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Top 5 Rushing Matchups
Buffalo at Kansas City
Buffalo will be a road underdog in what is likely to be the highest total of the week on Sunday night at Kansas City. Buffalo’s offensive line has performed as one of the better units in the league while the Buffalo rushing attack has excelled in recent weeks. While Buffalo doesn’t have a lead running back, they are still a run-heavy offense as they have rushed for 117 yards or more each week, including a 199-yard performance against the Texans in Week 4. The Buffalo offense has benefited from positive game script, winning by 35, 22, and 40 points over Miami, Washington, and Houston over the past three weeks. Buffalo’s offense has split between Zack Moss and Devin Singletary, with Singletary (49) leading Moss (35) in carries on the season, but Moss has a more favorable role in the red zone (13 carries to 8 carries), including 3 touchdowns.
The Kansas City defense has given up the third-most rushing yards in 2021 (139.5 rushing yards per game), and the 11th most PPR points per game to running backs (24.2). The defense was beat up by Cleveland and Baltimore in the first two weeks of the season before holding the Eagles to only 103 rushing yards, 47 of which were by Jalen Hurts. The defense has been ravaged with injuries as defensive end Frank Clark with a hamstring injury, forcing Chris Jones to move from defensive tackle to defensive end. Clark practiced last week, but was held out of the game, but could potentially play in a key Week 5 matchup. The challenge for this defense continues to be at the second level as the linebacker play has not been good enough, at consistently stopping the run.
San Francisco at Arizona
We finally saw the emergence that most expected from Trey Sermon in the preseason as he started in Week 4 and had 19 carries for 89 yards. However, Elijah Mitchell was a limited participant on Wednesday and remains questionable this week which could greatly impact the volume that Sermon sees. San Francisco will be a road underdog at Arizona with a high implied team total. San Francisco has one of the top offensive lines in the league but will be going through a scheme change with Jimmy Garoppolo likely to miss the game with a calf injury and Trey Lance playing in his place. Trey Sermon started in Week 4 for the second consecutive week and ran 19 times for 89 yards. San Francisco ranks second to last in running back receptions per drop back and receiving yards per drop back through four weeks.
Arizona’s defense has had a difficult time stopping anyone this season against the run as they are averaging 5.4 yards-per-carry on the season. This ultimately is a defense that is designed to stop the pass as their defensive line is built with Chandler Jones and J.J. Watt Arizona’s defense, and the defense plays a Nickel defense over 70% of the time. This ultimately puts a significant amount of pressure on Jordan Hicks who has struggled and there were questions whether he would be the starter this season. The Cardinals gave up 177 yards to Minnesota in Week 2, 159 yards to Jacksonville in Week 3, and 121 yards in Week 4. If there is a bright spot for the the Cardinals it is that they have allowed just one rushing touchdown on the season.
Cleveland at L.A. Chargers
The Cleveland offense this season has been a run-heavy unit as they lead the league in rushing yards, rushing attempts, rushing touchdowns and are 5th in yards-per-carry. The Cleveland offensive line has been one of the elite units in the league through four weeks, with the team calling designed runs at the second-highest frequency of any team (46.25%), behind only New Orleans. The Cleveland offense has rushed for 153 yards or more each week, with Nick Chubb leading the team in carries (69) and yards (90.5 per game). Kareem Hunt leads the team in receptions (12) and yards (121) through four weeks and his passing game work may be necessary for what could be a high-scoring game against the Chargers.
The Chargers rank 29th in rushing yards allowed this season (139.5 yards per game), and realistically the numbers could be a lot worse if not for a strong performance on Monday against an injured Josh Jacobs and Peyton Barber who left the game early in the first quarter. Much of the Chargers’ defensive scheme is designed around playing two high safeties and prioritizing passing defense ahead of run defense, which creates rushing opportunities for opposing offenses. The Chargers linebackers have been a big problem this year, and they are likely to get worse as Kenneth Murray was placed on IR this week with an ankle injury.
