Justin Herbert
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
Football Daily Dose

TNF: Chargers at Raiders

Updated On: December 17, 2020, 9:23 am ET

The NFL couldn't have scripted this week any better. We all witnessed one of the best games of the season on Monday night. The in-game plot twists, lead changes, and memes plastered across social media brought the football viewing experience to a level we hadn’t seen this season. Now, to kick off Week 15, we get the Chargers and Raiders. Just two weeks ago, Las Vegas extended the Jets’ losing streak on a Hail Mary pass exploiting Gregg Williams’ fraudulent defensive scheme. Last week, Anthony Lynn called a running play inside the Falcons’ red zone with 17 seconds left and no timeouts and couldn’t secure a field goal. Both teams have been involved in comical fourth-quarter endings setting up TNF to be a legitimate follow-up to Week 14. To help sort through some of the fantasy-relevant storylines, I’ve put together my notes for TNF and provided a rundown of all the injury news to monitor as we head into week two of the fantasy playoffs.

Can the Chargers Bounce Back?

Their 4-9 record doesn’t reflect how well Justin Herbert has played. Over his first 10 starts, he was 15th in Expected Points Added (EPA) per Play and 16th in Completion Percentage over Expected (CPOE). The Chargers' 37.9 offensive yards per drive would rank seventh on the season and a large part of it has come through the air. While 32.8% of his passes have come while trailing by a score or more, the team’s 62.4% neutral passing rate and 51.9% red-zone passing rate has produced favorable results. Herbert has finished as a Top-12 quarterback in seven games this season. In turn, he’s brought along his pass catchers. Keenan Allen sits at the WR5 in PPR scoring on the season.  Hunter Henry is the TE7. Austin Ekeler, despite being placed on IR, is ninth in PPG with an 18.0% target share. It’s a fantasy-friendly offense, but their problem is scoring once inside the red zone.  Even while Herbert was making strides towards the Offensive Rookie of the Year award, they were coming away with points (field goals or touchdowns) on just 38.5% of their drives. It’s been worse over the last two weeks. Since being dismantled by Bill Belichick, they’ve averaged just 29.9 offensive yards per drive. Herbert’s been inaccurate (-6.4% CPOE) and they’ve produced points on four drives. Los Angeles may just need the right opponent to get them back on track and Las Vegas is the right team for the job.

The Raiders will already be without Johnathan Abram, Damon Arnette, Nicholas Morrow, and Clelin Ferrell. All are starters on defense. The same defense that Herbert torched for 326 yards and two touchdowns back in Week 9 has gotten worse over the past month. Las Vegas’ secondary has given up two touchdowns to opposing quarterbacks in four consecutive games. They’ve allowed an average of 18.3 points to opposing quarterbacks over this span and now have multiple starters out. The status of Keenan Allen and Mike Williams will be important to watch. Allen (11-103-1 in Week 9) and Williams (7-81-0 in Week 9) were almost unstoppable against the Raiders’ coverage and the Chargers could use a similar performance tonight.

Points of Interest in TNF

For the Chargers, my focus will be on the ancillary receivers. Keenan Allen and Mike Williams are truly questionable heading into Thursday night which is an obvious issue as they have the top two wide receiver target shares on the team. Enter Tyron Johnson and Jalen Guyton. Johnson (Oklahoma State UDFA) saw the largest increase in workload with Williams sidelined last week. His 15.9% target share was fourth on the team, but he at least saw one red-zone target (which he converted) along with two deep attempts. Johnson, with his 6’1”-frame and 4.41-speed, essentially filled Mike Williams’ role. Jalen Guyton played the majority of the snaps opposite Keenan Allen, but Johnson’s performance in Week 14 should earn him more time on the field. 

For the Raiders, I’ll be watching Nelson Agholor. At the start of the season, the list of fantasy-relevant pass-catchers in a Derek-Carr led offense was (in order) Darren Waller, Henry Ruggs, and Hunter Renfrow. But Agholor has been a bright spot in the offense and one of their best acquisitions to boost the passing game. The oft-ridiculed receiver has the highest target share of any wide receiver (15.0%) despite having a 14.7 aDOT. His 926 air yards are just slightly behind A.J. Brown’s (934) to put Agholor’s usage into context. But his seven touchdowns show how much we (and opposing defenses) have forgotten about Agholor’s skill. With Henry Ruggs out on the reserve/COVID-19 list, Agholor has the chance to take a step forward as the team’s primary receiver. The Chargers have a tough secondary and have allowed just three wide receivers to go over 100 yards. However, two of those receivers (Calvin Ridley in Week 14, Emmanuel Sanders in Week 5) are known for their combination of speed and nuanced technique when running routes. Agholor isn’t quite on their level, but we’ve seen flashes for him to be worth watching on Thursday night.

