TOP 5 RUSHING MATCHUPS WEEK 15
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Indianapolis vs Houston
The Colts rushing offense, in total, has been a mediocre unit throughout the season--but things appear to be turning around in recent weeks. Jonathan Taylor has been very impressive lately as he led the team with 20 rushes for a career-high 150 yards and two touchdowns last week. With 90 or more rushing yards in each of his last three games and 20 or more carries in two of those outings, Taylor appears to now be locked in as the top running back in this backfield. Nyhiem Hines remains involved as is playing around a third of the snaps while seeing plenty of looks in the passing game, but he has been consistently out-rushed by Taylor and will only become a significant factor if the Colts end up playing from behind this week. On the offensive line, left tackle Anthony Castonzo battled back from a knee injury as he played a limited game last week. Barring setbacks, Castonzo should be in line to suit up again this week which will once again make this unit one of the top offensive lines in football.
The Texans defense cannot be looking forward to this matchup after they have been crushed on the ground in multiple games as of late. This defense gave up over 110 yards to David Montgomery of the Bears last week, and are just two weeks removed from allowing Jonathan Taylor to rush for 91 yards on only 13 carries. On the season, Houston has allowed the second-most fantasy points per game and the most rushing yards per game to opposing running backs. Teams continue to score at high rates on the ground against this team as the Texans have given up 17 rushing touchdowns (T-4th most) with opposing running backs having scored at least once in eight straight games. If things were not already bad enough, starting nose tackle Brandon Dunn was carted off with a hip injury last week and safety Justin Reid suffered a season-ending hand injury. This is as large of a mismatch in the trenches as you will find--expect the Colts offense to run at will this week.
Tennessee vs Detroit
Derrick Henry has resumed his typical late-season form as he has punished opposing defenses week in and week out. Remove a game script anomaly against Cleveland in Week 13, and Henry has rushed for an average of 157 yards per game since Week 10. Last week was most impressive for Henry as he posted a season-high 215 rushing yards with two touchdowns against a Jaguars defense that simply did not want to tackle him. What is most impressive here is for Henry to have this continued success running behind an injury-riddled offensive line that has continuously come together in a big way. Third-string left tackle David Quessenberry is doing a fine job filling in, while Roger Saffold continues to battle through poor health that has kept him from finishing a number of games, including last week as Saffold sat out much of the second half. Ben Jones also briefly exited last week’s game before returning as he has been far less than 100%. All in all, however, this offensive line continues to play well enough to prop up Derrick Henry, who has rushed for over 100 yards in eight of 13 games and is well on his way to another rushing title of all goes well.
After a brief string of success against the run, the Lions defense has looked vulnerable yet again after allowing over 100 rushing yards to opposing running backs in back-to-back weeks now. Two weeks ago in Week 13, this group gave up three rushing touchdowns and over 130 rushing yards to a Bears offense that had been reeling for most of the season. They did reasonably well against the Packers last week, but that Packers ground game is nothing like what they should expect to see from Derrick Henry and the Titans this week. This interior defensive line hasn’t cut it all season, and they remain in particular trouble without the size of Danny Shelton to help anchor that unit. This linebacker group lacks standout talent while their defensive backs have been shoddy with tackling--an issue that could certainly haunt them this week against Henry and company.
Baltimore vs Jacksonville
The Ravens maintained their position as the top rushing offense in football after amassing 231 rushing yards against the Browns last Monday night. On the year, this offense is now averaging 173.8 rushing yards per game as quarterback Lamar Jackson leads the team with 793 rushing yards. Jackson hasn’t been quite as dynamic on the ground as he was last season, but he has still rushed for at least 50 yards in all but two games this season and found the end zone twice with a season-high 124 rushing yards last week. At running back, J.K. Dobbins has led the way in recent weeks, but Gus Edwards continues to be involved while Mark Ingram II has taken a back seat, playing just one snap last week and only 20% of the snaps the week prior. Both Dobbins and Edwards are getting work in the red zone, so it is tough to predict which will score despite Dobbins seeing the majority of the workload.
