EAGLES // RAMS OVERVIEW
This looked like a pretty good game for the playoff race just a couple weeks ago, but now the Eagles have dropped to 6-7 with three losses in their last five games, and much like the Bengals, Broncos, and Redskins before them, their season feels all but over in spite of the fact that they are mathematically still in the hunt. With Carson Wentz (fractured vertebrae) now set to miss this week, the Eagles will need the sort of miracle not seen since…well, since the Eagles in the 2017/2018 playoffs. Even before Wentz was announced out with injury, this game opened with the Rams favored by 9.5, in a game with an Over/Under of 54.0. The game total here has since dropped to 52.5, while the Rams have crept up to -11.0. As always on these Showdown slates: betting on outlier usage or game flow can often be the best shot at profit; but first, let’s dig into what is likeliest to happen in this spot.
EAGLES RUN OFFENSE
What else is new? As we have talked about since the beginning of the season: the Eagles’ backfield is the modern version of the Patriots’ backfield — with usage entirely unpredictable from week to week, and with this team sure to change things up on us as soon as everyone becomes convinced they have a firm grasp on exactly how the work will be distributed. After Josh Adams seemingly took over the lead role in this backfield in Weeks 12 and 13 — as the only back on this team to see 20+ touches all year — he found his way onto the field for only 21 snaps in Week 14, touching the ball seven total times. In fact, this backfield as a whole saw only 13 total touches — with Corey Clement touching the ball once, Wendell Smallwood touching the ball once, and Darren Sproles touching the ball four times.
This week, the Eagles will take on a Rams defense that ranks dead last in yards allowed per carry — though there are two elements to consider in trying to guess how the workload distribution will break down here:
1) Nick Foles will be under center, and the Eagles could try to take pressure off of him by leaning run-heavy, or they could try to take pressure off of him with a ball-out-quick passing attack. The first approach would favor Adams. The second would likely favor Sproles.
2) The Rams are likely to be playing with a lead — which may eventually force the Eagles to abandon the run altogether.
Realistically, this is not such a bad setup for the Showdown slate, where multi-entry play is practically necessary, and where “betting on various things that could realistically happen” is typically the best way to go. With Clement set to miss this week, we can comfortably predict that it will be Adams and Sproles leading the charge (Sproles played 23 snaps last week, to four for Smallwood). And with Adams seeing only one target across his last three games, it is likely that Sproles carries the pass game work while Adams functions as the primary guy on the ground. I’ll be expecting Adams to be featured early in the game to take pressure off Foles, with Sproles’ role growing as the game moves along — though there is obviously room for this workload to swing heavily one way or the other. Game flow and the Eagles’ overall offensive environment is unlikely to be great for running backs, but there are paths to upside in a good matchup for both of these guys.
EAGLES PASS OFFENSE
In order to prevent Nick Foles from getting overwhelmed by the strong pass rush of the Rams, the Eagles will likely focus on short, quick passes that will create opportunities for positive gains — largely limiting the per-play upside of pass catchers across the board, while putting all of these guys in a position where volume will be necessary in order for them to hit. In the two games that Foles started early in the year: he completed only 19 passes for 117 yards and no touchdowns against the still-healthy Falcons, before completing 35 passes for 334 yards and one touchdown while chasing points against the Bucs. Foles threw 82 passes across those two games (hint :: 451 yards on 82 passes comes out to 5.5 yards per pass attempt — which is very much in the “downright awful” range), with 15 of these passes (18.3%) going to running backs, 22 of these passes (26.8%) going to slot receiver Nelson Agholor, and with 23 of these passes (28.0%) going to Zach Ertz. It’s not impossible for perimeter receiver Alshon Jeffery to post production in this spot (there was that crazy Super Bowl, after all), but the likeliest bet here calls for Foles to focus heavily on running backs, Ertz, and the slot.
The Golden Tate trade continues to boggle the mind, as Tate is really a slot-only receiver, while Agholor has proven to be a far better player in the slot than he is on the perimeter. This has left the Eagles splitting time between these two, with Tate seeing recent snap counts of 39 // 36 // 20, compared to snap counts for Agholor of 47 // 65 // 49. Tate has played slot snaps in this stretch of 36 // 28 // 18, while Agholor has primarily occupied the slot whenever Tate is on the sidelines — with slot snaps in this stretch of 18 // 23 // 20. It’s a pure and total guessing game as to which of these guys will end up benefitting most with Foles under center. While Agholor has played far more snaps the last three weeks, he has only 12 targets in this stretch to 18 for Tate.
