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Week 20 Rushing Matchups

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

Jump to Passing Matchups

Great Matchups:
Good Matchups: [JAX]
Neutral Matchups:
Tough Matchups: [NE]
Bad Matchups: [MIN] [PHI]


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 New England Patriots Rushing Defense (Good Matchup)

Leonard Fournette hasn’t been the most explosive, dynamic, or even efficient workhorse here in 2017. His per-touch productivity hasn’t dazzled anyone: Fournette’s 3.84 yards per carry ranks 28th among all backs with 100+ attempts. And he’s struggled to generate chunk runs: only 26.8% of his rookie rushes have gone for 5+ yards, a lower rate than Lamar Miller and Ameer Abdullah posted this year. Still, he’s done a fine job of spinning mediocre line play (coming against often-stacked boxes) into strong, dependable production. Fournette has topped 69 ground yards in 8 of his 15 games, and just last week he ran roughshod over a Pittsburgh defense geared up to stop him first and foremost, racking up 109 yards and 3 touchdowns on 25 carries. It helps his value greatly, of course, that he’s been among the NFL’s more solid short-yardage backs as a rookie. Fournette has been given 16 carries from inside the 5-yard line and converted 9 of them (56.3%) into touchdowns, the third-best mark among all running backs with 8+ attempts from there (behind only LeVeon Bell and Mike Gillislee). All told, Fournette doesn’t project to some Alvin Kamara level dynamism, but he tends to acquit his volume well and turn in productive fantasy days. His surrounding offense is hit-or-miss but is generally strong enough to provide him with 80-110 yards, and his ever-present touchdown upside is also a boon. The big worry over Fournette is the health of his ankle/foot, which has been a constant issue dating back to his LSU days. He checked out of the Steelers game before returning for the second half; this is clearly a problem that will be present this Sunday. If his pain is managed and he avoids in-game setbacks, Fournette projects to a full workload and a great shot at efficiency against the Patriots’ mashable run defense. If he’s limited by it, T.J. Yeldon will dominate the backfield similarly. He was far more explosive than Fournette on the whole (5.06 yards per rush), and he posted 163 yards on 20 attempts (with 1 touchdown) over Fournette’s 2 missed games.

Last week notwithstanding, the Patriots continue to field one of the league’s worst run defenses. They held Derrick Henry to virtually nothing (28 yards on 12 attempts) on Divisional Weekend, but that was aided heavily by game flow. The fact is that the Patriots have been routinely ground down by opposing run games all year – at least, for as long as those opponents can run the ball comfortably. They’re allowing the league’s 2nd-most yards per rush (4.71) and 13th-most per game (111.8), and they’ve shown a tendency to give up maxed-out production to lead runners. We’ve seen that over the season’s second half, as Melvin Gordon (14 carries for 132 yards and 1 touchdown), LeSean McCoy (15 for 93), Kenyan Drake (25 for 114), and LeVeon Bell (24 for 117 and 1) all turned varying degrees of volume into huge rushing days. Of course, the Patriots tend to jump to solid leads that choke the life out of opposing offenses, stripping them of the ability to run the ball with any real volume. Still, we know just what’s possible against this unit: a ton of efficiency and, if the game stays relative tight, a fair amount of touchdown potential. The New England front line lacks multiple space-eaters, and the underwhelming linebackers struggle in both gap-filling and pursuit. They’re especially vulnerable off the guards and tackles, where stretch plays often burst wide open onto the second level. All told, Leonard Fournette may be reliant upon game flow for his fantasy outlook, but he projects fantastically against this defense, and his path to a big stat line is short-tracked and appealing.

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


New England Patriots Rushing Offense vs Jacksonville Jaguars Rushing Defense (Tough Matchup)

Even with a slew of injuries in the backfield and along the front line, the New England run game looked plenty capable on Divisional Weekend. Dion Lewis led the way with 62 yards on 15 carries, while special teams ace Brandon Bolden chimed in to help the Patriots iced the clock late. Lewis remains the running game’s lynchpin, and he’s been as consistently productive in the role as just about any Patriot in recent memory, averaging 70.2 rushing yards over his 13 games as the unquestioned starter. He’s produced 8 games of 80+ ground yards, averaging 4.98 per carry along the way. His rushing explosiveness has actually been hidden a bit: The Patriots tend to use their short passing game as an extension of the run, so some of Lewis’ more successful plays come on short, quick screens and check-downs. They showcase his decisiveness and ability to exploit openings but don’t register in his rushing lines. In any event, Lewis is an exceptional low-end fantasy RB1; as usual, the problem here is nailing down the opportunity. The Patriots rotate their backs wildly, and even the hot hand often finds himself watching in key moments. Rex Burkhead, a similar dual-threat talent with red zone chops of his own, has vultured Lewis for much of the year and will likely suit up Sunday. In any event, we know to expect tons of opportunity and touchdown potential from this duo, even if we’re not entirely sure how it will split up. Fantasy owners should feel confident about both Lewis and Burkhead, who simultaneously boast the upside, even in this matchup, for 80 scrimmage yards and multiple scores.

