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Chiefs-Rams MNF Matchup Manifesto: Todd Gurley Is Primed to Ball Out

Nov 19, 2018 12:00 AM EST
  • Ian Hartitz helps you leverage matchups stats for fantasy football and betting purposes in Chiefs-Rams.
  • The Rams' advantage in run blocking against the Chiefs' front-seven could be the biggest mismatch.
  • Neither pass offense should have much trouble moving the ball through the air.

The NFL is a matchup-driven league. The goal here is to break down the following key matchups in Kansas City Chiefs-Los Angeles Rams:

  • Directional Passer Rating  
  • Yards Per Attempt by Position
  • Directional Adjusted Line Yards per Rush
  • WR/CB Snap and Physical Profiles
  • WR/CB Combined Yards Per Route Run 

What follows is essentially a condensed version of my weekly matchup analysis for every game.

The following charts highlight the largest mismatches that will ultimately help you gain actionable betting and fantasy takeaways for this Monday Night Football showdown.

Note: This data is based on what has happened in Weeks 1-10

Quarterbacks

Patrick Mahomes and Jared Goff both deserve serious consideration for this season’s MVP award. They rank among the league’s top five signal-callers in virtually every statistical category.

Meanwhile, both defenses have struggled to slow down opposing offenses for large stretches of the season. The Rams and Chiefs rank 20th and 25th in Football Outsiders’ overall DVOA, respectively.

We can calculate how well Mahomes and Goff are set up when throwing to different areas of the field with help from Sharp Football StatsPro Football Reference also provides enough information to calculate each offense’s and defense’s yards per attempt to each position.

  • Combined Directional Passer Rating: The sum of each quarterback’s passer rating to each area of the field and the opposing defense’s passer rating allowed to the same area. A higher number is better for the quarterback (green), while a lower number is good news for the defense (red).
  • Combined Position-Specific Yards per Attempt: The sum of each quarterback’s average yards per attempt to each position with the opposing defense’s yards per attempt allowed to the same position. A higher number is better for that position and quarterback (green), while a lower number could lead to a more definitive defensive advantage (red).

  • Mahomes (117.4) has a slightly higher overall passer rating than Goff (112.5), but the Chiefs defense (88.6) has been significantly stingier against opposing quarterbacks than the Rams (101.3).
  • The Chiefs are set up best attacking the Rams down the left sideline. The Rams have allowed a league-high 11 completions of 40-plus yards this season.
  • Kareem Hunt could be a bigger pass-game factor than usual this week considering the Chiefs’ outlook in the short-middle area of the field. Hunt had at least five receptions per game in Weeks 6-8, but he’s totaled just three catches in his past two games.
  • Todd Gurley could also potentially find some success in the screen game based on Goff’s passer rating advantage in the short-middle area of the field.
  • The matchup we can perhaps best forecast for success is Brandin Cooks (61% snaps at left receiver) against cornerback Steven Nelson (88%).
  • In general, the Chiefs’ passing game should hold a slight advantage compared to the Rams, but both offenses are more than capable of moving the ball through the air.
  • Chiefs wide receivers appear to be best positioned for success based on their combined yards per target rate. Rams receivers will have to deal with a Chiefs defense that ranks among the league’s top-two units in DVOA vs. No. 1 and No. 2 wide receivers.
  • Travis Kelce is also set up well against Rams linebackers and safeties.
  • Gurley could have a more efficient evening than Hunt considering their respective rates. The Rams rank second in DVOA against running backs, while the Chiefs rank 27th.

Running Backs

Gurley and Hunt are two of the league’s few true backs who are capable of thriving on all three downs. Sean McVay and Andy Reid have regularly found creative ways to utilize their explosive backs as moving-mismatches all over the field.

Defenses have largely not had any answers, as Gurley and Hunt are the PPR RB1 and RB5, respectively. They’re largely matchup-proof considering each is the lead back on an elite offense. Still, their offensive lines remain a crucial component of their success, as failure to control the line of scrimmage can lead to a rough performance for even the league’s best running backs.

We can calculate where the Rams’ and Chiefs’ offensive lines hold the best advantages against their opponent’s defensive line with help from the fine folks at Football Outsiders — specifically, their adjusted line yards per rush metric, which takes all running back carries and assigns responsibility to the offensive line based on an opponent-adjusted set of variables.

  • Combined Directional Adjusted Line Yards per Rush: The sum of an offensive line’s adjusted line yards per rush to a certain area of the line and the opposing defense’s adjusted line yards allowed per rush to the same area. A higher number (green) is good for running backs, while a lower number (red) indicates that matchup’s offense could have some trouble running the ball.

  • The Chiefs will once again be without starting center Mitch Morse (concussion). They haven’t exactly dominated the line of scrimmage this season, anyway, despite the offense’s overall success. The offensive line ranks just 19th in adjusted line yards per rush.
  • The Chiefs rank outside of the league’s top 20 offensive lines on the outside and up the middle, but rank No. 2 and No. 7 on runs over left and right tackle, respectively.
  • Unfortunately for Hunt, it’s going to be tough for the Chiefs to control Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh on the inside — PFF’s No. 1 and No. 19 overall interior defenders this season.
  • The Rams’ defensive line ranks just 24th in adjusted line yards allowed per rush, but has unsurprisingly been at its strongest between the tackles.
  • The Rams’ offensive line ranks first in adjusted line yards per rush and will take on the Chiefs’ league-worst defensive line. Gurley boasts the largest advantage in combined adjusted line yards per rush since I began tracking the metric in Week 4.
  • Gurley could be particularly lethal around left end. The Rams can thank all-world left tackle Andrew Whitworth (PFF’s No. 3 offensive tackle) for a bunch of this success
  • Even Gurley’s worst directional matchup is better than Hunt’s best-case matchup. Gurley is in the midst of one of the best seasons by a running back ever, and this will be his best matchup of the season.

