CARDINALS // 49ERS OVERVIEW
With 10 teams on the main slate that boast a Vegas-implied total of 25 or more (as of Wednesday evening), it is unlikely that we are going to find much interest (or much to be interested in ourselves) in a game between the Cardinals and 49ers. Through four weeks, no team in the NFL has been worse on offense the Arizona, with under 10.0 points per game, and with the fewest yards per game in the league. The good news for Arizona is that rookie Josh Rosen is going to be taking on a San Francisco defense that will be a less severe test than the Seahawks were last week. Through four weeks, only five teams have allowed more points than the 49ers, and only 12 teams have allowed more yards.
Arizona has been decent on defense, ranking 11th in passing yards allowed per game and ranking 17th in yards allowed per carry. The big issue for the Cardinals has been game flow, as no team has faced more rush attempts than the Cardinals have faced so far — which has led to them allowing the second-most rushing yards and the most rushing touchdowns, in spite of allowing only two rushing plays of 20+ yards, and no rushing plays of more than 21 yards.
Arizona ranks 30th in pace of play, while San Francisco ranks in the middle of the pack. Each team runs a balanced offense, and each team unsurprisingly ranks in the top eight in most opponent plays plays per game — which should lead to a small Opportunity Boost on either side of the ball this week.
CARDINALS PASS OFFENSE
While Rosen aggressively worked the short areas of the field last week — with all but nine of his passes coming within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage — eight of those nine “downfield” passes traveled more than 15 yards, as Rosen essentially bypassed the 10- to 15-yard range. This creates optimism for this offense moving forward, as downfield passing was one of the (many) things this unit was missing with Sam Bradford under center.
This downfield passing will be important against a San Francisco unit that tries to clog up the short and middle areas of the field. As noted last week: San Francisco does not have the personnel to be great at clogging up the middle (and they are still below-average in this area), but the best way to really squeeze upside out of this matchup is to attack downfield, outside the numbers (thanks, Mike Williams…).
The bad news for the Cardinals is that their “outside the numbers, downfield” threat is Chad Williams — who has the 10th-deepest aDOT in the NFL (names in front of him include: Julio Jones, Will Fuller, Marvin Jones, Robby Anderson, John Brown, DeSean Jackson…and Mike Williams) — but who has incredibly hauled in only two of 13 targets so far, for a total of 30 yards. This is the slimmest of upside plays — with a literal floor of zero, but with close-your-eyes-and-hope upside for something like 3-60-1. There is a chance his efficiency will spike now that Rosen is under center.
Larry Fitzgerald continues to hobble around on his ailing hamstring to the tune of five catches for 37 yards over the last two weeks, on nine targets. Expect more missed practice time this week, followed by a snap rate north of 90%. The targets last week are encouraging, and Fitz is going to pop off for some big games later this year; but in a similar matchup to what Keenan Allen underperformed in last week, with his hamstring still an issue, Fitz’s chances of hitting in this spot are low.
The Cardinals have gotten Christian Kirk involved over the last couple weeks, with snap rates of 74% and 68%, leading to a quiet 11 catches on 13 targets, with one carry. Part of the reason this usage has remained so quiet in the DFS community is because it is coming in a low-upside manner, with all four of Kirk’s catches last week coming within five yards of the line of scrimmage; but he did see a target 30 yards downfield last week and another more than 20 yards downfield the week before, and San Francisco is allowing a 10% increase on the league-average YAC-per-reception rate. Kirk should see another five to eight targets in this one, in a good matchup, at under 8.7% of the salary cap on all three sites (with a low-water mark of 7.4% on DraftKings).
This passing attack rounds out with Ricky Seals-Jones, who should see another three to five targets this week, with moderate upside on these looks.
CARDINALS RUN OFFENSE
The Cardinals’ idea of “getting David Johnson more involved” last week was to slam him into the line 22 times, behind an offensive line that ranks 29th in adjusted line yards. Every once in a while in this job, I come across something that literally makes me angry as I type it. That was one of those things.
Last week, the Cardinals were taking on a Seattle defense that had been solid against both the run and the pass — whereas this week, Arizona will face a San Francisco defense that ranks ninth in DVOA against the run and 23rd against the pass, and that has allowed the second-most running back targets and the second-most running back receptions in the NFL. There is really nowhere to go but up from here for DJ, and his 25 touches last week are encouraging insofar as they speak to the Cardinals actively attempting to get the ball into his hands. DJ played 43 out of 50 snaps two weeks ago and 55 out of 60 snaps last week, making him a very clear three-down back. I expect him to become increasingly popular as buy-in levels rise this week (and to possibly even become chalk at all buy-in levels), with his price dropping below 13% of the salary cap, and with the snap rate looking so promising. He still carries legitimate week-winning upside; and while that upside is less likely to hit in this prehistoric offense, his floor has proven to be strong and steady this year.
