Top 5 Rushing Matchups Week 3

Footballguys Staff takes you through the Top 5 Rushing Matchups for Week 3


To view all of our Week 3 Matchup content, please see the links below:
Top 5 Passing Matchups Week 3
Bottom 5 Passing Matchups Week 3
Top 5 Rushing Matchups Week 3
Bottom 5 Rushing Matchups Week 3
Rushing Matchup Chart Week 3
Passing Matchup Chart Week 3

LA Chargers vs Carolina

The Chargers offense so far this season has been much more run-heavy than even most could have predicted. Last week, the Chargers ran 40 times in their overtime loss to Kansas City. This appears to be a dual-headed monster backfield led by Austin Ekeler, but the team is definitely committed to Joshua Kelly as he had 23 carries last week. Ekeler has been the far more effective running back this season as Kelly is averaging just 3.5 yards per carry and was bottled up for most of the Chiefs game, but is getting consistent touches as the team believes in the rookie. The offensive line continues to be an issue since Mike Pouncey was lost for the season as Dan Feeney struggled a little bit in establishing consistent rushing lanes for Kelly to run through last week.

Not much more needs to be said about just how bad the Carolina run defense is at this point. They have now allowed seven straight games with allowing two rushing touchdowns to opposing running backs or more as they allowed three rushing touchdowns to Tampa Bay last week. To make matters worse in Carolina, they're now dealing with injuries as Kawann Short, Brian Burns, and Yetur Gross-Matos are all questionable this week which make up three of their four starting defensive lineman. The Panthers have seemingly been unable to stop anyone this season allowing both running backs to rush for over 90 yards so far on the year and seem to have a permanent position on this bottom-five list for most of the year.

Philadelphia vs Cincinnati

The Eagles rushing offense improved significantly in Week 2 with the returns of starting running back Miles Sanders and right tackle Lane Johnson--both of whom missed Week 1 due to injuries. Having Johnson back in the lineup to combine with fellow tackle Jason Peters and center Jason Kelce is a big plus, however, the Eagles did suffer another big injury in the trenches as left guard Isaac Seumalo went down with an injury that will force his absence for multiple week. While not ideal, this line is still a solid above-average group with significant strengths beyond the guard position. Miles Sanders looked great in his 2020 debut and quickly took hold of this backfield with 20 carries for 95 yards and a touchdown compared to only four carries for 19 yards from Boston Scott. Sanders played over 75 percent of the snaps last week and should be expected to maintain a heavy workload in what could be a run-heavy game script for the Eagles--especially considering the recent struggles through the air of quarterback Carson Wentz.

Cincinnati’s woes on defense spilled over from 2019 as they have now given up the third-most rushing yards per game (185) through Week 2. With no notable injuries to speak of, this is simply a defense lacking cohesion in the trenches and missing playmakers at the second level. Nose tackle D.J. Reader has been effective in run defense, but beyond him, the rest of this defensive line has been pushed around by two offensive lines (Chargers and Browns) that both rank lower than that of the Eagles according to Matt Bitonti of Footballguys. Linebacker has been a noted weakness coming into this season, and despite the addition of Josh Bynes, the Bengals simply cannot find a spark at the position to help support this struggling defensive line. Safety Jessie Bates III has made some solid plays against the run coming in to support, but more lackluster tackling can be attributed to the rest of these Bengald defensive backs who have all struggled. All in all, the Eagles should win this matchup in the trenches despite their injury woes at the guard position as Miles Sanders is set up to continue his success from Week 2.

Pittsburgh vs Houston

The Pittsburgh rushing offense got off to a bumpy start with the questionable health of James Conner in Week 1, but Conner bounced back tremendously last week with 116 rushing yards and a touchdown while playing 77% of the snaps (up from 23% in Week 1). Conner still did not look particularly sharp as a chunk of his yards came from one big run on the last drive of the game, but the workload for Conner is there as Benny Snell’s role looked to be diminished in Week 2 after a costly fumble as Snell finished with only 10 snaps. The Steelers offensive line has not been at full strength with right guard David DeCastro working through a knee injury, but he is resuming practice this week and expects to play on Sunday. This will be a big boost for an offensive line that is normally planted firmly within the top-10 when at full strength.

