This ugly Week 14 slate slogs on with Chargers at Jaguars – giving us a sleepy 43.0 point Over/Under, with the visiting Chargers favored by three points. With the Jaguars coming off four consecutive ugly losses (23 points to Houston // 20 points to Indy // 22 points to Tennessee // 17 points to Tampa) Doug Marrone seems all but certain to be on the way out this offseason, while there is an outside chance that Anthony Lynn’s fall from the top will send him packing as well. Both of these offenses have underperformed this year, with the Chargers ranked 12th in yards, but 22nd in points, and with the Jags ranked 15th in yards, but 26th in points. Both defenses, meanwhile, have been solidly middle of the pack.
We’ll start on the Jags side, where Nick Foles looked absolutely atrocious last week in unraveling against the Buccaneers, leading to his benching and to Gardner Minshew taking back over under center. Minshew is not a particularly polished passer, but his ability to keep plays alive and his gunslinger tendencies make this offense more interesting than it was capable of being with Foles, while giving us a narrow distribution of touches to work with.
The central focus of this narrow distribution, of course, has been Leonard Fournette, who has recent touch counts of 26 // 31 // 26 // 16 // 15 // 33 // 23, while largely operating independent of game flow (seven or more receptions in four of his last five games). The Chargers are attackable on the ground, ranking 24th in DVOA while quietly allowing the eighth most receptions and the fifth most touchdowns to the running back position. Only two running backs (Marlon Mack and David Montgomery) have topped 100 yards against the Chargers, and both required volume to get there (25 carries // 27 carries), but solid all-around production is on the table for Fournette, and there are paths to upside available.
The Chargers have been tougher through the air, with Casey Hayward matching up with an opponent’s top threat, and with enough pass rushing juice and secondary talent to close off paths to upside elsewhere on the field. Last week, the Chargers returned both Derwin James and Adrian Phillips, and on the season they have allowed only the following notable stat lines to pass catchers:
The toughest matchup will fall to D.J. Chark, who can certainly win against a corner of Hayward’s caliber, but whose chances of posting a usable score (let alone a slate-breaker) are slimmer in this spot than in others. The matchup for Chark, of course, should open some extra opportunities for Dede Westbrook (recent healthy target counts of 8 // 9 // 6 // 9 // 8) and Chris Conley (seven or more targets in five of his last six games). Dede is the best bet for floor with his shorter-area role (aDOT of 7.3), while Conley (with an aDOT of 14.8 — 10th deepest in the league) is the player likelier to make his day on a single play. All of these pass catchers are a bit thin in this spot, though given the state of this slate, that obviously does not remove them fully from consideration.
The issues for the Chargers on offense this year have mostly started on the offensive line, with Philip Rivers dealing with constant pressure, and with the run game having a tough time getting going. Although the Jaguars have been awful against the run this year (31st in DVOA, with an incredible 5.29 yards allowed per carry to the running back position), they have been strong once again in getting after the quarterback, ranking 10th in adjusted sack rate and regularly getting pressure. This has led to the Jags allowing only middling yardage production to wide receivers, while allowing the fifth fewest touchdowns to the position. The Jags haven’t been impossible to attack through the air, but the lack of touchdowns on their notable stat lines list stands out ::
4-135-1 A.J. Brown
6-91-0 D.J. Moore
8-89-0 Mike Thomas
The Chargers have attempted to lean run-heavy lately, allowing only the Chiefs to push them out of this mode — leading to Rivers posting pass attempt totals in recent non-Chiefs games of 29 // 28 // 31 // 29 — which has made it difficult for the ever-volume-dependent Keenan Allen to come anywhere close to his early-season production, with 71 or fewer receiving yards in nine consecutive games. Hunter Henry has also suffered a bit in the volume department, with recent bounce-around target totals of 6 // 10 // 7 // 9 // 3. His highest-target games this year have come against Pittsburgh, Tennessee, Green Bay, and Kansas City — all teams that explicitly struggle against the position. The Jags have allowed the fourth fewest catches and the sixth fewest yards to tight ends. Meanwhile — with Allen disappointing and Henry up-and-down — Mike Williams is coming off his second career 100-yard game, each of which has come in the Chargers’ last four games. Williams ranks first in the league in average depth of target and has recent target counts of 6 // 6 // 3 // 3 // 5 // 7. He has posted 45 or more yards in 10 consecutive games, and while he still has no touchdowns on the year, he is coming off an 11-touchdown 2018 (10 through the air; one on the ground). There is ceiling to go with Williams’ somewhat stable floor — even in a matchup against a Jags team that has not allowed many touchdowns to the position.
While the Jags have been tough in scoring position against wideouts, they have (unsurprisingly) struggled against backs, with only the Panthers and Lions having allowed more scores to the running back position. The Chargers rushing attack has been powered by Melvin Gordon in recent weeks with touch totals of 23 // 23 // 17 // 22, and with 90 to 133 total yards in each of those games. Gordon is seeing somewhat thin usage in the pass game (only two games in his last six of more than three targets), making him fairly yardage-and-touchdown dependent; though he is, at least, dependent on these elements in a matchup that lines up well for yardage and touchdowns. Joining Gordon in the backfield, of course, is Austin Ekeler, who has overlapped with Gordon on the field at times to notch a snap share of right around 50% over his last three games — a stretch during which he has touch counts of 8 // 13 // 13, with reception totals of 2 // 8 // 4. Ekeler, of course, is dependent on big plays against his lower touch counts, but is at least capable of producing such plays in a spot like this.
JM’s Interpretation ::
The Player Grid will be interesting this weekend, with so few attractive spots available on this slate. Against a normal slate, this might be a game to leave alone altogether; but given the state of this slate, there are a few plays from this game that could emerge as more useful options.
The backfields stand out the most in this spot, with Fournette likely to see 24+ touches, giving him a solid floor to go with the matchup- and workload-driven ceiling. Gordon is also interesting on the other side for his matchup with the Jags, while Ekeler (in spite of requiring some major faith at his DraftKings price) has an outside shot at posting one of the more usable running back lines.
I’ll likely leave Keenan Allen alone, and I’m not currently leaning toward Jags receivers either; but I could see taking some shots on Mike Williams for the upside — especially at his affordable price — while Hunter Henry has enough talent (and enough of a role) to have a case made for him as well. It’s not the prettiest setup; but frankly, neither is anything else this week.