Fantasy Football Week 4 Stealing Signals: Stats, waiver targets, trade candidates for every game

The early games in Week 4 were marked by turnovers and generally sloppy offensive play. That’s perhaps to be expected with the high number of quarterback injuries we’ve seen early in 2019. We did wind up with some Fantasy excitement in the later games, and Thursday Night Football was fun this week.

Data is typically courtesy of Pro Football Reference, RotoViz, the RotoGrinders Premium Usage App, or PFF. Always feel free to hit me up on Twitter @YardsPerGretch with any questions about anything I covered or to ask my thoughts on something I glossed over. That is some of my favorite feedback, because sometimes it’s something I’ve missed.

Here are some important statistical acronyms to know for Stealing Signals:

Green Zone – Inside the opponent’s 10-yard line.
HVT – High-Value Touches: for running backs, all receptions and all touches inside the 10 yard line. 
TRAP – Trivial Rush Attempt Percentage: for running backs, the percentage of all touches that are not high-value touches.
WOPR – Weighted Opportunity Rating: a metric created by Josh Hermsmeyer, it balances team share of targets and team share of air yards. Because a player’s WOPR is a share of his team’s overall opportunity, it’s important to consider team volume as additional context. 
RACR – Receiver Air Conversion Ratio: also created by Hermsmeyer, RACR is calculated as total receiving yards divided by total air yards. Similar to yards per reception or yards per target, but per air yard instead.

Week 1

Eagles 34 – Packers 27

We got our best Thursday Night Football game of the year in Week 4, and there was plenty to discuss, starting with the Eagles running backs. Jordan Howard played a season high snap share by over 20 percentage points, and dominated the backfield en route to a three-touchdown performance.

I’ve been calling Miles Sanders a buy against what had been underwhelming production, and the lesson learned here should be applied to Howard. And that lesson is to never trust Doug Pederson running back trends.

We talked a lot about how heavily Pederson has employed committees this offseason, but I got excited about Sanders’ usage after the first two weeks, when he started each game, took four of five green zone rush attempts and led the team in routes run. Since then, he’s continued to start, but he missed more than a quarter of action after two second-quarter fumbles in Week 3. In Week 4, he was the starter only in name, as Jordan Howard subbed in for the second play and played as the lead from there on out. 

Howard’s role has certainly expanded since Week 1, when I noted he “saw five of his eight touches on a 19-play drive that chewed up nearly nine minutes of the fourth quarter after the Eagles got the ball back with a 29-20 lead.” In Weeks 1 and 2, he played fewer than a quarter of the snaps, but that bumped up to 32% in Week 3, a game where he seemed to regain the goal-line role with two of the team’s three green zone attempts, including a 1-yard touchdown run. 

Week 4 was a different animal with Howard gaining so many snaps, and notably because he was the only targeted running back, turning in a 4-3-28-1 receiving line. But that was probably a bit fluky, as his receiving role didn’t change much. Over the first three games, Howard had three catches total while averaging 7.3 routes per game; in Week 4, he racked up his four targets on just nine routes run. 

Sanders stuck right around his Week 3 snap share, which was down from Weeks 1 and 2, while Darren Sproles played just 11% of the snaps after playing at least 30% in Weeks 1-3. Howard solidified the goal-line role, subbing in for Sanders after Sanders’ lone high-value touch — a 4-yard run from the 9 — on a drive that ended with a Dallas Goedert touchdown, then later rushing three times inside the 5 and converting two short touchdown runs. 

In a normal situation, all of this would point to Howard taking over the backfield and being in prime position going forward. But one has to wonder how long it will last given Pederson’s well-established committee tendencies and how up and down the split of valuable touches has already been in 2019. For me, Week 4 wasn’t Howard taking clear control of the backfield; it was a reminder that on a weekly basis this can and probably will be a roller coaster.

Alshon Jeffery‘s return pushed Nelson Agholor back down the target pecking order, though Agholor still played a big snap share in his typical role. Jeffery and Zach Ertz dominated the receiving volume, while Goedert scored his first 2019 touchdown on what was a season-high snap share for him. Jeffery and Ertz are the only receiving weapons with reliable volume. 

Davante Adams was the big story on the other side, as Aaron Rodgers made him the focal point early. He wound up with massive volume, especially considering he was forced from the game early with turf toe. That Adams put up his 15-10-180 line on just a 70% snap share is all the more impressive, but the injury is the obvious thing to watch going forward, and his being off the field certainly impacted the Packers‘ passing game late. 

The Packers also lost Jamaal Williams for the game on their first offensive snap, which led to a huge snap share for Aaron Jones. Because they predictably went pass-heavy against the Eagles’ strong rush defense but beatable secondary, Jones did a lot of work in the passing game, catching six of seven targets. It wasn’t the best matchup for him to have a huge game — he did punch in an early rushing score — and there’s not much to read into the size of his workload when Williams was knocked from the game so early.

Geronimo Allison played a season-high snap share as the Packers’ pass-heavy game plan meant far fewer two tight end sets, which they’ve favored early in 2019. Both reserve tight ends Marcedes Lewis and Robert Tonyan played season low snap shares while Allison was out there in plenty of three-wide passing sets. That was predicated by the matchup, and we won’t see Green Bay be this pass-heavy most weeks, but it was good to see Allison make a couple of nice plays before half. He finished with a 4-3-52-1 line. 

Four of Jimmy Graham’s nine targets came in the red zone, though he and Rodgers looked a bit off outside their touchdown connection.  

  • Signal: Jordan Howard — clear goal-line back; Alshon Jeffery — strong receiving volume, looked healthy  
  • Noise: Jordan Howard — huge snap share spike is hard to trust, routes run don’t back up the target spike; Packers — heavy pass lean; Aaron Jones — huge snap share  

Patriots 16 – Bills 10

If you’re a fan of throwback defensive struggles, this game was for you. From a Fantasy perspective, it was marred by quarterback play that didn’t allow for much offensive production. Tom Brady averaged 3.8 yards per attempt on 39 passes; playoffs included, he’s posted a worse YPA in just four career starts, and not since 2009. 

The Bills significantly out-gained New England, and likely should have won this game if not for losing the turnover battle four to one. Josh Allen threw three interceptions before being knocked from the game, and Matt Barkley threw another after taking over. 

With Rex Burkhead banged up entering the game, James White was as involved as he’s been all year, leading the team with 10 targets and recording eight receptions. Of the Patriots‘ wide receiver trio, Josh Gordon and Julian Edelman were more productive than Phillip Dorsett, but Dorsett notably posted the fourth-most air yards of any player in Week 4 with 144. His two-catch, 10-yard day significantly underperformed that volume.

