BOTTOM 5 RUSHING MATCHUPS WEEK 18
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Washington at Tampa Bay
The Washington ground game finished their regular season campaign averaging just over 100 rushing yards per game and a sub-par 4.0 yards per rush attempt. Antonio Gibson has been the workhorse of this mediocre ground game, when healthy. He has been dealing with a lingering toe injury that sidelined him from most of Week 13 until Week 16. Gibson’s workload showed no signs of limitation as he was afforded 19 carries in last Sunday night’s matchup, but he still looked hampered by the injury and now comes into this week on short rest with the Saturday game. Peyton Barber has worked in the backfield more often with Gibson out or limited, but he only played 10% and 6% of the snaps in the past two weeks with Gibson back on the field. J.D. McKissick, however, has been seeing the field quite often depending on the game script. McKissick is a passing down specialist and will not eat into many carries, but he could steal snaps from Gibson if Washington gets down early--which the Vegas line implies could occur. The Football Team’s offensive line has been playing quite well and remains healthy coming into this week’s matchup, despite being in a rough spot in this matchup.
The top-ranked Tampa Bay rushing defense will square off against a Washington team that ranked 26th in total rushing yards this year. The Buccaneers have allowed only three running backs to exceed 50 rushing yards and have given up just one rushing touchdown to running backs in their last seven games. This front seven is highlighted by a solid group of linebackers in Lavonte David, Devin White, and Shaq Barrett. However, White will be unavailable for this week’s game due to testing positive for Covid. While the absence of these two has more of an impact on the pass-rush than run defense, it still would knock this defense down a few notches. The interior defensive line remains intact and strong though, highlighted by impressive play all season from Ndamukong Suh and William Gholston. This line will have their hands full in the trenches, but Tampa Bay should still have the edge here even if down a couple of their star defensive players.
New Orleans vs Chicago
Uncertainty shrouds this New Orleans rushing offense as their entire running back room landed on the COVID-19 list prior to last week’s game. The biggest concern here is that Alvin Kamara’s status will be in question until Saturday due to his requirement to quarantine. The coaching staff has stated Kamara may play even without any practice this week, so keep an eye on his status as he must receive medical clearance to suit up. With Kamara along with the legs of Taysom Hill, this has been one of the more explosive rushing offenses in football averaging just over 140 rushing yards per game. Kamara alone averaged 5.0 yards per carry while finishing tied for the second-most rushing touchdowns (16). Without Kamara, the Saints used Ty Montgomery as a workhorse in Week 17 as he played over two-thirds of the snaps and rushed 18 times for 105 yards. Last week was a premium matchup for Montgomery, however, so keep expectations in check if he has to suit up as the starter again. It certainly helps to be running behind one of the league’s top offensive lines though, as the Saints do have that as a key strength of this rushing offense.
The Bears have played reasonably well against the run this season, finishing with near league-average numbers despite playing a lineup of rather strong rushing offenses with the Vikings and Packers both in their division. Chicago closed out the season allowing just under 100 rushing yards per game to opposing running backs, but they did a great job keeping opposing rushers out of the end zone by giving up only 11 rushing touchdowns--tied for second-fewest in the league. Their strength is in the trenches as this defensive line has plenty of talent, highlighted by Khalil Mack on the edge and Akiem Hicks on the inside. Both will be integral to this line standing up to one of the league’s top offensive lines. There are questions at linebacker, however, as Roquan Smith injured his elbow and did not return to last week’s game. The absence of Smith would certainly hurt this defense. The big question for this matchup, however, will be the status of Alvin Kamara--as the Bears will hold a significant advantage if Kamara is out--whereas this is not nearly as tough of a matchup for the Saints if Kamara manages to suit up.
Seattle vs LA Rams
After starting the season as one of the pass-happiest teams in football, the Seahawks finished 2020 with an efficient and effective ground game that averaged just over 123 rushing yards per game to complement the sixth-best yards-per-carry mark of 4.8. Chris Carson has seen double-digit carries for his past five straight games after dealing with a foot injury that sidelined him mid-season. Carlos Hyde has remained involved as the primary backup and should expect to resume that role this week, but this backfield should firmly belong to Carson--who has played well when healthy despite failing to log a game with 80 or more rushing yards. The Seattle offensive line has been a middling unit, but they may get a boost this week if right tackle Brandon Shell is cleared to play after COVID close contact reported last week.
