RAMS // BEARS OVERVIEW
Sunday Night Football has been on point with their matchups this year — grabbing a great set of games through the early portions of the year, and choosing the right games to flex down the stretch. Somehow, this spot originally called for the Steelers and Raiders to match up on Sunday night (as if that was expected to be an important game this deep into the season). NBC corrected their mistake by replacing that game with an important tilt between the 10-2 Rams and the 8-4 Bears. The Rams rank second in the NFL in points per game, while the Bears rank fifth. The Rams boast one of the most ferocious fronts in the NFL, while the Bears have allowed the fourth fewest yards per game and the fourth fewest points per game. This matchup opened with an Over/Under of 53.5 — with public sentiment pushing Vegas to install the Rams as 4.5 point favorites. The Bears quickly gained steam — with faith in their defense and offense dropping this line to 51.5 and dropping the spread to Rams by 3.0.
BEARS RUN OFFENSE
The Rams have been one of the easiest teams to run on this year, ranking 30th in yards allowed per carry and giving up 4.81 yards per carry to the running back position. This team has hardly seen the effects of their poor run defense, as they have faced the seventh fewest rush attempts in the NFL this year — and most of their “run defense deficiencies” (same as we saw in Denver with Wade Phillips) have been due to scheme rather than talent, as this team opens up run lanes by trying to aggressively attack the quarterback. If an opposing team’s rushing attack gets out of control on the ground, the Rams have the ability to shift focus; but with an explosive offense on the other side, this is rarely an issue.
While the raw matchup is good for Jordan Howard, he continues to function as a near-zero in the pass game, with a streak of nine consecutive games with one or zero catches. He has yet to top 82 rushing yards in a game this year, leaving him yardage-and-touchdown dependent…with yardage and touchdowns thin bets for him this year.
BEARS PASS OFFENSE
The big story in this game is the return of Mitchell Trubisky, who gave way to Chase Daniel the last two weeks in a close win over the lowly Lions and a close loss to the lowly Giants, and who will return to an offense that he had been directing well for much of the season. This offense has capitalized on efficiency over volume this year, with Trubisky topping 31 pass attempts only once since Week 3 — but he quietly has five games in his last seven with 40+ rushing yards, and he has four games this year in which he has accounted for three or more touchdowns. This offense will take a balanced approach to start the game — same as they have all season — but the Bears’ 31-38 loss to the Patriots (in which Trubisky uncorked 50 throws) also provides some hope for a heavy-volume game.
Taking away that 50-pass outlier, targets since Week 4 with Trubisky under center have looked like this:
:: Tarik Cohen — 8 // 9 // 3 // 2 // 7 // 5
:: Allen Robinson — 4 // 6 // DNP // DNP // 8 // 7
:: Anthony Miller — DNP // 4 // 7 // 6 // 6 // 3
:: Taylor Gabriel — 7 // 5 // 6 // 5 // 3 // 9
:: Trey Burton — 4 // 4 // 4 // 3 // 4 // 1
No clear alpha has emerged in this spread-the-wealth attack, with only Cohen and Burton cracking double-digits in targets since this offense got on track in Week 4 (Cohen and Burton both got there in that 50-pass game against the Patriots; Cohen got there again last week with Chase Daniel under center). Robinson has topped 64 yards only once with Trubisky in this stretch (a 6-133-2 blowup against the Lions). Miller has topped 49 yards only once (5-122-1 in that same game against the Lions). The last time Gabriel topped 52 yards was Week 6. Outside of his 11-target game against the Patriots, Burton has finished with 40 or fewer yards in every game since Week 4.
Cohen has provided the most consistency in this offense, going for 69 or more receiving yards in four of his last seven games with Trubisky while adding 15 to 30 rushing yards most games and chipping in seven touchdowns on the year. The nature of his role in this offense makes him a high-variance play, but after toying around with various “featured pieces” early in the year, Matt Nagy has settled on Cohen as his most consistent playmaker, which is creating enough opportunities for Cohen to matter most weeks. If this game turns into a shootout, he’ll have a good shot at posting a relevant stat line.
Aqib Talib played 26 of 72 snaps last week and should be able to ramp up further — creating a tough matchup for Robinson on the outside. The Rams will likely treat Robinson as the Bears’ number one receiver — which does not create an impossible matchup, but it certainly makes things more difficult.
Early in the year, Miller was being used primarily on underneath routes while Gabriel was primarily being used downfield, but Nagy has gradually expanded Miller’s responsibilities while largely scrapping the downfield shots to Gabriel. Incredibly, these two receivers now carry identical aDOTs of 11.9. Gabriel is averaging 1.8 more targets per game than his rookie teammate, and he has a 71.05% catch rate compared to Miller’s catch rate of 60.0%. Either guy can hit, but Gabriel will have the slightly better shot in this spot.
Burton has been a major disappointment this season after offseason hype for him stepping into this “U” role that Nagy used with Kelce last year to create mismatches all over the field. Bears beat writers speculated in the offseason that Burton would set the new Bears tight end receptions record, but he has caught only 38 passes this season and has averaged only 37.3 receiving yards per game. The Rams have allowed a middling number of receptions to tight ends, but they have allowed the fourth most yards to the position, creating some hope for Burton. His best path to upside is for this game to turn into a shootout and for his targets to spike accordingly.
