49ERS // CHARGERS OVERVIEW
The 49ers enter this writeup with the third-lowest Vegas-implied total on the slate, behind only the Jets and the Bills. On the other side of this matchup, the Chargers enter this writeup with the highest Vegas-implied total on the main slate. With this game stamped as having clear blowout potential, there are a few things we should expect (namely: a lack of interest in one side of the ball, and strong interest in the other), but there are also a few elements that will make this an interesting game to dig into.
49ERS PASS OFFENSE
The Chargers’ defense has been really, really disappointing against the pass to begin the year, ranking 26th in DVOA and 31st in yards allowed per pass attempt. They are getting tortured downfield, and they are tackling poorly after the catch. And while they have dropped in adjusted sack rate in the absence of Joey Bosa (18th so far, after ranking seventh last year), this only accounts for a small part of the issues this defense is having.
The good news ends there for the 49ers. While the Chargers got raked over the coals by Patrick Mahomes and Jared Goff, they are now facing C.J. Beathard. Across six games last year (five starts), Beathard completed only 54.9% of his passes, with only four touchdowns, and with six interceptions. He is a clear backup-caliber player. Shanahan was able to scheme some solid yardage games out of Beathard last season, but he crumbled in the red zone — completing only seven of 17 passes, with one touchdown and one pick.
All 49ers weapons take a hit with Beathard under center. Across those six games last year, Beathard produced zero 100-yard receiving games, and only four games of more than 70 yards for a single pass-catcher: lines for Marquise Goodwin of 4-78-0, 1-83-1, and 4-80-0, and an outlier game in which Carlos Hyde hauled in nine catches for 84 yards. Your best bet in this pass attack is a big play from Goodwin, but even that comes with question marks and a low usage floor.
49ERS RUN OFFENSE
Similar to Jay Ajayi a couple weeks back: Matt Breida checked out of the 49ers’ game in Week 3 with what appeared to be a serious injury (and turned out to be a hyperextended knee), later returned to the game with adrenaline pushing him through, and now looks iffy for the week ahead. Breida got in a “limited” practice on Wednesday, but it may have been nothing more than working out on a side field.
If Breida misses this week, Alfred Morris will see his role grow a bit more after touching the ball 12, 16, and 14 times through three games. Alf is averaging only 3.8 yards per carry and has only two receptions on the season, while the 49ers will turn to Kyle Juszczyk on passing downs if Breida is on the sidelines.
Juszczyk has zero carries on the year, but he has target counts of two, four, and four so far, and he ran 23 of a possible 39 pass routes last week. Obviously, we’re getting into some thin plays right here.
If Breida plays, he will continue to split time with Alf in spite of being the most efficient per-touch back in the league so far this year. This backfield is full of question marks and low on guaranteed floor, even if pairing two of these guys together.
CHARGERS PASS OFFENSE
San Francisco’s pass defense has been hit hard this year on downfield passing and yards after catch, while ranking 29th in DVOA against the pass, allowing the third-most passing touchdowns, and hauling in zero interceptions. This is a severe mismatch on paper, as the Chargers’ offense ranks fourth in DVOA through the air and seventh in yards per pass attempt.
While target expectations have to be considered “insecure” for Mike Williams, with target counts of six, two, and seven to begin the year, this is a sneaky-strong spot for him to hit, as he has been used most aggressively by this offense down the sidelines and in the red zone. The left sideline has been the biggest trouble spot for the 49ers, with Jimmie Ward replacing Ahkello Witherspoon there last week; but with Richard Sherman out, both corners will be manning the boundaries now, creating a potential smash spot for Williams if he sees seven to nine targets. The game in which his targets dropped came against a Buffalo defense that stymies receivers on the perimeter. Williams ran 26 of a possible 32 pass routes last week — only two fewer than Keenan Allen.
