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Week 19 Rushing Matchups

by Justin Howe, Devin Knotts, and Keith Roberts, Exclusive to Footballguys.com

Jump to Passing Matchups

Great Matchups:
Good Matchups: [JAX] [MIN] [TEN]
Neutral Matchups: [PIT]
Tough Matchups: [ATL] [NE] [PHI]
Bad Matchups: [NO]


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 Tom Brady 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.


Jacksonville Jaguars Rushing Offense at Pittsburgh Steelers Rushing Defense (Good Matchup)

It’s hard to knock Leonard Fournette’s rookie season. He was the dominant force for a postseason-bound offense for most of the year, after all. He topped 1,000 yards over just 13 games, reaching 100+ a solid 5 times and churning out touchdowns at an impressive 3.4% clip. And his game log reveals a massive 181-yard explosion in the first meeting between these teams, then a similar 130-yard boom the following week. But since his Week 6 injury flare-up and Week 9 suspension, Fournette has struggled mightily for efficiency. He’s averaged just 3.76 yards per rush over that span, falling below 58 yards in 4 of those 7 games. And it’s worth noting that 90 of those 181 yards against the Steelers came on one late-game, garbage-time run. It’s not fair to simply remove a player’s best run in evaluating him, but it’s more viable as the sample size grows, and it’s a bit concerning that Fournette has definitively failed to create chunk runs all year. Just 26% of his runs went for 5+ yards, a lower rate than Lamar Miller or Ameer Abdullah. Chris Ivory and T.J. Yeldon, when healthy, are nominal change-of-pace guys behind Fournette; they’re decent runners but neither looks likely to erupt even with the opportunity, and as reserves they’re not fantasy-relevant. The wild card here is quarterback Blake Bortles, an underrated runner who supplemented Fournette last week with 88 yards on a career-high 10 rushes. He’s always a marginal threat in short yardage, too (seven ground touchdowns over the last three years).

The Pittsburgh run defense tends to vacillate wildly in quality, mingling dominant performances with awful ones. They’ve allowed 82 ground yards or fewer in 9 of their 16 games, but 130 or more in 5 others. They sit 10th in football in raw yardage allowed, but 6th-worst on a per-carry basis, and have allowed recent big weeks to Giovani Bernard (13 carries for 77 yards) and Alex Collins (18 for 120 and 1 touchdown). Leonard Fournette posted 181 yards and 2 scores in their Week 5 meeting, though it’s worth noting that 90 of those yards came on one perfectly-blocked run. Some of those eruptive games have come without star end Stephon Tuitt or linebacker Ryan Shazier, but some have; this simply isn’t a very consistent unit. They can absolutely lose at the point of attack, even with Tuitt healthy, and without Shazier they boast relatively little athleticism on the interior. Vince Williams is a solid tackler but no more than serviceable in the run game; the team misses Shazier’s blazing sideline-to-sideline pursuit.

Please refer to the NFL's injury report for the latest injury news regarding your players.


Minnesota Vikings Rushing Offense vs New Orleans Saints Rushing Defense (Good Matchup)

The Vikings ground game finished the year in a good spot as they ranked seventh with 1,957 rushing yards on the season while also tied for seventh with 15 rushing touchdowns. If not for the loss of Dalvin Cook early in the season, that ranking very well may have been even higher. This rushing offense has been in good hands with the combination of Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon leading the charge. Since Week eight, only three running backs have more carries than Latavius Murray as he has been one of the most heavily used running backs in the league over the second half of the season. Murray has definitely been the work horse back on the ground in this offense, but he has needed that volume to post decent numbers as Murray managed to average just under 3.9 yards per carry as he struggled to find space more often than not. Murray closed out the season with 20 or more carries in three straight games while averaging 85 rushing yards per game with three rushing touchdowns, including a multi-touchdown day against Chicago in their season finale. Jerick McKinnon has been the third down back for the Vikings, working in only moderately in the ground game with fewer than 10 carries in four of his last five games of the season and 50 or fewer rushing yards in each of his last 10 games. The Vikings did lose their starting left guard Nick Easton in Week 16, but that was a minor loss as his replacement Jeremiah Sirles has done a decent job in replacement as the Vikings remained a top-tier unit in Week 17 according to Footballguys offensive line guru Matt Bitonti.

