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Go here for this week's Passing Matchups.
Top 5 Rushing Matchups
Buffalo vs Denver
The Buffalo Bills have not consistently committed to the running game unless dictated by game flow. In their first nine games, a Buffalo running back has carried the ball 15 or more times only twice. However, when the passing game led by Josh Allen and the team's offensive weapons dominated the defense, lead back James Cook found success. Cook, known for his speed, averaged 16 carries for 111 yards in early-season blowout wins over the Raiders and Commanders. He also had a strong performance against the Giants in Week 5, rushing 14 times for 71 yards, although his usage was reduced in the latter part of the game. It is likely that as head coach Sean McDermott recognizes the talent Cook possesses in the open field, his usage will increase.
The Denver Broncos' run defense may or may not have improved from its poor start to the 2023 season. After being notably exploited by the Dolphins in Week 3, they allowed over 100 rushing yards to consecutive opposing running backs. However, they have shown some improvement over the past three games. It's important to consider the quality of their opponents during this stretch. Two of those matchups were against the Chiefs, who ran the ball just 19 times combined, and the other was against the Packers, who managed 4.6 yards per rush. The Broncos still rank last in yards allowed on the ground, and through eight games, they have allowed five opposing running backs to score more than 20 PPR points. Until the Broncos add more talent to their defensive front, it's reasonable to assume they are closer to their earlier, less effective version. Linebackers Alex Singleton and Josey Jewell are only borderline starting-caliber players, and the defense lacks playmakers at the second level. The absence of veteran safety Kareem Jackson due to suspension further compounds their issues.
NY Jets at Las Vegas
The New York Jets have experienced inconsistent performances in their running game this season. Breece Hall, a talented running back, has had impressive outings against teams like the Bills, Chiefs, and Broncos, averaging 13 carries for 120 yards. However, he struggled in matchups with the Cowboys, Patriots, Eagles, and Giants, averaging just 10 carries for 21 yards in those games. It's important to note that not all of this inconsistency is Hall's fault. The Jets' offensive line was already shaky, and they lost one of their best blockers, guard Alijah Vera-Tucker, in Week 5. Additionally, the play-action-heavy passing attack led by Zack Wilson doesn't often draw defenders out of the box. The good news for Hall is that this has become his backfield, as Dalvin Cook has averaged just 2.3 carries per game over the last three games, while Michael Carter has seen some work in the passing game and was on the field for 31% last week. That's primarily as a receiver; Carter had six receptions last week but has not have more than 2 carries in a game this season.
The Raiders have had significant difficulties stopping the run, regardless of the opponent or game flow. Their 30th ranking in run defense and 27th ranking on a per-carry basis are not surprising. Over the past three weeks, they have allowed substantial stat lines to running backs such as D'Onta Foreman (120 scrimmage yards, 3 touchdowns), Jahmyr Gibbs (189 and 1), and Saquon Barkley (113). Sometimes, opponents exploit the Raiders by targeting their running backs in the passing game as an extension of the ground game. The Raiders' defense has been built to defend the pass, lacking the bulk and depth needed to stop the run effectively. While Robert Spillane is a serviceable linebacker, he receives little help from a group of part-time players and defensive backs in pursuit. No team has allowed more 10+ yard runs than the Raiders, which could open up big opportunities for Breece Hall this week as he is a back who relies on the big plays to have success each week.
Tampa Bay vs Tennessee
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' offense has improved faster than expected under quarterback Baker Mayfield. While it's still not a completely stable unit, it has made the most of its skill-position talent. Running back Rachaad White hasn't been particularly efficient, averaging just 3.4 yards per rush with a modest 42% running success rate. However, offensive coordinator Dave Canales ensures that White gets involved in the passing game, with 34 targets and 33 catches. This approach helps mitigate the team's deficiencies on the offensive line and avoids forcing White into a strictly power-running role. Regardless of how he's utilized, White is expected to find some degree of success, especially at home, against a struggling Titans defense.
The Tennessee Titans had an impressive run defense from September 2022 through September 2023, with opposing running backs averaging just 3.2 yards per rush and none reaching 70 rushing yards in a game. However, the Titans' run defense has noticeably weakened over their last four games, with opponents averaging 4.9 yards per rush. Two running backs, Zack Moss (165 yards) and Jaylen Warren (88 yards), even exceeded the 70-yard mark during this stretch. The Titans' defense hasn't undergone significant changes, except for the departure of former All-Pro safety Kevin Byard, who was traded to Philadelphia. Linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair has been the standout performer in the box, but there hasn't been much help around him. The replacement for Kevin Byard, Terrell Edmunds, represents a noticeable downgrade. Coach Mike Vrabel has identified issues with fundamentals like angles, tackling, and finishing plays. Given the Titans' 3-5 record and their season trending downward, a resurgence in their run defense may not be imminent.
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