Showdown Slant ::
Presented by top Showdown mind Xandamere!
Finally! We have a Thursday night game that has a relatively high total and close spread! The Chargers visit the Raiders as just 1.0 point road favorites with a game total of 48.5, which is a welcome change from some of the one-sided Thursday games we’ve had this year. Yeesh.
The Chargers want to be a slow team that runs the ball, but they’re awful at running the ball behind one of the NFL’s worst offensive lines, so they usually end up throwing (roughly 64% passing play percentage, seventh in the NFL). And actually, I should correct that statement: the Chargers used to want to be a slow team that runs the ball. Now, under new offensive coordinator Shane Steichen, I’m not really sure what they want to do. Last week’s game was awfully one-sided, so it’s hard to draw many conclusions from it, but they fed their primary running backs 32 carries while Rivers dropped back to pass 28 times. The rushing matchup here is tough against a Raiders defense that ranks ninth in DVOA against the run, and it’s not made better by a workload split with the emergence of Austin Ekeler; Melvin Gordon and Ekeler both played just over 50% of the snaps last week, and while MG3 led in touches, they both saw four targets. Gordon is the lead back and can expect to see more touches most weeks, but Ekeler is going to be involved and should see at least as many if not more targets than Gordon. They’re both still relevant here as both are priced for reasonable split workloads, not bellcow work. Gordon is more attractive if building for game scripts in which the Chargers win while Ekeler is better suited to scenarios that have the Chargers playing from behind. I’m undecided if I’m willing to use them both on the same tournament roster. I’m leaning yes currently, but it’s worth thinking about.
The Chargers’ pass game is highly condensed: the volume basically just goes to the running backs, Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, and Hunter Henry. Williams recorded the first 100 yard receiving game of his career last week, albeit on just four targets (though Rivers only threw 28 times in the one-sided beatdown of Green Bay). The matchup here is pristine against an Oakland defense that can’t stop the pass, and the three core receivers should all be highly involved. As the deep threat and the cheapest, I really like Williams in this game. Keenan Allen is the most expensive option, though his price has come down from the first few weeks of the reason; as JM likes to discuss, Allen is a receiver who needs a lot of volume to really smash, so he’s not an alpha WR1 in the mold of guys like Julio Jones or Davante Adams. If you believe Rivers throws the ball 35+ times in a close contest, Allen is as strong option, but if you think the Chargers control this game and don’t need to pass a lot, Allen is unlikely to pay off his price on modest volume. Hunter Henry led the way in targets last week with 10 while all of the other four primary receivers saw four each. I’m not sure if this means they want to really feature him as the focal point of the passing offense or if it was just taking advantage of Green Bay’s weakness against tight ends; in the absence of more evidence I’m going to lean toward the latter and think that the workload tilts back a little more evenly this game. Oakland can’t stop tight ends, but they can’t stop wide receivers either, so Rivers should see little resistance to his passing game no matter where he chooses to attack. Finally, Andre Patton was on the field for 82% of the offensive snaps last week but did not see a target, and has not seen any targets since week 4. Guys who are on the field a ton can have value and a $200 Patton is a major decision point for tournaments; do you want to invest in a guy who’s running a lot of routes at the minimum price, or do you want to fade the guy who’s hanging around the field but not getting any attention whatsoever from his quarterback?
The Raiders’ run game begins with Josh Jacobs, who has settled into a strong role with over 20 carries in three of the last four weeks. As long as the game is relatively close, Jacobs is going to be heavily involved, and this defense can be relatively easily beaten on the ground. However, despite the Raiders frequently making noises to the contrary, Jacobs really gets no pass game work. He’s seen at most three targets in a game, and those are dump-offs, not screens designed to get him the ball in space. If he doesn’t hit the 100 yard bonus or score a touchdown, he’s going to disappoint at his expensive price, and while the matchup is tremendous, it’s hard to predict touchdowns. “Passing down back” Jalen Richard has only seen two more targets than Jacobs on the year and has not even been heavily involved in games in which the Raiders have trailed by multiple scores. The normal scenario would be to use Jacobs in builds that project the Raiders winning or the game staying close and Richard in builds that project the Chargers winning handily, but given the usage we’ve seen with Richard so far this year, additional work for him when playing from behind isn’t a safe assumption. Finally, DeAndre Washington leeches a few touches per game, and his odds of scoring a touchdown and being relevant on this slate aren’t much worse than Richard’s at $2,000 less salary.
