The Pittsburgh Steelers are getting it done—both in the NFL and for fantasy football managers.
Eight weeks into the 2020 season, the Steelers are the last unbeaten team in the NFL. Pittsburgh ranks second in the AFC in total defense (310.7 yards per game), fifth in scoring defense (20.3 points per game), third against the pass (213. 9 yards per game), second against the run (96.9 yards per game) and first in sacks with 30.
From an NFL perspective, that defense backslid a bit in Week 8—Pittsburgh allowed 457 total yards, including a jaw-dropping 265 yards on the ground. Per Ron Cook of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin admitted he wasn't entirely pleased with the effort.
“I’m going to tell you what I told my team," Tomlin said. "We did not play well today. We lacked detail in a lot of areas. When you play good people, you are going to be up against it. We can’t allow the emotions of the moment for us to miss that fact. It’s important that we don’t lie to ourselves.”
However, fantasy managers were bailed out by Pittsburgh's penchant for big plays. The Steelers tallied four sacks, notched four takeaways, and took a Lamar Jackson interception back for a score. That big-play outburst kept the Steelers in the top-five among fantasy defenses in Week 8 despite all those yards and 24 points allowed.
And in news that should surprise exactly zero people, Pittsburgh is where we'll kick off this week's edition of Getting Defensive.
Pittsburgh Steelers (at Dallas Cowboys)
We've already rattled off plenty of numbers to talk up edge-rusher T.J. Watt, defensive end Cameron Heyward and the Steelers Defense. Here are a few more numbers to consider as Pittsburgh travels to Dallas to face the reeling Cowboys. Last week, the Cowboys managed all of 265 yards and nine points against the Philadelphia Eagles. Dallas turned the ball over twice—with one of those gaffes getting returned for a touchdown. Behind a patchwork offensive line, Cowboys quarterback Ben DiNucci was sacked four times. This is a tale of two teams barreling in opposite directions—and a game that has the makings of a beatdown.
New England Patriots (at New York Jets)
The Patriots aren't close to being the defense they were in 2019—eight weeks into the season the Pats are hovering around the bottom of the top-10 in terms of fantasy points per game. But this call has a lot less to do with the Patriots than it does their opponent. Somehow, the New York Jets seem to be getting worse by the week. For the season, the Jets are dead last in the NFL in both total offense and scoring offense—the latter by a sizable margin. The Jets have also led the league in fantasy points allowed to team defenses dating back to the beginning of the 2019 season.
Kansas City Chiefs (vs. Carolina Panthers)
Patrick Mahomes, Tyreek Hill, and Travis Kelce get all the run in Kansas City, but Chris Jones, Frank Clark, Tyrann Mathieu and the Chiefs Defense deserves some too. The Chiefs are quietly 10th in the NFL in total defense, and after recording one takeaway in last week's thumping of the hapless Jets, the Chiefs are tied for the league lead with 14 takeaways. If Christian McCaffrey is good to go for the Panthers it would knock a bit of the shine off this matchup, but Carolina was held to just over 300 total yards and 17 points last week by an Atlanta defense that hasn't stopped anyone this season.
Baltimore Ravens (vs. Indianapolis Colts)
From a fantasy perspective, the Ravens Defense didn't do a lot in last week's loss to the rival Steelers—one fumble recovery and a pair of sacks. But for the season the Ravens remain one of fantasy's highest-scoring units. The Ravens are fifth in the NFL in sacks with 24, and only the Miami Dolphins have allowed fewer points so far this season. The Colts have won five of seven to open the season and just dropped 41 points on the Detroit Lions, but the sledding is going to be a lot tougher against Baltimore's seventh-ranked run defense. If the Ravens can pin their ears back and come after Philip Rivers, look out.
