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Top 5 Rushing Matchups
Pittsburgh vs Arizona
The Pittsburgh ground game looks revitalized, with Jaylen Warren now more involved than ever. During the season's first seven games, Warren averaged just 6.4 carries, and the team as a whole averaged just 80 yards (31st league-wide). Over the last four, Warren has jumped to 12.0 attempts, and the team total has boosted to 174 (1st). Warren is a true weapon, with breakaway runs (15+ yards) on 8 of his 93 carries. Najee Harris has also perked up; he's posted 69, 82, 35, and 99 yards at 4.8 per carry, with 3 touchdowns. As a result, both are perfectly viable RB2 plays on any given week – with real RB1 upside. Their Week 13 matchup could hardly set them up better.
Another week, another massive rushing line allowed by the Cardinals' struggling defense. In Week 12, Kyren Williams became the third runner in as many games (and the ninth overall) to top 80 yards in this matchup. In fact, for many opponents, it's been difficult not to gather efficient yardage. The Cardinals badly lack space-eating bulk up front, and there's little playmaking talent on the second level. It's unlikely linebackers Kyzir White and Josh Woods would start for virtually any other team. As a result, opposing runners can pick and explode through their spots, generating 4.5 yards per attempt (26th league-wide). And it definitely presents issues for their Week 13 matchup. The Steelers can run by bruising inside or by burning the edges, and these Cardinals are unprepared for either.
Jacksonville vs Cincinnati
The Jaguars know that Trevor Lawrence and the air attack are the centerpieces of their future, but currently, they're leaning on lead back Travis Etienne Jr. to win games. Etienne has claimed 76% of running back snaps and 76% of the carries this season. Etienne can struggle to produce consistently, as seen in his 3.7 per rush average. But he's a focal point here more often than not, and he's certainly capable of exploiting favorable matchups like this one. Etienne is considered day-to-day with a chest injury, but all signs are that he should be fine, especially as injury reports become less reliable later in the season.
The Cincinnati run defense, like most of the team, has disappointed here in 2023. They've fallen from 7th in 2023 to 29th here in 2023 – and 31st on a per-carry basis. In Week 12, the Steelers' Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren combined to turn 28 rushes into 148 yards, with Harris finding the end zone. And just two weeks prior, Devin Singletary turned in a career day with 150 on 30 attempts. The front line is fairly stout, led by dedicated run-stuffers D.J. Reader and B.J. Hill, so it's easy to identify the biggest issue: linebacker. Logan Wilson and Germaine Pratt are every-down players, but both grade poorly against the run, with most of their tackles being made several yards down the field. Given the expected game flow and the physical matchups, Travis Etienne Jr. projects to have one of his biggest games of the year.
Houston vs Denver
The Texans have finally found the right combination to put together a strong rushing attack. The Texans seem to be committing to Devin Singletary going forward with Pierce, who had a great rookie season, relegated to a backup role in this offense. Pierce has struggled (3.0 yards per rush, 42.6 per game), while ex-Bill Devin Singletary has run with his chance (4.8 and 93.3 over the past three weeks). The Texans have yet to develop much of a line as Footballguys' Matt Bitonti ranks them 27th as a run-blocking unit – and Singletary is simply better at avoiding negative runs. That should keep him fully involved against an opponent that struggles badly in open space.
Denver may be playing their way back into the playoff picture, but the run defense remains incapable of stopping anyone. Things have calmed down since their legendary Week 3 loss to the Dolphins, but they've still given up 147 yards per game since that day (31st league-wide). In Week 10, Buffalo's James Cook and Latavius Murray combined to turn 21 rushes into 177 too-easy yards, with a touchdown from Murray. A week later, the Vikings' Alexander Mattison and Ty Chandler posted 28 for 154. It's easy to see this unit is in desperate need of a talent haul from the next draft or two. The line rotates throughout a handful of part-timers who are pushed around too easily. The mediocre linebacking corps has struggled with shedding blocks and desperately needs the defensive line to absorb the blockers to free up space, which they've been ineffective in doing this season. When they're thrown into the play, the linebackers are plagued with bad angles and missed tackles. The Texans prefer to keep the game in C.J. Stroud's hands whenever possible, but they'll surely find their share of open lanes.
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