RAMS // SAINTS OVERVIEW
It’s not a stretch to say that this game is unlike anything we have seen in recent memory, with these two teams joining the Chiefs as the top offenses in the league. (By the way: we get Rams // Chiefs in two weeks! Monday Night Football, but still…should be fun.) Not only have these teams combined for a 14-1 record, but they also rank second (New Orleans) and third (L.A.) in points per game, and they rank first (L.A.) and eighth (New Orleans) in yards per game. New Orleans ranks first in drive success rate, and the Rams rank third.
On defense, the Rams have been more solid than most realize, ranking eighth in yards allowed per game and sixth in points allowed per game, while allowing the fewest opponent plays per game in the league and ranking eighth in drive success rate allowed. Of course, the Saints have overcome more difficult matchups than this, and while the Rams have stomped out the offenses of the 49ers, Cardinals, and Raiders, they have given up 27 or more points to the Packers, Seahawks, and Vikings. New Orleans should finish in the general range of their Vegas-implied team total (30.5) this week.
The Rams should have no trouble staying right there with the Saints, as New Orleans’ defense ranks 23rd in both points and yards allowed per game, while ranking 30th in red zone touchdown rate allowed and 28th in drive success rate allowed.
RAMS PASS OFFENSE
There are two things in play for the Rams’ passing attack:
1) We love that we know where the work on this team is going, as Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods, Brandin Cooks, and Todd Gurley are effectively the only weapons in this aerial attack.
2) We don’t love that the Rams rank 31st in pass play rate, as this has led to Jared Goff totaling pass attempt numbers of only 33 // 32 // 36 // 33 // 32 // 28 // 24 // 35.
With a back-and-forth affair on deck, expect Goff to land on the higher end of his pass attempt range, which should lead to five or six targets for Gurley, with Cooks, Woods, and Kupp all likely to land in the “seven to 10” range.
The Saints’ pass defense has given up the fourth most pass plays of 40+ yards (the 13th most of 20+), while allowing the third highest catch rate in the league — a good setup for these three receivers who we know will see volume this week.
Kupp is expected to return from his MCL sprain and will primarily do battle with major coverage liability P.J. Williams in the slot. Before going down, Kupp had target counts on the year of 9 // 6 // 5 // 11 // 9, and while he is considered a “lower aDOT, possession-type player,” he has seen three targets of 20+ yards in each of his last two healthy games. As long as he is fully healthy this week, he should play his full complement of snaps and see seven or more targets, with at least a couple looks coming downfield. With seven targets inside the 10-yard-line (only seven players in the league have more, in spite of Kupp effectively missing the last three weeks), he carries as much upside as any receiver on this team.
Cooks has topped eight targets only once this year (a nine-target game in Week 2), but he has also fallen shy of eight targets in only two of his healthy games. Interestingly, in the first four games of the year — when Kupp and Cooks were both healthy — Cooks saw only two targets of 25+ yards (while piling up only three additional targets in the 20- to 25-yard range). There seems to be a perception in the DFS community that Cooks simply sees deep shots all game, but his route tree has been nuanced this year, giving him solid floor to go with his ceiling. The nature of Cooks’ looks (a lot of outside-the-numbers work, with speed-based targets) gives him a thinner floor than Kupp has, but his ceiling is the same.
Woods disappointed the last couple weeks with Kupp on the sidelines, but he should benefit from the extra attention the Saints have to pay to other areas of the field. He has target counts on the year of 9 // 9 // 11 // 5 // 7 // 10 // 7 // 7, making seven to nine looks a reasonable projection here (with upside for more). Neither Marshon Lattimore nor Eli Apple presents a major challenge for Woods, who has mixed in eight carries on the year while going for at least 70 receiving yards in seven straight games. Woods has taken a backseat in the red zone, with only five targets to nine for Cooks and 11 for Kupp (with an additional 13 targets and 47 carries(!) going to Gurley), but this doesn’t remove touchdown upside entirely, as Woods can score from anywhere on the field, and he’ll still be in the mix from time to time when the Rams get close to the end zone.