Sony Michel got his typical high-TRAP workload. It’s not a great sign for Michel’s value that Brandon Bolden scored on a 4-yard carry, though Bolden only played five snaps and has no value himself. Michel did get three green zone touches later, so it was a bit of bad luck that he wasn’t the one to find the end zone given the usage. But the last thing Michel backers needed was a reminder the Patriots will do a lot of different stuff in the green zone given he doesn’t catch passes.  

John Brown had a similar outing to Dorsett in that he underperformed strong air yards, though he did put a few more numbers on the stat sheet with five catches and 69 yards. Brown led Week 4 with 173 air yards on his 11 targets, and continues to have huge potential in his role but is being held back a bit by quarterback issues. Through four weeks, he has the seventh most air yards in the NFL and is tied for the 18th-most targets. 

Frank Gore posted a strong 17-109 rushing line, but without any receptions he continues to have a capped ceiling even when his rushing efficiency spikes as it did here with 6.4 yards per carry. To be fair, he could have had a better day if he could have punched in one of his four green zone rush attempts. T.J. Yeldon was more involved as the passing downs back this week, catching four passes for 68 receiving yards. Once Devin Singletary is healthy, that work will likely shift back to the rookie.

Cole Beasley saw a whopping 13 targets, and while he’s yet to score a touchdown, he’s seen solid volume across four weeks. He’s another low ceiling option, but averaging nine targets per game makes him an option in deeper PPR leagues.

  • Signal: Bills defense — talent at all levels, difficult Fantasy matchup across the board; John Brown — very strong volume
  • Noise: Tom Brady — 3.8 YPA; Phillip Dorsett — far more upside in his role than his 2-10 line indicates

Chargers 30 – Dolphins 10

  • Snap Notes: Dontrelle Inman – 75% (+43%), Mark Walton – 25% (+9% vs. previous season high), Kalen Ballage – 15% (-19% vs. previous season low)
  • Key Stat: LAC RB – 43 high-value touches for the season (second in NFL)

Austin Ekeler‘s role is going to change with Melvin Gordon back, but how remains to be seen. After four weeks, Ekeler has at least seven high-value touches in each game; no other running back in the league has even five every week. Christian McCaffrey is the only back with more total high-value touches, and is really the only player that has a comparable mix to Ekeler’s huge receiving and green zone roles.  

That the Chargers use their backs in this way is exactly why Melvin Gordon has been a Fantasy star for several years. But it’s also a reminder that Ekeler has had plenty of standalone value alongside Gordon in recent seasons, and with how well he’s played early in 2019, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him retain a larger share of the work than he has in prior seasons, especially in the near term as it’s likely Gordon is at least somewhat eased in. It’s not hard to imagine Ekeler settling in like a cross between Alvin Kamara and 2018 James White as an RB2 if the offense keeps generating this many high-value running back touches overall. 

What to expect from Gordon is more difficult to determine, but he’s stepping into a good situation. That said, he likely won’t have the same touch mix as Ekeler. Justin Jackson, for example, has had a much higher TRAP than Ekeler, with a higher percentage of his overall touches being low-value rush attempts. I think we’ll see Gordon get plenty of green zone touches to go along with some solid receiving work, and the RB value in the offense makes him essentially a must start — assuming we know he’ll play substantial snaps — while we gather more information. 

With Mike Williams and Travis Benjamin out, Dontrelle Inman was more involved in Week 4, while Phillip Rivers didn’t really need to press against the Dolphins and threw for an efficient 310 yards and two scores on just 30 attempts. Both of Rivers’ touchdowns went to the backs, a common occurrence for him that’s helpful for both Gordon and Ekeler. Keenan Allen had a down game by his recent standards, but was flagged for offensive pass interference on a would-be 69-yard touchdown that he had a legitimate gripe about.

The Dolphins ran just 47 plays, the type of volume that makes it difficult for anyone to have a ceiling game. DeVante Parker was the closest thing, turning his strong air yards into more production with a 4-4-70-1 line. There was talk this week Albert Wilson would return, but he was inactive for the third straight game, which allowed Parker and Preston Williams to remain the focal points of the passing game. I expect he’ll command enough target share upon his return to further limit the upside here.

Josh Rosen played fine, but took four sacks and got off just 24 pass attempts as the Dolphins struggled to sustain drives in the second half. Durham Smythe seemed to be running ahead of Mike Gesicki, if you’re tracking Dolphins tight ends for any reason.

Kenyan Drake played a strong snap share, and was efficient on his 12 touches, but simply didn’t get enough work. Mark Walton played ahead of Kalen Ballage, and the backups combined for 10 touches. A committee in a bad, low-volume offense is not the place to find consistent Fantasy points. 

  • Signal: Chargers RBs — plenty of high-value opportunity to go around
  • Noise: Chargers/Dolphins — target volume on both sides with Albert Wilson, Mike Williams out

Browns 40 – Ravens 25

I went on a bit of a rant about the Browns last week that focused on repeated errors that I attributed to coaching. To their credit, they seemed to address some of those things this week. 

One big issue was how long Baker Mayfield was holding onto the ball, but in Week 4 we saw a guy playing in rhythm far more often:

It’s a bit perplexing that it took a road game in Baltimore for us to see Baker’s upside as a passer, but he posted his best completion percentage (66.7%), yards per attempt (11.4) and raw yardage (342) of the season. Jarvis Landry busted out of a season-long slump, and — surprise! — his aDOT was back down at 6.0 on his 10 targets. His 124 yards after the catch are not something he’ll be able to repeat on a weekly basis — especially his longest play of the day where he caught a short crossing route, broke a tackle, then stumbled up the sideline for 65 yards — but I’ve spilled a lot of words about his efficiency at various depths so it was nice to see him working underneath and catching eight of 10 targets in that area of the field before leaving with a concussion. 

Here’s more great information on why this became a Landry game (and hopefully not a sign this was an isolated situation):

Odell Beckham had a subpar game with just two catches, but the passing game’s productivity and his seven targets and 120 air yards despite the added defensive attention are all positive signs. 

The Browns ran the ball heavily in the second half to preserve their lead — after a 23/12 pass/run split in the first half to get out in front, they threw just eight second-half passes against 17 second-half runs. Nick Chubb’s efficiency was a big reason they didn’t need to throw much, as he scored three second-half rushing touchdowns, including an 88-yard home run in the fourth. He continues to be a star, but a small note is a week after the Browns elected to play him for nearly every snap, his snap share was back down in the sixties and he ran fewer routes than Dontrell Hilliard. Just something to watch with regards to his passing-game role, but nothing major.

Ricky Seals-Jones ran a route on 45% of dropbacks and caught the early passing touchdown, which doesn’t make him a Fantasy option as much as it means Demetrius Harris isn’t likely to work into Fantasy viability while David Njoku is out. Harris ran just two more routes than Seals-Jones so this looks like a pretty even split now. 

