Titans vs. Cowboys: Showdown Strategy, Target Projections, Captain's Picks

There’s a classic “Sesame Street” segment when the children in the neighborhood are shown a bunch of objects or shapes and told that one of these things isn’t like the others, that, in fact, one of these things just doesn’t belong. It was a simple game, but, well, how much can you expect from puppets? Anyway, the theme of that segment rings true when looking at the nationally televised NFL games from Week 9. Within the last 24 hours, we’ve been treated to Rams-Saints and Packers-Patriots – a battle between two of the greatest QBs in football history. Tonight? Well, we’ve got not that. An average at best Dallas team that’s already been featured far too heavily in prime time welcomes a Tennessee squad that, at some times, seems allergic to the end zone. If nothing else, it all makes for an intriguing Showdown slate on DraftKings.

In this article, I will outline the potential game script for the two possible outcomes of this matchup (we’re like Donovan McNabb here -— we don’t believe in ties). Based on these narratives, I’ll highlight the players who would stand to benefit from the events of the night going down in such a manner. After the hypothetical exercise, I’ll crown a winner, name a Captain’s Pick, and give some locks for the slate.

So, let’s dive in.

Note: All salaries will be Flex prices unless noted as Captain’s Pick prices.


ADAM LEVITAN’S TARGET PROJECTION

Amari Cooper, $12,600 Captain’s Pick, $8,400, Flex — The Cowboys will be motivated to prove to everyone that giving up a first-round pick for Cooper was the right move. A Monday night game is a great spot to do just that. Although Cooper may not be all the way up to speed in the playbook, we can expect a specific package of plays for him.

Projection — 6 Targets


SHOWDOWN STRATEGY

If the Cowboys Win…

Might as well start with the $13K running back, right? In a contest with one of the lowest implied totals of Week 9 as a whole, it’s not surprising to see Ezekiel Elliott ($13,000) priced significantly higher than every other player on the single-game slate. Despite the hefty tag, it’s difficult to imagine a scenario where you’ll be fading the All-Pro RB. He’s played 89.0 percent of the Cowboys’ offensive snaps so far this season, and he’s yet to have a game with fewer than 17 touches or 19 opportunities to do something with the rock. Granted, few of those chances have come in high-leverage scoring situations – as Dallas has averaged only 2.6 red-zone possessions per contest – but, with 77.8 percent of the team’s carries inside the 10-yard line, he still owns a monopoly on goal-line work that few other backs can claim. He’s also simply a massive home favorite, going up against a Titans team that has shown a propensity to dig themselves into negative scripts early in games. In fact, Tennessee has had the lead on just 20.2 percent of their snaps in 2018, a figure that bested a mere two clubs entering this week: the Browns and Giants. Elliott not getting 20-plus touches this evening seems nearly impossible.

It’s the Cowboys passing attack where things get a little more complex. Through seven games, just two players on Dallas’ roster have more than 200 yards receiving: Cole Beasley ($6,800) and Geoff Swaim – who has a MCL sprain and is extremely doubtful to suit up for this Monday night affair. Now, nothing about that last sentence screams excitement, yet, it should be noted that even under these unique conditions, Dak Prescott ($11,000) has played well in his two most recent games. Carried by the floor that is his own rushing ability, the third-year pivot was QB4 across Weeks 6 and 7, gaining 115 yards on the ground with a pair of touchdowns. Is that level of success sustainable? Definitely not, but it is crucial to understand that Prescott has played at an acceptable level the past couple of times he’s taken the field. He’ll also have a brand new weapon on display.

Amari Cooper ($8,400) will make his Cowboys debut against the Titans tonight and, like most evenings with the former first-round pick, expectations for the WR are all over the map. To his advantage, he should see a lot of Malcolm Butler in coverage, a generally capable CB who is having a season from Hell. Not only has Butler allowed the second-most touchdowns to opposing receivers through seven weeks, he’s surrendered 2.48 yards per route – the most of any corner who has covered more than 100 routes so far this year. It’s also likely that Cooper will finish the game as Dallas’ most targeted wideout, however, just how many opportunities that will amount to is up for debate. Both Tennessee and Dallas rank inside the league’s top 10 in rushing rate, correlating to each team running very few plays per game overall. It doesn’t help matters that both squads are exceedingly slow on offense, as well. While Dallas possesses the slowest pace of any NFC team in 2018 – running 29.4 seconds off the clock between snaps – the Titans are actually the second-slowest paced team overall. A 33 percent target share for Cooper might honestly amount to seven targets. That’s something to keep in mind, with Michael Gallup ($4,800) and Blake Jarwin ($600) still needing a few looks too.

Finally, with Tennessee’s offensive line owning the NFL’s worst adjusted sack rate (10.4 percent), Dallas DST ($5,800) is a viable option for your lineups tonight, even at the elevated price. Though they haven’t forced many turnovers this season – and the Titans’ conservative approach won’t help matters in that regard – they have held opponents to a paltry 1.58 points per drive. That number represents the second-lowest total in the league. It’s a solid unit going up against a bad offense.


