Thursday Night Football
Tennessee @ Pittsburgh
Team Totals: Steelers 25.5, Titans 18.5
Ben Roethlisberger’s on-field play has become an adventure in the twilight of his career, but he has strung together top-15 fantasy results in three straight weeks and draws another favorable matchup on Thursday night against the Titans, who rank 24th in pass-defense DVOA and have allowed the NFL’s seventh-most passing touchdowns (17) while struggling badly to generate pass rush, ranking 30th in the league in sacks (14) and 27th in quarterback hits (43). Roethlisberger’s outlook is enhanced by favorable matchups throughout his pass-catcher corps and Tennessee’s pass-funnel nature, which encourages opponents to attack in the air. Albeit without a safe floor, I’m approaching Big Ben as a quality low-end QB1 play against the Titans. … Tennessee’s defense is stouter on the ground, holding running backs to 3.45 yards per carry but yielding the NFL’s fifth-most receiving yards (580) to the position. Although bigger box-score things were expected of Le’Veon Bell in last week’s win over the Colts, he topped 110 yards from scrimmage for the third time in his last four games and is obviously capable of exploiting the Titans’ deficiencies in running back coverage. As a home-favorite workhorse averaging 28.9 touches per game, Bell is once again the premier running back play on this week’s fantasy slate.
Roethlisberger’s target distribution after the Steelers’ Week 9 bye: Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster 7; Bell 6; Martavis Bryant 5; Jesse James and Vance McDonald 2; Eli Rogers 1. … After last week’s surprise clunker in Indy, this is a prime bounce-back spot for Brown against a Titans secondary that got rinsed by A.J. Green (5/115/1) and Brandon LaFell (6/95/1) last week and on the season has allowed the NFL’s second-most touchdowns to wide receivers (12). … Now locked in as Pittsburgh’s No. 2 wideout, Smith-Schuster logged an 80% snap rate and saw his second-most targets of the season in last week’s win over the Colts. He has scored a touchdown in three straight games. Smith-Schuster is an every-week WR3 whose Week 11 outlook is upgraded in this plus draw. … Bryant was reinstalled as the Steelers’ third receiver in Indianapolis, playing 56% of the downs and catching a two-point conversion after McDonald’s fourth-quarter score. Trying hard to make him work, the coaching staff stuck with Bryant after he dogged it on an early-game deep pass from Big Ben that turned into an interception. In eight 2017 appearances, Bryant has cleared 50 yards once and scored once. He’s a high-risk WR4/flex option at this point. … The Steelers are running a timeshare at tight end, giving James 21 routes in last week’s win over the Colts, and McDonald 15. Both saw two targets. Neither is an attractive streamer.
A top-12 fantasy passer in just 2-of-8 starts, Marcus Mariota draws a difficult Week 11 matchup against a Steelers pass defense that ranks fifth in DVOA and second in sacks (29) while allowing the NFL’s third-fewest touchdown passes (8) and fourth-lowest passer rating (76.5). Just 3-of-9 quarterbacks to face Pittsburgh have posted top-12 results. Mariota resumed running (6/51/0) in last week’s win over the Bengals and has a cupcake schedule in Weeks 12-15 (@ IND, vs. HOU, @ ARZ, @ SF), but I think he is a risky start here. … Now healthy in the defensive front, Pittsburgh has held enemy backs to a combined 69/208/3.01/0 rushing line in its last four games and poses an unideal matchup for DeMarco Murray, who scored three short TDs in last week’s win over the Bengals but otherwise looked sluggish. He did maintain a stronghold on lead-back work, out-touching Derrick Henry 18 to 11 and out-snapping him 74% to 31%. Henry didn’t help himself by dropping 2-of-3 targets. Against the run-tough Steelers, Murray is a volume-driven RB2 play. Henry is a low-floor, touchdown-dependent flex option.
Mariota’s target distribution since the Titans’ Week 8 bye: Corey Davis 15; Delanie Walker and Rishard Matthews 14; Eric Decker 7; Murray and Jonnu Smith 6; Henry and Taywan Taylor 5. … Davis led the Titans in Week 9 targets (10), narrowly missing a touchdown when he fumbled out of the back of the end zone after a would-be 20-yard score. Davis had a promising game from a usage standpoint, logging season highs in snaps (87%) and routes (52). Davis is in the WR3/flex mix against a Steelers secondary that has shown leaks lately, losing LCB Joe Haden to a leg fracture in Week 10 and giving up useful box scores to Marvin Jones (6/128/0), Chester Rogers (6/104/1), T.J. Jones (4/88/0), Golden Tate (7/86/0), and Donte Moncrief (1/60/1) in its last two games. … The top beneficiary of Haden’s injury is still likely to be Matthews, who runs a team-high 45% of his routes at left corners and will therefore draw fill-in LCB Coty Sensabaugh, who hadn’t played a single defensive snap before last week and was promptly roasted on Rogers’ 61-yard score. At least for one more game, Matthews is a more confident WR3 play than Davis. That seems likely to change down the stretch. … Decker set another season low in snap rate (37%) against the Bengals and is now splitting third receiver duties with Taylor (16%). They both share sub-package playing time with Smith (52%). … The Steelers have allowed the NFL’s third-fewest yards to tight ends (365), most recently shutting down white-hot Jack Doyle (2/9/0). Walker remains a fringe TE1 option in season-long leagues, but we should probably lower expectations in this particular week.
Score Prediction: Steelers 24, Titans 21