RAMS // SEAHAWKS OVERVIEW
Hidden amongst “Falcons at Steelers,” “Packers at Lions,” and “Raiders at Chargers” is a Rams team that enters this writeup with the third-highest Vegas-implied total on the main slate, at 28.5. The Rams have been unstoppable to begin the year, ranking first in yards per game and second in points per game, while having more success on a per-drive basis than any team in the league. When these teams met early last year in L.A., the upstart Rams scored only 10 points; but when they met up later in the season in Seattle, the Rams won 42-7, with Todd Gurley famously rushing for 152 yards and three touchdowns, while adding three catches for 28 yards and another touchdown through the air. Seattle has struggled against the run to begin the season, ranking 25th in yards allowed per carry — and they have now lost Mychal Kendricks (suspension) and Earl Thomas (broken leg). Buckle up.
RAMS PASS OFFENSE
No team has had a more effective passing attack than the Rams this year, with the most yards per pass attempt and the second-most passing yards per game. This attack has been legitimately unstoppable, with every play putting immense strain on the defense. In the same way that the physicality of a defense like the Ravens or Jaguars can wear down an offense over the course of a game, the relentless attack mode of this offense can wear down a D. This unit is absolutely elite at all levels of the field, with Gurley and Cooper Kupp underneath, and with Robert Woods and Brandin Cooks downfield.
For what it’s worth, Seattle has been very strong against the pass to begin the year, ranking near the top of the league in aDOT allowed, catch rate allowed, and expected yards allowed per target. So far, however, this young defense has faced Case Keenum, Mitchell Trubisky, Dak Prescott, and Josh Rosen. Let’s say there are tougher quarterback slates than that — and I’ll be willing to take my chances on Sean McVay’s aerial attack this week, with bonus points if the field is looking the other way.
At this point, it’s almost impossible to box these Rams receivers into a specified role. Yes, Cooper Kupp is the “underneath” guy, but he is also seeing targets downfield. Yes, Cooks is the speed threat, but he is also running intermediate and even underneath routes. And yes, Woods leads this team in aDOT and percentage share of team air yards (ranking seventh in the league in the latter category), but he is also seeing targets at all levels of the field. With the way the Rams level out their routes, we are also seeing fairly consistent targets across the board. So far, weekly target counts have looked like this:
Kupp :: 9 // 6 // 6 // 11
Cooks :: 8 // 9 // 8 // 8
Woods :: 9 // 9 // 11 // 5
Kupp ranks behind only Jared Cook and Melvin Gordon with six targets inside the 10 — but Woods has four looks of his own, and Cooks has three. Essentially, it’s Woods // Cooks // Kupp for “total ceiling” and for “likelihood of hitting ceiling,” but all three guys are playable. They all have a high floor in this offense.
RAMS RUN OFFENSE
The one major drawback for the Rams’ passing attack could be crowd noise in Seattle — which could lead to simpler pre-snap changes at the line of scrimmage, and would filter the Rams toward more run plays, as they will have a harder time changing route combinations before the play. There is also the fact that Todd Gurley is just awesome. If he gets rolling against the Seahawks’ bottom-eight run defense, he could carry this offense from start to finish.
Gurley has touch counts on the year of 23, 22, 28, and 21, and Carlos Hyde is the only player with more carries inside the five, while Alvin Kamara is the only player with more carries inside the 10. There isn’t much left to say on Gurley at this point. He’s clearly one of the top three running back plays on the weekend, with a reliable floor and a monster ceiling.
SEAHAWKS PASS OFFENSE
The Seahawks have struggled enormously through the air to begin the year, ranking 29th in passing yards per game as the team dials back pass attempts and tries to shorten games by leaning on the run. Only six teams have run the ball at a higher rate this year — and very few of these rushes are coming from Russell Wilson himself, as he has maxed out at four rushing attempts this year, and at 21 rushing yards.
The Rams took a step back against the pass last week, agains the Vikings’ precision passing attack, with Marcus Peters hobbled and Aqib Talib sidelined. Talib will be out for a couple more months, but Peters should be much healthier after having the mini-bye to heal up. The Rams have a big mismatch on the line, with Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh going up against an O-line that ranks 31st in Football Outsiders’ adjusted sack rate. While the Rams have not racked up big sack numbers to begin the year, they rank first in the NFL in pressure rate, and they should have no problem busting through this line this week.
Although the Rams are more attackable in the secondary than they would be with Talib, Russ will have a difficult time dialing up the deep balls that yield upside for this attack — which is going to make it difficult to bet on any individual pieces in this attack with confidence. With that said, there is a good chance Seattle falls behind in this spot and is forced to turn more heavily to the air than normal. If that’s the case, Doug Baldwin could spike to nine or 10 targets, while Tyler Lockett could see as many as seven or eight looks.
Behind these two, Brandon Marshall and Jaron Brown have done nothing, while Will Dissly is out for the year. Nick Vannett will step into the bulk of the Seahawks’ tight end snaps, though he has yet to top 27 yards this year in spite of a pair of five-target games.
SEAHAWKS RUN OFFENSE
Two weeks ago, the Seahawks gave Chris Carson 34 touches (just enough for him to crack 100 yards…), and after running him into the ground with that workload, Seattle gave 25 touches last week to Mike Davis, as Rashaad Penny chipped in with nine carries of his own. Carson did not practice Wednesday, but the ever-optimistic Carroll said that he expects him to be ready for the weekend. If Carson plays, we should see some sort of three-man rotation as Seattle looks to stay run-heavy for as long as they can. If Carson misses, Davis should again be in line for 20+ touches, with Penny soaking up some looks behind him.
Seattle has been better at run blocking than at pass blocking, but they still rank a below-average 21st in adjusted line yards. The matchup is not terrifying against a Rams team that ranks 24th in yards allowed per carry — though most of these carries have come with the Rams in the lead and paying attention to the pass while comfortably allowing small gains on the ground. No team has faced fewer rush attempts per game than the Rams, and they have the talent to slow down the Seahawks’ ground attack if this game remains close enough for Seattle to stick to the run. The return of Mark Barron this week gives the Rams another piece in the middle to make life difficult on the Seahawks.
There are a number of wide receiver corps I am drawn to this week — primarily: the Falcons // Steelers // Packers // Lions // Bengals // Raiders // and Vikings. The Rams comfortably join that list, with all three guys carrying strong point-per-dollar floor and excellent ceiling. With prices rising on all these guys, I’m likeliest to go with the highest-upside guys in Woods and Cooks, but all three of these pass catchers are in play this week. Alongside these guys, Jared Goff is a strong option as well, though I’ll likely avoid him in cash games and target a game that has a higher chance of turning into a pure shootout.
Of course, Gurely remains one of the top plays on the slate. The Seahawks do not have the pieces on defense to stop him.
On the other side, I have Baldwin and Lockett set aside as interesting tourney pieces, as Seattle will likely need to lean pass-heavy as this game unfolds, and there is really no one for Russ to throw to besides these two. Russ is also a guy with a moderate floor, but with blowup potential if he suddenly gets on track this week. I like these guys a lot more on DraftKings than on FanDuel, as Russ and Baldwin are each priced more than $1k below where they would have been a year ago in this spot.
If Carson is out, I could also take a dirty-feeling shot on Mike Davis. I don’t like this spot, but the price on Davis is way too low for a featured back — and on DraftKings, where the savings matter so much, he could be difficult to pass up. The great fear would be that Pete Carroll would pull a Pete Carroll on us and shift all the work to someone else without warning.