PACKERS // RAMS OVERVIEW
This game will likely be billed as a matchup of “two marquee teams that could see each other again in the playoffs,” but Aaron Rodgers and his Green Bay Packers are going on the road to take on a 7-0 Rams team, carrying a 3-2-1 record in a very tough NFC North. This is a game the Packers need to win in order to stay on track — especially with “At Patriots,” “At Seahawks,” and “At Vikings” on tap in three of their next four games. (Side note: isn’t “Packers in the playoffs” excellent for television ratings? How on Earth did this team get four road games in a five game stretch, vs the Rams, Patriots, Seahawks, and Vikings? Sheesh.)
The Rams have controlled games so thoroughly this year, they have been able to play at the fifth fastest pace in the NFL in the first half…while playing at the seventh slowest pace in the second half, as it has been that predictable that they will have a lead and be bleeding out the clock. When the Rams have a lead in the second half, they almost become like a bullpen with a great seventh, eighth, and ninth inning guy — putting together long, sustained drives that the defense is incapable of stopping and ripping huge chunks of time off the clock between opponent possessions. This will be a good test for L.A., as the Packers quietly rank a respectable ninth in yards allowed per drive, fourth in plays allowed per drive, and 11th in drive success rate allowed. Only seven teams have allowed fewer yards per game than the Packers, though I should also note that Green Bay has been below-average in red zone defense (only nine teams have allowed a higher touchdown rate), and the Packers’ schedule so far has looked like this:
Bears // Vikings // Redskins // Bills // Lions // 49ers. Those aren’t all bottom-feeders, but only one of those teams (Chicago) ranks top 10 in points per game, and none of those teams rank in the top 10 in yards per game. The Rams rank top three in both categories.
In spite of both of these teams playing at an above-average pace, they rank first and second in fewest opponent plays allowed per game.
PACKERS PASS OFFENSE
The Rams have gotten a lot of grief for their defense — getting labeled as an “attackable unit” — but on a per-play basis, they have been much stronger than most realize, allowing the sixth lowest aDOT in the NFL, and combining this low aDOT with better-than-average marks in catch rate allowed and YAC allowed per reception. The Rams rank 11th in fewest yards allowed per pass attempt and ninth in interceptions. They also rank eighth in sacks, after a slow start to the year, and they rank ninth in fewest passing yards allowed per game. As an above-average defense that does not allow much in the way of volume (17 teams have faced more pass attempts, and 24 teams have faced more rush attempts — in spite of the Rams not yet having had their bye), this should be considered a slight “downgrade” matchup for an offense.
While everything I just typed is true, it is also true that Aaron Rodgers has already had “downgrade” spots against the Bears, Vikings, Redskins, and Bills. He failed to top 300 yards in any of those games, but his worst game in that stretch was 265 yards, and he piled up seven touchdowns to only one interception. The last couple weeks, he has been fortunate to hammer a couple of bottom-feeder pass defenses in San Francisco and Detroit (867 combined yards, five touchdowns, no picks), but Rodgers’ credentials as a matchup-proof player are tried and true. Consider this to be a spot that does not elevate expectations for him and his weapons, but still give him expectations for his normal, steady range of production (with the shootout nature of this game giving him an outside shot at a big day).
Rodgers has been locked onto Davante Adams early and often this season, feeding him 28.0% of the team’s targets and 32.3% of the team’s air yards. It is worth noting, if Cobb returns, that Adams had a (still very healthy) 29 targets in the three games Cobb played, compared to an impossible 42 targets in three games without him. The best way to attack the Rams has been on wide receiver screens (a forte of both Adams and Cobb), quick outs (Adams/Cobb), and shots up the left sideline (Adams). Expect each guy to remain involved, with Adams projecting for eight to 11 looks, and with Cobb projecting for six to nine looks. Cobb’s looks will primarily come in the short areas of the field, requiring him to bust a long play or score a touchdown to become valuable. Adams is boosted by his red zone role, with an incredible 15 targets (third in the NFL, behind only Kamara and Smith-Schuster) and six red zone touchdowns (most in the NFL). Only the Falcons, Bucs, and Saints have allowed more touchdowns to wide receivers.
Allison averaged six targets per game when Adams and Cobb were healthy, and that range (four to eight targets) is the likeliest bet here. His aDOT of 13.6 is the deepest on the team, giving him some per-play upside. The Packers will likely find themselves passing quite a bit this week.
As we all know by now, the Rams are best attacked with tight ends — having allowed the fifth most yards to the position. Jimmy Graham is not George Kittle (Kittle is the number one option on his team, with great YAC upside), but Graham did see target counts of 4 // 8 // 7 to start the year with Cobb and Allison on the field. Five to eight targets with moderate yardage is the best bet for Graham, with some upside if he runs into a broken play.
