Tyler Higbee Jersey

Their architect is innovative, always drawing up new schemes and formations to keep the offense fresh, but the Rams went back to basics in their latest passing-game shift.

Tight ends. The Rams, contrary to early-season evidence, have a couple, and now they’ve started throwing the ball their way. Gerald Everett and Tyler Higbee are finding roles in the Rams’ high-powered attack and are making it tougher to defend, and the shift is quite noticeable over the past month.

In last week’s 45-35 loss to New Orleans, Everett caught three passes for 48 yards and Higbee caught two passes for 40 yards. That was, by far, the most yards for Rams tight ends in a game this season.

The trend could continue Sunday afternoon against Seattle at the Coliseum. These teams met just five weeks ago, in a game that started the Rams’ tight-end renaissance.

“When you have guys like Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp and different guys in our receiver group that get talked about with defenses every game,” Everett said after Wednesday’s practice at Cal Lutheran, “I feel like there comes a point in time when other positions have to step up. It might be that time for us.”

This mostly is about Everett, because Higbee in a known quantity. The Rams drafted Higbee in the fourth round in 2016, and he has developed into a fierce blocker who occasionally can slip into open space and make a catch. He’s particularly good along the sidelines, but for the most part, he does the grunt work.

That’s important, but the Rams also need a tight end who can stretch the field, and that’s Everett, or at least that’s what he has shown in glimpses since they drafted him in the second round in 2017. Listed at 6-foot-3, 240 pounds, Everett has the skill set of a large receiver and can make plays down the field.

“I think you’ve seen him earn the right to get on the field and make some plays,” Coach Sean McVay said when asked about Everett.

Last year, though, Everett caught only 16 passes in 16 games. He had some consistency issues, and even though McVay first made his name as a tight ends coach in Washington, tight ends accounted for only 15 percent of the Rams’ receptions in 2017, McVay’s first season as coach and play caller.

That carried over into this season. Everett missed a major part of training camp, and all of the preseason, because of a shoulder injury. He returned for the season opener, but in the first four games, Everett was targeted on only 4 of quarterback Jared Goff’s 130 pass attempts. Higbee also was sparingly targeted in those four games.

The Oct. 7 game at Seattle changed things, perhaps out of necessity. Receivers Brandin Cooks and Cooper Kupp both sustained concussions and the Rams needed targets. In that game, Everett caught three passes and Higbee caught two. Before that, they’d had a combined total of six catches all season.

Since then, the tight ends have been more involved. In the last five games, Everett and Higbee have accounted for 17 percent of Goff’s pass targets. That’s still low, but perhaps it will continue to grow.

“I feel like the tight end position is starting to become more involved this season,” Everett said. “I wouldn’t say just myself individually, but yeah, we have seen an increase in targets.”

Everett shined last week at New Orleans, even after the Rams had returned to health. They trailed 35-14 late in the second quarter and had only 26 seconds to make something happen. Everett had catches of 15 and 20 yards to help set up a field goal, and the Rams took a bit of momentum into halftime. Everett later had a big catch to convert a third down, and also caught a game-tying two-point conversion pass.

The question is whether or not Everett’s production can be sustained. Goff’s attention, quite reasonably, also will focus on an excellent receiver trio of Cooks, Kupp and Robert Woods. On a Rams team that recognizes the value of a run-pass balance, there are only so many targets available.

“You always want to make sure that you’re using all five eligible (targets), making sure teams have to honor that,” Coach Sean McVay said. “A lot of that has been them kind of earning those targets and (quarterback) Jared (Goff) doing a great job distributing them the football.”

TALIB ON COMEBACK TRAIL

The Rams seem to desperately need cornerback Aqib Talib, who continues to recover from ankle surgery and, per injured-reserve rules, isn’t eligible to return until the Dec. 2 game at Detroit. The good news for the Rams is that Talib indicated this week that he should be “full speed, ready to go” by then.

“I’m moving good. I’m running. I’m bounding. I’m jumping. I’m lifting,” Talib said on NFL Network. “I’ve just got to get 100-percent healthy. I’m dying to get back out there. It’s hard to watch it. I don’t even like going to the games and watching from the sideline. It’s just irritating to watch it like that. I’m itching to get back.”

Talib had surgery after he injured his ankle in the Sept. 23 game against the Chargers, and the Rams expect to activate him this season, but McVay stopped short of assuring Talib’s return on Dec. 2.

“He is making great progress,” McVay said. “I know he would want to be out there as soon as possible. We want him to be out there as soon as possible. We’re continuing to take it day to day.”
NO PROBLEM

All appears to be fine with the relationships among the Rams’ offensive players. Late in the first half Sunday, guard Rodger Saffold was called for a personal foul penalty. Goff walked over, in an apparent attempt to be a calming influence, and put his hands on Saffold’s shoulder pads. Saffold gently pushed down Goff’s hands.