Seattle vs. L.A. Rams
Seattle will be a small home underdog against the Rams on Thursday night. The Seattle offense has been about league average in designed pass rate (15th) and performed slightly below league average in rushing yards this season (107 per game). Seattle played Alex Collins heavily in the second half of the Week 4 matchup against the 49ers, playing 17 snaps to Chris Carson’s 11. The usage may be a temporary blip for Carson but warrants monitoring during a short week as Carson is dealing with a neck injury. If Carson is unable to go, it would likely be a heavy dosage of Alex Collins with Travis Homer as the receiving back for Seattle
The Rams run defense has been a problem the past few seasons and it doesn’t look like anything is going to change this year. Last week, the Rams were gashed by Chase Edmonds and James Conner in Week 4 to the tune of 30 carries, 170 yards, and two touchdowns, easily their worst performance against the run in the 2021 season. On the season, the Rams are averaging allowing 4.7 yards-per-carry. The issue for the Rams is a schematic issue as they are desperately trying to find a third linebacker to provide some consistency as Kenny Young and Leonard Floyd are the only two linebackers who have seen more than 50% of the snaps this season. Floyd is a pass rusher by nature and not a run-stopping linebacker, while Young is forced into the role in his first-year as a full-time starter. This is a team that desperately misses John Johnson III who led the team in tackles last season as a safety with 105 tackles.
L.A. Rams at Seattle
For all of the questions that Darrell Henderson faced heading into this season, he has largely quieted those and held off Sony Michel due to strong play from Henderson. The Rams offensive line has graded out as one of the better units in the league, but the rushing offense has performed below league average (93 yards per game). This is an offense that is a pass-heavy unit as they have thrown the fourth-most in the NFL, and utilizes enough rushing to keep the defense honest and setup the play-action passing game.
Seattle run defense has been one of the surprises thus far this season. has the league's worst run defense through four weeks, giving up 152 yards-per-game. There could be some regression coming for this Seahawks defense as they have faced some of the better offenses in football this year in Indianapolis, Tennessee, Minnesota, and San Francisco, albeit the backups in the last two games. Despite giving up league-worst rushing yards, Seattle has given up the 17th most points to running backs per game (23.9) as they have contained running backs in the passing game and kept them out of the end zone. This is a Seahawks defense that still has two of the league’s best linebacker and safeties in Bobby Wagner and Jamal Adams, but there are significant holes that the Seahawks have outside of those two. So far, the loss of K.J. Wright has had a bigger impact than the Seahawks could have imagined as they have not been able to get consistent performances from the rest of their linebacker group
Bottom 5 Rushing Matchups
Miami at Tampa Bay
Miami on the road against the league’s best run defense may eliminate an already struggling rushing attack. The Miami offense has been on the fourth-most past heavy in the league through four weeks and ranks 29th in running back receiving yards per dropback. The problem is that the Dolphins really don’t have a lead running back to provide any level of consistency. Myles Gaskin has been the nominal starter, leading the team in rushing attempts (29) over Malcolm Brown (25). The combination of limited usage and projected negative game script make this game a tough matchup for the Miami running game.
Tampa Bay had another dominating performance against the run in Week 4’s win against the Patriots. The Tampa defense has given up the 7th fewest points to opposing running backs (21.0) and the fewest rushing yards per game (60). This defense has been a mainstay for the bottom passing matchups over the last several season. The front seven for the Buccaneers continues to be the league’s best and Vita Vea’s return has made this defense even better than year’s past. Expect the Dolphins to have no success this week and may just abandon the run altogether.
L.A. Chargers vs Cleveland
The Chargers are coming off of one of Austin Ekeler’s best rushing performances in his career as he had 15 carries for 117 yards and a touchdown. Teammate Larry Rountree III added in another 11 carries and 31 yards, which should add some clarity as far as who will take over the lead role if Ekeler were to go down as Justin Jackson had just three carries for -4 yards. The still has issues for the Chargers as they desperately miss Bryan Bulaga who was placed on IR earlier this season.
Cleveland’s rebuilt offense has paid significant dividends thus far this season. This was a unit last season that had no continuity at linebacker and safety and the additions of Phillip Walker and John Johnson III has paid off significantly for the Browns So far this year, they have given up the fifth-fewest points (20.4) to opposing running backs, and . The Browns have given up the 8th fewest rushing yards per game to opposing running backs but the stat is likely aided by a positive game script as the Browns played ahead against the Chiefs, Texans, and Bears, before dominating the Vikings on the road and holding Dalvin Cook to just 34 yards.
Washington vs. New Orleans
Antonio Gibson has been adequate, but has not shown the growth that some hoped for heading into his second-season with the Football Team. The big issue for Gibson has been the lack of volume, as after a 20 carry performance in Week 1, Gibson has averaged just 13 carries-per-game over the last three contests. Washington is averaging 103.3 yards per game rushing slightly below average with a designed passing rate of 68.1% of the time, the 9th highest in the league. Washington has integrated their running backs into the passing game, with the 10th most receiving yards per drop back and 2nd most receptions per dropback.