Washington Football Team (vs. New York Giants)
Raise your hand if you thought that halfway through the 2020 season, the Washington Defense would essentially be an every-week start. Now put your hand down—lying is wrong. Washington is fifth in the NFL in total defense after eight weeks and sixth in sacks with 22. Perhaps even more importantly than how Washington has performed defensively this season is how the New York Giants haven't. Big Blue played about as well as they have all season against the Buccaneers in Week 8, but this remains a team that has struggled mightily with both turnovers and pass protection in 2020.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (vs. New Orleans Saints)
Were this game in New Orleans, the Buccaneers may well be in "Caveat Emptor" territory in Week 9. It's no slight—the Buccaneers rank at or near the top of the NFL in a number of statistical categories and have talent at all three layers of the defense. I'm also not going to overreact to the Monday Night hiccup against the Giants, which should serve as a reminder as we move into the winter that the Bucs have a long history of struggling in the cold. But there is cause for concern—Tampa's Week 1 meeting with the Saints was their worst statistical outing of the season. The game is in Tampa though, so I'll give the fighting Tom Bradys the benefit of the doubt.
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Arizona Cardinals (vs. Miami Dolphins)
Yes, the Miami Dolphins were victorious in Tua Tagovailoa's NFL debut last week—but that had a lot more to do with two non-offensive touchdowns than anything the fifth overall pick in the 2020 draft did in the game. As a matter of fact, Tagovailoa and the Miami offense struggled quite a bit—just 145 total yards and three conversions on 12 third-down attempts. Cardinals defensive coordinator Vance Joseph is going to mix blitzes and coverages in an effort to confuse the young signal-caller. Don't be surprised if Tagovailoa has a rough go of it in his first career road start.
Houston Texans (at Jacksonville Jaguars)
OK, so this one assumes that the Texans don't trade away the entire defense on Tuesday—any team that would deal J.J. Watt is dead to me. But if the Texans are relatively intact in Week 9, the beleaguered defense could be set up for their best effort of the season for one simple reason—Jake Luton. The sixth-round rookie will be making his first career start playing behind a leaky offensive line for a one-win Jaguars team. If Watt and the Texans can't make some hay in a matchup this good, then the team needs to be cast onto the eternal scrap-heap.
New York Giants (at Washington Football Team)
The New York Giants are a mess overall, but lost in all the losses is the fact that New York's defense has quietly been pretty good. Entering Monday night's surprising effort against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, New York ranked inside the top 10 in sacks and a respectable 13th in total defense. There's also the matter of Washington's languishing offense that ranks 30th in both yards and scoring. Against Washington in Week 6, the Giants amassed three sacks, notched two takeaways, and scored a touchdown on defense.
Tennessee Titans (vs. Chicago Bears)
The Titans aren't an easy defense to get excited about—this is a squad that has tallied a whopping seven sacks for the season. The Titans, are, however, good at taking the ball away, notching 12 takeaways so far in 2020. At any rate, this recommendation is about the matchup more than the defense itself anyway. The Bears are struggling in a big way on offense after having dropped three of five following a 3-0 start, and there doesn't appear to be a quick fix for what ails them. Tennessee won't win the week for you, but it won't be a surprise to see them sneak into the back end of the top-12.
CAVEAT EMPTOR, FOLKS
Indianapolis Colts (at Baltimore Ravens)
By just about any objective measure, the Colts have been excellent defensively—Indy is at or near the top of the NFL in most statistical categories, including fantasy points. This isn't the Peyton Manning Colts—the defense is the reason this team is 5-2. If you have the Colts rostered, in the vast majority of leagues you're going to roll them out. I just don't like the matchup against an angry Ravens team coming off a close loss to their arch-rivals. The Ravens aren't going to shoot themselves in the foot that many times at home two weeks in a row.
Chicago Bears (at Tennessee Titans)
People are going to start thinking I don’t like the Bears. Actually, people already think that. It's not true, but they think it. Chicago is a good defensive team from an NFL perspective, checking in inside the top 10 in fantasy points per game. But the Bears also barely (get it, barely?) rank inside the top 15 in fantasy points because of a lack of big plays—just 17 sacks and nine takeaways. The Bears also draw a terrible fantasy matchup in Week 9—in many scoring systems the Tennessee Titans are dead last this year in fantasy points allowed to team defenses.