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Week 8 Fantasy Football Stats: Chargers' run D holding Justin Herbert back?

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The Los Angles Chargers rank 28th in explosive rushing play rate allowed, and 32nd in run defense DVOA.

Damien Harris is our consensus ranked RB14 this week and for good reason. He’s coming off back-to-back 100-yard games and has scored three times in that span. A date with the Chargers makes him a strong candidate to hit the century mark yet again. He’s a near must-start this week unless you are completely spoiled at the running back spot.

Los Angeles is coming off their bye week. Even if the offensive struggles got most of the headlines in a Week 6 blowout, one has to imagine Brandon Staley spent plenty of time during the week away tinkering with ideas for plugging this gaping defensive hole. The thesis of Staley’s defense centers around the idea of limiting big passing plays and baiting teams into taking short gains; both through the air and on the ground.

If that means ceding some yards on the ground, that’s fine under this style of defense. But you can’t be this bad.

You can’t be the stone worst run defense in the NFL.

The problem is the Chargers aren’t fully staffed out on the d-line to run this system quite yet and injuries have set in. Losing linebacker Kenneth Murray has proven to be a big problem. If you’re going to bait teams into the running and short-passing games, you need to bring down players in the open field on first contact. The Chargers rank sixth in the NFL in missed tackles ... despite already having their bye.

This Achilles heel for the Chargers defense has the potential to cripple the offense, as well. We saw it against Baltimore.

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The Ravens dominated the time of possession battle, 38:07 to 21:53. Even with their stable of elder backs, they were able to sit on the ball and run all over the Chargers. That led to the usually efficient Justin Herbert-led offense playing behind the eight-ball. Usually, Herbert and co. are masters of the later downs (he ranks third in EPA per play on third and fourth downs) but that’s a tough way to live.

The Chargers converted three of 12 third downs and just one of four fourth-down attempts against the Ravens.

Look, no one is panicking about the Chargers offensive players in fantasy and they’re quite likely still one of the best teams in the AFC. However, we’d prefer this team playing in a positive or neutral game script because it’s clear their weakness in run defense is so bad it can curtail the entire operation. One lost possession due to a third or fourth down failure can lead to long stretches of game-time without the ball if the other team is just establishing the run.

Of course, all the Chargers' problems will disappear if Justin Herbert plays like a man possessed. The bleeding run defense creates a pretty thin margin for error. But Herbert is the kind of quarterback who obliterates all typical margins. It’s still an interesting test-case week for him against one of the few teams who foiled him as a rookie. A far inferior Patriots team to this one cracked the Chargers, 45-0, and delivered Herbert his worst game as a pro by a mile with a 7.0 QBR.

Quarterback Justin Herbert #10 of the Los Angeles Chargers
Justin Herbert has suffered due to his defense's struggles. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

We should keep a close eye on how this game starts. If we see Herbert and co. whiff on a couple late-down attempts in the first few drives and Damien Harris is running all over a defense Staley was unable to shore up during the bye, we could be headed for a sticky situation as the day goes on.

Mike Carter ran a route on over 60% of the dropbacks in Week 7

There are a lot of competing factors here. We can choose to believe that this is a permanent bump in playing time for a talented rookie coming out of the team’s bye or this could be a matter of circumstance. We have to remember that Ty Johnson missed some time with a concussion but the fact that Tevin Coleman was out of the mix could be encouraging if it opens up more chances for Carter to shine.

Carter is only going to hit home if he functions as a pass-catcher. There’s a chance that backup Mike White and veteran Joe Flacco, while not possessing the theoretical ceiling of Zach Wilson, can run the offense inside of structure better than the rookie. That could include more dump-offs to Carter instead of scrambling outside of the pocket and pointing down the field waiting for a miraculous play that never comes.

Tua Tagovailoa ranks second in on-target percentage

It’s a small sample but so far this season, Tua Tagovailoa has been far from the disaster many want to paint him to be:

In just his second season, Tua reminds me of prime Andy Dalton. As he works his way back from a devastating injury that we simply don’t talk about enough, Tua looks like a capable player you can win with — even if he’s not the reason you win. The problem for Miami is that, unlike those solid Bengals years with Dalton, they’ve failed in building a team around the quarterback. Thanks to injuries, the pass-catching corps is a net negative around Jaylen Waddle and Mike Gesicki. The offensive line is the biggest whiff in this rebuilding era and they can’t run the ball. The defense doesn’t move the needle.

