CARDINALS // RAMS OVERVIEW
As of this writeup, the Vegas-implied totals in this game sit at 29.0 for the Rams and 16.0 for the Cardinals. The Cardinals opened at an implied total of 18.0 and have been rapidly bet down, while the Rams have held steady. L.A. is the largest favorite on the slate, and their defense and run game, in particular, should have game flow going their way.
CARDINALS PASS OFFENSE
Arizona was an embarrassment in Week 1 — at home against Washington — and things will not get any easier this week on the road at the difficult Rams defense. Sam Bradford was extremely unaggressive last week, throwing only one pass deeper than 20 yards and only four passes deeper than 15. Because our gauge of “opportunity” in DFS has to go beyond just volume, and has to instead include type of opportunity, it is important to note here that such a non-aggressive offense severely limits the “opportunity” of the players involved. This goes just as much for Larry Fitzgerald as it does for perimeter weapons, as defenses will have an easier time clamping down on short passes over the middle if there is no threat of deep passes on the outside.
With that said: Fitz is really the only viable target in this passing attack at the moment. In addition to Bradford’s fear of throwing downfield outside the numbers, the ancillary receivers on this Cardinals attack will be matched up with Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters. Expect a quick-out passing attack that aims to marginalize the Rams’ pass rush with chain-moving hitters to Fitz. Also, however, expect the Rams to adjust and try to take away those routes. Wade Phillips is not in the business of “playing soft and forcing a team to march slowly down the field.” He wants to force a team into mistakes — and since the easiest way to do this is to take away Fitzgerald (leaving severe mismatches on the outside for the Rams’ defense to exploit), there is a good chance this is exactly what L.A. will aim to do. Easier said than done, of course; but this is a tough spot for the Cardinals’ passing offense altogether.
CARDINALS RUN OFFENSE
If you took David Johnson with a first-round season-long pick or went overweight on him in Best Ball drafts, you should be nervous at the moment, as Mike McCoy showed a surprising lack of creativity in getting the ball to his most dangerous weapon in space. D.J. ran nearly all of his routes from the backfield this last week, rarely lining up at wide receiver — where offensive whiz Bruce Arians used to hammer the mismatches he was able to create. D.J. has true wide receiver skills and can take a defense deep just as easily as he can catch passes in the flats, so it’s a major disappointment to see him limited to such non-creative usage, with every one of his targets this last week coming from out of the backfield. The value D.J. brings to the table at his elevated price is his explosive receiving skills. If he is turned into more of a “1990s running back,” with all his usage coming out of the backfield (behind an offensive line that PFF had rated 27th coming into the season), he will need his price to drop before he becomes a strong play again. He is too good to post duds, but his price is going to fall a bit more before finding its home if his usage remains the same as it was in Week 1.
RAMS PASS OFFENSE
Quietly lost in the splendor of the Rams’ 2017 season was the fact that they really did not pass very often. Their passing play percentage of 55.83% ranked 23rd in the league, and their 32.4 pass attempts per game ranked 24th. As such a monstrous favorite, we cannot expect big volume from this offense — but we can expect the work to flow through four key guys.
Last week, the Rams’ pass route numbers looked like this: Brandin Cooks — 35 // Cooper Kupp — 33 // Robert Woods — 32 // Todd Gurley — 31. Tight end Tyler Higbee stayed in to block on 14 pass plays and saw zero targets on his 19 routes run.
Last week, Gurley took a step back in targets (five) with how easy it was to attack Oakland downfield, as Woods and Kupp both saw nine looks, while Cooks saw eight. This week against an Arizona secondary that still has Patrick Peterson on one side of the field, it will make sense for L.A. to get Gurley more involved through the air, leaning particularly on their creative screen game to get him room to run in space.
Last week, Woods lined up on what would have been Peterson’s side of the field 55% of the time, while Cooks lined up on the opposite side 55% of the time (and would have been matched up on Peterson on only 27% of his snaps). There is no guarantee that L.A. sticks with this alignment all season, but with Arizona foolishly choosing to isolate Peterson on one side, it would make sense this week for McVay to scheme his most explosive receiver away from Peterson the majority of the time. Expect another seven to nine looks for Cooks, with his downfield skill set introducing more risk, but also creating more upside. Kupp will do the same thing every week: provide a solid floor with a quietly reliable share of red zone work. He’s a floor play with decent price-considered upside — though of course, his chances of breaking open a slate for you are slim.
RAMS RUN OFFENSE
Matchup does not matter for Gurley, as his usage is too conducive to blowup games for him to ever be truly taken off the board. He will be the Rams’ primary weapon inside the five-yard-line this season, he will constantly be schemed the ball in space, and he will have opportunities even against great defenses to break off long runs. The Cardinals ranked third best in the NFL last year in yards allowed per rush attempt; but in two games against them, Gurley posted rushing lines of 22-106-1 and 19-74-0, while adding receiving lines of 4-48-0 and 6-84-0. This guy is an upside machine, and while the matchup is not as sweet as Conner’s and the pass game role is not as lucrative as Kamara’s, he is the driving force behind this offense, and he can be counted on for a high floor and a monster ceiling.
It seems like the Rams’ side of this game will go a bit overlooked in the DFS community this week, in spite of currently boasting the second-highest Vegas-implied total on the slate (only 0.25 points behind the Saints). No single player on this teams stands out as a “must-have,” but a team with the second-highest Implied Total on the slate and only four guys who really see the ball requires our attention. If you are multi-entering large-field tourneys, these receivers should be mixed and matched onto your rosters (I’d probably go overweight on Cooks, since he has the most upside; but Woods deserves tourney consideration as well for his upside, while Kupp is a valuable piece underneath), and Gurley belongs in consideration in all formats. He’s probably unnecessary in cash games, with a tougher matchup than several of his contemporaries; but he remains an ace play in tourneys, especially as a game theory pivot if ownership projects to be low.
I’ll have zero exposure to the other side of this matchup, though I should note that Ricky Seals-Jones ran 36 of a possible 40 pass routes last weekend and saw six targets. If the Rams clamp down on Fitzgerald over the middle, RSJ will really be the only weapon left on this team outside of D.J. I don’t want to trust any pieces from the lowest Vegas-implied total on the slate, but RSJ should at least be mentioned as a tournament dart.