On Baltimore’s side, Lamar Jackson didn’t have a great game with four sacks taken and a pair of interceptions, but I point that out only to emphasize that it doesn’t prevent him from putting up big Fantasy numbers. Set aside his 50-yard touchdown pass to Willie Snead with less than a minute remaining and his rushing ability still creates a ridiculously high floor-to-ceiling range that makes him a must-start quarterback. 

Marquise Brown and Mark Andrews again led in targets, and Brown’s snaps and routes per dropback rose again, as they have every week. He ran a route on 95% of dropbacks. Andrews is still more of a part-time player, especially with his lingering foot issue, but he found the end zone again and also remains essentially must start whenever active.

A week after playing a season-high snap share in a game the Ravens trailed, Mark Ingram ceded more work to his backups in a similar game script. While Ingram led the backfield in routes run, the combination of Justice Hill and Gus Edwards ran more, and Ingram saw just one target. I’m certainly not taking any kind of victory lap because I’ve been unquestionably wrong about Ingram based on his production, but this is the type of outcome you worry about with TRAP backs. One positive sign was that while his rush attempts were limited by the script, Ingram continued to be very efficient on a per-carry basis, and we can expect that to continue given the presence of Jackson and the long history of rushing quarterbacks positively impacting the rushing efficiency of their backs.

  • Signal: Jarvis Landry — ran more underneath routes in Week 4; Baker Mayfield — got the ball out quicker, might be trending positively; Browns — conservative pass/run split while ahead
  • Noise: Odell Beckham — underperformed targets, air yards; Willie Snead — long touchdown in garbage time

Panthers 16 – Texans 10

  • Snap Notes: Duke Johnson – 65% (+1% vs. previous season high), Carlos Hyde – 48% (-1% vs. season average), Keke Coutee – 58% (+14% vs. previous season high), Kenny Stills – 16% (tweaked his hamstring), Panthers – nothing notable
  • Key Stat: Christian McCaffrey – 12 HVT (most in Week 4)

Carolina’s Week 4 offense is pretty easy to break down: it was all Christian McCaffrey. McCaffrey rushed 27 times, caught 10 of Kyle Allen‘s 24 completions, and totaled more than 60% of the team’s 297 total yards. He’s pacing toward a monster touch total but I’m not sure how you do anything other than just ride this out and see where it takes you.

Curtis Samuel was another air yards underperformer, posting just a 3-32 receiving line despite 151 air yards. Kyle Allen has definitely been willing to take some shots, but the majority of his throws have been safe, easy options, which makes plenty of sense given they’ve led (and won) both of his starts. I expect the receiving options will see more volume if and when the Panthers trail, so while Week 4 wasn’t promising for any of Samuel, D.J. Moore or Greg Olsen, I’m not panicking. 

By now you’ve likely seen Deshaun Watson’s awesome response to a question about the Panthers’ scheme and why the Texans didn’t take more shots downfield, and it’s great to see players elaborate on those types of things. In it, Watson mentions missing on the few downfield opportunities he did get, including yet another missed opportunity for Will Fuller:

Watson now has two great passing games and two pretty subpar games, although he’s provided a rushing score in both of those worse performances. There’s obvious concern that he’s already taken 18 sacks, but he’s been able to play through that for the most part throughout his career. 

This was a fairly slow-paced game, as Carolina tried (and mostly succeeded) limiting possessions in the second half. None of the receiving options were very productive, because as Watson described, he was forced into underneath throws by a combination of good downfield scheme and coverage from the Panthers. Both DeAndre Hopkins and Fuller are buy lows right now, with Fuller getting a slight bump in expected role going forward after Kenny Stills hurt his hamstring. Hopkins and Fuller have underperformed their air yards all season with RACRs of 0.56 and 0.46, below their career averages, and their career averages include some bad quarterback play; they should be overperforming those rates with Watson. Expect both to make a big impact sooner than later.

One thing we saw more of in this game was the running backs in the passing game, and Carlos Hyde did that thing he does where he totaled 6 receiving yards on five targets and four catches. Duke Johnson actually saw a bump in snaps in the pass-heavy script, and ran 25 routes to Hyde’s 17, which was a positive for Johnson’s value even though Hyde out-targeted him. Johnson caught two of three targets for 22 yards. 

  • Signal: Curtis Samuel — several downfield looks (eighth most air yards in the NFL this season); DeAndre Hopkins/Will Fuller — ninth and 12th most air yards in the NFL this season
  • Noise: Carlos Hyde — 5 targets (scheme-aided, ran fewer routes than Duke Johnson); DeAndre Hopkins/Will Fuller — receiving efficiency to date

Chiefs 34 – Lions 30

There are no moral victories, but the Lions have to feel pretty good about their Week 4 showing. Despite the final scoreline, Detroit gave Patrick Mahomes a tough time all day, and his 57% completion percentage and 7.5 yards per attempt were both well below his marks in each of Weeks 1-3. Mahomes did still throw for over 300 yards and he scrambled more than we’ve seen this year, with six rushes for 54 yards. 

That Mahomes didn’t throw for a touchdown might be more of a win for Detroit if Kansas City’s backs didn’t run for three. LeSean McCoy again started and played the lead role, but Darrel Williams was again used heavily late and wound up with more snaps overall. He also ran more routes, and I noted last week his role looked a lot like what we saw from Damien Williams in Week 1. I’m perhaps a bit biased because I believed in Damien Williams’ ability coming into this year, but it’s hard not to see Darrel Williams’ production and think a lot of that would have been ticketed for Damien had Damien stayed healthy. More to the point, for as productive as Darrel has been from a Fantasy perspective, it’s entirely possible he’ll take a back seat again when Damien is healthy. That makes Damien an intriguing buy low right now because the biggest thing we’ve learned thus far in the young season is there is plenty of running back production to go around in this backfield and we want anyone who could potentially see that work.

We had yet another big underperformer to air yards expectations in this game, and it was Demarcus Robinson. After two big games, Robinson caught four balls for just 35 yards, but his nine targets and 165 air yards indicate that wasn’t because his role got any smaller. He can continue to be trusted in lineups. 

The volume wasn’t quite as strong for Sammy Watkins, and he’s been pretty disappointing for three straight weeks since a monster Week 1. On balance, he’s still seeing plenty of work and still has plenty of upside to justify keeping him in your lineups. The downfield looks have been reserved more for Robinson and Mecole Hardman, but Watkins leads the team in targets and WOPR (yes, even ahead of Travis Kelce) and will have another big day soon enough, given that volume in this offense. 

Hardman is a trickier one because he’s settling in as the fourth downfield option, but despite with his two receptions and 9 receiving yards he saw 81 air yards on his five targets, so the story is much the same for him. The upside for all of these guys is massive any given week, but there is certainly some bust potential as well when the production goes elsewhere (in Week 4, that was mostly to the running backs and Kelce).

