Will Tom Brady and co. be foiled by another pass rush?
Tom Brady is not washed.
It was not a mistake to bring him in to replace Jameis Winston. The Buccaneers offense is still capable of putting up massive numbers on a week-by-week basis with all the talent on that roster.
All that can still be true while admitting the Bucs have a clear and possibly fatal flaw with Brady under center.
When they face a team with a good front-line pass rush, they’re going to struggle. It’s not hard to figure out. Both the Rams and the Saints have put it on film the last few weeks. In his game against the Panthers, Brady had time and the Bucs filled the scoreboard with points, even if his lack of a deep ball left yards on the field.
When Brady has time, he can still dice up a defense in the short-to-intermediate ranges. However, when he’s pressured he has a 55 passer rating, outside the top-30 quarterbacks this year. When you’re 43 years old, it’s harder to navigate the pocket. There are just enough holes on the offensive line that a pass rush with premier players can rip through and throw the entire passing game off.
We need to keep this potential disaster scenario in mind anytime the Bucs face a good defense with a strong pass rush. Unfortunately, that’s the case this week. We might not think of the Chiefs in that tier but they rank 10th in pass defense DVOA, eighth in pressure rate, and sixth in quarterback knockdown rate.
The point total is attractive in this Chiefs vs. Bucs matchup. There are so many enthralling offensive possibilities. But if Tampa Bay runs out the same deep passing game and leaves Brady to the mercy of stars like Chris Jones and Frank Clark, there’s some disaster potential here.
Can the Titans’ offense sustain momentum?
After a few weeks of slower production, the Titans popped back up for a big outing in a tough spot against the Ravens last week. A.J. Brown and Corey Davis both finished as top-24 wide receivers, with the former scoring a touchdown and the latter clearing 100 yards. Jonnu Smith also found the end zone while Ryan Tannehill (QB6) and Derrick Henry (RB3) were top-tier options at their respective positions.
In my advanced metrics notebook last week, we looked at the Titans’ current slog of a schedule. Tennessee was essentially slated to do battle against some of the best defenses in the NFL from Weeks 7 to 12.
Even if they did fall against some tough opponents, it was always smart to bet on one of the most efficient offenses in the NFL (third in overall DVOA) to get over on a few of these good defenses. That’s how football works in 2020.
Last week showed that was indeed the smart bet to place. Now, as the Titans head into the final chapter of their difficult scheduling journey, it’s worth exploring whether this offense can find more success in their rematch with the Colts than they did on Thursday night a few weeks ago.
The Indianapolis defense has remained one of the best throughout the course of the 2020 season. They’re coming off a four-turnover performance against Green Bay and the 137 passing yards allowed to Tennessee in Week 10 checks in as the second-lowest mark against them this year.
However, there’s one slightly fluky part of the low number.
In Week 10, A.J. Brown dropped two passes (per PFF), both of which would have resulted in big plays for Tennessee. Brown has only dropped two other passes in the non-Week 10 games he’s played in 2020 and just four his entire rookie campaign. That’s a fluke.
A receiver dropping a couple of passes doesn’t make or break an entire game’s win/loss outcome. But if Brown hauls in those targets, there’s a chance Tennessee at least avoids what was the absolute worst outing for their offense this season.
Going into the Week 12 rematch, we should choose to break the tie on the side of the offense that ranks third in DVOA over the defense that ranks fifth. Especially since outside of their big three (Tannehill, Brown, and Henry), it’s now clear they have a fourth staple.
Corey Davis is pretty much balling out here in his contract year. Since he came off the COVID-19 list before Week 7, the former fifth-overall pick has one more target than Brown (36 to 35) and has more catches with a higher average depth of target (12.1 to 9.6). Make no mistake: Brown is the No. 1 here and plays more like the top draft pick while Davis just doesn’t get enough credit for being a solid, rugged No. 2 receiver. If both of these guys hit at once, we could see a much more fantasy-friendly game from both teams than some expect.
New hierarchy in the Panthers WR room?
If folks are either still complaining about DJ Moore’s lack of production and/or romanticizing the early season run for Robby Anderson, it’s past time they accept the new reality in Carolina’s receiver corps.
