BOTTOM 5 RUSHING MATCHUPS WEEK 17
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Atlanta at Tampa Bay
This has been a tough season for the Atlanta Falcons rushing offense as it ranks near the bottom of the league with just 93.7 rushing yards per game (4th-fewest). The Todd Gurley experiment has not panned out as Gurley averaged just 3.5 yards per carry and surpassed 80 rushing yards in just one game. Amidst injury concerns and poor play, Gurley has now gone five straight games with fewer than 10 carries and no touchdowns as Ito Smith and Brian Hill work in to round out the full committee approach here. Smith has led the team in carries in their past four games and appears to now be the top runner, but Hill is also seeing consistent works while Gurley should remain involved in what could be his last game as a Falcon. The offensive line certainly contributes to the dreary outlook of this rushing offense as injuries at the center and guard positions make it tough to trust this unit overall. If Alex Mack suits up at center, it helps--but even then this will still be a mediocre group leading an even more mediocre set of running backs to close out the season.
The Buccaneers will likely close out the season as the league’s top rushing defense, going into Week 17 having allowed a league-low of only 77.5 rushing yards per game and 3.5 yards per rush attempt. Only one running back has exceeded the 60-yard mark against this group, and the last time these two teams met, Falcons running backs combined for only 21 rushing yards with no touchdowns in sight. This Tampa Bay defensive line already has the edge even against a fully healthy Falcons offensive line, but if the Falcons are again without their starting center and left guard, it will hardly be a contest in the trenches. Continued outstanding play from linebacker Lavonte David will also make it very much an uphill battle for the Falcons rushing offense this week. It seems likely that the Buccaneers will not be resting anyone as Bruce Arians came out and said that they are playing to win and not rest starters making this matchup even more difficult than what it could have been.
Philadelphia vs Washington
The new-look Eagles rushing offense rolls into their final game of the season with a difficult matchup against Washington. Dual-threat quarterback Jalen Hurts has added another dimension to what was becoming a stale ground game in Philadelphia. In his three full starts, Hurts has rushed for at least 60 yards in each game while averaging over 12 carries per game and scoring once. With this success, however, has also come a few mistakes to the tune of six fumbles--two of which were lost with one a very questionable call. Miles Sanders continues to lead the backfield amongst running backs with at least 14 carries in each of his last three games and three rushing touchdowns over that span. The efficiency has been hit-or-miss with Sanders, but there is no doubt the addition of Hurts is helping open up lanes for the entire ground game in this offense.
This week’s matchup with Washington is a tough one for this newfangled Eagles ground game. The Football Team has one of the top defensive fronts in football and has been playing very well against the run throughout the season. Only three running backs have exceeded 70 rushing yards when facing Washington, as the position has been limited to scoring just the sixth-fewest fantasy points per game on the season. Washington did struggle earlier in the season against mobile quarterbacks, giving up over 50 rushing yards to the likes of Lamar Jackson, Kyler Murray, and Daniel Jones. However, between young edge defenders Chase Young and Montez Sweat along with linebacker Cole Holcomb, this defense has the personnel to keep a good watch on Hurts this week. Interior defender Jonathan Allen will also play a key role in not only applying pressure on Hurts but also stopping up the middle of the field against the entire Eagles run game--especially against what has been a beaten and battered Eagles offensive line limping into their final game of the season.
Arizona at LA Rams
The Cardinals rushing offense heads into Week 17 as the third-best unit in football with 145.9 rushing yards per game. Much of this success can be attributed to quarterback Kyler Murray instead of this group of running backs. Murray is averaging nearly 55 rushing yards per game with 11 rushing touchdowns to his name in what has been a phenomenal season on the ground for him. Kenyan Drake has led the running backs for Arizona for much of the season, and while his numbers are nothing to scoff at with double-digit touchdowns and over 60 yards per game, he has been inconsistent and struggled down the stretch this season amidst injuries and poor play. Chase Edmonds has looked great in spurts, but he is dealing with an ankle injury that kept him off the field for most of last week’s game. Murray also suffered a leg injury last week that has his status in question, but he is expected to give it a go. The Cardinals have everything to win and lose this week as they control their own destiny vying for a playoff spot--so look for everyone to be playing if at all possible.
