COLTS // RAIDERS OVERVIEW
Two years ago, the Raiders were a 12-4 team that reached the playoffs. Two years.
Last year, the Raiders disappointed at 6-10, which was enough for Jack Del Rio to be sent packing in favor of Jon Gruden — who has quickly dismantled a solid core en route to a 1-5 record in full-on tank mode. This week, Oakland will take on one of the most fun teams in the NFL — a 2-5 Colts squad that ranks first in pace of play, fifth in pass play rate, fourth in plays per game, seventh in most opponent plays per game, ninth in red zone touchdown rate, and 10th in points per game. All of this in spite of playing without Jack Doyle, Marlon Mack, and T.Y. Hilton for much of the year. Mack and Hilton returned last week, and Doyle may return this week.
Oakland is far less exciting on offense (22nd in pace of play, 10th in pass play rate, 14th in plays per game, 30th in most opponent plays per game, 27th in red zone touchdown rate, and 28th in points per game), and they just traded away their enigmatic but powerful perimeter threat in Amari Cooper. Jon Gruden better nail his next couple drafts, or…(or what? — or he’ll get fired and still be paid $10 million a year for the remaining seven or eight years on his contract? Ridiculous). Okay, so Jon Gruden doesn’t have to nail his next couple drafts. Friends in Raider Nation, I feel for you.
Through the first four games of the season, this team — in both the box scores and on film — looked like one of the more exciting offenses in football, ranking top five in yards per game and moving the ball with relative consistency and ease against four above-average defenses in the Rams, Broncos, Dolphins, and Browns (with Derek Carr throwing for a low of 288 yards and a high of 437 in that stretch). The only problem for Oakland during that stretch was an unimaginative and incomplete red zone offense that could not push the ball into the end zone. But in two games since then, the Raiders have looked disinterested. Oakland has crumbled to losses of 10-26 and 3-27, with Carr looking worse in each game. Lone bright spot Marshawn Lynch is now lost for the year, and Amari Cooper has been dumped. At home against the 2-5 Colts, the Raiders are three point underdogs.
On a per-play basis, Oakland has been unbelievably inept against the pass — allowing the second deepest average depth of target and the second most YAC per reception in the league, a brutal combination that has led to them ranking dead last in yards allowed per pass attempt. But with Oakland slowing down the pace and ranking 10th in time of possession per drive, they are allowing the third fewest opponent plays per game, which has prevented wide receivers from racking up the sort of stats we would expect. Incredibly, Oakland has allowed the fifth fewest receptions to wide receivers this year. They also rank middle of the pack in yards allowed to wide receivers, and they rank a non-awful 11th in fantasy points per game allowed to quarterbacks. This is a gorgeous matchup for Andrew Luck and the Colts, just be aware that this projects as a bit of a volume downgrade for Indy, off their blistering pace.
The way to really beat this (old, slow) defense is with speed — with Kenny Stills, Albert Wilson, Jakeem Grant, Tyrell Williams, Austin Ekeler, Brandin Cooks, and others all showing off against this squad. T.Y. Hilton and his 4.34 speed is a great chess piece for Frank Reich in this spot. Hilton should be moved around the formation and given some opportunities to hit. He only saw four targets last week on 60.3% of the team’s snaps, but he had target counts of 11 // 11 // 10 in his other three healthy games, and he should be closer to a full snap rate this week. Luck threw only 23 passes in the turnover-fueled blowout win over Buffalo, after attempting at least 40 passes in each of his previous four games. As long as this game doesn’t get too far out of hand early, Hilton should be in line for nine or more targets once again. While we prefer Hilton on the turf, this game being on the road does increase the chances of the Raiders hanging close.
The other major speed pieces on the Colts are Nyheim Hines (4.38 40 time) and Marlon Mack (4.50 40 — but he plays faster than that). Mack played 37 of 58 snaps last week to only 17 for Hines, though that was at least partially impacted by the flow of the game. Expect Hines to continue getting work on passing downs, with a likely four to six targets (and perhaps a couple carries) flowing his way. Mack should see 15 to 20 carries and a couple targets of his own. Oakland ranks 24th in adjusted line yards (Indy ranks fifth on offense) and has allowed the sixth most yards per carry in the league. One small note in favor of Oakland here: they are above-average when teams try to run to the left — which is where Indy is strongest. Even with that, Mack’s breakaway speed sets up well in this spot.
