Week 19 Rushing Matchups

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

Jump to Passing Matchups

Great Matchups: [IND]
Good Matchups: [DAL] [LAC]
Neutral Matchups: [NE] [NO]
Tough Matchups: [KC] [LAR]
Bad Matchups: [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.

Indianapolis Colts Rushing Offense at Kansas City Chiefs Rushing Defense (Great Matchup)

Marlon Mack was dominant for the Colts in his playoff debut, rushing for 148 yards and a touchdown on 24 attempts against a top-tier Texans rushing defense. Mack has found his stride late this season, rushing for at least 119 yards in three of his last four games with at least 24 attempts in each of those three outings. He has also scored in five straight games with six rushing touchdowns over that span. No other Colts running back even comes close to threatening Mack for volume with Jordan Wilkins and Nyheim Hines seeing seven and nine snaps respectively last week, compared to a season-high 56 snaps for Mack. While game script played a big part in Mack’s large role, it is clear that the Colts are more than willing to put the game on his shoulders in lieu of Andrew Luck being forced to air it out excessively. With a healthy offensive line coming off back-to-back dominant performances and a high likelihood of a run-heavy gameplan, the upside for Mack is significant this week.

The Chiefs defense was one of the worst in the league against the run in 2018. A weak linebacker unit and defensive line loaded with pass-rushing specialists led to the Chiefs ranking as the second least-efficient rushing defense in the league, allowing 5.0 rushing yards per attempt. Running backs rushed for 100 or more yards against the Chiefs in four of the last five games this season, with only a Chargers backfield missing Melvin Gordon failing to get to triple digits with 92 rushing yards in that game. A rookie nose tackle and terrible linebackers have been the primary weak spots for this defense, and the Colts offensive line with top center Ryan Kelly should have no problem making space against this Chiefs front seven. Marlon Mack finished the regular season with seven runs of 20 or more yards, and he had three in last week’s game alone to kick off his postseason career. Chunk plays have hurt the Chiefs all season, and they look to have no answer for this strong Colts offensive line and talented second-year running back.

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

Dallas Cowboys Rushing Offense at Los Angeles Rams Rushing Defense (Good Matchup)

To no one’s surprise, the Cowboys pounded their ground game relentlessly at the Seahawks in the Wild Card round, devoting exactly 50% of their snaps to the run. It worked beautifully, as usual, with Ezekiel Elliott easily registering his eighth 100-yard game of the year. Specifically, Elliott racked up 137 yards on 26 carries against Seattle’s 13th-ranked run defense, routinely finding room on the interior and second level. Elliott’s production was methodical and consistent and Dak Prescott chimed in with 29 yards on 6 rushes of his own. The pair took on 32 of the team’s 34 attempts and both scored from the goal line. Prescott runs more often than most quarterbacks, but not nearly enough to detract noticeably from Elliott’s volume. Elliott has taken on 18 carries or more in 8 straight games, finishing at 4.0 yards per rush or better in 6 of them. Operating behind the Cowboys’ still-dominant front line, he’s always a threat to turn that production into a week-best performance. The Dallas line has endured quite a bit of turnover this season, losing its All-Pro center and position coach, but proved a deep unit capable of overcoming. With Tyron Smith and Zack Martin in the lineup, this still graded as a top-three NFL group in Matt Bitonti’s rankings. Connor Williams will likely stay at left guard this week, actually presenting an upgrade over prior starter Xavier Su’a-Filo. The Cowboys will run early and often behind them, and keep to the ground as often as possible - Elliott is the team’s cornerstone and offensive engine. Even as a road underdog, his outlooks for both volume and efficiency are bright. He’s certainly gifted enough to defy game flow and overachieve or to merely dominate from the start and control it himself.

The Rams defense has struggled for most of the year to contain opposing run games. They closed the regular season 23rd league-wide in raw yardage but yielded an NFL-worst 5.1 per attempt. Overall, the Rams allowed virtually every strong-running opponent they faced to produce efficiently. Down the stretch, they even let plodding, low-impact runners Jordan Howard (101 yards on 19 carries) and Alfred Morris (111 on 16) to shred their season-long averages. The Rams boast an exceptionally talented front line, anchored by soon-to-be-named Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald. But the front seven is built more to slow the pass than the run, and the linebackers are sorely lacking in that department. Mark Barron and Cory Littleton have disappointed all season, and neither brings a run-stuffing element to this unit. The Rams are solid home favorites, but there’s a chance Ezekiel Elliott finds enough early room in this matchup to control the entire game. It certainly doesn’t look likely that the Rams will slow him down, so any volume whatsoever should result in productivity.

