3 Lessons Learned After Week 14

Chris Allen reviews three noteworthy performances coming out of Week 14 and provides some advice for fantasy managers on how to approach their situations going forward.

We made it through the first round of the playoffs. After a thrilling Monday Night Football game, it’s time to turn back to our rosters. There were plenty of bright spots in the week. Derrick Henry made his case for another rushing title. Aaron Rodgers continues to push for another MVP award. But the highlights overshadowed the disappointments on our rosters. To help set expectations for Week 15, I found some of the letdowns from last week and took a deeper look at the lessons learned from their performances.

Quarterback: Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers

Week 14 Results: 21.3 (Projected), 13.5 (Actual)

The Steelers’ loss to Washington was a shock to most of the community. There was some warranted skepticism that Pittsburgh would remain undefeated, but a loss to Alex Smith was hard to envision going into Week 13. The Bills just piled on to the confusion Sunday night. In both losses, we were left with questions about the offense. Drops were the highlight, but Ben Roethlisberger is at the center of it all. For a quarterback that has taken just one sack since Week 9, he’s 25th in Expected Points Added (EPA) per Play and 28th in Completion Percentage over Expected. He’s thrown an interception in four consecutive games. The demise of the Steelers’ winning streak (and Roethlisberger’s fantasy value) warranted a closer look at the passing game and what we can take from it moving forward.

Advice Moving Forward:

Roethlisberger should be considered as a mid to low QB2 even with the positive matchup coming in Week 15.

The knee-jerk reaction to such a statement would be to blame the receivers. Diontae Johnson was just benched for a half on Sunday after extending his streak of drops to six games. Chase Claypool, JuJu Smith-Schuster, and Eric Ebron have also committed the cardinal sin of pass catchers. It’s been painful to watch, but it’s distracting from the major issue within the offense.

Week
Neutral Passing Rate
Yards Per Attempt
Deep Ball Rate
Fantasy Points
Week 10
76.0%
7.2
19.6%
29.3
Week 11
62.9%
5.8
23.9%
16.6
Week 12
71.7%
5.2
11.8%
12.5
Week 13
81.0%
5.8
20.8%
18.2
Week 14
61.1%
5.1
13.5%
13.5

Ben Roethlisberger is Alex Smith. His 6.3 YPA on the season is a career-low which has forced fantasy managers to lean on his deep passing game for value. Since Week 10, he’s finished as the QB25 and QB20 in games with minimal attempts of 15 air yards or more. However, the takeaway isn’t "Ben should just pass deep more." The offense needs to be more diverse in its game plan. Steven Ruiz (For the Win) and Seth Galina (PFF) highlighted Roethlisberger’s tendency to avoid the intermediate and deep-middle area of the field. Just 41 (7.9%) of his passes have gone to this section. Otherwise, it’s been flat or drag routes to keep the chains moving or a go rout for a big play. The problem is that a heavy reliance on the shorter routes has been a contributor to the issues they have on offense.

NextGen Stats provided some insight on drop rate and where it occurs on the field. Their findings highlighted a significant increase in drops within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage. The largest concentration of drops was in the middle of the field. Roethlisberger has thrown 241 passes in this area alone. The short-perimeter part of the field saw another 134 attempts. All told, the Steelers’ passing game has focused 72.0% of its attack on parts of the field prone to drops. These are areas with a minimal margin of error due to tight coverage from corners or linebackers dropping back to defend. The volume can sustain the pass catchers. Roethlisberger hasn’t thrown less than 30 times all season. But Pittsburgh requires a shift in offensive game planning to stabilize his production through the air. Until then, fantasy managers should look elsewhere at quarterback for the playoffs.

Running Back: Aaron Jones, Packers

Week 14 Results: 19.1 (Projected), 9.5 (Actual)

Aaron Jones has averaged 14.8 PPG over his last five contests. The average over that span is primarily fueled by his 77-yard touchdown run in Week 13, but it still provides a stark contrast to the running back we saw earlier this season. He started off the season at a 23.0-PPG pace that had the community thinking his 19 touchdowns in 2019 weren’t a fluke. But he’s trailed off as of late. With just two touchdowns over his last five games, fantasy managers need their RB1 during the playoffs. Without any viable options to start over him, I dug into his usage over the last five games to find any issues with his workload and what we can expect moving forward.

Advice Moving Forward:

Jones is still an RB1, but not an elite RB1 despite being connected to Aaron Rodgers.

Seeing Jamaal Williams or Tyler Ervin out on the field always draws a comment from fantasy managers on social media. It’s fair to wonder if the Packers want to keep Jones rested for the playoffs, but Jones has still been their primary running back over their last five games. The main problem is Aaron Rodgers.