RAMS RUN OFFENSE
The Saints boast the best run defense in the NFL this year, allowing only 3.2 yards per carry — and they have also been solid against pass-catching backs, ranking top half of the league in fewest receptions and fewest receiving yards allowed to the position. The Saints have also allowed only five touchdowns to running backs — a mark that only seven teams have bettered.
Of course, this sets us up for your weekly reminder that matchup hardly matters for Gurley. In tough run matchups against Minnesota, Seattle, and San Francisco, Gurley fell shy of 100 rushing yards, but he piled up touchdown totals in those games of 1 // 3 // 3, and his otherworldly 54 touches in the red zone (6.75 per game) puts the rest of the league to shame. As we said a couple weeks ago against San Francisco: Gurley is “less likely than normal” to post a true week-winning score — but given his talent and usage, a “true week-winning score” is still in the cards, and he carries the highest raw projection on the slate.
SAINTS PASS OFFENSE
I’m still confused as to how the public managed to build up the idea this year that the Rams’ pass defense is a cakewalk matchup, as this team has shaved almost 9% off the league-average aDOT, and only the Seahawks and Cardinals are allowing fewer fantasy points per game to the quarterback position. Outside of a 422-yard pasting of this defense by Kirk Cousins, this unit has been strong — holding Philip Rivers to 226 yard and a pair of touchdowns, while holding Aaron Rodgers to 286 yards and a touchdown. The Rams have also been strong against wide receivers, allowing the sixth fewest receptions to the position — in spite of not yet having had their bye.
All of this is boosted by the Rams allowing (by far) the lowest opponent play volume in the league, as L.A. ranks fourth in the NFL in time of possession, at 32:02 (New Orleans ranks fifth, at 31:05 — which projects to shave a bit of volume off this game as a whole). The Rams rank third in drive success rate on offense, while the Saints rank 29th on defense, which should allow L.A. to chew up chunks of clock once again, limiting the play volume seen by their opponent. The Rams also rank 27th in yards allowed per carry, and since Mark Ingram returned to the field for the Saints, they have notched a pass play rate of only 46.24% — which would be the lowest mark in the league. Unless the Rams jump out to a big, early lead in this game, we should expect the Saints to lean run-heavy, and for volume to be a bit of a concern for this passing attack.
With all those negative data points cleared out of the way, it is obviously worth noting that even “elite” pass defenses are not a true roadblock for Drew Brees at home if the Saints click into attack mode — and the Rams are more “above-average” than “elite.” The likeliest scenario in this spot calls for the Saints to run the ball more times than they throw; but if this proves to not be the case, there is no reason Brees cannot succeed in this matchup.
With Brees throwing the ball 32 or fewer times in four consecutive games, Michael Thomas has seen target counts of 4 // 5 // 9 // 6 — and given his “possession receiver” aDOT of 7.6 (in the same range as guys like Cole Beasley, Julian Edelman, Seth Roberts, and Danny Amendola), volume and touchdowns will be important for Thomas to pay off his still-lofty price tag. Thomas has an xYAC/R of only 3.8, so big YAC games are outliers. He does have a 20+ yard target in back-to-back games, after seeing only two such targets through the first five games of the year. A bet on Thomas, at his price, is a bet on either A) him racking up multiple touchdowns, or B) the Rams jumping out to a big, early lead and the Saints having to attack more heavily through the air. If betting on that second element, you should also roster multiple Rams players to account for this expectation.
Last year on this run-heavy offense, it was regularly futile to roster ancillary pass catchers, as Thomas and Kamara effectively operated as the top two pass-catchers, with Ingram often popping up third on the list and the meager remaining targets being spread across a wide range of players. Over the last two weeks, targets on “non top three” guys have looked like this:
:: Cameron Meredith — 0 // 0
:: Ben Watson — 6 // 0
:: Tre’Quan Smith — 4 // 6
:: Austin Carr — 0 // 1
The Rams have allowed the most pass plays of 40+ yards and the third most pass plays of 20+ yards (this is the clearest cause for people believing that this defense should be indiscriminately attacked with passing units), making Smith an intriguing low-floor, high-ceiling tourney play. The Saints have quietly used two or fewer receivers on 36% of their plays this year, but Smith is the only guy beyond Thomas seeing consistent time on the field, and another four to six targets is a reasonable bet in this spot.
