As I begin this writeup, we still do not have an Over/Under for the game between the Chiefs and the Vikings, but this game between the Chargers and Packers serves as a bit of a bridge between all the “43.0 and below” games we have on this slate and the two games (Lions // Raiders || Buccaneers // Seahawks) that top 50.0. Packers at Chargers currently sits at 47.5, and we will begin on the Chargers’ side of the ball — where Ken Wisenhunt was fired this week because “winning football teams don’t throw the ball all over the yard” (that’s a paraphrase of Anthony Lynn’s sentiments last week — before the Chargers came out and gave only 11 carries to Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler in Week 8).
Of course, it’s easy to make jokes about that statement given the analytics that show that both expected points and win probability are boosted by passing — and yet, there remains a disconnect between the findings of the analytics community and the reality of what happens on the NFL field (a disconnect I had intentions of digging into this last offseason for an article I wanted to do on the site…but there ended up being much more valuable things we could provide for you with the time available than that). To underscore that disconnect :: the top five teams in rush play rate this year are a combined 29-6, while the five pass-heaviest teams are 6-33. This is not due to “passing while behind” or “running with a lead,” either. The 49ers // Vikings // Ravens // Seahawks // Colts are all built around the run. The Falcons // Bengals // Chargers // Dolphins // Giants are, by and large, built around the pass. There are a lot of elements in play here that it would be pointless to get into right now (I had the whole article mapped out and everything, way back in July; hmmm — maybe next year), but “easy jokes available” or not, Lynn is at least somewhat correct in that the Chargers (especially with all the injuries to their defense) should be more focused on the run.
There are a few problems in place here, however. Firstly, the Chargers have been almost as banged up on their offensive line as they have been in the secondary, and this unit ranks 27th in adjusted line yards. Secondly, the best way to win games is not to explicitly “focus on the pass” or “focus on the run,” but is instead to build an offense around your best players. The Chargers’ best players right now are Keenan Allen, Hunter Henry, and Austin Ekeler. But the Chargers have given 55 wildly ineffective touches to Gordon across their last four games (2.71 yards per touch!!!), while relegating Ekeler (6.16 yards per touch on the season) to afterthought duties. Across the Chargers’ last three games, Ekeler has 25 touches to 39 for Gordon.
Expectations in this spot (as long as game flow cooperates) should have Gordon seeing the 17 to 22 touches he could typically be relied on for last season, with Ekeler seeing a handful of carries and eight to 12 touches in all with his pass game usage providing the clearest paths to upside. (Though you could also approach this game hoping for the Chargers to get their head on straight and more heavily emphasize their best player — something they are almost certainly not ballsy enough to do, but that could pay big dividends if it unexpectedly happens.) The matchup is solid for the Chargers ground game against a Packers team that ranks 22nd in DVOA and 24th in yards allowed per carry. Only five teams have allowed more rushing yards to running backs than the Packers, and only one team has allowed more rushing touchdowns.
If the Chargers are able to successfully get the run game going over the next few weeks, the volume of the Chargers passing attack will take a hit, as the Chargers are one of the slowest-paced teams in the league (31st in situation neutral pace), which has led to them running the seventh fewest plays per game. Teams also attack the Chargers heavily on the ground in order to hammer the Chargers’ biggest weakness while avoiding their pass rush (third highest opponent rush play rate in the league), which has also led to them facing the third fewest opponent plays per game. If the Chargers get their ground game working, Rivers (who has 38+ attempts in four games already this year) could drop back to the range he settled into last year, when he went for 30 or fewer pass attempts 10 times (with a stunning 27 or fewer pass attempts in seven of his games). That’s the goal for Anthony Lynn moving forward. We’ll see if he can get his team there this week.
While volume is obviously a concern for the Chargers’ passing attack (this team wants to emphasize the run, and the matchup sets up favorably for that approach; and then even when the Chargers do pass, the running backs are heavily involved in their scheme), the matchup itself has not been all that difficult, with the Packers having allowed four wide receivers and one tight end to top 100 yards against them this year. As always: Keenan Allen is rarely going to post an elite score in games without volume (i.e., your best bet if rostering Allen is to also include some pieces from the Packers’ side with the assumption that Green Bay piles up points early and forces the Chargers to pass) — but in spite of what Jaire Alexander might claim, this is not one of the best pass defenses in the league. Allen will be able to break this matchup on the off chance volume shows up.
