RAMS // 49ERS OVERVIEW
The Rams and 49ers are moving in opposite directions in the NFC West, with the Rams sitting atop the division at 6-0, and the 49ers struggling at the bottom with a 1-5 record. This is a massive mismatch, between a Rams team that ranks third in the NFL in points per game (first in yards per game) and a 49ers defense that has allowed more points per game than 28 teams.
The Rams have played fast during the first half of games (sixth in first half pace), but they rank 19th in overall pace of play, as they are playing at the fourth-slowest pace in the second half — taking the foot off the gas each week after jumping out to a lead. The 49ers rank 11th in pace of play.
Unsurprisingly, the Rams have been installed as early 10.5 point favorites, in spite of this game being played in Santa Clara. We are likeliest to see the Rams climb to an early lead before easing up in the second half — which would create the typical game flow we are used to with this team: run-heavy football (only three teams have run the ball more frequently than the Rams), with opponents attempting to play catch-up in the second half of games. The Rams have allowed the fewest opponent plays per game.
RAMS PASS OFFENSE
The 49ers’s pass defense has drawn the worst possible schedule to begin the year, with games already against the Packers, the Chargers, the Chiefs, the Lions, and the Vikings, which has led to San Francisco allowing the eighth-most passing yards per game. The 49ers have allowed 14 touchdowns while notching only one interception. Only six teams are allowing a deeper aDOT than San Francisco, and only two teams are allowing more YAC per reception. The 49ers are making up for all this by allowing one of the lowest catch rates in the league — but when passes connect, the upside is there.
The Rams will be playing without Cooper Kupp this week (MCL), which leaves behind over eight targets per game (including a team-leading 11 red zone targets and seven targets inside the 10). Todd Gurley should see a small bump in red zone usage (he already ranks seventh in the NFL in red zone targets and first — by a mile — in red zone carries), while Robert Woods and Brandin Cooks should see a slight bump in targets.
When Kupp left last week’s game, Cooks continued to see heavy usage on the perimeter, while Woods (who already runs a fair number of snaps out of the slot) bumped inside more frequently. With Kupp out of action, Woods should still see his typical downfield looks — but he will also soak up a couple extra short/intermediate looks, giving his already-high floor a small boost. Cooks should not see his role change much, outside of the small potential target boost.
Each of Woods and Cooks sets up great in this spot, as both guys will run hardly any routes at Richard Sherman (Sherman has allowed only two receptions on 10 targets into his coverage this year), with Woods running the short and intermediate routes that have been giving San Francisco fits away from Sherman, and with Cooks running the deep routes that have also been a problem for this team. Every team that has faced San Francisco so far has essentially run their best receivers on routes toward the middle and left side of the field, while leaving the right side alone — creating a great setup for Woods and Cooks to continue their strong starts to the year. Woods has the higher floor in this spot, while each guy carries a strong ceiling.
Josh Reynolds will step into a big snap share in this offense, though we should have some concerns that the Rams will stick him on Sherman’s side of the field for most of the game to occupy the 49ers’ best corner. While any player with a significant role in this offense is worth a look, Reynolds is not a game-changing talent, and he’ll be fourth in line for targets.
Tight ends Gerald Everett and Tyler Higbee figure to see a small bump in looks as well. Each will be tough to trust for any sort of guaranteed floor or major upside.
RAMS RUN OFFENSE
San Francisco is solid against the run, ranking 10th in yards allowed per carry and 12th in adjusted line yards, but it would take a lot more than a “solid run defense” to bump down expectations for Gurley, who has the most bankable role in the NFL, with touch counts on the year of 23 // 22 // 28 // 21 // 26 // 30, and with an extraordinary 32 touches in the red zone (Alvin Kamara is second in the NFL with 26 touches; no one else in the league has more than 16 red zone touches). The 49ers have allowed the seventh-most receptions to running backs, and the absence of Kupp further solidifies Gurley’s usage in this spot. As always: Gurley has the highest raw projection on the slate. Same as last week (and the week before…and the week before), he’s the guy to play if you can fit him without sacrificing too much in other spots.