Kerryon Johnson played a slightly smaller snap share than his big Week 3 rate, a positive sign that the heavy uptick after C.J. Anderson’s release is sticking. He got four more green zone rushes as well, giving him nine over the past two weeks. He did lose a fumble right at the goalline on a weird play where the referees let things play out, then deferred to the call on the field when replay didn’t have any great angles, a sort of loophole that’s been created where the refs never actually make a call. The Lions did go back to Johnson on a rush attempt from the 9-yard line after the fumble, and he again easily led the backs in routes run so I expect his targets to tick up going forward. Johnson’s stock is rising.

J.D. McKissic played more snaps than Ty Johnson for the first time — and he more than doubled up Johnson’s snaps — so the backup spot now seems unsettled. 

After catching an early touchdown, T.J. Hockenson suffered what looks to be a fairly serious injury. Early reports are that he will avoid IR, which certainly seems to indicate it will be a couple of weeks. 

Kenny Golladay had another big game — the issue with him has never been his talent level, as he was a great prospect and has been nothing but productive at the NFL level. The issue is volume in this offense, but this was another game where the Lions were going to be forced to play at a quicker pace, and those are good weeks to target Golladay

  • Signal: Kerryon Johnson — workload has been elite since C.J. Anderson’s release
  • Noise: Lions — 73 offensive plays; Chiefs WRs — lack of production vs. air yards

Titans 24 – Falcons 10

Wearing jersey number 11 in Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium, A.J. Brown looked a little like Julio Jones on two impressive touchdowns early. Unfortunately, he’s still stuck in a rotation in a slow-paced offense. Even with his early production, Brown ran routes on just 55% of dropbacks, which is in line with his usage to date as Adam Humphries and Tajae Sharpe have both mixed in behind the only true full-time wide receiver, Corey Davis

The Titans also run a lot of two tight end sets, especially when they get ahead. But as we’ve talked about in prior weeks, those don’t always include Delanie Walker, and with the Titans out in front this week the Titans went to a lot more heavy formations with their blocking tight ends. They also slowed things way down, showing how limited the upside is in this passing offense. As good as Marcus Mariota was in the first half — 189 passing yards and two touchdowns on 19 attempts — he finished with just 227 yards overall, throwing just eight more passes in the second half. This was easily his best game of the season and it wasn’t nearly the blowup performance it could have been. 

On any other offense, I’d call Brown a buy high, a guy who has been productive on limited volume and who could explode if he gets a full slate of snaps later in the season, which feels almost inevitable. And that might still happen for the Ole Miss star who outperformed D.K. Metcalf in college. But for right now, he’s more of just a hold or cheap add, as Walker, Humphries and Davis — plus the slow offense — make it really hard to envision a scenario where there will be enough volume to support a breakout. The Titans are basically the Vikings, except there are more mouths to feed in the passing game.

So this script means Derrick Henry had a big game, right? Sorta. He got 27 carries, and he chugged his way to exactly 100 rushing yards. We’re conditioned to think that’s good! But his lack of a receiving role showed up again, and a 28-touch day turned into 11.8 PPR points because only two of them were high-value touches. Just like with Mark Ingram, Henry’s been great this year, but I’ve been calling him a sell because that’s a TRAP back; it’s an empty workload that looks better in theory than it is for your Fantasy score. Henry certainly wasn’t bad, but it’s very tough for that type of player to be a league-winner (notwithstanding the fact that yeah, this exact player was exactly that in the Fantasy playoffs last year). 

Atlanta struggled again, and they generated just 10 points despite Matt Ryan throwing 53 passes for 397 yards. They were another team who struggled to get the ball downfield, as Julio Jones (seven targets, 14.4 aDOT) and Calvin Ridley (six targets, 15.3 aDOT) took a back seat to Mohamed Sanu (12 targets, 9.4 aDOT), Austin Hooper (11 targets, 8.4 aDOT) and Devonta Freeman (nine targets, 0.8 aDOT) in the shorter areas of the field. 

It’s the second straight week Sanu and Hooper have popped and Ridley in particular has not, but this was largely scheme-related as the Titans funneled things underneath. The vast majority of the pass attempts came in the second half, along with a pass-heavy two-minute drive before halftime. What that means is that while targets are typically an indication of intent for the offense — who the team wants to be throwing to — these Week 4 figures were less so, and were influenced heavily by game situation and what the defense dictated. 

The only reason that distinction matters is if Atlanta can get things headed in the direction they want, Jones and Ridley should see their target numbers rise. But if they can’t, the distinction won’t really matter for our purposes; teams may be able to just force them to throw to inferior options. 

A quick note on Freeman — for as great as it was to see him heavily involved in the pass game, it was equally disheartening to see established touchdown vulture Ito Smith sub in for back-to-back carries from the 11- and 1-yard lines for a first quarter touchdown.

  • Signal: A.J. Brown — is very good, is also limited by his offense; Ito Smith — still up to his touchdown vulturing
  • Noise: Falcons — target splits (scheme-influenced and depth-related due to catch-up mode)

Giants 24 – Washington 3

This game was kind of boring, so this writeup is dedicated to Wayne Gallman, who caught six passes and saw two rushes from the 1-yard line for a whopping eight high-value touches. Gallman’s receiving work was particularly great to see, and he scored his first of two touchdowns on a reception after Washington’s defense left him uncovered leaking out of the backfield. He ran routes on a healthy 56% of dropbacks and saw seven targets, while Jon Hilliman worked in behind him, mostly spelling him on long drives. Hilliman did take one drive to himself late in the third quarter, and he racked up six of his 10 rush attempts on that series.

Fullback Elijhaa Penny was used for three rush attempts late to run out the clock; Hilliman’s and Penny’s work mostly came after the outcome was decided. Gallman looked like a nearly every-down back. 

Daniel Jones wasn’t tasked with doing too much considering Washington never threatened. Sterling Shepard and Evan Engram led the receiving group, as expected, while Darius Slayton‘s role didn’t expand this week — he ran routes on 53% of dropbacks in his Week 3 debut, but that only moved to 56% in Week 4. He’s unlikely to make an impact unless he can work into a full-time role. 

Without Terry McLaurin and also guard Brandon Scherff, Washington’s offense looked lost. Case Keenum got a quick hook after throwing an early interception on a deflected pass and then missing a wide open Trey Quinn for what could have been a long touchdown down the seam. He’d already missed Quinn in the first quarter on a similar play that was a little more closely guarded, and it’s clear Washington found something to exploit on film with the slot receiver getting vertical. 

Dwayne Haskins made his debut throwing to a ragtag group of pass-catchers that included fellow rookie Kelvin Harmon’s most extensive playing time as he split work with Robert Davis in place of McLaurin. Haskins completed nine passes to his team and three to the Giants on 17 attempts.

Based on what we saw, it would be very difficult to play any Washington pass-catchers should Haskins get the start in Week 5. There’s been some discussion that it might go to Colt McCoy next. This is not a good Fantasy situation, as evidence by their 176 total yards. 