Behind the speed pieces, Eric Ebron should jump back up to his high-volume role as long as Luck regains volume himself (Ebron has recent target counts of 11 // 10 // 15 // 7 // 7), while Ebron and Doyle will roughly split targets if the latter returns. Oakland has been above-average against tight ends this year, allowing the fewest receptions to the position — one of the few things they have done well.
Chester Rogers, Zach Pascal, and Dontrelle Inman will continue to fill in as fourth and fifth targets in the pass game, with Ryan Grant bypassing all three guys if he returns this week. With Hilton back and Mack healthy, the opportunity for schemed looks has thinned for these guys, but Rogers could see as many as six or seven targets if Luck returns to a pass-heavy script, and the other two (each of whom played over 40 snaps last week) should run into one or two targets along the way.
RAIDERS RUN OFFENSE
Oakland has had a below-average run-blocking unit this year, ranking 20th in adjusted line yards — and they will now be blocking for Doug Martin, who has averaged 3.7 yards per carry on the season after averaging a paltry 2.9 YPC each of the last two years. Martin contributes little in the pass game and will be facing an Indy run defense that ranks 11th in adjusted line yards and 10th in yards allowed per carry.
DeAndre Washington will be active this week and may soak up a few looks behind Martin, but the guy likeliest to stand out in this matchup is Jalen Richard, who has played 45% of the Raiders’ snaps the last two weeks, with target counts of six and eight. On the year, Richard’s target counts look like this: 11 // 0 // 7 // 5 // 6 // 8. The departure of Amari Cooper should further lock him into looks — and while we cannot bank on more than six targets, it seems likely that Richard runs into a couple extra carries and seven to nine looks through the air, against an Indy team that has allowed the second most receptions and the eighth most receiving yards to the position.
RAIDERS PASS OFFENSE
The Raiders’ three-wide sets will now consist of Jordy Nelson, Seth Roberts, and Martavis Bryant — with Jared Cook at tight end. Only one team in the NFL is facing a lower aDOT than the Colts, and they tackle well after the catch, shaving over 12% off the league average YAC per reception — but they are allowing the second highest catch rate in the league, which makes them a solid team to attack in PPR scoring. Only six teams have allowed more plays per game than Indy, and only eight teams have allowed more receptions to wide receivers.
Roberts is used on short routes that yield very little in the way of upside (the last time we saw him, he was hauling in five receptions for a paltry 31 yards), while Bryant is used in a downfield role that matches up poorly with this defense. Roberts has been (maddeningly) involved in the red zone during his time with the Raiders, and Martavis’ role can yield big plays, but “a big game” should be considered an outlier scenario for either of these guys.
Jordy and Cook, on the other hand, appear set for a bump in targets. Checkdown machine Carr has shown an inconsistent connection with Jordy, who has bounced around in the three to eight target range all year. The departure of Cooper should solidify Nelson’s floor at around six targets, with upside for nine or 10 looks — making him an underpriced asset for his role on DraftKings in particular, at 9.4% of the salary cap (Jordy costs even less of the salary cap on FanDuel, but his PPR matchup is devalued there). Of course, we should also note that while Jordy has three touchdowns on the year, he has cleared 48 yards only once — and just because he is the number one receiver on a sinking offense does not mean he will provide value. Consider him a moderate-floor, uncertain-ceiling play — with that 6-173-1 game on his ledger just a few weeks back, but with nothing else in his play this year to indicate another such game is on the way.
Indy has been hit hard by tight ends, allowing the third most receptions and the eighth most yards in the league. Jared Cook has seen erratic target counts on the year (12 // 4 // 6 // 13 // 6 // 2), but as with Jordy, his floor should be shored up a bit, and his ceiling remains intact.
Marlon Mack and T.Y. Hilton stand out to me on the Colts for the way they match up against this Raiders defense — with neither jumping out as “must plays,” but with both in line to be added to my early-week list. I also like Luck quite a bit in this matchup, with volume being the only concern. Hopefully, the Raiders can keep this game close enough for Luck to pile up another 40+ pass attempts. I’ll also consider Hines on the Colts, though I imagine there will prove to be better value available in other spots.
Richard and Cook look like intriguing plays on the Raiders. It won’t feel comfortable to trust anyone on a team that has looked as dysfunctional as this, but each guy carries definite upside. Jordy also stands out as an interesting “floor” piece, with theoretical upside. On a team with very little to work with, Jordy should remain involved.