Week 19 Rushing Matchups

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

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Great Matchups:
Good Matchups: [GB] [KC] [MIN]
Neutral Matchups: [HOU] [SEA] [SF] [TEN]
Tough Matchups: [BAL]
Bad Matchups:

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.

Green Bay Packers Rushing Offense vs Seattle Seahawks Rushing Defense (Good Matchup)

Green Bay's rushing attack grades firmly as a league-average unit across the board, ranking between 13th and 16th in the NFL in rushing volume, yardage, and efficiency. The Packers realized early in the season that Aaron Jones' workload in their rushing attack was unsustainable for him to produce down the stretch and throughout a potential playoff run. Subsequently, Jones' weekly involvement in the team's attack was curbed, leading to an uptick in Jamaal Williams' usage in the backfield. Jones typically plays approximately 60-percent of the team's offensive snaps, carrying the ball around 13 times per game, while Williams absorbs the remaining 40-percent of snaps and about 7 carries per game. Aaron Jones may see an increased workload in the playoffs, considering the team's season is on the line every week, and this is the exact situation the team could have been saving him for. Overall, the Packers' top-tier offensive line enables either back to excel when called upon, but Jones projects to offer far more value in fantasy lineups.

The Seattle Seahawks' run defense defended the 7th-lowest volume on the ground in the NFL this season; however, they still struggled to limit opposing rushing attacks, allowing the 11th-most rushing yards, 3rd-most rushing touchdowns, and 6th-worst rushing efficiency of any team in the league. The personnel in Seattle's front-seven is impressive, but one common theme throughout the defense plagues this unit: missed tackles. Seattle's unit of run-stopping defensive linemen, including Jadeveon Clowney, Poona Ford, Al Woods, Jarran Reed, and Quinton Jefferson, is one of the deepest in the NFL. However, many of these players struggle to wrap up and finish tackles when they fill rushing lanes, with 34 missed tackles between the 5 players. At linebacker, however, Seattle fields two elite run-stoppers, with Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright both excelling at filling rushing lanes and finishing tackles. Wagner ranks 8th in the league in solo tackles this year with 86 to his name, as opposed to just 8 missed tackles. In the secondary, none of Seattle's defensive backs stand out as notable run-supporters aside from Shaquill Griffin, who has quickly made a name for himself as one of the league's best young corners both against the run and the pass. Overall, Green Bay's pair of elusive running backs is primed to give Seattle's struggling run defense fits this weekend in a relatively soft matchup here in the Divisional round of the playoffs.

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

Kansas City Chiefs Rushing Offense vs Houston Texans Rushing Defense (Good Matchup)

Kansas City’s ground game has been all over the map throughout 2019, which is to be expected with such wild personnel turnover from week to week. Four different backs led the team in rushes, all with varying degrees of success in the dynamic Kansas City offense. True to form, it’s difficult to project their usage distribution to open the playoffs. Damien Williams has led the way of late, but it’s long been whispered that the team has been keeping LeSean McCoy mothballed for the postseason, and he’s been the more effective runner overall. McCoy didn’t take more than 12 carries in a game, but posted his best per-rush mark (4.6) since 2016. For his part, Williams has largely struggled for efficiency all year. Apart from his 2 longest runs (91 and 84 yards), he’s produced a meager 3.0 mark and just 3 touchdowns. With big week-to-week potential for volume, big plays, and touchdown opportunity, either (or both) could put up week-winning numbers in this attack. But there are also scary floors for both: McCoy is 31 with ever-present durability issues, and Williams simply isn’t consistent as a lead runner. Fantasy players banking on this backfield will also be at the ever-changing whim of Andy Reid. There’s too much upside to ignore outright, though.

Simply put, the 2019-20 season has not been kind to the Houston run defense. They closed the regular season 25th league-wide in raw yardage, giving up 121 per game, and were even worse (4.8, 27th) on a per-carry basis. The problem has been on full display of late, with 8 different runners topping 75 yards over the last 8 weeks. The Texans’ biggest struggles have come against power backs, as exploited by Gus Edwards (112 yards and a touchdown), Jonathan Williams (104 and 1), and Derrick Henry (297 and 3 in 2 games) over that span. This group isn’t without talent, with Zach Cunningham and Benardrick McKinney forming one of the league’s top linebacking duos against the run. Nose tackle D.J. Reader has blossomed into a strong space-eater up front, and the team obviously enjoys benefits from whatever early-down snaps J.J. Watt can contribute. But overall, this is a relatively shallow unit, one that struggles to hold firm at the point of attack. Most opposing lines have been able to control the trenches, limiting the playmaking impact of the linebackers and setting up its runners for strong, efficient games.

