Welcome to Vantage Points, a column I will be writing weekly during the NFL season as a window into every game of the week. With access limited more than ever this year and with no preseason games for us to put our own eyes on, I have the utmost respect for sportswriters covering the NFL on a daily basis, giving us a window into what these teams might look like and where their strengths and weaknesses — beyond the obvious — lie.
The purpose of this column is to highlight the work of those writers, but to also turn some of their observations into actionable fantasy advice. The goal isn’t just to highlight obvious angles, but perhaps some of the lower-end ones that could lead to fantasy advantages. I’m also taking advantage of watching press conferences and reading transcripts from coaches and players, as well as using stats to back up narratives and look for fantasy-relevant angles. I’ll also cover notable injuries.
I will publish this column twice weekly — on Wednesdays to preview the Thursday night game, and on Fridays to preview the Sunday slate.
All times are Eastern.
LA Chargers at Las Vegas (Thu, 8:20 PM)
What They’re Saying About the Chargers…
The Chargers won last week, which speaks to how big a mess the Falcons are at this stage, but the talk around the club is how Anthony Lynn continues to bungle simple game-management situations in spectacular fashion.
I mean, this is basic stuff. I know Lynn loves to run the football, but calling run plays with no timeouts left at the end of a half? And the second time they’ve done it in three weeks? It’s just terrible. Most people want to root for Lynn — he seems like a high-quality individual, and it can’t be just cast aside that Justin Herbert has looked far better as a rookie QB than just about anybody could have imagined to this stage.
Lynn was obviously asked about the playcalling, and he is going to keep letting OC Shane Steichen handle that role. The question is if Steichen is the one calling these absolutely pitiful run plays, or if it’s a directive from Lynn. Whatever the case, Lynn is the CEO of the organization and this is on him, and these struggles are not going to endear him to ownership when it appears the Chargers have a lot of talent on both sides of the ball and the single most valuable asset in professional sports — a franchise quarterback on a rookie contract.
To Lynn’s credit, he was adamant after the game about the mistake, though I’m still wondering if he’s trying to take the blame himself here, or assign it to Steichen.
“Let me tell you this, and I don't want to elaborate on it, but you cannot run the ball in that situation. You just can't. You know, we try to be aggressive, but you cannot run the ball in that situation,” Lynn told reporters. “That right there — that's an area where we have got to improve as a coaching staff, communication-wise and we will. But you cannot run the ball there.”
If the Chargers do decide to move on from Lynn, one name makes a lot of sense, per SI’s Albert Breer — Bill OC Brian Daboll. I can get behind that. Herbert was often compared to Josh Allen coming out of Oregon, and while Herbert has shown significantly more polish than almost anyone expected him to as a rookie, Daboll’s work turning Allen from a flashy but madly inconsistent prospect to a legitimate superstar would be a phenomenal pairing with the gifted Herbert.
Anyway, this week the Chargers will be going up against a Raider defense in desperation mode — Vegas fired defensive coordinator Paul Guenther, who has coordinated FootballOutsiders’ #28 defense in total DVOA so far, including the league-worst rush defense. So Lynn could be deploying RBs Austin Ekeler (yay!) and Kalen Ballage (puke…) a lot this week…. Presuming Ekeler (quad) can even play. He’s been limited in practice this week, but it certainly doesn’t appear he’ll miss. The Raiders’ new DC is Rod Marinelli.
Furthering that point, the Chargers have injuries at the wide receiver position. Mike Williams left last week’s game with a back injury, and Lynn told reporters after last week’s game that Keenan Allen is “sore” and that’s why he wasn’t in for the Chargers’ game-winning drive. Both Williams (back) and Allen (hamstring) are questionable for Thursday night. Allen is probably more likely to go.
So one player who could step up is young WR Tyron Johnson, who stepped up in a big way with 6/55/1 receiving in a tough spot, including making a critical catch to set up the game-winning field goal.
“Something always happens when he is in the game, and it’s kind of funny the way things work out like that — it’s hard work,” Herbert said of Johnson. “He’s worked his tail off and I couldn’t be prouder of the guy.”
What They’re Saying About the Raiders…
Most everything that’s being discussed about the Raiders this week has to do with the defense and the firing of DC Paul Guenther, but if you read the comments of HC Jon Gruden, he thinks the offense has been affected by the poorly performing defense.
“We had some good runs, but we just couldn’t stay with it,” Gruden told reporters immediately after last week’s blowout loss to the Colts. “We were in a situation where we had to score a touchdown every time we had the ball it seemed, and it’s hard to establish a run in those circumstances.”
Gruden said the Raiders “better find some answers and as soon as I’m done [with the press conference], we’ll start searching,” and his answer was clearly to relieve Guenther of his duties.
For sure, Gruden doesn’t blame the Raiders’ run-game struggles on RB Josh Jacobs, who returned from an ankle injury in Week 14 (but not without trolling fantasy players in the process).
“Josh is a difference maker for us running and receiving, and I think he’s getting close to being the Jacobs that we all know,” Gruden said.
Gruden was asked about Jacobs’ troll job, but it didn’t seem important to him: “I’ll answer any questions about the game, not the internet.”
This is another game in which the Chargers should have a lot of success offensively, but while I’ll fire up Herbert and Allen for sure (presuming Allen plays), I’m too spooked to play Williams even if he goes… it’s Week 15, not the time to be taking a risk on a player who was only able to make it through 2 snaps last week. If Williams can’t go, Johnson is a viable prayer WR4.
I’m playing Ekeler, presuming he’s in the lineup. Ballage is only viable if Ekeler doesn’t go, except in deeper leagues as a prayer FLEX.
For as good as Derek Carr and the Raiders have been numbers-wise, this is a shockingly narrow fantasy team. And as is obvious from Gruden talking about it, this team can’t run the ball. Jacobs is an RB2.