CHARGERS // RAMS OVERVIEW
After giving up only 17.0 points per game last season (third-best in the NFL), the Chargers are getting no respect from the oddsmakers without Joey Bosa, as the Rams are pegged with a Vegas-implied total of 27.5. Before adding Brandin Cooks this offseason, the Rams led the NFL last year with 29.9 points per game. This seems like a spot where they may fall shy of their lofty total, as the Rams are not capable of doing some of the things to the Chargers that Tyreek Hill and Patrick Mahomes could do; but this should still be a decent spot for the Rams’ offense, and the Chargers should have to fire up some aggressive play-calling throughout the game in order to keep pace.
CHARGERS PASS OFFENSE
Somehow, the Rams rank 30th in adjusted sack rate to begin the year, and they have notched only two sacks through two games on the season. Philip Rivers is playing behind a line that ranks 10th in adjusted sack rate.
The Rams have otherwise been unsurprisingly strong against the pass, ranking fifth in yards allowed per pass attempt and third in DVOA. They have had a soft start to the year with the Raiders and Cardinals, but they have the pieces across the board to make life difficult on this Chargers attack.
If the Chargers are going to move the ball through the air, their best bet will be with Keenan Allen in the slot. Allen has run over 50% of his routes out of the slot so far this year, where he will match up this week with Nickell Robey-Coleman, who is an above-average corner, but is the weakest link in this secondary. Allen, at 6’2″, towers over the 5’8″ Robey-Coleman, and he has 31 pounds on him to boot.
On the outside, Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib will swallow up Tyrell Williams and Mike Williams, who have each averaged four targets per game so far this year. Talib has allowed one catch for 12 yards on the season, on five targets; Peters has allowed four catches for only 25 yards on eight targets, with one interception.
We have seen the Rams be susceptible to tight ends, but Virgil Green has seen only five targets through two games.
While things won’t always be easy, most of the work in this passing attack should be filtered toward Allen.
CHARGERS RUN OFFENSE
The Chargers’ “number two receiver” will likely be Melvin Gordon once again this week, as he looks to pile onto the incredible 20 targets and 15 receptions he has already. Gordon posted six catches for 38 yards on seven targets last week in spite of sitting out huge chunks of the second half of the Chargers’ blowout win. The Rams continue to be below-average against the run (17th in yards allowed per rush attempt to begin the year, in spite of taking on a pair of below-average rushing attacks; 17th in early-season DVOA against the run, after ranking 21st last year), and they were nondescript against pass-catching running backs last season — allowing a below-average number of receptions to the position, but an average number of yards.
This week’s game flow could lead to Gordon only seeing 12 to 15 carries once again, but his pass game role is secure, and another eight-plus targets looks likely in a game the Chargers project to be trailing. Gordon’s touchdown opportunities won’t be as plentiful as they were last week in Buffalo, but the floor here is great.
RAMS PASS OFFENSE
While the Chargers run plenty of zone coverage — similar to the Cardinals defense that Jared Goff picked apart last week to the tune of a 75% completion rate and 354 yards — this unit is far more talented, and will make life a lot more difficult on Goff this week. Last season, only the Jaguars and the Vikings allowed a lower expected yards per target mark than the Chargers, and while Bosa is a beast, his absence does not suddenly make this an attackable unit, contrary to what Week 1 indicated (Mahomes is going to make plenty of good defenses look bad over the next couple years). Only three teams last year allowed fewer pass plays of 40+ yards than the Chargers. Only one team allowed fewer pass plays of 20+ yards.
While Brandin Cooks has posted the sexy stats so far in this passing attack, it is actually Robert Woods who quietly leads this team in percentage share of team air yards. In fact, his 45.3% mark ranks sixth in the NFL, just behind A.J. Green, and just ahead of Adam Thielen and DeAndre Hopkins. Woods is seeing his average target 15.5 yards downfield, with exactly nine targets in each of the Rams’ first two games. This is monster usage for a guy who is priced like a number three receiver (11.17% of the salary cap on FanDuel, and all the way down at 10.2% on DraftKings and 10.5% on FantasyDraft), even if the matchup is tough.
Cooks has seen one fewer target than Woods, and has accounted for 34.0% of the team’s air yards — which has Cooks and Woods combining for over 79% of the air yards on this offense. This is a good spot to drop in a reminder that difficult matchups impact floor more than ceiling; technically, Woods and Cooks retain big ceiling in this spot with the aggressive usage they are seeing.
Cooper Kupp rounds out this passing attack, with all the underneath work, and with four targets inside the 10-yard-line (tied with Michael Thomas, Marvin Jones, and David Johnson for the most in the league). It is worth mentioning that Woods and Cooks each have two such targets of their own.
RAMS RUN OFFENSE
Through a pair of blowout wins, Todd Gurley has seen only six total catches, but he has touched the ball 45 times in all and has already scored four touchdowns. This week, he’ll be taking on a Chargers team that ranked 25th in DVOA against the run last season and has started this year cold as well, ranking 16th in DVOA and 16th in yards allowed per rush attempt. The Chargers’ entire defense is predicated upon the idea of giving up no easy yards through the air, and while they allowed plenty of running back receptions last season, they were stellar after the catch, allowing the ninth-fewest receiving yards to the position. Still, this is Todd Gurley and the Rams’ creative screen game, so he should be able to pop off for his standard set of big plays on the ground and through the air this week.
Gurley has played on 80% of the Rams’ snaps so far, even with a pair of blowout wins. He has touched the ball 17 times in the red zone — with 15 carries…which leads every other player in the NFL by seven or more. When the Rams score, Gurley is most often the reason why, and this — more than anything — keeps him afloat each week as the best pure option in fantasy. If you expect the Rams to reach their Vegas-implied total of just-on-the-edge-of-four-touchdowns, you should expect Gurley to grab some portion of those scores.
The Vegas-implied total for the Rams in this spot is a bit surprising to me, but I still like them for three touchdowns, and it obviously won’t surprise me if they go for more. I’m not in the habit of chasing plays against really good defenses, but it’s tough to not have some interest in Robert Woods, given how underpriced he is for the usage he is seeing. He and Brandin Cooks should each see seven to 10 targets in this spot, and I’ll toy around with them in tourneys this week, with Woods in borderline consideration even in cash, simply due to how cheap he is and how much upside he carries. Each guy, of course, has a difficult matchup.
Part of the beauty of this Rams attack is the way they can push the defense back on its heels with Cooks and Woods, and can use this to open up space underneath for Kupp and Gurley. Kupp, as always, needs a touchdown in order to really pay off, but he’ll provide workload-driven floor. Gurley is the surest bet in fantasy, and a matchup vs the Chargers should filter more touches into his hands (the Chargers allowed the second-most rushing yards in the league last season). At this point, he’s appropriately priced, so it will be difficult for him to kill your roster if you fade him (i.e, even if he scores 26 FanDuel or 30 DraftKings points, you can likely pick up those points in other spots for the same amount of salary), but he’s a strong play every week right now if the salary makes sense for your roster.
On the other side, I like Keenan Allen and Melvin Gordon in a matchup that should filter touches into their hands all day. The Rams do have a shot at holding the Chargers to only a couple touchdowns here, which would make it tough for either of these guys to hit for their ceiling, so neither is anywhere close to locked-in for me; but they will both be in consideration for my rosters as we start moving toward the weekend.