*Pre-editor post (forgive any typos)
Very strange game. I don’t mean that in taking away from Denver beating Pitt as a fluke or ‘shocker’. I mean the player performance, game plan, etc. – we’ll get into that in the player section. There were a lot of player usage changes (possibly a one-time thing) or strong trends (possibly the new reality) revealed in this game. In the end, Denver played better than the Steelers and caught breaks at the right time – the Steelers turned the ball over 4 times and still had a chance to tie/win late and threw that bad pick from Ben.
Denver gets a HUGE win. This is big because they have 4 very winnable games ahead. Denver now has a path to 9 wins and a wild card shot. It’s also lining up another year of Vance Joseph…so, maybe this win is a ‘loss’ in reality. Denver is the team nobody wants to play in the playoffs because of their defense. We see the Broncos finishing 8-8/9-7 with a lean towards 9-7 but just missing the playoffs…unless the Chargers start to fall.
The Steelers were in the #1 seed hunt…until they took a hit here. The schedule is going to pull them down to 4 losses this year, if not 5. We see them finishing 11-4-1/10-5-1 depending on how important Week 17 is to them. If they lose to LAC this week, then the Steelers open the door to a lot of trouble for playoff seeding and giving the Ravens AFC North title hopes again. Weeks 15-16 vs. NE and at NO is going to be a very interesting stretch.
Fantasy Player Notes…
James Conner (13-53-0, 4-42-0/4) owners…getting ready to pucker up.
This game may signal a tipping point, a crossroads…it could be the high-water mark for ‘peak Conner’ valuation. The day the music died…only we won’t know it for, perhaps, about a year.
I bring you 4 things to scare you the bajeezus out of you, because that’s what we like in fantasy – things to worry about.
Four things that hit me from this game on Conner:
1) The obvious one – Jaylen Samuels (1-12-0/2, 0-0-0) played in the first series of this game. Not just a token snap/play. On the first 9 offensive plays of the game, Samuels was in for 4 snaps to Conner’s 5 snaps.
Now, hold on…hold on. It was an all-pass first series attack by design (clever but ultimately led to a blocked FG result). AND Samuels never played another snap after this first series special.
The problem is (for Conner owners) – the Steelers are thinking about ‘it’. Samuels is a great receiver out of the backfield (Conner is average at best). The Steelers designed an up-tempo, all-pass curveball to start the game…and split it with Samuels-Conner.
What do you think will happen down the road…in two-minute drills? In down by 14 and all-pass, no huddle activity? What about 3rd & 7s? Jaylen Samuels should be in the game on everyone of those. If/when that happens – kiss a nice chunk of Conner’s PPR/FF value away.
In this game, 3rd & 3…swing pass to Samuels on purpose – he broke a tackle short of the 1st-down and sprung for a nice 12 yards. Then the next play was a WR trick play pass to Samuels who was WIDE OPEN for an easy TD, but Antonio Brown butchered it.
You run those plays when you trust/like your RB as a receiver.
The ‘seal’ was just broken on this Jaylen Samuels prophecy. There’s no turning back…it only rears its head from here more and more. It may not matter much in 2018 fantasy but into the playoffs it might be a needed wrinkle and a 2019 game changer.
2) When people see MORE Jaylen Samuels, they are going to start realizing three things: (1) Wow, this Samuels kid is pretty good. (2) Wow, this Samuels kid almost looks/plays like Le’Veon Bell. (3) Why don’t the Steelers use Samuels more?
Samuels is a former star TE-WR-RB for N.C. State. He’s a real talent…good runner, excellent receiver. He’s better than Conner athletically and in the passing game.
This issue (for Conner owners) isn’t going away.
3) Huge game with Denver at Denver…the Steelers threw 56 times and ran Conner just 13 times, and no carries in the first series. The plan was not to ‘ride Conner’ at all.
Conner has rushed for less than 70 yards for three straight games with just 13-9-13 carries in each game.
