Kirk Cousins, MIN at ATL ($6,100 DK, $7,100 FD, O/U 54.0)
My excitement spilleth over. The Minnesota passing offense will face an Atlanta defense featuring a man coverage. If you’ve been reading this and/or my WR/CB Matchups columns each week, you will not be surprised by my excitement one bit. Kirk Cousins is as lethal when facing a Cover 1 as Russell Wilson or Tom Brady are against Cover 3. In short, Cover 1 is man coverage underneath with a single high safety over the top.
You’ll see the CBs with both feet parallel, slightly to the outside of their coverage responsibility in order to force them into the middle of the field toward the safety help (referred to as outside leverage). The best receivers will recognize this and attempt to cut across the CBs body to take the outside route toward the sideline. A Cover 1 savvy QB will recognize his receiver has defeated his coverage’s leverage, and target him on go’s and post-corner combos in between the CB and FS. But the single high free safety can only be in one place at a time. If he is forced to help the CB to one side of the field, that will open up the receivers to other side to a variety of routes.
When two receivers have the footwork and quickness to carry this out in tandem, a Cover 1 will be left out to dry. I’ll save the quick hitters on the Vikings’ WRs for the Adam Thielen analysis. As for Cousins, he may be the top QB in the entire league at exploiting man coverages. On 22 percent of dropbacks since the beginning of 2019, Cousins has passed for 27 percent of his yardage, 36 percent of his TDs, and with a 20 percent increase to his average yards per attempt.
The Bottom Line: It’s following a couple of matchups against primary zone coverages that those rumblings are thrown out about whether Cousins is actually a franchise QB. However, all defenses will play man on at least 10 percent of snaps. We just want to make sure Cousins is facing at least a third of snaps against a man shell before considering exposure. This happens to be one of those weeks. I don’t think I need to deep dive into how much the Atlanta secondary has struggled this season. Allowing 30.1 FPG to opposing QBs this season with second on the list for the main slate allowing 21.4 FPG pretty much sums that up. If you trust my work, you’ll trust this recommendation.
Ryan Tannehill, TEN vs. HOU ($5,900 DK, $7,300 FD, O/U 52.5)
I’ve already deconstructed the basics of a Cover 1, so we can apply that information here to Ryan Tannehill. While the Titans do not have WRs comparable to Thielen or Justin Jefferson, they do have A.J. Brown and Jonnu Smith. You’ll no doubt already be aware that Tannehill is deep into a post-Age 30 career resurrection. Much of that success has been built behind defenses stacking the box to contain Derrick Henry while leaving the secondary in man coverage.
Whereas Cousins could be the league's top QB against Cover 1, Tannehill is not far behind at all. Tannehill has skillfully passed for 47 percent of his TDs the last two seasons on only 33 percent of dropbacks when facing Cover 1. As I mentioned, all defenses will play a good amount of man schemes. That said, it’s the defenses that are able to stack the box from a zone shell that results in the down weeks from Tannehill. This will not be one of those weeks. Houston will utilize zone schemes on around half of all snaps on Sunday. That’ll leave an equal number of man shells for Tannehill to exploit.
The Bottom Line: Brown appeared to be in mid-season form in his return last week against Buffalo. But it was imperative that Brown practiced today after sitting out Thursday’s practice. Even with Tannehill’s ability to diagnose Cover 1, playing him without Brown or Corey Davis would not be advisable. Now that we know Brown will play, I’ll leave you with one final thought on Tannehill. The Texans will roll out a Cover 4 or “Quarters” shell on around 15 percent of snaps. Against Cover 4, Tannehill has completed over 70 percent of attempts, and his yardage per attempt increases by 15 percent. That’s over 60 percent of expected snaps where Tannehill will be a kid in a candy store.
Aaron Rodgers at TB ($7,500 DK, $8,400 FD)
Ryan Fitzpatrick at NYJ ($5,900 DK, $7,400 FD)
Todd Gurley II, ATL at MIN ($6,300 DK, $6,800 FD, O/U 55.0)
I really thought Todd Gurley was ticketed toward becoming a situational player after watching him play last season. He just didn’t have the same electricity in his step. Then reports surfaced of a possible chronic left knee condition stemming from the ACL tear he suffered during his junior season with the University of Georgia. However, the 2020 Gurley appears to be a completely different player. His lateral movement has improved and, possibly due to confidence in his knee, he is displaying added patience while his blocking develops.
