RAVENS // CHARGERS OVERVIEW
This Saturday evening gives us a poor game from a DFS perspective — between a pair of slow-paced, run-heavy teams that each boast a strong defense — but this is a great real-life game, as the 8-6 Ravens are clinging to a playoff spot (with anything from a division title to missing the playoffs altogether still very realistically in play), and the 11-3 Chargers are hoping to pair wins in Weeks 16 and 17 with at least one more Chiefs loss (which would open the door for home field advantage throughout the playoffs). Since Lamar Jackson took over for the Ravens, they are 4-1 — with their only loss coming against the Chiefs. The Chargers, meanwhile, are 10-1 in their last 11 games, and they are fresh off beating the Chiefs in Arrowhead. This will be an interesting test for Jackson, as his first five games have — incredibly — come against five teams that all rank bottom six in the NFL in defensive DVOA. The Chargers rank 12th. This game currently carries an Over/Under of 43.5, with the Chargers installed as 4.5 point favorites at home.
RAVENS PASS OFFENSE
The Ravens’ offense is flowing through the ground game at the moment, with this team carrying a Pop Warner-like pass play rate of 36.99% over their last three games. Since Lamar Jackson took over as the quarterback of this offense, they have piled up pass attempt numbers of 19 // 25 // 21 // 24 // 23. In a sense, Jackson has been nothing more than a game manager for the Ravens — with this team leaning on defense and the run in order to win games. Boosting the value of Jackson’s game manager role is his integral share of the run game, with rush attempt totals of 26 // 11 // 17 // 14 // 18. As noted last week: almost all of Jackson’s rushes are coming on designed runs, which means that we can bank on these rush attempts remaining part of the schemed game plan for as long as Baltimore games remain competitive. Through five starts, Jackson has not posted a single elite game, but he has also not posted a single dud. On the ugly, two-game Saturday slate, there is definite value to a quarterback who has shown a solid scoring range.
With Jackson failing to top 25 pass attempts in any of his starts and failing to notch even a 60% completion rate, his pass catchers have struggled to produce. Jackson’s best yardage game since taking over as the starter was 178 yards. He has exactly 12 to 14 completions in all five of his starts.
If forced to go to the Ravens’ pass catchers, target counts across the last five weeks have looked like this:
:: Michael Crabtree — 3 // 6 // 4 // 4 //1
:: Willie Snead — 8 // 0 // 3 // 7 // 6
:: John Brown — 1 // 7 // 4 // 6 // 3
Only two teams have faced a shallower aDOT than the Chargers this year, with their stellar pass rush and their disciplined zone coverage working in tandem to force a ball-out-quick approach. The Chargers are aggressive on the ball, with a below-average catch rate allowed and with the number nine yards allowed per pass attempt ranking. They hold the number one DVOA ranking in the short areas of the field.
The safest bet on the Ravens has been Snead, whose underneath outlet role has yielded the most consistent production with raw rookie Jackson under center. Snead also has a target of 20+ yards in back-to-back weeks, giving him a slim shot at upside.
Behind Snead, it’s guessing and hoping, as Crabtree has seen inconsistent work as the perimeter possession weapon, while Brown has failed to connect with Jackson for a single explosive play so far. Each is a low-floor option, with touchdowns being Crabtree’s best shot at upside, and with JB hoping for a deep connection from Jackson on a team that has primarily focused on short and intermediate throws.
Behind these three, the tight ends continue to be involved, with all four of Mark Andrews, Maxx Williams, Hayden Hurst, and Nick Boyle playing snaps every week (last week, each of these four played at least 21 snaps, and none played more than 43 — out of a possible 76), and with all four seeing targets since Jackson took over. Hurst and Andrews are being used most consistently as schemed weapons in the pass game, giving them the best shot at the broken play or touchdown they would need in order to become valuable, but any of these four could legitimately find a touchdown this week. The Chargers play strong coverage against the position, but with the Ravens running so many two- and three-tight-end sets, the matchup matters less than it would for other squads.
RAVENS PASS OFFENSE
The Ravens continued to ride Gus Edwards as the lead back last week, even with Kenneth Dixon stepping into more work on the ground, giving him 19 carries and putting him at carry totals since Jackson took over of 17 // 23 // 21 // 16 // 19. Edwards still has zero targets since taking over as the lead back, making him truly yardage-and-touchdown dependent. The Chargers rank 13th in yards allowed per carry, and with this team slowing down contests and allowing the sixth fewest opponent plays per game, there are only eight teams that have allowed fewer running back rushing yards on the year. On the ugly, two-game Saturday slate, however, there is something to be said for guaranteed volume. The matchup matters less for Gus Gus than the one-dimensional nature of his DFS production. Consider him a decent-floor, solid-ceiling play on the Saturday slate.
Across the last three weeks, Dixon has touch counts of 9 // 9 // 12, with exactly one catch in each of those games. He should continue filling this change-of-pace role behind Edwards, giving him an outside shot at a long play or a touchdown.
