2020 Dynasty/Fantasy Week 1 Game Analysis: Steelers 26, Giants 16
I take notes during the live watch. I re-watch the game on tape looking for hidden clues to report on. Here are my notes/takes on what I saw and how it related to FF 2020. I write anywhere from 1,000-3,000+ words on each game, and I have to move fast to get to all of them through the week…so, please forgive any typos/grammar.
*I used speech-to-text to set up the first draft of this, so forgive any weird ‘sounds like’ glaring mistakes. I tried to correct everything before publish, but...
This game was interesting for a minute… The Steelers muffed a punt return on their very first touch of the 2020 season and set the Giants up with a first and goal for what should’ve been an easy TD. Instead, the Steelers defense rose up to halt them to three points…a miscommunication between Daniel Jones and Evan Engram blew an easy TD chance, and the Giants took a 3-0 lead. Soon after, after the Steelers answered with their own field-goal, the Giants took a surprising 10-3 lead…and then people started to get worried about Ben’s mechanics, rustiness or whatever.
Just when some Steelers fears started happening, Pittsburgh then scored the next 23 points and took a commanding lead, giving up of late garbage TD. It took about a quarter and a half for the Steelers to get going but eventually the better team won.
I thought it would be a more challenging test in Week 2 hosting Denver but the Steelers got lucky and the Broncos suddenly have several key injuries going into Week 2, so the Steelers are in line to start out (2-0).
I thought the Giants played OK. Gave it the old college try. Good effort. But in the end it was a few fluky turnovers that helped the Giants take an early lead and gain early momentum -- but they never came close to sustaining it and they were never really in control of the game at any point. The Steelers wiped out Saquon Barkley and let Daniel Jones cough them up the required turnovers.
I thought the Giants might be the worst team in the NFL coming into the season, and they’re definitely bottom 10 and maybe bottom five but probably not the worst 1-2-3 in the league. We’ll see.
Fantasy Player Notes…
— Let’s discuss the debut of Big Ben (21-32 for 229 yards, 3 TD/0 INT).
I thought he was fine. A little shaky in that first quarter. It looks like some of the arm angles he was trying to throw from were worrisome…not sure if it was the situation/pressure or if Ben was trying to protect his arm, but as time went on Ben started to find his groove. There’s no reason for concern with Ben’s arm that I see. He looked fine. He looked more comfortable and in control and not playing as risky as he used to in my mind.
— The story of this game really was Diontae Johnson (6-57-0/10), he had quite a journey in this one, and I covered this in great detail on the Tuesday video Q&A early in the show, you might want to watch/listen if you didn’t…
But the short version is Diontae muffed a punt near the goal line to start the game, turning the momentum of this game right away. Diontae also dropped a pass early, and just generally looked out of sync. He wasn’t doing much for Fantasy the first half. Midgame, Ben dropped back to pass and threw a quick strike timing pass Diontae’s way…only Diontae thought it was a running play, and the pass hit him right between the numbers in the back. It was that kind of game for Diontae for about half of it.
I felt like Mike Tomlin was about to bench him. I thought Big Ben was going to give up on him, even if just for the game/moment. BUT they didn’t…and that was the key to this thing and his fantasy future in 2020 – the powers that be didn’t give up on Diontae. Not only did they not give up on Diontae through his struggles, Ben pulled him aside and got him straightened out/pepped him up and then started really going to him with targets – AND THEN even better to Diontae‘s credit, he shook off the weird start and completely turned his game around and made some very good looking plays. The kinda plays you expect from Diontae…the kind of Antonio Brown type future view started to flash a little bit and Diontae led the team in targets when it was all said and done. What was almost a disaster for two quarters ended up in the most future encouraging way possible.
I think our Diontae Johnson lottery tickets are going to start to pay off. Worst case he’s going to be that solid WR2 you can count on most weeks in PPR, but there’s a chance for a greatness breakout coming right around the corner. I was never more depressed than watching Diontae in that first half and never more encouraged watching all of them stick with him and rallying to a nice performance/usage in the second half. Very excited.
