Find the Gap – Week 6
In this regular feature, we give you three NFL teams who could find that rushing success in their upcoming matches. This time we examine our Week 5 predictions, and look at our choices for Week 6.
A look back at Week 5
As always, let’s check our picks from the previous week. The three teams chosen were the Cleveland Browns, the Baltimore Ravens and the San Francisco 49ers. All games went ahead during Sunday’s schedule. So how did they do?
Cleveland Browns – 33 carries, 124 yards, 0TDs
The Colts defense held up reasonably well against the Cleveland rush offense. It was likely that these rushes could have found more success had Baker Mayfield not thrown interceptions straight to the Colts defenders. And that barrage of fourth down rushing yardage continued. Another solid garbage time series may have given a valuable points pick up for those Browns Running personnel. Sadly Odell Beckham also missed out on chances to impress in that side of the game. His sole run went for negative yards.
San Francisco 49ers – 19 carries, 131 yards, 1TD
The return of Raheem Mostert was a welcome sight to behold for many fantasy fans. And it was the Running Back that contributed nearly three quarters of the yards (90) – including a blistering 37 yard run down the left hand side. Coincidentally, this was also where I had previously said that the Dolphins were weakest at the run. But the Niners directed just three runs down that channel. Nor did they fully utilise their rushing receivers. Samuel was used once for 3 yards, and Aiyuk remained unused in the rushing game. But this may well have been due to the incredible performance of their opponents. The Dolphins raced to an early lead and never looked back. One solace is that Kyle Juszczyk contributed my sole rushing touchdown this week.
Bet you didn’t have him in your redraft league lineup…
Baltimore Ravens – 24 carries, 161 yards, 0TDs
Well, the yards were there, but the touchdowns weren’t. Lamar Jackson came into this game with a questionable status around his knee and, as a result, ran only 3 yards. This really limited the types of attack that the Ravens could operate. As a result, the passing options saw a bigger look this week. And that’s where the two offensive touchdowns came from (with one Defensive TD to boost their already impressive outing). However, the Bengals continued to show that they were weak against the run. Devin Duvernay made a sweeping 42 yard run very early on in the game, J.K. Dobbins made a 34 yard run in the same area – and Mark Ingram found a 20 yard space up the middle of the O-line.
The Bengals have continued their hold out against rushing touchdowns in the fourth. Their dreadful record of not being able those long runs breaking out sadly remains.
So, who are going to be the teams to find that rushing success this week? Hopefully I can bounce back after such a dip in touchdown returns. And, to do it, I’m going to return to a team. One who need to get their act together – and have suggested they will use their lead back more to do it…
JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS (vs. DET)
The Jaguars management recently came out to say that they are actively considering giving James Robinson more second half touches. And who can blame them? Robinson has been outstanding in his role, stepping in to fill Leonard Fournette’s shoes as lead back. With 3 100+ yards of scrimmage in 5 games, he has really helped to keep the Jags moving forwards. And this could be another game where his rushing yardage may contribute a large portion towards his total.
Incidentally, Jacksonville have been effective in finding that yards when they have run the ball. Of all those runs so far, only 15 have failed to get past the line of scrimmage – that’s the second lowest in the league, behind (somewhat surprisingly) Houston. They also rank very well in those below average runs (between 1 and 3 yards) – ranking 9th lowest. That leaves a lot of rushes left for those above average and effective runs. Indeed, the Jaguars have found themselves on the cusp of having a 50/50 split between runs of below 4 yards and runs above it. Only a handful of teams can say they are above that line at the moment – Atlanta, Seattle, New Orleans, New England and Green Bay.
The Jaguars find themselves next on the list, ranking 6th.
The only thing that has held Jacksonville back from continuing this effective run game is the game script, where they have found themselves behind and having to rely on passing attempts. The games against the Dolphins and the Texans got away from them and the rush numbers dropped. On the other hand, the matches against the Bengals and the Titans? Much closer. And this close run contest is the kind of match I envisage the Lions game being.
If the Jaguars can catch a lead and hold on, then there’s no reason that Robinson and the rest of the rushing personnel can succeed here.
Detroit have just come off the bye week, and should be nicely relaxed for their game against the Jags. And boy, have they needed it. With several starters out on Injured Reserve, this gap should hopefully give them the rest they need to recover those questionable players. And having some semblance of depth is something they will need. Because the Lions are finding it hard to deal with the rush game as it stands. The lowest yards per carry in their defensive sectors is 4.05 – against runs around the left end of the offensive line.
The rest is not easy reading for Detroit fans. They have been fifth worst in conceding yards through the middle of the offensive line, and opposing rush personnel have managed 4.8 yards per carry. Although the bye week skews their numbers, they now rank as the fourth worst team for conceding effective yardage (4 yards and above). Only Carolina, The Los Angeles Rams and the Miami Dolphins rank ahead of them.
