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Football Daily Dose

TNF Preview: Battle for First in the AFC South

by Chris Allen
Updated On: November 12, 2020, 9:27 am ET

Last Thursday went about as expected. San Francisco was missing multiple players due to injury or being placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list. The Packers got back Aaron Jones and the passing game was firing on all cylinders. There wasn’t much Kyle Shanahan could do against Green Bay’s onslaught and there wasn’t much fantasy value to be had except on one side. Week 10 opens with a better matchup between the Colts and Titans. We have fantasy intrigue on both sides despite the Colts have one of the best defenses in the league. Philip Rivers is set up to bounce back after a rough outing last week and Ryan Tannehill may need to get creative to move the ball against Indianapolis. To kick off Week 10, I broke down what to expect in the opener along with a recap of the news coming out of Wednesday.

Battling for Playoff Seeding

The Colts and Titans hold multi-game leads over the remaining teams in the AFC South. Despite Tennessee having the better record at 6-2, both have legitimate shots to make it to the playoffs. With both having slightly positive schedules moving forward, their first of two contests over the next three weeks will have real football implications as we enter the back half of the season. Regardless, the Colts enter Week 10 with more questions on offense than answers with injuries defining most their season.

It’s tough to describe the Colts’ offense even after nine games. Their offseason moves of drafting Jonathan Taylor, adding a lineman, and boosting their defense suggested they wanted to lean on their running game. However, Taylor is the only running back on the team to eclipse 100-rushing yards in a single game and he’s hit that mark just once back in Week 2. Philip Rivers piloted one of the most pass-friendly offenses in the league last season (second in neutral passing rate) and his prior connection with Frank Reich suggested Indianapolis could air it out more in 2020. Rivers is 17th in pass attempts per game with three games under 20 attempts. They tried to establish a running back committee and Marlon Mack got hurt. Their receiving corps has lost Michael Pittman, T.Y. Hilton, Ashton Dulin, and Parris Campbell at various points throughout the season. Even their tight ends (Mo Alie-Cox and Jack Doyle) have missed time with various ailments. In actuality, dealing with injuries is part of their identity but there are some positives headed into Thursday night.

We watched Indianapolis’ offense short circuit (mostly encapsulated by one play) against the Ravens last week, but Baltimore is 10th in pressure rate and fifth in defense DVOA. Tennessee pales in comparison defensively (24th in pressure rate; 18th in defense DVOA) and Rivers has taken advantage of lighter matchups. Over their last four games, he’s faced three teams that rank in the Bottom 10 for pressure rate. He’s finished as a QB1 in two of those three matchups (QB5 in Week 8 and QB7 in Week 6). The Titans have allowed two or more passing touchdowns in every game except for Week 1 and opposing passers have topped 300 yards in two of their last four games. Assuming T.Y. Hilton is fully healthy, he’ll have a chance to return to fantasy relevance with previous WR1s averaging 20.7 PPR points against the Titans. If not Hilton, we’ll look for the trio of Michael Pittman, Marcus Johnson, or Zach Pascal to lead the way. Trey Burton and Mo Alie-Cox should also be in the mix with past tight ends leveraging their size or athleticism against the Titans’ defensive interior (Jimmy Graham 6-55-1 in Week 9, Eric Ebron 7-43-0 in Week 8, and Darren Fellas 7-85-1 in Week 6). The Colts will have their work cut out for them against Ryan Tannehill, but should be able to move the ball more efficiently compared to last week.

We crossed the threshold a couple of weeks ago, but we have at least a full season’s worth of games to size up Ryan Tannehill’s time in Tennessee. He’s been a QB1 in 10 of his last 16 games going back to Week 9 of 2019. He’s averaged 21.8 PPG over that span which would put him at QB5 last season and he’s at QB9 through 9 weeks. Tennessee is third in EPA per Dropback (0.3) and fourth in EPA per Play as an offensive unit. It’s partly because of Tannehill’s efficiency as a passer. He has the sixth-lowest average passing volume (31.9 attempts per game) and the Titans have the eighth-lowest passing rate in neutral situations (50.3%). However, his 7.5% touchdown rate ranks fourth amongst all passers with at least 200 attempts. His rushing (2.8 attempts, 13.1 yards per game) has also given him a solid floor throughout the season. But Derrick Henry has been The Engine. It’s ‘touchdown or bust’ when it comes to Henry as he’s ranked inside the Top 24 just once this season without scoring a touchdown. And he only got there in Week 1 because he caught three passes for additional scrimmage yards. Regardless, the two have found a way to find success on the same offense with a tough challenge ahead of them on Thursday night.