  • Signal: Wayne Gallman — big workload; Washington — bad Fantasy situation
  • Noise: Jon Hilliman — box score makes him look a little more involved than he was, as most of his 10 carries came late

Raiders 31 – Colts 24

The Raiders went to Indianapolis and knocked off the Colts, and we got a game with a weird mix of what we’d expect from both offenses and some odd quirks. 

For Oakland, Ryan Grant was deactivated, which seemed to indicate Hunter Renfrow might be in line for some more snaps. After a slow Week 1, Renfrow had run routes on 77% of Week 2 and 66% of Week 3 dropbacks. Instead, Renfrow’s routes per dropback fell to 44% in Week 4, as Trevor Davis made his debut and immediately out-snapped him.

Davis, interestingly, wasn’t targeted. But he did get two rush attempts, and he broke one for an early 60-yard touchdown, which helped Oakland get out to a lead. Oakland played conservatively throughout, running the ball more times than they threw it, and Indianapolis was forced to press the issue with Jacoby Brissett for the first time this season. 

Brissett threw 46 times, racking up three touchdowns but just 265 passing yards. T.Y. Hilton missed the game, and we’ve talked the past two weeks about a rotation behind him. In Week 3, that meant this: “Outside Hilton, Jacoby Brissett spread the ball around, with no other Colt seeing more than four targets.” In Week 4, with all these pass attempts to go around, each of the four rotating wide receivers, both of the tight ends, and Nyheim Hines all saw between five and eight targets. It was about as balanced as a passing attack can get, which, of course, isn’t great for Fantasy Football

Rookie Parris Campbell did see a few deep shots, and led the team with 116 air yards, while tying with Jack Doyle for the team lead with eight targets. Zach Pascal led the team with 72 yards, while Doyle, Eric Ebron and Chester Rogers caught the touchdowns. Certainly some of that is appealing, but it came against the Raiders in a game where the Colts easily set a season high in pass attempts. More importantly, this feels like a situation where — if Hilton were to miss again next week — it could just as easily be Deon Cain who leads the team in receiving. It’s anyone’s guess what to read from this. 

Marlon Mack left the game early; he had just two touches in the second half. 

Darren Waller and Tyrell Williams led the Raiders with eight and seven targets, the only players on Oakland’s side with more than three. Both had solid games and remain good volume bets, although if you started Waller this week you were probably disappointed to see backup tight end Foster Moreau catch one of the touchdowns. 

Josh Jacobs continued running efficiently, but DeAndre Washington, Jalen Richard and fullback Alec Ingold combined for 11 carries while Jacobs saw just 17 despite the heavy run lean. He did catch two passes, just his second and third of the year. He’s been another TRAP back so far this year. 

  • Signal: Hunter Renfrow — losing snaps; Colts — unconcentrated target tree without Hilton
  • Noise: Colts — inflated pass attempts

Seahawks 27 – Cardinals 10

  • Snap Notes: Will Dissly – 79% (+20% vs. previous season high), Chris Carson – 76% (tied season high), Trent Sherfield – 84% (+77% vs. previous season high)
  • Key Stat: Kyler Murray — 5.3 aDOT (second straight week under 6.0 after being over 8.0 in Weeks 1 and 2)

I had a lot of thoughts on Chris Carson’s fumbling last week, but Pete Carroll made clear later in the week he intended to stick with him, and that’s what Seattle did. The Seahawks actually came out passing a little more often than usual, throwing 12 times against four rushes on their first two drives, and that helped them build a lead. Because of a Jadeveon Clowney interception return for a touchdown in the first quarter, they took over for their third possession midway through the second quarter already leading 17-3. 

From there, it was a heavy dose of Carson — and four of their next five possessions ending in punts — before a 15-play, eight-minute drive in the fourth quarter put the game out of reach. You’ve heard this story before, but Russell Wilson threw just 28 passes, while Carson ran 22 times and C.J. Prosise added another three rushes, including the touchdown to seal the long fourth-quarter drive from nine yards out. Prosise actually got two green zone rush attempts as Seattle opted to go shotgun and spread things out in close, while Carson did get one attempt from the 6 and also caught four passes for a solid five high-value touches.

There wasn’t much downfield passing volume, and what little there was mostly went to Will Dissly as the Cardinals still haven’t figured out tight ends are eligible receivers. Dissly caught seven of eight targets, several of which he was completely unguarded for, including his 9-yard touchdown reception. He also saw his snaps and routes (68% of dropbacks) jump in the first game since Nick Vannett was traded.

The game context explains poor performances from Tyler Lockett and D.K. Metcalf, something we have to live with when we roster pass-catchers from these archaic offenses.

Last week, I tried to understand Kyler Murray’s rapidly declining (and possibly related) time to throw and aDOT. 

“After average target depths of 10.6 and 8.2 and plenty of air yards in Weeks 1 and 2, Murray averaged just 5.9 yards of depth in Week 3. 

In addition to the scrambling, Murray also took eight sacks, bringing him to a whopping 16 through three games. Per the NFL’s Next Gen Stats, Murray’s average time to throw on pass attempts in Week 1 was ninth-longest, but in the two games since he’s been among the five quickest passers in the league.”

Murray’s time to throw rose considerably in Week 4, but his aDOT didn’t — it fell even further to a season-low 5.3. He took four more sacks and settled for checkdowns to David Johnson at a high rate, particularly early in the game. Johnson caught six of Murray’s first 10 passes for 87 of his first 112 yards, and finished the game with a team-high 11 targets, eight receptions and 99 receiving yards. 

Whatever the cause of Murray’s inability or unwillingness to push the ball down the field, it’s really sapped the upside of the offense. It’s been great for David Johnson in PPR formats, plus Murray has scrambled more — including a nine-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter in Week 4 — as defenses are presumably getting more depth and giving that up. But Larry Fitzgerald and Christian Kirk, as well as the other receiving options in the offense, have not been nearly as productive as they were in Weeks 1 and 2 without the air yards in the offense.

  • Signal: Kyler Murray — season-low 168 air yards in Week 4; Chris Carson — very much still the lead back, managed to get through a game without losing a fumble
  • Noise: Cardinals — 59 offensive plays (Seattle shortened this game)

Buccaneers 55 – Rams 40

  • Snap Notes: Ronald Jones – 49% (+17% vs. previous season high), Peyton Barber – 26% (-9% vs. previous season low), Breshad Perriman – 7% (injured), Todd Gurley – 76% (+3% vs. previous season high)
  • Key Stat: Jared Goff – 68 pass attempts, 517 passing yards

This game was bananas, and I could have picked about a dozen stats as the key stat, including Chris Godwin’s huge performance, the absurdity of Todd Gurley getting just five rush attempts in a game the Rams ran over 80 plays or anything Ronald Jones related.