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

Los Angeles Chargers Rushing Offense at New England Patriots Rushing Defense (Good Matchup)

The Chargers ground game floundered in a tough matchup with the Ravens last week, amassing just 89 rushing yards from 33 total attempts for an average of 2.7 rushing yards per attempt. Melvin Gordon saw his heaviest workload since returning from injury with 18 rushing attempts, but his injury woes continued as he suffered another knee injury--this time on the left side, during last week’s contest. Gordon played through the injury but was clearly hampered by it. He is reportedly dealing with a sprain similar to the injury suffered to his left knee earlier this season, but Gordon is expected to play through it this week and will undoubtedly be at less than 100 percent. Gordon has yet to top 50 rushing yards since his return from injury, but he remains a threat to score one or more touchdowns given how the Chargers use him. Austin Ekeler will almost certainly be in for an increased role with Gordon banged up. While dealing with a groin injury himself, Ekeler played in Week 17 and looked to be near 100 percent with his 11 carries last week. With his receiving upside and proven effectiveness on the ground (averaged 5.2 yards per rush attempt), Ekeler should be set up for success this week. The offensive line for Los Angeles remains healthy and should also be able to hold their own in this one.

The Patriots run defense has fared relatively well against running backs for most of the season, finishing 2018 allowing 112.7 rushing yards per game (11th-fewest) and only seven rushing touchdowns (2nd-fewest). From an efficiency perspective, however, the Patriots have certainly allowed their fair share of chunk gains as they rank 29th, giving up an average of 4.9 rushing yards per attempt. A weak schedule against the run can help explain their limited overall rushing yardage allowed, as facing running backs from the Bills, Dolphins, and Jets twice will certainly prop up any defense’s numbers. The New England front seven is far from a strength, as interior lineman Malcom Brown underperformed this season while their linebackers have been just mediocre overall. Poor choice of the defensive scheme along with limited help from the secondary also helps explain their inefficiency, as tackling has been a problem for this unit at times throughout the year while lining up in a lot of nickel and dime looks has sacrificed personnel up front. The extra help in run defense will be needed this week against a stout Chargers offensive line, and while Gordon is less than 100 percent, Ekeler offers plenty of big-play upside as we have seen throughout the 2018 season.

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

New England Patriots Rushing Offense vs Los Angeles Chargers Rushing Defense (Neutral Matchup)

The Patriots may not have sported the most productive rushing offense this season (ranked 20th with 4.3 yards per attempt), but they relied heavily on their ground game to the tune of 478 rushing attempts (third-most) and 2037 rushing yards (fifth-most). Rookie running back Sony Michel was the clear leader of this backfield when healthy, rushing 209 times for 931 yards with no other Patriots player having even half as much production on the ground. He saw double-digit carries in all 12 full games in which he played, rushing for over 100 yards in four of those outings. Michel offers a welcomed level of consistency to what has historically been one of the most unpredictable backfields in football. With that, this is still the Patriots. Among their other healthy three running backs, Rex Burkhead is next in line for carries as he closed out the season with a 13-carry game in Week 16 along with at least four carries in every other game since his return from injury. James White also continues to mix in as he has seen six or more carries in three of the last seven games since Michel’s return from injury, but it is clear that his talents lie as a pass-catcher rather than a runner. The Patriots offensive line has been average, at best, this season while this rushing offense certainly has the volatility to become very game-script dependent with Michel’s snaps getting absorbed by White in case this becomes a shootout.

The Chargers virtually shut down the Ravens offense for much of last week’s game as Ravens running backs managed just 36 rushing yards from 14 attempts. Lamar Jackson had some big runs, but Tom Brady will present no such threat this week. Do not let last week give the wrong impression of this defense, however, as they had a tough time against the run to close out the season. This defense has personnel much more suited for stopping the pass with their elite defensive backs and a pair of the best edge rushers in football. They lost both primary run-stoppers in middle linebacker Denzel Perryman and tackle Corey Liuget during the back half of the season, leaving a big hole in the middle of that defense with safety Derwin James being forced up into more of a linebacker position to pick up the slack on running downs. Their talent on the edges is undeniable, however, and while both Bosa and Ingram are known for their pass-rushing, they can each be effective against the run. This defense has certainly bent against the run, but they have yet to fully break this season and still should present a challenge even for a strong Patriots offensive line and ground game.

