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Week 13 TNF and Injury News

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I hope any tryptophan haze has left your system as Week 13 is upon us. We’re sliding into the fantasy playoffs, and we’ve only got three more Thursday night games left in the season after tonight. Our fantasy rosters need to be primed for the stretch run, so let’s dive into it. I’ll preview this evening’s matchup with my notes and points of interest, along with some injury news to monitor as we head into the weekend.

TNF Preview: Cowboys at Saints

Tonight’s matchup already held plenty of intrigue from a macro sense. Dallas leads the NFC East by two games, so they need a win. But the Saints could improve their playoff hopes with an upset. The contest has rippling effects across multiple divisions, but the players are the real twist to the plotline.

The Cowboys are getting the band back together. Or, at least they may be. Despite their victories and the week-winning fantasy performances from the skill position players, they haven’t had all their starting personnel together. It gives a creative play-caller like Kellen Moore a chance to dig even deeper into his bag and makes a potent offense like Dallas all the more troublesome for the Saints.

Plays like this have to be demoralizing for a defense. It’s a Cover 0 blitz with two defenders nearly on Prescott. He may have squeezed one into Cooper on the crossing route but took the shot to Lamb. Pause the clip at two seconds when Prescott lets it fly, and you can still see Lamb at the one-yard line. He hadn’t even broken to the outside yet. It’s the trust, timing, and efficiency that’s made the offense entertaining throughout the season. And tonight, all the chess pieces are in play.

The timing couldn’t be better for the Cowboys to be healthy. Since Prescott’s return from the calf injury, Dallas’ offense has been 20th in EPA per play, while Dak himself has been outside the Top 20 in EPA per play and completion percentage over expected (CPOE). But, despite New Orleans being 5th in defensive DVOA, there are some flaws the Cowboys can exploit.

The “Marshon Lattimore” matchup always scares fantasy managers from using perimeter receivers, but Lattimore doesn’t have a twin on the other side of the field. Outside receivers have averaged 59 YPG on 11 catches over their last three games, with at least one explosive play allowed in each. The Saints are second in rush EPA allowed all season, but running backs have been influential in the passing game (Matt Breida – 2-29-1, D’Onta Foreman – 2-48-0, Cordarrelle Patterson – 6-126-0). The Saints are 30th in pass rush win rate, hopefully giving Prescott more time in the pocket. Regardless, the matchup sets up well for his pass-catchers. The biggest news for the Saints’ offense will be their quarterback.

Taysom Hill will take over for the struggling Trevor Siemian after four straight losses. The Saints accrued 26.3 yards per drive (31st) and were 25th in EPA per play. Siemian’s fourth-quarter stat-padding made his boxscore look respectable, but the team’s constant trailing brings Hill back into our lives. But, his return makes the offense harder to project.

Hill neutral pass rate 2020

Hill neutral pass rate 2020

You’d have to go back to Weeks 11 to 14 of last season to see how the offense fared under Hill. Over that span, the Saints were 21st in neutral passing rate and 45.2% passing rate inside the 20-yard line. One of those games was the “Kendall Hinton game,” but the low volume coupled with Hill’s mobility (9.8 attempts per game) lowers our expectations for New Orleans’ pass-catchers. However, Hill was at least accurate (9th in CPOE), and his work in the intermediate area of the field (7.3 aDOT) could be how they approach tonight’s game.

The Cowboys are top-10 in pressure rate, but their secondary has been 14th in EPA per dropback. And the highest fantasy producers have come in the intermediate area of the field. Hunter Renfrow (9-134-0) and Zay Jones (7-59-0) just had their best outings on Thanksgiving, with the Chiefs’ primary duo of Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill combining for 151 yards on 20 the week before. The Cowboys are allowing the sixth-most scheduled-adjusted fantasy points to receivers, and mobile quarterbacks have averaged 22.8 YPG. Marcus Mariota scored last week the same way we can expect Hill to tonight. While there’s some uncertainty regarding how Hill will distribute the targets, New Orleans’ offense should be able to move more efficiently with him under center.

