Thursday night’s game has an ominous feel to it. After a day where the US set a record for newly confirmed coronavirus infections and a team had to shut down its facilities due to the pandemic, we’re set to play football on Thursday night. A true head-scratcher from a scheduling perspective as we’ve seen games postponed in previous weeks. Regardless, the fantasy intrigue will give us a much-needed break from the real world even if the majority of the interest lies in just one team. Aaron Rodgers is set up for another strong fantasy outing while the 49ers’ starting roster looks absolutely nothing like the team they had back in Week 1. To kick off Week 9, I broke down what to expect in the opener along with a recap of the news coming out of Wednesday.
The Packers vs. Nick Mullens and …
The 49ers’ starting lineup on offense will look as if they’re playing their fourth preseason game. From Nick Mullens to Richie James, fantasy managers may be forced into tough decisions but there’s some hope they’ll be able to move the ball against Green Bay. Trent Taylor has primarily run his routes from the slot going all the way back to 2017 (73.0% snap rate from the slot). It should keep Taylor from facing Jaire Alexander who’s played just 11 snaps on the interior but allowing just a 68.4 passer rating when covering the perimeter. Alexander’s talent has caused teams to pick on the interior of Green Bay’s defense which would greatly benefit both Taylor and Ross Dwelley or Jordan Reed. Houston did this in Week 7 with Randall Cobb (9-90-0) and the Buccaneers exploited that same weakness in Week 6 with Rob Gronkowski (7-78-1). But the obvious deficiency is the Packers’ run defense. If Raheem Mostert was active, his burst would have given him the best shot at recreating Dalvin Cook’s 163-yard rampage from last week. Regardless, past running backs have been successful through the air to complement their production on the ground (Duke Johnson 5-43-0 in Week 7, Alvin Kamara 14-139-2 in Week 3, and D’Andre Swift 5-60-0 in Week 2). It sets up a serviceable floor for Jerick McKinnon and JaMycal Hasty assuming Nick Mullens can avoid Green Bay’s pass rush that’s generating pressure on just 26.0% of dropbacks from opposing quarterbacks.
Without Jamaal Williams or even Aaron Jones, Rodgers is placed in another positive game environment against the 49ers’ defense. Three of the last four quarterbacks to face San Francisco have passed for two or more touchdowns (Russell Wilson had four in Week 8, Jared Goff had two in Week 6, and Ryan Fitzpatrick had three in Week 5) with an average 242.8 passing yards to go with the multi-score games. The production has led to productive outings from WR1s which sets up well for Davante Adams who’s yet to see less than 10 targets since returning from injury. His 37% target share over the last three weeks ranks first amongst all receivers and his five touchdowns just widens the gap between him and the next best receiver from a fantasy standpoint. The storyline will be on how the backfield touches will play out should Aaron Jones be inactive for the game. However San Francisco, throughout all of its injuries, is yet to allow a 100-yard rusher this season. The 49ers’ strength on defense should force Green Bay to leverage their strength on offense which has been Rodgers and the passing game as they’ve been passing at a 58.6% rate in neutral game script (Top 10 in the league). If Aaron Jones is out, I’d expect more involvement from the ancillary pass-catchers like Robert Tonyan to keep the offense moving. Regardless, the Packers won’t have much issue against the 49ers’ depleted roster on TNF.
Points of Interest on TNF
On Green Bay’s side, all eyes are on Aaron Jones. His ‘mild’ calf strain turned multi-week absence would be all but forgotten if he’s cleared to suit up on Thursday. It’d free us from having to choose between Tyler Ervin and Dexter Williams, but, more importantly, Jones’ return would offer a more reliable pass-catcher for the Packers. If Jones isn’t cleared, the backfield split will be the focus. Ervin is the likeliest beneficiary of the backfield shakeup given his small involvement in the offense so far this season (13 total touches). However, Dexter William’s 212-lb frame makes him the likely short-yardage option giving the former sixth-rounder some fantasy value headed into the matchup. Regardless, the breakdown will give us some idea of how the Packers have gameplanned on the short week and what we can expect in future situations.
On the 49ers’ side, we won’t be able to learn much. At least, there won’t be much for us to take away for Week 10. The excitement of Trent Taylor and River Cracraft taking the field may quickly fade after a series. The individual plays may not garner interest, but how the offense operates will be interesting down multiple starters. San Francisco’s offense has been predicated on short passing (third-lowest aDOT) and rushing in neutral situations (Bottom 12 in neutral passing rate). With the personnel on hand and Kyle Shanahan’s history with Mike Pettine, San Francisco could lean on their run game even more given Green Bay’s performance last week against Dalvin Cook.
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COVID-Watch Week 9
Matthew Stafford headlined the news after not being spotted at Wednesday’s practice. The mystery regarding his absence was quickly solved when Detroit announced Stafford had been placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list. He was considered high-risk after being in close contact with someone who tested positive, but could be eligible for Sunday’s game given the league’s protocol. Chase Daniel is the likely backup for Stafford should he miss which would put the Lions’ season in jeopardy. They currently hold a 3-4 record, just lost Kenny Golladay for an extended period of time, and now have to turn to their backup who last started in Week 5 of last season. Daniel, then with the Bears, threw for 231 years on 30 attempts for 2 touchdowns while throwing 2 picks against Oakland. Chase at least established a rapport with his primary receivers at the time for solid fantasy results (Allen Robinson 9-97-2, Anthony Miller 7-52-0). It should give us some hope for Marvin Jones and T.J. Hockenson, but Stafford’s return would be preferred.
Mark Ingram missed practice again on Wednesday with John Harbaugh providing some clarity that the injury is more of a high-ankle sprain. His Week 9 availability is in doubt, but fantasy managers may appreciate the condensed workload for either Gus Edwards or J.K. Dobbins for another week. Calvin Ridley was absent from practice on Wednesday and is considered ‘day-to-day’ after his foot injury suffered against the Panthers to kickoff Week 8. We expected more dire news for Ridley coming out of Thursday night, but any participation from him in practice this week would be a positive sign for their game against the Broncos on Sunday. Both Alvin Kamara and Phillip Lindsay were held out of practice today with foot injuries. Kamara was available to the media and assured he’d be out on the field on Sunday. The Broncos didn’t have a formal practice on Wednesday, but his ‘estimated absence’ was followed up with optimism from the team he’d be able to play in Week 9. Kenyan Drake continues to rehab after he suffered torn ligaments in his ankle in Week 7. He’s surprisingly day-to-day according to Kliff Kingsbury, but unlikely to return in Week 9. Chris Godwin was spotted with a cast on his hand for the Wednesday walk-through down in Tampa. Despite the fact that he was a full participant, Bruce Arians indicated the team won’t know until Friday if he can catch a ball.