I’m trying to describe how I feel about this week, and “complicated” comes to mind. Week 9 is a fantasy bye-pocalypse with six teams out. Go play the lotto if you’ve got a starting roster without at least one “Q” tag. And this week’s trade deadline altered the trajectory of at least one running back we'd done away with.
But tonight looks simple. Philadelphia is an undefeated, 14-point road favorite, facing the worst team in the AFC South. Both teams have condensed passing trees, and we’re only looking for fantasy output from a select few players. However, there’s still some intrigue, and I’ve got two fill-in options to get you through the week.
Let’s first dig into the game itself and what to watch for in TNF.
Eagles set to dominate on Thursday night and continue their flight to the Super Bowl
If you watch the end-zone angle below, Jason Kelce snaps the ball at 0:24. Pause the video at 0:27. At three seconds post-snap, there’s not a defender within five yards of Jalen Hurts:
"What is thy bidding, my master?"
"There is a great disturbance in the Force."
"I have felt it."
"Yes. The Eagles are now creating explosive plays in the passing game." pic.twitter.com/mtO9fflEVf
— Doug Farrar ✍ (@NFL_DougFarrar) October 31, 2022
Philadelphia is one of three teams ranked in the top six for blocking win rate on running and passing downs. Consequently, they’re third in offensive yards per drive and have scored a touchdown or attempted a field goal on 45.3 percent of their play sequences. The offensive line holds much of the credit, but Hurts’ improvement as a passer and the team's personnel upgrades deserve some spotlight.
Last season was all about Nick Sirianni and Hurts getting on the same page. They tore down the passing game, built a top-10 rushing offense that could run out of a plethora of personnel packages and found themselves in a playoff game.
But their ingenuity was a front. Hurts still needed time to develop as a quarterback. He was 23rd in passing success rate on third downs and converted on 34.2 percent of his attempts. However, with A.J. Brown in the fold and DeVonta Smith in his second year, Hurts continues to impress.
Hurts is now ninth in third-down success rate. He’s making throws across the middle of the field while simultaneously having the most rushing touchdowns of any quarterback. There’s little he or the team can’t do.
The Texans will have their work cut out tonight on both sides of the ball. Philadelphia has run 469 offensive plays and trailed by more than a touchdown on just 12. Meanwhile, their defense is the only unit with a top-5 rank in sacks and interceptions.
I’m interested in just two Houston skill-position players tonight, but before we get there, let’s talk more about the Eagles offense and why they’re primed for a deep playoff run this year.
Points of Interest in TNF
The Eagles are showing they are a complete team
Hurts and Brown putting on a clinic was one of last week's highlights, and the peripherals pointed to a big day. Philadelphia hovered around the league average in pass rate over expectation (PROE) despite Hurts leading all quarterbacks in designed rushing attempts. Brown was top 10 in target share (30.3%) and second in the percentage of his team’s air yards (42.5%).
With the Steelers lacking a pass rush, the Eagles were right to take advantage. However, there’s another aspect of their disrespectful afternoon that went overlooked.
Good offenses can tap into a single strength to mask their deficiencies. Take the Bengals’ passing game (with Ja’Marr Chase), for instance. Joe Burrow is fifth in EPA per play, but Cincinnati is bottom 10 in most rushing metrics. Their passing and running games remain out of sync.
Philadelphia’s played in concert on Sunday.
The last time Hurts had above-average air yards per attempt and the team’s rushing success rate was above the league average (41.2%) was in Week 2. Since then, they’ve either been efficient through the air or on the ground. But on Sunday, we saw both components of the offense work in tandem to the point where Hurts got to sit out most of the fourth quarter.
I’m not expecting another four-touchdown outburst from Hurts. While it’d be a nice way for my fantasy team to start off the week, my eye will be on the offense in its totality. If we continue to see effective output from the running and passing games (on top of a strong defense), I’ll be looking forward to watching this team play in late January.
Dameon Pierce: Dual-threat option
By this point, there should be no doubt regarding Dameon Pierce’s skills as a runner. His vision and burst have been the highlight of a few games this season. The list of players with more forced missed tackles starts and ends with Nick Chubb. Pierce is top 10 in explosive runs, too. He’s a menace on the field.
Houston would be smart to attack the Eagles’ front with Pierce. They’re bottom five in rushing EPA and success rate allowed, and their splits without Jordan Davis are significant. But sometimes, a good defense is having a better offense. With Hurts and company averaging the third-most points per game, their defense has seen the third-fewest run plays.
Davis Mills might need to go to the air more, but Pierce may still be fine as a fantasy option.
Pierce’s route participation has exceeded Burkhead’s in three of their last four games. As a result, the rookie has more targets and yards than the veteran and co-leads the team lead in red-zone targets. Nico Collins’ absence removes yet another option for Mills downfield. Pierce hasn’t taken away the third-down or two-minute role yet, but his dual-threat ability should be a key factor for the Texans tonight.
But Don’t Bench These Guys
It’s Week 9, so we know enough about each squad to gauge who’s startable or not. But we’ve got six teams on bye, injury situations to monitor and fewer waiver-wire options as the season progresses. If you’re looking for some reassurance on who to start tonight, I’ve got two players set up for success in what’s projected to be a low-scoring affair.
Like last week, I’ll advocate for a player on most rosters. But their surroundings suppress their value, making them tough to trust when setting lineups. I hope Miles Sanders doesn’t get injured early, as did Rashod Bateman. Regardless, I’d have no issue slotting him into my RB slot for Week 9.
Hurts’ designed-rushing rate compresses the touch share for the entire backfield, but Sanders still comes out on top. He’s maintained most of the touches (carries plus targets) in every game scenario. Typically, we’d fight over any player getting 18.1 touches per game, but Antonio Gibson has more total fantasy points.
We need ceiling results. Luckily, Sanders has the Texans’ run defense on tap.
Houston is already bottom 5 in rushing success rate and EPA allowed. Those metrics give Sanders a safe floor. But the Texans allowing the most explosive runs (10 or more yard gains) sets him up for a top-12 performance. Coincidentally, Sanders has more carries of 10-plus yards than all Eagles’ rushers combined. We know he’ll get the touches, but tonight’s matchup gives Sanders the runway for season-high results.
Look, folks. I don’t have a drama decoder ring or special access to the team. But I can at least theorize who’d be a beneficiary now that Brandin Cooks has been ruled out tonight:
Texans’ WR Brandin Cooks will not play tonight vs. the Eagles, per ESPN’s @WerderEdESPN. Cooks has missed practice for what the team has described as personal reasons. He had hoped to be traded to a playoff contender.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) November 3, 2022
Catching, or attempting to catch, passes from Mills isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement. However, if you didn’t win the “Isaiah Likely or Tyler Conklin” sweepstakes, Brevin Jordan has a spot-start role for TNF.
The sophomore tight end returned in Week 7 and immediately matched Jordan Akins in targets (4). However, Akins’ snaps dropped on Sunday, while Jordan’s increased by 21.7%. Since coming back to the team, Jordan has been third in target and air yard share and tied for the most red-zone targets. Plus, the matchup is conducive to tight end production.
DJ Chark is the only perimeter receiver to score on Philadelphia’s outside corners. Couple the secondary coverage with teams trailing the Eagles by two or more scores on 48.7% of their plays, and you find offenses turning to their interior options for relief. Pat Freiermuth (7-57-0) and Jacob Ferguson (6-40-1) both finished in the top 12 against Philadelphia in consecutive games.
In one-week DFS formats or as an emergency start in season-long leagues, Jordan is a strong option on TNF.