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Top 5 Rushing Matchups
Baltimore at Pittsburgh
In the 2023 season, the Ravens have increased their focus on the running game under the new offensive coordinator, with 55% of their plays involving runs compared to 50% in the previous season, led by Greg Roman. This shift has not compromised their offensive efficiency, primarily thanks to the exceptional depth of their running unit. Quarterback Lamar Jackson has been a significant contributor, leading the team with 220 rushing yards. In the absence of lead back J.K. Dobbins, the Ravens have employed a committee approach, rotating running backs as needed. Among the running backs, Gus Edwards has emerged as a standout player, particularly in favorable matchups during Weeks 2 and 3, where he gained 113 yards from 21 rushes. Additionally, in Week 4, Justice Hill and Melvin Gordon made significant contributions with substantial gains against the Browns' strong defense. The collective performance of these players suggests that the Ravens' running game will continue to be one of the top units in fantasy football, even if their overall volume decreases as the season progresses.
On the other side, the Steelers, once known for their formidable run defense, have struggled in the 2023 season. Previously ranked 8th in yards allowed per carry (4.2) and 9th in yards allowed per game (108), they have slipped to 28th (4.7) and 29th (149) respectively. These statistics were significantly influenced by standout plays from opponents like Christian McCaffrey in Week 1 and Jerome Ford's 69-yard run in Week 2. However, their performance improved against runners like Josh Jacobs and Dameon Pierce, who managed only 3.5 yards per rush combined. In the upcoming matchup, the Ravens, led by the dynamic duo of Lamar Jackson and Gus Edwards, are expected to exploit the Steelers' weakened run defense. The Ravens' robust run-blocking offensive line is well-matched against the Steelers, whose defensive line lacks the dominance of previous seasons. The absence of the once-dominant Steelers nose tackle has placed greater pressure on linebackers who, although capable, are not as formidable as their predecessors.
Miami vs NY Giants
In Week 4, Miami's high-speed offensive approach took a slight downturn, accumulating 117 yards and 2 touchdowns on the ground, a significant drop from the Madden-esque performance of 350 yards and 5 touchdowns in Week 3. The Dolphins, under the innovative offensive coordinator Mike McDaniel, have showcased a motion-based, jet-heavy attack that has left opponents scrambling to find weaknesses throughout the 2023 season. Raheem Mostert, a consistent veteran, has maintained an impressive average of 5.2 yards per rush and 62 yards per game, a commendable performance in any backfield. However, it's the electrifying rookie De’Von Achane who has been grabbing headlines, boasting an astonishing 11.4 yards per rush, although such remarkable numbers are unlikely to be sustainable. Despite Achane's exceptional recent performances, regression toward the mean seems inevitable, especially against a stronger opponent, although the struggling Giants might not be the team to halt this offensive juggernaut.
The Giants, a seemingly perfect target for Miami's world-class offense, have shown vulnerabilities against both the run and the pass. The Dolphins, proficient in both aspects of the game, are expected to exploit the Giants' weak front whenever possible. The Giants' defensive lineup, assembled primarily from free agents, lacks cohesion and strength. Top linebacker Bobby Okereke, despite taking every defensive snap, has displayed mediocre performance across the board. The Giants have struggled against lead backs from opposing teams, allowing 75 yards or more to every lead running back that they have faced this season as they have faced Tony Pollard, James Conner, Christian McCaffrey, and Kenneth Walker, all of whom found success on the ground. Pollard, McCaffrey, and Walker could have contributed even more if not for managed snap counts. Given the Giants' defensive woes and the Dolphins' overwhelming speed, it's highly unlikely that the rag-tag Giants can impede Miami's sizzling offensive momentum.
NY Jets at Denver
The Jets, plagued by Zach Wilson's struggles, have been patiently waiting for their ground game to make an impact. Opposing defenses, unthreatened by Wilson's passing, often stack the box and put pressure on Breece Hall and Dalvin Cook. This tactic was evident in Weeks 2 and 3 when Hall and Cook managed only 52 scoreless yards from 28 rushes. However, in Week 4, Wilson's improved confidence and successful downfield throws against the Chiefs hinted at a potential breakthrough. Hall exploited a gap for a 43-yard run when the Chiefs slightly backed off in the secondary. The Jets' offensive line, designed more for running than passing, supports this ground game, setting the stage for a breakout, especially for Hall, who has displayed enhanced explosiveness and versatility recently.
Once celebrated, the Broncos' defense has lost its former glory. They've become porous against the run, conceding the most total yardage, with only the Bills giving up more per rush. Despite an impressive start against Josh Jacobs in Week 1, they were overrun by Washington (122 yards), Miami (350) and Chicago (170). The absence of key run-stoppers has left them vulnerable inside and outside. Linebackers Alex Singleton and Josey Jewell, while competent, struggle against speed backs. The Jets might lack an Achane-level speedster, but Breece Hall is poised to exploit wide gaps and capitalize on shoddy tackling, making him a significant threat in this matchup.
Arizona vs Cincinnati
The Cardinals have defied preseason expectations, showcasing a surprisingly potent running game. Only seven teams run more frequently, and their 5.3 yards per rush is second only to Miami. Quarterback Joshua Dobbs has been creative, consistently finding space with his legs, amassing 41, 55, and 48 yards in the last three weeks. However, the linchpin of their ground attack is the underrated James Conner. Despite skepticism due to his plodding style, Conner has seized 61% of the backfield's carries, averaging 80 yards per game. The Cardinals recognize the necessity of a robust rushing game to limit Dobbs' impact, and Conner's straightforward, north-south running style is tailor-made for this purpose. As long as games remain competitive, Conner's reliability will remain pivotal.
In contrast, the Bengals' season struggles extend beyond Joe Burrow's injuries. Their once-formidable defense from 2022 has faltered significantly. While they've shown improvement against the pass, their front seven continues to be outmuscled and pushed aside frequently. Their inability to control time of possession (26th in the league) leaves them tired and vulnerable upfront. So far, three of their four opponents have found success on the ground, with the Browns, Ravens, and Titans all exploiting their run defense. One area to watch is that while this defense has been shredded by Cleveland, Baltimore, and Tennessee those are three of the league’s best rushing attacks, so Cincinnati’s 111 yards per game should stabilize a little bit as the season progresses. With limited passing options, the Cardinals are likely to lean heavily on their rushing attack, making it highly probable that both James Conner and quarterback Joshua Dobbs will enjoy a mix of ample volume and efficiency in this matchup.
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