The Saints run defense has been nothing to write home about this season despite owning middle-of-the-pack statistics such as their 16th-ranked 111.7 rushing yards allowed per game. On a per rush basis, the Saints actually gave up 4.4 yards per carry, ranking them tied for fifth-most in the league. Their rushing defense was massively protected by their high-powered offense that kept opposing offenses in a pass-first mode as they were often playing from behind. While they have a Pro Bowl defensive end in Cameron Jordan, he is not known for his effectiveness against the run. The interior of their defensive line has definitely underperformed while linebacker has been their biggest weakness against the run with both Manti Te’o and Craig Robertson missing tackles and assignments on a regular basis this season. Only four running backs have rushed more than 20 times in a game against the Saints, but the Saints allowed an average of nearly 110 rushing yards per game to those four running backs—so it is clear that this front seven can be worn down with volume. With Latavius Murray getting fed like he has in recent weeks, this could shape up nicely for him to have some late-game success as the interior of the Saints defense breaks down.

Please refer to the NFL's injury report for the latest injury news regarding your players.


Tennessee Titans Rushing Offense at New England Patriots Rushing Defense (Good Matchup)

The Titans rushing offense got right back on track in last week’s Wild Card round of the playoffs against a bottom-rated Chiefs run defense. Derrick Henry ran all over the Chiefs, averaging 6.8 yards per rush with 156 yards on 23 carries and one rushing touchdown. Henry routinely gained chunk yardage on the ground with nine rushes of seven or more yards and four of those rushes going for 12 or more yards. Henry fought hard for these 156 yards as 83 of them came after contact with Henry forcing six missed tackles on the day. His offensive line played a big part in Henry’s success here too though. This Titans offensive line has been a solid run-blocking unit for this entire season with Pro Bowl left tackle Taylor Lewan anchoring the unit. Left guard Quinton Spain has done a great job on the interior and had a great game as he actually looked like the team’s best run-blocker on the day. Marcus Mariota has added a big spark in this Titans ground game lately as well. Mariota started the regular season with at least 24 rushing yards in four straight games before he was set back with a hamstring injury in Week 4. Mariota rushed for over 20 yards in just four his last 11 games of the season after this injury. Mariota has picked up the pace recently though as he now has rushed for at least 24 yards in three straight games, including a 60-yard performance in Week 17 and a 48-yard outing last week. Mariota did not hesitate to run when it mattered most, particularly on third downs, as he is showing no signs of injury at this point in the season. He is a dynamic threat with his legs and will certainly be a challenge for the Patriots to scheme against in this game.

The Patriots finished the regular season with one of the worst rushing defenses in the league despite their strong performance against a Jets team that was forced to abandon the run in Week 17. On a per rush basis, the Patriots ranked next to last in the league with 4.7 yards per attempt allowed. Using DVOA, this unit ranks 30th against the run. What saved this defense from being a fantasy doormat for opposing running backs was their ability to limit scoring with only six rushing touchdowns allowed combined with the benefit of game scripts consisting of teams constantly playing from behind. Over the last five games of the season, the Patriots allowed over 70 rushing yards to a running back in four of the five games, with over 90 yards allowed in three of those contests—including a 114-yard game to Kenyan Drake and a 117-yard outing to LeVeon Bell. Their defensive front seven has been relatively healthy as of late with only rotating defensive lineman Alan Branch banged up but expected to return for this week’s game. The linebacker position is where New England has been most vulnerable as both Kyle Van Noy and Elandon Roberts had terrible seasons. The recent addition of James Harrison does add a wrinkle to this defense, but Harrison may not see a ton of playing time and has not been nearly as effective in his later years as he was during the prime of his career. This matchup for Titans is nearly as good as the Chiefs were last week, and we saw what the combination of Derrick Henry and Marcus Mariota did against them. With the Titans offensive line having a clear advantage in the trenches, watch out for Derrick Henry on the occasions he can make it to the second level this week.