If the Titans win…

It’s weird to give Cowboys coach Jason Garrett and company any sort of praise, even some as convoluted as my following statement, but the Titans are sort of a poor man’s version of the Cowboys. They’re a team with an athletic quarterback whose main fantasy value is derived from his legs, their receiving options leave much to be desired and, if they could, they’d run the football on every single down. That last point is really the key. Tennessee desperately wants to keep the ball on the ground. Though the Titans have often found themselves in negative game scripts – they enter Week 9 having trailed by an average of 3.2 points per drive – they’ve still run the football on 43.2 percent of their offensive snaps while losing – easily the highest rate in the NFL. It’s this clear inclination to take the ball out of Marcus Mariota’s ($9,800) hands that makes him almost unusable this evening, even in a narrative where Tennessee comes out on top. Going back to the start of last season, Mariota has thrown a touchdown on just 2.6 percent of his 603 pass attempts. In 2018, his 0.39 fantasy points per drop back has him tied with Bills rookie QB Josh Allen. He’s a fantasy black hole.

Obviously, this inability to generate any fantasy success has also impacted Mariota’s receivers across this span of time – specifically Corey Davis ($7,600). Despite being targeted on 26 percent of the routes he’s run so far this season, a number that trails only Julio Jones among WRs with at least 200 routes, Davis came into Week 9 with only 55 targets. For comparison’s sake, Jones had 77 in an identical seven-game sample. I guess the point here is volume can be empty. As an example, Davis is part of a five player group seeing more than 35 percent of their team’s targets in the red zone, but, unlike Davante Adams, who has translated that massive share into 17 targets and seven touchdowns, Davis’ single score finds him far closer to the Zay Jones’s end of the spectrum. Things don’t get easier for Davis in Week 9, either. The sophomore wideout will be going up against Bryon Jones, Pro Football Focus’ top rated coverage CB in 2018. It’s honestly easy to feel a little bad for the guy.

Aside from Davis, Tajae Sharpe ($5,200) appears to have separated himself from Taywan Taylor ($4,600) in recent weeks as the Titans’ number two WR – playing at least 79 percent of the team’s offensive snaps in Weeks 6 and 7. However, the real second option in the passing game is Dion Lewis ($7,200). While Lewis’ production has wavered on a game-to-game basis in one of the league’s most inconsistent offenses, he’s hauled in at least three passes in five of his seven contests in a Tennessee uniform, his 29 overall receptions trailing Davis for the team lead by one catch. He’s also coming off his best rushing performance of the season, gaining 91 yards on just 13 carries in London against the Chargers. At 4.7 yards per touch, Lewis hasn’t been nearly as efficient as he was in 2017, when he was Football Outsiders’ top rated RB, yet, he’s one of few Titans players that can actually be trusted outside of a specific script. The same can not be said of Derrick Henry ($5,000).

Henry finally found the end zone in Week 7. With the touchdown, the Alabama product crested 6.0 DKFP for the first time all season long. Look, it’s hard being TD-dependent in general, but especially so on a squad scoring just 1.3 touchdowns per game – a mark better than only the lowly Bills. Dallas is allowing 3.58 adjusted line yards per opponent rush. That’s the third-best figure in the NFL. They’ve also allowed a touchdown on a mere 16.2 percent of opposing drives through seven games, making them the stingiest defense in that regard. I’m not sure a script could be more stacked against Henry.


THE OUTCOME

This is going to be a slog, but one that might mercifully be over in under three hours. As I stated above, Dallas is simply a better version of Tennessee, and, as the home team, they deserve to be favored in the manor they are. I think this contest goes to script, with the Cowboys taking an early lead and using their Pro Bowl RB to bleed the clock after that. Elliott ($19,500 CP) clearly comes with a huge price as a Captain’s Pick, but the presence of a super-saver like Jarwin does open up some salary. Still, if you want a more balanced lineup; Lewis ($10,800 CP), Dallas DST ($8,700 CP), and even Cooper ($12,600 CP) are also viable options at the 1.5x value.

Final Score: Dallas 23, Tennessee 13


I am a promoter at DraftKings and am also an avid fan and user (my username is theglt13) and may sometimes play on my personal account in the games that I offer advice on. Although I have expressed my personal view on the games and strategies above, they do not necessarily reflect the view(s) of DraftKings and I may also deploy different players and strategies than what I recommend above. I am not an employee of DraftKings and do not have access to any non-public information.


I am a promoter at DraftKings and am also an avid fan and user (my username is adamlevitan) and may sometimes play on my personal account in the games that I offer advice on. Although I have expressed my personal view on the games and strategies above, they do not necessarily reflect the view(s) of DraftKings and I may also deploy different players and strategies than what I recommend above. I am not an employee of DraftKings and do not have access to any non-public information.