A few weeks ago, we took some time to dig into the surprising improvements for the Raiders’ run defense — spearheaded by P.J. Hall and new additions Tahir Whitehead and Lamarcus Joyner (among others). Since that time, the Raiders have continued to play strong against the run — currently ranking sixth in DVOA while producing solid all-around numbers against running backs on the year. This creates an interesting setup for the walking-wounded Packers, as this team has a head coach in Matt LaFleur who would prefer to be a run-first unit, and — much to the chagrin of Aaron Rodgers — he will surely try to emphasize the rushing attack this week with so many pieces of the Packers pass game missing in action. If the Raiders are able to slow down the run enough for Packers drives to stall out early in the game, however, we should see Rodgers start checking into pass plays regardless of what is called on the sidelines, as the Packers aim to take advantage of the Raiders’ 26th DVOA pass defense — lack of weapons be damned.
We’ll begin our exploration of individual pieces on the Packers in the backfield, where Aaron Jones has averaged only 2.0 more snaps per game than Jamaal Williams through their first four games played together this year — with a particularly troubling trend here in that Jones out-snapped Williams by 23 through the first two games, but Williams has out-snapped Jones by 15 in his two full games since then (with Jones’ “fumble, dropped touchdown” game the other night only accounting for three of those 15 snaps; in other words, I’m not convinced Jones’ mistakes handed Williams a “bigger than normal” role so much as the Packers are likely set on keeping Williams heavily involved regardless).
As such, we are essentially looking at a 50/50 backfield on a run-leaning team, though in a matchup that sets up better for the pass than for the run. In the games in which they have shared the field, Jones has touch counts of 14 // 27 // 11 // 15, while Williams has touch counts of 7 // 12 // 14 // 18. If choosing to go here: the best way to attack the Raiders is to the edges of the defense, where Jones sees a larger percentage of the work. Ultimately, rostering either of these guys is more “hunting for touchdowns” than it is “banking on consistent production throughout the game.”
In his tug-of-war with LaFleur this year, Rodgers has pass attempt totals of 30 // 34 // 29 // 53 // 34 // 39 — with only two games north of 240 passing yards, and with only one game north of 290 (a monster 422-yard effort vs the pass funnel of the Eagles, with Davante Adams on the field).
The Packers didn’t actually practice on Wednesday (doing a walk-through instead), but Adams, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, and Geronimo Allison were all estimated to have been non-participants. Adams is still dealing with turf toe (I recently read turf toe described as your big toe “feeling like it’s being bent back toward your shin”; sheesh), and Allison seems unlikely to be cleared from his concussion in time, so while we don’t yet know about MVS, we should have at least two reserves on the field vs the Raiders.
On the year, the Raiders have had trouble with Emmanuel Sanders, Courtland Sutton, Demarcus Robinson, Travis Kelce, and Allen Robinson (while otherwise facing the Colts without Hilton and a Vikings team that threw the ball only 21 times against them) — though it’s fair to be cautious on the reserves we’ll likely see on the field. If MVS plays, it will be MVS // Jake Kumerow // Darrius Shepherd or Allen Lazard (Shepherd filled in for Geronimo Allison at first last week, but after his mistake-filled game, was replaced with Lazard, who looked good against the Lions’ typically-sticky coverage, going 4-65-1 on five targets in only 17 snaps). MVS is the nominal “number one,” though he barely has more targets in his last two games than Lazard had in 17 snaps, and he’s likely to be the focal point of Paul Guenther’s defense, giving him plenty of space to “bust” alongside whatever “boom” upside he has. Kumerow is a “Rodgers favorite” (the Packers’ QB has talked up Kumerow time and again) but he has turned five targets into only three catches for 17 yards across the last two weeks. As for Lazard, this post-game quote from Rodgers stands out: “I may have put in a good word there in the fourth quarter to get him some opportunities.” What’s that Bible verse? Packers 2:17? “He whom Rodgers trusts sees targets.” (Speaking of “trust” :: Jimmy Graham will also be out there if healthy. Jimmy has gone 5-58-0 combined across the last two games with Adams on the shelf, and with no open-field skills remaining in his game, he’s typically going to land as a touchdown-or-bust option this year.)