Discussing the improvements displayed in Gurley this season will mean nothing if he fails to come through here for DFS purposes. However, that is exactly what I am expecting from him this week. From defenses on the main slate, the Vikings have allowed the 10th-most FPs and seventh-most rushing yards per game to opposing RBs this season. I get it, not bad, but not entirely convincing. In addition, the Falcons call for outside zone (where the RBs shoulders aim off-tackle) and man blocking (runs aimed opposite from the direction of the O-line) on around a third of all rushing attempts. Minnesota has permitted the second-most outside zone and man rushing yards this season.
The Bottom Line: Saving the best for last, Atlanta’s bread-and-butter is blocking for power (backside guard or tackle pulls), frontside lead pulls, counters (misdirection), and draws. They utilize these “exotic” blocking concepts at the league’s seventh-highest rate. Possibly due to the injuries to Danielle Hunter and Anthony Barr, Minnesota has been hung out to dry for the fifth-most yards per attempt when defending these concepts. The combination of these vulnerabilities provides the reasoning behind why the Vikings have somewhat struggled against the run this season. In conclusion, Gurley and the Falcons’ O-line feature the exact concepts that will highlight those defensive deficiencies.
David Montgomery, CHI at CAR ($5,800 DK, $5,900 FD, O/U 44.5)
It’s truly been a rough season thus far for the Chicago offense. They’ve persevered through a QB switch, a half-hearted trade request from Allen Robinson II, and a season-ending injury to Tarik Cohen. Despite all of that, they have amazingly compiled a 4-1 record. Now Chicago will head into Charlotte to face a Panthers defense that specializes in stonewalling opposing passing offenses. The Carolina Cover 3 has limited opposing QBs and WRs to the third-lowest FPG among defenses on the main slate.
Let’s not get the message turned around here. This is not a recommendation to avoid Robinson exposure. Robinson is provided with the third-highest target share on the slate at 29 percent and that number jumped to 39 percent last week. That volume is difficult to bet against. However, Nick Foles’ outlook is bleak. The Panthers’ path to that success has come at the expense of their run defense. They are permitting the most FPs, sixth-most rushing yards, second-most YPA, and second-most TDs per game to opposing RBs.
The Bottom Line: It’s completely understandable if you don’t trust Montgomery. He hasn’t topped 50 yards rushing in three weeks while averaging south of 3.5 YPA. However, we need to consider a few details on those matchups since Foles took over. The Bears have faced the Colts and Buccaneers the last two weeks. Both are elite run defenses that rank at the top in every imaginable statistic. In Week 3 against Atlanta, Mitchell Trubiskly put the team in a 26-10 hole before he was replaced by Foles. In order to achieve DFS success, we must trust in the formula without bias, and consider every play highlighted by the data.
Alexander Mattison vs. ATL ($7,200 DK, $7,000 FD)
Johnathan Taylor vs. CIN ($6,400 DK, $7,300 FD)
James Robinson vs. DET ($6,800 DK, $6,500 FD)
Adam Thielen, MIN vs. ATL ($7,300 DK, $7,400 FD, O/U 54.0)
The Vikings had a clear agenda when they acquired Kirk Cousins in 2018. They already had a pair of man coverage destroyer’s in Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen. They were short a QB who could zip the ball to them when separation was gained. With the addition of Justin Jefferson, I can’t even imagine how unstoppable Minnesota would be against man coverage had Diggs remained patient with the team.
As for Thielen, this should not take much convincing. Since Week 1 of 2019, he’s run 22 percent of his routes against Cover 1. During that stretch, he’s tracked down 32 percent of his receptions, 35 percent of his yardage, 75 percent of his TDs, and his yards per route run (YPRR) increases by 37 percent.
The Bottom Line: The scariest part about the Vikings’ offense is that Jefferson may end up being better against Cover 1 than Thielen. On 17 percent of routes opposed by a Cover 1, JJ has caught 37 percent of receptions, 49 percent of his yardage, scored his only TD, and, wait for it… his YPRR increases by an astronomical 63 percent! Pretty sure I’ve already revealed my favorite stack of Week 6.
Terry McLaurin, WAS at NYG ($5,700 DK, $6,900 FD, O/U 42.5)
You may have read some noise during the 2019 NFL Draft that Terry McLaurin will have a serious future in an NFL front office/staff one day. Now you’re asking, how in the world could that information be drawn from basic team interviews? In addition to his literal intelligence, much of that reasoning was pulled from “McLaurin F1’s” ability to disentangle coverages on the fly. One of the keys to Tom Brady’s and Russell Wilson’s NFL success has been in their ability to diagnose Cover 3 schemes. Cover 3 is rapidly becoming every OCs living nightmare. If played properly, defenses are able to stack the box to stifle the run while also preventing long passing plays.
