Week 11 Stealing Signals Thursday Night Football recap, plus news and notes including an update on Jay Ajayi

Welcome to Stealing Signals, your look at snaps, touches, game flow, efficiency and everything in between. Stealing Signals is a game-by-game breakdown of everything you saw in your Fantasy box score, identifying what is signal and what is noise to help you make decisions for future weeks.     

Week 11
Browns 21 - Steelers 7

Snap Notes: Nick Chubb: 72% (-9 vs. Week 10), Kareem Hunt: 55% (equal to Week 10), James Conner: 18% (shoulder injury), JuJu Smith-Schuster: 30% (concussion), Diontae Johnson: 51% (concussion), Trey Edmunds: 47% (+18 vs. previous season high), Jaylen Samuels: 34% (-6 vs. season average)

Key Stat: Odell Beckham — 0.79 WOPR (0.89 over two games since Kareem Hunt's activation)

One of the things about football I realize each week as I write Stealing Signals is games can be unique in so many ways.

Not every game is unique, of course, but it often feels that way. There are so many games defined by so many different types of moments, even just in this year alone. 

Through 59 minutes last night, the Browns and Steelers played a pretty innocuous game. Baker Mayfield started hot, then cooled a bit. The Steelers never really got much going offensively, and the key players they lost to injury certainly had an impact. James Conner left in the first after aggravating his shoulder injury, then their top two wide receivers left with concussions in the second and third, and that was probably the defining unique characteristic of this game. 

At least until things took a turn for the surreal. The main suspensions and fines have been doled out from Myles Garrett hitting Mason Rudolph in the head with his own helmet, in what will become a defining moment for many parties, including probably the league.

But let's focus on the Fantasy side of things, as light as the takeaways here are. 

The Browns were much the same as Kareem Hunt's debut last week, using a ton of two-back sets and concentrating the downfield targets to Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry, who have been winners in the Browns' reimagined offense. 

After a season high in air yards in Week 10, Beckham's 122 in Week 11 were the fourth most of his season. He wasn't particularly efficient for the second straight game — finishing with four catches for 60 yards even after an early 42-yard reception — but has now seen 22 targets and 290 air yards over the past two weeks, good for an elite 0.89 Weighted Opportunity Rating (WOPR). He's trending up before a game with Miami, seeing the strongest volume he has all year. 

Landry extended his touchdown streak to three straight games, turning in a 7-4-43-1. He's had double-digit PPR points in six of his past seven games, and remains a high-floor option in that format. Hunt was the third heavily-targeted Brown for the second straight week, catching six of eight passes sent his way for 46 yards.

Over the past two weeks, Beckham (22), Landry (17) and Hunt (17) easily lead the team in targets, with Chubb seeing five targets and no other Brown seeing more than two. Following Antonio Callaway's release, Rashard Higgins played the third most snaps among the wide receivers, though his snap share actually fell from Week 10 as the team employed more tight ends. KhaDarel Hodge made a play on a deep ball in Week 11 while rookie tight end Stephen Carlson caught a touchdown, but both played limited roles and all signs point to this offense being highly concentrated. 

Chubb racked up 27 rush attempts in the plus script, compiling 92 yards, but appeared to be dealing with a groin issue that bears monitoring. He saw just one target, but because of the two-back sets this isn't the same situation we're used to where an early-down grinder is ceding passing downs to another back. That said, Chubb's routes run as a percentage of dropbacks did dip from 61% in Week 10 to 39% in Week 11, while Hunt's rose from 56% to 70%. Hunt remains a solid PPR option, but don't completely write off Chubb's receiving potential just because of Hunt's target share.  

Hammered with injuries to the skill positions throughout the game, and with Mason Rudolph under heavy pressure all night and eventually throwing four interceptions, the Steelers amassed just 236 total yards. Those yards were spread thin throughout the offense as Pittsburgh needed to get deeper and deeper into their depth chart. 

Johnny Holton ended up tied for the target lead with seven, along with Vance McDonald, and the speedster Holton easily led the team with 195 air yards but he hauled in just one pass. James Washington led the offense with 49 yards, having caught three of five passes, while Trey Edmunds and Jaylen Samuels led in running back snaps, with Samuels catching the team's lone touchdown as part of a 6-5-19 receiving line. Edmunds played far more snaps, though, and even ran more routes (16 to 12) — it's become clear Samuels isn't viewed as a lead back even if Connor is out. 