That was it, but the incident was blown up on social media, to the point that Saffold posted after the game and apologized. Line coach Aaron Kromer said there is “absolutely no problem” with team chemistry, and both Goff and Saffold doused the idea of any issue. Saffold said he had been “heated” because he was called for the personal foul after being held at length.

“I was still in that super-emotional state,” Saffold said. “I kind of slapped (Goff’s) hands off, just like, leave me alone. A lot of people saw that and I got a lot of bad tweets. Most of the time you can overlook that stuff, but sometimes people talk about what their kids are seeing. That one, I took to heart, so I wanted to make a little statement and clear it all up.”

Rob Havenstein Jersey

The Los Angeles Rams haven’t missed a beat on offense this season after leading the league in points last year, and a big reason for that is the play of the offensive line. Andrew Whitworth has been a stud, Rodger Saffold is a road-grader at left guard and John Sullivan is instrumental in making calls at the line.

The right side of the line probably doesn’t get enough credit, though, with Austin Blythe and Rob Havenstein playing like Pro Bowlers. Blythe, in particular, gets somewhat overlooked at right guard after replacing former starter Jamon Brown during his suspension.

Both he and Havenstein have performed admirably this season and haven’t had as much as a false start all year. Nope, not a single penalty in 672 snaps, according to Pro Football Focus. They lead the NFL in snaps played by a lineman without a penalty.

Holding penalties are crushing, especially when they come on a big play by the offense. The Rams haven’t had many of those this season, largely because of Havenstein and Blythe’s play. They deserve more credit for the Rams’ success.

Austin Blythe Jersey

Curt Ritchie coaches football at Williamsburg High, just west of Iowa City.

He has seen a lot of big farm boys get into 3-point stances. He hardly ever started a freshman, not until he saw Austin Blythe.

“We’d have these sprints and he’d be keeping up with the skilled players,” Ritchie said. “Then we’d have these competitions, like tug of war. Austin’s team always won that. In fact, sometimes we’d make sure there were fewer guys on Austin’s side, but he would win anyway.”

At that point Ritchie didn’t suspect that Blythe would be protecting Jared Goff and clearing the underbrush for Todd Gurley. He hadn’t yet realized that Blythe would marry his daughter Kylie. All of that has happened, and Blythe has replaced Jamon Brown at right guard for the Rams and may be there for a while.

Pro Football Focus, for what it’s worth, ranked Blythe as the second-best guard in the whole NFL, just two-and-a-half years after Blythe became a seventh-round pick for the Colts.There are only seven rounds, you know.

“I wasn’t sweating it out,” Blythe said after a Rams’ practice last week. “I figured that if I didn’t get picked, I’d wind up at somebody’s camp and see what happened. And here we are.”

Those who were looking to doubt the Rams this year pointed at an offensive line that made all 16 starts without injury or demotion in 2017. Surely that wouldn’t happen again. So far it has, with Blythe making all the starts after Brown, now playing for the Giants, was suspended and beaten out.

Center John Sullivan, left guard Rodger Saffold and tackles Andrew Whitworth and Rob Havenstein get their jerseys dirty to keep Goff’s clean. The quarterback has been sacked 19 times and hit 40 times in 10 games.

Blythe is listed at 6-foot-3, 298. That’s actually a Prius-sized guard in the NFL. But Blythe was listed as a center coming out of the University of Iowa, not that it mattered.

“They teach guys to play all the positions,” he said. “I think that’s one reason we’re all pretty well-prepared for the NFL. I’m not a guard or a center, I’m a lineman.”

He was more famous as a wrestler, in a state where the gyms bulge with spectators at each dual meet. Blythe set a state record with 143 pins and was the first to reach four consecutive state heavyweight finals, winning his last three.

Brian Allen, the rookie from Michigan State, is the Rams’ backup center. He was a champion wrestler at his suburban Chicago high school.

“We’re both dying to get on the mat against each other,” Blythe said, grinning. “We’ve been talking about it. Maybe after the season.”

Wrestling’s correlation with football is well-known. It’s how a 298-pounder masters the concept of leverage. It also is the ultimate zero-sum game, with no partners and no hiding places.

It occurred to Blythe that he might double up in college, with wrestling and football, but he realized he’d have trouble with the recovery time. The identity of the college never was in question, although he visited Stanford and was intrigued by (A) his conversations with Andrew Luck and (B) the seductive charms of In-N-Out Burger.

“I grew up wanting to be an Iowa Hawkeye,” he said. “We’d play our games on Friday night and then go to Iowa City, tailgate for a while and then watch the game. The first time I went there I realized that was the place for me. And that goes back to Dallas Clark and Brad Banks, guys like that.”

