RAMS // CARDINALS OVERVIEW
The 11-3 Rams are suddenly losers of two straight, but they enter a get-right spot this week against a 3-11 Cardinals team that has failed to show signs of improvement as the season has moved along, with Josh Rosen looking overwhelmed in the pocket and Byron Leftwich looking overmatched as a play-caller. While the Rams rank third in points per game, the Cardinals rank dead last — with their 13.7 points per game essentially turning their average opponent into the 2006 Ravens (who are the last team in the NFL to allow fewer than 14 points per game in a season). Arizona is averaging more than 50 fewer yards per game than any other team in football. They are currently 14.5 point underdogs in this spot, and they will need a lot of things to go right in order to keep this game close.
RAMS PASS OFFENSE
The one strength of the Cardinals has been their pass defense, as this team is forcing the second shallowest aDOT in the NFL, and they rank seventh in yards allowed per pass attempt. Only eight teams have faced fewer pass attempts than the Cardinals this season, but only six teams have more sacks. Matchup and expected game flow will both be working against Jared Goff and this Rams attack this week.
After torching the Chiefs for 413 yards, four touchdowns, and no interceptions in his first game without Cooper Kupp, Goff has found himself struggling — with one touchdown pass and six interceptions across his last three games, and with a completion rate of only 55.4%. Goff has put together a shockingly low 5.6 yards per pass attempt in this stretch, with opponents adjusting coverage to take away downfield throws and forcing Goff to make uncomfortable underneath passes under pressure without the help of his security blanket. Things can change quickly in the NFL (just look at the shift from “MVP Goff” to “bad Goff” for proof), but at the moment, a bet on this passing attack is a bet on a big turnaround. With volume expected to take a hit in this spot, the best approach is to watch this team for glimpses of improved play. If the Rams and Bears both win this week, L.A. will still need a Week 17 victory to secure a first-round bye, potentially giving us one more opportunity to target this passing attack in Week 17 if we see improvements this week.
The best bet on the Rams lately has been Robert Woods, who has target counts of 11 // 8 // 13 // 9 since Kupp went down, with his slot role doubling (and his perimeter role getting cut roughly in half) during this stretch. Woods is seeing less downfield work with his move to the slot, but his floor has held steady, and he still carries enough big-play upside to be considered a floor/ceiling piece if the volume is there.
The situation is less attractive on the outside for Brandin Cooks and Josh Reynolds, as each of these two should see plenty of coverage from Patrick Peterson this week, and neither has been able to produce consistent results across the last three weeks, with Cooks failing to top 62 yards in any game and securing zero touchdown catches, and with Reynolds topping 36 yards only once and failing to score. Reynolds’ game north of 36 yards came with a 5-70-0 line last week on a whopping 12 targets, in a game in which Goff threw the ball 53 times. With game flow unlikely to lead to a pass-heavy game script in this spot, neither of these guys should be considered more than tourney dart throws.
The likeliest scenario in this spot calls for Goff to stay under 35 pass attempts, which would make it difficult for the tight ends to emerge against a defense that has been solid against the position, allowing the fifth fewest receptions on the year. If you want to take a shot here, Gerald Everett has target counts of 4 // 3 // 7 // 7 since Kupp went down, giving him an outside shot at mattering this week.
RAMS RUN OFFENSE
The Rams’ offense is shaping up as a mess this week against a Cardinals team that has faced more running back rush attempts and allowed more rushing yards to the position than any other team in football. We can expect the Rams to lean on the run in this spot, but what this means for DFS is less clear — with Todd Gurley now missing practice every day this week but seemingly still on track to play, and with primary backup Malcolm Brown on I.R. Backup John Davis has also missed practice all week with a shoulder issue, while C.J. Anderson was signed to compliment John Kelly (and possibly even Davis) if Gurley misses.
While the matchup is strong, there will be concern that Gurley will rest for much of the second half if the Rams take a big lead, making him a risk/reward, tourney-only option.