PACKERS RUN OFFENSE
The Philadelphia Eagles are the only team in the NFL that has faced fewer rushing attempts per game than the Rams — which is all part of the game plan for this team, as they are happy to focus on the pass, to give up the seventh most yards per rush attempt in the league, and to know that teams cannot afford to run much on them anyway. The Packers rank second in the NFL in pass play rate, so the run should be a secondary focus in this matchup yet again.
When the Packers do run, they continue to split touches among Aaron Jones (15 touches his last two games), Jamaal Williams (15 touches his last two games), and Ty Montgomery (11 touches his last two games).
RAMS PASS OFFENSE
The Mike Pettine plan of giving up yards on the ground and preventing teams from attacking through the air has worked well thus far, with Green Bay facing the third fewest pass attempts in the NFL. They rank middle of the pack in yards allowed per pass attempt, but only four teams have allowed fewer passing yards per game. It should again be noted that this team has already played Alex Smith, Josh Allen, and C.J. Beathard — none of whom are in the same tier as Jared Goff and the Rams — but this is still a team that filters action to the ground. With the Packers ranking 23rd in yards allowed per rush attempt and 29th in adjusted line yards, the Rams (31st in pass play rate on the year) will continue to feature the run.
This run-leaning approach for the Rams has led to low passing volume, with Goff featuring pass attempt numbers on the year so far of 33 // 32 // 36 // 33 // 32 // 28 // 24. Much as we saw with Carson Wentz last year: low volume can still lead to big games from an efficient, high-powered offense. But as we have seen with Goff across his last two games (fantasy outputs of 8.44 and 16.48), the floor is lowered when volume expectations are less-than-elite.
The Packers’ defense tries to force targets to the outside of the field, hoping that their pass rush (fifth in adjusted sack rate) can create enough disruption to throw off these more difficult passes. (Green Bay has a respectable five interceptions through six games, in spite of the low pass volume faced — while ranking top eight in fewest passing touchdowns allowed.) Brandin Cooks and Robert Woods are both equipped to run these types of routes, though most of Woods’ upside is coming from deep crossing routes. The Packers can be hit on these as well, but teams have mostly avoided such routes against them. Expect both guys to see around seven to 10 targets (depending on how high passing volume needs to get in this spot) — with their usual upside on these looks, but with some floor concerns.
Josh Reynolds has seen only three targets in his last two games, while Tyler Higbee and Gerald Everett have combined for seven looks in the last two weeks — with Kupp/Cooks missing most of the Week 6 game, and with Kupp missing all of the Week 7 game. These guys will not get many schemed targets, and will need to run into a big play or a couple touchdowns to become noteworthy plays on the slate.
RAMS RUN OFFENSE
Todd Gurley is the engine of the Rams’ offense, with 24.1 touches per game, and with more red zone touches than any player in football. As noted last week, it’s not even close between Gurley and the number three guy on the “red zone touches” list. Gurley has 50 touches in the red zone. Alvin Kamara has 36. Kareem Hunt is third in the NFL with 22 red zone touches.
The list is just as crazy inside the 10, with Gurley piling up 30 touches, to 23 for Kamara, 18 for Hunt, and no more than 15 for anyone else in the league.
The Packers rank 23rd in yards allowed per carry, and they have allowed a middling five rushing touchdowns.
Because the Packers play keepaway so well, volume projects to be on the lower end of the Rams’ range this week — limiting the likelihood of a true blowup game from fantasy’s best player. But Gurley once again carries the highest raw projection on the slate, and he’s a strong play if you can fit him without sacrificing too much in other spots on your roster.
I expected to love more on the Rams than I do, but the Packers’ style of play really limits the opportunities for huge games against them, as they slow down opponent play volume, and then push opponents toward the ground. All of Woods, Cooks, and Gurley should have a solid game, but given where each of them is priced, I’m not expecting any of them to “smash value.” Or, I should say: I see “smashing value” as an outlier scenario in this spot, rather than as the likeliest scenario. (Naturally, each of these guys still has a shot at big upside in this offense. But I’ll be surprised if Cooks or Woods make my main team over some of the other guys in their price range — and while I’m always happy to play Gurley, there are some strong running backs who are much cheaper than him, and — admittedly early in the week, without all the games yet written up — I don’t expect to find myself moving around salary to “make sure I get him.” I’ll likely be happy to play Conner // Barkley // Hunt at lower prices, and to use those savings to improve my overall roster elsewhere. Again: Gurley has the top raw projection on the slate (as always). But I’m guessing right now I won’t feel like I “have to have him” this week.)
On the Packers’ side, I like Davante Adams, and I would be open to playing Jimmy Graham as well. Graham looks like the sort of guy I would “be comfortable playing, but not necessarily looking to play,” while Adams looks like an early candidate to make my Tier 1 list, and to be seriously considered for my Main Team in Week 8. Still lots to sort through on this slate as I write this (I’m writing up this game before the Bengals // Bucs game or the Broncos // Chiefs game), but he looks like a solid play. I also like Rodgers as a solid play (a guy who doesn’t project for a monster game on paper, but who has a very strong floor and can always go for a monster game in a spot like this).