Banks was the quarterback who was the runnerup to USC’s Carson Palmer in the 2002 Heisman Trophy voting. The Trojans happened to blow out Iowa in the Orange Bowl that year.

Blythe went to three bowls at Iowa. He played with 49ers’ tight end George Kittle, Chargers’ safety Desmond King, Broncos’ linebacker Josey Jewell and Redskins’ tackle Brandon Scherff.

When he was a senior the Hawkeyes were 8-0 in the Big Ten and went to the Rose Bowl, although Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey dampened the trip.

But there was no shortage of scouts. Nine Iowa offensive linemen have been drafted since 2010. Five, since 1997, were first-round picks.

“A lot of it is just the guys they recruit,” Blythe said. “Iowa guys are gritty. They don’t mind getting their noses down on the ground. And they don’t mind the weather.

“But I think I’ve gotten soft since I’ve been out here. We played at Denver and it was barely below freezing. I thought it was the coldest I’ve ever been in my life.”

It wasn’t, but he will have plenty of games to compare.

Dante Fowler Jr Jersey

The San Francisco 49ers last faced the Los Angeles Rams on October 21st, getting thumped 39-10 at Levi’s Stadium. Ten days later, the 2018 NFL trade deadline came and went, and the Rams made a notable roster addition. They traded a 2019 third round pick and a 2020 fifth round pick to the Jacksonville Jaguars in exchange for pass rusher Dante Fowler Jr.

The Rams entered the trade deadline with an 8-0 record, and were looking like the top dog in the NFC. The New Orleans Saints beat them the Sunday after the trade deadline and have since secured home field advantage in the coming playoffs. That being said, Fowler brings a presence that will help the Rams defense in January. He only has two sacks in seven weeks with the Rams, but he also has 14 hurries and four hits on the quarterback.

When the trade deadline was approaching, the 49ers did have interest in adding a pass rusher, but head coach Kyle Shanahan explained why they likely did not make a big push (if any push) for Fowler.

“We’re always interested in adding pass rushers and he’s a good pass rusher to add. It was just a tough situation for us because you knew he was on the final year of his contract so you know you’re only making a trade for a guy who you can only guarantee half the year. So, you’ll see how that goes, but it was just a little risky for the situation we were in.”

The 49ers have said they have been interested in various players over the course of the season. Some folks have scoffed at their comments of interest, but it’s interesting to see this clarification from Shanahan as to why they likely did not make a big push for Fowler. Even when everybody was healthy, the Super Bowl was still kind of a longshot. When Fowler was traded, the playoffs were off the table, so it makes sense not to bring in a one-year rental where you aren’t sure you’re going to extend him.

Fowler is a free agent after this season, and the 49ers need pass rushers. There is a good chance they draft one with their first round pick, but I would not be surprised to see them invest some of their sizable cap space in the position. We’ll see if they make a run at Fowler in March.

Ndamukong Suh Jersey

Rams defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh may have lost a step, but he hasn’t lost his propensity to step over the line.

A video that has made the rounds after Sunday’s game between the Rams and Cardinals seems to show Suh deliberately sticking a finger into the eye of Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald.

Fitzgerald’s only reaction is to push the hand away, a smart move when dealing with someone whose arms are the size of most peoples’ legs. The league so far hasn’t reacted.

Some are calling for Suh to be suspended. Regardless of whether the maneuver standing along would justify that punishment (it probably doesn’t), the suspension would have been imposed on Monday, so that Suh could have his appealed heard and resolved by Wednesday, the first day of serious preparation for the next game.

Also, it’s entirely possible the league didn’t know about the incident before it emerged on social media.

Suh could still be fined, and based on the video he should be. The NFL also should be watching Suh closely in Week 17 and beyond, ensuring that he doesn’t stomp on arms or step on legs or push a foot into someone’s crotch or otherwise cross a line that fewer and fewer players in this era of football seem to cross, even though there was a time when that kind of behavior was commonplace.

Aaron Donald Jersey

Since 1957, when the Associated Press first began awarding a Most Valuable Player, the interpretation of what’s “most valuable” in the NFL has skewed unwaveringly toward players who consistently touch the ball.

It’s an understandable shortcoming in an age when quarterbacks shatter records on the regular. But even before two high-powered offenses could combine for more than 100 points and 1,000 yards in a single Monday night, we struggled to quantify the value of defenders in relation to their flashier offensive counterparts.

Truth is we’ve never really known where defensive players fit in the MVP conversation. Over six decades, 42 quarterbacks, 18 running backs and one kicker – don’t ask – have shared or been named MVP. That’s not a lot of positional diversity.

Even as legendary defenses reigned in the 1970s and ’80s, only twice in NFL history has a defensive player been named Most Valuable. Hall of Fame Vikings defensive tackle Alan Page won in 1971 in one of the more wide-open votes ever, narrowly edging Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach, who’d started only 10 games. Fifteen years later, Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor had the most dominant season by a defensive player in league history, racking up 20.5 sacks while literally redefining modern defenses as an edge rusher.

