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Week 7 fantasy football metrics notebook: Good luck trying to predict the Steelers-Titans game

Matt Harmon
·9-min read

1 - Steelers at Titans (51.5-point total) is an extremely volatile game

If you know how the Steelers at Titans matchup is going to go, you’re a better prognosticator than me. In a contest featuring two undefeated teams, there are a number of ways the script could play out.

With two excellent offenses walking into this game, we could easily see a line that pushes the game over the projected 51.5-point total. Ryan Tannehill is one of the hottest quarterbacks in the NFL. Ben Roethlisberger has been efficient coming off a near full-season elbow injury. These two can go toe-to-toe in a high-flying, DFS-adoring contest.

The Titans offense is just so efficient. The team ranks fourth in rushing success rate and sports the league’s leading rusher in Derrick Henry. Tannehill is an MVP candidate, trailing only Russell Wilson in passing touchdown rate with 7.5 percent. Especially with bonafide superstar A.J. Brown back in the fold, Tennessee can put up points in a hurry.

The Steelers have one of the league’s best breakout bargains in Chase Claypool firing on all cylinders and should get their top receiver from Weeks 1-2 in Diontae Johnson back this week. James Conner has been productive on the ground, even though Pittsburgh leans toward throwing on 62 percent of their plays (seventh-highest) when the game is within three points.

[Week 7 Fantasy Rankings: QBs | RBs | WRs | TEs | FLEX | DST | Kickers]

We should have little doubt that the Steelers defense can provide a matchup problem for Tennessee. Sure, Pittsburgh has been a little leaky in the secondary, allowing a league-high 12.6 yards per compilation. Guys like A.J. Brown could absolutely get loose deep on the play-action game.

That is, if there is enough time.

The Titans star left tackle Taylor Lewan tore his ACL and his replacement, Ty Sambrailo, should not be playing the blindside for an NFL team. He’s been a mess when on the field.

That’s a massive problem considering the Steelers lead the league in blitz rate (46 percent), quarterback hurries (36), pressures (79), and sacks (24) despite already having their bye.

That alone could help this game turn into more of a slugfest than these team’s offensive pedigrees would suggest. On the other hand, Pittsburgh could really roll over the Titans defense. Tennessee has quietly allowed the fourth-highest yards per play in the league (6.2), trailing known cupcakes like the Falcons, Jaguars, and Seahawks. Despite adding Jadeveon Clowney, their pass rush remains their biggest issue, ranking bottom-10 in pressures and boasting just seven sacks. Once again, the Steelers offense vs. Titans defense, and how it would force the Titans out of their shell, is enough of a mismatch to push this game well over the total.

We could see this game play out in so many different directions. At least it’ll be a show worth enjoying.

Running back Derrick Henry #22 of the Tennessee Titans takes the hand-off from quarterback Ryan Tannehill #17
Will Derrick Henry and the run game find success against the Steelers? (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)

2 - Deebo Samuel is all the way back

Nominally, Deebo Samuel has been back with the 49ers offense for three weeks following an IR stint while recovering from an offseason foot injury. They brought Samuel along slowly as to not risk a re-injury. It only makes sense he was on the slow burn even when he did take the field.

Week 6 saw Samuel back in full force and it made a huge difference for the 49ers offense.

He hauled in all six of his targets for 66 yards and a touchdown as well as a rushing score. Samuel has been a first-down machine with eight chain-movers on his 11 receptions, four of which came against the Rams on Sunday night.

Samuel is back to being a full-time player, indicating a clear return to health. In his first game back against the Eagles, he ran just 16 routes — that time as a role player was short-lived. Samuel ran a route on 90 percent of Jimmy Garoppolo and C.J. Beathard’s 40 dropbacks in Week 5, and 85 percent of Garoppolo’s last week. His slot route rate jumped from just 13.9 percent against Miami to 35.7 percent against the Rams.

That last part is key. Samuel is getting more manufactured layup targets than ever with an average depth of target of 3.8 yards. He’s operating like a suped-up running back and is absolutely crushing it. He’s averaging an absurd 12.4 yards after catch per reception. Among players with 15-plus targets on the year, he easily ranks first with Chase Claypool “way down” at 8.5 in second-place.

With George Kittle likely drawing Bill Belichick’s eye in Week 7 as the team’s clear top downfield passing threat, Samuel could gobble up targets as the short-area outlet guy. We know he can make the most of those looks.

