Los Angeles Chargers (0-0, 0-0 ATS) at Washington Football Team (0-0, 0-0), 1 p.m.
Implied Team Totals: Chargers 21.75, Washington 22.75
Spread/Total Movements: LA -1 to Was -1, 45 44.5
Weather: 85 degrees, 5-10 mph, 0% chance of rain
Chargers Injuries to Watch: RB Austin Ekeler (hamstring, questionable)
Washington Injuries to Watch: WR Curtis Samuel (groin, IR)
Brolley’s Chargers Stats and Trends
The Chargers ended last season with a 4-0 ATS run.
Los Angeles is 9-4 toward overs in its last 13 games, including a 6-1 run toward overs in its last seven road games.
Austin Ekeler is nursing a hamstring injury in practice this week, which is something to monitor since a bad hamstring wrecked his first half of 2020. Ekeler averaged a position-high 13 FPG as a receiver in eight games with Herbert, but the big question this season is will the new coaching staff let him score touchdowns? In Weeks 12-17, Ekeler handled just two carries inside of the 5-yard line while Herbert and Kalen Ballage both had five goal-line carries.
Justin Herbert is coming off a record-breaking rookie season, finishing with the second-most yards (4,336), the most passing TDs (31), the second-highest completion rate (66.6%), and the third-most FPG (22.2) by a rookie QB all-time. The Chargers upgraded their offensive line this off-season after he was pressured 36.6% of his dropbacks last season, and they’ll need to be clicking in Game One against a Washington defense that finished eighth in pressure rate (25.9%).
Keenan Allen has reeled off four straight seasons with 97+ catches with an average of 100.8 catches per season in that span. Keenan didn’t skip a beat in his first season with Herbert last season, and Allen has a chance to challenge for the league lead in target share with Hunter Henry out of the mix and Mike Williams already banged up in August.
Mike Williams missed three weeks in August with a hip flexor injury, which is never what you want to see from a player with a long history of injury issues. His aDOT has sat 14.5 yards or more and his YPR has sat at 15.4 yards or more in each of the last three seasons, but Williams has yet to average more than six targets per game in his first four seasons. He also averaged a meager 8.9 YPT playing with Herbert last season. The Football Team allowed the fewest 20+ yards passes (36) last season.
Brolley’s Washington Stats and Trends
Washington ended last season with a 6-2 ATS run, including a 5-1 ATS mark in games as an underdog.
Washington is 5-1 toward unders in its last six games and 6-1 toward unders in its last seven home games.
Ryan Fitzpatrick is 13-7 ATS over the last two seasons.
Antonio Gibson answered all of the questions about his ability as a runner last season, posting 170/795/11 rushing to finish as the RB19 with 14.7 FPG. He turned his team-leading 13 inside-the-five carries into seven scores so the only question remaining is if he can eat into J.D. McKissic’s 110 targets from last season. McKissic out-snapped Gibson by a massive 197-to-22 margin on third downs last season. The Chargers allowed the 16th-most FPG (24.0) to RBs last season, including 4.6 YPC.
Ryan Fitzpatrick is on his ninth stop in his NFL career, and it’s his most important one to date at 38 years old since Washington is on the verge of competing in the NFC. He averaged 7.8 YPA and he completed a career-best 68.5% of his passes in nine appearances for the Dolphins last season. Fitz is tied with Kirk Cousins for ninth-best in YPA (7.7) and is tied with Matt Ryan for 17th in FPG (17.9). The Chargers allowed the fifth-fewest passing yards per game (228.5) to QBs last season.
Terry McLaurin finished as the WR20 with 15.1 FPG last season, but he had wide splits with the different passers under center. He averaged just 12.9 FPG when Alex Smith was the starter and 17.4 FPG without Smith under center. Smith refused to push the ball downfield and his average depth of target was just 5.1 yards, which was by far the lowest in the NFL. McLaurin’s QB upgrade can’t be understated, and Fitzmagic has a history of supporting elite fantasy receivers in recent years. Los Angeles gave up the sixth-fewest FPG (32.73) to WRs last season.
Curtis Samuel aggravated his groin injury in practice this week, which has bothered him since he initially picked up the injury in early June. Rookie Dyami Brown and slot WR Adam Humphries would see upticks in opportunities for as long as Samuel is out of the lineup.
Logan Thomas also stands to benefit if Samuel is out of the lineup. He’s coming off a late-career breakout as he tied for a TE6 finish in FPG (11.0) with T.J. Hockenson. Thomas’ average depth of target was just 7.7 yards and he ranked 22nd-of-26 TEs in yards per route run (1.10) last season playing primarily with Smith last season, but his efficiency should improve with the more aggressive Fitz at quarterback. The Chargers allowed the 12th-most FPG (13.0) to TEs last season.