But since … nothing. Since 1986, when Taylor became the only consensus winner ever on defense, only J.J. Watt has even finished second in voting, and that vote wasn’t all that close. Watt received just 13 votes to Aaron Rodgers’ 31 in 2014, despite one of the most statistically impressive seasons for a defender in NFL history.

It’s not difficult to imagine circumstances in which Page or Taylor might’ve come up short in their own MVP seasons. If Staubach hadn’t alternated with Dallas backup Craig Morton at the beginning of the 1971 season, the narrative power of a Cowboys quarterback probably would’ve crushed Page’s chances. If Taylor’s Giants hadn’t gone 14-2, on their way to a Super Bowl, maybe his unmatched dominance wouldn’t have overshadowed Dan Marino’s eye-popping passing numbers in Miami.

Those numbers have only skyrocketed since. As many as 20 (!!) quarterbacks could throw for 4,000 yards this season. A quarterback has won MVP in nine of the last 10 years. For a defensive player to subvert that trend, it would take more than just historical dominance. It would take a miracle of circumstance.

In Los Angeles, Aaron Donald is in the midst of perhaps the best season for an interior defensive lineman in NFL history. He leads the league in sacks (16.5), tackles for loss (20) and quarterback hits (32). He has forced four fumbles in 13 games, each of which resulted in a Rams touchdown. Week after week, he has taken over games single-handedly from his spot on the interior, in a way few players in NFL history have.

And yet, even that won’t be enough.

Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips lobbied for Donald to win MVP at this time last season. He has marveled about him on a weekly basis this season, whenever asked. But even as the L.A. media championed the cause of Donald’s MVP campaign over the past week, Phillips was realistic when asked about Donald’s actual chances.

“They’re not going to give it to a defensive player, in my opinion,” Phillips said. “Quarterbacks are always the guy that – and probably well deserved – they cause a lot of points. It’s harder on defense to say, ‘Hey, man, he stopped him from scoring how many times or how many points he’s accounted for.’ But, (Donald) has actually accounted for a lot of points because he’s stopped drives or he’s caused fumbles – all those things. But, you don’t see that in the defensive player stats. So it’s always going to be an offensive player, pretty much.”

That narrow definition is so ingrained that it seems, at this point, inescapable. We’ve come to tacitly accept this notion that only offensive players – and, really, only quarterbacks – are worthy of winning MVP, since the ball is most often in their hands. “People want to see points,” Rams defensive tackle Michael Brockers told me. “They want to see those guys win MVP.”

I asked Brockers what it might take for a defensive player to win for the first time in three decades.

“You would have to make something spectacular happen,” he said.

It’s the answer everyone gives, but no one quite knows what it means. How much more spectacular can you get than what Donald has done this season? With four games remaining, the man is just six sacks away from Michael Strahan’s all-time record.

And if he gets there, at the end of an extraordinary, historic defensive campaign, maybe then, Aaron Donald can look forward to a respectable second-place finish in the MVP race.

Cooper Kupp Jersey

In 2006, the NFL introduced its flexible scheduling concept. It’s weeks like this we should be thankful for that. Instead of having to watch Jon Gruden’s pursed lips march up and down the sideline with no answer for Antonio Brown on Sunday night, we are being treated to a matchup featuring two Super Bowl hopefuls, the Los Angeles Rams and the Chicago Bears.

The line for this game is 51.5, tied for second highest of the week, with the Rams currently sitting as 3-point favorites on the road. The implied score for this game is 27-24, Rams.

(Other than cold temperatures throughout the evening, there is no snow or significant wind in the forecast.)

There are no major injuries for the Rams. Their backup running back, Malcolm Brown, was recently ruled out for the season. Other than that, there are no impactful injuries.

The Bears get Mitchell Trubisky back after he missed the last two games with a shoulder injury.

Safety Eddie Jackson sat out Friday’s practice with a shin injury but all signs point to him playing and that his absence from practice was mostly a rest day.

The Rams have only played two games since Cooper Kupp’s season-ending knee injury, with one of those games being the offensive circus on Monday Night Football against Kansas City in Week 11. They don’t appear to have changed their offense much, if at all, following Kupp’s injury. This allows us to still look at historical offensive trends through the season and not just the two games since Kupp went down for the season.

Jared Goff averages 34.5 pass attempts per game. This number has shot up to 39.2 attempts per game over the last five games or 36.75 if you exclude his 49 throws against Kansas City. On the season, the Rams are averaging 28.75 rush attempts per game but only 25.2 attempts per game over the last five games. Are the Rams trending in a more pass-happy direction? It will be an interesting trend to monitor especially considering this week in Chicago is their last cold weather game of the regular season.