Wide Receivers

There’s plenty of talent on both sides of the field at receiver. Still, both teams will be at less than 100%, as Cooper Kupp (knee) is done for the season and Sammy Watkins (hamstring) wasn’t able to practice on Friday or Saturday.

Demarcus Robinson will replace Watkins in 3-WR sets if the Chiefs’ prized free-agency add is ultimately unable to suit up. If Watkins can play, he’ll join Tyreek Hill and Chris Conley in 3-WR sets, with Kelce also seeing plenty of action all over the field.

The Rams are locked into a 3-WR set featuring Cooks and Josh Reynolds on the outside with Robert Woods in the slot. Tyler Higbee and Gerald Everett will split time at tight end.

We can determine where each receiver will line up, as well as which cornerback they’ll see the most of with help from the snap counts provided by PFF. We’ll also use PFF to compare each receiver and defender’s respective yards per route run and yards allowed per cover snap. NFL.com provides each receiver and cornerback’s height, weight and 40-yard dash time from the NFL combine, while DraftScout.com provides pro-day numbers.

  • Snap Percentage: Each receiver’s respective percentage of snaps spent as the offense’s left, slot or right wide receiver, along with each cornerback’s respective percentage of snaps spent covering the offense’s left, slot or right wide receiver.
  • Physical: Each player’s respective height (inches), weight (pounds) and 40-yard dash (seconds). The players with the biggest advantages are denoted in green, while those facing a mismatch are in red.
  • Combined Yards Per Route Run: The sum of each receiver’s yards per route run in the slot or overall with their opposing defender’s yards allowed per cover snap rate. A higher number (green) is better for the receiver, and a lower number (red) is better for the defender.

First we’ll look at Chiefs receivers against the Rams secondary.

  • The Chiefs regularly move their receivers around the formation more than any team in the league. Still, the offense continues to consistently flow through Kelce (25% target share), Hill (23%) and Watkins (17%).
  • Hill is most likely to take advantage of the Rams’ leaky secondary. TyFreak leads the Chiefs in air yard market share (35%).
  • The Chiefs could theoretically try to take advantage of their size advantage in the slot against Nickell Robey-Coleman (5-foot-7 and 169 pounds), but PFF’s No. 12 overall cornerback hasn’t allowed his size to be an issue this season.
  • Kelce is more likely to relish a size advantage. Free safety Lamarcus Joyner (5-foot-8 and 184 pounds) is also under-sized.
  • Neither Sam Shields nor Marcus Peters are expected to matchup well with Hill or Watkins.
  • Peters has been a complete liability. He’s one of only three cornerbacks to allow at least six touchdowns in coverage. There’s a chance he’s asked to shadow Watkins on the outside, but that matchup wasn’t an issue for Davante Adams (5-133-0) or Michael Thomas (12-211-1) this season.

Now let’s see how Rams receivers stack up against Chiefs cornerbacks and safeties.

  • Woods has worked as the offense’s lead slot receiver with Kupp sidelined this season. This should result in him seeing the most of Kendall Fuller, who ranks among the league’s bottom-two slot corners in receptions (30) and yards (353) allowed in slot coverage this season.
  • Cooks will see the most of Nelson, who is in his fourth season and has earned PFF’s No. 10 overall grade among cornerbacks in 2018.
  • Still, Goff’s aforementioned ability to effectively attack defenses down the left sideline could be lethal in this matchup considering Cooks’ sizable speed advantage.
  • Woods (14 targets), Cooks (13) and Gurley (12) were featured well ahead of Reynolds (6) and Everett (4) as far as overall targets are concerned when Kupp was out during Weeks 7 and 8.
  • Reynolds and Everett boast fairly significant height advantages in their respective matchups, but their lack of speed and general lack of efficient play this season are causes for concern.
  • The Chiefs haven’t asked their cornerbacks to move much all season. Fuller will matchup against the offense’s right wide receiver in 2-WR sets, but this shouldn’t occur often against a Rams offense that has run a league-high 98% of its offensive snaps from 3-WR sets.

Other Matchup Notes

The following chart is comprised of the six categories that make up my league-wide weekly matchup manifesto. You can learn more here.

  • The Rams and Chiefs own the week’s highest combined explosive pass play and combined net yards per pass attempt rates. To reiterate: Neither pass offense should have much trouble moving the ball through the air.
  • This is the week’s third-quickest matchup in combined situation neutral pace. The Rams (No. 4) and Chiefs (No. 7) each rank among the league’s fastest-moving offenses.
  • The Rams’ advantage in run blocking against the Chiefs’ front-seven is potentially the week’s single-largest mismatch in any single facet of the game.
  • Unsurprisingly, Donald and Co. will boast a larger challenge at the line of scrimmage than the Chiefs’ pass rush. Still, the recent return of stud outside linebacker Justin Houston will cause problems for Rams offensive tackles.
  • Both offenses have done a great job taking care of the football this season, while their defenses haven’t made a habit of taking away the ball.
  • I cannot wait for this game.
Credit:

Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Todd Gurley

Follow Ian Hartitz on Twitter
@IHartitz

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