Barfield’s Pace and Tendencies
Pace (seconds in between plays): 27.1 (13th)
Plays per game: 68.6 (1st)
When the game is within a score — Pass: 57.6% (18th) | Run: 42.4% (15th)
When the team is ahead — Pass: 52.6% (11th) | Run: 47.4% (22nd)
When the team is behind — Pass: 64.1% (21st) | Run: 35.9% (12th)
Pace (seconds in between plays): 26.0 (3rd)
Plays per game: 64.6 (13th)
When the game is within a score — Pass: 59.5% (10th) | Run: 40.5% (23rd)
When the team is ahead — Pass: 41.2% (30th) | Run: 58.8% (3rd)
When the team is behind — Pass: 70.5% (4th) | Run: 29.5% (29th)
With former HC Anthony Lynn now in Detroit and OC Shane Steichen now in Philadelphia, the Chargers are ushering in a new staff in 2020. New HC Brandon Staley will handle the defense while new OC Joe Lombardi will call plays. While Vince Lombardi’s grandson has the right last name and spent a total of 12 seasons with Sean Payton as an assistant/QBs coach, his two-season track record as a play-caller is sketchy at best. Lombardi was the Lions OC in 2014 and was fired after Week 7 in 2015 after a 1-6 start to the season. So, in his lone full season in 2014, Lombardi’s Lions’ attack finished a mediocre 23rd in points per game and 15th in yards gained per drive despite the team finishing 11-5 on the year. Lombardi leaned heavily on the pass as Matthew Stafford finished fifth in the league in attempts (602) that year. In fact, the Lions were the second-most pass-heavy team when the game was within a score (63%), they were tied for 13th in pass rate when trailing (69%), and they ranked seventh in pass rate when leading (54%). If that 2014 season is any indication, we could see Lombardi let Herbert loose in 2021 and lead a voluminous Chargers attack. Their first test of the season will be arguably one of the toughest the entire year as Washington’s defense single-handedly carried them into the postseason last year.
OC Scott Turner did a phenomenal job in his first year turning around Washington’s offense after an abysmal 2019 season. Two years ago, Washington finished dead-last in points per game, plays per game, third-down conversions, and they were third from last in yards gained per drive. Even with the musical chairs at quarterback in 2020, Turner righted the ship and made some key changes last season. First and foremost, Washington played much faster. Back in 2019, their old staff ran their offense at the second-slowest pace and that was a large part of the reason they only managed to get off 55 plays per game. Secondly, Turner leaned on the passing attack when the score was close, and then salted defenses away with the run game when they built a lead. Structurally speaking, there is a lot to like about how Turner set up the offense. He leaned on the pass when the game was tight and hammered defenses away with Antonio Gibson when they built a lead. Now with improved quarterback play, Washington has a chance to take a big leap. Overall, this game has the makings of a slugfest with both defenses being strong.
Huber’s Key Matchup Notes
While this is certainly a tough matchup for QB Justin Herbert and this Charger offense — Washington allowed the third-fewest FPG to WRs last year — I’m certainly not fretting about top WR Keenan Allen. As a predominantly inside receiver, the majority of his slot routes will be defended by either Torry McTyer or 2021 third-rounder Benjamin St-Juste. Neither should present a significant challenge for WR of Allen’s caliber. I can’t say the same for Mike Williams, who will deal with the perimeter coverage of William Jackson III or Kendall Fuller.
The odds are likely against Herbert blowing up in this game, since the most appealing avenues for him will be short-to-intermediate throws to Allen and Austin Ekeler, if Ekeler is able to go. Ekeler will face stout coverage from LB Cole Holcomb, but there’s not a linebacker in the league Ekeler can’t beat.
I also like this matchup for Washington WR Terry McLaurin. Charger CB Michael Davis, projected to be the corner playing the most over McLaurin, provided the Chargers with their best coverage on the outside last year. That’s not saying much.
With Curtis Samuel (groin) out, TE Logan Thomas figures to be a target beneficiary. While running routes on S Derwin James could be problematic, it’ll be interesting to see how OC Scott Turner moves him around to get him favorable matchups. Could Turner get Thomas on a ‘backer like Kyzir White?
Dolan’s Vantage Points
It appears the Chargers are just being cautious with Austin Ekeler, who sat out two practices with a hamstring injury, before getting in a limited session on Friday. But it’s not exactly heartwarming, given he missed six games with a hamstring issue a season ago. If he doesn’t go, Justin Jackson is my preferred backup, but certainly doesn’t have Ekeler’s ceiling or floor — Larry Rountree and Joshua Kelley would work in. If Ekeler plays, he’s a high-end RB2 with more risk than usual. If he doesn’t Jackson is a FLEX.
Brandon Staley said he expects Austin Ekeler to play Sunday: “He looked good out there. Optimistic for sure.” #Chargers— Daniel Popper (@danielrpopper) September 10, 2021
In the passing game, Justin Herbert is a low-end QB1/high-end QB2 because the matchup is a little iffy. Keenan Allen is a lock, and I’d rather not dabble with Mike Williams. I’ll be keeping an eye on rookie Josh Palmer for a potential early-season Waiver Wire move.
It’s not like you were excited to play Jared Cook in this matchup, but The Team absolutely shut down TE production last year. No thanks. I will be keeping an eye on the role of XFL superstar Donald Parham, who reportedly had a strong camp and could emerge as a fantasy-relevant weapon here.
I’d rather start Herbert than his counterpart in this game, Ryan Fitzpatrick, though it’s closer than you might think. Fitz takes a hit because he won’t have Curtis Samuel (groin), but I love Terry McLaurin as a no-doubt WR1 in this matchup. Antonio Gibson is a no-doubt RB1, and Logan Thomas is a no-doubt TE1.
The guy I’m watching on Washington is rookie WR Dyami Brown for his potential gamebreaking role… though it’s possible he plays fewer snaps than vet Cam Sims. Sims is a favorite of both Fitz and former Team QB Alex Smith. As a veteran QB, don’t be shocked if Fitz leans more on a guy he trusts.