A great starting point for this matchup (which carries the second lowest Over/Under on the slate, and is one of only two games in which both teams are projected by Vegas to score under three touchdowns) is to look at the “notable stat lines” each defense has allowed this year.
The stat lines that stand out to me the most against the Chargers ::
174-1 (25) Mack
The stat lines that stand out to me the most against the Titans ::
We’ll start, then, with the Titans’ offense, as they are going against a Chargers defense that has fallen a long way since last year — with this squad currently ranked 27th in overall DVOA (22nd vs the run // 27th vs the pass), with their recent stretch of games (Dolphins // Broncos // Devlin Hodges) allowing the Chargers to still rank near the top of the league in fewest yards allowed per game, but with most efficiency metrics painting a different picture.
And yet, there is a reason why this game carries the second-lowest total on the slate, and half of that reason is the fact that it will be the Titans offense trying to take advantage of this below-average defense.
The Titans will be (mercifully) turning the reins over to Ryan Tannehill this week — though we should obviously note that this is not being done so they can “open things up,” but is instead being done because Tannehill (who hates throwing downfield) is likely to be a better game manager than Marcus Mariota had been. While we could see a one-game “excitement spike” (in which the Titans call a slightly more aggressive game with their upgrade under center), we should ultimately expect the Titans to remain, over time, in the same usage range they have been in to date. That to-date usage range has yielded target counts as follows ::
>> Corey Davis :: 3 // 5 // 4 // 6 // 4 // 5
>> A.J. Brown :: 4 // 5 // 5 // 3 // 2 // 4
>> Adam Humphries :: 1 // 2 // 9 // 3 // 6 // 6
>> Tajae Sharpe :: 2 // 2 // 3 // 0 // 1 // 1
>> Delanie Walker :: 6 // 6 // 9 // 2 // 2 // 6
With volume so low, you’re banking on a big play or a touchdown from any of these guys — and with scoring projected to be so low, your best bet if choosing to go here is to target a player who can both score and produce big plays (as this at least gives you two “less likely” paths for hitting, rather than just giving you one). With Tannehill primarily focused on the short areas of the field, Brown’s superior YAC ability makes him the preferred dart throw over Davis (though things are thin enough in this passing attack either way that Davis could still be justified if you’re finding a way to justify Brown). There’s also a chance Tannehill falls in love with Humphries in this offense — though given that it’s still just a “chance,” and that it’s a play more for floor than for ceiling, it remains thin to go there.
While Derrick Henry has unsurprisingly averaged only one catch per game, he has carry counts on the year of 19 // 15 // 17 // 27 // 20 // 15, and he should be in line for another 15 to 20 carries in this spot. Henry’s yardage totals — as a one-dimensional back whose presence on the field tips the offense’s hand — have disappointed this year, but if you’re in the mood to make longer-shot bets this week on some rosters, Henry at least comes with “boom” potential, and the workload is secure. A two-touchdown game is not outside the reasonable realm of possibilities, and a big play is always in the cards when Henry has the ball.
If you were to list out the “notable stat lines allowed” by every team in the league (as we did with the Chargers and Titans above), the Titans’ list would be shorter than just about any other team (for the sake of comparison: teams like the Chiefs, Ravens, Bengals, Browns, Cardinals, Falcons, and Jaguars have all allowed eight or more notable stat lines already — with some of those teams in double-digits), so that’s another reminder that there is a reason this game carries one of the lowest totals on the slate; the Titans are not an easy team to move the ball on (eighth fewest yards allowed per game) or score on (fifth fewest points allowed per game). The Titans also rank fourth in drive success rate allowed.
Two weeks ago, the Chargers tried their best to hammer the Broncos on the ground (unfortunately for them, the Broncos had taken steps to fix their run defense issues, forcing the Chargers to adjust and involve the backs in the pass game instead), with Melvin Gordon touching the ball 16 times and Austin Ekeler touching it 18. Last week, however, this usage plunged, with Gordon getting 11 touches and Ekeler getting eight. Gordon played 37 snaps while Ekeler played 28, which is about the distribution of snaps we should expect moving forward. Especially in this tough matchup, each guy needs his price to drop further before being considered a strong play by the numbers — so betting on either of these guys is betting on talent and touchdown upside.
The Titans are solid against pass catchers as well, though most of their ability to hold down opponents comes from yardage prevention rather than catch prevention — with this team shaving almost 10% off the league-average aDOT and over 10% off the league-average YAC/r rate, while allowing a league-average catch rate. To put that another way: if Mike Williams and Hunter Henry were still missing in action and Keenan Allen were set to see 12+ targets, he would still be in a below-average spot, but he would have an underrated shot at still hitting. As things stand, however, Allen will need his volume to spike dramatically or will need a couple busted plays to justify his price.
Only six teams have given up fewer pass plays of 20+ yards this year than the Titans (among those teams: the Bears, Bills, Patriots, and 49ers), which makes this a poor spot for Williams. His 13 targets two weeks ago were a credit to Chris Harris’ coverage on Keenan Allen (as unwilling as Allen is to admit that — saying after the game that he was open plenty, and doubling down on what he said last year after the Chargers lost to the Broncos: “they suck”), but it was encouraging to see Williams grab another 10 looks last week as the Steelers tried to take Allen away. Williams comes with a low floor, but with his average target coming 15.6 yards downfield, he does carry upside to go with that low floor if the targets show up again this week.
In spite of the game allowed to Hooper earlier this year, the Titans have also been solid against tight ends, allowing only a 60.4% completion rate to the position (tight end completion rates generally land around 67% to 75% — or in the case of the Cardinals, 82%) — though you have probably noticed that pricing was set for this slate before Henry went 8-100-2 last week in a nice spot vs the Steelers. Henry is fundamentally underpriced on all three sites for his talent and role, though the matchup is still below average, and he will have to overcome that in order to post another strong day.
JM’s Interpretation ::
As with a few other games on this slate, you could read through the writeup above and find reasons to take on a couple players in this spot — though I’ll likely be focusing on spots with higher expectations for point production myself.
If going here, the player I like the most is Hunter Henry; though there are strategical elements in play here when it comes to roster construction, as Henry is “a good play — but not as good as the field will likely perceive him to be, given his price and what he just did on national television.” In other words: there are strong cases to be made in tournaments that the +EV play is to skip over Henry and hope he lands on one of his lower-end games at high ownership.
The “other Henry” (Derrick) would be next on my list, followed by Mike Williams, and then perhaps a dart fired in large-field play at A.J. Brown. All of these guys “can” reach a nice score in this spot — but given the number of things that need to go right for those nice scores to emerge, I’ll likely find myself comfortable looking toward other spots myself.
:: Bonus feature: find current NFL Defensive Identities here!