Points of Interest in TNF

Everything about the Cowboys’ offense is a point of interest tonight. Cooper’s usage, if Kellen Moore deploys him as a decoy, Lamb moving back to the slot, and its impact on Prescott are all things we’ll be watching. But, like last week, my interest is in the backfield.

The information presented isn’t the issue. I’m sure Elliot’s knee felt better after a few days’ rest so that Jerry could get on the mic and be Jerry. But the extremity each message conveys has my interest piqued. It’d be one thing if Jones sold Elliot’s workload as “normal” or “the usual,” but instead, we got the classic Jones bravado of a “serious workload.” So, naturally, folks are predicting the opposite (check the replies to Gehlken’s tweet).

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Nonetheless, Pollard’s looked like the better option for weeks. And Elliot’s decline as a rusher is undeniable. He had a 51.6% success rate from Weeks 1 to 4 (when reports of the injury surfaced), and it dropped to 36.9% in the four games after. His receiving work has buoyed his fantasy scores, but Pollard’s been the more efficient pass-catcher all season (2.31 vs. 0.76 YPRR per PFF). New Orleans’ run defense may force Dallas to do the sensible thing and feature Pollard more, but we won’t know until after kickoff. For the Saints, my eyes will be on their backfield, too.

Let’s assume Kamara plays. The change at quarterback may be the spark the offense needs, but Kamara’s passing game usage has historically been a concern when Hill has been under center.

Kamara was already ceding work to Ingram before the ankle injury. His 20.6% target share through Week 7 dipped to 10.3% and 14.0% in the two weeks after Ingram rejoined the squad. Now, we’re adding Hill’s penchant for taking red-zone carries into the mix. Kamara’s touch count going into the game is already unclear, and Hill and Ingram’s involvement muddy the waters even more. However, regardless of his snap count, I’ll be tracking his opportunities as both a rusher and receiver.

Injury Slants

I’ll start with the injured players from Week 12. It’s no surprise they missed practice yesterday, and some are unlikely to play this week. However, we’ll be watching for any change in their status over the next few days.

But, on the bright side, we got a few players returning from injury to help our squads.

It’s great to see Justin Fields return after missing Week 12, but Andy Dalton is still in the driver’s seat. Matt Nagy said Fields would retake the starting role once healthy, but we won’t know Fields’ gameday status until tomorrow or Saturday. The Cardinals are in a similar situation.

Kyler Murray and DeAndre Hopkins were back at practice together for the first time in over a month. Murray said he’s hopeful he’ll be back in action this weekend as the Cardinals put the final touches on their playoff push. The team could exercise more caution given their success during his absence, but it’s still a good sign both were practicing, and Murray was available to the media. Philadelphia also had their quarterback talking to the local reporters today, too.

Jalen Hurts’ Week 13 availability was in doubt after reports of an ankle injury surfaced stemming from their Week 12 disastrous outing. Hurts did tell beat reporters he’s playing Sunday, but we’ll need to monitor his skill players. Jordan Howard, Boston Scott, and DeVonta Smith all missed practice. Nick Sirianni will have more information on Howard today while we wait on the health statuses of Smith and Scott. At least we know what Antonio Brown’s status is for this week.

I saw this tweet first, assumed Brown would miss at least this week (I mean, it’s against Atlanta), and he’d be back in Week 14. Then, Adam Schefter drops in with news that Brown won’t be back for at least two more weeks. Like Rob Gronkowski’s injury, the team’s response has been confusing with hints of Brown’s improvement each week. Brown has a heel injury added to the ankle issue, so hopefully, the added time will get him right for the fantasy playoffs. New York is dealing with similar problems.

At least Daniel Jones may be playing this weekend, but he might have fewer passing options. Sterling Shepard and Kadarius Toney are still out after both missed last week’s game. Plus, like Antonio Brown, Toney somehow upgraded his injury with an extra component to it. The Giants already have a tough matchup ahead of them in Miami, and continuing to struggle with injured personnel makes a losing season even harder to bear.

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