If Gurley misses, it will be up to beat writers or Adam Schefter to uncover which running back is expected to handle the bulk of the work, as we would otherwise be left guessing — with a committee approach certainly not out of the question. (NOTE: Late-Friday reports now have C.J. Anderson expected to start if Gurley misses this game.)
CARDINALS PASS OFFENSE
Matchup has hardly mattered this year for Josh Rosen and the Cardinals’ passing attack, with Rosen failing to top even 150 yards in four of his last five games — including matchups against the Raiders and the Falcons. Rosen has one touchdown and four picks across his last four contests, and on the season he has managed to piece together a completion rate of 55.7%, with only 6.1 yards per pass attempt. The one positive to be said in this spot for the Cardinals is that they should be chasing points. This has not been enough to make Rosen a viable option most weeks this year, but it does introduce some potential upside for the only two pieces on this passing attack still worth mentioning at this point in the season.
The first “piece worth mentioning” may actually prove to be a better play than the spot suggests, as there are narrative-driven reasons to expect the Cardinals to lean heavily on Larry Fitzgerald this week. Fitz has not yet announced whether or not he plans to play next season (he likely won’t make a decision until the offseason gets underway), setting this up as what may be the last home game of his career. At the moment, Fitz is set to finish his career in third place on the all-time receptions list (he won’t be able to make a move up to number two without returning next year), and he currently sits at number seven on the all-time touchdown receptions list — one behind fellow active player Antonio Gates. With nothing to play for, the Cardinals — who have fed Fitz target counts of 9 // 8 across the last two weeks — seem likely to do what they can to send him out in style. This is still a bad offense, and that’s a narrative-driven assessment, but seven or more targets look likely in this spot, giving Fitz a decent floor, and a non-awful shot at upside.
The second “piece worth mentioning” is Trent Sherfield, who has target counts of 7 // 5 across the last two weeks, with eight catches for 92 yards and a touchdown in this stretch. Sherfield is a raw, perimeter receiver on an offense that is not good at pushing the ball outside the numbers, and he will be doing battle this week with Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib (each of whom is a candidate to score more points for the Rams’ defense than Sherfield will score for the Cardinals’ offense). But with no other weapons left standing, there is a non-zero chance that Sherfield posts a usable game this week.
CARDINALS RUN OFFENSE
With the Rams focusing on rushing the quarterback, they have allowed plenty of open lanes for opposing backs — leading to a number 30 ranking in yards allowed per carry. The good news quickly dries up for this backfield, however, as L.A. is facing the 10th fewest rush attempts per game, and the Cardinals’ offense ranks dead last in yards per carry and rush offense DVOA — with David Johnson regularly falling shy of preseason expectations in quality matchups. Lately, it has seemed like Byron Leftwich is entering games with a good idea of how he can use DJ that week — but Cardinals games are getting out of hand too quickly (and Leftwich’s play-calling is sinking along with the offense) to a point where DJ remains nothing but a guess-and-hope play at a price tag that is still not discounted for his expected production. He has the talent-driven upside to still break off a big game, but with a bad role in a bad offense, his floor expectations are kept in check.
The nature of this game will make it a difficult spot to bet on from all angles, with the Rams’ passing attack likely to be limited by the Cardinals’ inability to keep games close this year, and with the Rams’ backfield set to be a bit of a mess this weekend. If Gurley does play a full compliment of snaps, he’ll still carry monster upside — though that’s obviously a risky bet to make, and he would need to outscore the other high-priced backs this week for the bet to pay off. If Gurley sits, this backfield will become attractive if there is clarity on where the work will go — but there is no guarantee that such clarity will come (and in fact, there is not even any guarantee that we know Gurley’s status until an hour and a half before kickoff).
On the Cardinals’ side, we are looking at one of the most consistently bad offenses in recent memory, making all of these guys unattractive from a Certainty perspective. If you want to go here, of course, there is a case to be made for all of David Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald, and Trent Sherfield. Fitz is the one guy I can see myself potentially taking a shot on this week, though he certainly still carries risk with the narrative-driven assessment required to feel comfortable with this play.