There aren’t many people who would have bet on this Week 7 matchup arriving with these teams combining for a 4-8 record, and with a seven-game losing streak between them; but here we are — with two desperate teams set to square off in a game with the highest Over/Under on the slate.
The big problem for Atlanta, of course, has been their defense, as this team ranks 31st in DVOA against the pass, 26th in fewest yards allowed per game, 31st in fewest points allowed per game, 32nd in opponent drive success rate, and 31st in opponent red zone touchdown rate. Atlanta also ranks seventh in DVOA against the run and eighth in adjusted line yards on defense — making it easier for teams to keep pace with the Falcons through the air than to bleed the clock on the ground.
The Falcons are not a shy-away matchup for any position, but they have been especially brutalized by wide receivers this year — having given up the sixth most catches, the fourth most yards, and the second most touchdowns to the position. As noted regularly in this space: Atlanta forces one of the shallower opponent aDOTs in the league, but they are adding almost 10% to the league-average catch rate and are continuing to struggle after the catch, leading to a 15% boost on on the league-average expected yards per target — the fifth largest boost in the league.
Of course, none of this is quite the slam-dunk it appears to be on the surface (this is DFS, after all, where very little is ever what it seems to be at first glance), and there are a few very real ways in which this game could fall short of expectations — as the expected presence of Jalen Ramsey will put the Rams in position to play 10-on-10 football with the Falcons’ best player likely neutralized (an approach in which Wade Phillips has the upper hand), while there is always risk of road woes showing up for Jared Goff. (Regarding Goff: it should be noted that his road struggles are often overblown, as he has a 36:18 TD:INT ratio on the road in his career vs 36:15 at home, with his completion rate dropping by only three percentage points, his yards per attempt dropping by a half-yard, and his quarterback rating falling from 95.2 to 89.3. Still: you’d prefer him at home.) Probably the biggest reason “Rams at Falcons” could ultimately disappoint is the simple fact that the Rams have not been dominant on offense this year, ranking 17th in DVOA (19th through the air), while currently sitting at 11th in points per game and 12th in yards per game.
The piece that should be most immune to game environment (i.e., having a chance to pay off even if this game disappoints as a whole) is Cooper Kupp, who has target counts on the year of 10 // 9 // 12 // 15 // 17 // 6. If we remove the train wreck game against the 49ers’ defense and the blowout win over the Saints, Kupp has double-digit looks in every remaining contest — and with the Falcons likely to put at least some pressure on the Rams here, Kupp’s targets should be locked in once again. Kupp has stepped right back into his heavy red zone role this year as well, with seven looks inside the 20 and four looks inside the 10.
Interestingly, Robert Woods has only two red zone targets this year, with no looks inside the 10 — while his targets have been all over the map, with totals of 13 // 2 // 8 // 15 // 9 // 4. Woods should be used on communication-beaters in this spot (crossing routes that test the defense’s ability to pass him off from one zone to the next), and this sort of usage should open the door for production if Goff is able to hit his marks.
The Rams have also left Brandin Cooks out of their red zone plans quite a bit more this year (two red zone looks — both coming inside the 10), and he enters this game with target counts on the year of 6 // 4 // 12 // 9 // 3 // 3. Cooks has the tools to beat this defense deep — though the Falcons do so much to invite short-area throws, it won’t be surprising if we see Goff lean more heavily on those.
Part of the recent drain on consistency for Woods // Cooks has come as a result of the Rams getting the tight ends more involved, with Tyler Higbee seeing 13 targets across the last three weeks and Gerald Everett seeing 24. This team is still 11 personnel heavy (which has Higbee and Everett splitting snaps), so these guys matter more for the way they drain wide receiver production than for the ways they can contribute to a DFS roster — but the usage is at least noteworthy if you want to try to guess right on one of these guys finding the end zone this week.
With Todd Gurley missing in action last week, Malcolm Brown played only 67.3% of the Rams’ snaps, handing over the rest of the looks to Darrell Henderson. As of Wednesday, Gurley was a limited participant in practice while Brown missed with an ankle issue. If Gurley returns, he should slide back into at least 70% of the snaps (he was playing above that mark before the quad/thigh issue, but the Rams likely ease him in rather than handing him a 90% share), while if Gurley misses it will either be Brown/Henderson splitting reps again, or — should Brown miss — it will be Henderson in the lead. The matchup is “fine, but not great” against the Falcons run defense, but there is yardage and touchdown upside to chase here — and if we happen to get a week of Henderson as the lead back, there is a lot of upside at the price at which you can get him.
