NFL Week 8 Picks: Expert Late-Slate Bets for 49ers vs Rams, More
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images. Pictured: Christian McCaffrey.
NFL Week 8 Picks
Chris Raybon: Cooks saw shadow coverage from Kristian Fulton in Week 11 of last season. He caught no passes against Fulton en route to a 2/18/0 receiving line on three targets.
Fulton shadowed Nico Collins when the teams met later that season in Week 18, but Collins is out today with a groin injury, which should free up Fulton to cover Cooks again.
Per PFF, Fulton is allowing a reception once every 12.1 snaps in coverage, which ranks 33rd of 115 qualified corners. Cooks hasn’t topped 57 yards since Week 1 and has only gone over 54 yards twice all season.
Chris Raybon: I think we’re seeing some Ehlinger preseason inflation mixed with some Bailey Zappe inflation in this line.
Over the preseason, Ehlinger went 24-of-29 passing for 284 yards, 4 TDs and no interceptions while adding 71 yards and a TD on the ground, so it’s tempting to view him as an upgrade on the immobile, turnover-prone Matt Ryan. We’ve also seen a third stringer in Zappe come in and look like an upgrade from Mac Jones and Brian Hoyer.
But let’s put things in proper perspective: Ehlinger is a former sixth-round pick making his first pro start for an offense that ranks dead last in DVOA. His 2022 preseason was good, but almost every single one of his big plays wouldn’t have occurred against a starting-caliber NFL defense. And unlike Zappe, he did not break passing records in college.
One thing that doesn’t show up if you only look at Ehlinger’s raw passing stats in the preseason was his propensity to hold the ball too long.
Commanders +3 | Colts -3
Ehlinger was sacked on 13.5% of his dropbacks and 38.5% of his dropbacks under pressure. His gaudy passing numbers came while averaging 3.25 seconds to throw, which is unsustainable. That mark would be higher than any QB with a minimum of 50 dropbacks except for Justin Fields (3.41). Matt Ryan got the ball out in 2.62 seconds on average and still absorbed 24 sacks, tied for second in the league. Things aren’t looking good for Ehlinger against a Commanders defense that ranks fifth in pressure rate (26.2%).
Ehlinger will get yardage on the ground that Ryan couldn’t, but remember, Ryan averaged 287.3 passing yards and 1.7 passing TDs per game in the Colts’ three wins (with only one of them coming by more than three points) – numbers which Ehlinger almost certainly will not be able to produce.
The Colts will likely lean on the run, which plays right into the hands of the Commanders, who rank fourth in DVOA against opposing ground games. Washington has allowed just 3.58 yards per carry to opposing RBs over the past five weeks, so Jonathan Taylor may have to wait another week to raise his career-low 4.2 yard-per-carry average.
When the Commanders have the ball, Taylor Heinicke will be tasked with operating an underneath passing game. Heinicke threw 75.9% of his passes fewer than 10 yards beyond the line of scrimmage last week against the Packers, and he should have success with that strategy against a Colts pass defense that ranks 26th in DVOA on short passes.
The market tends to sleep on Heinicke, who is 7-2 against the spread (ATS) since November of last season, with one of the losses coming by a half-point.
Including the postseason, Kyle Shanahan has covered in six straight games against Sean McVay. Shanahan is 9-3 ATS all-time against McVay, covering by an average of 5.3 points per game.
The 49ers simply match up well with the Rams, and though McVay made some solid adjustments to his game plan in the NFC Championship Game (such as devoting more resources to stopping the run), none of it carried over in a way that influenced the outcome in the first matchup this year, which the 49ers won 24-9 while outgaining the Rams 327-257.
The biggest issue for the Rams is they don’t have the edge in the trenches on either side of the ball.
Despite the presence of Aaron Donald and blitzing at the 10th-highest rate in the league (28.7%), the Rams have generated pressure on a dismal 12.9% of opposing dropbacks, the second-lowest rate in the league.
Jimmy Garoppolo has a passer rating of 60.2 under pressure, but 106.2 from a clean pocket this season. He also makes defenses pay for blitzing him, with a 101.8 rating when blitzed compared to 92.7 when not. In the first meeting, Garoppolo was only pressured on 10.7% of his dropbacks and wasn’t sacked at all. On 24 attempts from a clean pocket, he diced up the Rams for 10.0 yards per attempt and a TD with no interceptions.
49ers -1 | Rams +1
The 49ers averaged 6.8 yards per play against the Rams in the first matchup, and they did so despite missing first-team All-Pro left tackle Trent Williams. This time, San Francisco will be without another key blocker in fullback Kyle Juszczyk (finger), who played 32 snaps in the Week 4 matchup.
While not ideal, missing Juszczyk is still less impactful than missing Williams, and the 49ers were able to survive that just fine. In a similar vein, any issues with the absence of Deebo Samuel (hamstring) can be offset by the presence of Christian McCaffrey, another elite talent whom Shanahan didn’t have at his disposal in the first meeting..
Led by Nick Bosa up front, the 49ers defense is second in pressure rate (27.6%), which poses a major challenge for a Rams offensive line that has already lost Joe Noteboom (Achilles), David Edwards (concussion), Coleman Shelton (ankle), Tremayne Anchrum (leg) and Logan Bruss (knee), all of whom are on injured reserve.
The Rams will be starting their seventh different offensive line combination on Sunday, which doesn’t bode well for Matthew Stafford, who was pressured on 41.1% of dropbacks and sacked seven times in the Week 4 meeting.
This season, Stafford’s passer rating drops from 89.9 when kept clean to 69.7 under pressure. The 49ers don’t have to blitz a ton to get pressure – their 24.8% blitz rate ranks 18th – which is also a plus against Stafford, who has long been known to make defenses pay for sending extra rushers. This season, Stafford’s passer rating is 115.0 when blitzed, which ranks seventh of 37 qualified passers, but 75.0 when not blitzed, which ranks 32nd.
Stafford also doesn’t figure to get much help from his run game. With the offensive line in flux, Rams running backs are averaging just 0.88 yards before contact per carry (29th). The 49ers have been excellent against the run, ranking fifth in defensive rushing DVOA and second in yards per carry allowed to running backs (3.36).
The Rams do have the bye week working in their favor, but the Rams are just 1-2 ATS in their last three games off a bye under McVay. The Rams also don’t have much of a home-field advantage, which is especially true in this matchup with 49er fans making the trip to Los Angeles in droves.
Ultimately, the 49ers (10th in overall DVOA) are a better team than the Rams (23rd) and should continue to have the edge.