FIND THE GAP – WEEK 1
In this regular feature, we give you three teams and their Running personnel who could find rushing success in their Week 1 match.
UNLIKE ANY OTHER
As this is the first week, we have a look at teams who could find success based upon their 2019 statistics. As everyone will no doubt be aware, a lot has changed since last season, in both in the NFL and the world in general. This will be a campaign like no-one has seen before. However, as it is impossible to change an entire team’s roster, it is likely that many of the same players are still present in the team. Well, except in the case of one of the teams coming up next!
With that in mind, let’s have a look at the teams who should see a positive rush game in Week 1:
INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (@ JAX)
We start off with a game that has the potential to be one of the most one-sided matches this week. It most certainly is not a fantasy trap on the ground.
A SHREDDED JAGS DEFENSE…
Even before September, the Jaguars started seeing holes appearing in their defense. February saw the Jaguars declined to pick up DT Marcell Dareus’ fifth year option. The Pro Bowler then became a free agent at the end of the season – taking away a key part of the run defense. A month later, Cornerback A.J. Bouye was shipped off to Denver for a fourth round pick. Then Pro Bowler Calais Campbell was traded to the Ravens for a fifth round pick later on in March. Many fans saw this as a huge blow, as 2017 All-pro Campbell was a fan favourite. He was also seen as one of the best free-agent acquisitions in the history of the team.
The bad news got even worse from there. Rodney Gunter, one of the players signed to replace Dareus and Campbell, was forced to retire. The Defensive Tackle was diagnosed with an enlarged aorta, yet did not qualify for surgery due to the aorta not being enlarged enough. This forced Gunter’s hand and he had to step away from the game. This was very quickly followed by Aaron Lynch, also signed in the offseason, announcing his retirement as well.
Now add in the extensive trades that have occured since training camps started. Defensive End Yannick Ngakoue was traded to the Vikings for a 2021 2nd round draft pick and a conditional 2022 fifth round draft pick. Ngakoue actually took a pay cut worth millions of dollars in order to move, so that the Vikings could shore up their defensive front. Finally, Safety Ronnie Harrison left to join the Browns at the start of September – in exchange for a fifth round 2021 draft pick.
And so the Jaguars team that faces opponents this year is virtually unrecognisable compared to that which started the 2019 season.
…AND A RAMPANT COLT OFFENSE
Even before they lost their key defensive players, the Jaguars had a tough time against the Colts in their 2019 divisional matches. Week 11 saw Indianapolis rush 36 times against the Jaguars defence, picking up 264 yards and 3 touchdowns.
Marlon Mack and back up Jonathon Williams each saw over 100 yards a piece, and were responsible for 9 rushes of 10+ yards during that game. Only 3 rushes were stopped before the line of scrimmage.
While the return match in Week 17 ended up with a Jaguars victory, the Colts still managed to run in two touchdowns and put 132 rushing yards past their opponent
Furthermore, the Colts’ rushing successes last season align with the specific weaknesses of the Jaguar’s defensive line. Analysis showed that the these weaknesses were against rushes through the offensive tackles. Rushes on the left tackle conceded an average of 8.93 yards / attempt, and rushes on the right tackle 8.99 yards / attempt. For the Colts, the left tackle was one of the strongest routes for the rushing attack in 2019, with 21 attempts yielding an average of 8.64 yards / attempt.
In addition, the drafting of Jonathon Taylor is a huge boost to the Colts offense. With Marlon Mack so prolific in both games against the Jags last time, it will be very difficult for the patchy Jacksonville defence to deal with the rushing attack – and where those attacks will be coming from.
Is it over-imaginative to expect over 200 yards and three touchdowns to be run in against the Jaguars on Sunday?
BALTIMORE RAVENS (@ CLE)
It was an easy choice to include the Ravens on this list, simply because of how dominant they were in the rushing game last season. The team ran the ball the most by a huge amount – nearly 100 times more than the nearest team.