There's not much to glean from Pittsburgh's offense in a game like this, and we'll have to monitor the injury reports and transactions ahead of Week 12 to try to determine what to expect from the offense going forward. 

Signal: Jaylen Samuels — not a lead back even with Connor out; Browns — committed to the two-back system that gives both backs Fantasy value and concentrates downfield targets to Beckham and Landry

Noise: Steelers — very little about their usage is actionable given it was largely a next-man-up situation all night

Friday news and notes

  • Jordan Howard has not been cleared for contact from what Doug Pederson described as a stinger. The Eagles hosted Jay Ajayi on a visit Thursday, and word Friday is they intend to sign him. Darren Sproles has also been ruled out for the remainder of the season, and it seems likely we're headed for Howard missing at least one game and possible Ajayi suits up for the Eagles in Week 11. Miles Sanders would still figure to see an uptick in usage and be the lead back, while Boston Scott could mix in, but it's a tough matchup for Philadelphia with the Patriots coming to town. Ajayi is worth a stash while we await further word on Howard's status going forward. 
  • David Montgomery did not practice Thursday after rolling his ankle Wednesday. His status bears monitoring, and with the team releasing offseason acquisition Mike Davis, the depth chart behind him is thin with just Tarik Cohen and Ryan Nall, who was recently activated from the practice squad. 
  • Will Fuller has been getting in limited practices this week and is questionable to return from his hamstring injury. Fuller has a history of hamstring issues so it wouldn't be surprising to see Houston take it easy with him, although the 6-3 Texans have a big game on the schedule in Baltimore against the 7-2 Ravens. If Fuller plays, he'd be a boom-or-bust option. 
  • Amari Cooper got in a limited practice Thursday and appears on track to play Sunday. He missed practice time before Week 10 and it didn't impact him on game day as he went off for 147 yards and a score on 11 catches. So long as he's active, he should be in lineups. 
  • Derrius Guice will make his season debut in Week 11, though how much he'll play alongside Adrian Peterson is uncertain. Guice has some potential to be a late-season option for Fantasy given how run-heavy Washington has gone since Bill Callahan took over, but we'll need to see his usage before being able to use him. 
  • George Kittle, Emmanuel Sanders and Matt Breida all missed Thursday's practice. None appears particularly likely to play in Week 11, though Sanders might have the best shot. Regardless, there will be opportunity available in the 49ers' offense for what could be a higher-scoring affair against the Cardinals. Deebo Samuel should be involved, while Kendrick Bourne had a poor showing Monday night with late drops but may be forced into heavy snaps again. Ross Dwelley would be a solid streaming option against the Cardinals should Kittle miss, while Tevin Coleman and Raheem Mostert — who was limited with a knee issue Thursday but is expected to play — would handle the majority of the RB reps. 
  • A.J. Green is not expected to make his long-awaited debut in Week 11. Alex Erickson is also dealing with a back issue but seems headed toward being active. The Bengals will be thin at wide receiver in a plus matchup against the Raiders, meaning we could see another heavy dose of Joe Mixon after he rushed 30 times in Week 10 in Ryan Finley's first career start, a season high for Mixon by 11 carries. Finley will need to improve on his 53% completion percentage and 167 yards against Baltimore for Tyler Boyd or Auden Tate to have reasonable value, but they are sneaky options given the improved matchup. 
  • Doug Pederson noted Alshon Jeffery is unlikely to play in Week 11. That will open up targets but also limit the effectiveness of the Eagles' offense against the Patriots. The situation is largely a stay away, other than Zach Ertz
  • Devonta Freeman didn't practice Thursday and we continue to appear headed for the Brian Hill and Kenjon Barner show in the Falcons' backfield. 
  • Matt Patricia indicated Friday there's no scenario in which Matthew Stafford suits up for Week 11. The Lions will be without their signal-caller for the second straight week and will turn to Jeff Driskel against the Cowboys.
  • Jacoby Brissett appears ready to start for the Colts, returning from his Week 10 absence. T.Y. Hilton's status is still uncertain but he wasn't practicing in the media portion Thursday. 

So who should you sit and start this week? And which surprising quarterback could lead you to victory? Visit SportsLine now to get Week 11 rankings for every position, plus see which QB is going to come out of nowhere to crack the top 10, all from the model that out-performed experts big time last season.

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