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Top 5 Rushing Matchups
Chicago vs Denver
The Chicago Bears find themselves in a challenging situation, but this upcoming game presents a promising opportunity for a rebound. Their strength on the ground, featuring three talented ball-carriers, could play a pivotal role in their success. Quarterback Justin Fields' mobility is a game-changer, offering the Bears a significant advantage. In 2022, Fields averaged 76 rushing yards per game, but he only had four carries in the Week 2 loss to Tampa Bay. Utilizing Fields' rushing ability more effectively is likely on the coaching staff's agenda. Behind Fields, the Bears have Khalil Herbert and rookie Roschon Johnson, forming a reliable tandem. Johnson has been averaging 5.0 yards per rush, while Herbert boasts a career average of 4.9 yards per carry. Although the Bears' offensive line may not be exceptional, it is better suited for run-blocking, and these running backs excel at creating yardage.
The Denver Broncos' defense will not be as bad every week as they were in Week 3, where they allowed 350 yards rushing, but this is a unit that remains vulnerable on the ground. This is a far cry from the stout defense of 2022, which ranked 11th in football against the run. Over the past few years, the Broncos have parted ways with several key run-stoppers, and the new additions haven't effectively plugged the run. New starters Zach Allen and Jonathan Harris haven't been able to replace the likes of Derek Wolfe, Shelby Harris, and Kyle Peko. In Week 3, Miami's offensive linemen consistently reached the second level and neutralized the mediocre linebacking corps as Alex Singleton has struggled mightily against the run, while Kareem Jackson and Delarrin Turner-Yell could not provide much in terms of run support. The good news this week is that the Broncos should get Justin Simmons back from injury this week after missing Week 3.
Houston vs Pittsburgh
The Houston Texans have struggled mightily in the rushing department this season, with both Dameon Pierce (averaging 2.5 yards per carry) and Devin Singletary (averaging 3.5 yards per carry) finding it difficult to gain yardage on the ground. This has forced the team into a pass-heavy approach, ranking sixth in passing yards per game and seventh in passing attempts for the season. The shift to a pass-centric offense represents a significant drop from last season when Dameon Pierce averaged 4.3 yards per carry. One of the main issues for the Texans is that opposing defenses are loading the box to stifle the run, aiming to force rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud to carry the offensive load. Additionally, the Texans are facing challenges on the offensive line, currently ranking 24th in run blocking, according to Footballguys’ Matt Bitonti's rankings.
On the other side, the Pittsburgh Steelers have struggled to replace the presence of Cameron Heyward, who has been dealing with an injury. Both DeMarvin Leal and Montravius Adams have faced difficulties in run defense. Through the first three weeks, the Steelers have allowed an average of 132 rushing yards per game, which ranks as the second-highest in the NFL. It's worth noting that their numbers might be somewhat inflated due to facing formidable rushing attacks like those of the Cleveland Browns and San Francisco 49ers. However, they did allow a season-high rushing total to Josh Jacobs in Week 3. The Steelers' defensive scheme is built around pressuring opposing passing attacks, primarily through edge rushers Alex Highsmith and T.J. Watt. Their safeties, Minkah Fitzpatrick and Keanu Neal, are more geared towards pass coverage than run support. How the Steelers perform against the Texans will be a litmus test to see if they can contain rushing offenses that aren't considered among the league's best. As of now, the Steelers have evident issues on their defensive line that may persist until Cameron Heyward's return.
Seattle at NY Giants
The Seattle Seahawks have been running the ball at a rate slightly below the league average, with rushing plays accounting for 41% of their offensive plays. Despite this, they have been efficient in their ground game, thanks to their young running back duo of Kenneth Walker and Zach Charbonnet. Kenneth Walker has been particularly impressive, averaging 4.3 yards per rush and ranking 11th in breaking tackles. He has found the end zone four times on the ground. Rookie Zach Charbonnet has also performed well, boasting a 62.5% success rate on his 16 attempts, resulting in 73 rushing yards. What makes their success even more notable is that they are achieving it behind an offensive line that has been somewhat shaky as it is ranked 29th by Matt Bitonti.
On the other hand, the New York Giants have faced strong rushing offenses in their opening games of the season. While that might not be entirely their fault, it doesn't bode well for them when they go up against the hard-running Seattle Seahawks. In their games against the Giants, running backs Tony Pollard, James Conner, and Christian McCaffrey combined for 261 rushing yards on 55 carries, averaging 4.7 yards per rush. They also scored four rushing touchdowns. It's worth noting that these running backs were effective even before the games got out of hand, and their backups continued to gain yardage in later stages. The Giants' defense appears to be built primarily to stop the pass, with a focus on generating a pass rush. While Leonard Williams is a standout pass-rusher, he doesn't have as much impact against the run. A'Shawn Robinson, typically known as a run-stuffing lineman, has been targeted frequently in the 2023 season. Overall, the Giants' defense appears to be a favorable target for fantasy football purposes, especially against teams with strong running games like the Seahawks.
LA Chargers vs Las Vegas
The Los Angeles Chargers are potentially getting Austin Ekeler back from a high ankle sprain, but they might not need to rush him back into action. High ankle sprains can become lingering issues if not properly managed so that the team may exercise caution in his return. Fortunately for the Chargers, they have a deep and versatile offense that has shown it can perform well even without Ekeler. His backup, Joshua Kelley, has struggled recently, gaining just 51 yards over the past two weeks. However, there is optimism that rookie Isaiah Spiller, who offers more explosiveness, could start to take on a more significant workload in the near future.
On the other side, the Las Vegas Raiders' defense remains a work in progress. While they have made improvements in their pass defense with some notable additions, their front seven still lacks the talent needed to stuff the run effectively. In Week 2, the Buffalo Bills' running back James Cook exploited this weakness by rushing for 123 yards on 17 carries. The Raiders' defensive tackles struggled to hold their ground, and the linebackers had difficulty keeping up with the quick and agile Cook. Additionally, the secondary, designed primarily to stop the pass, has not provided strong support against the run. Given these vulnerabilities in the Raiders' run defense, it wouldn't be surprising to see the Chargers have success on the ground, even if they don't have Ekeler available. Even a less explosive back like Joshua Kelley could find opportunities to produce if the Raiders' defensive front is once again overmatched.
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