While you could expect the average distance of rushes to be similar to other teams – or potentially lower – it isn’t the case. In all directions of rush attempt, the Ravens feature close to the top of the list. Their rushes to the left end of the offensive line even had the highest average distance – with 8.09 yards gained per attempt.
The team even have the highest percentage of runs that went over 10 yards. 83 of their 594 runs went for 11 or more yards – equivalent to nearly 14 percent of total. Eleven of these runs came against the Browns who, in comparison, also amongst the worst in conceding runs of over 10 yards last season. 62 runs against the Clevelend defense went over that mark – that’s nearly 14% of total. They were second only to the Bengals.
A further 64 of the Raven’s runs made between 8 and 10 yards. A huge number of great runs – truly a remarkable feat for a team.
RAVENOUS FOR THE RUN
And it doesn’t look to be anywhere near to stopping. The Ravens added another Running Back who should feature heavily this year. Expected to accompany Mark Ingram and Lamar Jackson, J.K. Dobbins is far from a laughing matter for many opponents. Big things are expected from the rookie this year, even head coach John Harbaugh has come out to say that it is the case.
And it could well be Dobbins who joins in with the potential feast that they have in hand. The Brown’s run defense only had one defensive line area that averaged less than 5 yards per attempt in 2019. A particular weak spot was the right Defensive End, conceding nearly 7 yards per attempt. And this matches up perfectly with the left end of the offensive line, which is where the Ravens were the strongest NFL team last season.
It is something of note that, over the 2019 season, Lamar Jackson produced 15 runs of over 10 yards via the left end of the offensive line. With this being a particularly weak area for Cleveland, I wouldn’t rule out seeing this happening again on Sunday.
HOUSTON TEXANS (vs. KC)
The final choice may be a surprise to some of you. Why on earth would I put the Superbowl Champions on here as a team to struggle against the run? Well, the truth is that last season, they did.
LEFT SIDE, WEAK SIDE
Like the Browns, the Chiefs had one of the worst records for opposing rushes over 10 yards. Out of 414 rush attempts that the Kansas City defense faced in 2019, 51 of them went for 11 yards or more – just over 12 percent of runs. That doesn’t seem like a lot…but it ranked 26th in the NFL.
They also had trouble with stopping runners before they reached the line of scrimmage. Out of those same 414 rushes, the Chiefs only managed to stop 61 getting anywhere. Incidentally, this was the worst record in the NFL. That works out at just under 4 a game. When you’re facing an average of 29 rushes a game, that’s a lot of rushes left over.
A particularly weak area for the Chiefs was the left side of the defensive line. Opposition carries through the right offensive tackle picked up an average of 7.02 yards per carry. The carries around the offensive line’s right end saw 6.18 yards per carry on average.
It was clear for opponents that this area was weak. They attempted right end runs against the Chiefs 77 times – more than any other team saw in that area. Rushing here was easy!
So is this a weakness that Houston can exploit?
PUTTING MONEY WHERE YOUR JOHNSON IS
Houston no longer have the lead back they possessed last year. Carlos Hyde has moved onto greener pastures (which is more of a ‘sea’ green than ‘grass’ green), leaving behind his deputy, Duke Johnson. But, rather than raising that Duke, the management brought in another Johnson.
David Johnson has arrived fresh from his dethroning in Arizona to try and make another go of a football season. After a particularly disappointing season with the Cardinals, Johnson has got the opportunity to make something happen for himself. And this game against the Chiefs is the perfect opportunity to do it.
Johnson found some rushing success against struggling defenses last season. He managed large two digit rush yard totals against the Lions and the Bengals. And his deputy has also proven that he too can peel off runs of decent length. 10 of Duke Johnson’s 81 runs produced over 10 yards during the season. And if there was ever a chance to try these runs, it would be the opening game of 2020.
One thing to bear in mind about this article is that it is using data from the last season. Teams will have looked at this data and tried to work on those weaknesses. Players responsible for those areas could have come and gone since then. So any article in this series will primarily use the current season’s data as it is inputted. Only if it necessary, will last season’s will be used to back up any findings.
So, until then…we look forward to the season and what it can bring!