As is almost always the case when the Texans play a game, Bill O’Brien runs into a coaching mismatch against Jon Gruden and the Raiders. In spite of working with really limited weapons, the Raiders rank 13th in yards per game this year. Derek Carr is holding back the Raiders in the red zone (the lack of weapons certainly aren’t helping), but with the Raiders playing at the second slowest pace in the league and ranking 10th in time of possession, they are allowing the seventh fewest opponent plays per game.
With all of that said: the Texans do enjoy a large talent edge here — and this offense ranks barely behind the Rams // Saints // Seahawks // Patriots for the highest Vegas-implied team total on the slate.
Because the Raiders tend to set the tone for their games with a slow pace and long, run-heavy drives (even when they fall behind), we are not seeing teams attack too aggressively against them (psychologically, it’s tough for a coach to attack aggressively after a long drive by the opponent, as fear creeps in that they might give the ball right back and invite another long, sustained drive) — which has kept the Raiders from becoming a true pass funnel (16th in opponent pass play rate). But this defense ranks 11th in DVOA against the run and fifth in yards allowed per carry while ranking 30th in DVOA against the pass and 31st in yards allowed per pass attempt. The Raiders have allowed the most pass plays of 20+ yards, they are adding 13% to the league-average aDOT, they are adding 3.4% to the league-average catch rate, they are adding 8.4% to the league-average YAC/r rate, and only Miami ranks worse in expected yards allowed per target (with the Raiders barely worse than the Giants). As we know, Raiders defensive boss Paul Guenther will likely try to isolate and slow down DeAndre Hopkins — though there is so much that Nuk can do, it will be difficult for this talent-poor secondary to really put him in check. As explored of late :: Hopkins is being mismanaged to an aDOT of only 9.7 — but with Will Fuller gone and Keke Coutee and the tight ends available underneath, we should see Hopkins working downfield a bit more. Hopkins has averaged 11.07 targets per game (15 games) across the last two seasons without Fuller on the field compared to 10.69 (16 games) with Fuller playing, so his target share doesn’t project to change a ton over whatever time Fuller is out; but in terms of the value of his role, there is a likely spike on tap without Fuller taking up downfield routes alongside Kenny Stills.
Stills should largely step into the Fuller role — which will continue to make him somewhat boom/bust, but with this spot of course offering a good opportunity for him to hit. Five to seven targets is the likeliest range for Stills, with upside for more looks from there.
Behind Hopkins and Stills, Coutee offers elite speed underneath — with four to six looks his likeliest range, but with opportunities for random volume spikes, and with big-play/touchdown potential also giving him some “uncertain, but still very real” paths to upside. The tight ends (Darren Fells played 41/63 snaps last week and ran 18 pass routes; Jordan Akins played 40/63 and ran 29 pass routes) will also continue to have roles, though their largest value outside of broken plays or “trying to guess right on a touchdown” comes from the way they pull a few targets away from the higher-upside pieces on this offense.
The Texans run game, of course, is a split backfield in a tough spot — which creates a situation in which rostering one of Duke Johnson or Carlos Hyde is largely just “guessing and hoping for things to break right.”
On the Raiders side of the ball, Josh Jacobs is a yardage-and-touchdown back (only nine catches for 87 yards all year) who will be taking on a defense that ranks fifth in DVOA against the run and fourth in yards allowed per carry. Jacobs (shoulder) is fully expected to play this week, though Gruden has made it clear he is legitimately banged up. He should see 20+ touches as the engine of this offense. The ceiling is there, but the floor is low.
Unfortunately for Oakland, Tashaun Gipson and the Texans have been strong against tight ends this year, holding Jared Cook, Greg Olsen, Austin Hooper, and Travis Kelce to below-expectations games. Waller is a volume bet in a difficult spot.
Even when the matchup has called for something different this year, the Raiders have stubbornly refused to expand beyond Jacobs and Waller, so it’s tough to get excited about other pieces on this offense with stronger value available elsewhere this week. If Tyrell Williams returns, he should see his seven-ish targets, and he’ll carry upside vs a Houston defense that has allowed the second most catches, the fifth most yards, and the most touchdowns to wide receivers. Houston is more “below-average” than “awful” against wide receivers, with the biggest boost for wideouts in this matchup coming from the fact that Houston is facing the second highest opponent pass play rate and has made it difficult to throw to tight ends — which is filtering targets to wideouts. With the Raiders so set on running their offense through Jacobs and Waller, then, there is a chance that none of the Raiders wideouts are able to matter in this spot if Tyrell misses, though Trevor Davis and Keelan Doss both maintain legitimate paths to hitting (the Texans should score; it should be tough for the Raiders to run; and Waller should be covered fairly well most plays). If you want to fire off a shot or two in this spot: Doss had five targets last week to two for Davis (Davis also had a third wiped out by penalty — with all of his looks coming early in the game), though Davis played 50 snaps and ran 25 pass routes compared to 29 // 15 for Doss. Both are risky bets. Both come with upside.
JM’s Interpretation ::
The Houston passing attack presents one of the premium spots on the slate — with the upside pieces of Watson/Hopkins/Stills entering a matchup that tilts strongly in their favor. Watson/Hopkins are unfortunately priced up — but both remain very much in the mix. Stills is a strong upside play in tourneys as well. Coutee requires more guessing and hoping than the others, but there are paths for him to hit.
That likely represents the extent of my focus in this game on tighter builds, though if expanding beyond that list, Waller and Jacobs can obviously both have a volume-based case made even in a difficult draw. If Tyrell plays, he also carries ceiling (and an iffy floor) in tourneys, while Trevor Davis and (to a lesser extent) Keelan Doss are interesting large-field options if Tyrell misses. These guys come with thin floor, of course; but both also carry “score from anywhere on the field” upside that is enhanced by the matchup.
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