In a total of 18 career games, McLaurin is already one of the top-five WRs in the entire NFL at exposing Cover 3 vulnerabilities. He’s collected 30 percent of his receptions and 31 percent of yards on only 19 percent of total routes. A Cover 3 is fundamentally inclined toward preventing TDs, yet McLaurin has scored 25 percent of his TDs against the scheme with a 22 percent increase to his yardage efficiency per route.
The Bottom Line: The major stumbling block for McLaurin is Kyle Allen. It’s amazing to me that he is collecting additional NFL starts considering his struggles against NFL zone schemes. However, McLaurin’s 27 percent target share held up last week with Allen running the show. The Giants utilize Cover 3 at the league’s fifth-highest rate and surrender the ninth-most FPG to WRs on the slate. A matchup for McLaurin against Isaac Yiadom’s 1.84 yards per coverage snap (YPCS) is one that even Allen can’t botch.
Chase Claypool at PIT ($5,200 DK, $5,500 FD), O/U 47.0)
I was all set to write up Jamison Crowder in this spot when news broke that Diontae Johnson had been ruled out. You can read about what I already wrote on Chase Claypool’s matchup in Week 6 here. On a minimum of 75 routes, Claypool currently ranks 6th in FPG (18.6) among all WRs this season. Johnson’s 36 percent target share will once again be available to Claypool.
The Browns rank fourth in the NFL in utilization of zone coverages in 2020. Over three-fourths of snaps will be played in Cover 3, 4, and 6. Although, the results have not been pretty. They are allowing 46.9 FPG to opposing WRs -- second-highest in the NFL -- and permit nearly half of all third-down conversion attempts to succeed. Every starter in the Cleveland secondary is allowing at least 8.0 FPs per game.
The Bottom Line: Relatively sure a ton of people will already be on Claypool after scoring three TDs last week against Philadelphia. Chasing points is a volatile practice. However, Ben Roethlisberger has a tendency of locking onto a favorite receiver. At 6-4, 238 pounds, the fact that Claypool tested at 4.42 seconds in the 40 is on another level. Get in while the salaries are low.
Justin Jefferson at ATL ($6,000 DK, $5,900 FD)
Laviska Shenault Jr. vs. DET ($5,200 DK, $5,800 FD)
Jamison Crowder at MIA ($6,100 DK, $6,600 FD)
Robert Tonyan, GB at TB ($5,100 DK, $6,200 FD, O/U 55.0)
Let me first highlight that, outside of the chalk-four (George Kittle, Travis Kelce, Mark Andrews, and Darren Waller), TE is a canyon of unknowns this season. But how can we not be on Robert Tonyan this week? It’s not that he scored three TDs against Atlanta. It’s not even that he scored more FPs against in Week 4 than any other Packers’ TE has in recent history. The reason I am on him is because Aaron Rodgers trusts him.
Tonyan will face a multitude of coverages from Tampa Bay on Sunday. On around a third of snaps, he’ll go against a Cover 1. Tonyan scored all three of his TDs two weeks ago against the Falcons’ Cover 1. He’ll face a Cover 3 on another one-third of snaps, where, since 2019, his YPRR increases by 40 percent. Against one-fifth of snaps he’ll oppose a Cover 4, in return Tonyan’s YPRR increases by 41 percent.
The Bottom Line: A sample size of fewer than 200 routes fails to provide us with the reliability from some other profiles at the position. But we’re not paying for his historical data. We’re paying for the 23 percent overall target share from Green Bay’s last two games. We’re paying for the 40 percent red-zone target share from Week 4. We’re paying for Rodgers’ trust. It’s literally a crapshoot at TE outside of Andrews on the main slate. I’ll be placing several bets on Tonyan.
Jonnu Smith, TEN vs. HOU ($5,200 DK, $5,800 FD, O/U 53.0)
As you are already aware, Ryan Tannehill has had a bit of success against Cover 1 defenses. I am expecting that Jonnu Smith will end up as Tannehill’s top target this weekend since it’s very likely that Bradley Roby will shadow A.J. Brown. Smith has been one of the more reliable TEs this season outside of the main group. He’s seen a steady 23 percent overall target share and a 39 percent share of red-zone targets. It’s the latter that has led to him scoring five TDs this season.
The Bottom Line: I certainly don’t want to discount the work done by Zach Cunningham this season. He’s been a disruptive force on defense in all phases of the game for the Texans. However, he is a bit of a liability in coverage. He’s permitting completions on over 90 percent of targets into his coverage. On average, he’s personally allowing four receptions and 40 yards per game. As long as Smith can make one trip into the end zone, those averages alone would equate to 14 FPs. Although, I am counting on much more production from Smith this week.
Austin Hooper at PIT ($3,900 DK, $5,200 FD)
James O’Shaughnessy vs. DET ($3,000 DK, $4,000 FD)