How Motions and Mismatches Will Impact Chiefs-Rams Over/Under
USA Today Sports. Pictured: Patrick Mahomes, Todd Gurley
- Anthony Amico breaks down how coverage and mismatches will influence whether the Kansas City Chiefs-Los Angeles Rams matchup hits its over/under.
- The Monday Night Football total is set at a historically-high 63.5. So where's the value? Amico explains.
I’ll be leveraging my experience as a high school football coach and fantasy analyst with a statistics background to identify aspects of one matchup every week that you can take advantage of while setting your fantasy football lineups and/or placing bets on the upcoming slate.
This week we are focusing on what should be an exciting Monday Night Football matchup between the Chiefs and Rams in Los Angeles.
Expect a Lot of Man Coverage
To set the stage for this matchup, it’s important to know the type of coverage that will be predominantly on display. Fortunately, both of these teams keep it pretty simple.
I’ve highlighted how the Chiefs are one of the heaviest users of Cover 1 in the NFL this season. The Rams deployed a good mix of coverages under Wade Phillips in 2017, but after reloading at corner this past offseason with free-agent Sam Shields, then trading for Aqib Talib and Marcus Peter, they’ve utilized man coverage a lot more.
Even with Talib (ankle) on injured reserve, the Rams have been bold enough to use shadow coverage against opposing teams’ best weapons.
The Power of Jet Motion
The Ringer’s Robert Mays wrote an excellent piece about how jet motion is taking over the NFL. He gives a lot of the history behind the play, and details why it’s so effective.
Jet motion is when a wide receiver goes from one side of the field to the other, but the ball is snapped as the player approaches the center, usually around the tackle. The player in motion is a threat to receive a handoff or quick shovel if the quarterback is in shotgun.
So what makes this so effective?
For years, pundits have preached the value in throwing the ball deep during games in order to stretch defenses vertically. This inevitably opens up more holes since the defense can’t possibly cover all of the ground necessary to stop offenses at every depth of the field on every play.
Jet motion creates the same kind of stretching, but in the horizontal direction.
The defense has to respect the threat of the motion player receiving the ball, putting all 160 feet of the field sideline-to-sideline in play. When blending that with a deep passing game, it’s easy to see why defenses have struggled so much against jet motion in 2018.
Through the first month of the season, teams were averaging 7.7 yards per play on jet sweeps and 8.6 yards per attempt on passes involving jet motion. That’s a 75% increase per rush attempt and a 15% increase per pass attempt versus the league average.
Jet motion is especially effective against teams that run a lot of man coverage. It forces defenders to switch responsibilities as the player moves across the formation — a situation that’s bound to lead to a blown coverage or obvious mismatch — or run with their man across the field, creating unexpected gaps and leverage situations for the offense to exploit.
The Rams use jet motion the most in the NFL; when Mays’ piece published ahead of Week 9, they had run almost three times as many jet sweeps as the next closest team. The Chiefs are also among the league leaders.
Mismatches on Both Sides
These teams present very clear mismatches for the opposing side in at least one major way.
For the Chiefs, Tyreek Hill is an ever-present matchup nightmare. He’s likely the fastest player in the entire league — he ran a 4.29-second 40-yard dash at his Pro Day — but he also has all-world agility with a 6.53 three-cone time.
Hill is a jitterbug who gets used all over the field. Andy Reid is also sure to motion Hill all over the formation to keep defenses shaking in their boots.
If the Rams continue to shadow opposing top receivers with Peters, it likely won’t end well. Of all corners with at least 100 coverage snaps, Peters is allowing a 72.5% completion rate and ranks in the bottom six in quarterback rating against according to Pro Football Focus.
The only corner to allow more touchdowns this season than Peters is Malcolm Butler.
Peters is nowhere near as fast as Hill with a 4.53 40 at the combine. Considering Hill just burned elite athlete and lockdown corner Patrick Peterson for two touchdowns, it’s doubtful that Peters stands a chance.
The Chiefs are bad against running backs in the passing game due to their coverage scheme and linebacker quality, which is an especially large problem against a player like Todd Gurley in a scheme like Sean McVay’s.
The Rams are fantastic at getting Gurley open in space and will surely be looking to get him matched up with a Chiefs linebacker as often as possible. One thing I expect to see is the Rams going trips bunch closed — tight trips to one side and a tight end to the other.
This should force the man-heavy Chiefs to put their best cover guys all to one side of the field, and leave a ton of room on the other side for Gurley to work against a less-athletic defender out of the backfield.
Bet the Over
You don’t need my analysis to know that the players in this game are excellent fantasy options. They have likely been carrying your squads all season.
The real edge in this matchup will be in the betting market, where the over/under is set at 63.5 (see live odds here). That’s the highest listed total in the entire Bet Labs database, which will likely compel a good bit of bettors to take the under.
However, the over is 10-5 since 2004 in games with a closing total of at least 57, including 4-1 so far in 2018. The betting market likely has still not caught up with the highest-scoring game environments present in the modern NFL.
Here we have two teams that average 68.8 points per game combined, and are both top seven in situation neutral pace according to Football Outsiders. The Rams have allowed 8.3 yards per pass attempt since losing Talib, while the Chiefs have faltered against potent offenses such as the Steelers and Patriots.
All of this has me loving the over, even with such a high number to beat.