The Saints have given up the fewest points to opposing running backs per game in 2021 (18.0) and surrendering the second-lowest yards per rushing attempt (3.1). The performance has been particularly impressive, as the Saints have been one of the league-leading run defenses while facing Aaron Jones, Christian McCaffrey, and Saquon Barkley through the first four weeks. Even with the inury to linebacker Kwon Alexander, this defense has not missed a beat as they have benefitted from having two elite run-stoppers in Demario Davis and Malcolm Jenkins at the linebacker and safety positions. If there is a potential issue for the Saints, it is depth, as they have had salary cap issues heading into this season, and to make matters worse, they have six defensive players on IR and one player suspended.
Pittsburgh vs Denver
Pittsburgh’s offense has largely been a disappointment on the season and the rushing attack is no different. Najee Harris as a runner has struggled mightily averaging just 3.4 yards-per-carry in what remains a pass-heavy offense as they have the second-highest pass rate (74.6%) in the league. The problem for the Steelers continues to be the lack of trust in the offensive line as Matt Bitonti has the Steelers as the kept this offensive line as by far the worst offensive line in football. Expect Harris to have involvement in the passing game where he has excelled, but in terms of overall running ability, do not expect much from this rushing offense this week or quite possibly the rest of the season if they can’t get their offensive line issues figured out.
The Pittsburgh matchup is difficult against the Broncos who have given up the fifth-fewest rushing yards and fifth-fewest yards per rushing attempt. The Broncos have gotten the benefit of matchups against the run, playing positive game script games against the Giants, Jaguars, and Jets before giving up 102 yards to Baltimore. This Broncos team was a last second play away from holding the Ravens to their first sub-100 yard game in three seasons. The Broncos continue with their good fortune against the run against one of the worst running teams in the league in Week 5. The Broncos defensive line are all over 280 pounds led by Mike Purcell at nose tackle. The Broncos are a solidly coached unit without a single elite run-stopper as they have only one player with over 20 tackles which is Kareem Jackson who has 21 on the year.
Kansas City vs Buffalo
After a slow start to the season, Clyde Edwards-Helaire has picked up his play considerably over the last two weeks. Edwards-Helaire has tallied back to back 100-yard games while touching the ball just 14 and 17 times in those contests. This remains a pass-first offense that is throwing the ball at a 67% pass rate, but Edwards-Helaire has seen volume ranging from 13 to 19 carries this season. There is some promise heading into this game for the Chiefs as Edwards-Helaire had a career day last season with 161 yards and 2 touchdowns against a Bills defense in a rain soaked game last year. This is a much different Bills defense, but the familiarity and confidence for Edwards-Helaire could come into play this week.
The Bills rebuilt defense is in large thanks to Star Lotulelei who opted out of the 2020 season and missed the end of the 2019 season due to injury. The veteran defensive tackle has been a force for the Bills eating up significant space which has greatly improved Tremaine Edmunds and Matt Milano to stop the opposing rushing attacks. The Bills have given up the fourth-fewest yards on the ground in 2021, and are allowing just 3.2 yards-per-carry. There still is some concern for the Bills defense based on the schedule as they have faced the easiest schedule against opposing running backs as they have faced Houston, Washington, Miami, and Pittsburgh which are three of the bottom-10 rushing offenses in football, while Washington is in the bottom-half as well.
|Week 5 Rushing Matchups|
|Buffalo||at Kansas City||Great|
|San Francisco||at Arizona||Great|
|Cleveland||at LA Chargers||Great|
|Seattle||vs LA Rams||Great|
|LA Rams||at Seattle||Great|
|Tampa Bay||vs Miami||Good|
|New England||at Houston||Good|
|Chicago||at Las Vegas||Good|
|Dallas||vs NY Giants||Good|
|NY Jets||at Atlanta||Good|
|Arizona||vs San Francisco||Neutral|
|Houston||vs New England||Neutral|
|Cincinnati||vs Green Bay||Neutral|
|Las Vegas||vs Chicago||Neutral|
|Atlanta||vs NY Jets||Neutral|
|New Orleans||at Washington||Neutral|
|Green Bay||at Cincinnati||Tough|
|NY Giants||at Dallas||Tough|
|Kansas City||vs Buffalo||Bad|
|Washington||vs New Orleans||Bad|
|LA Chargers||vs Cleveland||Bad|
|Miami||at Tampa Bay||Bad|