I travelled to Virginia for Thanksgiving last week, and when I arrived, I was surprised to learn that I’d be going to the Steelers vs. Ravens game that night.
As some of you know, I’m a Pittsburgh guy. A Yinzer, if you will. I was born and raised in the Steel City, and graduated from the University of Pittsburgh. It’s my home.
In the past, I was fortunate to see many games at Heinz Field. But since moving away, I only get to catch them live once a year or so. A game in Baltimore was one of the places I’d never watched them, so I was overly excited.
I put on my Keisel bumble bee jersey – which was packed because Steeler fans don’t go anywhere without at least one jersey – and trekked to M&T Bank Stadium.
Surprisingly, the worst part of that game for me wasn’t the ending (I was 20 rows away from the end zone where the Steelers scored 40 times at the end of the game), and it wasn’t the Ravens fans yelling at me for scratching my forehead or simply breathing.
It was Todd Haley. It was Todd Haley’s lack of ability to change the offensive flow before halftime, leading the team to zero first half points. It was his refusal to spread the offense out, letting a potential Hall of Fame quarterback run the show. It was his third-down runs and his obvious play calling.
That’s what frustrated me.
To feed off of this “I can’t stand Todd Haley just like every other Steeler fan in America” issue, the first fact to know through Week 13 has to do with his passing offense – one that, often times, he has refused to consistently open up.
On a per play basis, Pittsburgh ranks ninth in Adjusted Passing Net Expected Points.
Since Week 6, Ben Roethlisberger has increased his Passing NEP from -3.12 to 46.93, an average of 6.26 points per game. Had he performed that well each week this season, he’d currently be the sixth-best quarterback in terms of Passing Net Expected Points.
But his efficient play has allowed the Steelers to move to the ninth-best passing offense on a per play basis in the entire league. They’re adding 0.11 points to their score – adjusted for strength of schedule – with every drop back, which is just .01 points off of the efficient Philadelphia Eagles' pace.
And while you’re sitting there thinking, “Todd Haley’s throwing the ball, though. The Steelers have the fifth-highest pass-to-run ratio in the NFL!”, I have to remind you that not only is the team usually trailing, but since Week 4, their pass-to-run ratio has been average among NFL teams.
And speaking of first half success (as I mentioned in the intro), the Steelers are averaging under nine points scored per game in the first half this year. They’ve gotten over the 10-point mark just twice all season long after two quarters of play.
Sure, Le’Veon Bell’s been a treat, but the offense can (and should) work effectively when Ben Roethlisberger throws the ball.
San Diego ranks dead last in Adjusted Defensive Rushing Net Expected Points per Rush.
The Chargers rank 12th against fantasy running backs this year, making them appear to be a solid matchup against the position. However, when you adjust their Net Expected Points total against the rush for schedule purposes, they actually rank as the worst rushing defense in the NFL.
The problem is that people aren’t looking at the Chargers as a possible soft defense to play their running backs against because teams just aren’t running the football against them. Perhaps this has to do with other teams needing to play catch up against the surprising Philip Rivers, but they’ve faced the fourth-fewest rush plays in the entire NFL this season.
Nevertheless, don’t assume someone like Andre Brown is a bad play this week because of San Diego's rank against running backs in fantasy. The Chargers rush defense is suspect.
Pierre Thomas has the best Success Rate among relevant running backs.
This fact makes me smile. Pierre Thomas was one of the backs I was partially in love with entering the season, and, to be honest, he’s been one of the main reasons some of my fantasy teams have been successful this year.
But nobody cares about that, I know. Talking about your individual fantasy leagues is like talking about how your kid got an A+ on his spelling test.
What you should care about is that Pierre Thomas has been one of the – if not the - most underrated running backs in football this year. His Success Rate, which measures the percentage of runs that contribute positively towards a player’s NEP, is best in the league among 100-plus attempt runners (50.41%). And among these same dudes, PT’s Rushing NEP ranks 12th.
We’ve talked about him plenty this year on numberFire. Hopefully you caught on and reaped the rewards.
Delanie Walker ranks eighth among tight ends in Target Net Expected Points.
Walker suffered a concussion in the first quarter of last week’s contest against Indianapolis, which was unfortunate not just because of his health, but because he had a fantastic fantasy matchup. The last time Walker faced the Colts, he caught 10 passes for 91 yards and a score.
Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick has looked the tight end’s way often since becoming the starter, and it’s increased Walker’s overall Target NEP, a metric that looks at how many points a player adds for his squad on all targets. Not counting this week due to the concussion, Walker has seen 27 targets in three games since Fitzmagic took over as starting quarterback in Tennessee (counting the Jacksonville game where he stepped in early).
Walker’s a great play this week if he ends up playing, but it’s important to monitor the situation as Sunday approaches.
The 49ers have run 168 fewer plays than the Broncos this season.
Because San Francisco likes to run clock (a 0.88 pass-to-run ratio, second-lowest in the NFL), fantasy owners with assets in the passing game have suffered.
Colin Kaepernick’s become a high-end QB2 in fantasy, and is typically dependent upon his legs for fantasy football success. Despite two straight solid passing games, Kap just hasn’t had enough opportunity from a volume perspective to be worthwhile in fantasy. He ranks 21st in the league in pass attempts, ahead of only players who haven’t played the entire season.
Doug Baldwin ranks 12th in Target NEP and 3rd in Reception NEP per Target
About a month ago, our own Phil Alexander wrote a fantastic piece on Doug Baldwin, and why he deserves your respect.
In the three games since that article was written, Baldwin’s seen 11 catches for 216 yards and two scores, good for 13 half-point PPR points per game.
Baldwin’s been efficient as can be, seeing the third-highest Reception NEP per Target score among receivers with 30 or more targets. Essentially, this is telling us that he’s getting the most of his opportunity in the Seahawks offense when he catches the ball, trailing only touchdown-maker Jerricho Cotchery and deep-ball receiver Kenny Stills.
His Target NEP rank is just as impressive, as the combination of this with a high Reception NEP per Target shows that he’s been reliable, even on deep passes.
With Percy Harvin still not seeing the field, Baldwin should continue to be a nice, effective receiver for Seattle. In a lot of fantasy leagues, he’s definitely playable.