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

New Orleans Saints Rushing Offense vs Philadelphia Eagles Rushing Defense (Neutral Matchup)

The Saints’ ground game is split between their two dynamic runners in Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara, which ultimately caps the fantasy ceilings of both. But fantasy players haven’t complained much: the team’s run-dominant approach affords both plenty of volume, running room, and scoring opportunity. And of course, both boast the dynamism to maximize any decent volume into efficient - even explosive - fantasy days. Over 11 full games together, the pair averaged 25 carries for 111 yards, finding the end zone 15 times on the ground. (That last number has been aided by a robust 20 team attempts from inside the 2-yard line, second-most in football.) Kamara is no longer the usage monster he was while Ingram was suspended, but he still topped 50 ground yards in 7 of those 11 games together. Ingram has slowed a bit down the stretch but posted a number of efficient lines - including a 103-yard, 2-touchdown blowup against these Eagles in Week 11. Both backs operate behind a dominant line that closed the season ranked sixth by Footballguys’ Matt Bitonti, with an A run-blocking grade. With center Max Unger back in the lineup, this front is exceptionally strong up the middle and off the right side. Both Kamara and Ingram are dynamic enough as runners to exploit those creases and create chunk gains. The Eagles have tightened their run defense of late, but haven’t fared well against explosive second-level runners. New Orleans enters Sunday with a clear-cut advantage in the trenches, and if they can control this game from start to finish, both Kamara and Ingram should produce majorly.

The Eagles have been wildly up-and-down in run defense throughout the season. They opened in dominant fashion, easily shutting down a handful of mediocre run games, before falling apart in Week 6. Over their last 12 games of the regular season, opposing running backs averaged 5.0 yards per carry. It’s true that they faced a devastating batch of elite backs down the stretch, though it was discouraging to see them brushed aside so easily. All-Pro tackle Fletcher Cox remains a dominant presence inside, but this front seven is built primarily to defend the pass. Jordan Hicks and Nigel Bradham are solid tacklers but are also the only linebackers that see consistent snaps in this scheme as the defense is typically in a Dime or Nickel package. When explosive runners can work their way through the penetrating Philadelphia line, they often face little competition on the second level. At least the Eagles can hang their hats on an impressive current stretch, one that’s seen them allow just 119 yards to running backs (2.5 per attempt) over the last 4 weeks. Still, the competition hasn’t been very robust, and this talented Saints attack is a different level of competition. Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram were sensational in their Week 11 matchup, combining to rack up 174 yards and 2 touchdowns. Most importantly, the Saints boast the kind of savvy and powerful line that can allow the Eagles to penetrate, then seal off running creases for their dynamic duo. Cox will need to anchor consistently all game to keep them off-balance.

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

Kansas City Chiefs Rushing Offense vs Indianapolis Colts Rushing Defense (Tough Matchup)

The Chiefs closed out the regular season with an average backfield from a yardage perspective, rushing for just under 116 yards per game, but actually ending as the sixth-most productive rushing offense with 4.8 rushing yards per attempt. It is tough to put much stock in those numbers now, however, as this is a completely different backfield given the absence of Kareem Hunt since Week 13. Damien Williams has been the shining star in their past three games with Spencer Ware sidelined due to injury. Williams has averaged just under six rushing yards per attempt with three rushing touchdowns over that span with Ware sidelined, leading the backfield with over 50 percent of the snaps each week. Ware was the clear leader when he took over in Week 13 with 69 percent of the snaps, but who starts in this backfield could be a big question this week as Williams has looked better than Ware did in his two healthy games while Ware actually sat in Week 17 despite practicing in full all week leading up to the game. There is no doubt both will be involved this week, but signs point to Williams getting a slight nod--especially given his versatility in the passing game. Both running backs will be set up for success behind this offensive line though, as the Chiefs have a pair of solid tackles in Eric Fisher and Mitchell Schwartz, while their center Mitch Morse can perform at an elite level when healthy. The Chiefs offensive line closed the season near the middle of the pack in rankings by Matt Bitonti of Footballguys, but given their efficiency throughout the season and level of health leading into this game, this offensive line will be a tough test for the Colts in the trenches.

The Colts run defense saw the benefit of an early lead yielding to a very favorable game script in last week’s win over the Texans, as they defended against only eight carries from opposing running backs--holding those Texans backs to just 29 yards on the ground. This run defense was great against running backs in the regular season, allowing just 85 rushing yards per game (ninth-fewest) while allowing no back to rush for more than 100 yards. The Colts interior linemen should match up well against the weaker Chiefs guards while standout rookie linebacker Darius Leonard has had a keen eye for stopping running backs all year. The Chiefs have tended to rely more on their passing game than the ground game all season, and they may be better suited following that same plan in this matchup.