SAINTS RUN OFFENSE
Because the Rams are so often playing with a lead, teams are not able to run the ball on this unit as much as they would like — but given that the Saints should have no trouble keeping pace with L.A. in this spot, we shouldn’t have to worry too much about volume.
The Rams have allowed 4.75 yards per carry to running backs this year, and they have also surrendered the ninth most receptions to the position (for what it’s worth: even with all these catches, L.A. has allowed the sixth fewest receiving yards to running backs, and they are one of only five teams that has not yet allowed a receiving touchdown to the position). This is a good spot to note that Jalen Richard (9-55-0), Melvin Gordon (2-4-0), Austin Ekeler (3-24-0), and Phillip Lindsay (6-48-0) are really the only strong pass-catching backs the Rams have faced. This should be viewed as a plus matchup on the ground and — at worst — as an average matchup through the air.
Since Ingram returned, touches in this backfield have looked like this:
:: Alvin Kamara — 6 carries / 3 catches // 17 carries / 2 catches // 13 carries / 7 catches
:: Mark Ingram — 16 carries / 2 catches // 12 carries / 2 catches // 13 carries / 3 catches
If all goes according to plan in this spot, each guy will see 12 to 14 carries, while Kamara will rack up four to six catches and Ingram will add two or three catches of his own. Ingram has already grabbed five carries inside the 10-yard-line and three carries inside the five, while Kamara has remained involved close to the goal line as well. Given the matchup, the expected workload, and the expected high-scoring nature of this offense, Ingram’s ceiling sits in the same range as Kamara’s. Kamara has the higher floor, and his explosiveness and larger pass game role combine to give him a better shot at reaching ceiling.
I was excited to get to this game in the NFL Edge, and to see how it shaped up — hoping that the research would demystify this spot and allow us to target the “best plays” while much of our competition will be stuck “just plain guessing.”
While Gurley (as always) carries the highest raw projection on the slate, the play that stands out to me the most on the Rams is Kupp, who is priced at a discount on all three sites, and whose role in this offense carries more upside than most seem to realize. As long as Kupp is fully healthy and set to play a full complement of snaps, he should soak up seven to 10 targets, with a handful of short looks and a couple shots deep — while adding the largest red zone role among wide receivers on this side of the ball.
Cooks and Woods both stand out as strong plays as well. The low-volume nature of this passing attack sticks each guy with a “solid” floor (rather than an “elite” floor), but each guy carries big ceiling in this spot. There is at least some chance that New Orleans slows down the Rams’ ground attack, leading to a few more passes than normal for Goff and company. On that note: Goff also stands out as one of the stronger plays on the slate, as this is a week in which it is likely that the Rams’ touchdowns will come through the air, rather than on the ground.
The Rams’ defense gives up yards on the ground, but they give up touchdowns through the air, which makes Thomas a guy to potentially bet on for a multi-touchdown game. Barring a volume spike for the Saints’ passing attack or an unpredictable broken play, Thomas’ role is unlikely to yield 100+ yards through the air, but one touchdown is likely in this spot, and a multi-touchdown game is obviously on the table.
I also like Tre’Quan as a large-field tourney play — with a low floor, but with as much upside as any player in his price range. I (cautiously) like Watson in an above-average tight end matchup (the Rams have allowed the sixth most yards to the position). And while I expect Brees to be more popular than the numbers indicate he should be, it’s obviously never a surprise when he pops off for a strong game.
Finally: I like both Kamara and Ingram — with Kamara standing out for his upside, and with Ingram standing out for his surprisingly low price on DraftKings and FantasyDraft.
You could also mess around with various potential game scripts in a multi-entry game stack approach. Yards and points are going to pile up in this game, and there is a chance that these yards and points come from somewhere other than the likeliest sources.
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