Juju Smith-Schuster (6-69-2/6) caught the TDs, so there seems to be some Diontae fears that he’s not Ben’s guy, that JuJu is – but I think we saw that Diontae just might be Ben’s guy…or at least 1b guy.
— Week 1 might’ve seen the beginning of the shift to Diontae as the Steelers top wide receiver, but we also may have seen the changing of the guard at running back. It looks like Benny Snell (19-113-0, 0-0-0/1) is making the hostile takeover I was predicting within 4-5 weeks into the season, only it happened 4-5 series into this game.
James Conner got hurt, as he does, and opened the door to Snell. The focus should not be on Conner getting hurt and Snell now getting a chance – the extra story is James Conner looked terrible, as he does, and is not playing at an NFL starting level. It’s not like Christian McCaffrey got hurt and Mike Davis looked good in relief, and now we speculate Davis is starting going forward -- no one would think McCaffrey’s going to the bench off of minor injury. But we can believe it with Conner because, as I said for 2+ years, Conner is not that good of a running back. He does not have the juice in his legs to be a serious, impact NFL starter. He’s OK. He can be a third string fill-in guy. He’s not a number one.
The Steelers insist that he is a #1 lead back because he tugs at the heartstrings with his incredible personal background story. I hate to be a callous jerk, but I have to when it comes to football and making money – I don’t want to hear about Conner’s heartwarming story anymore, I want the focus to be on the fact that he has no business starting in the NFL and it’s killing the Steelers offense of upside. I’ve got two or three people in my neighborhood with tragic human-interest story backgrounds of things they are working through – that doesn’t mean they should be the starting running back for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Fans and the Steelers organization, and more specifically Mike Tomlin, needs to get over this and rip the Band-Aid off and move on.
Now, with that said, I know what will happen – the second he can return he will be right back starting as the supposed bell cow. Mike Tomlin is not gonna allow himself to be embarrassed here. He’s going to show you how smart he is and how dumb we are for thinking anything otherwise on Conner. But eventually football wins and losses will win out and Tomlin will have no choice but to turn his back on Conner.
The problem for Mike Tomlin is that he’s selected an alternative with Benny Snell, who’s not all that much better than Conner. What NFL coaches see in certain running backs, like Mike Tomlin, like Pete Carroll, like what Brian Flores has wrought RB devastation in with Miami…I have no idea what they see. But I’ve been doing this long enough to know they are not helping their offenses with what they’re doing with slow non-agile running backs who can’t evade hits well because of their speed/agility and they are fumble and injury prone because of it. Conner is the embodiment of that. Benny Snell may be in store for the same future.
Tomlin will give Conner another shot or ten, so your Benny Snell stock will be a shaky hold once Conner returns…but eventually this will be Snell as a lead running straight ahead making basic plays and being the lead dog RB for the Steelers – and that’s valuable thing to see whether it’s aesthetically pleasing or not.
What I’m hoping is that Conner ends up on IR or something and is totally out-of-the-way, and then we get to the Benny Snell era Tomlin will force on us… But then I’m secretly watching what might be the last best chance for Jaylen Samuels to show he’s the best all-around running back on the Steelers. He got a few touches in this game and he looks fine/good. I know he’s better than Conner or Snell. He may have some personal issues that causes Mike Tomlin to hate him, but his play may end up forcing everyone’s hand at some point.
It’s also possible Le’Veon Bell‘s gonna wind up back here, but there’s a lot of time between now and Week 5 for many things to develop in the Steelers backfield. But the Le’Veon to Pittsburgh reunion just took a step closer based on the Conner flop and Le’Veon on the shelf for a bad Jets team.
— Darius Slayton (6-102-2/9) scored two TDs and I barely own him in any league I’m associated with, so it was nothing but frustration watching it occur against my fantasy teams in various places.
I walked away from the live watch thinking – damn, that Darius Slayton and his lucky TDs. But after the rewatch, I started to realize I might be the idiot here.
