Week 20 Rushing Matchups

by Mark Wimer and Joe Bryant, Exclusive to Footballguys.com

[ARI] [BAL] [PHI] [PIT]


PLEASE NOTE: This does NOT replace the Cheatsheet ranking. The Cheatsheet rankings are the final say on where we see a player for that week. The Matchup Breakdowns are simply one more tool in the box when it comes to helping choose your lineup.

Also note, just because a player has a "bad" matchup, it does NOT mean he's not a starter in your league. If Peyton Manning is playing the toughest pass defense in the league, that just means he's got a tough matchup that week. He's also your starter unless you're loaded at QB. In the same way, if the worst QB on your roster has a "great" matchup that week, it doesn't necessarily mean he's your starter. It means we think he'll fare better than normal that week.

Bottom line is that the cheatsheets are the final say.


Arizona Cardinals Rushing Offense vs Philadelphia Eagles Rushing Defense (Neutral Matchup)

Arizona got crushed by the Eagles 48-20 on Thanksgiving evening - Edgerrin James didn't touch the ball during the contest and the Cardinals' other backs combined for 10/25/0 rushing - Tim Hightower was the most effective back with 7/7/0 rushing but he added 3/34/0 receiving. It was still an anemic showing by any yardstick, though.

Since the final week of the regular season, Edgerrin James has returned to headline the Cardinals' rushing attack, providing more balance to the offense and several comfortable down-and-distance situations on their drives. He gains positive yardage most downs over the last 3 weeks, with 50/230/1 rushing and 3/24/0 receiving during that time span. He battled to 20/57/1 rushing with 1/9/0 receiving last week vs. Carolina, scoring his first TD since week 5 of 2008. James is the horse that powers the Cardinals' rushing attack - and this week he'll be on the field at home vs. Philly, instead of on the sidelines at Lincoln Financial Field. One potential problem cropped up after the Carolina game - TE Steven Spach (torn right ACL, placed on IR this week), who has been a key blocker for James during his recent run of good games, is out for the rest of the year. TE Jerame Tuman was resigned by the team to replace Spach (Tuman had been with the team most of the year, released on December 24th in a roster move) - hopefully he'll still be in game shape after a few weeks off.

Philly coughed up 34/148/2 rushing to the Vikings in the Wild Card round, and followed that game up with 32/138/0 handed over to the Giants' backs last week. Though Philly has been winning their contests of late, the rush D has regressed during the playoffs - the Eagles were 4th in the NFL last year averaging 92.3 rushing yards allowed per game, with only 7 rushing TDs given up all year long. They have yet to shut down an opposing rusher during the 2nd season.

James didn't touch the ball the last time Arizona faced Philly, but he's found new life in recent weeks. Meanwhile, the Eagles have softened at the line of scrimmage - this looks like a fairly even matchup for the home-team Cardinals.

Weather: The forecast for University of Phoenix Stadium calls for a high of 75F and a low of 43F, with a 0% chance of rain. However, Kurt Warner requested that the roof be closed for the first playoff game, and the franchise complied - it would be no surprise to see the roof closed for the NFC Championship despite the fine weather expected at game time (1:00 PM local time).

The official NFL injury report with Probable, Questionable, Doubtful and Out designations will be available by Saturday. Please refer to the week 20 injury report for the latest injury news regarding your players.


Philadelphia Eagles Rushing Offense at Arizona Cardinals Rushing Defense (Neutral Matchup)

Brian Westbrook scored 4 of the Eagles' 6 TDs vs. Arizona back on Thanksgiving, racking up an amazing 22/110/2 rushing and 3/20/2 receiving during the 48-20 rout. All told, Philly rolled to 40/185/2 rushing during the contest, with a 4.6 yards per carry average as a team.

Westbrook has struggled of late (both Minnesota and New York made containing him their #1 priority) - he has just 74 rushing yards on 38 carries over two playoff games. He did post a 71 yard TD catch vs. the Vikings, but he hasn't been blowing up for multiple TDs during the 2nd season. Andy Reid credited the opposing defenses' strategy on Tuesday: "To (the Giants') credit, they put an extra guy up in the box. They clearly wanted to take Westbrook out of the game, which I understand after the last game," Westbrook expects to break out soon, though. "At some point - I told Correll Buckhalter this the other day - we're going to have a breakout game.". Westbrook's most recent performance vs. Arizona certainly qualifies as an example of a "breakout game".

As we pointed out last week, we reserved judgement on the Cardinals' rush D after they shut down Atlanta's stellar pair of backs in the Wild Card round (24/60/1 rushing, a 2.5 yards allowed per carry average). They contained the Panthers' backs after the first drive in the Divisional round, though (15/75/1 rushing, a 5.0 yards per carry average), although they did not "shut down" the Panthers' backs - Jake Delhomme's 5 interceptions thrown smothered the Panthers' drives last week. The Cardinals' offense enjoyed almost 20 minutes more time of possession than the Panthers (39:49 vs. 20:11), making the Panthers tilt their attack to passing (34 passing attempts vs. 15 rushes). There is no question that the Cardinals' defense is playing much better than their 16th ranking vs. opposing rushers during 2008 would indicate - it appears that the defense has vastly elevated their level of play in both phases of the game during the "2nd season".

Westbrook tortured the Cardinals on Thanksgiving, but this unit is playing at another level as of January. In the Cardinals' house on Sunday, we think this is a fairly even matchup between the fading Westbrook and the surging Arizona D.

