The Rams and Bengals will be traveling to London this week to square off in a matchup of similar-style teams with vastly different levels of talent. (Bengals head coach Zac Taylor, of course, came over from the Rams and is trying to build a similar style of offense in Cincinnati, while both teams also rank top three in situation neutral pace of play.)
One of the bigger mismatches on the slate this week is the run game of the Bengals against the run defense of the Rams — with the Rams ranked second in run defense DVOA and the Bengals ranked 32nd in DVOA on offense. The Rams have allowed a respectable-low 3.7 yards per carry to running backs this season, and Joe Mixon has been embarrassed behind the Bengals’ poor excuse for an offensive line, rushing for only 3.0 yards per carry with a mere 36.3 rushing yards per game.
But if the news on the ground is the worst for the Bengals, it doesn’t get much better through the air, where — as explored last week in this space — the Rams have potential to be a completely different defense with Jalen Ramsey added.
It’s tough to say how the Rams will deploy Ramsey this week (PFF has this projected as a shadow situation with Ramsey sticking to Tyler Boyd, but outside of the first game of his career, Ramsey has never played anywhere close to the majority of his snaps from the slot, so I’m expecting Boyd to largely avoid Ramsey this week), but even if Ramsey doesn’t stick to Boyd, his presence on one side of the field allows the Rams to tilt the rest of their coverage toward the Bengals’ only real threat through the air. Ramsey played only a portion of last week’s game and estimated he knew about 30% of the playbook, but he should be fully good to go by the time this game kicks off.
Given the ability of the Rams to put the Bengals’ poor run game in its place and to play 10-on-10 football in the pass game with a talent edge across the board, it could prove very difficult for the Bengals to get a whole lot going on offense in this game.
On defense, the Bengals are facing a pass on only 46.4% of opponent plays — the lowest rate in the league. (The Rams are on the moderately higher end of pass play rate on offense at 63.1%, though they have proven in the past to be very comfortable leaning run-heavy when the spot is right.)
Given the early-season struggles endured by the Rams’ defense and the fast pace at which this team plays, they have been below-average in time of possession this year; but the Bengals are second worst in time of possession themselves, and if the Rams are able to hit just the average mark of a Bengals opponent, they’ll add almost four and a half minutes to their own time of possession (enough for about nine additional plays). The fast-paced Rams already rank fourth in plays per game even without time of possession in their favor, while the Bengals are allowing the sixth most opponent plays per outing.
With teams running so many plays against the Bengals and attacking so heavily on the ground, running backs are averaging 32 touches per game against them. The Bengals have also allowed the most running back touchdowns in the league.
A week ago — in his first game back from his quad issue — Todd Gurley played only 64% of the team’s snaps — though he played 93% of snaps in Week 5 before sustaining the injury. There are two ways to look at this, then. 1) Perhaps the Rams ramp Gurley back up to at least north of 80% of the snaps (which could be enough for about 25 running back touches in this pristine matchup), or 2) Perhaps the Rams decide to continue protecting Gurley after he emerged from his last big workload with an injury — in which case Gurley could see 18 to 20 touches, while Darrell Henderson could see 12 to 14. Over a large sample size, you can generally expect a yield of around 1.1 to 1.15 DraftKings/FantasyDraft points-per-touch from a Rams-type running back role, so if you think Gurley sees 25 touches he becomes pretty clearly underpriced (while he’s fairly priced for the upside with some floor risk if he’s down at 18 to 20 touches), while Henderson would carry legitimate price-considered upside (with some floor risk) if you think he steps on the field for 12 to 14 touches. (On FanDuel, point-per-touch expectations are tougher to lean on as scoring is more touchdown-heavy, and thus more random; but in terms of touches/expectations, the same applies over there.)
Through the air, the Bengals are facing only 29.4 pass attempts per game — and the Rams have been spreading the ball around more than ever, with Gerald Everett now more fully involved. The Bengals have given up the eighth-fewest wide receiver catches and the sixth fewest tight end catches in spite of not yet having played their bye.
The matchup is not daunting, of course — against a disciplined but banged-up and talent-low Bengals secondary — but by rostering the Rams passing attack you are either betting on big plays to hit on lower volume, or you are betting for the Rams to lean unexpectedly pass-heavy in this spot. (Another path to big games from Rams wide receivers would be for the Bengals to keep pace.) As such, you should build accordingly if targeting the Rams — considering Brandin Cooks to have the best shot at hitting in his downfield role if the the Rams passing volume is low, while considering any of Robert Woods // Brandin Cooks // Cooper Kupp to be viable if you think the Rams lean unexpectedly pass-heavy, or if you choose to build for a game scenario in which the Bengals find a way to keep pace. (Kupp would be the safest option in these scenarios, of course — with as much upside as anyone else in the bunch. Everett — with recent target counts of 8 // 11 // 5 // 10 — is also a bet for a big play on low volume, or for a solid game if the Rams ramp up passing volume.)
JM’s Interpretation ::
After running through the angles on this game, I feel it’s likely I don’t end up on any pieces from this spot on my main build, as the Rams prices are somewhat high for the “likeliest scenario” volume on individual pieces (with the Rams likely to lean run-heavy, and then likely to divide up the backfield work) — but the player I’m likeliest to lean on if I start gravitating toward this game a bit more as we move deeper into the week is Gurley, who has multi-touchdown upside and is heading into a spot that is too good for a true “fail” to be a major concern.
The rest of the Rams are viable for me in deeper tourneys for their potential if the volume ramps up vs a low-talent secondary. It’s likely that someone from this passing attack posts a strong game with yardage and a score, but it’s also likeliest that this won’t be a “have to have it” game — and the likeliest paths for this game also have only one pass catcher producing a high-end game, which makes this all a bit thin for my style of play.
On the Bengals’ side, Boyd is still tourney-viable for the potentially monster volume, but the matchup should be considered bad.
There is also enough juice with two fast-paced offenses that you could build around this game as a shootout for large-field play — but outside of that scenario and possibly Gurley, I’m not overly excited.
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