NFL

Stats to know for NFL Week 9

The Philadelphia Eagles allow the lowest averaged depth of target (6.4) and highest completion percentage (74.3%) in the league.

Don’t get whiplash here, because we’re actually about to talk about the Los Angeles Chargers.

After a strong start to the 2021 season, the Chargers have been dunked on in back-to-back games by fellow AFC contenders in Baltimore and New England (bye week sandwiched between). Due in large part to the opponent stats above, Week 9 presents an awesome bounce-back spot for the Chargers — but there are true structural issues this team must overcome in order to get right.

The problems begin on defense. We know the Brandon Staley defense is completely comfortable inviting offenses to run on them. Begging the opponent to take the inefficient path against you is smart and forward-thinking.

That can work when you’re something around the 16th to 20th-best run defense in the NFL but it’s a recipe for disaster when you’re the stone-worst one. That’s where the Chargers find themselves, ranking 32nd in run defense DVOA and allowing a league-high 5.1 yards per carry.

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Not only are you going to get punished by your opponents for this critical weakness, but you’re also destined to put your quarterback behind the eight-ball … especially when you require him to make magic on late downs. Justin Herbert still ranks fourth among quarterbacks in EPA per play on third and fourth down. But we’ve seen in their last two games (especially the Baltimore loss) that when he doesn’t convert in those situations and the opposing offense can just moonwalk down the field, you lose time and bleed points quickly.

The problems are compounded by the fact that the offense is way too conservative.

In addition to a lack of aggression on first down play-calling, they’re playing “small ball.” Herbert ranks 23rd in air yards per pass attempt. For the life of me, it’s impossible to understand why Joe Lombardi needed to install a late-career Drew Brees’ passing chart for one of the best young arm talents in the NFL.

You watch the Chargers on film and everything happens within a small box around the line of scrimmage. Almost no one runs off the broadcast-view screen. LA has tried to turn Mike Williams back into more of a downfield player. I get it. They need more verticality to their offense but taking him out of the full-field X-receiver role has dinged the offense’s success and his fantasy value:

This team should take a same-city flier on former Rams’ speed merchant DeSean Jackson. Just to open up the other guys on the field.

For the time being, however, the Chargers’ style of offense matches up extremely well with the Eagles’ pillow-soft defensive approach. Philadelphia plays a zone-heavy defense that’s inviting short passes. That’s perfect for a Chargers team that’s been too content to dink and dunk.

This should be a prime spot for a Keenan Allen double-digit catch game where he hits his ceiling. Allen ranks fourth in red-zone targets with five coming inside the 10-yard line. There’s a lot of meat left on the bone. And as if you needed a reason to juice up expectations for Austin Ekeler, the Eagles also allow the third-most catches to running backs. Mike Williams is a bit risker after his recent aDOT boost but his early-season usage would dominate this secondary.

After this cake matchup against the Eagles, the Chargers get dates against the Vikings, Steelers, Broncos, Bengals and Giants. There are several problematic secondaries in that schedule, so this is probably a good time to buy their stars in fantasy football. However, when assessing whether the Chargers are a true AFC contender and an offense that can consistently hit its ceiling, judging their results is less important than how they go about getting it done.

It’s past time to let Herbert off the leash and start allowing him to attack downfield.

Dan Arnold ranks second on the Jaguars in targets since Week 5 with 20

His 7.7 targets per game are fifth among tight ends in that span. He trails only true TE1s like Travis Kelce, Mark Andrews, T.J. Hockenson and Kyle Pitts.

Dan Arnold is certainly a thing. He’s getting fantastic usage at the weakest position in fantasy. Tight end has been a key position in that Jags offense all season long and their relative big swing of a trade to bring in Arnold should have been a signal. He is inching closer to must-start territory at tight end and is a fantastic play at $13 in DFS this week.

By the way, the player who leads the team in targets since Week 5 is none other than self-taught wide receiver Jamal Agnew. Considering he’s playing a role that Urban Meyer covets and has a history with Darrell Bevell, we might need to start taking him seriously.

