BOTTOM RUSHING MATCHUPS
To view all of our Week 6 Matchup content, please see the links below:
Top 5 Passing Matchups Week 6
Bottom 5 Passing Matchups Week 6
Top 5 Rushing Matchups Week 6
Bottom 5 Rushing Matchups Week 6
Rushing Matchup Chart Week 6
Passing Matchup Chart Week 6
Cleveland at Pittsburgh
The Browns have been instantly remade in new coach Kevin Stefanski’s image, grounding the ball at a thunderous pace (52% of snaps) and with incredible efficiency (5.4 yards per running back carry). With Nick Chubb still shelved, Kareem Hunt leads the backfield comfortably, and he’s looked every bit as explosive as advertised. He offers both quickness to the edge and leg drive in the hole; absorbing Chubb’s lead role is no stretch for Hunt. Most importantly, he works well behind the Browns’ revamped and much-improved front line. Boasting a handful of road graders both inside and out, this line has climbed from the NFL dregs to seventh in our Matt Bitonti’s line rankings - with an A+ run-blocking grade.
The Steelers run defense isn’t immune to the occasional lapse. For several years, coordinator Keith Butler‘s scheme has struggled with quick-footed runners, leading to some unexpectedly leaky weeks. But here in 2020, all we’ve seen is a truly suffocating unit, one capable of keeping elite backs like Saquon Barkley under wraps on their better days. Apart from Miles Sanders’ 74-yard scamper last week, running backs have totaled just 130 yards over 4 games, at an anemic 2.1 per rush. It all starts up front, where All-Pro Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt anchor an iron-clad front line. Linebackers Devin Bush and Vince Williams aren’t flawless inside, but they’re typically kept clean and in pursuit by that dominant front. That’s where Bush shines, of course: he’s a tremendous athlete capable of chasing down runs on either side of the line. The chess match in the trenches between the mauling Browns and the gap-shooting Steelers should be fascinating - though the Steelers do tend to win these matchups, if not dominate them.
Pittsburgh vs Cleveland
The Steelers ground game continues to ebb and flow. James Conner remains the lead back, but he hasn’t exactly produced consistently. He’s topped 100 yards twice but posted just 2.5 per rush in his other two games. All told, this attack is fed by the Steelers’ potent passing game. When the team is pushing the ball downfield successfully, the box opens up and Conner is freed up for chunk runs. It won’t be particularly easy, though, if star right guard David DeCastro can’t go against the Browns’ stout front. DeCastro left Week 5’s win with an abdominal injury; he’s a road grader as well as one of the game’s best mobile blockers. Two-down thumper Benny Snell rotates in plenty, but it’s clearly Conner’s attack, so the Pittsburgh ground game goes as he goes. Conner is a great volume play, but also fairly blocking-dependent, making him a more volatile option than some of his peers.
The Browns defense continues to dominate all comers on the ground. They’ve yet to allow a single rusher to top 50 yards on the ground, with running backs posting just 3.8 per attempt. Even more impressively, that’s included matchups with the assertive ground games of the Ravens (68 yards), Cowboys (70), and Colts (66). The Cleveland linebacking crew remains a work in progress, with journeymen B.J. Goodson and Malcolm Smith contributing little more than what’s cleared by the powerful front line. They’d love to get back tackle Larry Ogunjobi sooner rather than later - he’s been a breakout dominator inside here in 2020, absorbing blocks and pinching off running lanes. But this is a deep unit, as seen last week, with the rotation tightening up to limit explosive Colts rookie Jonathan Taylor. They’re fully capable of exploiting the Pittsburgh front, even if DeCastro suits up.
Green Bay at Tampa Bay
The Packers, led by Aaron Jones, continue to run the ball with top-shelf efficiency. A year after producing 4.6 yards per rush in his 2019 breakout, Jones sits at a robust 5.8 to open this season. He works behind an upper-tier offensive line, led by road graders David Bakhtiari and Billy Turner, which seals off wide lanes for Jones to utilize his speed. There's depth here, too, but Jones' brilliance has kept the team from having to dip much into Jamaal Williams or rookie A.J. Dillon. As long as Aaron Rodgers and the passing game are clicking, they should at least face favorable defensive fronts in most matchups.