Goff faces a stiff test this week against the Bears, who have given up the fourth-fewest DraftKings points per game to quarterbacks over the last four weeks. The Rams QB himself has scored the seventh-most DraftKings points over that same time span. Something has to give. Goff looked like an average quarterback against Detroit last week en route to his second-worst fantasy outing of the year. His worst outing came back in Week 6 against the Broncos, which was the second of three straight road games for the Rams. This week they’ll play their second straight road game, against an even better defense. Goff may be throwing the ball more now than he was earlier in the year, but the Bears have limited quarterback production at an elite level this season. The Bears lead the league in interceptions with at least one in all but one game this season (surprisingly the Jets, led by Sam Darnold, are the only team to not throw a pick against the Bears this year). I would be hard pressed to put Jared Goff in my lineup outside of a pure contrarian play.

What makes the Bears such an interesting defense to plan against for DFS is that they have allowed the fourth-fewest DraftKings points per game to quarterbacks over the last four weeks, but they’ve given up the eight-most points to wide receivers. So, while I’m not inclined to throw Goff in my lineup, I’m not necessarily scared off of using the Rams’ wide receivers. Brandin Cooks and Robert Woods are the two main guys here. Woods has seen 20 targets to Cooks’ 18 targets over the last two games and on the season Woods has 99 targets to Cooks’ 90. There is no significant difference between the two in terms of opportunities.

Woods is $300 more expensive than Cooks on DraftKings and I’m not sure why. Woods hasn’t topped 100 yards since Week 6, which was also the last time he topped five receptions. The targets have been there reliably for Woods, as he’s had at least seven targets in all but one game since Week 5. The Kupp injury hasn’t materially increased Woods’ target share as those Kupp looks have mostly gone to Josh Reynolds. Woods runs nearly 50% of his routes out of the slot, which will see him matched up with Bryce Callahan. Callahan has been excellent this year and will be a tough matchup for Woods. All that considered, Woods looks safe for cash-game lineups (he’s had at least 70 yards or a TD every week since Week 2), but I don’t see him being the cornerstone of a winning GPP lineup.

Cooks is the wide receiver that I’m excited about this week. Prior to last week in Detroit, he had recorded three straight 100-yard games. He’s also been the Rams’ target leader over the last four games. The Bears defense is pretty strong across the board but if there is a “weak” spot, it’s the cornerbacks, specifically Prince Amukamara. Cooks seems likely to draw a decent amount of Amukamara coverage, which gives him the best chance to beat the Bears D for a big play or two. Even if Cooks doesn’t draw Amukamara all night, I trust Sean McVay to scheme up enough opportunities for Cooks to avoid the superior cornerback, Kyle Fuller, and make plays.

When Woods or Cooks aren’t getting looks, Reynolds will be the receiver of choice. He’s garnered 13 targets over the last two weeks. When Reynolds is on the field he sees most of his snaps on the outside. This will see him matched up with either Kyle Fuller (not good) or Prince Amukamara (exploitable). Once again we have to put some trust in Sean McVay to scheme opportunities for his guys. Reynolds will have at least a 3-inch height advantage on any of the Bears’ top three cornerbacks. Despite only having picked up significant playing time over the last two weeks and only securing 15 receptions on the season, Reynolds has six red-zone receptions on eight red-zone targets. I’m banking on Reynolds’ pure athletic ability and McVay’s schemes to help Reynolds get in the end zone Sunday night.

Todd Gurley has been nearly unstoppable this year. Ironically, the only game he didn’t put up RB1 numbers was the Monday night shootout against Kansas City. The Bears present a tall task for all players but lately have not been as challenging for running backs. The Bears have given up the 12th-most DraftKings to running backs over the last four weeks despite giving up the eighth-fewest on the season. Running backs catching the ball out of the backfield that have given them trouble. Starting in Week 9, the Bears have given up 7, 12, 4, 8 and 3 receptions to running backs. Gurley has had at least three receptions in all but one game this year. Outside of the Kansas City game he’s also had at least 20 opportunities (carries + targets) in every game this year. Gurley is going to get his touches and the Bears haven’t been slowing down running backs like they were at the beginning of the year. I am comfortable playing Gurley and may even throw him in the Captain/MVP spot.

The tight ends for the Rams are probably the most difficult of the positions to get a grasp on. Tyler Higbee is a monster of a man at 6-foot-6 and 255 pounds. He’s seen more targets than Gerald Everett in each of the last three games, but has only found the end zone once during that span while Everett has scored three times. Everett is smaller but faster, and in today’s NFL speed is king. The problem for both of these guys is that the Bears have not been a friendly defense for tight ends to go against. Between Adrian Amos and Eddie Jackson at safety and Roquan Smith, Danny Trevathan and Leonard Floyd at linebacker, it’s tough for tight ends to find room to work against Chicago. The Bears haven’t given up double-digit fantasy points to a tight end since Week 6. I think Higbee and Everett are easy fades this week given the poor matchup and that the Rams’ tight ends fall behind all three wide receivers and Gurley for targets.