Week
Overall Touch Share
Target Share
RZ Rush Share
Team RZ Passing Rate
Week 10
58.1%
18%
100.0%
50.0%
Week 11
70.0%
11%
100.0%
85.7%
Week 12
51.4%
7%
36.4%
31.3%
Week 13
72.0%
9%
100.0%
66.7%
Week 14
63.0%
10%
50.0%
40.0%

Fantasy managers should be able to breathe easy. Jones’ overall touch and target share are the marks of an RB1. He’s not Derrick Henry or James Robinson from a usage standpoint, but the bias against Williams’ workload is based on perception. Jones is still getting the requisite money touches inside the red zone with only two games over his last five where he’s ceded work to the committee. The issue is that running backs haven’t been as heavily utilized in the red zone as we’d like.

Rodgers is gunning for his third NFL MVP award and it’s adversely impacting the running game. If the Packers are in scoring position, there’s been a greater chance Davante Adams or Robert Tonyan Jr will get the ball than Jones. Green Bay’s 53.7% red-zone passing rate, which is actually league average, doesn’t reflect their efficiency. Rodgers is second in touchdowns thrown from within the 20-yard line and first from inside the 10-yard line. He has 7 touchdowns thrown from the 1-yard line and not a single one has gone to Jones. Obvious opportunities for Jones to score have gone to Adams or Marcedes Lewis. But, the Packers are still second in offensive yards per drive and first in points per game. Their penchant for taking to the air to score may cap his ceiling, but Jones can still be considered at least a low-end RB1 throughout the rest of the playoffs.

Wide Receiver: Terry McLaurin, Football Team

Week 14 Results: 15.4 (Projected), 4.4 (Actual)

The Washington Football Team’s PR staff called Terry McLaurin a must-start in fantasy for Week 14. They were playing the 49ers, but we had seen alpha receivers perform well against San Francisco in the past. However, those receivers were tied to more efficient offenses. McLaurin has now scored fewer than five PPR points in back-to-back games. Washington has been on a four-game winning streak and their top receiver hasn’t scored a touchdown since Week 9. The drop in production prompted a deeper investigation into his target share and how Washington has been operating to shed some light on the issue.

Advice Moving Forward:

McLaurin falls to a low-end WR2 as he battles usage issues on an anemic passing offense.

Fantasy managers drafted McLaurin as he was projected to be the primary wide receiver on his team. And, he has been. Through 14 weeks, McLaurin’s 111 targets are first on the team and ninth in the league. However, his production hasn’t matched the workload and there are a couple of indicators pointing to why he’s had single-digit scores.

Week
QB Yards Per Attempt
aDOT
Slot Rate
Defensive Pressure Rank
Week 10
7.1
8.0
35.1%
30
Week 11
6.6
13.7
25.9%
31
Week 12
5.73
10.8
40.0%
15
Week 13
6.43
10.5
42.9%
1
Week 14
3
7.8
25.0%
12

Alex Smith 5.8 yards per attempt over his five starts in Washington. His conservative nature directly conflicts with McLaurin’s usage he’s held an aDOT greater than 10 yards for the majority of Smith’s starts. It’s why we saw J.D. McKissic have two games with double-digit targets over this stretch of games. It’s what has allowed players like Logan Thomas and Cam Sims to have spurts of success. Their routes are more in line with what Smith can read on the field given the time he has to operate. Washington’s last two opponents have been in the Top 12 in quarterback pressures forcing quick release times (2.65 seconds) and short throws to avoid pressure. However, even with the adjustments to avoid sacks, Washington’s passing offense isn’t built to support multiple pass catchers.

Washington entered Week 14 eleventh in neutral passing rate (60.7%) which is typically conducive to productive fantasy receivers. However, things fall off quickly afterward. Smith has averaged just 4.8 passes per game from inside the 20-yard line and McLaurin has just three of those targets. The offense as a whole is 31st in offensive yards per drive (28.6) and has scored more than 30 points in a game just once this season. In such a feeble offense, we’d need McLaurin to carry a larger share of the production and the emergence of ancillary players has stopped that from happening. His route charts in Week 12 and Week 14 highlight this idea. In Week 12, we can see at least five routes with receptions of less than 10 air yards. But in Week 14, with Alex Smith getting injured and Dwayne Haskins taking over, McLaurin had just two drag routes that would enable similar production. With their quarterback situation and his usage in flux, McLaurin would be difficult to trust as we go deeper into the playoffs. Roster depth may force the issue, but fantasy managers should at least look at other options prior to starting McLaurin in Week 15.

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