We learned long ago that scoring expectations in a game have very little correlation with how easy or difficult a game is to get a handle on. Low-scoring spots can sometimes prove particularly difficult to unravel (with our efforts sometimes being rewarded with a high-scoring gem or two), and high-scoring spots sometimes prove to be particularly straightforward. This game between the Raiders and Lions with an Over/Under of 50.5 and two of the most straightforward teams in football is a case-in-point example of that second category.
We’ll start on the Lions side, where this offense — as explored a number of times across the last few weeks — has a lot of similarities to the team Darrell Bevell used to coach (the Seahawks), while incidentally being a fairly different offense than the one he used to run himself with the Seahawks. This offense is built around running to set up downfield passing — with Matthew Stafford ranking behind only Jameis Winston (and just in front of Ryan Fitzpatrick and Russell Wilson) in average intended air yards. Unlike the Seahawks, however (who have held Russ to 250 attempts in eight games — or 31.25 pass attempts per game), the Lions have been less committed to the run, which has allowed Stafford to average 35.7 attempts per game (and to reach 250 pass attempts exactly one game early compared to Russ). Stafford has topped 290 passing yards in four of seven games — and while he has also posted games of 245 yards and 201 yards, he has a pair of items working in his favor in this spot:
1) The Lions are less likely to lean on the run with Kerryon Johnson sidelined, and with a matchup on tap against the run-tough Raiders (ninth in DVOA; ninth in yards allowed per carry).
2) The matchup through the air for Stafford is…well, it’s as good as the matchup he had last week against the Giants, when he was one of our favorite tourney plays and went for 342 yards and three touchdowns. Oakland is allowing an 11% increase on the league-average aDOT, a 4% increase on the league-average catch rate, and a 6% increase on the league-average YAC/r rate. Only the Bengals, Dolphins, and Giants are allowing more yards per pass attempt than the Raiders. Only the Lions and Bucs are allowing more passing yards per game.
While we think of the Lions as being primarily a two-man show through the air, Stafford has shown a lot of interest in Danny Amendola the last couple weeks, giving him 11 and eight targets against the Vikings and Giants. The game against the Vikings was easily written off as “a good Vikings pass rush and a defense that tries to force short-area throws,” but the spot against the Giants is particularly noteworthy, as the Giants game set up perfectly (like the Raiders) for the Lions to focus on Golladay and Jones, only for Amendola to see 25% of Stafford’s throws. In all, Amendola has a 24.7% target share across the last two weeks, and given the love Stafford once had for underneath target Theo Riddick, it honestly won’t be all that surprising if this usage continues.
While Amendola has potential to produce some nice role-driven production at the lower ends of the price range once again, Kenny Golladay has potential to produce at the higher ends of the price range in a matchup that sets up just as well as last week’s. The Raiders are tied with the Giants for the second most pass plays of 20+ yards allowed (and are one behind the Giants for most pass plays of 40+ yards); and while the Raiders have allowed 302 fewer yards to wideouts than the Giants have allowed, their 9.9 yards allowed per pass attempt to wideouts sits right behind the Giants’ mark of 10.6. Golladay — as explored last week, before he saw eight targets — has seen eight to 10 targets in all but one game this year.
“Behind” these two is Marvin Jones, who has topped six targets only twice, though those two games have produced lines of 6-101-1 against the Eagles and 10-93-4 against the Vikings. In the Philly game, Golladay was held to only two catches, and in the Minnesota game he was held to only two targets. Your best bet for a Jones blowup is for Paul Guenther to successfully tilt coverage toward Golladay this week. The Raiders have not been successful at isolating and removing a top threat this year (Courtland Sutton, Travis Kelce, MVS, and DeAndre Hopkins have all topped 100 as “the main weapon the Raiders were focused on,” while Allen Robinson went 7-97-2), so the odds lean toward Golladay over Jones — though as always, Golladay exposure should be balanced with at least some “hedge” exposure on Jones if focusing on large-field play.
This offense appears to be scraps behind these three guys at the moment, with T.J. Hockenson still yet to top 32 yards since Week 1 (with target highs since then of six and five), and with Matt Patricia throwing down a thunderous, glass-shattering dunk last week on Ty Johnson owners by giving Tra Carson the first several running back touches and spreading out touches to Tra (12), Ty (8), J.D. McKissic (4), and Paul Perkins (3). That’s 27 running back touches, if you’re counting (or enough for an elite, usage-driven score if it were concentrated on one back), so you could obviously chase here if you want to guess on volume concentrating on one player this week; but with Amendola likely soaking up the majority of short-area looks and the Raiders presenting a much tougher matchup on the ground than through the air, I’ll avoid the Patricia risk myself and stick with the aerial pieces of this attack.
The Raiders have a similarly narrow and bankable distribution of touches, with Josh Jacobs, Darren Waller, and Tyrell Williams leading the way.
Jacobs remains primarily a yardage-and-touchdown back (no more than three targets in any game this year, and no games of 30+ receiving yards), but he has recent carry counts of 17 // 26 // 21 // 15. He’ll be taking on a Lions run defense that ranks 19th in DVOA and 26th in yards allowed per carry and is most attackable to the edges, where the Raiders’ rushing attack is built to attack.
Through the air, the Lions play man-heavy defense (much like the Patriots) that invites a lot of wide receiver targets and downfield throws (much like the Patriots), but that has led to a low catch rate and low yards after the catch (much like the Patriots). The Lions (7.96 yards allowed per target to wideouts), of course, are not in the same elite class as the Patriots (an absurd 4.96 yards allowed per target to wideouts), but they have allowed a catch rate of only 56.6% on passes to wide receivers, making them a team best targeted with volume or big-play threats. Tyrell has not yet topped seven targets, and in a Derek Carr offense it’s tough to bet too heavily on big plays (Tyrell has been held under 50 yards in three of five games so far) — but he does have “big plays” to his game, and he has scored a touchdown in every outing so far this year if you decide you want to chase.
At tight end, Waller has only one game below seven targets and only one game above eight targets, giving him a fairly reliable range for looks. The Lions have allowed a 70% completion rate to tight ends this year with the eighth most yards allowed to the position, and they let Kelce (7-85-0) hit them for a solid game earlier this year.
JM’s Interpretation ::
Given pricing on the most attractive pieces in this game (Stafford // Golladay // Waller are all among the highest-priced at their positions on all three sites), nothing jumps off the page as a “must play” (i.e., nothing has such a high combined floor/ceiling at the price that you’ll head into the weekend feeling like you “have to have that piece” in order to have a chance), but there are certainly paths to these plays justifying the price tags, keeping all three guys very much in the Week 9 conversation.
The best way to beat the Lions with running backs has been in the screen game, where Jacobs is unlikely to see as much work as he should — and with his elevated price and yardage-and-touchdown role, he’s difficult to get behind as a core piece. The ceiling with his role in this matchup keeps him in the tournament discussion, however.
I also like Amendola as a “feels disgusting, but has a solid shot at paying off for what would be the fourth time in seven games” play (DraftKings/FantasyDraft only), and I’m not against the idea of stacking this game, either. As noted last week against the Texans: the Raiders tend to control their games, and tend to play a bit too conservative and in-control for true shootouts to emerge; but the Lions have the downfield pieces and the Raiders have enough of an ability to keep pace that there are certainly paths to this finishing as the highest-scoring game on what should be a largely low-scoring Week 9 slate.
:: Compete against the OWS fam in the One Week Season Survivor contest!
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