The Bears welcome back Mitchell Trubisky this week after Chase Daniel filled in admirably the last two games. Trubisky walks into a tasty matchup this week against a Rams defense that has given up the second-most DraftKings points to quarterbacks over the last four weeks. That number is somewhat misleading considering three of those four quarterbacks were Drew Brees, Russell Wilson and Patrick Mahomes. Last week, the Rams sacked Matthew Stafford four times and picked him off once while limiting him to just 245 yards and one touchdown. Outside of Trubisky’s Week 9 game at Buffalo, he’s been rolling since his 6-TD performance against Tampa Bay Week 4. Further, the Bears only have two non-Trubisky rushing touchdowns over the last four games, with one of those being by Akeem Hicks. If the Bears are going to score, Trubisky is going to be the catalyst. However, it should be noted that in Week 13 when the Rams played the Lions, the Rams’ defense looked much improved with Aqib Talib back on the field. Talib only played 40% of the snaps, but being able to put him on Kenny Golladay allowed the rest of the defense to play more aggressively. In his first game back from the shoulder injury and with the Rams’ defense improving, I’ll pass on Trubisky this week.

The Rams can be beaten by wide receivers. They’ve given up the fifth-most DraftKings points to wide receivers over the past four weeks. Some of that is skewed by Tyreek Hill’s 10-catch, 215-yard, two-TD performance against them, but Chris Conley, Tyler Lockett, Michael Thomas, Marquez Valdez-Scantling and Davante Adams have all scored double-digit fantasy points against the Rams since Week 8. The Bears have three wide receivers worth considering in this matchup.

Allen Robinson started the year off hot, but has cooled lately outside of his Week 10 explosion against the Lions (6/133/2). The Bears have done a nice job spreading the ball around and have been making Tarik Cohen the focal point of the offense at the expense of Robinson’s numbers. Robinson also isn’t seeing very many red-zone targets (two in the last four games). I get the feeling Matt Nagy is realizing his best playmaker is Cohen and his next two might be the receivers not named Allen Robinson. Aqib Talib should be spending a good amount of time on Robinson in this matchup, and that’s a tough spot for any wide receiver. As a result, I’m going to shy away from Robinson this week.

Anthony Miller hasn’t been a target monster but he’s scored in three of the last four games. Miller runs 66% of his routes out of the slot, which gives him a premium matchup this week as he will avoid Talib and face Troy Hill for most of the night. Hill gave up a ton of production to Chris Conley and the Chiefs two weeks ago (eight catches for 157 yards). When Miller goes to the outside he’ll likely face off with Marcus Peters, who struggled in more difficult matchups with Davante Adams and Michael Thomas recently. Miller’s target volume has been limited of late (3, 4, 2 in last three games), but if Trubisky is going to go away from Aqib Talib with his pass attempts, Miller is a likely beneficiary.

The Bears receiver I’m most excited for this week is Taylor Gabriel. He’s seen 9, 8 and 7 targets the last three weeks, and Gabriel plays mostly on the outside, so he should draw Marcus Peters in coverage and have chances to make plays. He hasn’t scored a touchdown since Week 4 but he’s getting more involved in the offense. His snap percentage has risen each of the last four weeks from 76.9% all the way to 93.1% last week. The Rams are going to score and someone is going to have to make plays on Chicago’s side to keep pace. Taylor Gabriel is sixth in the league in target separation and should feast on a weak Rams secondary. I’m making it a priority to get Gabriel into my lineup this week.

Jordan Howard’s usage has been trending down and Tarik Cohen’s has been trending up. The Rams are middle of the pack when it comes to giving up fantasy points to running backs both on the season and over the last four weeks. Cohen really showed out last week with 20 touches for 186 yards. Jordan Howard was still involved getting 17 touches for 80 yards but it’s clear who the more explosive player is. This week against Ndamukong Suh and Aaron Donald, running Howard between the tackles looks like a poor gameplan. Howard’s involvement in the passing game has dropped tremendously, as he hasn’t had multiple receptions since Week 3. Howard is an easy pass for me this week.

Cohen should once again be a focal point of the offense. He faces a Rams linebacker corps with a lot of speed, which could limit some of Cohen’s big play potential. Mark Barron is a safety converted to linebacker with sub-4.6 speed. The Rams also have speed at the safety position with Lamarcus Joyner and John Johnson. Since Week 1, Phillip Lindsay and Kareem Hunt are the only running backs to have topped 40 receiving yards against the Rams. The saving grace for Cohen is that the Rams have given up a receiving touchdown to a running back in three of their last four games. Cohen has been playing brilliantly lately and it’s going to be tough to get away from him, but there are enough red flags here for me to take a contrarian approach and avoid him.