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COVID-19 Watch Week 15

The Ravens placed Marquise Brown, Miles Boykin, and James Proche on the reserve/COVID-19 list on Wednesday afternoon. It’s now the third time in as many weeks the team has had to make this type of roster move. Two weeks ago they wound up missing nine starters against the Steelers. Last week, a last-minute test result prevented Dez Bryant from playing against his former team.  Brown, Boykin, and Proche were listed as close contacts with one of Baltimore’s staff members testing positive. They’ll be unable to practice, but it’s possible they’ll be active on Sunday.

The Buccaneers are dealing with a similar situation. Tampa had to place three of their special teams’ starters (Bradley Pinion, Ryan Succop, and Zach Triner) on the reserve/COVID-19 list along with their starting running back, Ronald Jones. No details were provided as to whether the players tested positive or identified as close contacts. Speculation is that due to Jones having a pin placed in his finger due to a fracture, he’s likely to sit. Bruce Arians should provide more clarity after Thursday’s practice.

Injury Slants

We finally got some good news on the injury front. D.J. Moore returned to practice and was subsequently activated from the reserve/COVID-19 list. Carolina plays on Saturday night, but Moore should be able to get in a couple of practices before seeing action.  

George Kittle and Drew Brees were both designated to return from IR. Neither are expected to play in Week 15, but we’ll at least get an idea of we’re they’re at in the rehab process. The concern for Kittle is the team’s record. They’re still in the hunt for the playoffs, but another loss would dash any plans for bringing the star tight end back to action. At 10-3, the Saints have clinched a playoff berth so it just comes down to Brees’ health.

Did Not Practice

Julio Jones (hamstring) missed practice to start off the week for Atlanta. Jones has missed three games and had a snap rate of less than 50% in two others. The whole offense has lagged in his absence, but that goes with the general theme for the Falcons’ 2020 season.

Michael Thomas (ankle) started Week 14 with limited practices and was cleared to play in Week 15. A DNP to start Week 15 is cause for concern, but the assumption is that he was given a maintenance day to stay fresh. Thomas played 90% of the team’s snaps last week and didn’t suffer a setback during the game. We’ll need to see him tomorrow and Friday to confirm, but there’s no concern for his Week 15 status at this time.

Mike Gesicki (shoulder) fell on his neck and shoulder after a catch and couldn’t return to the game. He was scheduled to have an MRI on Monday, but Brian Flores hasn't yet provided an update. He’s expected to miss at least one game, but the team has yet to provide any updates.

Robert Woods (thigh) was held out of Wednesday’s practice as a precaution. Sean McVay pointed to Woods’ critical role on the team and preferred the safe approach to managing Woods’ workload ahead of their matchup against the Jets. Woods is expected to be active on Sunday.

Raheem Mostert (ankle) has been hampered by the high-ankle sprain that landed him in on IR earlier in the season. He was held out on Wednesday, but Kyle Shanahan indicated Mostert should be fine by the end of the week. He’ll likely need the offseason to fully heal, but may still be active on Sunday.

Not to anyone’s surprise, but both Antonio Gibson (toe) and Alex Smith (ankle) were out on Wednesday. Gibson was quickly ruled out in Week 13 with a toe injury and missed Week 14 as a result. A limited practice would be the only sign he’s progressing towards being back out on the field. Ron Rivera indicated Smith could still play, but Dwayne Haskins has been the starting quarterback in practice to start the week.

Kyle Rudolph (foot) ended his 93-game active streak with a foot injury suffered in Week 13 against the Jaguars. He didn’t practice ahead of their Week 14 matchup, but Mike Zimmer left the door open for the vet prior to ruling him inactive on game day. We’ll need to see Rudolph back out in at least a limited fashion to feel confident in rostering him this weekend.

Jamison Crowder (calf) sustained his injury last Thursday, didn’t practice Friday, and listed as Questionable for Week 14. He saw five targets on 72% of the team’s snaps without a noticeable setback, but Adam Gase is taking the safe approach for Week 15. He’s expected back to practice on Thursday with his availability for Sunday to be determined later in the week.

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