Week 8 Fantasy Football Stats Notebook: Can the Bengals thrive without Ja'Marr Chase?

The Bengals averaged a 2.2 percent pass rate over expectation in Weeks 1-5. Their offense was completely stuck in the mud for both fantasy and reality during that stretch, but they've erupted the last two weeks. No surprise, they averaged a 22% pass rate over expected in Weeks 6 and 7.

Unfortunately, the Bengals got dealt a huge curveball with Ja’Marr Chase’s hip injury. The star receiver is set to miss four to six weeks with this malady. That throws everything into flux.

The Bengals had been running an almost exclusive shotgun-based, pass-centric offense the last couple of weeks and had finally cracked the code for their scoring unit. They were finding holes over the middle of the field with Tyler Boyd and had diversified Chase’s route tree to set him up for big YAC plays, not just go-route shots. Even if their ground game hasn’t looked great, it still helped to run out of the shotgun simply so they wouldn’t be so predictable.

Teams previously knew plays under center meant “run” and shotgun signaled “pass” any time you played the Bengals.

Everything was on the table for Cincinnati and now, I have no idea if they’re going to be able to run this type of offense without Chase.

Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase (1) is a fantasy star
Ja'Marr Chase's injury absence will have huge fantasy and real-life reverberations. (Photo by Ian Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) (Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The Bengals are spoiled with Tee Higgins and Boyd. These are two guys who can punch above their weight on the depth chart. Higgins can more than act as a No. 1 receiver. Boyd is better when he can run out of the slot on more than 80% of his routes but can pass for a WR2.

The problem is that the Bengals just don’t have much to offer at WR4-6 on their roster.

Boyd and Higgins will see a good bump in usage. That’s great for fantasy. It’s just tough to imagine the Bengals firing on all cylinders like they have been the last two weeks without their most dangerous big-play guy and the dropoff at wide receiver after the top three.

I wouldn’t get carried away projecting massive leaps for anyone in this offense without Chase. He’s a transformative talent and his absence will change the way this team plays from a structural standpoint. And those shifts over the last two weeks were the reason this team had slayed some of their two biggest demons that haunted them to open the year.

Jets are 5th in total EPA on plays with 2 RBs on the field

It's almost always bogus every time we hear that a team will get two running backs on the field at the same time. It’s difficult to do and it takes a specific set of personnel.

The 2022 New York Jets are one of the few teams in recent seasons to successfully pull it off.

The pony personnel packages had brought a ton of big plays for Breece Hall and a good handful of touchdowns for Michael Carter. The quick trade for James Robinson is a clear signal that they want those plays to remain in the offense, even if they won’t be nearly as explosive without Hall.

Carter will get the first crack at leading the backfield and should project for about 60% of the opportunities. There’s still some room for Robinson to mix into the rotation, too.

Geno Smith targets TEs on 26.7% of his passes, the fifth-highest rate in the NFL

That’s a big, unexpectedly high mark, considering the Seahawks' passing game is primarily built around their two great wide receivers.

Some of the fantasy community has fallen all over themselves to get Marquise Goodwin in the hype circles because of his big performance amid DK Metcalf’s injury last week. Goodwin can certainly be part of the solution and has had good stretches in his career.

I wonder, though, if the tight end room and specifically Noah Fant might end up being a bigger part of the plan to replace Metcalf. Fant has already seen his involvement tick up of late. He’s run a route on 58% of the dropbacks since Week 5 and has an 18% target share. No other non-Metcalf or Tyler Lockett Seahawks pass-catchers are north of 10%.

Will Dissly will still be a big factor but this team traded for Fant as part of the Wilson deal and needs to start getting more out of him. With Geno playing as well as he has, we now want pieces of this offense when we can get them and we’re always looking for tight end help.

Colts rank 2nd over the last two weeks with a 70.4% neutral pass rate

The results of that shift to a pass-heavy, no-huddle offense have had some mixed returns for the Colts in real life but have been objectively good for fantasy football. We’ve seen the running backs catch a ton of dump-off passes and big target totals out of their wide receivers. Big plays have followed suit.

You’d think there’s almost no way they run that style of offense with Sam Ehlinger now replacing Matt Ryan.