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

Minnesota Vikings Rushing Offense at San Francisco 49ers Rushing Defense (Good Matchup)

The Minnesota Vikings run the football almost as often, and well, as any team in the NFL, ranking top-six in the NFL in rushing attempts, touchdowns, and yardage this season. Dalvin Cook, when healthy, spearheads the Vikings' rushing attack as one of the NFL's leading bell-cow running backs. Cook rested down the stretch of the 2019 season with the Vikings' playoff fate all-but-secured, and last week he carried the ball 28 times for nearly 100 yards and 2 scores in his return to action. Cook rarely leaves the field during close games, and he absorbs almost all of the valuable red-zone touches in Minnesota's offense when he's available, tallying six touchdowns over his last six games played. Minnesota's offensive line is far more adept at run-blocking than pass-blocking, enabling the team's offensive attack centered around establishing the run early in games.

The San Francisco 49ers defense was seldom forced to defend high-volume rushing attacks this season, facing the ninth-fewest rushing attempts of any team in the league. However, when their opposition did elect to run the ball, they frequently found success, as they allowed 4.5 yards per carry, the 10th-worst mark in the NFL. On the year, the 49ers only allowed 2 100-yard rushers while allowing the 2nd-fewest fantasy points per game to opposing running backs, which is a testament to the lack of rushing volume they faced. Personnel-wise, this unit appears to be an above-average but not elite group. Along the defensive line, the 49ers field a wildly talented group of run-stoppers, including Arik Armstead, DeForest Buckner, and Nick Bosa. At linebacker, however, it is a different story. Fred Warner has struggled against the run throughout his career, and his 20 missed tackles this season is far and away the most on the team. Although Kwon Alexander is potentially returning from the Injured Reserve this weekend, his calling card is his ability to defend the pass, not the run, and he will offer little help in this regard. In the secondary, Richard Sherman and Jimmie Ward are both willing to get involved in run support, but not enough to compensate for the defense's weakness at the second level. Overall, Minnesota's continued commitment to the running game has the potential to bear fruit this weekend in what grades as a sneakily-favorable matchup for the Vikings. San Francisco's surface-level numbers against the run may be intimidating but, upon further inspection, this is an opportunity for Minnesota to get the better of the 49ers' stout defense.

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

Houston Texans Rushing Offense at Kansas City Chiefs Rushing Defense (Neutral Matchup)

Despite a shaky, banged-up front line, the Texans have boasted one of the league’s best ground attacks this season. They finished the regular season ninth per game and eighth per carry, then racked up 141 yards last Saturday in spite of game flow. Carlos Hyde and Duke Johnson split snaps fairly easily, though Hyde has taken on 76% of the pair’s rushes on the year. And he’s been reasonably productive in his two-down role, averaging 16 rushes for 69 yards in his full games. Hyde doesn’t get much more than what’s blocked, but he did run well in late-season matchups with the Broncos (73 yards on 14 attempts) and Titans (26 for 104 and a touchdown). Still, it’s always fun to imagine what this attack would be capable of with Johnson given more opportunity; he’s produced 4.9 yards per rush in his limited role. Of course, the Houston ground numbers always benefit from the presence of quarterback Deshaun Watson. He’s averaged 29 yards a game, and he’s on an upswing, with 30+ in each of his last 4 games. All told, this attack is often strong enough to overcome the Texans’ porous line, which still ranks near the bottom of Matt Bitonti’s rankings. And they could hardly ask for a better matchup, so the stars seem aligned for one of the trio’s more productive days.

The Kansas City run defense has certainly improved over the course of the season, going from one of the league’s worst units early on to a thoroughly average one down the stretch. In fact, they didn’t allow an opposing back to top 60 yards over the final 4 weeks, with lead runners putting up just 3.7 per carry. Still, it must be noted that they didn’t face a single top-15 rushing team over that span. They’ve been worked over badly by the few strong ground attacks they’ve faced - including these very Texans back in Week 6. In that matchup, Carlos Hyde racked up 116 too-easy yards and punched in a goal-line touchdown, effectively keeping the game under Texans control. If they again push the ball consistently onto the second level, it could be another long day for Kansas City’s weak linebacking corps. Anthony Hitchens and Damien Wilson lead one of football’s lowest-graded groups, with safety hybrid Daniel Sorenson often a liability himself, and north-south runners like Hyde tend to take advantage of their misses. Overall, this unit isn’t quite the cakewalk matchup it was to open the year. But it probably isn’t as stingy as it’s looked this past month, either, so the Houston runners project well in the rematch.

