RAMS // BRONCOS OVERVIEW
The 5-0 Rams travel to Denver this week to take on a 2-3 Broncos squad that has struggled on both offense (27th in points per game) and defense (23rd in points allowed per game), while ranking 27th in red zone touchdown rate on offense and 19th in red zone touchdown rate on defense. Vegas has given no respect to the Broncos, installing the seemingly unstoppable Rams as seven point road favorites, with the second highest Vegas-implied total on the slate.
The Rams rank 19th in pace of play, but this is because they have slowed things down in the second half with big leads in hand (they rank 29th in pace of play in the second half, compared to sixth in the first half). The Rams lean run-heavy (27th in pass play rate), but they can obviously beat opponents in a number of ways.
Denver ranks eighth in pace of play and 12th in plays per game — though it is worth noting that with the Rams posting huge leads early this year and then slowing down the pace (while ranking first in the NFL in drive success rate), they are allowing the fewest opponent plays per game. In order for Denver to rack up volume, they will need to keep this game close throughout.
Denver ranks 18th in yards allowed per drive and 24th in points allowed per drive, while the Rams rank first and third in those categories. The major issue for Denver has been big plays, as only four teams have allowed more pass plays of 20+ yards, and only one team has allowed more run plays of 20+ yards. Naturally, the Rams rank first in the league in pass plays of 20+ yards — and while they surprisingly rank near the bottom in rush plays of 20+ yards, they have Todd Gurley. The Broncos will need to fix a lot of things, quickly, in order to keep this game competitive.
RAMS PASS OFFENSE
The issues for the Broncos begin up front, where they rank a disappointing 13th in adjusted sack rate — and things won’t get any easier for them this week against a Rams team that ranks second in adjusted sack rate allowed. With all the movement the Rams use, and with the threat of Gurley on the ground — as well as the threat of screen plays, jet sweeps, bootlegs, and other misdirection plays — it’s tough for teams to get too aggressive in attacking Jared Goff. When teams do get aggressive, Goff knows exactly where his outlet is — and it is awesome to watch the way this team schemes open outlets for various types of pressure. Sean McVay thinks like a defensive coordinator in figuring out how to attack his opponents, knowing exactly what they are going to be leaving open.
I’ll write up this game assuming that each of Cooper Kupp and Brandin Cooks will clear the concussion protocol in time, and I’ll adjust in the late-week updates if things turn out differently. Right now, each guy is trending toward being on the field on Sunday.
While Tyler Lockett, John Brown, and Robby Anderson have all burned the Broncos deep, guys who have produced on volume in this matchup (Amari Cooper and Tyreek Hill in particular) have seen a heavy load of out-breaking routes. In fact, every team Denver has faced so far has focused on attacking toward the sidelines, so it will be interesting to see what McVay does in this spot, as his offense is built heavily around crossing routes.
Cooks (4.33 40 time) is the best bet for a big play downfield — as the guy on this team with the closest downfield skill set to Lockett (4.40), Brown (4.34), and Anderson (4.34) — and given his nuanced route tree and his target counts of eight, nine, eight, and eight, he carries solid floor to go with his upside. Incredibly, Cooks (with games on the year of 87 yards, 159 yards, 90 yards, and 116 yards) ranks third on this team in percentage share of team air yards, at 25.8% — behind Kupp (27.3%) and Robert Woods (35.3%).
If any team can maneuver around Chris Harris in the slot, it’s the Rams, but Kupp draws the most difficult matchup, as Harris has continued his elite play — allowing a passer rating on the year of only 55.6.
Woods is the clearest candidate for a heavy dose of out-breaking routes if the Rams adjust their approach this week. He has only two games this year under nine targets — and in one of those games (seven targets last week), he saw two carries, which he turned into 53 yards. Every time the deep safety commits to helping with Cooks, Goff can turn to Woods — giving him a high ceiling to go with his high floor.
None of these receivers have posted a true dud this year, while Kupp and Woods have each posted a true slate-winning score, and Cooks has a pair of elite scores of his own. With Kupp in the toughest draw he will face all year, it makes sense to bet on an extra one or two looks flowing toward Woods and Cooks, increasing the chance each guy has of hitting this week.
RAMS RUN OFFENSE
Denver has also taken steps back against the run, ranking 30th in yards allowed per carry and 24th in adjusted line yards. Only three teams have faced more rush attempts than the Broncos, and only one team has allowed more rushing yards. Denver has also allowed six total touchdowns to running backs — the eighth-worst mark in the league.
The Rams, of course, rank first in adjusted line yards, and Gurley has nine touchdowns on the season, with at least one score in every game. He has seen at least five targets in four of five games. He has touch counts on the year of 23 // 22 // 28 // 23 // 27. He once again carries the highest raw projection and the fewest question marks of any player on the slate.
BRONCOS PASS OFFENSE
The Rams have continued to play strong pass defense underneath in the absence of Aqib Talib, but they have been below-average downfield, ranking 26th in Football Outsiders’ metrics for pass attempts of 15+ yards.