The Rams have been one of the stingiest teams in football against the run, giving up only 91.3 rushing yards per game--third-fewest. This rushing defense has been particularly strong over the latter part of the season as they allowed only two running backs to exceed 50 yards over their last 10 games while running backs scored the sixth-fewest fantasy points per game over that span when facing the Rams. Aaron Donald is a leading candidate for defensive player of the year due to his absolute dominance in the trenches. The Seahawks offensive line does not have much of an answer for what Donald can do to disrupt this ground game. Defensive tackle Michael Brockers could miss this game though, as he was placed on the COVID list last week and remains questionable. The Rams have solid depth on the interior of this line though, so even without Brockers, this is a very strong group with an advantage in the trenches against Seattle. Add in a slew of talented defensive backs who have proven they can be successful against the run all season long, and this will be quite the challenging matchup even for the above-average Seahawks rushing offense.
Buffalo vs Indianapolis
The Bills have largely ignored the ground game this season with a pass-heavy offensive scheme that led to mediocre rushing numbers. Devin Singletary led the team in rushing despite finding the end zone only twice. Rookie Zack Moss was not far behind Singletary in productivity, however, as this backfield has very much employed a committee approach throughout the season. They rested most key starters after the first few series last week, which led to practice squad call-up Antonio Williams rushing 12 times for a productive 63 yards and two touchdowns. Don’t expect Williams to see the field this week though, as the committee of Singletary and Moss can be expected to continue, with Singletary likely to lead the way. Don’t sleep on the rushing ability of quarterback Josh Allen either though, as he added 420 rushing yards this season and eight rushing touchdowns--including rushing for over 25 yards in six of his last eight games.
Indianapolis has been tough on the run all season long, but they really finished the regular season strong as opposing running backs averaged a league-low 49 rushing yards per game with the fewest fantasy points per game over the last four weeks. On the season, this defense finished just behind Tampa Bay with the second-fewest rushing yards allowed while also giving up only four runs of 20 or more yards--tied for second-fewest. Linebacker Darius Leonard is the key to this defense as he will not only fill gaps on running downs, but he matches up well to spy Josh Allen as they try to limit his rushing upside. Defensive tackle DeForest Buckner has been absolutely dominant on the interior, playing as one of the best at his position and winning week in and week out in the trenches. The Bills offensive line is decent, but they will be at a disadvantage against the Colts in this one. Not only will the trenches be tough, but finding room on the edges will also be made difficult by strong run-defending cornerbacks Xavier Rhodes and Kenny Moore II.
Tampa Bay vs Washington
The Buccaneers rushing offense has been a beleaguered group this season as they finish as one of the bottom-ranked units with just 94.9 rushing yards per game despite being part of one of the more potent, talent-laden offenses in the league. Ronald Jones II has led this backfield for most of the season and looks to resume his role as the starter after dealing with a finger injury and a COVID-list spout that sidelined him in Weeks 15 and 16. Jones has had a relatively up and down, yet impressive season with four games of over 100 rushing yards and should be a serviceable option for this Tampa Bay backfield. The experiment with Leonard Fournette, however, hasn’t proven to be as successful as he struggled in limited action throughout the season and was scratched multiple times until taking over in the absence of Jones. With LeSean McCoy expected to return from the COVID list, expect Fournette to have a limited role (if any) with McCoy taking over passing down duties and Jones leading as the primary rusher.
Washington has quite the fearsome front seven that has led them to be regarded as an effective run defense despite their total rushing yards allowed per game falling near the middle-of-the-pack at 112.8 (14th-fewest). This defense has been gashed by mobile quarterbacks throughout the season, but they have been quite effective against the running back position, limiting them to the third-fewest fantasy points per game to close out this season. This group has gotten better as the season has progressed; especially as stand-out rookie defensive lineman Chase Young gets more games under his belt. Between Young, Jonathan Allen, Montez Sweat, and Daron Payne--none of whom have more than three years of experience in the league--this has been a remarkable defensive line that can match up well even against a similarly talented Tampa Bay offensive line. Expect the low volume Buccaneers ground game (four4th-fewest rushing attempts) to struggle with what limited opportunities they have in this matchup.