Moore now ranks fourth in yards this season and has truly developed into a much better vertical route runner. He's recorded the third-most yards (382) of any receiver on throws of 20-plus yards. That’s stacked on top of him being one of the best YAC and contested-catch receivers in his first two seasons.
Every year, he just keeps getting better.
No one can question that Anderson has been anything but a huge hit in Carolina but his days of dominating the production share are long gone. He’s well on his way to his first 1,000-yard season but he hasn’t cleared 80 yards in a game since Week 5. In three of his last four games, he’s gone under 50 yards despite averaging nine targets per week.
The real difference here is that Curtis Samuel is fully healthy and integrated into the offense after a training camp hamstring issue and knee injuries early in the regular season. Samuel is still third on the team in routes run since Week 8 but averages the second-most targets per game (7.3) among the receivers in addition to his 10 rush attempts. Samuel has also been the guy for Carolina in scoring areas regardless of who is under center. He has a massive 46.2 percent share of the red zone targets to go along with three carries. At long last, Samuel has been fully unleashed.
All three of these guys are in WR2-to-3 consideration on a weekly basis. That’s especially true this week as Christian McCaffrey will not suit up and the Panthers draw the Vikings, who have allowed the second-most touchdowns and third-most yards to wide receivers.
Can the Raiders dunk on the Falcons?
Hats off to Jon Gruden and Derek Carr. In the second season of their union, this duo has put together an efficient and quite fun offense.
Carr has been one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL this season. It’s past time we state that plain and obvious fact. He ranks fourth in the NFL in EPA per play this year and has been the point guard of an offense exceeding all expectations. Despite pushing the ball down the field more this year, he’s still top-five in completion percentage.
As long as Carr keeps playing like that — and we have no reason to assume he’s suddenly going to reverse course — the answer is an emphatic “yes, this team is legit.”
With that in mind, it’s all about asking who will Carr bring with him into the promised land of production. Darren Waller is the obvious pick. He’s the second-best tight end in fantasy this side of Travis Kelce. The Falcons have allowed the most yards to tight ends this year. Slam dunk.
Outside of Waller, look to Nelson Agholor. He’s run the second-most routes on the team (87) since Week 8 and has a strong 14.9 air yards per target figure. He’s a solid receiver play this week, while everyone else in the Vegas pass-catching room is basically a dart throw.
How will Taysom Hill fair in his encore?
My feelings on Taysom Hill’s first start are fully documented in my Week 11 care/don’t care recap piece. To summarize: It’s awesome that Hill proved himself to be a legitimate option as a backup quarterback to the hordes of weirdly over-negative doubters out there. Sean Payton deserves his victory lap. If any other quarterback did what Hill did in his first career start, we’d understand why one of the best offensive coaches in the business felt confident in him as a possible future quarterback solution and started him over a draft bust in Jameis Winston.
Now we move forward. Hill passed his first test against an ultra-generous Falcons defense. It’s time to test his mettle against a much tougher opponent on the road in Denver.
The Broncos defense has survived some injury issues to emerge as a strong unit. They’re ninth overall in DVOA and are a top-10 unit against the pass while hovering around league-average versus the run. They allowed fewer than 200 passing yards in four of their last six contests.
This all comes while operating with a turnover-prone quarterback who will put them in unfavorable situations. Denver has an argument to be included as one of the few actually good defenses in the game this year.
With all that being said, one area where the Saints could still have an offensive advantage is with their running game. And that’s with both Alvin Kamara and Hill as a rusher.
As mentioned above, the Broncos are just an average run-stop unit. They’ve given up 4.3 yards per carry and 10 rushing touchdowns on the year. Kamara looks like he isn’t going to have the same receiving role in this offense with Hill under center. That isn’t unexpected given the history of running quarterbacks and their receiving threat backs. He’ll need to be fed more carries to continue to return elite fantasy value. Another tried and true principle of the running quarterback is how well they match up with man-coverage defenses. Denver plays a good amount of man coverage and when those coverage players turn their back to him, it should entice Hill to scramble a bit more.
We saw the Saints basically run their traditional offense with Hill under center last week. Given this defensive matchup, it wouldn’t be shocking to see Payton dial-up more creative run-designs. That would salvage a fantasy floor for both Hill and Kamara, even if this isn’t a spot to chase their ceilings.