Please refer to the NFL's injury report for the latest injury news regarding your players.


Pittsburgh Steelers Rushing Offense vs Jacksonville Jaguars Rushing Defense (Neutral Matchup)

LeVeon Bell has been a predictably-great fantasy producer in 2017, churning out 1,291 yards (2nd-most in football) and a career-best 9 touchdowns. He remains a top-tier RB1 regardless of matchup; he just hasn’t been as prolific as we’re used to seeing. Following an extended preseason holdout, Bell has posted his lowest efficiency marks since his rookie 2013, averaging a ho-hum 4.02 yards per rush (down from 4.80 over 2014-16). Still, there’s plenty of reason for optimism, especially considering the way he closed the regular season. Bell averaged 4.89 yards over his final 41 carries, shredding both the Patriots (24 for 117 and 1 touchdown) and the Texans’ stout run defense (14 for 69 and 1 on limited snaps). Bell managed just 47 yards in his Week 5 meeting with these Jaguars, but much of that was fueled by the game flow of a 30-9 loss. This is an exploitable matchup, and Bell has long proven himself capable of spinning decent matchups into massive lines. The return of right tackle Marcus Gilbert is a boon, and Antonio Brown’s presence on the outside will always occupy substantial defensive attention. Bell projects nicely this week – he’s always an RB1 on volume and receiving ability, but his rushing outlook is stronger than it appears.

The Jacksonville run defense, a liability early in 2017, has rebounded noticeably and rounded itself into a fairly solid unit. Thanks to improved line play, especially from Defensive Player of the Year candidate Calais Campbell, and the midseason acquisition of ex-Bill Marcel Dareus, this has been a markedly tougher matchup for runners than we’d seen over the season’s first month. Still, there are vulnerabilities here, as we’ve seen in recent dates with Mike Davis (15 carries for 66 yards), Alfred Blue (12 for 55), and Matt Breida (11 for 74 and 1 touchdown). The linebacker play has been especially iffy against the run: Myles Jack is far more of a coverage asset than a gap-filler, while Paul Posluszny tends to see too few snaps as a solid tackler in the box. While opponents typically don’t rack up big rushing days, there’s often efficiency there for the taking, and dominant lead backs (like LeVeon Bell) can definitely spin it into strong lines. This unit held Bell to 47 yards in Week 5, but that was mostly done through game flow. This isn’t a dominant run defense, but it’s also not one to necessarily run away from.

Please refer to the NFL's injury report for the latest injury news regarding your players.


Atlanta Falcons Rushing Offense at Philadelphia Eagles Rushing Defense (Tough Matchup)

The Atlanta rushing attack is generally one of the league’s best, yet it hasn’t shown anything in several weeks. Duo Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman have dominated the backfield for two years now, averaging 64.8 and 41.0 yards per game, flashing serious touchdown upside along the way. They run behind a dominant front line (ranked No. 1 overall by our Matt Bitonti) and soak up tons of usage, so even their ineffective days trend toward the fantasy-useful. Still, the sledding has been tough over the past three weeks. Neither Freeman nor Coleman has topped 66 yards over that span, and their efficiency (3.13 and 2.42 per carry) has evaporated. The duo has been productive for most of 2017, but not especially elusive or explosive, relying more on opportunity and blocking for its success. That’ll be a tall order against the Eagles’ smothering front seven, so the fate of this unit probably rests on the prospects of getting these backs to the outside and onto the second level. That type of attack would suit Coleman well in a contrarian role – he can beat most defenses to the edge when called upon – but simply hasn’t been effective against these Eagles. It’s probably safe to expect massive struggles here, with more brick walls and sealed creases than Freeman and Coleman are used to seeing; this isn’t the week to project them out of their slumps.