Tua can offer you starting-level quarterback play in the right infrastructure. Anyone playing him in fantasy right now knows that. As he gets farther away from his hip injury, maybe there’s a greater ceiling. For now, the Dolphins have much bigger problems.

Basically what I’m saying here: It would seem pretty ridiculous for a deeply flawed team to bail on a quarterback that’s showing some degree of promise in favor of chasing a legally compromised player who requires them to mortgage what’s left of their future.

Washington is 10th in neutral pass rate, 30th in rushing EPA

It’s about time to give up the ghost on Antonio Gibson’s breakout season. Between the defense being not just a disappointing unit but a net negative, his own injuries and other absences crippling the offense ... it’s just not going to happen this year, barring a miracle.

That said, the third variable in his fall could be about to turn around. Washington has a Week 9 bye and should get healthier in the weeks that follow.

Everything hinges on Ryan Fitzpatrick’s upcoming MRI. Taylor Heinicke is a great story but the longer he plays the more it becomes clear that Washington needs a little more. If the veteran can come back at some point this year, maybe Washington finishes strong. Don’t forget that they have Logan Thomas and Curtis Samuel possibly on the reinforcement line. We just don’t talk enough about how different this offense looks right now compared to who we expected to suit up this season.

Kyle Pitts is averaging 127 air yards per game the last 3 weeks

No other tight end is over 100 in that span. Remember when we called him a unicorn? There you go.

Pitts has taken 39 snaps in the slot, 24 out-wide and just 10 as a traditional in-line tight end in his previous two games, per PFF. The usage here is just about perfect.

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I am ready to bump Kyle Pitts into the TE2 spot in rest-of-season rankings. I’m not ready to put him over Travis Kelce … but I’m ready to talk about it; I haven’t pulled the car into the garage but I have it running in the driveway. The usage and deployment for Pitts is that good.

On the Yahoo Fantasy Football Forecast, Dalton Del Don and I kicked around the idea of checking in on the Kyle Pitts manager in your league if you have Kelce. Try and grab Pitts plus one more usable weekly piece. You’re getting two for one and the tight end “downgrade” might not be one at all.

Tee Higgins is averaging 9.3 targets per game the last three weeks

If you thought “just Tee Higgins?” to the tweet above you’re only looking at results.

The usage for Higgins is there. Just because he’s clearly not as good as Ja’Marr Chase — who looks like a top-10 real-life receiver already — doesn’t mean he isn’t a strong starter.

Higgins has ceded vertical targets to the rookie. He’s averaging 94 air yards per game over the last three contests. That said, the overall passing volume shooting up will help sustain Higgins. The Bengals are up to 13th in neutral passing rate from Weeks 5 to 7 after being extremely run-heavy to start the season. Higgins is a fine buy-low.

Brandin Cooks still leads the NFL in weighted opportunity

In weeks 5 to 7 Brandin Cooks ranked among NFL wide receivers: 15th in percentage of his team’s air yards, 20th in percentage of his team targets and 22nd in targets per game.

In Weeks 1 to 3, he led the NFL in the percentage of his team’s air yards, ranked second in percentage of his team’s targets and fifth in targets per game.

The theme here? Tyrod Taylor was his quarterback for most of the first three games. It sounds like the veteran quarterback is close to returning and may well suit up this week. Cooks is a locked-in set-it-and-forget-it WR2 at a minimum when Taylor plays. His buy-low window is closing.

Khalil Herbert is 9th in rushing yards over expectation

Interestingly enough, fellow Bears back David Montgomery is 10th. This goes to show that Herbert hasn’t just been propped up by volume — he’s been legitimately good this season.

Damien Williams didn’t get much practice time in last week but Herbert should still run ahead of him going forward. Herbert is a young player the Bears can keep around at a low cost for years; It’s worth developing him.

The more interesting conversation is what happens when Montgomery returns. Can the Bears afford to put this lightning back in the bottle or might we be looking at a slight split when the vet is back? It depends on how strong Herbert continues to run in his absence. He'll get a 49ers defense this weekend that ranks 26th in explosive rushing plays allowed.

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