CHARGERS // SEAHAWKS OVERVIEW
If the season ended today, each of these teams would enter the playoffs in their respective conference as the number five seed — though these units have gotten here in contrasting styles, with the Chargers leaning on one of the most talented offenses in the league (sixth in yards per game, eighth in points per game), and with the Seahawks slowing down the pace (27th in pace of play), keeping the ball on the ground (dead last in pass play rate), shortening the game (fourth fewest opponent plays allowed per game), and doing their best to play solid, aggressive defense (Seattle ranks 17th in drive success rate allowed and 15th in opponent plays per drive — but they rank fourth in fewest points allowed per drive and first in turnovers forced per drive). The Chargers have been middling against the run this year (16th in yards allowed per carry), which will create an interesting setup if the Seahawks are able to keep this game close. This game has been installed with an aggressive Over/Under of 48.0 (only one of the Seahawks’ last six games topped that mark — and that game came against the Rams), but the Chargers have been good enough on offense that this game could turn into a sneaky shootout. As always, we’ll tackle this spot with a “likeliest scenario” approach, but be aware of the possibility of some back-and-forth taking place.
CHARGERS PASS OFFENSE
This upstart Seattle pass defense has not had the most challenging set of matchups to begin the year (Keenum // Trubisky // Prescott // Rosen // Goff // Carr // Stafford) — but seven games in, it hasn’t been all duds, either, and regardless of opponent this unit has held up. Nearly halfway through the season, the Seahawks have allowed only 10 passing touchdowns while picking off 10 passes, and only two teams in the league have forced a lower aDOT — leading to the Seahawks allowing the fourth fewest yards per pass attempt in the league. Unsurprisingly, Seattle has been especially tough on wide receivers, allowing the fourth fewest wide receiver yards. Only five teams have allowed fewer pass plays of 20+ yards than the Seahawks have allowed.
The best way to take advantage in this matchup is with volume, as the Seahawks are allowing a roughly league-average catch rate. Last week, Marvin Jones hit this squad for one of his blowup games with three receptions that came 15+ yards downfield — though each of these three catches essentially took two tries, as Jones was fed a pair of similar looks up the right sideline, a pair of similar looks deep down the left sideline, and a pair of flat post routes from the left side of of the field, connecting on one apiece of each of these. Jones’ blowup gives some hope to those who want to chase upside from Mike Williams or even Tyrell Williams, though either guy may need to make things pop with efficiency rather than with volume. Mike has seen recent target counts of 3 // 4 // 4 // 3. Tyrell has seen recent target counts of 5 // 3 // 4 // 4. Each guys carries strong ceiling and thin floor.
Keenan Allen continues to be priced like a top receiver, in spite of target counts on the year of 11 // 8 // 7 // 10 // 9 // 6 // 5. As we have been saying since Week 1: with his short-area role (aDOT of only 8.2), Allen needs volume in order to justify his price tag, as he is otherwise just a “possession receiver without a massive amount of work.” The last time Keenan saw a target of 20+ yards was way back in Week 3. He’s likeliest to see his aDOT shortened even more than normal this week against Seattle while Mike/Tyrell try to stretch things on the outside.
There are a few reasons volume has been less plentiful for Keenan and company, but all of these reasons have roots in the backfield. With two great running backs (and a former running backs coach at the helm of this team), the Chargers rank 23rd in pass play rate and 32nd in pace of play, leading to the third fewest plays per game. (Again: the Seahawks have allowed the fourth fewest plays per game this year.) Rather quietly, Philip Rivers has failed to top even 30 pass attempts in five of seven games this year — and when he does pass, a chunk of his targets are going to Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler, with the former seeing target counts on the year of 9 // 6 // 2 // 7 // 4 // 2, and with the latter seeing 5 // 3 // 3 // 3 // 3 // 0 // 7.