The safest bet, of course, is Ertz — who went 5-48-0 and 11-94-0 in his two games with Foles at the start of the year. Those yards-per-catch numbers won’t exactly make you jump up and shout Hallelujah, but they do provide a solid range of production on this one game slate.
All bets are off behind these primary pieces, with no guarantee that anyone provides useful value, and with no clear projection on who will provide any value that does happen to emerge.
RAMS PASS OFFENSE
The talent-deficient Eagles secondary has continued to post solid numbers against the pass this year, ranking 19th in yards allowed per pass attempt while ranking close to the middle of the pack in all of aDOT, catch rate allowed, and YAC/R allowed. The communication of this unit will be put to the test this week against a Rams offense that leans heavily on play-action, misdirection, and downfield crossing routes to make life difficult on a defense. In spite of the lack of talent in this Eagles secondary, this has been best viewed as a neutral matchup lately — though if figuring out how you want to build your Showdown rosters, there is certainly a case to be made for betting on the idea that this inexperienced secondary will have some breakdowns against this aggressive, well-designed offense.
Jared Goff has not looked like himself the last two weeks — with cold weather and a difficult matchup against the Bears perhaps partly to blame last week, but with no real excuse available to us for his Week 13 dud in Detroit coming off the bye. As always, this passing attack’s upside is far from guaranteed even in the best of matchups, as this team prefers to lean on the run when they can, and Gurley’s massive red zone role makes it difficult at times for this unit to pile up touchdowns. But if we take away a search for Certainty, there is plenty to like in terms of “upside potential.”
Targets on this team since Kupp went down look like this:
:: Robert Woods — 11 // 8 // 13
:: Brandin Cooks — 12 // 6 // 8
:: Josh Reynolds — 8 // 5 // 7
:: Tyler Higbee — 7 // 4 // 1
:: Gerald Everett — 4 // 3 // 7
The middle number for each player is the best range to bank on this week, as the first number came in that historic shootout against the Chiefs, and the last number came in a challenging matchup against the Bears last week in which the Rams completely abandoned the run — handing the ball to Gurley only 11 times while calling on Goff to throw 44 passes. Through most of the year, 30 to 36 pass attempts has been Goff’s range (he threw 33 passes in that middle game, vs Detroit) — and while outlier usage may lead to targets spiking outside the expected range for one of these guys, McVay generally calls a balanced enough game that all of these guys will see their expected level of usage. Woods and Cooks carry the most upside — with downfield roles and touchdown opportunities — while Reynolds, Higbee, and Everett will all have potential for positive production in this spot.
RAMS RUN OFFENSE
Analysis grows thin on the Rams’ run offense, where Todd Gurley will be operating as a huge home favorite, with his primary backup out for the season. While Gurley has posted two disappointing games in his last three, one came in a shootout with the Chiefs in which the Rams abandoned the run, and the other came against the Bears’ tremendous defense. Gurley played 62 of a possible 63 snaps last week. Against an Eagles team that ranks 28th in yards allowed per carry, Gurley carries the highest floor/ceiling projection on the weekend.
On the Main Slate, of course, there is nothing on the Eagles’ side of the ball that would catch the eye, as a split backfield and a Foles-led attack is not exactly exciting. On the Showdown, the safest pieces for production are Ertz and possibly Sproles, but neither guy carries a high floor with Foles under center, opening the door for some variable approaches on this side of the ball. There is a chance that the Eagles are able to keep this game close long enough for Adams to ground-and-pound against this poor Rams run defense; there is a chance that Agholor or Tate produces from the slot; and there is even a chance that Alshon or Dallas Goedert emerge with a solid game in this spot. While the rest of the world has left the Eagles for dead, this is still a Super Bowl champion that is only a half game out of the NFC playoff picture — so expect this team to have some sort of quality plan in place to move the ball and put points on the board. If Foles is able to execute this plan, the Eagles could become more useful than it appears on the surface will be the case.
On the Rams’ side of the ball, it’s Gurley at the top, followed by Woods // Cooks // Goff, followed by the remaining hope-to-guess-right pieces in this attack. Gurley should be able to get his touches, yards, and scoring opportunities regardless of how this game plays out, but depending on how close you think the Eagles are able to keep this game, there are a number of ways to go about betting on pieces. If the ability to properly predict and bet on game environment is one of the more important aspects of NFL DFS, this Showdown slate will provide some good practice for betting on the various ways in which you could see this unique game playing out.
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