Conner has 100+ yard games, this season, against the #25 or worse ranked run defenses and one against Baltimore.
James Conner may have hit the wall…or is just radically overrated from his early season work we’re looking past the warning signs.
4) Conner a key fumble in this game. Key fumble opening day to open the door to the Browns coming back against the Steelers to tie it. Four fumbles this season. An early, game-hurting fumble this upcoming week…and Conner’s psyche may be ‘at risk’.
Inch-by-inch Conner is opening the door for Samuels…as much as Samuels is starting to push the door open. You do not want your ace fantasy RB to have a backup who is better than them…it rarely ends up with a fairy tale ending for the lesser-talented but established one.
-- Ryan Switzer (6-67-0/8) is trying to become Big Ben’s Wes Welker. 3-2-3-6 for catches the last 4 weeks.
Before you get too excited, remember – Ben threw 56 times, completed 41 passes…basically two games worth of completions. Switzer basically had a 3-33-0 game double portioned on all the throwing here. We’re not ‘there’ yet with Switzer…but it’s inching ahead as well, and that’s taking a little steam off James Conner on passing downs too.
-- HUGE game for Denver. Must-win, big win, season saver/igniter. Facing a very good defense…
12 targets for Emmanuel Sanders (7-86-1/12)
4 targets for Courtland Sutton (1-14-0/4)…as many as Matt LaCosse.
It’s been this way for weeks/all season, I was just too fanciful in believing Sutton’s stardom would not be denied, especially after DT was traded. This is Sanders’s passing game. Keenum is not a high-volume passer…his volume goes to Sanders, then the TEs, then Sutton since the trade.
In redraft, cutting Sutton makes sense for greener pasture WR3s. Hell, I just advised this week that a client drop Sutton in a 12-team, PPR redraft to add Adam Humphries – and to start Humphries this week.
We live in a world where Adam Humphries is a better, more obvious fantasy option than Courtland Sutton right now.
I worry if Denver makes the playoffs…that the above will be a true statement in 2019 as well – same coach, same lame QB (for fantasy).
-- Speaking of Matt LaCosse (3-34-1/4)…
I thought Jeff Heuerman (2-44-0/3) was hurt in-game (now gone for the season) and then LaCosse jumped in to pick up the scraps. No, LaCosse did his damage working next to Heuerman midgame.
LaCosse looked pretty good…pretty spry in this game. I was dismissive at first, but I’m not as dismissive after watching this game back and looking at the scouting notes.
He’s made some plays for weeks…and had 4 catches in a game back in Week 8. For fantasy, he feels like a more athletic Jeff Heuerman – and Heuerman was kinda entering the low-end TE1 conversation leading into this week.
Undrafted TE out of Illinois in 2015. 6’6”/257.
Pro Day: 4.71 40-time, 1.60 10-yard, 7.30 three-cone, 20 bench reps.
Best college season: 2.0 catches, 16.3 yards, 0.38 TDs per game in 2014 (7 games).
Nothing special in college. Undrafted, Bounces from the Giants to Broncos practice squads. Has elevated in Denver with all the TE injuries.
-- The Denver-DST is in play to be a top 3-5 for the final fantasy run of 2018.
I don’t want to face Baker, per se…but with Denver’s top defense and AT Denver…it’s probably fine. Patrick Mahomes struggled some with Denver’s defense. Baker has less weapons to attack with.
-- Fantasy Playoff Notes from these two teams…
You have to like the SF-CLE-OAK run for Lindsay and Sanders ahead…and for Keenum as a sleeper.
OAK-NE-NO in Weeks 14-16 for the Steelers should be great until they hit at NO, after the NE game. Could be a big letdown right when you needed them most. The Saints defense is really coming on.
Snap Counts of interest:
36 = Lindsay
15 = Freeman
72 = AB
66 = JuJu
52 = Switzer
18 = J Washington
67 = Conner
04 = Samuels
50 = JJames
33 = VMD