Two teams approached a fork in the offseason road when it came to their offenses. One came to it by choice, one out of necessity.
Despite a playoff run in 2020, the Seahawks elected to make a change at offensive coordinator after that side of the ball got stuck in the mud in the second half of the season. Bringing in Shane Waldron signaled a clear shift to a more layup-friendly approach for Russell Wilson to smooth out some of the lows while still allowing for the glorious highs.
It was all on display in Week 1.
Seattle was instantly playing much faster than we’re used to. They ranked 22nd in situation-neutral pace of play last year but jumped to 12th in Week 1. Wilson’s play-action rate nearly doubled from 26.4 percent (outside the top-15 in 2020) to 43 percent, which was second among Week 1 starts. All of this type of reformatting is designed to increase the play-by-play efficiency and consistency of the offense.
All those changes didn’t stop Russell Wilson from being his usual dynamic self. Wilson threw deep at the highest rate in Week 1, unfurling five 20-plus-yard throws and completing three for 122 yards and two scores.
This offense was tailored to get the absolute best out of Wilson, Tyler Lockett, and DK Metcalf. What a win for the Seahawks — and fantasy managers alike.
The Seahawks will face the team that came to the same aforementioned fork in the road, the Tennessee Titans. Few offenses were more efficient the last two years than the Titans but were forced to proceed in 2021 without their figurehead coordinator in Arthur Smith when he was named Atlanta’s head coach.
The first steps down their new path were outright disastrous.
It wasn’t just the end results that were poor — it was the process that was doomed as the Titans were the inverse of the Seahawks when it came to play action.
Tennessee used play action on just 11.6 percent of Ryan Tannehill’s dropbacks in Week 1, the second-lowest of all quarterbacks. That is downright alarming when you consider that Tannehill’s 36 percent play-action rate in 2020 led all quarterbacks and he was Top-8 in 2019 at 30 percent.
Before you throw the “They were losing" card on the table, play action has shown to be more efficient regardless of almost any outside factor.
As an organization, the Titans have bet on their offensive core of Tannehill, Derrick Henry, and A.J. Brown — along with upgrading from Corey Davis to Julio Jones — being enough to keep them in contention despite other roster holes. They can win that wager but only if it doesn’t involve a philosophical change to their offensive bones. New coordinator Todd Downing, who did not impress in his first stint in this position with the 2017 Raiders, must look in the mirror and turn course from what we saw in Week 1.
It’s quite rare that we see a team already faced with a “statement game” this early but it feels like one of those moments for Tennessee after the ultra-jarring results we saw in Week 1. We will know much more about who the Titans will be and the outlook of their fantasy core after their Week 2 trip to Seattle.
Colts and Lions are Top 2 in RB rate (42.9% and 36.4%)
It was worth wondering whether the Colts’ running back passing volume was going to change without notorious backfield-ball distributor, Philip Rivers. Week 1 showed us it might just be part of the offensive design. We didn’t expect Nyheim Hines’ pass-game role to change but Jonathan Taylor still seeing aerial volume was a huge win.
The Lions also funneled targets to their backs. D’Andre Swift ran 41 routes and led the team with 11 targets. His role as a receiver was hoped for by optimistic fantasy drafters and he’s a clear winner coming out of Week 1. Jamaal Williams was a bit more of a surprise with nine targets. If these two players keep up that target share in this offense (not out of the question given their receiver depth chart), Swift will be a strong RB2 and Williams will be a weekly FLEX option.
We should have some sustainability questions, though ... as covered below.
Lions ran 84 plays, 17th in pace of play in the first half and 1st in the second half
This is the crux of the challenge with locking in Lions’ players for the exact type of volume we saw in Week 1. They’re not running that many plays on a weekly basis so it comes down to pace. If they’re playing fast then Jared Goff can act as a hollow passing-yardage distributor for this team in negative game script. If they slow it down and play to the form this staff seems to want, then someone out of Hockenson, Swift, and Williams (listed in order of least to most likely) will disappoint based on Week 1-juiced expectations.
The good news is that they’ll pretty consistently be in negative game script thanks to that defense. It just won’t always look like a Week 1 carbon copy.
Jameis Winston and Teddy Bridgewater were Top-2 in EPA per dropback
While neither performance is likely sustainable long-term, these results emphasize how impressive both Winston and Bridgewater were in their first 2021 starts. I’m personally most fascinated by Bridgewater.
The veteran passer played extremely well and was even pushing downfield a bit (8.4 intended air yards per pass). It was immediately noticeable just how much better Bridgewater will function in this underrated Broncos ecosystem. The Giants aren’t exactly a bad defense either. His performance gives you great confidence in the variety of talented pass-catchers in Denver.
Justin Herbert pressured on 12.2% of his dropbacks, lowest among Week 1 starters
We often talk ourselves into offseason moves to provide an instant, full-scale solution to a team’s previous season problem when we know full well these things take time.