The Packers tightened up on run defense against the Lions last week and gave up some downfield throws in tight coverage (and in a couple instances of Kevin King getting burned: not-so-tight coverage), but this team still ranks 26th in DVOA against the run and fifth against the pass. This suits the Raiders well, too, as Oakland appears set to be without Tyrell Williams again this week, while this team has been the sixth run-heaviest squad in football so far this year.
Behind only Buffalo’s offensive line (2nd) vs Miami (31st), this game presents the second biggest “adjusted line yards mismatch” on the slate, with the Raiders ranked third and the Packers ranked 30th; though one of the mistakes the Lions made last week was working too hard to run outside the tackles against the Packers (where Preston Smith and Za’Darius Smith wait to do damage) instead of hitting the Packers up the gut where (as we’ve been talking about all season) they are weakest — with a current mark of 5.6 yards allowed per carry on runs right up the middle. This puts a bit of a dent in the floor for Josh Jacobs, as the Raiders have built their run game around trying to get the ball outside — while Jacobs’ floor is further lowered by his minimal role in the pass game (1.2 catches per game; 15.4 yards per game). The matchup tilts in Jacobs’ favor, giving him room for big runs or touchdowns, but chances of a relative dud remain.
It’s a bit ridiculous what the Raiders have had to try to get by with at the wide receiver position lately — with this team churning the roster and trying to find something that might work. In Week 5, Marcell Ateman, Keelan Doss, Trevor Davis, and Hunter Renfrow rotated at wide receiver. Renfrow has not topped 30 yards this season; Doss has only been targeted three times the last two weeks; and Ateman has not been targeted at all. This is a difficult matchup, but especially with Jon Gruden having had the bye to further install his newest toy Trevor Davis (4.42 40 time), there are some angles from which Davis looks like an attractive piece. Davis was used on a pair of runs (74 yards and a touchdown) in his first game with the Raiders and went 4-42-0 on four targets in his second game. The floor is low here, but there is tournament juice to this play in a revenge game vs the team that cut him loose (and would probably love to have him back right now).
Darren Waller has a difficult matchup as well vs a Packers defense that has allowed the fifth fewest yards to tight ends in spite of allowing the 14th most receptions. Waller has a locked-in target share — with his five target game against the Bears as much of an outlier as his 14 target game vs Minnesota (seven to nine looks should continue to be his typical range), and is a “hope for some missed tackles and a big play, or hope for a touchdown” option.
JM’s Interpretation ::
Realistically, there are a few different ways in which this game could turn into a fairly low-scoring affair (each team prefers to lean on the run, and is playing with extremely thin wide receiver corps) — which is likely enough to leave me off any higher-priced plays outside of game stacks built around this turning into a shootout (which is less likely, but still possible). But on a week in which salary savings at wide receiver may prove valuable for the higher-priced running backs these savings can afford (with all of Fournette // DJ // Cook // Saquon in a solid spot this week), this game offers a couple guys who stand out to me for the WR savings paired with upside. Lazard has a good matchup and could be a central cog in this Packers offense, and even if that proves to not be the case, he’s stone minimum on all three sites, so even a couple catches (while not ideal) could be enough to get you by if the pieces you paid up for pay off. This makes Lazard somewhat low-risk, high-reward, as he doesn’t kill you even if he misses, and his ceiling is certainly more than theoretical. Trevor Davis is also interesting for the reasons noted above: big-play ability and potential for a legitimate role. Given the matchup, this one is less appealing than Lazard — but the ceiling is high enough that, paired with what you can do with the savings — it’s a play to keep in mind in tourneys.
You could re-read the writeup above and find clear reasons to play some other pieces in this game, but I’ll likely limit my exposure beyond Lazard and possibly Davis, as there are just better spots on the slate than this.
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