RAMS PASS OFFENSE
This Rams passing attack thrives on movement, misdirection, and an ability to space out the field in such a way that defenses have to defend all levels at once — accounting for an elite running back, an elite screen game, and throws that come short, intermediate, and deep (both toward and against the flow of the play). There is no “best type of defense” to stop an offense like this, but a Bears team that capitalizes on assignment-sound play backed up by technique and talent is in better position than most teams to put some roadblocks in the way of the Rams. The Bears have shaved 6.2% off the league-average aDOT, they have shaved 2.2% off the league-average catch rate, and they have shaved 6.0% off the league-average aDOT. Add it all up, and this team has allowed the third fewest yards per pass attempt (while racking up the fifth most sacks in the league).
In two games without Cooper Kupp, targets on the Rams have looked like this:
:: Brandin Cooks — 12 // 6
:: Robert Woods — 11 // 8
:: Josh Reynolds — 8 // 5
:: Tyler Higbee — 7 // 4
:: Gerald Everett — 4 // 3
In that first game (the 54-51 barn burner against the Chiefs), Jared Goff threw 49 passes. In the second game, vs Detroit, he threw the ball 33 times — which is more in line with his typical range of 32 to 35.
With Higbee seeing more work in the pass game in the absence of Kupp and with Reynolds stepping into a big chunk of Kupp’s short and intermediate targets, Cooks and Woods have not seen their target share jump in the Rams’ last couple games. Barring outlier, pass-heavy game scripts, each guy should continue to be penciled in for his normal range of seven to nine targets. Last week, we said this: “Jared Goff is much likelier to throw 30 to 35 passes in this spot, after throwing 49 against the Chiefs, so those raw target numbers should not be used as a baseline; but if Goff does throw 35 times (and we assume Gurley sees his typical six looks through the air), something like seven to 10 targets for Cooks/Woods, four to six targets for Reynolds, and seven or eight total targets for the two tight ends is a reasonable expectation.” Those numbers nailed their marks last week, and we should continue to carry the same expectations moving forward.
For the second straight week last week, Cooks saw three targets that came 20+ yards downfield, which gives him big-play upside. Woods has now added seven targets across his last two games of 20+ yards. Woods has connected on only three of these seven looks and Cooks has connected on only one of his six, which leaves room for more upside on these guys than recent box scores indicate. The Bears are tough all the way around, but they are easiest to attack with wide receivers, to whom they have allowed the sixth most receptions in the league.
Reynolds is not seeing schemed “upside” looks, but he provides some floor in this offense, and he could grab a big gain on a scramble drill or a YAC play. He could also add upside with a touchdown.
The tight ends continue to split looks, and the Bears have allowed the sixth fewest yards to the position, but Higbee and Everett are used in enough wide receiver-like looks to potentially pop on a broken play.
RAMS RUN OFFENSE
The Bears have been awesome against the run this year, ranking third in yards allowed per carry and allowing the fewest rushing touchdowns in the league. Only the Ravens, Cowboys, Texans, and Saints have allowed fewer rushing yards to running backs. Only the Jaguars and Titans have allowed fewer total touchdowns to the position. This disciplined, assignment-strong defense has also been stout through the air against running backs, allowing the eighth fewest receiving yards.
Of course, the beauty of Todd Gurley this season (and last season) has been that this offense is designed in such a way that opponents have to account for the entire field on every play. This makes it impossible for teams to sell out against the run completely, and it consistently leaves Gurley with space to run before meeting defenders. On the year, no team ranks higher in adjusted line yards than the Rams.
The other beauty of Gurley this year (and last year) has been the largest red zone role in the NFL (by far).
The Rams were showing signs a few weeks ago of spelling Gurley more frequently with Malcolm Brown to keep their star back fresh for the playoffs — but with Brown now sent to I.R., Gurley should be back to his workload-heavy ways, especially in this important, top-of-the-NFC tilt.
On the full slate, Trubisky and Cohen would become intriguing tourney options for their big upside in this spot — but this Bears offense has been unpredictable enough that Trubisky would still be considered a “ceiling” play, rather than a “floor/ceiling” play, while this unit has mixed up usage among their weapons enough that Cohen would obviously not be part of the high-floor/high-ceiling conversation either. Everyone else on this offense would be nothing more than darts on the Main Slate — but with this well-designed scheme sure to produce points, it is likely that one or two guys emerge from this side of the ball with nice scores this week. On the Showdown, there will be plenty of “hoping you guess right” on this offense, which opens the door to multi-entry play. Mixing and matching a few of these pieces a few different ways will provide the best shot at a top score.
Expectations in the spot are lower for Gurley than they would be in others, but his role and the design of this offense still keep him on track as the highest-ceiling player on this one-game slate (with only the quarterbacks battling him for that title). It won’t exactly be a shock in a matchup like this if Gurley fails to rip off a monster game…but it also won’t be a shock if he smashes.
The Rams’ passing attack is not in the best spot — on the road against a top three pass defense — but the locked-in volume on Woods and Cooks (with downfield looks mixed in) will provide opportunity for them to hit. They are both very much in play on the Showdown. The rest of the pass-catchers are more dart throws than true “upside” plays, and Trubisky has a better shot at a big game than Goff, but all of these guys can be considered on an offense this good, on a “slate” this small.
Only three teams have turned the ball over fewer times this year than the Rams, and only eight teams have taken fewer sacks, so this is not the best spot for the Bears’ DST — though as always on the Showdown, defenses can be considered for splash play potential. The same goes for an aggressive Rams team that ranks 12th in sacks and fourth in turnovers forced.
As always, both kickers can be considered on the Showdown as well.
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