Saturday, January 22, 2022

NFL Week 18 stats you should know: Keys for 49ers, Chargers and Raiders as they face win-and-you’re-in games

Week 18 is upon us, and with it comes a bevy of playoff scenarios. Eleven of the 14 postseason berths have been clinched, with one still available in the NFC and two open in the AFC.

The NFC situation is much clearer. If the 49ers beat the Rams, San Francisco is in. If not, the Saints could take the last spot with a win over the Falcons.

On the AFC side, things should be relatively straightforward, too, as long as the Colts beat the Jaguars (Indianapolis is a 15.5-point favorite). Should that happen, the final spot will go the the winner of Sunday night’s AFC West showdown between the Chargers and Raiders. If the Colts somehow lose, the Chargers and Raiders could both qualify for the postseason with a tie, but Los Angeles head coach Brandon Staley has rejected the notion that his team will play for a tie if given the chance.

Let’s take a look at the two most straightforward win-and-you’re-in scenarios, starting with the 49ers.

49ers vs. Rams

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When the 49ers have the ball…

When revisiting the 49ers’ 31-10 win in Week 10, one thing stands out: San Francisco jumped out to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter and never looked back. The 49ers attempted a season-high 44 carries compared to 19 passes.

But let’s suppose Matthew Stafford doesn’t throw an interception on his first two possessions and the 49ers can’t take the game out of Jimmy Garoppolo’s hands to the extreme rate they were able to in the first meeting. What can San Francisco do to put its quarterback — and its offense — in a position to succeed?

The Rams play Cover-3 on over 43 percent of defensive snaps this season, the third-highest rate in the league, and Garoppolo has fared relatively well against this look. His 102.7 passer rating against Cover-3 ranks seventh in the NFL, just behind Patrick Mahomes and just ahead of Justin Herbert. That’s pretty good company.

Garoppolo’s huge touchdown pass to Deebo Samuel in the 49ers’ first game against the Rams came against Cover-3.

The big thing for Garoppolo will be getting the ball to his two best playmakers. In the first meeting this season, four of Garoppolo’s five completions against the Rams’ Cover-3 went to either Samuel or tight end George Kittle. That’s been a pattern the entire season:

Jimmy Garoppolo vs Cover-3 This Season

Targeting Kittle/Samuel

Targeting Anyone Else

Pass yds

909

486

Yds per attempt

11.8

8.0

Passer rating

112.6

92.8

The 49ers also countered a potent Rams pass rush by getting the ball out quickly. Garoppolo released the ball in an average of 2.06 seconds in Week 10, by far the fastest average release of the season. They should look to follow a similar path in their biggest game of the year.

When the Rams have the ball…

Will the 49ers once again sit back in coverage? In Week 10, the 49ers blitzed on just nine percent of Stafford’s dropbacks, their second-lowest rate this season. That’s been the book on Stafford this season.

Matthew Stafford This Season

Blitzed

Not Blitzed

Yds per attempt

9.9

7.7

TD-Int

14-1

22-14

Passer Rating

136.8

94.1

Stafford has turned the ball over a lot recently — six interceptions over his last three games — but the 49ers have picked off just seven passes this season, tied for third-fewest in the NFL. I’ll be intrigued to see if the turnover issues continue Sunday.

Chargers vs. Raiders

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Getty Images

When the Chargers have the ball…

It’s time to let Justin Herbert sling it … again. The Raiders are allowing opponents 2.87 seconds to throw on average, fourth-longest in the NFL. When given at least 2.8 seconds to throw this season, Herbert has flourished.

Justin Herbert with 2.8 Seconds or More to Throw This Season

NFL Rank

Pass TD

17

T-2nd

Completion pct

62.5

4th

Completions of 10+ yds

97

2nd

This, of course, gives me the opportunity to show you one of the best throws of the year by any player:

The Raiders, on the other hand, have been remarkably good against the deep pass, allowing just a 26.1% completion percentage on throws 20+ yards downfield, the NFL’s fourth-lowest rate.

One other area to watch will be if the Raiders can stop Herbert in their most-used look: Cover-3. Las Vegas runs Cover-3 on an incredible 67 percent of opponent dropbacks this season. To put that in perspective, the team that runs it the second-most — the Steelers — does so on 44 percent of opponent dropbacks.

There’s a pretty clear advantage for Herbert here: Over the past five weeks, Herbert has thrown for 488 yards against the Cover-3 look, second in the league over that span, and back in Week 4 when these teams first met, Herbert threw for 130 yards (and this picture-perfect touchdown) against the Cover-3 look.

When the Raiders have the ball…

Perhaps the most encouraging sign for Las Vegas is that Darren Waller is expected to return. The star tight end gets a great matchup in his first game since Thanksgiving: The Chargers have allowed 1,098 receiving yards and 13 receiving touchdowns to opposing tight ends this season, both the most in the league.

Those struggles have been accentuated over the past three weeks:

In the first meeting between these teams, Waller received just two targets, catching one for 18 yards. I’d imagine that will change Sunday night.

The Raiders should also feel good about their ability to integrate Josh Jacobs into the offense more. Jacobs has at least 80 scrimmage yards in six straight games — the third-longest streak of his career — and has 50 or more rushing yards in three straight contests. He’s averaging 22 touches per game during the Raiders’ win streak and now faces a team that has allowed the third-most rushing yards in the NFL.

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