The Jaguars defense is fresh off the heels of one of their worst performances of the season after coughing up 215 rushing yards and two touchdowns to Derrick Henry last week. This defense has now allowed 120 or more rushing yards to a lead running back in three straight games and is giving up an average of 118 rushing yards per game to opposing running backs on the season. Running back is not even the primary concern for this week, however, as Lamar Jackson is the one who is most likely to lead the charge. This defense has been beaten by mobile quarterbacks earlier this season as they have allowed three rushing touchdowns to the position while Deshaun Watson and Justin Herbert both rushed for 50+ yards. Without defensive end Josh Allen, this group lacks playmakers on the edges to help contain the likes of Jackson. That along with a pretty weak linebacking corps and this group will be in an uphill battle to contain the league’s top rushing offense.
Las Vegas vs LA Chargers
Josh Jacobs returned to the lineup for Las Vegas last week after he missed Week 13 with an ankle injury. Jacobs is the center of this Raiders rushing offense as he has seen the lion’s share of the workload when healthy, toting the rock 219 times compared to 79 rushes from Devontae Booker. Jacobs has been inefficient with his workload throughout the season, however, averaging only 3.8 yards per carry while finishing above 4.5 yards per carry in only two games. He has crossed the 100-yard mark twice this season and didn’t have a good game last week in a difficult matchup. The last time Jacobs faced the Chargers, he only saw 14 rush attempts but did turn in a decent performance with 65 rushing yards and a touchdown. Booker’s presence on passing downs has and likely will continue to eat into the upside for Jacobs, but Jacobs has the talent to explode in any given week and should be afforded decent volume if he gets a full week of practice in. Jacobs will have better protection this week than he did the last time he saw the Chargers, as right tackle Trent Brown is back in the lineup to make his third start of the season while Kolton Miller is healthy after missing the Chargers game, amongst others, earlier this season. With Brown back in the mix, this line flirts with the No. 1 overall spot in our Footballguys offensive line rankings.
The Chargers run defense has been mediocre at best throughout the season. The performance of this unit tells a different story from the stats, which peg this as an average group. When digging into their schedule, this defense looked great on paper against a banged-up Falcons backfield last week and an inept Jets offense in Week 11. Removing those two outliers, the Chargers have given up an average of 123 rushing yards per game to running backs in the other six of their last eight games. They have some talent and size on the defensive interior with Linval Joseph, but Jerry Tillery has played quite poorly while the weakness of this linebacker group is very tough to ignore. Kyzir White has been one of the worst run-defending linebackers in the league, while rookie Kenneth Murray is not far behind him. Considering the talent on the Raiders’ offensive line, they should have the advantage in the trenches--and the Chargers have to hope Jacobs doesn’t break into the second level as these linebackers don’t stand much of a chance against a healthy Josh Jacobs.
San Francisco at Dallas
San Francisco has fielded a very average backfield for most of this season as injuries have riddled most of their offensive attack. The current 49ers’ backfield remains a timeshare between Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson playing nearly an identical number of snaps over their last three games. Mostert serves as the 1a here, out-rushing Wilson in each game since Week 12. However, it has been Wilson getting the majority of the red zone looks and even punching in a score last week while Mostert was on the sideline with an injury. Mostert should be the lead back here if he can remain healthy, but in a Kyle Shannahan offense, expect this committee approach to continue. Both backs are running behind an above-average offensive line with a pair of high-caliber offensive tackles in Mike McGlinchey and Trent Williams. Things get dicey on the interior with a rotation at right guard, but overall, this is a talented offensive line capable of setting the 49ers ground game up for success when the matchup is right.
The Dallas rushing defense has been reeling in recent weeks, giving up over 100 rushing yards to lead running backs in three of their last four games. Week 13 was particularly ugly as they allowed season-high 294 rushing yards to the Ravens. The stats may look good for this defense for their last matchup, but the Bengals offense is in shambles without a clear lead running back and no serviceable quarterback. The weakness here is at linebacker as Dallas hasn’t found any consistency at the position. Jaylon Smith has taken a step back while Leighton Vander Esch has struggled against the run. Sean Lee has also been a shell of himself since returning from injury mid-season. The defensive line is decent on the edges, but they lack talent on the interior as teams have had their way on runs up the middle against Dallas. All in all, this Cowboys front seven should struggle in the trenches while the 49ers take advantage of their strong tackles to pull open holes in the middle of the field.