Jerry Jeudy took 87.5% of his snaps from the slot in Week 8

This makes complete sense, with Courtland Sutton and Tim Patrick profiling as pure perimeter receivers. Jeudy has the separation skills to play as an outside guy but can certainly dominate in the slot. Jeudy ran just 24 routes in his return (third on the team) but he should be second, at worst, going forward. If he’s getting layup targets on the inside, that would be a great fit with Teddy Bridgewater behind a questionable offensive line.

Tyrod Taylor was a Top-5 QB in EPA per play (Weeks 1 and 2)

Davis Mills had his moments but make no mistake, the Texans are a far superior operation when Tyrod Taylor is behind center. Taylor makes the Texans a certifiably frisky offense.

Obviously, Brandin Cooks is a winner. He still ranks third in weighted opportunity this year and was right on the same page with Taylor from the jump.

Pat Freiermuth was second in targets (6) in Week 8 for Pittsburgh

Two of them came in the red zone. The rookie also hauled in a fantastic fourth-down, high-degree of difficult reception.

It looks like he might have been the beneficiary of a nice little promotion following the team’s bye week. Of course, Freiermuth may have only been given this new role because Eric Ebron was out but it’s time to get the rookie more work either way. Ebron didn’t practice on Thursday so we still might be in the green for Monday night. Let’s hope he’s a near-startable tight end the rest of the way.

Brandon Aiyuk ran a route on 97% of the Week 8 dropbacks

Is he … back?

Is Brandon Aiyuk about to leap back into fantasy relevancy? (AP Photo/Kamil Krzaczynski)

Aiyuk also led the team in routes run, had a 25 percent target share, scored a two-point conversion and played a season-high 88 percent of snaps. And he got a plus-one in the most important metric: A postgame presser with strong praise from Kyle Shanahan. Aiyuk’s been grinding.

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Look, the Aiyuk situation has been the most frustrating in fantasy football this year. But we might be on the other side of it. We know he’s a legitimately good player and the tough-love approach from Shanahan was all an effort to get the best out of him. Aiyuk’s salary at just $11 is quite tempting in Week 9. Everyone wants to “see it before they believe it” but we already got some solid signal last week and it pays to be early.

Deebo Samuel has a calf injury right now and Aiyuk should be the one who steps up. Going forward, his role should only grow. Aiyuk should not be on waiver wires.

Van Jefferson ran more routes than Robert Woods in Weeks 1 and 8

DeSean Jackson didn’t really make any noise in Week 1. Then he was inactive last week prior to his release.

Van Jefferson should be rostered in every single league going forward. With a 14.0 aDOT he was already the vertical X-receiver of this team. Now he has that deep role all to himself and remains tethered to one of the NFL’s best passers. Jefferson also has monster upside if Kupp or Woods gets hurt. He’s a top-45 receiver rest of the season.

The Jacksonville Jaguars are 32nd in explosive pass rate allowed

The Jaguars’ defense is somehow worse than their extremely low preseason expectations. Buffalo didn’t quite smack around the Dolphins defense for four quarters like we thought they might. We get another opportunity to juice those expectations up this week.

It’s wild that Josh Allen leads all quarterbacks in fantasy points per game (27) and this offense somehow still hasn’t quite fired on all cylinders. Everything in Stefon Diggs’ usage profile says he’s due for an eruption game. Even though he’s scored in back-to-back weeks, there’s more meat on the bone.

Tyler Lockett has a 47.5% share of Seattle’s air yards the last three weeks

Yes, the Seahawks are on bye but this still might be the perfect time to trade for their wide receivers. All the opportunity finally hit against the hideous Jaguars last week. Lockett’s inconsistency (this year) has mostly been a matter of coincidence. He’d got a little banged up Weeks 3 and 4 then lost Russell Wilson in the middle of a game where multiple huge plays were erased by penalties.

Then we got two bad backup quarterback games. But what do you know: Geno Smith could get these guys the ball when he wasn’t playing the Steelers or Saints. Russell Wilson might be back as soon as Week 10. Lockett and DK Metcalf could crush it down the stretch.

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