Trey Burton has been non-existent lately, catching 11 passes for 105 yards over his last five games. Fortunately for Burton, tight ends have had success against the Rams since Week 7 (except for Jimmy Graham) with the Rams giving up four double-digit fantasy performances in that span. Ben Watson and Levine Toilolo each had their best fantasy game of the season against the Rams. With the return of Talib limiting Robinson and the expected extra attention on Cohen, Burton might become a key piece of the Bears’ offense this week. The reasons to like Burton also apply to Adam Shaheen, who returned from injury last week to score a touchdown. If you want to build multiple lineups I’d make sure to get exposure to each of these tight ends. I’m going to lean Burton if I have to choose, since he’s posted a few big games this season and despite Shaheen’s touchdown against the Lions, he still only played 29.7% of the snaps and ran just eight routes.

John Johnson Jersey

Johnson recorded a team-high 11 tackles (nine solo) during Sunday’s 30-16 win over Detroit.

This was the third time Johnson has registered 11 tackles, and he’s now up to an impressive 85 with three interceptions for the season. The 22-year-old strong safety is thriving in his first full season as a starter, and the Boston College product should remain a solid IDP option down the fantasy stretch drive.

Samson Ebukam Jersey

With the Monday Night Football game being moved from Mexico City to LA, the Kansas City Chiefs v Los Angeles Rams matchup was the premier game of week 11, and much like some of the African talent on display, it did not disappoint.

Upsets were few (though Oakland and Denver did get victories), and many patterns continued apace, including the Saints’ African contingent balling out again.

However…

Player of the week

Samson Ebukam (Los Angeles Rams – Outside Linebacker #50)

The Nigeria-born outside linebacker for the Rams had his best game of the season, and an absolutely brilliant performance by any metric on Monday night.

The second year player had three tackles, one sack, two QB hits, a fumble recovery for a touchdown AND then a pick six in the Rams’ 54-51 win over the Kansas City Chiefs.

Ebukam also delivered consistent pressure on the Chiefs’ star QB Patrick Mahomes, and the pressure provided by Ebukam in the final minute of the game led to two interceptions being thrown by the youngster.

The fumble recovery and interception were the first of his career for Ebukam, and he became only the third player in Monday Night Football history with multiple defensive touchdowns in a game, according to Elias Sports Bureau research.

He also became the first player since sacks became official in 1982 with a sack, interception, and multiple touchdowns in a single game, according to ESPN Stats & Info.

With the addition of Dante Fowler Jr, plus the return of 2018 5th round pick (and fellow Nigerian-American) Ogbonnia Okoronkwo from injury, Ebukam has responded positively to the challenge for defensive snaps, and keeps giving defensive coordinator Wade Phillips a reason to keep him on the field.

Notable Performances

Chris Banjo (New Orleans Saints – Safety #31)

One of the three great African special teams aces in the league [Along with Johnson Bademosi of the Houston Texans and the injured Nat Berhe of the Pittsburgh Steelers], Banjo got an opportunity to play on defense during the fourth quarter of the Saints’ win over the Eagles.

The Nigerian-American took advantage of his opportunity to shine. With two interceptions of Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz, Banjo helped ice the win and showed how deep the talent is on the Saints defense.

Ezekiel Ansah (Detroit Lions – Defensive End # 94)

Ghanaian-American defensive end Ansah picked up his second sack in three games since his return from a week one shoulder injury. Ansah had two quarterback hits on Carolina QB Cam Newton as the pass rusher from Accra helped the Lions get a 20-19 win over the Panthers.

It will be difficult for Ansah to get up to the 12 sacks he recorded last season, but if he ends the season with 7 or 8 sacks and continues to display the ability to disrupt the pocket, then the off-season free agent market might be slightly more amenable to Ansah and his agent than it looked in week one.

Alvin Kamara (New Orleans Saints – Running Back #41)

The Liberian-American running back had a ho-hum game by his standards yet was still quite productive by normal people’s standards. Kamara ran the ball 13 times for 71 yards (backfield mate Mark Ingram got the bulk of carries) and caught one pass for 37 yards and a touchdown in the Saints’ 48-7 annihilation of the Eagles.

Players to watch in week 12

Nelson Agholor (Philadelphia Eagles Wide Receiver)

Agholor and the Eagles have had a rough couple of weeks, losing two in a row. Going up against the New York Giants in week 12, Agholor getting targets from Wentz, and finding ways to move the Eagles offense downfield and to the redzone, will go a long way towards helping the defending champions get back in the win column.

Tevin Coleman (Atlanta Falcons Running back)

The Falcons are another team on a two game losing run and just 19 carries in two games for Tevin Coleman is a great formula for defeat. If the Falcons fail to be patient with the running game and don’t give the ball to the Liberian-American running back, then a loss to the Saints should be expected.