Last week, of course, Case Keenum completed only three of eight passes that traveled at least 15 yards downfield, while he was three of seven the week before. In Week 3, he attempted only two passes all game more than 15 yards downfield (with no passes more than 20 yards), and in Week 2 he went five of 11 downfield. This has been going on all season, as Keenum was three of 10 on downfield passing in Week 1. He has three touchdowns and four picks thrown on passes of 15+ yards. If this guy could get anything going downfield through the first five weeks, we wouldn’t be the only people paying attention to Courtland Sutton.
While the safest bet on the Broncos is obviously Emmanuel Sanders (target counts of 11, four, eight, seven, and 14), it is Sutton and Demaryius Thomas who run the routes that Tyler Lockett, Thielen/Diggs, and Mike Williams have hit the Rams on the last three weeks. Sutton has target counts on the year of five, six, three, six, and six, and he has quietly run seven more pass routes on the year than his elderly counterpart. I am almost certain to have at least one piece of Sutton on my three teams this week, as I expect the Rams to jump out to a lead here and force the Broncos to take to the air; Sutton has been inches away from a couple huge games and has a shot to be much more than just a roster-filler at his dirt cheap price. Obviously, a bet on Sutton still takes on Keenum-reliance floor.
While it will go unnoticed by most, it should stand out to us that Sutton played 12 more snaps (and ran 14 more pass routes) than Demaryius last week, after trailing him slightly in snaps each of the first four weeks. With each guy running a similar route tree and now carrying similar workloads (five, seven, and six targets for Demaryius the last three weeks), Sutton is the preferred play — at a lower price, and lower ownership — but it’s not outside the realm of possibilities that Demaryius could hit for a long play once again.
BRONCOS RUN OFFENSE
Perhaps the most instructive data point in regards to “how the Rams view stopping the run” is the lack of interest they show in play-action passing. While most teams will see their linebackers step up before racing back into coverage on play-action, the Rams often remain in position through play-action motion — which obviously puts them in poor position if it is actually a run play, but it maximizes their ability to slow down the pass. The Rams’ philosophy is built around the idea that they can jump out to a lead, and that it is wasteful for opponents to lean on the run at that point — so why gear up to stop it? This is the same approach Wade Phillips used as defensive coordinator of the Broncos, which means that Denver should be able to lean on the run early in this game. (Naturally: the Rams do have the personnel to slow down the run if the Broncos take a lead.)
The difficulty in targeting this in DFS, of course, is that Royce Freeman (30 snaps last week) and Phillip Lindsay (29 snaps last week) continue to split time with one another, while also continuing to step aside on passing downs for Devontae Booker (22 snaps last week). Lindsay has seen touch counts in his non-ejection games of 17, 15, 14, and 15, while Freeman has seen touch counts in those games of 15, eight, eight, and eight. Lindsay has eight catches on the year, to four for Freeman.
If thinking “Cheat Code,” these two do have 130 to 140 combined rushing yards in three of those four games, with five total touchdowns on the year. Since the Cheat Code really only makes sense on DraftKings and FantasyDraft, here are their combined scores through the four games they have played together: 25.3 // 23.9 // 28.6 // 18.8. These numbers do not stand out to me, as I want a floor in the Cheat Code of 24 points, but I also want a ceiling of around 40 to give me a shot at averaging 20 points per game from a pair of low-priced players. Unsurprisingly, the Rams tighten up near the goal line against running backs, as they have allowed only three touchdowns so far to the position — the eighth-lowest mark in the league.
I have a lot of love in this spot for the Rams, especially as it may go overlooked by the masses that this team has the second-highest Vegas-implied total on the slate. While most people are crossing their fingers and hoping they get to use Josh Reynolds this week, this spot will likely go overlooked if Kupp and Cooks are active. With Chris Harris covering Kupp, both Cooks and Woods become more interesting.
Jared Goff is a solid play as well, though I’m always a bit hesitant to roster him given how many touchdowns Todd Gurley accounts for.
If you can roster him without making too many sacrifices, Gurley is fairly priced on DraftKings even at 20% of the salary cap. He is slightly underpriced on FantasyDraft at 18.9% of the salary cap, and he is laughably underpriced on FanDuel at 15.83% of the cap.
On the Broncos’ side, I don’t dislike the running backs or Emmanuel Sanders, but I likely won’t go there. The real piece that stands out to me is Sutton. I’m willing to risk at least one of my three main teams this week on a Sutton explosion, as he is functioning at this point as the number two receiver in a good matchup on a team that should be trailing, and he carries big upside if he and Keenum are finally able to connect. If this is not the week it happens, his price-considered floor has not been roster-wrecking, and he is cheap enough that the roster I use him on will still have a shot at cashing in tourneys while taking a dud. (The bigger question will be whether or not I’ll be ballsy enough to go all-in on Sutton, in the hopes that this proves to be “Courtland Sutton week.”)
SATURDAY AFTERNOON UPDATE // Full “Updates” List
The Rams are set to have fun in Denver on Sunday with their full arsenal of weapons. No “Josh Reynolds week.”