Indianapolis ranks third in defensive DVOA and eleventh in pressure rate. Box-score scouts may look at their last month of games and have positive takeaways for the Titans’ passing game. Matthew Stafford finished as the QB4 in Week 8 and Joe Burrow and Baker Mayfield turned in QB13 and QB16 performances, respectively. On paper, all appears well for Tannehill but there’s more to it. Both Stafford (+7.2 attempts) and Mayfield (+14.1 attempts) far exceeded their seasonal averages in pass attempts to produce against Indianapolis. Joe Burrow, who already leads the league in dropbacks per game, had 39 attempts against the Colts in Week 6. Tannehill has only reached this level of passing volume three times this season.  Should the Titans adjust, the increased volume would benefit all of the pass catchers in Tennessee. However, the Colts stymied most of the perimeter receivers facing them. A.J. Green (8-78-0) and Tee Higgins (2-75-0) were part of three- and four-wide sets that spread out Indianapolis. The Titans, primarily armed with A.J. Brown, Corey Davis, and Jonnu Smith, don’t have as diverse of a passing attack. The matchup should help bring Davis’ value back to previous weeks, but Tennessee will need to be creative on offense if they hope to produce against the Colts’ defense.

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Points of Interest in TNF

We’ll all be watching the backfield split for the Colts. Taylor was said to be adjusting to a different role according to Reich which doesn’t sound great for the rookie’s fantasy outlook moving forward. His snaps have waned since the bye to a near three-way split between himself, Jordan Wilkins, and Nyheim Hines. The fumble-six certainly didn’t help his opportunity in Week 9 (just one rushing attempt afterwards) and his passing and short-yardage work has been ceded to his teammates. Given Tennessee is 24th in rushing defense, Taylor may be able to find some success despite the rotation as he continues to develop in the NFL.

Ryan Tannehill’s response to a suppressive defense will be critical to their success. He’s had an average +2.1% Completion Percentage over Expected this season highlighting both his accuracy and efficiency as a passer given his limited attempts. How the Titans have game planned and what they’ve taken from the Colts’ previous games will be readily apparent on their first drive. Previous quarterbacks attempted passes of 10 air yards or less on 66.0% of their throws. While we want the explosive downfield throws to A.J. Brown, the Titans will need to have a different approach to such a strong secondary.

Injury Slants

Preston Williams scored a touchdown, celebrated in the end zone, and was soon carted from Miami’s bench shortly after the score. The Dolphins placed Williams on injured reserve Wednesday knocking out the sophomore receiver for at least three weeks. He won’t need surgery, but we’ll look for him to return during the fantasy playoffs.

Chris Carson and Carlos Hyde were both listed as DNP for Seattle on Wednesday. Pete Carroll indicated Carson is a bit further along in his road back to being active, but he’ll need to see more out of both before making a decision. David Johnson remains in the concussion protocol and is unlikely to play in Week 10. Duke Johnson should be set to take over the lead role after turning 20 touches into 15.3 PPR points against Jacksonville. Despite another missed practice for Joe Mixon, he was seen cutting and accelerating during his rehab session. He hasn’t rejoined team drills, but looks to be on track to get back on the field soon. Kenny Golladay wasn’t spotted at practice on Wednesday for the Lions without much information indicating he’ll be active in Week 10. The Lions have a promising matchup against Washington’s secondary, but will likely be without their star wide receiver due to his hip injury from Week 8. Anthony Lynn indicated Justin Jackson will rest this week to give his knee time to heal. After missing the majority of Week 9, Jackson was replaced by Kalen Ballage giving the Chargers some options should Jackson miss Week 10.

Chris Godwin was limited on Wednesday as he’s still working through his fractured finger suffered in Week 8. He’ll likely be limited the rest of the week to avoid a setback, but is in no danger to miss Week 10. His teammate, Scott Miller, was also limited with a hip injury sustained in Week 9. Mark Ingram returned to practice in a limited fashion from his high ankle injury. He hasn’t been declared active yet so fantasy managers excited about another week of opportunity for J.K. Dobbins may have some time. Both Devonta Freeman and Sterling Shepard were limited during the Giants’ Wednesday practice. Freeman missed last Wednesday’s practice so he’s on the right trajectory to see the field in Week 10. The Broncos also had a pair of players limited on Wednesday with Tim Patrick (hamstring) and Noah Fant (ankle) nursing different ailments. Laviska Shenault left Sunday’s game with a hamstring injury, but was a limited participant on Wednesday. With Jacksonville set to travel to Green Bay this weekend, they’ll need all of their playmakers available to put up a fight against Aaron Rodgers.

Chris Allen

Chris Allen is a mechanical engineer by trade that leverages his analytical background to study the various components of fantasy football. From how weather impacts results to draft strategy, Chris uses a 'process over results' approach to deliver actionable analysis for any fantasy football format. You can find him on Twitter @ChrisAllenFFWX.