The Texans defense has faced two of the best offenses in the NFL, and their stats certainly reflect it as this defense has given up 33.5 points per game and an average 198 rushing yards per game (31st). They have given up several big plays to pad that number, including runs of 29 yards and 44 yards to the Ravens running backs last week along with a 27-yard touchdown run from Clyde Edwards-Helaire in Week 1. Their secondary and linebackers are not tackling well and the defensive line has failed to make a meaningful impact in the trenches. This defensive line has potential especially with an impact player like J.J. Watt, but the Texans linebacker group was known to be a weakness coming into 2020 and looks to be living up to those expectations. Squaring off against a top-tier offensive line, the Texans have a distinct disadvantage in this matchup that will clearly favor James Conner and this Steelers rushing offense.

Arizona vs Detroit

The Arizona Cardinals have started the season as one of the most dynamic rushing offenses in football with over 150 rushing yards in each of their first two games. Quarterback Kyler Murray leads the way as he has dazzled opposing defenses with his speed and evasiveness. He has rushed 19 times through these first two weeks, and if that represents a sign of what is to come, Murray should be in store for a big season. Kenyan Drake has also had a solid start with strong volume of 16 and 20 carries in the first two weeks. Drake is playing about two-thirds of the snaps compared to a third of snaps going to Chase Edmonds, who has rushed just nine times compared to the 36 attempts of Drake. Arizona does not have a particularly strong offensive line, but the threat of Murray alone helps to keep opposing defenses honest and reduce some pressure off an otherwise mediocre line.

The Lions were embarrassed by Green Bay last week as Aaron Jones rushed for 168 yards and two touchdowns to lead a Packers ground game totaling 240 rushing yards on the afternoon. This poor performance solidified the Lions as the statistically worst run defense in the NFL, giving up 6.5 yards per rush attempt 408 total rushing yards. While this is certainly a small sample size, the personnel for Detroit backs up the assertion that they are a defense to exploit on the ground. They lack playmakers on the second level, particularly at linebacker as their mike linebacker Jarrad Davis has never been noted for his prowess against the run. The Lions defensive line has some big bodies and once-prominent run defenders in Danny Shelton and Da’Shawn Hand, but this unit overall has lacked the discipline to win in the trenches. While the Lions should match up better with the Cardinals offensive line this week, it will not matter if these linebackers cannot contain Kyler Murray, who has proven difficult to bottle up thus far in 2020.

Tampa Bay at Denver

The Tampa Bay rushing offense should be in a good spot this week after what has been an up and down start to the season. After struggling in Week 1 with Leonard Fournette still getting up to speed and dealing with a difficult matchup in New Orleans, the Buccaneers flourished against the Panthers last week with Leonard Fournette flashing on a few big plays as he served as the primary ball-carrier for the Tampa Bay offense. The combination of Fournette getting more familiar with the offense of his new team along with Ronald Jones II mishandling a handoff early in the game from Tom Brady likely led to this reversal of roles with Fournette out-carrying Jones 12-to-7 in last week’s win. It is hard to tell whether either back will break through what looks to be a continued committee approach in Tampa Bay, but having two talents like Jones and Fournette only furthers the overall upside of this rushing offense.

The Broncos are a talented defense on paper, particularly with Jurrell Casey and Shelby Harris anchoring their defensive line. However, as a unit this team has given up over 100 rushing yards to both running backs they have faced this season (116 to Derrick Henry, 106 to James Conner). Josey Jewel at linebacker is a weakness for opposing offenses to exploit, especially when running to the right side of the field, which is the weaker side of this defensive front. This front seven will also be without one of their interior defensive linemen in Dre’Mont Jones, who is now sidelined for multiple week with a knee injury sustained last week. Injuries facing the offensive side of the Broncos may also put this defense in a tough spot as absences from both starting quarterback Drew Lock and receiver Cortland Sutton should make it harder for this defense to stay fresh if the offense is unable to sustain drives. This is by no means a terrible Denver run defense, but their questionable performances to start the season combined with the precarious injury situations will put them in a tough spot against a surging Tampa Bay rushing offense.

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