The 49ers remain below-average in the middle of the field, though the short middle is one of the only areas where they have been above-average early on. This is where Keenan Allen runs the overwhelming majority of his routes. He should be in line for a strong workload, in a game the Chargers should control — giving him a solid floor. But he’ll likely need one of his spiked-target weeks (those weeks in which he sees 14 or more looks) or a multi-touchdown game in order to really justify his price tag. Those spiked-target weeks will pop up for Allen throughout the season, but they are becoming tougher to bet on with Mike Williams emerging — and the likelihood of a blowout lessens the chances that this will be one of the games in which Allen sees a ridiculous number of targets.
Behind these two, we have Tyrell Williams soaking up three to five looks of his own each week. He’s a guy who needs to hit a long play in order to be worth a roster spot — and while that puts him in the conversation against this defense, you are still looking at something like a 3-70-1 line if Williams “hits” for his ceiling.
CHARGERS RUN OFFENSE
The Chargers enter an interesting setup here, as the 49ers rank 29th in DVOA against the pass but eighth against the run — making them a clear pass funnel defense…but because the Chargers should be leading deeper in the game, we should expect them to lean on their running backs.
The beauty of this setup is that Melvin Gordon is in good shape either way. If the Chargers stick with a run-heavy approach — which Ken Wisenhunt is smart enough to only do if this is proving effective — Gordon will be leaned on. And if the Chargers nurse their lead with a short passing attack (the likelier scenario), Gordon will be part of this. Don’t be fooled by Gordon’s low touch counts on his stat lines; he had 24 touches in Week 1, before dropping to 15 in Week 2 while resting most of the second half, and 17 in Week 3 with the Chargers running only 52 plays. San Francisco has allowed an incredible 70.7 opponent plays per game to begin the season, and Gordon should be in line for another 22 to 25 touches this week.
The Chargers have been using Gordon and Austin Ekeler on the field together — sometimes lining them up in the backfield together, and sometimes splitting Ekeler out wide, which should not only disabuse us of the notion that Ekeler is “eating into Gordon’s snaps” (Gordon played another 76.9% of the snaps last week), but should also allow us to realize that these two can, theoretically, produce together. Ekeler played 18 snaps last week, with seven touches on those snaps. Again: the Chargers only ran 52 plays last week, and they should be in line for a clear double-digit increase this week. Expect Ekeler to settle in for around five carries and four or five catches.
I will take a hard pass on all 49ers players. Some yards may pile up, but true upside will be very difficult to come by. (On that note: I also like the Chargers’ defense a decent amount.)
On the Chargers, I’m pretty high on Mike Williams at the moment, as another guy in this happy parade of underpriced wide receivers with a clear range of five to eight targets, and with upside on those looks. He’s behind Shepard for me, but almost certainly ahead of Boyd, and more clearly ahead of guys like Ginn and Gabriel — guys I have highlighted throughout the article, and who I do like; but who seem less likely than some of these later guys to crack the smallest, sharpest version of my personal player pool.
Keenan Allen will likely draw a chunk of DFS attention this week, and I like him for a strong “floor” game — though his short-area usage puts a cap on his ceiling when he isn’t seeing 14+ targets. He’ll have those games this year, but this seems like a less likely spot in which to find it.
I think Gordon is getting a bit overpriced, sitting so close to Kamara on all three sites, but he’s a solid play in a vacuum. His touches should be there, and the matchup isn’t too big of a concern given the multiple ways the Chargers can use him.
Behind Gordon, Ekeler is an interesting salary-saver — though with how much strong value we have been able to uncover this week, he feels a bit thin. He’s unlikely to land on any list of mine, but I do expect another solid game.
FRIDAY EVENING UPDATE // Full “Updates” List
Matt Breida is a game-time decision for the 49ers’ late kickoff against the Chargers. Alfred Morris is also questionable. If only one guy plays, he will become an intriguing salary saver — though Juszczyk will still soak up some pass game work either way. The best scenario for DFS would be for Alf to miss and for Breida to play, as this would give Breida a chance for huge tourney upside. But this appears to be the least likely scenario — and either way, we’ll have to wait until Sunday afternoon to know anything for certain.