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Top 2 Rushing Matchups
Cincinnati at Kansas City
As a running back, Joe Mixon is showing some limitations as of late. Over his last seven games, he’s been incredibly consistent, but that’s not necessarily a great thing as he’s ended up with between 46 and 65 yards in each of those contests all while averaging 3.3 yards-per-carry. What’s interesting is that this recent trend aligns exactly when Riley Reiff was injured after Mixon had back-to-back 120+ yard performances. The offensive line for the Bengals is particularly concerning as the right side with Isaiah Prince and Hakeem Adeniji have both struggled mightily after being forced into playing time due to injury.
The Chiefs run defense has been a unit that you really never know what you’re going to get out of them. They have been fantastic the last two weeks completely shutting down Devin Singletary and Najee Harris holding them both to under 30 yards rushing. With just four teams playing this week, none of the defenses are bad, but the Chiefs are allowing the most rushing yards per game to opposing running backs of any time left in the playoffs at 91 per game and 4.5 yards-per-carry. It’s a defense that plays a Dime heavy front to help stop the pass, but the problem is that Daniel Sorenson has been one of the worst run stoppers in the NFL and in the Dime look he’s forced to be a run stopper. In their last meeting back in Week 17, the Bengals didn’t even try to run against this defense as they had so much success through the air as Joe Mixon had just 12 carries for 46 yards rushing but did add seven receptions.
Kansas City vs Cincinnati
The Chiefs rushing attack appears that it will remain a committee throughout the playoffs even with Clyde Edwards-Helaire’s return as Edwards-Helaire had just seven carries compared to Jerick McKinnon’s 10 carries this past week. Edwards-Helaire looked great, averaging 8.6 yards-per-carry. While Edwards-Helaire has certainly earned more snaps especially with Jerick McKinnon struggling (26 yards on 10 carries), Darrel Williams was a full participant in practice this week which should only complicate the committee even more this week. The big piece for the running game has been Patrick Mahomes II who was outstanding rushing the ball last week as he ran for 69 yards on 7 carries.
The Bengals run defense has been very good, but at this point in the season all of the teams remaining have great defenses and we need to pick the two best matchups as part of this article. Cincinnati allowed just 83 yards rushing during the regular season as they were one of the most improved units in football after struggling mightily in 2020. The big change for the Bengals have been the signings of D.J. Reader in 2020 who missed all of last year due to injury and Trey Hendrickson this season. If there is some cause for concern however, the Bengals have been trending in the wrong direction over the last few weeks as since Week 17, they have allowed an average of 131 yards per game including 127 to this same Kansas City team back in Week 17 as Darrel Williams had 88 yards on the ground. The Bengals strength has been their defensive line as they do have questions at linebacker so the battle will be won in the trenches as the Chiefs have the top offensive line in football according to offensive line expert Matt Bitonti.
Bottom 2 Rushing Matchups
LA Rams vs San Francisco
The Rams have some key decisions to make this week at the running back position. While Sean McVay has come out and said all the right things about trusting Cam Akers, one has to question whether this will actually play out this week. Akers struggled mightily last week with 24 carries for just 48 yards. While the lack of production was not abnormal for a running back facing the Buccaneers, what was concerning was that he had two critical fumbles that allowed the Buccaneers to get back into the game last week and almost pull off a massive upset. The good news for the Rams this week is that they should get Andrew Whitworth back after missing last week with an injury. Whitworth even at 40 years old is still one of the best left tackles in the game, as well as the captain of this offensive line.
The 49ers have been one of the more difficult teams to run against all season and the playoffs have been no different. The run defense of San Francisco has been the backbone of their playoff success as they held the Packers duo of running backs to just 66 yards total while holding the Cowboys duo to just 45 total yards. This is a defense that has not allowed a running back to top 60 yards since Week 9, and has allowed just one 100-yard rusher on the season. The front seven of the 49ers continues to be one of the best in football as they have elite talents in Arik Armstead, Nick Bosa, and Fred Warner while the addition of Dre Greenlaw back at linebacker has been massive as he returned just in time after missing most of the season with injury. This is a defense that is going to be critical in continuing to make a story book playoff run after a dramatic win back in Week 18 got them into the playoffs.
San Francisco at LA Rams
Elijah Mitchell had one of his worst games of the season last week as he averaged just 3.1 yards-per-carry. Mitchell should rebound this week as he has been one of the better running backs in the NFL since returning from injury averaging 100 yards per game prior to last week. Deebo Samuel also struggled to find room against the Packers as he was able to garner just 39 yards on 10 attempts as the Packers defense did a great job in clogging the line limiting the holes for the running backs to run through. The good news for the 49ers is that this is still an offensive line that is one of the better units in football led by All-Pro Trent Williams at left tackle who the 49ers used in motion this past week as a lead blocker. The 49ers will look to utilize their run-heavy approach to have success against the Rams similar to what they did in their last meeting when they ran for 135 yards in Week 18.
The Rams are in an interesting position this week as they have been one of the best defenses against the run all season allowing 78 yards rushing to opposing running backs on the season, but they’ve struggled against the 49ers. On the year, the Rams have allowed just three running backs to top 75 yards since Week 5, and two of those were Elijah Mitchell who ran for 91 yards and 85 yards respectively. This is a defense that have seemingly gotten an upgrade with linebacker Travin Howard who has replaced Ernest Jones who the Rams have said will be situational even if he is able to play with his injury. Howard had six tackles last week and if they can continue to get solid play out of him along with the vaunted defensive line led by Aaron Donald and Von Miller/Leonard Floyd securing the outside this is going to continue to be a difficult defense to run against.