Much like last week’s game between the 49ers and the Ravens, this clash between the 10-2 49ers and the 10-2 Saints has potential to be much more exciting from a “game-watching” perspective than it is for fantasy production. (Side note: when I was going through the games on Monday, it was almost impossible to find a game to “want to watch” after watching 49ers/Ravens. Football just doesn’t get much better than that. Not to say I don’t enjoy offensive explosions; but rather to say: I don’t really care what the score of a game is, as long as good football is being played — and there is surprisingly little good football going on at this time of year, with the quarterback position and even the state of coaching being what they are right now.)
We’ll start on the 49ers side, where this team that ranks 31st in pass play rate — with a split backfield and a spread-the-wealth passing attack — has been one of the least targetable teams in DFS all season.
In the backfield, Raheem Mostert has been a revelation this season, ripping off 5.9 yards per carry while showing serious burst at the second level. Before we get to the matchup, however: the setup here…
The 49ers have held onto Tevin Coleman as the lead back all season in spite of their “name” free agent addition getting outperformed by both Mostert and Matt Breida. Last week, the 49ers all but benched Coleman, giving Mostert 40 snaps (10 for Coleman // five for Jeff Wilson) and 21 touches as the engine of their offense; but Kyle Shanahan has long favored split backfields, and if Breida returns this week, it becomes far more likely than not that this returns to some sort of split. Even if Breida misses, there is no guarantee Coleman remains in such a backseat role. Mostert and Breida also — due to reasons only Shanahan knows — have four combined carries inside the 10, while Coleman and Wilson have combined for 23 such looks. As for the matchup: the Saints rank sixth in DVOA on the ground and have allowed the second fewest running back rushing yards in the league. Backs are averaging only 3.51 yards per carry in this spot.
As a team, the 49ers have produced only three games of double-digit targets, with one of these belonging to George Kittle (Week 1), and with the other two belonging to Deebo Samuel when Kittle missed. The spread-the-wealth nature of this attack is partly to blame for this, though the low volume for this passing attack as a whole has been the bigger issue. Jimmy Garoppolo has thrown 22 or fewer pass attempts in four of his last seven games. Similar to the 49ers’ setup last week: the Saints rank top four in time of possession, so the chances of a play volume spike are low — requiring either a game flow that tilts the 49ers heavily toward the pass or a “bet on big plays” approach for targeting this passing attack. If betting on big plays, Kittle is your best bet, while Deebo // Sanders slot in behind him. Outside of “Kittle for the explosiveness,” none of these plays are particularly sharp on paper, but all have paths to upside and should go largely overlooked.
On the other side, the Saints’ short-area attack has been mostly lethal since Drew Brees returned — scoring 26+ in four of five games (after they scored 30 in Week 1) — though they haven’t yet been tested by a defense in the same stratosphere as the 49ers. San Francisco is forcing the shallowest aDOT in the NFL (it’s not even close), and only the Patriots are allowing a lower catch rate — a nearly impossible combination to pull off. Somewhat quietly, only eight teams have produced fewer pass plays of 20+ yards than the Saints (the list directly behind them includes Washington, Miami, Chicago, Pittsburgh, the Giants, and the Jets), while the 49ers have allowed the fewest pass plays of 20+ yards. New Orleans will need to sustain drives with heavy volume in order to produce notable stat lines here — and even with their prices adjusted down for the matchup, they still need to produce among the higher scores on the slate. San Francisco ranks second in drive success rate allowed.
We know that volume on this offense will flow through Michael Thomas (recent target counts of 11 // 11 // 14 // 10 // 11 // 8), Alvin Kamara (recent touch counts of 18 // 12 // 23 // 20 // 15, with reception totals in that stretch of 7 // 8 // 10 // 9 // 4), and Jared Cook (target totals of 3 // 10 // 2 // 8 // 6 in his five games with Brees). The player who sets up best for effective production on their volume is Kamara, as the 49ers rank a middling 14th in DVOA against the run. Naturally, the 49ers have allowed the fewest receiving yards in the league to running backs, and only one team has allowed fewer touchdowns to the position.
JM’s Interpretation ::
Even on an ugly slate, I don’t expect this game to be a central focus for me. I’ve been avoiding the 49ers for most of the season, and I wouldn’t expect that to shift too heavily here. On the Saints’ side: I always like a narrow distribution of touches, and the lowered prices (even in a tough matchup) make these guys stand out a bit. It’s still unlikely that one of these three (Thomas // Kamara // Cook) posts a monster game, but one or two should produce a solid raw score, with an outside shot for a nice game. This week is ugly enough that Kamara may actually make my player pool. (Kamara’s smoother, more wait-and-go running style means that spots that seem “clear for running backs” — like the Panthers, for example — won’t necessarily translate for him; but this style also increases the chances of him popping off in a spot that others might not be able to crack.) I don’t see a major reason to expect Kamara to move off his recent production — and while that’s not enough to win you a tourney, it could be enough to provide some stability alongside a cheaper game stack, with some paths to ceiling available.
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