RAIDERS // 49ERS OVERVIEW
Ratings will plunge this week on Thursday Night Football, with only the fantasy community and the dedicated fan bases tuning in for an ugly clash between two teams with a combined record of 2-13 (and frankly, even much of the fantasy community will probably be tuned out, with very little season-long appeal in this game, and with most DFS players likely taking the night off). Each team has a below-average defense, but execution has been poor this season for each offense. Oakland ranks 27th in points per game, while San Francisco ranks 23rd. Oakland ranks 17th in yards per game, while San Francisco ranks 22nd. Oakland traded Amari Cooper last week and is without Marshawn Lynch, while San Francisco has been playing all year without Jimmy Garoppolo. This week, the 49ers may be forced to start Nick Mullens at quarterback.
Can I interest you in some Showdown action? Hmmm…
As always: just because things look ugly on the surface doesn’t necessarily mean things will be ugly across the board. Let’s dig in and see what gold (if any) we can find.
RAIDERS PASS OFFENSE
Last week in this space, we worked hard to find a viable pass-catcher to use on the Raiders — not only because Amari Cooper was gone (in fact, given how sporadic Amari’s workload/impact had been, that was the lowest-priority reason), but also because the Colts set up perfectly for Derek Carr. Carr ranks dead last in the NFL in average intended air yards — but he was taking on a Colts team that A) forces the shortest average depth of target in the league, but that B) allows the second highest catch rate in the league. This appeared to be a strong PPR-scoring setup for pass catchers if we could narrow down the likeliest target hog — though we left things with no clear standout play on the Raiders, and as such, I left that offense alone almost entirely (taking only two or three Milly Maker shots apiece on Jordy Nelson and Jared Cook, and one Milly Maker shot on Martavis Bryant). It turns out that Carr himself was actually the guy to target (crazy world that this is…), as he built up 275 passing yards and three touchdowns on an unsurprising 75% completion rate.
I bring all that up because fantasy writers and prognosticators still forget about matchup from week to week, and tend to be surprised when a player like Carr performs well in a matchup like that — which leads to heightened expectations in a matchup like this. This matchup is entirely different, however, with everything in this spot matching up with Carr’s weaknesses, rather than with his strengths.
According to Football Outsiders’ metrics, the 49ers are above-average at defending every portion of the short area of the field. As we have noted since the start of this season: the goal of the 49ers is to take away the short stuff and to force things deep — and through eight weeks, San Francisco has allowed an increase on the league-average aDOT of 4.7%, while shaving over 6% off the league-average catch rate. The way to beat San Francisco is with downfield splash plays, rather than with a dink-and-dunk approach. It will be interesting to see how Carr adjusts.
In the Raiders’ first game without Cooper, targets to non-running backs looked like this:
LaFell played 45 out of 50 snaps, while Martavis played only seven.
Carr has not topped 33 pass attempts in three weeks — though this is not by design so much as it’s by lack of play volume as a whole, as Oakland has averaged a pathetic 50.7 plays per game across their last three contests (worst in the NFL). San Francisco boosts the league average Opponent Play Volume by a modest 2.6%, so perhaps the Raiders see a few more plays than normal here. If they run enough plays for Carr to reach 38 to 40 pass attempts, assume around 10 targets going to running backs, with the remaining targets spread to these pass catchers from there. Cook stands out as the likeliest target leader, but there has not been a true alpha all year in this offense, with targets spread fairly evenly from week to week.
RAIDERS RUN OFFENSE
It was a shame last week, on the Main Slate, that Marlon Mack, Phillip Lindsay, and even Kerryon Johnson stood out so much on the lower ends of the price range, as they overshadowed another strong value play in Jalen Richard. As expected: Richard was involved in the offense from the start, but his usage really ramped up once the Raiders fell behind, and while he only had two carries for 14 yards, he added eight receptions for 50.
Of course, that’s sort of the point with Richard: only two carries, but eight receptions (on eight looks). When the Raiders play close, Richard will be less involved; when the Raiders fall behind, Richard’s usage will spike. Even with Marshawn Lynch out, that remained the case last week. Vegas projections for this game favor a late-game role for Richard once again, but there is a greater chance in this game than in others that Oakland could take and hold a lead. Consider Richard a risk/reward play on the full-weekend slate, with a solid floor and ceiling for the ugly Showdown.