But let’s start with Goff’s pass attempts, one shy of the NFL record in a regulation game and two shy of the record if overtime is included. Goff’s 68 attempts are why we talk about things in terms of share of team volume, because, for instance, Gurley’s 11 targets are massive for a running back outside context and a lot more normal when presented as a 16% share of the team’s passes. 

The Rams chased for the majority of this game, and because their volume is typically concentrated, we wound up with Brandin Cooks’ nine targets and 100 air yards looking miniscule in comparison to both Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp seeing 15 looks. 

It’s great to know the Rams still have this type of passing ceiling, but you don’t want to read into the individual player production too much. Tampa Bay has a beatable secondary but much better rush defense so it’s likely the Rams came in with a pass-heavy gameplan, and the Bucs’ offense is always down for a shootout. We likely won’t see this type of game context again this year. 

What conclusions can we draw from it? Robert Woods is still fine and was a good buy low, as we talked about last week. Todd Gurley got another green zone rush attempt, giving him five of the Rams’ six since the Week 1 circus that he wasn’t a goal-line back anymore. His receiving role — even adjusted for team share — and the fact that he played 74 snaps total, the most of any RB in Week 4, are also both great signs.

Gerald Everett and Tyler Higbee are still a tandem, as they saw eight and seven targets, with Everett scoring. That’s not production to chase, because most weeks it will top out at more like eight or nine total targets split among them. 

On Tampa’s side, obviously Jameis Winston played better to win this shootout on the road. Chris Godwin had a huge first half, cashing in for two early second quarter touchdowns after Goff interceptions on back-to-back drives gave the Bucs short fields. Godwin had a whopping nine first-half catches and his stat line both in this game and for the season is self-explanatory. 

But the idea Godwin’s success means Mike Evans is an afterthought is nonsense, as Evans hit on a deep ball later and still finished with 103 air yards to Godwin’s 114 despite seven targets to Godwin’s 14. That’s exactly to be expected, as Godwin is playing the slot role while Evans is a consistent downfield threat — he’s one of just two players, Julio Jones being the other, who has at least 100 air yards in all four games this season. 

That O.J. Howard wasn’t more productive in this game is concerning, and the red flags are mounting, but he ran substantially more routes than Cameron Brate (26 to 15). It’s still worth remembering he’s been productive on a part-time role before, but both tight ends seeing three targets and Brate scoring, as he’s wont to do, isn’t great news for Howard. 

And then there’s Ronald Jones. A season-high snap share and 82 total yards, with runs of 24 and 54 yards called back, one due to an illegal shift that didn’t impact the play, the other a hold. Perhaps as important as any of that was that he ran 10 routes to Dare Ogunbowale’s 12. Jones needs to wrestle some receiving work away from the third-down back to have huge upside. 

But in Week 4 he clearly put together the flashes he’d shown and Bruce Arians and Byron Leftwich finally turned things over to him, especially in the second half when he had 16 touches and Peyton Barber and Ogunbowale each had just one. Barber’s was notably a green zone touch, as he subbed in after Jones had a 24-yard run down to the 6, but after he lost a yard Jones came back on and got a carry on the next play (losing three yards himself). Jones did convert his earlier green zone touch, while Barber converted one of his earlier two as well. 

I sent out the above tweet and got some of the typical “weird flex” stuff, which isn’t at all the point. Yes, I’m excited about Jones, and yes, I play that up. There’s no player at any position I drafted more of in my own leagues this year. But I mean this tweet literally — Jones was a value all offseason, and almost every time I commented on his profile — substantial draft capital, tons of college production and enough athleticism to play at the NFL level — I got a very specific response that none of that mattered because Ronald Jones is terrible. 

The point of the tweet and my elaborating here is that for guys like Jones and similarly for another guy I like who checked more boxes as a prospect than he was given credit for, John Ross, groupthink can be overwhelming. The context is that when too many people become too certain, they become screaming values in our fake game. One of the comps I made for Jones this offseason was Melvin Gordon. That was never to compare their talent or styles, but to compare the public perception going into year two of their career. After Gordon’s rookie year where he rushed for a sub-4.0 YPC and didn’t score, the consensus was very much that he was just a product of the Wisconsin system and that he wasn’t any good. He was a league-winner that season.

The reason to harp on this point is there is considerable value in these situations. Jones may not prove to be a league-winner — I’ve already established we’ll need to see more receiving — but he fell to as late as the 13th and 14th round in many drafts. I’m sure he went undrafted in some! And that looks silly now and we can repeat all the reasons that was silly — he barely played as a rookie, he was the youngest back in the class last year, he was a second-round pick for a reason — but none of those things trumped the groupthink around Jones, or a player with his profile wouldn’t have continued to be drafted where he was all summer. 

So let’s be clear: this isn’t a victory lap that Jones is definitely good. That was never the argument to select him as a late-round running back. To the extent this is a victory lap, it’s a victory lap that it never mattered whether Jones was good. It’s a victory lap that no matter what happens from here, the Jones preseason call is already correct because it’s already blatantly clear he was worth a double-digit round Fantasy pick as an upside RB, and denying that fact at this point would either be moving the goalposts from the preseason discussion or sticking your head in the sand. 

We don’t know how it will play out from here, but he’s now showing potential to be a legitimate stud and not just a usable RB2 or flex, which is just gravy. In the future, it’s definitely going to be worth targeting players in his situation again, and overconfidence in subjective talent evaluations from the masses presents a major edge in Fantasy Football. After one month, what we know is Jones is definitely not so terrible as to not have been worth drafting in Fantasy Football. How much of a payoff there is remains to be seen. Naturally, I’m optimistic.

  • Signal: Ronald Jones — 16 second-half touches (Barber: 1, Ogunbowale: 1); Todd Gurley — 74 total snaps, 8 HVT
  • Noise: Jared Goff — 68 attempts, 517 yards; Rams receivers — raw target volume

Bears 16 – Vikings 6

  • Snap Notes: David Montgomery – 69% (+4% vs. previous season high), Javon Wims – 94% (+64% vs. previous season high), Anthony Miller – 62% (+10% vs. previous season high), Tarik Cohen – 39% (+2% vs. previous season low), Dalvin Cook – 79% (+7% vs. previous season high), Olabisi Johnson – 58% (+37% vs. previous season high)
  • Key Stat: David Montgomery – 24 touches, 19 routes run (ties season high)

So we move from an absolute bonanza of Fantasy scoring to… the Vikings. Versus Chase Daniel.

Probably the most notable part of this game occurred after, when Adam Thielen openly called out the run-heavy philosophy, saying “You have to be able to throw the ball.” Preach, Adam. 

Mitchell Trubisky went down on the first possession of the game, and the Bears turned to Chase Daniel and played a conservative style, working heavily through David Montgomery, not turning the ball over and not taking many negative plays (just one sack conceded). They dared Kirk Cousins to beat them, and Minnesota responded by … playing the exact same way. The Vikings had two (2) first-half possessions, while the Bears had three, but they’d scored a touchdown on their first drive and were certainly happy to shorten the game in that way given they were without their starting quarterback.