CHARGERS PASS OFFENSE
In a road loss to the Broncos, and in shootouts against the Steelers and Chiefs, the Chargers moved away from their run-leaning approach and allowed Philip Rivers to take over the game — though this offense has remained one of the most run-dominant units in the NFL when controlling games, creating potential in this spot for the Chargers to reestablish their run-first identity. Look for game flow and matchup resistance to drive the Chargers’ play calling here.
On the year, the Ravens have been one of the tougher pass game matchups in the NFL — allowing the lowest catch rate in the league, and shaving 6.5% off the league-average YAC/R rate, leading to the lowest yards allowed per pass attempt in the NFL. Only three teams have allowed fewer passing touchdowns than the Ravens, and only two teams have allowed fewer passing yards. The Ravens have been especially stout against wide receivers, allowing the sixth fewest receptions, the fifth fewest yards, and the second fewest touchdowns in the NFL.
The effectiveness of the Chargers’ passing attack will likely take a hit if Keenan Allen (hip) is unable to go in this spot, though his practice in a limited capacity on Wednesday bodes well for his chances of suiting up. Allen has been the focal point of this passing attack all season, and he has recently logged target totals of 9 // 7 // 8 in the Chargers’ lower-volume games — giving him a fairly high usage floor independent of game flow. In the Chargers’ higher-volume games, Allen went for 12 and 19 targets before getting injured early in the win over the Chiefs and finishing with zero looks in that game. The matchup is not great from an “upside” perspective, but Allen should pile up enough looks to lock in some semblance of floor on this short slate, with outside opportunities for a big game with a broken play or a touchdown.
Mike Williams emerged as an upside monster last week with Allen missing most of the game, turning nine targets and one carry into 95 yards and three touchdowns. As an unpolished route runner, Williams should have a tougher time in this matchup than route running maven Allen, but the matchup is difficult enough across the board that it wouldn’t be crazy on the short slate to bet on Williams winning a jump ball or a downfield route (or two) and turning in another strong game. With Allen on the field, Williams has recent target counts of 3 // 3 // 0 // 3 // 4 // 3 // 6, so the floor here is obviously scary-low — but the upside remains in place.
Tyrell Williams saw 12 targets last week with Allen out of action and should remain heavily involved on the off chance Allen misses — though if Allen plays, as expected, Tyrell will return to the role that has yielded recent target counts of 6 // 0 // 2 // 4. Tyrell is typically good for one or two downfield shots each week, if you want to chase the outside chance that one of these hits (or that volume unexpectedly spikes).
Travis Benjamin is a dart throw in this passing attack.
If you are playing the two-game Saturday slate, Antonio Gates is lightly used when Allen is healthy, but he’s as likely as any other tight end on Saturday to luck into a touchdown.
CHARGERS RUN OFFENSE
The Chargers are expected to return Melvin Gordon to the field this week for a must-win game against the Ravens — launching him into a matchup against a Baltimore team that ranks fourth in fewest yards allowed per carry and has held running backs to the third fewest rushing yards and the second fewest receiving yards in the NFL. Through 14 games, the Ravens have allowed 10 total touchdowns to running backs — though on a slate this small and ugly, with Gordon functioning as the primary engine of the best offense available, there is obviously still room for him to matter.
Across his last four healthy games, Gordon has touch totals of 20 // 17 // 23 // 24 — and he has four or more targets in every healthy game this season. Somewhere in the range of 15 to 18 carries and three to five catches is Gordon’s median expectation, with any extra touches a bonus.
Behind Gordon, Austin Ekeler should resume change-up duties if healthy, with Justin Jackson filling in if Ekeler (neck) can’t go. As always: this role yields about eight to 12 touches most weeks, providing slim opportunity for one of these players to matter.
On the two-game slate on Saturday, Jackson stands out as a higher-floor option than either of the quarterbacks in the early game, with a better shot at reaching ceiling as well. From a “bet on game flow” perspective, any of the quarterbacks on this slate can be considered, but Jackson is the least likely to wreck a roster. Joining Jackson in the “safer, decent upside” conversation is Edwards. Behind these two, it’s just as thin as anything else on this slate — with Dixon and Snead the next guys up for “likeliest production,” but with neither guy standing out, and with any of the other pieces on the Ravens viable from a “crazy things can happen on a slate this small and ugly” perspective.
We should not expect big yardage on either side of this game (with any big plays a bonus on top of whatever we can reasonably target), making Gordon and Allen the best bets for production on the Chargers’ side of the ball, followed by Mike Williams and whichever running back steps into the number two role in this spot. The floor is low on the latter two, but the ceiling remains. Rivers can also be considered as a strong QB option on this ugly slate, as there is a chance the Chargers are forced to lean on his arm if they struggle on the ground. Outlier “bet on touchdown” options on the Chargers are also in play.