Top 5 Rushing Matchups Week 1

Footballguys Staff takes you through the Top 5 Rushing Matchups for Week 1

Top 5 Rushing Matchups Week 1

To view all of our Week 1 Matchup content, please see the links below:
Top 5 Passing Matchups Week 1
Bottom 5 Passing Matchups Week 1
Top 5 Rushing Matchups Week 1
Bottom 5 Rushing Matchups Week 1
Rushing Matchup Chart Week 1
Passing Matchup Chart Week 1

Baltimore Ravens Rushing Offense vs Cleveland

The Ravens rushing offense finished 2019 with a league-leading average of 206 rushing yards per game--more than 60 yards higher than the next best team. Looking to 2020, this offense returns many of the same pieces that contributed to that massive success on the ground. League MVP Lamar Jackson tops the list of rushing weapons for the Ravens as his athleticism and fearless playing style make him tough to defend under most circumstances. Mark Ingram II should lead this backfield to open the season, but the Ravens spent a second-round draft pick on J.K. Dobbins to add some depth behind the veteran Ingram. Baltimore running backs may not be afforded an above-average workload, but Ingram still finished with double-digit touchdowns while averaging over 5.0 yards per carry in 2019. The one knock on this rushing offense is the loss of star guard Marshall Yanda, who retired this offseason. The veteran D.J. Fluker looks to replace him and has had plenty of success as a run-blocker throughout his career, so this offensive line remains a top-5 unit overall.

The Browns run defense is coming off a tough 2019 in which they finished third-worst in the league allowing 144.7 rushing yards per game while allowing the eighth-most fantasy points per game to opposing running backs. They will need more from their defensive line in this particularly tough Week 1 matchup. Both Myles Garrett and Olivier Vernon were suspect against the run last year and face some excellent Ravens tackles this week. Sheldon Richardson is a crucial piece returning on the interior of this defensive line, but Larry Ogunjobi and rookie Jordan Elliott will have to prove their worth. Linebacker remains the biggest question for the Browns run defense though, as they lost both former starting linebackers from 2019 and have already suffered a key injury as projected starter Mack Wilson will be sidelined to start the season. With a mismatch in the trenches and the lack of a tried and true linebacker to watch over Lamar Jackson, this Browns rushing defense looks to be in trouble for Week 1.

Indianapolis Colts Rushing Offense vs Jacksonville

The Colts offense sported one of the top offensive lines in football last season, and they return every piece of that group for what looks to be another strong unit ranked atop the league coming into 2020 by Matt Bitonti of Footballguys. Behind this line is more of a fluid situation than 2020 though, as the Colts spent the 41st overall draft pick on running back Jonathan Taylor while also adding a less mobile quarterback in Philip Rivers. Taylor is an exciting prospect who had massive success while shouldering a heavy workload during his time at Wisconsin. However, he will still have to fight with incumbent Marlon Mack, who is coming off a 1,000-yard season and has looked great during training camp. Given his experience, it is reasonable to expect Mack to lead this backfield in Week 1, but a split approach would be of no surprise given the investment the Colts have made in Taylor. Furthering the complexity of this situation, Nyhiem Hines also remains and should continue to usurp snaps in his normal role as a pass-catching option--a role Philip Rivers showed to support heavily given the success of Austin Ekeler back in Los Angeles.

The Jaguars had a rough 2019 campaign against the run and 2020 looks like it could be similar unless some of their young talent can perform immediately. The defensive line in Jacksonville lost a couple of high-impact players this offseason as both Calais Campbell and Yannick Ngakoue are on new teams. The loss of Campbell is particularly significant for this run defense, as he was a force to be reckoned with on the interior. Former first-round pick Josh Allen struggled against the run last year and now has an unproven rookie in K’Lavon Chaisson set to start on his opposite side. At linebacker, the Jaguars added Joe Schobert from Cleveland while returning Myles Jack and Leon Jacobs on the outsides. Neither Jack nor Jacobs were particularly effective against the run last year, and Schobert may downgrade this run defense even further as his play for the Browns was also suspect last season. All-in-all, this is a significant mismatch in both the trenches and second level as the Colts ground game looks to get off to a hot start in 2020.

Las Vegas Raiders Rushing Offense Vs Carolina Panthers

The Raiders hit the jackpot last season with their first-round selection of Josh Jacobs, as he blossomed into one of the league’s top pure runners and looks to be the centerpiece of this offense coming into 2020. Jacobs should see a heavy workload as he has minimal competition for carriers here with Devontae Booker and third-down specialist Jalen Richard as the only two running backs on the active roster. The Raiders also return all of what was an above-average offensive line from 2019. Ritchie Incognito is coming off one of the best seasons in his career while right tackle Trent Brown has been practicing as of last week after a long absence this offseason.