Granted, they have played New Orleans and Green Bay in this time, two of the most effective rushing offenses in this time. But, as we know, Jacksonville aren’t too far behind. And this is something that the Detroit Lions should be concerned about.
As per usual, the game script of this match will determine the success of the rushing offense. But the numbers suggest that Jacksonville can take advantage if they write that game script themselves.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (vs. GB)
The Bucs had positive news in their upgrade of Leonard Fournette from doubtful to playing a role in the game. Although that role was very small, the signs are good for the Running Back to return in Week 6 against the Packers.
Not that Ronald Jones needed the help against the robust Bears defence. RoJo managed to find some brilliant spaces and looked very strong in his runs in Fournette’s absence – picking up two consecutive 100 yard games, solely on the ground. Those returns have gone some way in silencing those critical of him being pushed into the lead role. And he is certainly throwing down the gauntlet for Fournette in the challenge for that lead position.
Having Fournette back does offer extra options for Tampa Bay, as they have been struggling with injuries as of late. And this Green Bay defence could well be the perfect time for TB12 to have those returning outlets.
THE BUCCS STOP YOU HERE
The Packers have been fortunate enough to avoid facing a significant amount of rushes in their first four games. Their reliance of their offensive play has been the key in getting through most games – and Aaron Rodgers is a man on a mission as it stands. So game script has gone in their favour, and the most rushing attempts they have faced is 25 – in their last game against the Falcons.
However, this last game saw the most stops at the line of scrimmage by the Packers in those four games. And it nearly doubled the total number. Weeks 1 to 3 saw 7 total stops – Week 4 saw six by itself. That 13 stops over four games is low but, without the struggling Falcons, that number could have been much lower.
And, although they haven’t faced that many rushes in those four games, the percentage of those runs that went for 4 yards or more were fifth highest in the league as on Tuesday.
Not to mention that Rodgers and the Packers come up against a defence that has proven very difficult to deal with. In five games, the Buccs have picked up 17 sacks, forced 5 fumbles to recover 3, and 6 interceptions. They are not a unit to be trifled with at the moment. So a potential lack of success on the offensive side of the ball will force that defensive unit out more often. In turn, this provides the chance for those Rojo and Fournette carries to stack up.
And maybe the Packers will face more than their normal share of rushing attempts this week.
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (at BUF)
There are several reasons that I could put the Chiefs in this category for Week 6. Their determination and drive to make sure that defeat against the Raiders doesn’t happen again for a long time, let alone this week. The multitude of attacking options that they offer on the ground. The fact that they have kept that production coming out of Clyde Edwards Helaire week in, week out.
But those are opinions that need to be backed up with facts. And this is the best way to do it. In their first five games, the Chiefs faced the Texans, Ravens, Chargers, Patriots and Raiders. All five of these teams have kept effective runs (4 yards and over) to under 50% of total rushes faced. The Patriots were the lowest at exactly 50%, but the Ravens have prevented 63.2% of runs from going over that magic 4 yard number.
Buffalo have also got 50% but, as of Tuesday (this article will have been written before Tuesday night’s game) they have played one game less, and have yet to face a bye-week fresh Derrick Henry. So I am fully expecting that number to dip below that halfway mark.
RUSHING INTO A FALSE IMPRESSION?
You also have to look at Buffalo’s opponents to understand that this initial 50% might not be as impressive as some of those other teams. Their first two games were against the Dolphins and the Jets – and dealt with them reasonably well. As a result, the Bills found themselves playing in front. And, like the Packers in the previous segment, they ended up facing more passes than rushes.
But in the second two, much closer, games (against the Rams and the Raiders), they faced the run far more. As a result, their effectiveness dropped, particularly against Los Angeles. Darrell Henderson tore them to shreds, with 114 yards over 20 carries, including 5 rushes of over 10 yards. As a result, that effective run percentage has come a lot closer to the mean. It also gives us an impression about how the Bills defence can cope with a player of Henderson’s speed and size. They can’t.
Funnily enough, Clyde Edwards Helaire is roughly the same build and height as Henderson. His style also has some similarities with the LA Running Back. This could be a massive key to opening up that Bills rush defence who will have faced off against the bulldozer Derrick Henry less than a week ago. With Mahomes offering so many passing possibilities as well as a running threat, that tired defence will be stretched out even more.
So this could be the best chance for the Chiefs rushing game to add to those 4 rushing touchdowns.
TO NEXT WEEK…
As usual we have to keep an eye on those COVID changes – and my fingers are crossed that these games go ahead. Let’s see what happens this week.