The bigger surprise last week was the quality running of Doug Martin, who came into the game averaging 3.0 yards per carry across the last three seasons but posted 72 yards on only 13 carries (5.5 YPC), while looking genuinely above-average along the way. The 49ers boast a strong run defense (eighth in yards allowed per carry), but the Colts were an above-average run defense as well. Expect Martin to see around 15 carries and one to three receptions, making him a yardage-and-touchdown back.
49ERS PASS OFFENSE
Nick Mullens seems likely to start this week at quarterback for the 49ers, with C.J. Beathard currently a game-time decision. Much will be made of the 49ers starting their “number three quarterback,” but it seems unlikely that Mullens will be much different from Beathard, who has struggled with turnovers, sacks, and downfield passing. Mullens does have familiarity with this offense, as he was on the 49ers’ practice squad last year, and he has gotten regular practice reps since Garoppolo went down. The biggest inhibitor of box score production for the 49ers is not Mullens or even the matchup, but is instead the fact that teams don’t try to throw the ball much on Oakland, and the 49ers are already a run-leaning offense. On the year, only one team in the entire NFL has faced fewer pass attempts than the Raiders. San Francisco ranks 22nd in pass play rate, in spite of being a 1-7 team that has trailed in games for much of the year. Oakland is attackable through the air; but they are even more attackable on the ground. Even the Colts (who entered last week against Oakland as one of the pass-happiest teams in football) threw the ball only 43.7% of the time in this matchup. In three of the last four weeks, the 49ers have had fewer than 30 pass attempts.
When the 49ers do throw the ball, George Kittle is the only man on the field doing anything worth talking about — and this team has taken advantage by making sure he gets his looks no matter what, with recent target counts of 7 // 8 // 7 // 6 // 8 // 8. Only one team in football has been worse in YAC allowed per reception than the Raiders (who have increased league-average YAC/R by over 16%), while Kittle ranks third in the NFL (among all players — WRs included) in xYAC/R. Oakland has been solid against the tight end, but especially on the Showdown slate, this is a minimal drawback for Kittle. Last week in this matchup, Jack Doyle and Eric Ebron combined to go 9-107-2 on only 10 targets.
Pierre Garcon is expected to return this week, which will relegate Kendrick Bourne to limited reps (no team in football runs fewer three-wide sets than the 49ers). If Garcon fails to get cleared for this game, Bourne will once again soak up his snaps. This role has yielded six to seven low-upside targets each week.
As noted last week, the best way to beat the Oakland defense is with speed. This gives Marquise Goodwin (target counts in his last four games of 4 // 5 // 5 // 4) some low-floor upside as the likeliest player to bust out for a long play.
49ERS RUN OFFENSE
Every week, it seems Matt Breida will not play. And every week, he leads the backfield. With Breida gutting out multiple GTD setups this year, expect him to play on a short week before finally having a chance to get healthy (the 49ers have a week and a half off before their next game — Monday Night Football in Week 10 — and then they go on bye). Theoretically, he matches up best in this matchup, though his burst has been diminished lately with no runs of 20+ yards in his last five games. If all goes according to plan, he should see in the range of 10 to 15 carries. He has no targets across the last three weeks.
Behind Breida, it has been Alfred Morris most weeks (Morris has topped 30 rushing yards only once since Week 3, and he has not caught a pass since Week 5), though there is hope-and-pray potential that Raheem Mostert will see his role expand in a game in which his speed will play well. It should be noted that Mostert (ankle) is also banged up.
Through eight games, the 49ers have produced two total games of 15+ carries for a single running back, as at least two guys continue to be part of the rotation each week.
The only player in this game with genuinely respectable floor is Kittle — and even he is attached to a bad offense, in a below-average matchup. Outside of Kittle, everything is a true and genuine mess, with low-volume, low-upside roles across the board.
If playing the Showdown, I would roll with a multi-entry strategy, mixing and matching the “surest points” (Kittle, Richard, the quarterbacks, and the kickers) with the “next-likeliest points” (Breida, Doug Martin, Jared Cook, Jordy Nelson, Pierre Garcon, Brandon LaFell, Seth Roberts), while also factoring in that each of Mostert and Goodwin has a low floor, but each has a chance to produce the highest score on the slate (Goodwin, of course, at least has a guaranteed role; Mostert is a total dice-roll in the hopes that he is featured). DST is always in play on the Showdown (SF is the better unit, but Mullens will likely take a couple sacks and turn the ball over once or twice). If digging deep, Martavis can be tossed onto rosters as well. His role has dried up, but crazy things can happen in a game as ugly as this.