By Ryan Daly – Betting/Denver Broncos Writer
I was going to open this article by saying something along the lines of “Week 5 comes to an end and as we start to figure out these teams…” but for one reason or another (mostly injuries) I still feel like I don’t know A LOT of these teams all that well. Sunday Night Football is a prime example, the Colts – beat up on both sides of the ball, missing their best players on defense – go into Arrowhead Stadium and roll over the Chiefs? All that being said, it’s been another good week if you followed the selections I put out on Twitter in the absence of my article, let’s keep that going on Monday Night Football.
One of only two remaining undefeated teams in the NFL, the 3-0 San Francisco 49ers come into this one off a bye against a Browns outfit who are fresh off a pretty convincing win in Baltimore and looking for their third road win of the season – the Browns have not opened the season3-0 on the road since they returned to the NFL in 1999, and the last time they won three road games in a row was back in 2002.
Feel-good factor in the Bay Area
It’s been a decent start to the season for Jimmy Garoppolo having thrown for 739 yards and five touchdowns with a 69% completion rate whilst also throwing four interceptions as he works his way back from injury. Head coach and offensive play-caller Kyle Shanahan seem to be taking a more cautious approach with the returning Jimmy G, according to Pro Football Focus Garoppolo has just two big-time throws this year however Garoppolo leads the league in adjusted completion percentage on passing attempts of 20 yards or more (77.8%) among qualified passers.
The reason we aren’t seeing much aggressiveness out of Garoppolo (he ranks 26th of 39 QBs who have attempted at least 38 passes for intended air yards (IAY) a metric by NextGen stats that show the average air yards a passer throws on all attempts) is down to the effectiveness of Shanahan’s zone running scheme. The 49ers have recorded 18 runs of ten yards or more whilst they rank fifth in the league for percentage of run plays that gain four yards or more (50%) and what’s most impressive about this is the calibre of player that Shanahan is producing with – there’s no Zeke Elliott or Saquon Barkley here, it’s Matt Breida, Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson. Mostert and Breida both rank top ten in the league for explosive runs (runs of 10+ yards) however both are also middle of the pack when it comes to creating yards after contact, what makes the run game so effective? The offensive line.
Through four weeks of the season, Football Outsiders have this San Francisco offensive line ranked as the top unit in the NFL according to their DVOA (defence-adjusted value over average) and adjusted line yards (5.54) whilst the unit ranks 15th for yards created in the open field which indicates that the offensive line is doing a great job creating space for the RBs. It’s also helped to have the best full-back in the league in Kyle Juszczyk – he has garnered a PFF run-blocking grade of 78.7 which leads all fullbacks who have played more than 15 snaps. Losing left tackle Joe Staley is a big blow to the line, he earned an 86.8 pass-blocking grade from PFF through three games (second among tackles in the NFL) it will be interesting to see how Justin Skule plays in his absence.
Broadway Baker and the Browns
The expectation coming into this year was for this Browns offense to light the league up with Baker Mayfield entering his second year as the QB in Cleveland with weapons galore including huge offseason addition Odell Beckham Jr. Well through the first three weeks it’s fair to say expectations weren’t being met after losses to the Titans (43-13) and the Rams (20-13) whilst collecting a drab win (23-3) against an atrocious Jets team, averaging 16.3 points per game. The Browns exploded last week at the Ravens, putting up 530 total yards on their way to a 40-25 win to claim the top spot in the AFC North, with Baker throwing for 342 yards, a TD and a QB rating of 102.4. What impressed me about Mayfield’s performance last week was the maturity he showed in taking what the defense gave him as opposed to constantly going for the Hollywood throws. Through the first three weeks of the season Baker’s IAY was 8.7, 11.2 and 8.2 but last week that dropped to 5.7 while slot guy Jarvis Landry racked up 167 yards from 10 targets.
The problems for the Oklahoma product have arrived when he has been put under pressure. When throwing from a clean pocket this year Baker has 950 yards with a 66.7% completion rate, earning him an 82.6 passing grade from PFF. When under pressure he has thrown 197 yards with a 40% completion rate and a PFF passing grade of 60.4. This is worrisome when you look at the performance of the offensive line through the first three weeks, ranking 23rd in pass-blocking efficiency and 17th in pressure percentage in that time frame. However, there was improvement last week as they ranked seventh in pass-blocking efficiency and sixth in pressure percentage according to PFF. They will have to maintain this type of performance against what’s turning out to be one of the best defensive lines in football.
It would be remiss of me if I didn’t give Nick Chubb a mention. For my money one of the best RBs in the league, he had been getting a little unjust criticism through the first two/three weeks but a 165 yard rushing performance last week with three TDs has shut those critics up. Chubb is fourth among all RBs for explosive plays, eighth for yards after contact and has earned a 79.2 rushing grade according to PFF.
So what’s the betting?
I didn’t touch on either defense because as everyone knows defense doesn’t matter… Seriously though, both these teams have banged up secondaries with the Browns missing both starting CBs in Denzel Ward and Greedy Williams whilst Ahkello Witherspoon is missing for the 49ers, this is pushing me towards the over in this one. I like the 49ers here too but the -5 spread is a little high for my liking. If the Browns offensive line doesn’t improve there is the potential for the 49ers defensive front to take over this game, whereas I’d be more confident in the Niners O-line being able to hold their own against Miles Garrett et al. whilst the Shanahan scheme also does a lot to help Jimmy G get the ball out quicker. He has been getting the ball out quicker than all but four QBs this season according to NextGen stats.
I’m going to take a chance on Dante Pettis covering his receiving total of 27.5. Shanahan has revealed that Pettis has been struggling with pectoral and groin injuries that were kept under wraps heading into the season, he went on to say that Pettis is regaining lower and upper-body strength and the hope is that the bye week will have done him the world of good and gave him more time to recover. Over the last two games, he has seen almost as many snaps (68) as Deebo Samuel (70) but behind Goodwin (90). I’ll also take a chance on him getting into the end zone once or twice seeing as it’s impossible to figure out what will happen among the 20 running backs that San Francisco currently has.
Over 47.5 points (1.91)
Dante Pettis over 27.5 rec yards (1.83)
Pettis to score a TD (9/2 Betfair) & 2 or more TDs (35/1 Betfair)
Featured Photo – Credit: Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group