year as a short-yardage guy at times and as a downfield threat at other times. He has topped 50 receiving yards only twice this season, but the chance always exists that he will see more downfield work than normal. For what it’s worth, this matchup sets up much better for him to be used in a short-area role — but as always, it’s dangerous to assume we can too accurately predict what Sarkisian is thinking.
Hooper has seen his targets spike and drop dramatically, based on no discernible matchup-based pattern. Consider him a low-floor play with a solid, price-considered ceiling if usage, for whatever reason, flows his way.
FALCONS RUN OFFENSE
In spite of Washington ranking near the bottom of the league in adjusted line yards, teams continue to shy away from them on the ground. No team has faced fewer rush attempts than the Redskins, while the Falcons run the ball at the sixth lowest rate in the league.
When Atlanta does run the ball, they will continue to split touches between Tevin Coleman (recent touch counts of 17 // 10 // 11 // 13) and Ito Smith (recent touch counts of 10 // 4 // 13 // 9). Each guy is seeing two to three targets per game lately, but obviously a touchdown will be necessary for one of these two to pay dividends. The Falcons provide scoring opportunities to these two based on “whichever guy happens to be on the field at the moment.”
The two times Washington struggled to “ground and pound” were in matchups against strong run defenses in the Saints and the Colts. Because Atlanta is so soft on the ground and so bad at preventing long drives, I expect Washington to have success with their slow-paced, run-and-short-passes approach — which would not only limit upside on Washington pass catchers, but would also limit play volume for the Falcons’ offense. As such, I don’t expect to target any pass game pieces on Washington, and I don’t expect to lean too heavily on Atlanta. If I go here in large-field tourneys, I’ll almost certainly take pieces on both sides, as a big game from Thompson or Reed (or any other pass catcher on the Redskins) will almost certainly mean that the Falcons popped off for some big plays of their own.
The likeliest piece for a big game on Washington’s side is Peterson, though his price tag is difficult to swallow on DraftKings (12.0% of the salary cap) for a yardage-and-touchdown back, while he’s priced just a tick below Christian McCaffrey, Alvin Kamara, and Melvin Gordon (among others) on FanDuel. Peterson’s cheapest price is featured on FantasyDraft, where he is a much more palatable 11.3% of the cap. There are higher-floor plays, but this game does line up well for Peterson to avoid his floor and approach his ceiling.
On the Atlanta side, I like Julio for a strong game, with a monster game being “unlikely, but not out of the question.” For me, he’s not a guy worth “moving around salary to fit,” but he is a piece to consider in tourneys. Shots could also be taken on Sanu, Ridley, or Hooper — but those are truly just “shots,” rather than high-floor/high-ceiling plays backed up by research.
It also stands out to me that Matt Ryan has been priced down at 11.4% of the salary cap on DraftKings and 11.2% on FantasyDraft, for a matchup that is more “middling” than “shy-away.” While play volume should suffer for the Falcons as a whole, they should still be able to land in their typical range for passing volume, and this will give Ryan a shot at a 300-yard, multi-touchdown game. He’s a lower-floor play than Cam Newton and others (as of this writing, I haven’t yet researched the games after this one in the NFL Edge, but Cam in particular stands out at first glance, and I’m sure there are other QBs on this slate who also carry more guaranteed points), but it won’t be a shock if Ryan pops off for a big game in this spot. A great tourney setup would be a couple quick, early scores for the Falcons (maybe Julio finally gets those red zone looks?), followed by Chris Thompson and the Redskins going into attack mode moving forward.
SATURDAY EVENING UPDATE // Full “Updates” List
Chris Thompson is out, which slightly solidifies the workload for Adrian Peterson. Ultimately, Peterson still falls out of the game plan if the Redskins fall far behind — but the likeliest scenario here is that this game stays close, which should lead to plenty of work for Peterson