3 - The Rams players are struggling to hit a ceiling

The Los Angeles Rams rank ninth in yards per drive, fifth in offensive DVOA, fifth in total yards, and 10th in yards per play. And yet, none of their offensive players are truly smashing in fantasy football.

The tight ends? Forget about it. Tyler Higbee currently sits in the nebulous, and ultimately meaningless, TE7 to 14 range (currently TE8 thanks to his Week 2 three-score outing). Outside of that Eagles game, he hasn’t found the end zone and hasn’t cleared five targets or 60 yards at any point in 2020.

Robert Woods ranks WR14 on the year and Cooper Kupp sits all the way down at WR24. The former is buoyed by a league-high (among wide receivers) 76 rushing yards with a score on 10 carries. While he’s found the end zone three times through the air, already beating his 2019 total of two, he hasn’t cleared 80 yards since Week 1. Kupp has 45 targets on the year but isn’t producing big plays at the rate he once did now that he’s running fewer than 50 percent of his routes from the slot.

[Play in Yahoo’s NFL $200K Baller. $15 entry fee and $25K to first place]

Both Woods and Kupp are both used in a highly constricted role. They have to make their living with the ball in their hands which, to be fair, they are right now. Among receivers with 30-plus targets only Kupp (7.16) and Woods (7.0) average at least seven yards after the catch per reception.

In a quarterback-on-training-wheels offense like this, you need volume to hit an individual statistical ceiling. That’s not happening in Los Angeles, with the team ranking fourth in early down rushing play rate (57 percent).

Of course, a running back — especially one like Darrell Henderson, who’s playing like one of the league’s best — could hit a ceiling in this environment. But you all know the deal there.

4 - Ronald Jones should not give any ground to Leonard Fournette

The Ronald Jones backers are absolutely dancing through the streets right now. After racking up 330 rushing yards (5.5 ypc) in three games without Leonard Fournette in the mix, Jones is now one of just three backs (Derrick Henry and James Conner) to post three 100-yard games in 2020. He currently ranks fifth in the NFL in rushing and has scored three times.

The advanced metrics are kind to Jones as well. He’s been consistently making plays when squared up with defenders, as 61.7 percent of his yards have come after contact. That is bested by only Derrick Henry (62.1 percent) among the top-10 rushers. Jones ranks third in the NFL in Next Gen Stats rushing yards over expectation per attempt (1.17). Only Raheem Mostert and Nick Chubb, guys who haven’t played a full season, file in ahead of Jones.

Simply put, damn your expectations — Ronald Jones has been one of the best pure ball-carriers in the NFL this season.

With no true commitment to Fournette, you have to wonder if the team has any incentive to go back to splitting the backfield between these two guys. Maybe closer to a true 60/40 split is realistic. The Buccaneers are a safe, defense-based team right now. Those teams typically operate best when they have a high-functioning back who can gain extra yards and keep the offense on schedule. Jones has without question been that player.

5 - The 2020 Texans are the 2019 Buccaneers

The Jameis Winston Buccaneers once provided the ideal fantasy football team. Not just because Winston was an aggressive passer who funneled targets to his top threats like Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, but his style of play would force the defense (a generous unit up until the last one-and-a-half seasons) into bad spots. Not only would his offense thrive, but the opponent also would.

My colleague Scott Pianowski calls these squads “carnival teams.” Seattle has already been that team this season. The Falcons have typically been candidates every year since 2017, as well. That type of setup provides gamers daily fantasy gold because you could stack their offense and run it back easily with their opponent, or vice versa.

The Houston Texans look like they’re making a mid-season push to be the top carnival team of 2020.

The Texans offense and Deshaun Watson have exorcised their demons with Bill O’Brien out the door. Watson has racked up 745 total yards and scored seven times with a 73.6 percent completion rate over the last two weeks. All of his receivers have had their moments in the sun. However, we can bank on the ball primarily going to Will Fuller or Brandin Cooks. On the year, that duo has inhaled a whopping 56 percent of the team’s air yards and 42 percent of the team targets.

At the same time, Watson’s defense has allowed almost 900 total yards and a ridiculous 56 points. Houston ranks 27th in overall defensive DVOA with a not-so-ideal 20th ranking against the pass and an abysmal 28th against the run.

If you play daily fantasy, we’re just begging you to stack up opponents against the Texans and run it back with some of their players. And that starts with a Green Bay team in Week 7, one dying for a bounce-back game.

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