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Top 5 Rushing Matchups
Cleveland at Pittsburgh
The Cleveland Browns had an impressive Week 1 performance against the Cincinnati Bengals. Despite bad weather conditions, the Browns managed to rush for 142 yards. Nick Chubb led the way with 106 yards, while Jerome Ford contributed 36 yards. It's worth noting that the Bengals' defense, which was generally solid against the run last season, allowed only one 100-yard rushing performance in 2022, and that was also by Nick Chubb. The strength of the Browns' rushing offense lies in their offensive line, which is among the league's best. While they did lose Right Tackle Jack Conklin, the impact is expected to be more significant in the passing game. The Browns signed veteran Ty Nsekhe, who should be a capable replacement for Conklin. Their interior offensive line is bolstered by two of the best guards in the NFL in Wyatt Teller and Joel Bitonio.
On the other side, the Pittsburgh Steelers had a rough start to their season in Week 1, losing 30-7 to the San Francisco 49ers. Christian McCaffrey had a standout performance, rushing for 152 yards, contributing to the Steelers allowing a total of 188 rushing yards in the game. The Steelers received bad news with the loss of All-Pro Cameron Heyward, who will miss time due to groin surgery stemming from an injury suffered in Week 1. Heyward's absence puts significant pressure on the Steelers' efforts to rebuild their defense. Cole Holcomb struggled in his first game, and while Elandon Roberts and Kwon Alexander are capable linebackers, the key issue appears to be on the defensive line. Isaiahh Loudermilk, who is replacing Heyward, and Montravius Adams at nose tackle have faced significant struggles over the past two seasons.
New Orleans at Carolina
In Week 1, the New Orleans Saints faced a tough matchup without Alvin Kamara, who is suspended for the first three games of the season. Jamaal Williams struggled to establish the run game, gaining just 45 yards on 18 carries. Rookie Kendre Miller, who missed Week 1, is questionable for Week 2, and his potential return would provide a dynamic option for the Saints' offense. Footballguys offensive line expert Matt Bitonti had ranked the Saints' offensive line as the seventh-best in terms of run blocking heading into the season. However, in Week 1, the offensive line, particularly guard Cesar Ruiz, had a tough time against the elite run-stopping unit of the Titans. The Saints will be looking for improved play from their offensive line in the coming weeks.
The Carolina Panthers had a challenging time containing the run in Week 1. They struggled to stop both Tyler Allgeier and Bijan Robinson, both of whom averaged over 5.0 yards per carry. The Atlanta Falcons ran for 131 yards and scored 2 touchdowns on the ground against the Panthers. In an effort to rebuild their defense, the Panthers made several free-agent acquisitions, including defensive linemen Shy Tuttle and DeShawn Williams, as well as safeties Xavier Woods and Vonn Bell. Despite the talent on the roster, it may take some time for this defense to come together. As it stands, their run defense is struggling, but there is potential for improvement over the course of the season.
Arizona vs NY Giants
The Arizona Cardinals surprised many with their competitive performance against the Washington Commanders despite ultimately losing 20-16. James Conner had a solid but not spectacular day as the team's running back. He carried the ball 14 times for 62 yards, averaging 4.4 yards per carry, with his longest run being 12 yards. Conner has now gone nine straight games without a carry of 20 yards or more, suggesting a potential loss of burst compared to earlier in his career. The Cardinals' offensive line is still a work in progress, with new additions left guard Elijah Wilkinson and first-round pick Paris Johnson both struggling in Week 1.
The New York Giants had a rough start to their season with a 40-0 loss in Week 1, which included issues in their rushing defense. The Dallas Cowboys ran the ball 30 times for 122 yards and scored three rushing touchdowns. While allowing 4.1 yards per carry isn't disastrous, it doesn't tell the full story, as Dallas was mainly running to control the clock in the fourth quarter. Although Dexter Lawrence is considered one of the NFL's best defensive tackles, the players around him need to step up their play to avoid a repeat of 2022 when the Giants allowed 119 yards per game to opposing running backs, the fourth-highest in the league. The linebacker position has been a concern for the Giants, with rookie Micah McFadden struggling last year. Improvement from McFadden will be crucial for the defense's success this season.
Tampa Bay vs Chicago
In Week 1, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had difficulty establishing a successful rushing offense. Rachaad White managed just 39 yards on 17 carries, resulting in an average of 2.3 yards per carry. The interior of the offensive line, which had been a concern predicted by Bitonti prior to the season, struggled as expected. Center Robert Hainsey and rookie guard Cody Mauch had difficulties in run blocking, contributing to the rushing struggles. Sean Tucker didn't fare much better, with just 3.0 yards per carry. After a 1-0 start, the Buccaneers are in a position to work on establishing more consistency in their rushing game, especially against a weaker Bears defense.
The Chicago Bears' run defense, while statistically not having its worst day, faced challenges in Week 1. They allowed just 82 yards rushing, but the Green Bay Packers were also able to effectively target running backs in the passing game, essentially using it as an extension of their running attack. The Bears' defense is undergoing changes, with several mid-tier free-agent additions, particularly at linebacker with Tremaine Edmunds and T.J. Edwards. While there's potential for improvement, it might take some time for these additions to find their rhythm, making it a wait-and-see situation for the Bears' defense.
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