Weather: The forecast for University of Phoenix Stadium calls for a high of 75F and a low of 43F, with a 0% chance of rain. However, Kurt Warner requested that the roof be closed for the first playoff game, and the franchise complied - it would be no surprise to see the roof closed for the NFC Championship despite the fine weather expected at game time (1:00 PM local time).

The official NFL injury report with Probable, Questionable, Doubtful and Out designations will be available by Saturday. Please refer to the week 20 injury report for the latest injury news regarding your players.


Baltimore Ravens Rushing Offense at Pittsburgh Steelers Rushing Defense (Tough Matchup)

This game is going to be a brutal battle between 2 of the top defensive units in the NFL this year. Pittsburgh won both games earlier this year (by a margin of 3 points, in OT, on September 29th, 23-20; and then by a margin of 4 points on December 14th, 13-9), but they had to come from behind in the 2nd half of both games. We expect another low-scoring, divisional grudge match in this contest, to be played in sub-freezing temperatures and possibly stormy conditions at Heinz Field on Sunday.

Baltimore managed to go over 100 yards rushing during both contests vs. Pittsburgh, with 33/103/1 rushing as a team in September and 31/112/0 rushing during December - in both cases Le'Ron McClain led the team's efforts, with 16/63/1 rushing (3/26/0 receiving) early in the year and 23/87/0 rushing during the 2nd showdown. Willis McGahee was second on the team both days, with 13/42/0 rushing (3/19/0 receiving) in September and then 6/18/0 rushing with 2/15/0 receiving last month. During the playoffs, McClain has led the team with 31/87/1 (although just 12/12/0 vs. Tennessee last week); McGahee has posted only 19 carries, but gained 94 yards total (12/32/0 rushing vs. TEN), and has 2 catches for 13 yards so far. Ray Rice, who has been battling a calf injury, may be available for spot duty this week after missing action for several games.

The Steelers were 2nd in the NFL last year, averaging 80.3 rushing yards allowed per game, with just 7 rushing TDs handed over during 16 contests. McClain's TD in the first game was 1 of 2 rushing TDs the Steelers allowed at home this year to opposing running backs. San Diego posted 12/15/0 rushing vs. Pittsburgh in Heinz Field last week.

McClain and McGahee have run the ball fairly well against the Steelers (better than most teams, actually), but this is still a very tough matchup to face in the Conference Championship round.

Weather: Heinz Field expects sub-freezing temperatures at game time (a low of 21F is forecast for Sunday, and the game starts at 6:30 PM, so it'll be near that temperature throughout the game), with a 30% chance for snow/sleet/ice. If the weather is stormy at game time, all phases of the game will be adversely affected. Wind conditions can be extremely tricky in this venue, further impacting the passing and kicking games of both teams if winds are high during the contest.

The official NFL injury report with Probable, Questionable, Doubtful and Out designations will be available by Saturday. Please refer to the week 20 injury report for the latest injury news regarding your players.


Pittsburgh Steelers Rushing Offense vs Baltimore Ravens Rushing Defense (Tough Matchup)

This game is going to be a brutal battle between 2 of the top defensive units in the NFL this year. Pittsburgh won both games earlier this year (by a margin of 3 points, in OT, on September 29th, 23-20; and then by a margin of 4 points on December 14th, 13-9), but they had to come from behind in the 2nd half of both games. We expect another low-scoring, divisional grudge match in this contest, to be played in sub-freezing temperatures and possibly stormy conditions at Heinz Field on Sunday.

Willie Parker (27/146/2) and Gary Russell (4/5/1) scored vs. the Chargers last week, while Mewelde Moore chipped in 3/13/0 rushing and 2/12/0 receiving in his change of pace role - entering the Conference Championship, the Steelers have their running game cranked up. However, Parker missed the first game vs. Baltimore and didn't do much against them in December (14/47/0 rushing with 2/9/0 receiving) - the Steelers managed 28/69/0 rushing as a team in September (led by now-on-IR Rashard Mendenhall's 9/30/0 rushing), and managed just 27/91/0 rushing in December. The Ravens' D hasn't been giving when facing Pittsburgh so far.

The hard-nosed nature of the Ravens is revealed in their 2008 ranking of 3rd in the NFL vs. opposing rushers (an average of 81.4 yards allowed per game in this phase) - they coughed up just 21/52/0 to Miami (a 2.5 yards allowed per carry average) before stumbling in the first half vs. Tennessee (when Chris Johnson was in the game). Ultimately, the Ravens coughed up 28/116/1 to Tennessee, but they dominated LenDale White after half time last week (15/45/0 rushing). One concern surfaced after last week's game - DE Terrell Suggs injured his right shoulder last week and didn't get back in the game subsequently - he's a big part of what the Ravens do up front.

The Steelers' rushing attack was firing on all cylinders vs. San Diego, but Baltimore's defensive front is a whole lot more dominating than the Chargers' - advantage, Baltimore.

Weather: Heinz Field expects sub-freezing temperatures at game time (a low of 21F is forecast for Sunday, and the game starts at 6:30 PM, so it'll be near that temperature throughout the game), with a 30% chance for snow/sleet/ice. If the weather is stormy at game time, all phases of the game will be adversely affected. Wind conditions can be extremely tricky in this venue, further impacting the passing and kicking games of both teams if winds are high during the contest.

The official NFL injury report with Probable, Questionable, Doubtful and Out designations will be available by Saturday. Please refer to the week 20 injury report for the latest injury news regarding your players.


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