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

Seattle Seahawks Rushing Offense at Green Bay Packers Rushing Defense (Neutral Matchup)

Seattle's rushing attack is one of the highest-volume units in the NFL, even though the efficiency numbers for the offense are uninspiring on this front. In recent weeks, in the absence of the team's original top-three running backs, Travis Homer has led the charge in Seattle's backfield. Homer has played at least 67-percent of snaps and tallying at least 10 carries in each of the last 2 games. Marshawn Lynch, who was lured out of quasi-retirement to join this playoff run, has played no more than 31-percent of Seattle's offensive snaps while carrying the ball 12 and 6 times in each of the last 2 games, respectively. Lynch, however, does command the highly-valuable red-zone carries, resulting in the team's only two rushing touchdowns in their last two games. Seahawks coaches have made comments throughout the week that Lynch's role will likely increase ahead of their game this weekend. However, unless he absorbs most of Homer's workload, he remains a relatively unenticing fantasy asset this weekend running behind Seattle's below-average offensive line.

Green Bay's run defense is a mediocre unit all around, facing medial volume, yet allowing the 11th-most rushing yardage in the league on 4.7 yards per carry, which ranks 9th-worst in the NFL this year. The Packers have only allowed 3 100-yard rushers this year, but their 15 rushing scores allowed (3rd-most in the league) left Green Bay's defense ranked 8th-worst in the NFL in fantasy points allowed to opposing running backs this season. In the trenches, Za'Darius Smith and Kenny Clark are the team's two most impactful run stoppers, with each player registering at least 36 run-stops this season. At linebacker, Blake Martinez is as reliable as they come. Martinez ranks 2nd in the NFL in solo tackles this season, with 97 to his name. Unfortunately, this is largely a product of a lack of impactful players elsewhere on this defense beyond the defensive line, as Martinez is not particularly impressive in his ability to sniff out plays before they happen and stop opponents in the backfield (only five tackles-for-loss this year.) In the secondary, Adrian Amos has been everything the Packers hoped he would be when they signed him away from the Chicago Bears this offseason. Amos has not only been an incredible pass defender, but he has arguably been the team's best and most consistent run defender, tallying 65 solo tackles himself this season. In sum, aside from a strong defensive front and Adrian Amos at the back-end of the defense, the Packers lack the requisite playmakers and run-stoppers to stifle strong rushing attacks. Should the Seahawks attempt to establish the run this weekend, much like they have all season, they should see reasonable success, but who gets the bulk of the carries in their backfield is unclear at this point.

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

San Francisco 49ers Rushing Offense vs Minnesota Vikings Rushing Defense (Neutral Matchup)

The San Francisco 49ers' rushing attack is one of the most prolific in the NFL, ranking top-two in the NFL in total rushing attempts, rushing yardage, and rushing touchdowns, while posting the ninth-best yards-per-carry in the league. Down the stretch, Raheem Mostert emerged as the team's lead-back, playing over 50-percent of snaps and carrying the ball at least 10 times in each of the team's final 5 games. Over that span, Mostert found the end zone six times on the ground, and he has seemingly cornered the market on San Francisco's most-valuable red zone carries. Otherwise, Tevin Coleman still plays about 30-percent of San Francisco's offensive snaps, but his workload in this playing time is negligible, topping out at just five carries over the team's last five games. San Francisco's offensive line is a mediocre unit, but thanks to the schematic genius of head coach and play-caller Kyle Shannahan, this is one of the most impressive rushing offenses in the NFL.

Minnesota's defense is a talented run-stopping unit whose metrics against the run hover between average and above-average. The Vikings allowed the 13th-fewest rushing yards in the NFL while allowing just 8 rushing scores, good for 3rd in the league. Aside from a Week 17 game featuring primarily backup players, the Vikings only allowed 3 100-yard rushers this season. Along the defensive line, tackle Linval Joseph is questionable for this weekend's game due to a knee injury. He has long been one of the league's better interior run-stoppers, and his absence would certainly hinder this unit. At linebacker, however, Eric Kendricks is one of the league's best players in run support. Kendricks' incredible football instincts constantly keep him in position to make a play against the run, and the first-team All-Pro is one of the league's leading tacklers. In the secondary, Anthony Harris is an extremely well-rounded safety who willingly approaches the line of scrimmage to help contain opposing rushing attacks. On the whole, the Vikings allowed the 20th-most fantasy points to opposing running backs this season, which is certainly a respectable mark. Expect the 49ers' incredible rushing attack to push this unit to its limits in what grades as a neutral matchup for the offense.