Volume is also the biggest concern for Hunter Henry (while Mike Williams — fun fact — has yet to top 83 receiving yards in a game in his career), but again: the matchup is fairly non-threatening if the volume shows up. The Packers have quietly allowed 22 or more points in five consecutive games.
On the Packers’ side, we’ll stick with the “volume” discussion, where the complexion of this spot changes dramatically based on whether or not Davante Adams plays.
If Adams misses (which seems likely at the moment), this entire game plan for the Packers should revolve around the running backs. Across the last two weeks, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Geronimo Allison, Allen Lazard, Jake Kumerow, and Jimmy Graham have combined for 37 targets (an average of 3.7 per player, per game), with no one on that list topping five looks in a game. Meanwhile, Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams have combined for 19 targets (4.75 per player, per game), with 35 carries mixed in.
If Adams plays, he’s unlikely to see a full workload, and he’ll be shadowed by Casey Hayward — but Aaron Rodgers has a long history of targeting Adams regardless of matchup, which would be enough to spread out volume across the board so that nothing is guaranteed from any Packers players in this spot.
JM’s Interpretation ::
Because it currently looks like Adams will miss, that’s how we’ll approach this section — and we’ll adjust in later-week content if the news changes.
The Packers play slow as well, and it’s unlikely we see either team run a high number of plays — which opens the door for Jones (16 // 20 touches the last two weeks) and Williams (7 // 10 touches) to stick to their typical recent range — requiring strong efficiency in order to be worth a spot on your roster. But this is also a fairly thin week for standout running back plays, and against a Chargers team that ranks 24th in DVOA against the run and 23rd in yards allowed per carry (with notable lines allowed to Marlon Mack, Derrick Henry, and David Montgomery this year), 20 touches from Jones with his valuable pass game role has a genuine shot at getting the job done. Jones is in the mix.
Gordon is also in the mix, though that “mix” is pretty ugly with yardage totals on the year of 31 // 18 // 32 // 31. The issue has been less about volume and more about Gordon being unable to self-create behind a bad offensive line. Consider him a risky play, but with genuine upside in an emphasized role at his plunging price.
Behind these guys, it’s a whole lot of “not a lot to love” in other spots, with the Packers’ pass catchers suffering from spread-it-around play, and with the Chargers looking to emphasize the run for as long as this game remains close. Ekeler is an interesting bet in large-field play on the off chance the Chargers re-emphasize their best weapon while emphasizing the run game. You could also play the matchup and role for Henry, who doesn’t rely on volume quite as much as Keenan does for his production (especially at the thinner tight end position).
But perhaps the most interesting bet (if you can comfortably embrace the concerns about play volume in this game) is to consider rostering Rodgers and one of his running backs together, as the offense has flowed through this band of players so fully the last four weeks without Adams that “Rodgers and his highest-scoring running back” have combined for DraftKings/FantasyDraft totals in this stretch of 61.62 // 45.92 // 65.06 // 74.7 and FanDuel totals of 55.12 // 40.92 // 60.06 // 65.2. If you skimmed those numbers, look at them again and think about how difficult it is for two players on your roster to combine for those scores regardless of salary. The lower-scoring week in there was the game in which Jones made several mistakes early and Williams pretty much took over, so Jones is the sharper play (with more upside); but Williams has been involved enough that it’s not crazy to think he could contribute a strong game as well. This game could slow down enough that the Packers simply can’t produce any major upside — but if Adams misses, that’s the biggest risk here, as the Packers have been one of the better offenses in the league in recent weeks, and the Chargers’ banged up defense “has allowed the 10th fewest points” by playing the Bears (16 points), Titans (23), Steelers (24), Broncos (20), and Dolphins (10). Only the Lions (10) have finished below expectations in this spot, with Indy (24) and Houston (27) giving us reason to believe the Packers will be able to find a way to produce.
:: Compete against the OWS fam in the One Week Season Survivor contest!