Welcome to Vantage Points, a column I will be writing weekly during the NFL season as a window into every game of the week. With access limited more than ever this year and with no preseason games for us to put our own eyes on, I have the utmost respect for sportswriters covering the NFL on a daily basis, giving us a window into what these teams might look like and where their strengths and weaknesses — beyond the obvious — lie.
The purpose of this column is to highlight the work of those writers, but to also turn some of their observations into actionable fantasy advice. The goal isn’t just to highlight obvious angles, but perhaps some of the lower-end ones that could lead to fantasy advantages. I’m also taking advantage of watching press conferences and reading transcripts from coaches and players, as well as using stats to back up narratives and look for fantasy-relevant angles. I’ll also cover notable injuries.
I will publish this column twice weekly — on Wednesdays to preview the Thursday night game, and on Fridays to preview the Sunday slate.
All times are Eastern.
New England at LA Rams (Thu, 8:20 PM)
What They’re Saying About the Patriots…
The Patriots have won four of five games, are back to .500 on the season at 6-6, and are right in the thick of the playoff hunt. But the story this week has been the passing, or lack thereof, of QB Cam Newton. He’s thrown for fewer than 100 yards in back-to-back wins, the first QB to do so since the legendary Brady Quinn in 2009. So he’s been obviously dropping milquetoast quotes like “I only care about the win” and stuff like that (I’m paraphrasing, but not by much), but this is obviously not a sustainable offense in the modern NFL.
“While Newton definitely hasn’t played great this season, it hasn’t been all bad. In the first month of the season Newton was awesome and was near the top of the MVP race. It wasn’t until the quarterback caught COVID-19 and wound up missing a game and two full weeks of practice that he started to play poorly—and perhaps the effects of the virus has affected his play. Additionally, Newton has been very effective with his legs this season, already rushing for 11 touchdowns. The offense as a whole has shifted to a run-heavy approach that utilizes Newton's ability as a runner and the unit is actually third in the league in rushing yards per game. Whether or not this is sustainable is the question, but I do believe that Newton can only get better with another year in the system and with more reps with his pass catchers.”
Of course, part of the problem — maybe the biggest problem — is Newton simply doesn’t have NFL receivers. The most notable issue is 2019 first-rounder N’Keal Harry, who has been a massive disappointment (though he used his body well on a 5-yard TD reception last week), and The Athletic did a breakdown of his career so far. Is he a bust?
Here’s the biggest issue I see from Harry, presupposing The Athletic’s staff is right. Joe Buscaglia writes:
“Without question, Harry looked much better as a rookie than at any point this season — regardless of statistics. The biggest surprise was how much more agile Harry looked on film as a rookie than this season. There were multiple plays in need of a double or triple check to make sure that it was the same player from this season. He showed more burst, better separation skills at the top of his route and deceived defenders. It looked like the Patriots might have had something late in 2019. Now, he seems zapped of some of those things that made him such an intriguing late-season performer.”
At this stage there’s no doubt the Patriots need to be major players in both the draft and free agency at the wide receiver position, whether or not Newton is back at QB.
What They’re Saying About the Rams…
If you’re on football Twitter, you know that everyone incessantly complains about Thursday night football games and how they’re boring and sloppy and bad and should be abolished. Well, one player who would disagree with you is Rams QB Jared Goff, who has 9 TD and 1 INT career on TNF, and that includes a 5-TD rout of the Vikings. How’s he done it?
From my perspective, Goff has been one of the most frustrating players in the NFL the last few seasons because he has such violent swings between “efficient monster” and “totally hopeless” depending on the game, and the basic root problem has been pressure. Check out this absolutely stellar breakdown of how Goff handles pressure from The Athletic.
Joe Buscaglia writes:
“Watching Goff’s film reveals a myth and a truth. The myth is that Goff crumbles against blitzes altogether, which is untrue. His film is rife with examples of Goff standing tall in the face of five, six or even seven rushers and delivering on time to his target. Even if the pressure is coming from the edges, Goff has shown he can climb the pocket and stay calm. However, it is imperative that the Rams’ interior offensive linemen and pass-protecting running back frequently communicate and work as one. If they do not, and the pressure breaks through the middle, that’s where the truth of the film comes into play. Goff struggles against most interior pressure that breaks through, and not just when defenses call a blitz against him.
If Goff isn’t staying on script, he lacks the true improvisational ability that takes other quarterbacks to the next level. Goff has an outright aversion to taking sacks even when it’s the best option at times. When under that type of pressure, he’ll often sacrifice his footwork just to get the ball out of his hands. One way he does so is by swinging his hip open and his front foot to the side, causing his passes to sail and giving the defense a huge interception opportunity.”
Sheil Kapadia borrows from our friends at SIS to show how stark the difference is for Goff when pressured vs. when not.
“Goff had a difference of 0.93 EPA per play when pressured versus not pressured. That was the second-highest difference of any starting quarterback, behind only the Raiders’ Derek Carr. Said more simply: He goes from being the ninth-best quarterback in the league without pressure to 29th with pressure.”
RB Cam Akers, who has finally busted out of the struggles of his early-season woes, is dealing with a shoulder injury this week. He was limited in practice on Tuesday after not practicing on Monday, but doesn’t have an injury designation for Thursday. He’s good to go.
However, Ram K Matt Gay has a shoulder injury and is questionable. Have someone else ready to go.
It’s an absolutely brutal matchup for the Patriots, but at least their offense can’t throw anyway, so the Rams’ elite secondary isn’t going to be taking out big-time players.
As for the Rams, the Patriots pressure QBs at the 7th-highest rate in the NFL (SIS), which makes this a tough draw for Goff. He’s a low-end QB1 with serious downside. Akers is an RB2, with Darrell Henderson a FLEX.