What We Saw: Week 9
Photo by Mark Alberti/Icon Sportswire
Each week throughout the NFL season, our staff at QB List will be watching and reviewing all the games from every week and offering up our takes on the fantasy-relevant things that happened. Here’s what we saw in Week 9.
Raiders vs. 49ers
Oakland’s Offensive Line Fails Derek Carr
Being a Raiders’ quarterback in 2018 is hard. Carr was sacked seven times on Thursday night in a 34-3 loss to the 49ers. The Raiders’ franchise quarterback completed 16/21 passes for 171 yards and no touchdowns in the Raiders’ seventh loss of 2018. On paper, Carr’s day was proficient, but the fifth-year quarterback once again struggled to make downfield passes. Carr completed only one pass with ten or more air yards. This has been a troubling statistic for Carr all season, and it was shown against San Francisco. Last week, Carr was able to look downfield and complete passes to a variety of options. Fast forward to Thursday’s game where Carr did not target a wide receiver more than three times all game. Carr’s offensive line did not give him a whole lot of time to throw and he had to dump the ball off a lot. This has become the norm for Carr through eight games.
Jalen Richard Catch Rate Continues to Improve
It was a big week for Southern Miss grads. Mullens led the 49ers to a win, Ito Smith continued his big rookie season, and Richard led the Raiders in receiving once again. With his four catches on four targets, Richard now has an 88 percent catch rate this season. The Raiders’ running back now leads the team in receptions (43) and catch rate through eight games. The only issue is that Richard is yet to taste paydirt in 2018. If Richard starts scoring, then he will be a viable option at running back thanks to the high number of targets from Carr.
The Raiders Frontline is Inept
In his debut game, Mullens was not sacked once. In fact, the Raiders have one sack in their last three games. Oakland has a league-worst seven sacks this season. Seven. It was obvious that the team would miss Khalil Mack, but this anemic display from their pass rushers is unbelievable. Oakland released Bruce Irvin this week and signed Kony Ealy and Jacquies Smith, so we will see if there is any improvement on the frontline. In the meantime, start Phillip Rivers against Oakland this week.
Nick Mullens… Yeah, that just happened
Heading into this game, Vegas odds favored the 49ers, and a lot of local sports pundits couldn’t figure out why. The Raiders seemingly had the better quarterback, and they had just played pretty well on offense against the Colts the week before. The Raiders’ defense was actually a recommended streaming play for many. However, QB Nick Mullens, in his career debut, had other ideas. Or perhaps, we should say HC Kyle Shanahan had other ideas. Shanahan dialed up a scheme that put Mullens in the best chance to succeed, scheming pass catchers open and coordinating protections that generally maintained a clean pocket from which Mullens could operate the game plan. To be fair, Mullens should still be commended for executing that plan to near perfection. Mullens only attempted 22 passes in the game, but he completed 16 of those for 262 yards and 3 TDs. Only three players in the Super Bowl era have passed for 250-plus yards and 3 TDs with zero interceptions during their NFL debuts: Fran Tarkenton, Jim Kelly, and Nick Mullens. His 151.9 passer rating is the highest ever by any QB making his NFL debut since the 1970 merger. Moving forward, Mullens won’t get to face the hapless Raiders again, and there was admittedly very little tape for the Oakland defense to study before this game. Mullens will find future matchups to be much tougher sledding, but if nothing else, this game reminded everyone that Shanahan’s system can produce solid fantasy production regardless of who is under center.
Kittle has cemented elite status
It’s been said here for a few weeks, but it can’t be said enough – TE George Kittle has joined the elites at TE. Kittle secured all 4 of his targets for 108 yards and a TD, flashing the SPARQ speed and athleticism that made him stand out amongst his draft counterparts on a fearless 71-yard catch and run up the middle. While some tight ends need double digit targets to clear 70 yards (I’m talking to you, TE Jeff Heuerman), Kittle continues to show that he can make fantasy hay on one play AND he’s commanding a solid target share to boot. The 49ers won’t be playing with a lead often, so expect Kittle to remain heavily involved with a high ceiling rest of season.
Nick Mullens resurrected Pierre Garcon
WR Pierre Garcon had become an afterthought in the 49ers’ offense. Offseason neck surgery and an inability to separate had reduced him to a short range, contested-catch magnet who was one bad hit away from being lost for the year. Garcon remains an injury risk, but young quarterbacks often lean on proven veteran wideouts who run precise routes. In systems that rely on timing like Shanahan’s, a receiver like Garcon is often a rookie QB’s best friend. Garcon hauled in 3 of 5 targets for 56 yards and a TD, marking one of his best games of the season. The 5 targets actually led the team. Despite the modest resurgence, it’s hard to trust Garcon as anything more than a WR4 given this was only the second time he’s cleared 55 yards all season, and he’s yet to go over 60 yards receiving in a game this year. WR Marquise Goodwin’s speed wasn’t exploited much in this game (1 catch for 11 yards on 4 targets), as he was seemingly used to clear out the underneath for Kittle and Garcon to provide a security blanket for the young Mullens to find his rhythm and stay comfortable. Expect Goodwin to have better days ahead as he establishes a rapport with Mullens if QB C.J. Beathard can’t regain the starting job back.
It’s Matt Breida’s backfield now
RB Raheem Mostert suffered a gruesome arm injury that required season-ending surgery. It’s a shame too, given that he had his best game of the season with 7 carries for 86 yards, including a 52 yard tackle-breaking run to score his first TD of the season. Mostert was leading the league in yards-per-carry, and it wouldn’t be surprising if the journeyman special-teamer has a role in this backfield next season. With Mostert gone and plodding RB Alfred Morris averaging 1.9 YPC in this game, Breida assumed control of the backfield with 12 carries, albeit for a rather pedestrian 44 yards. However, Breida has proven to be a dynamic back, and with less competition for carries, he figures to re-enter the low-end RB2 picture yet again. Barring an injury that can actually keep Breida from suiting up (he’s quickly becoming the Black Knight of the NFL, shrugging off notable ailments as he scoffs, “Tis but a scratch”), Morris can be left on waivers.x
The 49ers’ defense sprung to life again and found a pass rush
The 49ers D sacked QB Derek Carr 7 times and hit him 10 times as they held the Raiders to a paltry 3 points in their best performance to date. Like with Mullens, it’s a shame the Niners don’t get to face the Raiders again this year. The schedule ahead is far less kind, and the surge in pressure and sacks likely had more to do with Oakland’s O-line woes than any development of pass rushing prowess on the part of the 49ers’ front seven. Once again, the 49ers were unable to force any turnovers, something they will need to find a way to do in the inevitable more competitive matchups to come.
The defense really showed up to defend their home field in this final “Battle of the Bay” before the Raiders move their operation to Las Vegas. Nick Mullens made history, and the offense came back to life thanks to no turnovers. It remains to be seen if Shanahan can keep pulling rabbits like this out of his hat, but a date with the NY Giants next, followed by a bye and then a road tilt with the equally turnover-prone Tampa Bay Buccaneers should offer ample opportunity for the 49ers to build on their success.