BOTTOM 4 RUSHING MATCHUPS WEEK 19
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New Orleans vs Tampa Bay
The Saints’ prolific ground game continues to hum along, averaging a stunning 162 yards over their last 7 games. Alvin Kamara remains the Saints’ offensive engine; he dictates virtually everything on the ground and much through the air. Kamara’s surprising Sunday return to the team proved huge as he turned 23 carries into 99 game-controlling yards. A chunk of the credit goes to the Saints’ elite front line, which is custom-built to clear paths for the dynamic Kamara. They boast star talent across the line, and they’re versatile enough to blow open holes all over the formation. Latavius Murray is typically a notable part of the attack, though he was mostly invisible in the first round (four rushes). And it’s worth noting that Saints quarterbacks took more carries from within two yards of the end zone than Josh Allen or Kyler Murray did on the year. No one likes facing this stingy Tampa Bay run defense, but Sean Payton and the Saints won’t be intimidated away from trying.
The Buccaneers run defense remains the NFL’s gold standard. Their run of dominance spans back over a calendar year, with very few opposing runners putting up any production of note along the way. Here in 2020, they’ve definitively shut down the likes of Christian McCaffrey, Aaron Jones, Josh Jacobs, and a handful of other elite backs. Alvin Kamara himself has been stymied in this matchup, turning 50 carries into just 193 yards (3.9 apiece) over their last 4 meetings. Antonio Gibson found no room here in Round 1, and that came against a Buccaneers unit lacking two of its most impactful pieces. They’ll get back nose tackle Steve McLendon and linebacker Devin White this weekend, boosting a group that’s so deep and well-schemed it hardly missed them. McLendon has been tremendous, an under-the-radar signing right after Vita Vea’s early-season injury. And while White remains a work in progress all-around, there’s no denying his impact as a striking playmaker. He and Lavonte David, who’s turned in the best season of a stellar career, are both second-team All-Pros, and they form the backbone of a fantasy matchup no one wants to face. Kamara and the Saints will need to get creative to find anything useful against this suffocating group.
Tampa Bay at New Orleans
The Buccaneers may not know the status of their lead back role until Sunday morning. Ronald Jones II was a late scratch last Saturday with a nagging quad issue, and he may again come down to the wire. Leonard Fournette stepped in to provide an impressive 91-yard day, helping to grind out a tight fourth quarter. Fournette is far from a perfect back, though, still running without a ton of burst or urgency. Prior to last week, he’d averaged just 3.8 per carry, with 13% of his yardage coming from a single run back in Week 2. The Buccaneers boast a stout run-blocking line, currently sitting sixth in our Matt Bitonti’s rankings, thanks mostly to one of the league’s best interior trios. But the low-energy Fournette simply isn’t a great bet to take advantage of. To project any success with confidence, it would be nice to see the more dynamic Jones get cleared. He’d been on a roll prior to the injury, putting up 440 yards and 3 touchdowns over the final 5 weeks of the season.
The Saints remain Tampa Bay’s chief competition among the league’s most dominant run defenses. Only a single opposing runner, Miles Sanders, has registered 100 yards this season, and 71% of his yardage that day came on a single play. The Saints gave up a few breakaway runs down the stretch, but clamped down overall on the likes of Dalvin Cook, Melvin Gordon III, and David Montgomery just last week. Montgomery, one of the NFL’s hottest backs over the second half of the year, found no daylight (31 yards on 12 rushes) through the Saints’ suffocating front seven. It’s hard to argue with the All-Pro selections at defensive tackle, but David Onyemata deserved some consideration as the catalyst of this powerful group. Onyemata and a deep rotation of space-eating nose men set the table for the second-level playmakers to strike. Demario Davis has bloomed into one of the league’s premier off-ball linebackers, and 12-year veteran Malcolm Jenkins is invaluable as a hybrid safety. Neither Buccaneers back projects well here; in their two regular-season meetings, Ronald Jones II and Leonard Fournette turned 26 combined rushes into just 80 scoreless yards.
Green Bay vs LA Rams
The Packers rushing attack when it is clicking is one of the top running units in the NFL. The Packers are averaging 132 yards rushing per game which is the eighth-best in the NFL but could be a lot higher as they are just 13th in terms of attempts as the Packers don’t always rely on the run as Aaron Jones has topped 15 carries just twice all season. The Packers will be without tackles David Bakhtiari and Rick Wagner this week which could force them to go with a more run-heavy offense this week. The good news for the Packers is that Jamaal Williams in Week 17 played 26% of the snaps after dealing with a quad injury, if they can get back to the two-headed monster of Jones and Williams, expect consistent production from the Packers this week.
The Rams are one of the best defenses overall this season as they are allowing just 3.8 yards-per-carry on the season and the sixth-fewest fantasy points to opposing running backs. The biggest question this week will be how effective Aaron Donald will be this week as he is dealing with a rib injury that caused him to miss portions of last week’s game. All indications are that Donald will be fine, but something to keep an eye on heading into this week’s game. Donald has played a pivotal role in this defense disrupting the rushing attack and is a big reason why the Rams have not allowed a 100-yard rusher on the season and have allowed just three running backs to top 75 yards (two of which were back in Week 1 and 2). This is a defense that is set up by the secondary being so strong that they can stack the box due to not having to provide help to Jalen Ramsey.
Kansas City vs Cleveland
The Chiefs rushing attack is going to largely rely on the health of Clyde Edwards-Helaire. Edwards-Helaire returned to practice on Wednesday, albeit without pads and with no contact, but is still dealing with a high-ankle sprain. When healthy, this is largely still a limited offensive line that is set up to pass the ball rather than run, especially after Mitchell Schwartz was lost in Week 6 with a back injury. Even if Edwards-Helaire returns, expect a three-headed backfield with Darrell Williams and Le’Veon Bell both seeing some workload as the team eases the rookie back into the fold. If Edwards-Helaire does not return, expect a split between Bell and Williams as while Williams was on the field for 70% of the snaps in Week 16, he only saw 10 carries compared to Bell’s 7 totes. Williams did play a bigger role in the passing game as he caught four passes compared to Bell’s one.
The Browns run defense for much of the back half of the season has been a dominant unit after going through a middle point of the year with a few hiccups. Since Week 13, the Browns have not allowed a running back to top 60 yards and the only two running backs to top 50 yards were Derrick Henry and J.K. Dobbins. With limited practice for most of the last two months, and with players in and out of the lineup due to COVID-19, the Browns have somehow found a way to be a dominant force when it comes to stopping the run. It all starts up front for the Browns as Sheldon Richardson and Myles Garrett solidify the defensive line. The linebackers in B.J. Goodson, Sione Takitaki, and Malcolm Smith have been adequate defenders who are disciplined and prevent the big plays. This is a defense that should have a significant advantage over the Chiefs in the run game particularly in the trenches as the Chiefs have no one to block Myles Garrett and lack the interior presence to stop Sheldon Richardson from making plays.