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Go here for this week's Passing Matchups.
Top 5 Rushing Matchups
Cleveland vs Arizona
The Cleveland Browns, under Kevin Stefanski's guidance, have a run-focused offensive approach that persists regardless of who is at quarterback. In the 2023 season, only the Ravens and 49ers have a higher rushing percentage than the Browns' 47.4%. Despite the absence of star running back Nick Chubb, the team's commitment to running the football remains clear, especially given the uncertain situation at the quarterback position. With the team splitting carries among Jerome Ford, Kareem Hunt, and Pierre Strong, it's important to note that none of these backs can replicate Chubb's historical efficiency. However, they have the advantage of running behind an elite offensive line, currently ranked fourth by Matt Bitonti. While Jerome Ford is the primary back to watch, all three running backs could have a positive impact in this matchup.
The Arizona Cardinals have struggled significantly against the run in 2023. They currently rank 25th in run defense and have allowed an average of 23.3 PPR points to lead running backs over their last six games. The vulnerability of the Cardinals' run defense was evident when Gus Edwards of the Baltimore Ravens scored three rushing touchdowns against them in Week 8. Given these factors, the Browns are poised to have success on the ground in this matchup. The Cardinals have shown themselves to be a favorable target for opposing running backs. Their shaky run defense, led by tackle Jonathan Ledbetter, has often allowed opponents to create significant running lanes on contact. The Cardinals' linebackers have struggled to provide support in open space and even standout safety Budda Baker cannot carry the entire load.
With Cleveland expected to be the favorite in this game, the game flow should allow them to establish and maintain a strong ground game. The Cardinals have recently experienced several double-digit losses, indicating that the Browns may lean heavily on their rushing attack to control the game.
Indianapolis at Carolina
Jonathan Taylor appears fully back in action and ready to take off as the lead back for the Colts. Over the past four weeks since his return from injury, his snap share has consistently increased, reaching 43% in Week 8's game. While he hasn't yet reclaimed his dominant form, Zack Moss has performed exceptionally well, averaging 4.7 yards per attempt and accounting for 49% of the running back carries in the Colts' backfield. Moss has even vultured a couple of short-yardage touchdowns from Taylor. Despite the shared workload, this situation provides a great dilemma for the Colts and fantasy football enthusiasts. Jonathan Taylor's floor appears to be quite high at the moment, and his ceiling remains that of a solid RB1 for the remainder of the season. The team seems intent on heavily relying on their newly signed star running back down the stretch. The Week 9 matchup for Taylor and the Colts' rushing attack is highly favorable.
In Week 8, the Carolina Panthers run defense put up a strong effort after struggling for over a month. However, it's worth noting that limiting the struggling Houston Texans' ground game isn't a significant achievement. Before that game, the Panthers had allowed a 95-yard rusher in each of their four previous games, yielding seven rushing touchdowns in the process. Those four running backs had little trouble averaging 5.9 yards per carry against Carolina. The Panthers are rebuilding on both sides of the ball, with much of their current personnel expected to change in the 2024 season. While players like tackle Derrick Brown and linebacker Frankie Luvu have shown promise, they can't carry the defense on their own. The absence of top linebacker Shaq Thompson has exposed the lack of talent and depth on this roster, which could play into the hands of the run-focused Colts in Week 9.
Tennessee at Pittsburgh
The Tennessee Titans have chosen to keep Derrick Henry despite the trading deadline, signaling their intention to rely on him as they make a playoff push. With rookie Will Levis at quarterback, the Titans will likely prioritize Henry's running abilities even more. They currently run the ball on 45.3% of their plays, ranking ninth-highest in the NFL, and that percentage is expected to increase. While Henry may not receive 20+ carries every week, he has reached that mark in three out of seven games this season. In those games, he has produced impressive rushing yards and scored a pair of touchdowns. Game flow will continue to dictate Henry's usage, and in Week 9 against the Pittsburgh Steelers, a high-scoring shootout is unlikely. The Titans are still transitioning away from Henry's dominance and towards a more modern passing game. However, for now, Henry remains the centerpiece of their identity.
Pittsburgh's run defense has taken a significant dip in 2023, falling from ninth against the run to 27th under coordinator Teryl Austin's second season. This shift towards a pass-focused defense is reflected in their investments in edge rushers and the secondary, leaving some weaknesses in the middle of their defense. Linebackers Cole Holcomb, Kwon Alexander, and Elandon Roberts are considered mediocre at best, and the absence of a dominant nose tackle or All-Pro end like Cameron Heyward further hampers their ability to stop the run. While veteran safety Keanu Neal may seem like a strong in-the-box replacement for the injured Minkah Fitzpatrick, his reputation as a run-stopper is not entirely accurate, and he has struggled in various stops throughout his career.
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