TOP 5 RUSHING MATCHUPS WEEK 18
TO VIEW ALL OF OUR WEEK 18 MATCHUP CONTENT, PLEASE SEE THE LINKS BELOW:
Baltimore at Tennessee
After some early-season struggles, the Ravens have found a consistent offense and appear to be a dangerous threat heading into the playoffs. They have found consistency with J.K. Dobbins playing the lead role, but with Gus Edwards being a strong complementary back as the Ravens have run for 191 yards per game between the two players over the last two weeks. Having a consistent running game outside of Lamar Jackson has also done wonders for the quarterback who has rushed for 80 yards or more in four of his last five games. If there is any concern for the Ravens it would be that they may be a little banged up on the offensive line as Patrick Mekari and D.J. Fluker are both questionable heading into this week.
The Titans weak spot continues to be the defensive line and winning in the trenches. The Titans defense has been shredded as of late as we saw David Johnson rush for 84 yards on just 14 carries and two weeks ago Green Bay run for 218 yards on 30 carries. This has largely been the theme of the Titans season in that they have been good enough to shut down poor running attacks, but when they face some of the better rushing attacks in the NFL they struggle mightily. If there is some glimmer of opportunity for the Titans it is that they largely shut down the Ravens back in Week 11 holding the Ravens to just 78 yards on 20 carries which was one of their better performances of the season.
Tennessee vs Baltimore
The Titans rushing attack is once again peaking at the exact right moment as Derrick Henry is coming off of one of his best games in the NFL running for 250 yards and 2 touchdowns last week against the Texans. Henry has been in his usual late-season elite form as he has topped 130 yards in four of his last six games including topping 200 yards in two of those contests. If there is one cause of concern with the Titans rushing attack it is that they finished the season by having four consecutive games against bottom six defenses including three games against the worst defenses in football (HOU, JAX, DET).
Baltimore’s run defense is by no means a bad defense, but in a week where there are so many elite defenses, they fall in the bottom 5 of run defenses this week. On the season, the Ravens are allowing 4.8 yards-per-carry and the big thing that has hurt the Ravens has been the linebacker and safety play as they are a unit that is designed to stop the pass. Patrick Queen has looked elite at times but has largely struggled at others mostly against run-heavy offenses as he lines up much deeper than a traditional middle linebacker.
Pittsburgh vs Cleveland
The Steelers running game this season has been a disaster. For some reason, the Steelers just do not have faith in James Conner even though he has been the far more efficient back compared to Benny Snell who has struggled for most of the season averaging just 3.3 yards-per-carry. Expect there to be a split for the Steelers as Conner is averaging just 10 carries per game over the last five weeks compared to Snell’s 8 carries per game. The offensive line continues to be a strength for the Steelers even with the loss of Maurkice Pouncey earlier this season as David DeCastro and Alejandro Villanueva continue to be stalwarts on the offensive line.
The Browns running game is not bad, but one has to wonder if all of the non-football issues are starting to get to the Browns. They continue to deal with Covid and Kevin Stefanski will miss this game and the Browns have not practiced this week as their facility has been closed and looks like it will continue to be closed up until the game this weekend. In the second half of this season, the Browns have been a somewhat untested unit, but a lockdown unit none the less as they have not allowed a running back to top 60 yards since Week 12 and are allowing the second-fewest points to opposing running backs in that time. The defensive line continues to be a top unit, led by Myles Garrett and Sheldon Richardson, but did take a significant hit as Olivier Vernon was placed on IR with an Achilles injury.
Indianapolis at Buffalo
While it has come later than most expected, Jonathan Taylor has emerged as an elite running back over the last six weeks of the season. Taylor has topped 74 yards or more in those six games and is averaging 123 yards per contest. The biggest thing for Taylor is consistency in touches as he is a running back that gets better throughout the game as we saw when he had 30 carries last week against Jacksonville. The one negative for the Colts is the loss of left tackle Anthony Castonzo as he was placed on IR, but this should impact the passing game more than the running game and the Colts run-blocking unit still grades out as an A+ according to offensive line expert Matt Bitonti.
Buffalo’s run defense has largely been an up and down unit throughout the season as they have allowed 100+ yard games to Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Darrell Henderson, Damien Harris, and Kenyan Drake, but at the same time have shut down Derrick Henry (56) and Josh Jacobs. The Bills have faced one of the easiest schedules when it comes to opposing running backs as they get six games against the Patriots, Jets, and Dolphins, while also facing the NFC West this season. Even still, this is a unit that has allowed 4.4 yards per carry to opposing defenses. The good news for Buffalo is that for seemingly the first time all season, linebackers Matt Milano and Tremaine Edmunds are both healthy together which are significant as the issue for the Bills is on the defensive line as Ed Oliver and Quinton Jefferson are not space eating defensive tackles that Buffalo had become accustomed to in prior years.
LA Rams at Seattle
The Rams got Cam Akers back last week and were largely shut down as the Cardinals sold out to stop the run forcing John Wolford to beat them. Akers carried the ball 21 times but was able to just gain 34 yards which was very atypical for the Rams running back who was averaging 4.8 yards-per-carry prior to last week’s game. One of the issues for the Rams for most of the season has been the offensive line as the rebuild of their line has largely failed this season as Austin Corbett, David Edwards, and Joe Noteboom have struggled. The Rams will be without Darrell Henderson once again this week and it appears likely that they will lean on Akers in this one.
Seattle is another team that is on the top five list only because there are so many elite run defenses that are playing this week. One of the key injuries heading into this week is safety Jamal Adams who is dealing with a shoulder injury and states he will be playing, but whether he is 100% or not is the larger question. On the season, the Seahawks are allowing just over four yards per carry, and are facing the third-fewest rushing attempts this season as opposing teams try to beat them through the air. The Seahawks are by no means a perfect unit, as they have been boosted by an easy schedule facing six games against the NFC West and four games against the AFC East, but they have struggled at stopping the Rams this season allowing 4.5 yards-per-carry as the Rams collectively had 99 yards and 89 yards in their two contests on the ground. The Seahawks struggle on the defensive line and stopping opponents for negative yards, but where they excel is at the linebacker play as K.J. Wright and Bobby Wagner continue to play at a high level