Seattle has tightened up on the ground as the season has moved along, having now allowed the seventh fewest rushing yards in the league to running backs, on the strength of a 3.87 YPC mark, while ranking in the bottom half of the league in receptions and receiving yards allowed to backs. Explosive plays have been difficult to come by on the ground against this team as well, with only seven squads allowing fewer run plays of 20+ yards. With Seattle allowing the fifth fewest yards per game and the fourth fewest points per game, this will be a challenging spot for the Chargers. The matchup sets up for them to take their standard approach (leaning more heavily toward the run), which makes Gordon the likeliest player to hit on this side of the ball. If Gordon misses with his hamstring injury, Ekeler will step into his role once again and will immediately become a high floor/ceiling play at his price, simply due to his big role in a quality offense. If the Chargers change up the script this week and choose to attack more heavily through the air, any of their three primary pass catchers can pile up points, assuming volume cooperates.
Seattle is on pace to notch the lowest pass play rate in the NFL since 2013. That year, this same Seahawks team threw the ball only 47.29% of the time. This year, Seattle is sitting at 47.76%, and they are riding a 37.29% pass play rate across their last three games. After experimenting with a more pass-heavy approach the last couple years (59.38% last year; 59.37% the year before), this team has gone back to what they do best: using the threat of Russell Wilson to prevent teams from selling out to stop the run, and allowing Russ to play off the run toward hyper-efficient stat lines. Incredibly, Russ has notched three touchdown passes in each of his last three games, in spite of piling up only 61 total pass attempts in that stretch. This is obviously unsustainable production, and it’s not as if you are jumping to your feet to roster a quarterback with only 11 rushing yards per game and 222.3 passing yards per game; but this serves as a reminder that if Russ does find himself in a spot this year in which he needs to air things out, he’ll have an opportunity to sneak under the radar on the way to a monster score.
Lack of volume in this passing attack is obviously hurting all players involved, but if the Seahawks were to throw just 30 times, volume projections on their primary pass catchers would look like this (according to patterns from the last three weeks):
:: Tyler Lockett — 5.0
:: Doug Baldwin — 6.0
:: David Moore — 5.5
Moore has hauled in three touchdowns on three red zone targets this year — which obviously calls for regression, but this also illustrates the skills that Moore possesses. Baldwin’s knee is theoretically an issue, but he continues to perform the way we would expect on a per-target basis. Lockett has scored six touchdowns on the year and continues to produce big plays, but of course, he’ll need volume in order to be reliable beyond “close your eyes and hope” shots in large-field tourneys. The Chargers have allowed the third most pass plays of 20+ yards, so there is hope for a big game from one of these guys if volume unexpectedly spikes. Big-play threats always have a place in the conversation in large-field tourneys.
This brings us to the Seahawks’ “yardage and touchdown” backfield, which returned to a two-way split last week between Chris Carson and Mike Davis. Because Pete Carroll is at the helm of this team, we cannot rule out a random Rashaad Penny volume spike, but the likeliest scenario calls for Carson to see close to 20 carries while mixing in one or two catches, while Davis will contribute 10 to 12 carries and one or two catches of his own. While “yardage and touchdown” backs are never our favorite (even on FanDuel, where scoring is more yardage-and-touchdown dependent: the more ways a player can get you points, the better), we should note that Carson has topped 100 yards in three of his last four games (only falling short the one time I used him on my main team, in his clash against Oakland’s bottom-barrel run defense; hmmm…), and he has scored a pair of touchdowns in this stretch as well. It should be noted — given that Carson needs yards and touchdowns — that only six teams have allowed a lower red zone touchdown rate than the Chargers, and only six teams have allowed fewer touchdowns on the ground to running backs.
I’ll enter the weekend expecting this game to fall shy of its surprisingly aggressive Over/Under — but it’s worth keeping in mind the upside of each offense if this game does turn into a back-and-forth affair. The “likeliest scenario” calls for the core pieces on the Chargers to perform below price-based expectations, while the likeliest scenario on the Seahawks is that they move the ball on the ground and pick up touchdowns through the air.
The best bet if ignoring matchup is Gordon, who has eight targets inside the 10 (fifth in the NFL), and who has a respectable 15 carries in the red zone (13 players have more red zone carries, but only Gurley and Kamara are way outside of Gordon’s range — and between catches and runs, Gurley is the only player in football with more red zone touchdowns).
I don’t expect to take shots on either passing attack, but there are some scenarios in which one side or the other could pop off in this spot.
Carson also carries some appeal as a guy who should push for 100 yards, though touchdowns are a thinner bet this week.
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