This strong Raiders offensive line should be a challenge for the young, inexperienced Panthers front seven. Carolina lost the core of their defense with the retirement of linebacker Luke Keuchly. Tahir Whitehead will attempt to fill those shoes, but he comes nowhere close to the all-around talent and leadership Keuchly provided to this defense. Looking to the defensive line, the Panthers welcome several new faces as only two starters from 2019 return--including Kawaan Short who missed nearly all of the season due to injury. This line lost a couple of impact players in Bruce Irvin and Mario Addison, both of whom will be tough to replace. Two rookies now headline this unit, including the seventh overall draft pick Derrick Brown and second-round pick Yetur Gross-Matos. While this injection of youth could certainly come to surprise the league, it is tough to expect immediate results in Week 1 with no preseason experience against one of the top young running backs in football.

Los Angeles Chargers Rushing Offense vs Cincinnati

The Chargers offense has some new leadership in the backfield given the departures of quarterback Philip Rivers and running back Melvin Gordon III. Taylor represents a dual-threat that adds an entirely separate dimension to this rushing offense as Rivers was never much of a candidate for tucking and running. Ekeler had plenty of reps in this backfield last season despite the partial presence of Melvin Gordon III and is expected to start the season as the lead back. Ekeler averaged nearly 100 yards from scrimmage per game with seven touchdowns through seven games without Gordon last season. He will have some competition behind him for carries though, as both Justin Jackson and Joshua Kelley have had strong training camps and are competing to carve out roles in this offense. The offensive line has been a challenge for the Chargers over the past few years, and they made some significant changes this offseason starting with trading away left tackle Russell Okung in exchange for right guard Trai Turner. The Chargers also made a big signing of right tackle Bryan Bulaga in free agency. Both Bulaga and Turner are solid additions to the right side of this line, and Mike Pouncey is a veteran presence at center, but the Chargers do still have question marks on the left side of their line.

Cincinnati’s run defense is looking ahead to a better year in 2020 as they finished at the bottom of the league last season after allowing 148.9 rushing yards per game. Their defensive line is talented on paper given the presence of Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap, in addition to the offseason addition of 350-pound nose tackle D.J. Reader to help eat up space in the middle of the field. While it may be tough to run between the tackles against that interior, Austin Ekeler is more of a zone runner who will target getting into space. This is where the Chargers should see an advantage, as the Bengals have suspect run-defending defensive backs and a young group of linebackers except for the recent addition of Josh Bynes from the Cardinals. Bynes may be capable of helping contain Tyrod Taylor, but this matchup looks to set Austin Ekeler up for a productive season-opener.

San Francisco 49ers Rushing Offense vs Arizona

The 49ers had one of the top rushing offenses in football last season, finishing with 144.1 rushing yards per game (2nd-most) while logging a league-high 23 rushing touchdowns. The Kyle Shanahan offense operates via a committee approach to running back, and that should continue in Week 1 with Raheem Mostert taking the lead role and Tevin Coleman acting as a close second. Both have been productive in the past and, most importantly, are healthy coming into Week 1. The offensive line did suffer a significant loss with the retirement of left tackle Joe Staley, but they quickly moved to replace him by trading for Trent Williams. Williams is an outstanding tackle in his own right and had immense success as a run-blocker under Shanahan’s offense in 2013 with Washington.

The Cardinals had a mediocre run defense in 2019 as they gave up just over 120 rushing yards per game yet only allowed nine rushing touchdowns on the season. They return a couple of key playmakers in Chandler Jones on the defensive line and safety Budda Baker, who is excellent against the run. However, this team has questions on the interior of their offensive line and at linebacker. Corey Peters is a solid nose tackle, but neither Jordan Phillips nor Zach Allen inspires confidence coming into what will be a tough matchup for them against this stout 49ers offensive line. Rookie linebacker Isaiah Simmons is an encouraging talent, but he may not be ready to contribute heavily in base run packages on Week 1. The 49ers have a clear advantage in the trenches here, and their creative run scheme should make it tough for Cardinals linebackers to keep up in what should be a good Week 1 matchup for San Francisco.

Methodology: Best matchup does not mean the players who are projected for the most amount of points. We try to balance the impact that the defense will have on the offense as we start with a baseline for each team and try to determine which defenses will have the biggest impact on the offense. More often than not, bad offenses will show up on the worst matchups and good offenses will show up on the top matchups but occasionally you will have a scenario where the top offense is facing the top defense, therefore, making it a difficult matchup for that offense.

You should always start elite players even if they are in one of the more difficult matchups of the week.

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