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

Tennessee Titans Rushing Offense at Baltimore Ravens Rushing Defense (Neutral Matchup)

The Titans are reveling in the surprising play of quarterback Ryan Tannehill, but it’s no secret they’re deeply devoted to the ground game. A glance at Derrick Henry’s last 20 games - 5.4 yards per carry, 115 a game - makes clear just why. He’s averaged 154 over just his past 7 games, finding the end zone 11 times along the way. Henry combines strength and power with an explosive build-up speed that makes for the toughest tackle in football at the moment. He’s capable of not only controlling games with his steady running, but also bouncing just about any run into a big, tide-turning gain. Henry is a phenomenal talent, but some credit also goes to his front line, which has improved in-season into one of the game’s best run-blocking groups. By the close of the year, Footballguys’ Matt Bitonti had stamped it with a rare A+ grade. Overall, the Titans have to be thrilled that the Ravens’ biggest clear weakness matches up so well with what they do best. It appears only a truly negative game script could keep Henry from another eruption.

Overall, the Ravens closed out 2019 in dominant, but not unbeatable, fashion. And if there’s a road map to toppling them, it likely includes the ground game, where they’re still struggling to patch the holes of a unit in transition. The team has yet to find adequate replacements for names like C.J. Mosley and Eric Weddle, leading to more gaps than usual on the second level. Down the stretch, they were beaten by nearly all comers, including the likes of Steelers reserve Benny Snell (91 yards and a touchdown on 18 attempts) and the struggling Le’Veon Bell (21 for 87). The Ravens are generally strong up front, where down linemen Michael Pierce and Brandon Williams remain the underrated saviors of this unit. But the linebacker play has been inconsistent, and the secondary is built far more to defend the downfield pass than to help in the box. All of this is music to the ears of the Titans, who would pound the ball relentlessly with Derrick Henry in a perfect world. If the Tennessee line is up to the task, the Ravens will be hard-pressed to keep Henry from controlling this game with his legs.

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

Baltimore Ravens Rushing Offense vs Tennessee Titans Rushing Defense (Tough Matchup)

Simply put, no NFL offense is as dedicated to the run as the Ravens, nor anywhere near as dominant. On the season, Baltimore ran the ball 98 times more - and produced nearly a yard more per rush - than anyone else in football. Their 56% run percentage was ripped straight out of the 1930s, yet opposing defenses simply haven’t put together an answer to the onslaught they know is coming. The Ravens boast a trio of 700-yard rushers, led by quarterback and soon-to-be MVP Lamar Jackson’s 1,206 (80 per game). Jackson topped 80 yards in 7 of his 15 appearances, and his dynamic running is more projectable than any quarterback in history. There’s still concern over Mark Ingram’s availability for Saturday’s game, as he may have experienced a calf setback during practice this week. But Gus Edwards doesn’t look like a downgrade; he’s one of football’s most powerful and decisive runners and always maximizes his opportunity. He posted 5.3 yards per carry in his sophomore season and rolled over the Steelers for 130 yards in his Week 17 spot start. And everyone benefits from a top-tier line that’s built to run-block, graded with an A by Footballguys’ Matt Bitonti. It’s hard to recall a ground attack more predictably dominant in recent history, and this entire trio makes sense in one fantasy format or another.

The Titans trot out a better-than-average run defense, which closed the regular season 12th in raw yardage allowed (105 per game) and seventh per rush (4.0). The strength of this unit lies up front, where Jurrell Casey, DaQuan Jones, and Jeffrey Simmons make for a solid space-eating trio. But the linebacker play has been inconsistent, leaving the edges and off-tackle zones vulnerable too often. And on Saturday, they’ll be contending with a steady flow of Lamar Jackson and Mark Ingram runs right down those alleys. Rashaan Evans will need to elevate his play next to the steady Jayon Brown to have a chance of slowing these bulldozing Ravens. Evans has graded terribly against the run throughout the year, routinely missing assignments and leaving gaps up the field. The Ravens bring an attack with power, quickness, and deception, which may prove too much for this shaky unit on the second level.

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