I want to get on another soapbox for a quick second. When I talk about shortening the game, I’m talking about plays and possessions. Football is a game of possessions. While some may argue (perhaps facetiously, perhaps not) the Bears were better off once Chase Daniel took over, that’s ultimately a knock on Trubisky, and at any rate the Vikings should have been confident in their defense against Daniel. Thus, their decision to shorten the game by playing slow and going along with the Bears’ plan to limit possessions on both sides — especially after Chicago got out to an early lead — limited their own ability to, in the most basic sense, score enough points to win. 

Yes, the Bears defense is very good. But that’s sort of the point: Why limit your opportunities to score on them? It can’t be because you’re afraid of giving Chase Daniel too many chances to score on you. That’s not an acceptable answer for a team that prides itself on its defense.

The Vikings did throw more in the second half, but not particularly aggressively as the Bears’ defense became more concerned with limiting big plays. They wound up with a 36/16 pass/run ratio, which looks reasonable on paper, but Cousins’ aDOT was just 5.6. Stefon Diggs caught all seven targets he saw for 108 yards, but he lost a costly fumble, his second this year. Dalvin Cook actually led the Vikings with eight targets, catching six for 35 yards. Thielen had the inefficient day in Week 4, and that kind of thing happens when you only see six targets. 

On the other side, Javon Wims played a full snap share in place of Taylor Gabriel, and he was heavily involved behind Allen Robinson. Wims went 5-4-56 and had the deepest aDOT on the team at 12.0, while Robinson went 7-7-77. No one else had more than 16 receiving yards, and Montgomery gained just 53 yards on the ground on his 21 rushes. He did notably run more routes than Tarik Cohen for the first time this year, and while Cohen caught the first-quarter touchdown, Montgomery matched his five targets and caught three balls. Montgomery’s workload is improving, but neither team in this game produced enough offense — just 491 total yards combined — for there to be much of note for anyone here.

If the Bears would have been challenged more, I suspect we would have seen them pick things up. And while my expectation for them next week would be another conservative game plan — much like we’ve seen from several teams starting backup quarterbacks — Daniel will be more aggressive than he was here if need be.

For the Vikings, here’s to hoping Thielen’s quote sparks something and they’re willing to push things downfield a little more, and especially earlier in games. That’s no guarantee, but I’ve been saying for a couple of weeks now that there are a few different ways the Vikings could wind up throwing more than they have been this year, and that their pace is likely unsustainable. While a mutiny from their star wide receiver wasn’t something I’d considered, it does seem possible it makes an impact.

  • Signal: David Montgomery — snap share, routes trending positively
  • Noise: Tarik Cohen — scored a touchdown, but that masked a poor day usage-wise

Jaguars 26 – Broncos 24

  • Snap Notes: Ryquell Armstead – 16% (+2% vs. previous season high), Royce Freeman – 62% (+10% vs. previous season high), Phillip Lindsay – 45% (-3% vs. previous season low)
  • Key Stat: Leonard Fournette – 31 touches, 245 total yards

Leonard Fournette was a big story in this one, but so was Gardner Minshew, as the duo led the Jaguars back first from a 17-3 deficit to a third quarter lead and then again to a game-winning field goal drive after the Broncos had retaken the lead with 1:38 left. 

Let’s start with Fournette, because we’ve talked each week about the size of his workload and how he’s been underperforming it. His big play was an 81-yard run that he wasn’t able to finish off for a score, but even outside that Fournette, rushed for over five yards per carry on his 28 other rushes and caught a pair of passes for 20 more yards. If we wanted to be nit picky, we could look at his two catches and three targets as light compared to his typical receiving work, especially since backup Ryquell Armstead caught a 7-yard touchdown pass on a scramble drill. But Fournette ran routes on 87% of Minshew’s dropbacks, so that’s not a major concern at all. He continues to have a huge workload, and whether he compiles points as a runner or receiver, his upside is massive.

Armstead got some work behind Fournette, but played just 16% of the snaps. That touchdown reception was his only target on the day, and again it was a broken play. It was the final play of a 16-play drive in which Fournette rushed 10 times, including each of the six plays before the touchdown pass. That explains why Armstead was on the field in close, and the fact that Armstead ran just three routes all day is further confirmation that he’s not really a threat to any part of Fournette’s workload.

D.J. Chark continued to establish himself as a legit No. 1 in terms of usage. He caught just four passes for 44 yards, but saw a team-high eight targets and also a team-high 105 air yards, plus he had an 18-yard touchdown called back just before halftime. 

Dede Westbrook and Chris Conley continued to work as the other two main targets, with Westbrook seeing six targets and Conley loading up on air yards, 99 total on his four looks. Westbrook is a higher floor PPR option, while Conley is a boom-bust guy who busted here with just one catch for seven yards. James O’Shaughnessy scored for the second straight week but left the game with an injury. Even if healthy, O’Shaughnessy is only a touchdown-or-bust option.

With Jalen Ramsey inactive, Denver made it a point to attack Jacksonville through the air, and they found success with each of their four main passing options as Joe Flacco did a better job of pushing the ball down the field. Emmanuel Sanders had a 100-yard day on nine targets and 135 air yards, while Courtland Sutton’s nine targets weren’t as downfield but included two end zone looks that went for a pair of scores, one of which was the go-ahead touchdown with under two minutes.

Sutton continues to break out in his second season, and he’s been stride-for-stride with Sanders over the first four weeks despite Sanders drawing more headlines for his comeback. Noah Fant also looked very spry in taking a short pass to the house, weaving his way through a variety of defensive backs. I’ve noted Fant’s routes run have been strong, and he’s a reasonable tight end streamer in deeper leagues. DaeSean Hamilton also had his best game of the year with a 5-3-57 line, but Fant and Hamilton remain the clear third and fourth options behind Sutton and Sanders. 

Royce Freeman out-snapped Phillip Lindsay by a considerable margin, but neither was used much on the ground — just 15 carries between them. Freeman did run at least five more routes for the second straight week, but their routes were a lot closer than Freeman’s six-to-one target advantage over Lindsay. Still, it does seem Freeman’s the preferred option on passing downs. Over the past two weeks, Freeman’s run 39 routes while Lindsay has run 28. 