First off, I should know better than whenever a player I’m not into one way or the other starts having some consistent production in touchdowns catches…I can only say it’s lucky or situational so many times before I should realize at a certain point it’s not luck.
Secondly, when I watched this game tape assuming it was more fortuitous Slayton…I instead saw a Slaton I’ve never seen before. All last year, Slaton struggled being a real wide receiver all over the field. His specialty was going deep and making plays on jump ball tight throws. He wasn’t much for strong routes and great hands in the interior. And that was my vision of him going into 2020 -- guy who makes some random good plays working with a QB that I don’t trust equals not excited for Fantasy.
However, in this Week 1 game I saw Slayton working the interior of the field like a boss. I saw some tremendous #1 wide receiver plays that I’ve never seen from Slayton before. I could’ve just missed it in my scouting bias. Or he may just have taken this game to another level in the off-season. Whatever it is – I saw a Pro Bowl level, star wide receiver in Darius Slayton in Week 1.
Now, before we all get excited and try to go and trade for him – it’s not the greatest time to go make a move coming off a two TD game. However, I think most people don’t value Slayton as any more than a good, useful WR for FF on a shaky team/offense. Despite the big game, he still kind of flies under the radar. If you want in on him, you might be able to sneak in under the guise of someone thinking they’re selling him high to you, but they don’t sell it high enough because they think they’re committing a bank robbery as it is.
Of course, if Slayton goes 3-30-0/7 next week…the price will be in half and you can get much easier. Just note…keep your eye on Slayton developing into a legit, strong WR1.5 WR now.
-- Darius Slayton was more impressive than Saquon Barkley (15-6-0, 6-60-0/9)…another rushing ‘gem’ from the one with great quads.
It’s not Saquon’s fault…this is what happened to David Johnson in 2018. Todd Gurley 2017. Bad offense. Bad coaching. Everyone knows they are running the ball. Teams stack 10 in the box. The offense runs right into it anyway. Also, see: Leonard Fournette 2019. But we malign David Johnson and Fournette for it for years…while we make excuse after excuse for Saquon, because he has funny/huge quads.
Are you sure Saquon is as great as they say he is? Just sayin’…
I could get Nyheim Hines to give me the non-TD numbers Saquon put up this game.
-- Evan Engram (2-9-0/7) had an FF-dud. Come to me, and I’ll buy all his stock from you at half price. Let me have it.
Engram nearly had the game’s first TD (off the muff punt event). He had a sweet 25-yard grab, called back for a shaky P.I. and had another end zone shot not work out later. Just an unlucky game, of sorts, for Engram.
Go and buy low, like he’s a #10-12 TE not a top 5 monster. I have confidence in Engram being a TE1 this year worst case, but a possibly top 3 scorer overall at TE.
-- A player who didn’t have an unlucky game…Chase Claypool (2-39-0/2, 1-8-0). Wow. The best-looking rookie WR Week 1 to my eyes, and he’s just getting started.
In 2020, Claypool is going to be a WR3-4, flex hope in BYE weeks ahead. Random up and down games based on him not really being a starter but playing near starter snaps.
In 2021, the WR group of Diontae, Claypool, and Washington will be the best WR trio in football.
Claypool got better treatment as a backup than Bryan Edwards did as the main snap WR starter.
We will look back at Claypool, Pittman, Edwards, possibly Mims and Duvernay will be seen as the best WRs from this bumper crop class…and Lamb-Jeudy-Ruggs-Jefferson-Aiyuk-Reagor will be seen as ‘mistakes’ by comparison.
-- IDP note… Corey Ballentine (9 tackles) is starting at corner for the Giants, and he’s a very aggressive, tough-minded corner. He can tackle like a safety playing corner. He’s going to be nice for IDP all season, I think.
Snap Counts of Interest:
64 = Engram
58 = Slayton
53 = Shepard
55 = Diontae
55 = JuJu
37 = Washington
19 = Claypool
40 = Ebron
38 = McDonald
29 = Snell
20 = Samuels
15 = Conner