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

Los Angeles Rams Rushing Offense vs Dallas Cowboys Rushing Defense (Tough Matchup)

Todd Gurley sat out the final two games of the season, but that was to be expected. The Rams seized the opportunity to rest his sore knee for 26 days, and they’ll deploy him as usual in the postseason. C.J. Anderson filled in beautifully, running for 167 and 132 yards to close out the year, and he’s the clear handcuff here. But Gurley is the Rams’ backbone and he projects to a 20-carry day if the game flow doesn’t go wild. Gurley was sensational in his fourth season, averaging 4.9 yards per rush and 89.4 a game. His production tailed off a bit down the stretch, landing below 60 in 3 of his last 4 contests. But the explosive Gurley is always a breakaway threat - only 3 backs managed more runs of 15 yards or more over the first 15 weeks. He’s also still among the NFL’s premier touchdown producers, buoyed by a prolific offense that afforded him a league-high 16 attempts from inside the 3-yard line. Most importantly, Gurley runs behind an elite front line, which finished the year ranked first by Footballguys’ Matt Bitonti (with an A+ grade in the run game). The Cowboys’ athletic front seven provides a tough matchup to open their playoff run, but this unit has produced in tough matchups all year. Gurley will see his share of lanes, and if his knee is indeed sound, he projects to a strong day. Anderson is the wild card here: he could find himself confined to the bench, or he could step in for 8-12 high-impact opportunities in relief.

The Dallas run defense closed the regular season in mostly-dominant fashion. They held 7 of their last 9 opposing lead backs under 65 yards, with only one real lapse, against Marlon Mack in a blowout loss to the Colts. (Apart from a single long run, Saquon Barkley found almost no room in Week 17.) And on Wild Card Weekend, they rose to the occasion in a major way, stifling the run-rooted Seahawks in the impressive win. Seattle’s Chris Carson, fresh off a 1,151-yard breakout season, managed just 20 last week. In fact, apart from a 28-yard run by Rashaad Penny, Seahawk runners produced just 45 yards on 23 attempts. The Cowboys have found real keepers to form the core of this unit, especially rookie linebacker Leighton Vander Esch, who’s been fantastic in pursuit and tackling. He’s outperformed the injury-prone Sean Lee and been one of football’s best run-stuffers since taking on a full-time role. He and Jaylon Smith make up a dynamic second level that operates behind an improving front. This isn’t a bulletproof unit - the line still lacks a dominant run anchor, and lanes do open up from time to time. Mack did most of his Week 15 damage up the gut, exploiting that deficiency on the nose. But in general, there’s so much playmaking ability here that shutdown games are no surprise. Todd Gurley and the Rams’ stout line present a massive challenge, of course. It’s just encouraging to see dynamic linebackers capable of meeting him in gaps and on the edges.

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

Philadelphia Eagles Rushing Offense at New Orleans Saints Rushing Defense (Bad Matchup)

Due to the loss of Jay Ajayi, the Eagles were forced into a full-blown ground committee for virtually all of 2018. The results weren’t pretty: saddled with a backfield of limited talent, they finished the regular season 28th in raw rushing yards (98.1 per game) and 30th on a per-carry basis (3.9). Few have ever thought of Jay Ajayi has a savior, but he’d offer a massive skillset upgrade right now if healthy. Instead, the team will continue to roll with some blend of powerful rookie Josh Adams, third-down man Darren Sproles, and middling talent Wendell Smallwood on the ground. If Wild Card Weekend was any indicator, Adams may have tumbled down the ladder following a rough finish to the season. He managed just 135 yards over the last 4 games (3.1 per carry), then saw only a single attempt in last Sunday’s win. Adams’ stock has dropped, but he’s also the highest-upside option here. Slow but bruising, he posted high-efficiency lines against a handful of stout run defenses down the stretch - including these very Saints (7 for 53 and 1 touchdown). Smallwood is a career 4.0 per-carry rusher who doesn’t move the needle much, while Sproles has looked youthful with 32 attempts over the last 4 weeks. The backs will operate behind a still-elite front line that has left tackle Jason Peters back, which is a big plus. But if the Eagles are going to establish any ground presence Sunday, it’ll likely have to come through Adams’ power or a few Sproles scampers. This offense is designed to win through the air, and there’s a strong chance they don’t make any real attempt to establish the run.

Out of nowhere, the Saints have spent 2018 as one of the NFL’s most smothering run defenses. The team has consistently controlled game flow and rushing volume, while a few breakout performances in the front seven have tightened this unit considerably. As a result, opposing backs have had an exceptionally hard time producing big fantasy days. The Saints have allowed just 3.6 yards per rush on the year, second-best in football, and only one runner (Ezekiel Elliott) has topped 70 yards in this matchup. The lack of volume has played a big role, but there’s been much more to this story. Enough can’t be said about the breakthroughs of former first-round nose tackle Sheldon Rankins and his interior partner, David Onyemata. The pair has been electrifying in terms of pass rush, but also stout and disruptive against the run, consistently clogging gaps and making stops. And behind them, ex-Jet Demario Davis was a true All-Pro snub after a dynamic year of chasing down runs, both outside and in the gaps. All told, this has been a dicey unit to face all year, regardless of game script. Bruising Eagles rookie Josh Adams had an efficient day in the Week 11 meeting between these teams, turning 7 carries into 53 yards and 1 touchdown. But it’s not wise to project much in this matchup, for a multitude of reasons.

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