  • Signal: Royce Freeman — playing more on passing downs than Phillip Lindsay; D.J. Chark — seeing legit No. 1 volume
  • Noise: Ryquell Armstead — receiving touchdown (ran just three routes, not a threat to Fournette’s receiving role)

Saints 12 – Cowboys 10

  • Snap Notes: Alvin Kamara – 77% (-11% vs. Week 3, +1% vs. season average), Latavius Murray – 25% (+4%), Ezekiel Elliott – 97% (+20% vs. previous season high), Jason Witten – 79% (+2% vs. previous season high)
  • Key Stat: Teddy Bridgewater – 0/7 on throws of 15-plus yards

This was a slow game for two main reasons. We talked a lot last week about how Teddy Bridgewater stuck to underneath passing in Seattle, and we saw that again in Week 4:

There’s really not much to add that the box score doesn’t make clear. Michael Thomas caught all nine of his targets for 95 yards while Alvin Kamara had a down game with just a 3-3-20 receiving line, but he did rush a season-high 17 times and play a big snap share. It’s very straightforward right now: you’re starting these two guys, and with the offense being very conservative you can’t start anyone else right now. 

On Dallas’s side, we got a scary look into the past:

A willingness to be aggressive on early downs was a huge reason Dallas looked so good in Weeks 1 and 2. They didn’t have as much of a need to do that in a home matchup with Miami Week 3, so that 50% rate in this Week 4 road loss stands out even more compared to those rates in the mid- to high-sixties in Weeks 1 and 2. 

Early signs pointed to Kellen Moore running a different style of offense, but it’s possible that was somewhat due to Ezekiel Elliott not quite being ready. Elliott played a huge Week 4 snap share, and rushed 18 times along with a team-high six receptions, all of which is great for his value. 

While I’m not quite ready to assume Week 4 is the new normal, I’m expecting similar in Week 5. Part of the argument for why this might be a temporary shift back to a run lean would be that losing Michael Gallup had a big impact to their gameplan, especially since replacement Devin Smith saw just one target in Week 4. But Gallup is unlikely to be back Week 5. 

The Cowboys also host a Green Bay team that’s better against the pass than the run, but perhaps most importantly, left tackle Tyron Smith is out after suffering a high-ankle sprain in Week 4. Outside Week 17 last year when Dak Prescott shredded the Giants without Smith, we have a sample of five games over the past two years where the offense has been markedly worse without their left tackle. Prescott in particular has taken sacks at a high rate in those games, and we know pressure makes it difficult to push things downfield. 

Amari Cooper had 113 air yards on his eight Week 4 targets, while Randall Cobb saw 96 on his six, so the Cowboys did still have plenty of verticality to their passing game. But without Smith and Gallup for the foreseeable future, we might continue to see these big workloads from Ezekiel Elliott again.

  • Signal: Ezekiel Elliott — biggest workload of the season; Cowboys — more of a run lean; Teddy Bridgewater — not pushing the ball downfield; Alvin Kamara/Michael Thomas — only startable Saints
  • Noise: Blake Jarwin — had a decent Week 4, but Jason Witten was plus-15 in routes, the largest gap between these two this year

Steelers 27 – Bengals 3

  • Snap Notes: James Conner – 64% (-4% vs. season high), Jaylen Samuels – 46% (+8% vs. previous season high), Nick Vannett – 75% (first game with team), Joe Mixon – 61% (+3% vs. previous season high), Auden Tate – 91% (+3%), John Ross – 65% (injured)
  • Key Stat: Mason Rudolph — 3.4 aDOT

In a battle of 0-3 teams, the Steelers showed a willingness to try something different, while the Bengals did not. 

Given it was an island game, most people probably saw the Steelers run an offense heavy on jet motion and wildcat formations. Jaylen Samuels was a focal point, but not at the expense of James Conner, and both were in on several plays. The running back tandem led the team in a tie with eight targets each, and part of why they each caught all eight of their targets was that many were tip passes on motion plays. Samuels even wound up with a passing line of 3-for-3 for 31 yards, all three of which were tip passes to Conner. 

Samuels’ eight targets combined for negative-19 air yards, meaning on average he caught the ball 2.4 yards behind the line of scrimmage. Conner’s touchdown reception came on a sprint out where he was out in a short curl route before he showed off plenty of after-the-catch ability for the score, but even with some positive air yards on that play his air yards total for the day was negative-9 yards. 

In fact, while Mason Rudolph finished with what looks like a sterling passing line of 24-for-28 for 229 yards and two scores, he totaled just 95 air yards on the night for an aDOT of 3.4, which is tiny for a quarterback and would have been even lower if not for a third quarter downfield shot to Diontae Johnson that went for a 43-yard touchdown. 

It was a gimmicky offense and it worked perfectly against the Bengals, but whether they will continue with that offense to the same degree next week is very much up in the air. These types of moves are often one-game switches, and while we might see some of this incorporated going forward, I expect a more traditional offense next week. 

I would have a hard time starting Samuels in Week 5, despite his productivity, unless I was very thin at RB. I counted seven direct snaps he took in the wildcat, including his rushing touchdown, and the passing stats from that formation added to his Fantasy total. If I had to guess, I’d expect more like two or three direct snaps next week. Then there’s the issue of his receiving role, and while he did catch a few passes on dumpoffs that weren’t designed tip passes, there’s no question the scheme helped boost his receiving line to eight catches and 57 yards. He’d be an upside play on the hope he’s still incorporated in similarly creative ways, but it’s always a bit thin to trust gimmicky production to carry over.  

Because of the offense, there wasn’t much to take away from the downfield receiving options. JuJu Smith-Schuster had a poor game, Diontae Johnson continued to look like the better fit for the No. 2 role over James Washington, and Nick Vannett played quite a bit in his Steelers debut, but Vance McDonald’s absence impacted that heavily.

The Bengals looked as bad as they have this year, totaling just 175 yards on offense. Andy Dalton took a ton of hits, including eight sacks, and never had the ability to get comfortable in the pocket. 

Joe Mixon played his biggest snap share on the season but got scripted out of the game a bit and was similarly impacted by the Bengals’ subpar offensive line. Mixon did see five targets, catching four for just 1 yard, including one reception in the green zone that went for negative-1 yard. He didn’t see any carries in close as the Bengals threw on their only three plays inside the 10. 

Mixon’s one of the more challenging backs to read, because he’ll presumably have a solid green zone role if the Bengals ever play a game where they run a lot of plays down there, but he’s held back by the offense. He also theoretically has reception upside, but he splits that work with Giovani Bernard, who out-targeted him six to five in Week 4. His workload isn’t completely devoid of high-value touches, but it’s certainly not optimal, and the offense is bad enough that it’s really impacted his ability to post solid Fantasy totals.

What little downfield receiving work was available was split evenly between the four main options. We’ve discussed Zac Taylor’s reliance on 11 personnel, much like his former boss Sean McVay, and that Auden Tate took over the third spot last week. Tate was back in that spot for a full slate of snaps and routes in Week 4, and he, Tyler Boyd, John Ross and tight end Tyler Eifert all had either five or six targets and between 48 and 68 air yards. That’s a similar split to what we often see with the Rams, but when there’s substantially less overall production it’s bad news for everyone. 

  • Signal: Auden Tate — every-down player
  • Noise: Steelers — can’t buy that offense as a permanent thing yet; Nick Vannett — solid role, but due to necessity

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