Chidobe Awuzie (Dallas Cowboys Cornerback)

Awuzie may not be playing at a Pro-Bowl level but the second year CB has displayed great awareness, technique and tackling. He has been unlucky to give up touchdown receptions on passes which receivers turned into sublime catches, despite his excellent coverage. If Awuzie is fortunate enough to turn some of the throws his way into interceptions, then the Cowboys defense will be better positioned to tee off on Washington QB Colt McCoy, who will be replacing injured starter Alex Smith on Thursday.

Jared Goff Jersey

They are represented by the same agency, so during the offseason quarterbacks Jared Goff and Mitch Trubisky shared a house for about a month while training in Newport Beach.

Goff, the No. 1 pick in the 2016 draft, was coming off a Pro Bowl season under first-year Rams coach Sean McVay, a young offense-minded savant who helped Goff leave his rocky rookie year behind.

Trubisky, the second pick in the 2017 draft, was coming off an inconsistent rookie season with the Chicago Bears, and he was preparing for a new one under first-year coach Matt Nagy.

“If he had any questions,” Goff said, “I gave him whatever I had.”

The two quarterbacks, both 24, have led their teams to the top of their divisions heading into a Sunday night game at Soldier Field.

The Rams, at 11-1, have already clinched a second consecutive NFC West title behind Goff, who has passed for 27 touchdowns with seven interceptions. A victory over the Bears would clinch a bye through the wild-card round of the playoffs and keep the Rams on track for possible home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

The Bears are 8-4 and atop the NFC North. Trubisky, sidelined the last two games because of a shoulder injury, has passed for 20 touchdowns with nine interceptions.

Trubisky said he learned much from hanging out and training with Goff. They talked about routes they liked to throw, watched film together and discussed situations.

Trubisky’s main takeaway was the need for resiliency.

“Learning from your past mistakes,” Trubisky told reporters in Chicago this week, “but not dwelling on it and continuing to get better and grow.”

Goff demonstrated that ability last season after going 0-7 as a starter under former coach Jeff Fisher and his staff in 2016.

The Rams hired McVay, added left tackle Andrew Whitworth and receiver Robert Woods through free agency and drafted receiver Cooper Kupp and tight end Gerald Everett among others, giving McVay more pieces to build around running back Todd Gurley and Goff.

Goff flourished — he passed for 28 touchdowns with seven interceptions — and led the Rams to their first playoff appearance since 2004.

This season, despite a less-efficient performance in a Week 13 victory at Detroit, he is continuing his ascent as one of the NFL’s top young quarterbacks.

“He has never really been shaken,” Trubisky said. “A lot of people wrote him off after that first year. But watching him and how he handled himself, he’s very composed. Never really rattled.

“He believed in himself and has had really two amazing years since then. So I know you just have to have confidence in yourself so that your teammates will believe in you as well.”

Trubisky has applied that principle while operating under Nagy, who learned at the elbow of Kansas City Chiefs coach Andy Reid. Nagy was a member of Reid’s staff with the Philadelphia Eagles, and then joined him as quarterbacks coach and later offensive coordinator with the Chiefs.

As a rookie under former coach John Fox and his staff, Trubisky had a 4-8 record and passed for seven touchdowns with seven interceptions.

The Bears added receivers Allen Robinson and Taylor Gabriel as well as tight end Trey Burton, and Nagy expanded the role of running back Tarik Cohen as a receiver. Trubisky has nearly tripled his touchdown passes in a multidimensional offense that shares many of the concepts in the Chiefs’ high-powered attack.

Seeing how Goff played in his second season provided motivation for Trubisky.

“It just shows me that anything is possible,” he said. “Just because everybody writes you off one year doesn’t mean you can’t come out and have a really good year the next year.

“Especially with a great coach coming in here and helping this organization and just being a lot different on offense as far as scheme and philosophy and how everything goes.”

Rams cornerback Aqib Talib said Trubisky’s mobility alternately creates “the Russell Wilson effect” and “the Cam Newton” effect.

“He’s kind of like both of them put together,” Talib said.

Fellow Rams cornerback Marcus Peters played his first three seasons with the Chiefs. He said Nagy learned well from Reid and has been impressed by the Nagy-Trubisky pairing.

“[Nagy] and Trubisky are going to grow that same relationship, just as much as us with Jared and Sean,” he said.

Etc.

Rams defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh was fined $20,054 for a horse-collar tackle and, though he was not penalized in the game, linebacker Dante Fowler was fined $26,739 for unnecessary roughness on a play during the Rams’ 30-16 victory at Detroit, a person with knowledge of the situation said. Lions defensive lineman Ezekiel Ansah was fined $20,054 for a hit on Goff.