The Jacksonville run defense has rebounded nicely over the second half of the season and is no longer a fantasy liability at all. In fact, they’ve grown borderline-prohibitive as a matchup. They opened the year roughly against the run, allowing an eye-popping 145.8 yards over the season’s first 5 games. But they’ve tightened majorly and mostly neutralized the last 5 lead backs they’ve faced, a list that includes Carlos Hyde (21 carries for 54 yards), Derrick Henry (28 for 51), LeSean McCoy (19 for 75), and LeVeon Bell (16 for 67). (Actually, they’ve shut down Bell twice on the year.) Boasting a crowd-controlling front line that features Defensive Player of the Year frontrunner Calais Campbell and ex-Bill acquisition Marcell Dareus, they’re adept at marshaling run lanes and redirecting ballcarriers to their linebackers. There are still vulnerabilities here, though. Middle linebacker Myles Jack is still finding his legs as a run defender – he’s been far more valuable against the pass thus far – and remains attackable. But on the whole, this is no longer an easy unit to run against in a vacuum, and Dion Lewis will likely find himself relying more than usual on the Patriots’ spread scheme to create room.

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


Minnesota Vikings Rushing Offense at Philadelphia Eagles Rushing Defense (Bad Matchup)

The Vikings rushing offense looked relatively rough around the edges in their playoff debut last week, failing to break the 100-yard mark despite 29 total carries. Lead running back Latavius Murray saw the vast majority of the work with 19 carries on the day, but he only managed to average 2.6 yards per attempt on his way to 50 total yards with one touchdown. Murray was coming off a big game with 111 rushing yards and two touchdowns in the season finale against the Bears, but this week he simply could not find room to run behind a Vikings offensive line that struggled for most of the game. Murray still is seeing impressive volume though, averaging 20 carries per game over his last four starts with four rushing touchdowns over that span. Jerick McKinnon saw just eight rush attempts for 34 yards and a touchdown of his own—McKinnon’s first rushing touchdown since Week 8. McKinnon’s touchdown last week came on one of the few well-blocked plays by the Vikings. McKinnon still is expected to play second fiddle to Latavius Murray though, as McKinnon has only one game with double-digit rushing attempts since Week 12 this season as he has exceeded 50 rushing yards in only two games this season. Both of these running backs will need much better play from their offensive line this week if they are to stand a chance against the fierce Eagles rushing defense.

As stated, the Eagles have a fearsome front-seven that has defended well against the run all season long. The Eagles finished the regular season ranked third using DVOA against the run and allowed the second-fewest fantasy points per game to running backs, right behind the Vikings who ranked just ahead of them. The Eagles did show some holes late in the season with big games allowed to the likes of Todd Gurley and Ezekiel Elliott, and they allowed Tevin Coleman to rush for 10 or more yards on four of his 10 carries last week on his way to 79 rushing yards. While the Eagles did hold Devonta Freeman to only three yards on 10 attempts, it was apparent (and later revealed) that Freeman was playing through an injury for most of this game—so take those numbers with a grain of salt. While the Eagles have shown some slight vulnerability against the run, they still have a healthy front seven loaded with talent. The combination of Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham represent one of the best pairs of defensive linemen in the league as they absolutely shut down anything ran to the right side. Mychal Kendricks continues to play well late in the season as well, which has been a big help to this run defense overall. The Vikings offensive line left a lot to be desired last week, and if they do not turn around their game, things could quickly snowball as this Eagles defense certainly has the ability to hold Latavius Murray to below three yards per attempt

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


Philadelphia Eagles Rushing Offense vs Minnesota Vikings Rushing Defense (Bad Matchup)

The Eagles finished the regular season with the third-best rushing offense in football averaging 132.2 yards per carry. However, this three-man committee did not wow anyone over the last few games of the year, averaging only 76.6 yards per game over the last five games of the regular season. Last week was much of what we have seen in recent weeks as the Eagles managed only three yards per rush attempt as they ground out 96 yards based on sheer volume. With Nick Foles under center, this entire offense struggled last week as they managed only one touchdown, scored on the ground by LeGarrette Blount who punched it in from the goal line. Blount rushed nine times for only 19 yards though as he has not crossed the 40-yard mark since Week 12 of the season with single-digit carries in every game over that span. Corey Clement saw just one carry last week as he looks to be all but phased out of this offense. It was Jay Ajayi who led the team in carries for his fifth straight start, rushing 15 times for 54 yards. Ajayi has put up mediocre numbers as the top running back for the Eagles, averaging 58 yards per game with no rushing touchdowns to show for it over his last four appearances. With Blount serving as the goal line back in this offense, Ajayi is reliant on busting a big play to find the end zone—something we have not seen him do since joining the Eagles squad. The Eagles do have a solid offensive line led by center Jason Kelce and right tackle Lane Johnson, but the inefficiency of their running backs may prove to be a problem when facing the stout Vikings run defense this week.

The Vikings proved again last week why they have one of the top rushing defenses in the league as they held the prolific Saints ground game—a top-five unit in the regular season—to only 80 total rushing yards. Linval Joseph continues to dominate the interior of the Vikings defensive line while Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter have been very impressive on the outside. Anthony Barr had an impressive game last week, while Harrison Smith continues to show why he is one of the best safeties in the league as he made his presence felt in all aspects of the game. Throughout the regular season, the Vikings gave up just 83.6 rushing yards per game—second-fewest in the league. No other team allowed fewer fantasy points per game to opposing running backs, and the Vikings put an exclamation point on that regular season dominance as they kept both Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram in check to average just 3.2 yards per rushing attempt last week. The matchup in the trenches stacks up to be a relatively even one, but the Vikings linebackers and safeties should prove to be too much to handle for this Eagles rushing offense.

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