Well, the Chargers offensive line rebuild took no time in providing immediately positive returns.
Rashawn Slater handled some stars on the defensive edge for Washington and looked like a bonafide hit from snap No. 1. If Justin Herbert, who still completed all of his passes under pressure, is now going to receive pristine protection ... this could be a top-five offense in 2021.
Two QBs under pressure on over 50% of dropbacks: Teddy Bridgewater and Zach Wilson
On the flip side of Herbert were Bridgewater and Zach Wilson. We discussed Bridgewater earlier. If anything, this just makes his performance that much more impressive.
For Wilson, this is a bit more of an ominous sign, especially with Mekhi Becton set to miss a long stretch with injury. Wilson looked dynamic in moments of the second half against Carolina and both Corey Davis and Elijah Moore saw a ton of air yards-based opportunity. Wilson will need to overcome his surroundings to deliver. Carolina’s pass rush might be extremely underrated too.
Russell Wilson and Baker Mayfield with a deep passing rate of over 20%
We aren’t shocked to see Russell Wilson on this list, as discussed above. Mayfield’s presence here is interesting, especially with Odell Beckham absent early in the season. Vertical shots off play-action are extremely efficient plays and Mayfield had an absurd 17.8 yards per attempt on play action in Week 1. Love to see the Browns attacking.
It’s a reminder that Beckham is returning to a good ecosystem once he’s ready but in the meantime, Jarvis Landry is extremely undervalued and Anthony Schwartz (rookie deep threat) should be on your radar.
Lamar Jackson came away from Monday with a 9.1% sack rate
The offensive line looks like it will be a problem for Baltimore. Andre Villanueva will move back to his natural left tackle position this week to fill in for an injured Ronnie Stanley after getting wrecked by Maxx Crosby in Week 1. All this shuffling isn’t a good sign. This might prevent the Ravens from reaching their theoretical ceiling.
Elijah Mitchell was third in “rushing yards over-expectation” per Next Gen Stats
We talked about this metric in the season opener version of the column when it came to Baltimore's backs. Eli Mitchell forces us to confront the same quandary: Ecosystem or player? We’ll get the player-related answer to the question in a matter of weeks based on how Mitchell performs. Either way, it doesn’t matter in fantasy. The ecosystem is a giant reason folks emptied their FAAB wallets this week. If Mitchell is even just the 1B of this committee he’s worth the cost.
Mitchell essentially just slides into your preseason expectations for either Raheem Mostert or Trey Sermon, both of whom had Top-31 ADPs among running backs. If one of your fellow league-mates made a mistake and dropped a Top-30 running back you’d empty the FAAB wallet without hesitation.
Tyler Higbee ran a route on 93% of Stafford’s dropbacks
Tyler Higbee didn’t get a “Matthew Stafford bump” or a “Gerald Everett left in free agency” bump in summer drafts. Huge whiff by managers. With this type of usage in an efficient offense, Higbee is going to push the likes of Mark Andrews and Kyle Pitts to finish in the top-five at the position.
Antonio Brown had 42.9% of his targets come 20-plus yards down the field
It’s a welcome change for Brown after he registered the lowest air yards per target figure (8.9) among the top-five most-targeted Bucs in 2020. The volume distribution will vary a bit on a weekly basis in this offense but I don’t want to bet against any of these Tampa Bay receivers over the course of the season. Brown is going to way out-kick his ADP as long as he stays on the field.
Rondale Moore averaged 15 yards after the catch per reception
If you watched one quarter of Rondale Moore’s college film you weren’t shocked by this development in the slightest. He is exactly the player many were hoping to see in the pros and used in the perfect role. The problem is that he was sixth on the team in routes run (14) in Week 1 behind DeAndre Hopkins, A.J. Green, Chase Edmonds, Maxx Williams, and Christian Kirk. The good news is that he was targeted five times on those 14 routes. The gap between Kirk and Moore might not be as narrow as the Week 1 fantasy finish but it’s clear they’re in specialized roles.
Emmanuel Sanders averaged 18.6 air yards per target
In addition, Sanders was the clear-cut third receiver over Gabriel Davis, running 52 routes to Davis’ 34. That wasn't shocking; Davis still needs a lot of development to be a full-time player. It was a little surprising to see Sanders operate as the team’s primary deep threat. Cole Beasley (13) and Stefon Diggs (14) obviously out-targeted Sanders but the veteran dwarfed their average depth of target marks, 6.0 and 10.7 respectively. Sanders has a great role on this team and is a Week 2 DFS sleeper play at just $15.
Kyle Pitts ran a route on 84 percent of pass snaps; 51% of them came from the slot
I’m sure you’re bummed about Kyle Pitts’ Week 1 fantasy finish after all the “unicorn” hype from this offseason.
Don’t worry too much.
In addition to his eight targets, Pitts saw all the deployment metrics we would expect out of a high-flying tight end. He’ll be fine ... as long as this Falcons’ offensive ecosystem hasn’t gone to hell.