The Rams will not make it easy on Arizona this week as they, too, have everything to play for in a game that would punch their ticket to the playoffs with a win. This defense has consistently been one of the best in the league against the run. They have limited rushing offenses to just 94.1 yards per game--third-fewest--while limiting running backs to scoring only the seventh-fewest fantasy points per game. Aaron Donald is the centerpiece here, as he has had yet another spectacular season that yielded his seventh-straight selection to the Pro Bowl team. The Cardinals offense has a mediocre offensive line that should struggle against the likes of Donald and fellow interior lineman Michael Brockers. Safety John Johnson III has also been a key weapon against the run for the Rams as he plays as one of their top run-defending defensive backs and will be critical to keeping tabs on Kyler Murray, who was limited to a season-low 15 rushing yards the last time these two teams met.
Jacksonville at Indianapolis
The Jaguars rushing offense is one of six teams heading into Week 17 averaging fewer than 100 rushing yards per game. Despite the surprising success of undrafted free agent James Robinson, this rushing offense simply had too many uphill battles with negative game scripts shutting down any upside to be had. Now, Robinson is done for the season and this backfield looks to be manned by journeyman Dare Ogunbowale--who just received his first career start last week as he rushed 14 times for 71 yards. He has played more of a pass-catching specialist role so that 14 carries last week was by far a career-high for the 4th-year player. Devine Ozigbo played a season-high 20% of the snaps last week but factored in for only one carry. He could get more work this week as the Jaguars look to see what they have in him, but keep expectations in check.
This dismal Jaguars rushing offense faces a stiff challenge against a Colts defense playing for a spot in the postseason. Indianapolis has fielded one of the league’s best rushing defenses for most of the season, currently ranking second in fewest rushing yards per game allowed with 92.9. Derrick Henry has been the only running back to exceed 72 yards against this unit. Over the past four weeks, this team has allowed a league-low 49 rushing yards per game to opposing running backs, including shutting down Josh Jacobs for just 49 yards on 13 carries in Week 14. DeForest Buckner and Darius Leonard are the two main playmakers on this front seven and primary reasons for the success of this rushing defense. Buckner should have no problem handing this mediocre Jaguars offensive line while Leonard will continue to be all over the field as one of the top run-defending linebackers in the league.
Tampa Bay vs Atlanta
The Tampa Bay rushing offense has been one of the least productive groups in the league, averaging just 95 rushing yards per game with a mediocre average of 4.1 yards per carry. A combination of Ronald Jones II and Leonard Fournette has led this backfield throughout the season, but Jones has missed the past two weeks with a combination of a finger injury and being on the COVID list. Jones was just activated from injured reserve this week, but given what could be a lingering finger injury, his status remains in question. The Buccaneers have a playoff spot already locked up and are likely suspects to rest starters--but at the same time, they may want to get Jones some work heading into the playoffs. Either way, keep an eye on his status and expect Leonard Fournette and Ke’Shawn Vaughn to be involved this week.
The Falcons have been a sneaky-good run defense given how challenged their secondary has been against the pass. On the season this team is giving up just 105.5 rushing yards per game--seventh-fewest in the league. They have been particularly effective in the second half of the season, limiting opposing running backs to the fourth-fewest fantasy points per game (non-PPR) since Week 9. Defensive tackle Grady Jarrett is the gem of this unit and has been dominant all season as he finds himself voted to the NFC Pro Bowl team yet again. The Buccaneers do have a stout offensive line, so this is not exactly a one-sided matchup in the trenches--but Jarrett has the playmaking ability to bust open almost any individual matchup he is faced with. On the second level, linebacker Deion Jones has also done a very fine job against the run and will help wrangle in the Buccaneers ground game. Combine this stout Falcons defensive front with the potential for Tampa Bay starters to see some rest, and it is tough to expect much of anything from the Buccaneers rushing offense this week.