On defense, the Rams have continued to play well against the run — ranking fifth in DVOA and allowing only 3.77 yards per carry to running backs — while Atlanta has all but abandoned the run this year, with the second highest pass play rate in the league. Devonta Freeman has recent touch counts of 19 // 20 // 16 // 22 and has been involved in the pass game (target counts in that stretch of 4 // 9 // 5 // 3), so the matchup actually matters more than the fact that Freeman is not truly a full-time player, as he’s seeing enough consistent looks to become relevant in tourneys regardless of snap count.
Through the air for the Falcons, the complexion of this matchup hinges heavily on the availability of Jalen Ramsey. It seems likely that Ramsey plays in this spot, so we’ll approach things as such (and will pivot a different direction in later-week content if anything changes).
If Ramsey plays, the writeup for Julio Jones is simple: “This is one of the toughest matchups Julio can have, which lowers his floor; Julio is also good enough to win in any matchup, which keeps his ceiling intact.” He’s high-risk, high-reward this week; but more importantly, this would remain one of the pass-heaviest offenses even in the “likeliest scenario” of Julio getting slowed by Ramsey, and those targets would flow in a different direction. Wade Phillips can out-scheme most opponents in 10-on-10 football (especially with the opponent missing its top weapon); but the Falcons are so deep in talented pass catchers that this shouldn’t hamstring Matt Ryan too much.
Recent target counts among remaining Falcons pass catchers ::
The Rams have been attackable with tight ends this year — allowing the seventh most yards to the position after allowing the third most last year — and Hooper has not dropped below six targets all year, making him the strongest bet of the bunch for workload to be boosted/solidified if Julio is slowed by Ramsey.
Sanu has essentially the same role as Hooper in this offense, but the targets spill over to him less often, and the sort of DFS score he and Hooper have in their range is more attractive at the thin tight end position than it is at wide receiver. Sanu is on the list if building around this game, but he falls deeper down.
Ridley has the highest upside of the bunch with an aDOT of 14.3 (literally double that of Hooper and Sanu), and he’s a touchdown waiting to happen. The floor is never attractive on Ridley, given the unpredictability of his week to week role, but there is space for him to find his way to ceiling.
JM’s Interpretation ::
The Rams are always one of my least favorite teams to write up, as they do pretty much the same thing each week, and usage tends to evolve more from in-game adjustments than from any preconceived ideas the Rams have of “who we will lean on this week” (i.e., the Rams are able to see how a defense is playing them, and what mistakes the defense is opening themselves up to as a result, and are able to then adjust to that). As such, Rams writeups become a lot like this: “Offense is good || will likely score points || we’re guessing on how those points pile up || here’s what each guy offers.” This week was no different, with a potential shootout on tap, but with usage on this team spread out more than it used to be, and with at least a few elements in this game that could turn it into a lower-scoring contest than Vegas is projecting.
Because of the uncertainty surrounding usage on the Rams, I rarely try to guess there myself — with Kupp being the only guy I typically aim to target in the passing attack. That may not change this week; but if I do expand beyond interest in Kupp, Woods is the guy I’m likeliest to lean on (which comes with the obvious caveat that McVay could see something in this spot that has him hammering the Falcons with Cooks as the game moves along). In the backfield :: If Gurley plays, there is still enough touchdown upside attached for him to be kept in mind in tourneys (especially larger-field play). And if Gurley and Brown miss, Henderson would become an attractive piece to target.
I began to really like Devonta Freeman during the latter half of last week, but I couldn’t bring myself to pull the trigger because I “know too much” (i.e., I allowed his snap count and his ceiling on touches to steer me off him, even though I liked his upside in that spot). I haven’t found myself moving toward him in quite the same way this week (not yet, at least), as the Rams are strong against the run and Freeman does remain unlikely to top 20 touches; but as noted above, he is going to see enough looks to potentially matter, and his pass game involvement keeps him in the mix.
Rather unexpectedly, I like Hooper in this spot, as he is the player likeliest to have first dibs on the overflow from Ramsey covering Julio. Hooper has continued to be given opportunities to produce this year (and has continued to answer the call). Behind Hooper, Sanu is a floor play who can touch ceiling with a score, while Ridley is a big-play threat against a defense that shaves more than 10% off the league-average aDOT, but is otherwise fairly mediocre across the board — creating viable paths for him to hit.
I always have a better feel for quarterback during the back half of the week (after reading through the NFL Edge myself), but Ryan is obviously in play here in this string of six consecutive 300-yard games. The presence of Ramsey on Julio would trim away some of the paths to a ceiling game, but Ryan would still have enough weapons to matter.
Goff also has enough weapons to matter — and if this game does turn into a shootout, he could end up being very much in the mix.
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