The Raiders’ pass game has been all over the place, with multiple recent games resulting in six or seven guys seeing two or more targets. The safest bets for volume are Darren Waller and Tyrell Williams, both of whom have only seen fewer than seven targets on two occasions…though one of those occasions (for both of them) came last week as the Raiders utilized the younger Hunter Renfrow more. Williams has scored a touchdown in every game but one this season, while Waller leads the team in red zone targets and has three touchdowns of his own. Renfrow’s usage and success look legitimate to me, however; he’s now had two big games in a row and he’s getting more involved in this offense, including four red zone looks of his own. He’s still a part-time player, playing 55-65% of the snaps, but he’s being heavily utilized while on the field. Next up is our old friend from Buffalo Zay Jones, who somewhat inexplicably led the team last week by playing 92% of the snaps. I have no idea where this came from, but they’re using him like a more traditional slot/possession receiver, focused on short area targets; there isn’t a lot of upside here, though there is some potential for volume, I suppose, if you can bring yourself to click his name (in seriousness, at $2,600, he’s not priced like a guy playing all of the snaps and he has a very reasonable chance to outscore the kickers). Foster Moreau is second on the team in red zone targets and has three touchdowns; he’s not going to get yardage, but if you’re looking for a cheap punt with a reasonable chance to score, he’s a fair option. The rest of the Raiders receiving corps are all MME dart throws.
The way this game is likely to play out is a close affair. I’m not sure I have a great handle on the Chargers’ new offensive scheme, so I’m not going to try to pretend like I do just to sound good in an article; I will say that their new OC seems sharp, and the sharp thing to do would be to focus on the passing game because of the matchup. We’ll see if the Chargers are smart enough to do that. The Raiders want to lean on the run (28th in the NFL in passing play percentage), and as long as the game stays close they’ll be happy to just feed the ball to Jacobs. It’s worth noting here that Derek Carr has only exceeded 32 passing attempts twice this year, both when the Raiders got stomped by three or more scores, and even in those games he only threw 34 and 38 times. A true “shootout” is exceedingly unlikely here, but the Raiders can be projected to be at least a little bit more aggressive in the air in game scripts that build around a Chargers victory.
Note from JM :: The Chargers are wanting to simplify things as much as possible, allowing the offense to play fast with a little less thinking. This led to a better-looking offense than we have had from the Chargers most of the season last week. Gordon also looked much better last week than he had through his first few games, building off his nice touchdown run in Week 8 with several more solid plays. “What this means for play-calling” is tough to say, as Steichen may very well want to go a bit more pass-heavy due to the matchup; but it should be Gordon on the field on first and second down, and both he and Ekeler will see touches close to the goal line if the Chargers have multiple opportunities. To put all this another way: this should continue to be somewhat the same offense the Chargers have been running to date — but better. Simpler. Faster. With better production across the board. Which doesn’t add a whole lot to what Xandamere laid out above, but it does provide a couple extra nuggets for getting a handle on this team.
Some other ways the game could play out:
- The standard game flow is going to expect the Raiders to score on the ground and the Chargers to score in the air. I’ve seen a lot of success in Showdowns just by flipping this on its head. Touchdowns are highly variant, so try building some lineups that predict the Chargers to score on the ground while the Raiders score in the air.
- We’ve seen enough games in which the Chargers fall completely flat in good spots, especially on the road, to discount the idea of an Oakland curb stomp here. Everyone is excited by the Chargers’ performance against the Packers and the hype around their new offensive coordinator, but would it really surprise anyone to see them fail?
My favorite overall captains are Jacobs, Henry, and Mike Williams. I very rarely invest heavily in QB captains, but in this game I’m likely to not have any exposure whatsoever to them – Carr has only exceeded 20 points once this season, while the Chargers’ offense is concentrated enough that even though Rivers has surpassed 20 points in five games this year, he has not once been the top scoring Charger.
Some groups to consider:
- At most 1 kicker
- At most 1 defense
- Pair captain receivers with their QB
- Pair captain quarterbacks with at least 2 receivers (though as I said above, I’m just not going to use any captain quarterbacks in this one)
- At most 2 Raiders running backs
- At most 1 of the Raiders’ ancillary receivers (Jones, Davis, Moreau)
— Xandamere’s Advanced Showdown Course is now available through OWS :: Marketplace! This is his tournament course for Showdowns; and given the tangible edge in this contest type, it should pay itself off pretty quickly(!).