Bottom 5 RUSHING MATCHUPS
Carolina Rushing Offense vs Tampa Bay
It’s never advisable to doubt Christian McCaffrey’s potential for production. The NFL’s preeminent workhorse opened the season with a 96-yard day, earning 23 attempts despite a whole game’s worth of discouraging game script. McCaffrey will always be the offensive focal point, regardless of what type of game is being played, so fantasy players never need to worry about his floor. But there are factors working against his rushing efficiency. The Panthers front line is very much in transition, and Teddy Bridgewater’s dink-and-dunk passing game keeps defenses close to the line.
McCaffrey and the Panthers will get no scheduling relief in Week 2, squaring off with a Tampa Bay unit that’s developed into arguably the NFL’s stingiest. Dating back to Week 1 of last season, they’ve allowed only a single runner (Chris Carson) to top 75 yards on the ground, averaging just 2.9 per carry along the way. McCaffrey was one of those victims - twice, in fact - amassing all of 68 yards on 38 carries in last year’s matchups. The Saints’ Alvin Kamara and Latavius Murray saw no daylight last Sunday, combining for just 64 ground yards of their own. The Carolina line is generally solid in the middle, but will need creative help opening lanes against this imposing front. Vita Vea, in particular, has blossomed into a truly elite run-stuffer. He and Ndamukong Suh dominate the interior more often than not, freeing up athletic linebackers Lavonte David and Devin White to roam. McCaffrey really can’t be benched in any fantasy scenario, but this always looms as a nightmare weekend for his players.
Denver Rushing Offense vs Pittsburgh
The Broncos ran the ball reasonably well in Week 1, with Melvin Gordon III and Phillip Lindsay posting 102 yards at 4.6 per rush. It was a solid performance by the co-lead backs, considering their tough opponent and the Broncos’ shaky front line (28th entering the season according to Footballguys’ Matt Bitonti). Gordon and Lindsay split carries in the first half, but once Lindsay went down with turf toe - he’s a toss-up for this Sunday - Gordon took on 10 of the backfield’s 12 touches. He ran well and shook several would-be tacklers, particularly on a well-blocked 25-yard run in the fourth quarter. Peak-level Gordon is certainly good enough to make the best of a hit-or-miss front line.
Unfortunately, they’ll be lining up against Week 1’s most dominant unit. The Steelers simply erased Saquon Barkley from the Giants’ game plan, swarming into the backfield on nearly every run snap and recording 11 tackles for loss. The dynamic Barkley turned 15 attempts into all of 6 yards - 0 over the game’s last 58 minutes. Down linemen Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt form a perfect run-stuffing tandem: they not only occupy blockers, but make splash plays of their own. This unit boasts quick, active linebackers and safeties unafraid to step into the box. Recent first-round picks Devin Bush and Terrell Edmunds are still rounding into NFL form, but they can’t be accused of laziness (16 combined tackles). Altogether, it’s hard to see the Denver line creating many in-roads against such an imposing front. Gordon (and perhaps Lindsay) will have to create most of their yardage on their own in a desperately uphill matchup.
Las Vegas Rushing Offense vs New Orleans
There aren’t many holes to poke in the Raiders’ successful ground game. Coach Jon Gruden has committed fully to a run-heavy attack, and Josh Jacobs has answered the bell. The Raiders boast an elite front line - Footballguys’ Matt Bitonti ranks it second league-wide, with an A+ run-blocking grade. That imposing front paves the way for second-year stud Jacobs, who’s shown no hesitation as a full-on workhorse. Week 1 saw Jacobs register the seventh 20-carry game of his young career, and he found the end zone three times.
The Raiders could will have their hands full trying to navigate the Saints run defense this week. This Saints unit has been suffocating since the start of the 2019 season, shutting down one dynamic runner after another. Over their past 17 games, they’ve allowed just 3 opposing backs to top 70 yards - and it hasn’t been an easy stretch of scheduling. That’s included matchups with the likes of Christian McCaffrey (twice), Ezekiel Elliott, Dalvin Cook, and Chris Carson, who combined to put up 3.0 yards per rush. The Saints boast a deep, versatile group of down linemen, and undrafted rookie Malcolm Roach was a pleasant Week 1 surprise on the nose. Linebacker Demario Davis continues to excel in the system; he had several impressive tackles of Tampa Bay’s Ronald Jones II in the opener. Jacobs offers more of a skillset, but it’s still hard to find the opportunity here. Jacobs should see his share of volume, but efficiency will be tough to come by in a matchup no one enjoys facing.
New England Rushing Offense vs Seattle
The Patriots dominated Week 1 from start to finish, so it was unsurprising to see them commit so heavily to the run. It also don’t shock many to see quarterback Cam Newton lead the team in carries, yards, and touchdowns. Newton looked eager to run again, taking on 15 attempts for 75 yards and scoring twice. It appears coordinator Josh McDaniels is more than happy to bend the offense to Newton’s option and called-run talents. Also unsurprisingly, their least effective runner was Sony Michel. It wouldn’t be a shock to see his role scaled back in favor of committee partners Rex Burkhead, James White, and J.J. Taylor.
Against the Seahawks, though, they’ll find much tougher sledding than they did in Week 1. Seattle’s strong run defense only got stronger with Jamal Adams, arguably the game’s best box safety, added in the offseason. Adams certainly proved his mettle in the opener, making plays near (and beyond) the line of scrimmage. He and linebackers Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright formed a dominant trio on the second level, keeping Todd Gurley in check while the Falcons were still running the ball. New England’s best chance at a viable ground game might be pounding Newton, Michel, and Burkhead into the line and inching things forward. The Seahawks definitely boast the playmakers needed to track and shut down quick runs into the open field.
San Francisco Offense vs New York Jets
Kyle Shanahan’s San Francisco offense is definitely run-tilted, and it’s always been wildly successful on the ground. With a strong line built to run-block and a stable of diverse talents in the backfield, this is typically a run game to ride in fantasy. Raheem Mostert has proven an ideal Shanahan back with burst and instinct, and there are reinforcements behind him. It was encouraging to see Jerick McKinnon, working back from two ACL surgeries, used situationally in the opener. There weren’t many big plays in the Week 1 loss, but there’s always real potential for 200+ yards from this attack.
Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams has built a career of taking over leaky run defenses and reshaping them overnight, and he’s done just that with the Jets. Last year they bounced from 19th to 2nd in per-carry run defense - with top linebacker C.J. Mosley missing most of the season - then kicked off 2020 with a bang by stifling the Bills on the ground. Buffalo runners Devin Singletary and Zack Moss combined for just 41 yards on their 11 attempts, and while quarterback Josh Allen ran for 57, it took 14 rushes to do so. (The Jets also forced him to fumble twice, recovering both.) Trading away star safety Jamal Adams will be felt, of course, but the Jets are actually rather deep on the back end. This isn’t a star-studded unit, but it’s packed with versatile bodies that flow and fill gaps as Williams directs. Shanahan will certainly have an attack plan for it, but his work is cut out finding holes in this fundamentally sound group.
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