49ERS PASS OFFENSE
C.J. Beathard uncorked 37 passes last week in a shootout of sorts with the Chargers — completing 23 of these passes for 298 yards, two touchdowns, and two picks. Naturally, this game is far less likely to turn into a shootout. Contrary to preseason expectations: the Cardinals have been a tougher matchup for passing attacks than the Chargers have been.
Not that the Cardinals have been prohibitive. This Steve Wilks zone ranks 27th in yards allowed per pass attempt — but they rank 11th in DVOA, and they have allowed only three passing touchdowns on the year. With this zone defense clogging up the short field and the Cardinals yielding holes on the ground close to the end zone, touchdown upside in this passing attack may be difficult to come by.
The big beneficiary of Beathard’s steady game last week was shower partner George Kittle, who hauled in six catches for 125 yards and a touchdown on only eight targets — highlighted by an 82-yard catch-and-run. If you are like me, and have only played Kittle in Week 2 this year (his only dud on the season), his name probably rakes across your nerves, and it might even feel point-chasey to consider him this week. But Kittle tied with Pierre Garcon for the most pass routes on the team last week, and he is one of only two weapons on this team that can separate from defenders. Arizona has been tough on tight ends to begin the year — allowing the fifth-fewest receptions — but Washington is the only team they have played so far that really uses the tight end, and Jordan Reed went 4-48-1 against them on five targets.
The other guy on this offense who can separate from defenders is Marquise Goodwin, though his separation abilities are more theoretical at the moment, as he doesn’t seem quite right battling through his various leg issues. He has five catches on eight targets across the last two weeks, and he does not seem ready to make an impact.
Pierre Garcon went 4-52-0 last week on seven targets and should see similar work again. His inability to separate will matter less than it would in other weeks, against the Cardinals’ zone-heavy scheme. Trent Taylor continues to soak up low-upside usage in the slot. Kendrick Bourne will see more time on the field if Goodwin has to miss this game; he’ll slot in as a moderate-usage salary saver in that scenario.
49ERS RUN OFFENSE
While the Cardinals’ run defense is not as bad as the “fantasy points allowed” numbers suggest (again: those seven rushing touchdowns), they are also not a matchup to fear. We should view this as a middling spot for Matt Breida and Alfred Morris — one that would neither raise nor lower expectations if we played out this slate a hundred times.
The good news for these guys is that San Francisco’s offensive line under Kyle Shanahan’s zone blocking scheme has been predictably successful, ranking fourth in the NFL in Football Outsiders’ adjusted line yards. The 49ers block well at all levels, which has especially opened things up for the downfield explosiveness of Matt Breida, who has been Jamaal Charles-like in his yards per carry this year, racking up 313 yards on only 41 attempts (7.6 YPC). Frustratingly, Breida has touch counts of 12, 14, 13, and 12. He has seen exactly three catches in each of his last three games.
The other side of this timeshare is touchdown-and-yardage dependent Alfred Morris — who now has three catches on five targets all year. With health an issue for each of Breida and Morris last week, the latter saw only four carries, but he had seen 12 to 14 each of the previous three games, and he should be in line for a similar workload again.
David Johnson stands out as a surprisingly intriguing play in this spot — popping off the page more than anyone else in this game. DJ carries a solid floor for his price, and he is one of the few guys in his price range with legitimate week-winning upside — the sort of floor/ceiling combo we are hunting for each week.
I could see taking the savings on Christian Kirk as well, in order to make it up to some of the higher-priced guys in the possible shootouts. This is more appealing on sites with tight pricing, of course (DK and FDraft), than it is on FanDuel.
George Kittle is a solid play on the other side of the ball, as he should be in line for six to eight targets again, and is the likeliest bet on this offense for a game north of 80 yards. As noted last week: Beathard did not show an ability to produce big stat lines for his pass catchers last year, so this is not a play without risk; but the upside is there.
I could also see a shot on the Cardinals’ defense, as they have a decent pass rush, and their zone could yield a couple turnovers from poor reads by Beathard. As with most of the DST options this week, you’ll need something to break your way in order to capture any true upside.
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