The Chargers have been fairly opponent-neutral on offense over the last month and a half, producing pass attempt totals in this stretch of 28 // 31 // 52 // 29 // 22, compared to rush attempt totals between Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler of 32 // 28 // 19 // 29 // 20. Game flow is more of a determining factor than matchup in how the Chargers will attack on offense, and given that this game is being played at home against a Vikings team that is content to build their leads gradually, we should expect the Chargers (who rank 26th in pace and 21st in plays per game) to execute a fairly balanced approach — leading to each of their key pieces remaining in roughly their recent range of touches and targets, with those numbers breaking down as follows ::
Running Backs (carries : targets)
>> Gordon :: 22 : 1 || 14 : 5 || 20 : 3 || 12 : 5
>> Ekeler :: 6 : 2 || 5 : 12 || 9 : 5 || 8 : 5
Pass Catchers (targets)
>> Keenan Allen :: 4 // 11 // 12 // 6 // 6
>> Mike Williams :: 3 // 3 // 5 // 7 // 3
>> Hunter Henry :: 10 // 7 // 9 // 3 // 4
While volume is unlikely to be swayed too heavily by this matchup, production is likeliest to take a hit on the ground, where the Vikings rank seventh in DVOA and have allowed only three running backs to top 100 yards in this spot (with two of them requiring 23 carries to get there). With the workload split capping the touch ceiling on these guys, Gordon and Ekeler are “bet on big play or touchdown” options in this spot.
The matchup is softer through the air, where the Vikings – as explored throughout the season – have struggled to contain both wide receivers (fourth most catches allowed to the position) and tight ends (fifth most catches allowed to the position). As we have touched on a few times this year, this disciplined Vikings defense does a great job limiting yards after the catch (they are currently shaving over 20% off the league-average mark in this area — by far the best in the league), while they are below average in both catch rate and aDOT. “Volume” and “downfield looks” are the two ways a pass catcher can capitalize on this matchup; and while the Chargers don’t have a player who fills both those shoes at once, there is at least potential for one of these guys to hop to upside on one foot. The best bet for an Upside game from this group is Hunter Henry, as he has an intermediate role locked into place in this offense and is the likeliest candidate to see a volume boost. Allen is always a candidate around this point in the season for one of his random spiked-target games as well, though with Henry and Williams both healthy there is nothing that points to this coming down the pipe. Williams, of course, is always interesting for his big play upside and his touchdown scoring ability (hey! – he finally got one last week), though his role (deepest average depth of target in the NFL) obviously pairs risk with the slim paths to slate-breaking upside he offers.
The Chargers defense hasn’t been tested all that much this year, which has led to a yards allowed ranking of fourth and a points allowed ranking of eighth, but to DVOA marks of only 23rd on the ground and 20th through the air. Only one wide receiver has topped 100 yards against the Chargers this year (no other pass catcher has topped 92 yards in this spot), and the only two running backs who have topped 90 yards in this matchup required 25 and 27 carries to get there (though it should be noted that the 25-carry game led to 174 yards and a touchdown for Marlon Mack). If making an assessment here, I lean the same way I leaned in a similar setup with the Bills on Thanksgiving day — when they entered their road matchup against the Cowboys with much lower DVOA marks than their other numbers indicated. In that spot, we highlighted the players on the Bills defense and assessed them as a better unit than those DVOA marks suggested, and especially with Derwin James and Adrian Phillips now healthy and joining Casey Hayward, Joey Bosa, and Melvin Ingram, it seems fair to say this unit shouldn’t be considered pushovers.
With that said, the Vikings do line up well in this spot to be able to gradually build a lead and control this game in their preferred manner: keeping the ball on the ground at one of the highest rates in the league, and using the run game to set up play action and bootlegs that open opportunities for big plays (but that require the Vikings’ pass catchers to hit on fairly limited volume). The matchup, of course, is toughest for Stefon Diggs, who should be largely trailed by Hayward; though if betting on big plays, also recognize that big plays can still pop up in a tougher matchup. If Adam Thielen returns, he should be in line for his standard six to eight targets and is a “bet on big play or touchdowns” option. If Thielen misses, Kyle Rudolph (recent target counts of 5 // 5 // 5 // 6 // 2) and Irv Smith (6 // 6 // 3 // 3 // 4) will both retain roles as big-play/touchdown bets as well.
The most stable piece on this offense, of course, is Dalvin Cook – though there is some guesswork required here in terms of role and usage. Last season, the Vikings showed extreme caution with Cook’s workloads throughout the season in his return from his ACL tear, and given the way the Vikings handled his shoulder issue last week (with Cook seeing 20 touches and Alexander Mattison seeing 16 — notable even in a blowout, as Mattison mixed in for about a third of the touches in the first half as well), there needs to be at least some consideration given to the idea that the Vikings may mix in Mattison once again this week if they take control of this game early, in order to ensure Cook’s health for the stretch run of the season. It wouldn’t surprise me to see Cook capped at around 21 or 22 touches, though it should also be noted that he had a stretch earlier in the year with touch counts of 27 // 18 // 26 // 28 // 25 // 33 (followed by this recent stretch of 16 // 12 // 20). If Cook gets to that higher range, the matchup is favorable, as the Chargers are much better equipped to stop the pass than they are to stop the run.
JM’s Interpretation ::
I imagine that this game will not push particularly close to the center of my player pool this week, as there are just game environments I like more than this one; but I do like the matchup for Hunter Henry, and I always like the idea of affordable bets on Mike Williams — while the Vikings side certainly has enough upside to be considered. I won’t be surprised if I end up with a small amount of action from this game, but I will be surprised if I end up with much more than that. I see a number of solid scores emerging from this spot, but it’s going to be tough to come by slate-breakers in this game, and there will be some duds splashed throughout this game that you would have to account for on the way to targeting those “solid scores.” If chasing in this spot, bet on concentrated volume landing on one player, or bet on the players who can score from anywhere on the field.
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