The Eagles run defense, dominant for most of the season, showed some warts down the 2017 stretch. After allowing the league’s fewest yards to running backs by a mile (just 46.0 per game) through Week 13, they’ve now let 3 of their last 4 opposing lead backs top 90 yards. Still, we need to take that dip with a grain of salt. Two of those three backs (Todd Gurley and Ezekiel Elliott) are top-tier NFL runners – and while both posted strong yardage lines against these Eagles, both finished within 10 yards of their seasonal averages. In other words, this unit doesn’t look like one that’s collapsing, but rather a still-strong group that merely took its foot off the gap late in a dominant season. They still boast a mega-athletic and talented defensive line, led against the run by two dynamic tackles, Fletcher Cox and Timmy Jernigan. Add in strong late-season play by inside linebacker Mychal Kendricks, and it’s fair to expect this unit to return to its smothering ways against the underachieving Falcons.

Please refer to the NFL's injury report for the latest injury news regarding your players.


New England Patriots Rushing Offense vs Tennessee Titans Rushing Defense (Tough Matchup)

The Patriots are dealing with a slew of injuries at the running back position that has a good chance of culminating to a very Patriot-like mess in the backfield this week. The trio of Rex Burkhead, James White, and Mike Gillislee all remain on the injury report as of early in the week. Both Burkhead and White are practicing and likely to play, while Gillislee has sat out practice early in the week and is looking doubtful for Saturday night. It is likely that we will see the trio of Burkhead, White, and Dion Lewis on the field this week—a familiar site as Mike Gillislee sat out Weeks 10 thru 15 of the regular season. Over that span, this trio of running backs split snaps pretty evenly. It was Lewis who was allotted the majority of the carries in each week though, averaging 12 carries and 67 rushing yards per game. White will contribute more in the passing game while Burkhead has been a key red zone running back with five rushing touchdowns over that six-game span. Dion Lewis, however, has made a very convincing case over the past few weeks to lead this backfield. Lewis has a rushing touchdown in three straight games and a receiving touchdown in each of his last two outings. Serving as the primary running back for the Patriots in Weeks 16-17, Lewis was given 24 and 26 carries with 129 and 93 rushing yards in those two games. He contributed more than he has all season in the passing game also with 11 receptions for 64 yards and two touchdowns, showing that he is capable of being an every down back if needed. It is always tough to predict what Bill Belichick will do with his running backs, but trends point to Dion Lewis being the most valuable asset in this backfield.

The Titans run defense shined last week against the Chiefs as they held the league’s rushing title-holder Kareem Hunt to just 42 yards on 11 carries, including only 17 yards in the second half. The Titans finished the regular season ranked seventh against the run using DVOA and had been a pretty stingy unit in terms of fantasy points allowed to running backs. The Titans gave up just five rushing touchdowns this season—the lowest of any defense in football. While they did allow Kareem Hunt to find the end zone last week, the Titans hadn’t allowed a rushing touchdown to running backs for five straight weeks coming into that game. Jurrell Casey put pressure on the Chiefs’ offensive line all game last week as he was constantly in their backfield. Casey has been a terror on the defensive line all season long as he is one of the best interior defensive linemen in football. Titans nose tackle Sylvester Williams also made some big plays last week as he has had a solid first season with the Titans since departing the Broncos. The play of the Titans linebackers has also been a big reason why this team has been as successful as they have been against the run with both Avery Williamson and Wesley Woodyard contributing in a big way against opposing running backs. This defense as a whole had a very impressive second half against the Chiefs last week, so they will look to carry that over into this game against the Patriots’ trio of running backs.

Please refer to the NFL's injury report for the latest injury news regarding your players.


