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Sunday Night Football Preview

Sunday Night Football: Deep Dive

by Warren Sharp
Updated On: October 17, 2020, 5:07 pm ET

The LA Rams have a lot more flexibility with their passing attack this season. 

In 2018, when they went to the Super Bowl, on early downs in the game’s first three quarters, 96% of the Rams passing attempts came from 11 personnel, the highest rate in the NFL.

In 2019, that dropped all the way down to 76%.  They introduced far more 12 personnel, even though it wasn’t nearly as efficient.

In 2020, they are making much better decisions as it relates to personnel.  They’ve increased 11 back to 82%.  Not nearly as predictable as 2018, but more to their strength than 2019.  Additionally, while they’re passing from 12 at a 14% rate, those passes are much more efficient than they were in 2018.

Compare the efficiency from 12 on these early downs in the first three quarters:

2019:  7.0 YPA, 45% success, 78 rating
2020:  9.0 YPA, 54% success, 93 rating

I would still prefer more 11, because the Rams average 61% success and +0.34 EPA from 11 and haven’t been sacked once, but the gentle shift towards more 11 coupled with the efficiency increase from 12 compared to 2019 is such that I can live with it.

It’s helped to propel the Rams to the #4 most efficient offense, with the #7 most efficient passing offense and the #1 most efficient rushing offense.

The Rams are generating a ton of explosiveness out of their passing game, ranking #1 in the NFL, and they are keeping Jared Goff upright, with the pass protection ranking 7th best despite facing the 3rd toughest schedule of pass rushes to date. 

The biggest concern for the 49ers is in their secondary.  The 49ers rank #25 against the pass despite playing the NFL’s 2nd easies schedule of pass offenses.  Weeks 2 thru 4, they faced three bottom-5 passing offenses (Jets, Giants, Eagles).  The only two passing offenses they faced that were superior were the Cardinals (#17) in Week 1 and the Dolphins (#11) last week.  Miami hung 43 points.  The 49ers lost both games.

The 49ers front ranks #6 against the run but has not been tested much.  After facing (and losing to) the Cardinals #7 rushing offense in week 1, the 49ers have played 4 straight teams that rank bottom-10 in the NFL in rushing efficiency.  Now they must go up against the #1 ranked Rams rushing attack.

This is a big step up in class for the 49ers defense in general.  Their defense has played the #1 easiest schedule of opposing offenses.  The only above-average offense was the Dolphins (#15) last week and Miami hung 43 and moved the ball with ease.

On the other side of the ball, the Rams Defense has struggled tremendously against the run.  They’ve played the NFL’s easiest schedule of rushing offenses, with the Eagles, Bills and Giants all ranking bottom-10, and the only above average rushing attack faced being the Cowboys.  And yet the Rams rank #24 against the run. 

Now they must face the #6 rushing attack of the 49ers, which may be relying more on the ground game than usual on account of the injuries at quarterback. 

Jimmy Garoppolo was sat down due to his ankle not being 100% last week and the score margin.  Kyle Shanahan said if the score was closer (which would have likely meant Garoppolo was playing better as well, these two items are joined) that Garoppolo wouldn’t have been benched.  But he was playing bad and it led to an early deficit.

This line, prior to the game’s conclusion, was the 49ers -3.  It was massively bet toward the Rams once it reopened, to the point that at books that reopened early, the Rams flipped to a -3 point favorite within 15 minutes of reopening.  This line currently sits at the Rams -3.5. 

There is some assumption here that Garoppolo may not play on Sunday, but I don’t necessarily buy that.  His movement needs to be improved, but my guess is Shanahan will put him through the paces this week and if he’s even close to being near 90%, he will start.  This is a critical, home division game and the 49ers cannot afford to slip to 2-4 on the season, with the Rams shifting to 4-1, the Seahawks 5-0 and the Cardinals sitting at 3-2 with a trip to the Cowboys on Monday night.

If Garoppolo is the QB, this line is wrong.  Even if he’s not at 100%.  That does not mean betting the 49ers +3.5 will win.  It just means that betting the Rams at -3 or -3.5 in this one-time-only event has zero line value. 

 

In the last four weeks, the Rams have traveled from LA:

Back and forth to Philadelphia

Back and forth to New York

Back and forth to Washington

 

That’s a ridiculous travel toll, that at best doesn’t hurt much but at worst is disadvantageous.  Last week the Fortyniners were without almost everyone that mattered in their secondary.  This week, they are likely to get back starting CBs Emmanuel Moseley (concussion, missed last week) and CB Ahkello Witherspoon who played sparingly last week, along with LB Dre Greenlaw who missed last week entirely. 

The Rams have so far played teams that love to use 11 personnel.  We’re talking Buffalo, Dallas and  Washington as being 3 of their 5 opponents.  The NFL average is to use 11 personnel on 61% of plays.  These teams use 3+ WRs on 92%, 82% and 73% respectively.

These types of teams don’t have the TEs to attack the Rams coverage LBs from heavier sets.  The other two teams they faced were the Giants (incapable of passing) and the Eagles (injuries to the o-line and WRs).

The 49ers offensive unit is extremely healthy right now.  They have both backs up.  Their FB up.  Their TE up.  All WRs up.  Deebo Samuel’s snap rate increased from 34% in Week 4 to 89% last week.  Brandon Aiyuk played 97% of the team’s snaps.  Not only were both of these players unavailable to start the season, their presence on the field at 100% will help the TEs and backs in the receiving game.  The Rams rank #26 defending backs in the receiving game despite playing teams that aren’t as strong when targeting backs.

Looking at YPA to RBs, the Rams 5 opponents to date rank #32, #25, #24, #23 and #18 and Philadelphia, Washington and the NY Giants all rank bottom-5 in success rate to RBs.  And yet the Rams rank #26 in both YPA and success rate allowed to RBs.  The 49ers will absolutely look to take advantage of the Rams LBs in coverage.

The Rams are 4-1 but their wins have come to the NFC East, where they are 4-0.  We’re talking deficiencies at the QB position and offensive lines almost across the board, not to mention some of the defenses.  Credit where it’s due, the Rams are better than I expected them to be this year. 

But this is the type of play that you cannot afford to pass up.  It may lose, but the public and has put far too much stock into what we’ve seen the last couple weeks, especially in primetime, with the 49ers dropping these games.  Win or lose, if you’re interested in winning long term, these are the types of sides you must find yourself on.  This is not about winning a one-time-only roll of the dice, this is about being on the type of games that are +EV winning positions and will put you in the black with a large enough sample size. 

Warren Sharp

Warren Sharp is a football betting analyst for NBC Sports. As a leading voice in football analytics, Warren writes a yearly book previewing the upcoming season from all angles at his Sharp Football Analysis website. You can follow Warren Sharp on Twitter @SharpFootball.