The Buccaneers’ suffocating run defense was dealt a massive blow Sunday when nose tackle Vita Vea was lost for the remainder of the year. Vea has spearheaded the NFL’s stingiest run defense dating back to early last season, and his presence will be profoundly missed. Still, there are enough run-stuffing pieces here to keep an elite unit strong. Up front, there will be a heavy dose of Rakeem Nunez-Roches and Ndamukong Suh, who’s dipped noticeably but remains capable of shutting down the gaps. Most importantly, they’ll look to absorb blocks and keep lightning-quick young linebacker Devin White. White is still far from a finished product but is adept at making chase-down plays in pursuit. Next to him, Lavonte David is cruising through one of his best seasons as a pro, while rookie safety Antoine Winfield Jr Jr. appears years beyond his age. Vea’s loss may move the needle a bit, but this is still a difficult fantasy matchup to target.
LA Rams at San Francisco
The Rams continue to mix-and-match their ground game, trotting out a committee of Darrell Henderson, Cam Akers, and Malcolm Brown at various intervals. Henderson has flashed dynamic athleticism, and Akers’ return to action last week was encouraging. The trio combined to turn their 32 attempts into 129 serviceable yards against Washington. Still, this is a nightmare matchup for them, and it’s fair to drag their Week 6 projections down handily. It’s hard to know which corner of the triangle coach Sean McVay will lean on week-to-week, and it’s even harder to project success against the punishing San Francisco front seven.
The 49ers continue to stand as one of 2020’s strongest run defenses, even in the face of (constant) adversity. They’ve dominated all comers thus far: opposing running backs have posted just 3.0 yards per carry, and not a single one has topped 65 on their day. It speaks highly of their depth that they’ve accomplished that without defensive fixtures DeForest Buckner (traded), Nick Bosa (IR), Solomon Thomas (IR), Dee Ford (IR), or Ziggy Ansah (injured/released). Arik Armstead is now the face of the San Francisco front seven, and early returns have been great. He’s versatile, athletic, and powerful, fully capable of holding the edge, funneling the runner his way, or shutting down the play altogether. Armstead surely misses Buckner but has to love what he’s seen from playmaking rookie Javon Kinlaw. The youngster is shooting gaps and making stops in both phases of the game. Kinlaw’s early development is an important piece of coordinator Robert Saleh’s defensive puzzle, keeping Fred Warner and the other linebackers free to play smart off the ball.
Cincinnati at Indianapolis
The Bengals continue to search for consistency on offense, and that certainly includes the ground game. Joe Mixon is a gifted runner, and he’s proven it when given daylight. His 2020 breakout finally came in Week 4, a 151-yard, 2-touchdown romp over the Jaguars’ leaky defense. Overall, though, this attack has disappointed behind one of the league’s (annually) worst front lines. In Mixon’s other four games, he’s failed to top 70 yards and produced just 2.9 per rush. Too often he finds himself dancing with defenders in the backfield, unable to erupt through a hole with his trademark burst. Perhaps new right guard Alex Redmond will make a difference - he was fantastic in the Jacksonville game - but on the whole, this is a difficult unit to trust. It’s even harder when they face a stifling front seven like this one.
The Colts proved in Week 5 that, while Darius Leonard looms as the league’s best off-ball linebacker, they’re still perfectly well-equipped to defend the run in his absence. Leonard sat last Sunday with a groin injury, and the Colts regrouped nicely on the fly, getting quality snaps from Anthony Walker and reserve Zaire Franklin in his place. And as usual, the unit benefitted from the unsung play of down linemen Grover Stewart and Denico Autry. Leonard and DeForest Buckner draw the headlines, and rightfully so - they’re legitimate All-Pro talents against both the pass and the run. But Stewart has been quietly dominant here in 2020 as a space-eating nose tackle, while Autry is in the midst of his third year as the Colts’ Swiss Army knife. Autry rotates in and out on the line with Buckner on board, and he’s adept at both holding the edge and crashing the inside run. This unit is even stronger than the sum of its talented parts, which doesn’t bode well for the young, undermanned Bengals. It’s not advisable to target runners against them, and if Leonard is able to suit up, they’ll boast an even heftier advantage.