Philadelphia Eagles Rushing Offense vs Atlanta Falcons Rushing Defense (Tough Matchup)

The Eagles’ three-headed running back monster of Jay Ajayi, LeGarrette Blount, and Corey Coleman has certainly underwhelmed down the 2017 stretch. They’ve combined to average just 76.6 yards over the final 5 games of the regular season, despite a still-dominant front line and a favorable schedule of run defenses. Ajayi has garnered a majority of running back snaps and touches, but it hasn’t translated into a dominant role. His per-attempt production has been dynamic – he’s averaged 5.83 yards a carry as an Eagle – but all told, Ajayi’s fantasy value waffles in this committee. He’s only topped 52 yards in 3 of his 7 Eagles games, and he isn’t much of a threat for short-yardage touchdowns (that’s Blount’s purview). He had a fantastic stage set for a big game in Week 16 – the lead role in a windy game quarterbacked by a backup, facing a barely-there Oakland run defense – but managed just 52 yards on 14 carries. Still, he’s virtually the Eagles’ only chance at explosiveness or even sustained success, on the ground. Blount has looked out of gas down the stretch, averaging just 3.00 yards per carry (21.6 per game) over the last 5 weeks, while Coleman has yet to show enough to steal away any real opportunity. There’s always a chance Ajayi works the edges well and erupts for a few big runs, but all told, it’s hard to project any of these backs for too much fantasy success. There’s little rhythm or predictability in this unit, and the presence of Nick Foles under center actually dings their outlooks more than it helps.

The Falcons run defense has improved mightily over the course of the year, to the point that they’ve become a borderline-shutdown unit. Their 2017 opened roughly but righted down the stretch, and since Week 12 they’ve allowed the league’s second-fewest yards per game to opposing backs. Thanks to a sometimes-dominant tackle duo and one of the NFL’s most active and athletic linebacking corps, they’ve been able to neutralize or limit the likes of Mark Ingram, Alvin Kamara, Jerick McKinnon, and Christian McCaffrey over that span. We can’t fault them much for allowing Todd Gurley to run wild last week, and their overall body of work points to tough sledding for the Eagles’ inconsistent run game.

Please refer to the NFL's injury report for the latest injury news regarding your players.


New Orleans Saints Rushing Offense at Minnesota Vikings Rushing Defense (Bad Matchup)

The Saints ground game was one of the biggest surprises of this season as they successfully utilized the unique talents of both Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram throughout the season. It is rare to see the same team have two running backs both finish amongst the top-10 in fantasy scoring, but the Saints did just that as Kamara finished fourth while Ingram finished right behind him at sixth. Ingram consistently out-carried Kamara on the ground for most of the season, but in their last four games, the split has been much more even with Ingram rushing only four more times than Kamara. When Kamara has the ball in his hands, he has been absolutely electric as he finished the season with over 6.0 yards per rush attempt and eight rushing touchdowns despite only 120 rush attempts on the season. Kamara has definitely been utilized more so as the Saints pass-catching back, while Ingram remains their bruiser and primary goal-line option. Ingram’s workload on the ground has been extremely consistent, with between 11 and 14 carries in each of his last seven games of the regular season. Last week’s outing was a bust for this rushing offense as a whole though, as the Saints allowed Drew Brees to carry the team via the passing attack as neither Ingram nor Kamara could find room to run on the ground. Ingram has actually averaged fewer than 3.5 yards per attempt in each of his last three games, failing to surpass 45 rushing yards in any of those outings. The Saints lost their starting left guard Andrus Peat last week, which will certainly cause some disruption on what has been a solid offensive line for most of this season. Seeing how their ground game struggled last week, this matchup is not one that the Saints rushing offense will be looking forward to

If the Saints struggled to rush against the Panthers last week, they will most certainly struggle against Vikings top-tier run defense in this week’s matchup. The Vikings are ranked fifth against the run using DVOA, allowing just 83.6 rushing yards per game during the regular season—second-fewest in the league. They held opposing running backs to the fewest fantasy points per game this season while only one running back has surpassed 100 rushing yards against them. Their linebackers have been solid while the Vikings have elite talent on the defensive line with Everson Griffen on the outside and Linval Joseph clogging up the interior. A big difference-maker for the Vikings this season has also been the ability of their safeties to contribute in run defense, as Harrison Smith has been one of, if not the, best run-defending safeties in the league. This defense has stayed healthy pretty much all year and is coming off a couple weeks of rest this week. The Saints have a strong offensive line, but the Vikings defensive line matches up well with them and should be able to apply constant pressure while clogging up holes.

Please refer to the NFL's injury report for the latest injury news regarding your players.