Ryan has obviously fallen off a cliff physically and offered no ability to escape pressure. However, he can still process coverage well and get the ball out fast. Ehlinger doesn’t really profile as that guy.

Sam Ehlinger #4 of the Indianapolis Colts
Will the shift to Sam Ehlinger cause a detrimental change to the Colts offense — and to their fantasy stars? (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images) (Wesley Hitt via Getty Images)

The offense could return to more of its 2021 form when the Colts were 22nd in neutral pass rate. The team made Carson Wentz’s life easier with a ton of RPOs and designed reads while taking shots off play action. That might fit Ehlinger a bit better. That means we’ll see a ton of Jonathan Taylor rush attempts and just one real relevant receiver. But at least that type of offense might get Michael Pittman some more deep targets. It will make everyone else almost completely irrelevant — and even Pittman more erratic as a producer.

DeAndre Hopkins had a 46% slot rate in Week 7

The veteran receiver also sported a beefy 48% targets per route run. Getting Hopkins the ball was a clear-cut priority for the team in his return.

It was also great to see him used in creative fashion. Since he arrived in Arizona Hopkins has almost exclusively been tethered to the left outside position. He’s never come close to the slot rate he enjoyed in Week 7. He’ll get more layup looks there and it just shows some flexibility in Kliff Kingsbury’s personnel usage we aren’t used to seeing.

Of course, getting Hopkins slot snaps comes at the expense of Rondale Moore, who absolutely cannot play on the perimeter. If we don’t see Moore back into an almost full-time slot role in Week 8 he will not have success going forward.

Just one of Justin Fields’ 14 runs in Week 7 was a scramble

You can easily argue that what we saw in Week 7 was the first time any Bears coaching staff has created a game plan around Justin Fields’ skillset.

Matt Nagy tried to shoehorn Fields into a quick-strike, west-coast passing game. The current staff has had him primarily run traditional dropback passing concepts. In Week 7, they used him on design runs and got him out of the pocket on 14 of his 26 dropbacks.

That’s exactly what he should be doing on a weekly basis. If the Bears keep him in that type of attack he will not only find fantasy success but may end up leveling out his often shaky play and become the long-awaited answer for Chicago.

Patrick Surtain has lined up in the slot on just 1% of his snaps this year

Last week in this column, I ran through the list of No. 1 wideouts that Surtain has blanked this year. However, I’m not concerned about that with Christian Kirk.

Unlike all of those perimeter receivers Surtain has given the business to so far, Kirk has lined up in the slot on over 60% of his snaps. That should help him get away from the shutdown corner.

Kirk had some slow weeks during October but that all lined up with the Jaguars missing at least one of their top two outside receivers. That forces Kirk out of position. With both Marvin Jones and Zay Jones back in the fold, Kirk should be a good start for Week 8.

Brandin Cooks has an 18% share of the team air yards since Week 4

Meanwhile, Nico Collins sits at 34% in that same span. Collins is, unfortunately, dealing with an injury but was gaining on Cooks as the top receiver for this team. Davis Mills looked extremely comfortable just tossing it up to Collins down the field and he’s an excellent option on contested catches. Collins is an underrated talent who might need to be stashed for when he’s healthy.

You should want to stash him even more because I think this lack of usage could be the precursor to a Cooks trade. The Texans are fully rebuilding and the rumors have been circulating about the oft-traded Cooks. He would be a good fit on a contender that needs speed; paging the Los Angeles Chargers.

If Cooks is gone Collins could be a breakout candidate in the back half of the season.

Van Jefferson averaged 13.4 air yards per target in 2021

Jefferson also earned a first down on 64% of his catches last year. Only Cooper Kupp is over 60% this year.

Jefferson is a good player. He had a quiet 800-yard season in his second NFL season and has been banged up since the summer. Now that he’s off IR, he should jump right into a big role for a team that badly needs a vertical playmaker. That’s Jefferson’s bread and butter.

Not only will Jefferson walk into some good opportunities, but his lid-lifting presence should also help all the other players in this offense. He’s not a household name but could be a big difference-maker in helping the Rams have a better second half.

Jefferson should not be on waivers.

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