49ERS PASS OFFENSE
Even in the absence of Aqib Talib, the Rams have forced the third-lowest average depth of target in the NFL, while also ranking ninth in YAC allowed per reception. In all, L.A. is shaving 11.6% off the league-average aDOT, while shaving 6.1% off the league-average YAC per reception. Only four teams have allowed fewer receptions to wide receivers than the Rams. Two of those four teams have already had their bye. These numbers have come in spite of the 6-0 Rams constantly playing with a lead and facing a middling number of pass attempts on the year. The Rams rank seventh in time of possession, and they are allowing the fewest opponent plays per game.
C.J. Beathard posted a nice stat line last week against the Packers, though he got there by attempting only six passes more than 10 yards downfield (with 17 passes coming under 10 yards — including six passes behind the line of scrimmage). It was great to see Beathard taking a couple shots, but of his two attempts that traveled more than 20 yards, one was a long touchdown to Marquise Goodwin, and the other was an interception. (In Week 5 against Arizona, Beathard attempted three passes more than 20 yards downfield — out of 54 attempts in all; these three passes turned into one incompletion and two interceptions. That week, 47 of his 54 pass attempts traveled 10 or fewer yards.) Goodwin should see another two or three downfield looks this week — with upside if he connects, and with ultra-low floor if the bombs aren’t falling into the bucket.
With a dink-and-dunk approach, YAC is important for upside, making it notable that Pierre Garcon has an expected YAC per reception of only 5.1.
George Kittle, on the other hand, ranks second in the NFL in YAC per reception, and first in the NFL in xYAC/R. Kittle has target counts on the year of 9 // 4 // 7 // 8 // 7 // 6. The Rams have allowed the eighth-most receptions and the eighth-most yards to the tight end position — though they are one of only five teams that has not yet allowed a touchdown to the position.
Behind these pieces, Kendrick Bourne has seen target counts across the 49ers’ last three games of 4 // 7 // 3. He has yet to top 34 yards on the season. He’ll take a backseat this week if Trent Taylor is able to make his way back onto the field
49ERS RUN OFFENSE
Let’s start with this:
Most of us have probably not rostered Matt Breida or Alfred Morris a single time this year, so we shouldn’t pretend that Raheem Mostert suddenly becomes a top play just because he stole all of Alf’s snaps last week. Furthermore, the Rams have faced the second-fewest rush attempts per game. Further-furthermore, Kyle Shanahan had this to say about Mostert’s Week 6 usage (via 49ers.com):
“No, I don’t think it was a permanent change. It was just what we thought was best for that game. Raheem got a ton of reps all week because Breida didn’t practice. So we knew Raheem was going to play in the game regardless. We didn’t know how long Breida would go. Breida started the game. I think we put Raheem in for his first carry on the fifth play and he ran well. I think it was four yards before contact, then he got about five more after it. So we just kept him in there. He was running well.”
Mostert did run well (which is more than can be said of Alf so far this year), so there is a chance his usage sticks. But this is no guarantee — and the role we are talking about yields 12 to 14 carries and limited pass game involvement. For whatever you feel it’s worth: the Rams’ run defense is most attackable right up the middle, which would seem to favor Alf over Mostert.
Regardless of which back grabs that half of the timeshare, Breida should continue to be involved, as he has seen exactly 12 to 14 touches in five of six games this year. Breida is averaging a monstrous 6.8 yards per carry, giving him some upside to go with his thin floor.
On the 49ers’ side of the ball, I am going to have interest in George Kittle for solid target share and his big YAC upside, but I don’t expect I will end up being drawn toward anyone else on this team.
The Rams are far more appealing, with Woods and Gurley popping off the page, and with Brandin Cooks carrying a lower floor than Woods, but carrying just as much upside. I also like Jared Goff as the quarterback of the team with the highest Vegas-Implied total on the slate. Blowout concerns introduce something to keep in mind, but quarterback is a ragtag position on the main slate this week for DraftKings and FanDuel, and Goff is as likely as anyone to post the top score at the position.
The Rams’ defense is also interesting, as Beathard can be had for sacks, and he’s good for a couple turnovers per game. This isn’t a standout play, but it at least belongs on my mid-week list, especially as DST appears to be a thin position this week.
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