Find the Gap – Week 7
In this regular feature, we give you three NFL teams who could find that rushing success in their upcoming matches. This time we look at our Week 6 predictions, and our choices for the Week 7 schedule.
A look back at Week 6
As always, let’s cover how the previous three teams did. The three teams chosen were the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Kansas City Chiefs. Two of these games went ahead on Sunday, with the Chiefs playing the Bills in an early Monday game. So did these games give success to those teams?
Jacksonville Jaguars – 16 carries, 44 yards, 1TD
Well, Jacksonville. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice…
The Jaguars did end up with a rushing touchdown, courtesy of the moustachioed maestro Gardner Minshew. But, as I covered in last week’s article, the Jaguars’ rushing success would come from the Jaguars being able to get the lead and hold it. All hope of this were dashed on the rocks as Detroit seemed determined to save Matt Patricia’s job – with two rushing touchdowns in their first two drives (in hindsight, perhaps I should have picked the Lions for this game). Combined with Jacksonville’s sluggish start, it already looked as though the Lions could literally run away with it.
The situation put the Jaguars on the back foot, and they resorted to passing their way back into the game. Of course, the next drives ended up in an interception, a missed field goal and a fumble. And so the Jaguars slipped even further behind. And it seemed as though there were no chance of James Robinson getting those earmarked second half touches. As long as the offense is this slow off the block, there will be no chance of Robinson seeing the touches – and success – he deserves.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers – 35 carries, 158 yards, 2TDs
Unlike the unreliable Jaguars offense, there was a unit that I could rely on to do its job in finding rushing success. The Buccs’ defensive unit probably played the best game they would play all season. It well and truly exposed Aaron Rodgers and the deficiencies in the Green Bay offense – holding them to their lowest points of the season.
As a result, the prediction that the Buccs would end up with more offensive drives did come about, and Tampa Bay took advantage in the best way. A huge volume of carries produced over 150 yards. Ronald Jones slammed in two rushing touchdowns. Although Leonard Fournette was a surprise omission, Ke’Shawn Vaughn made some solid strides in making his way back into offensive thoughts. The rookie also picked up a comfortable amount of yards. The resulting output was so decisive. So much so, it put Green Bay top of the NFL.com list for fantasy points conceded against Running Backs. All-in-all, a solid call in the prediction.
Kansas City Chiefs – 46 carries, 245 yards, 1TD
Wow, this one was bang on the money. The Bills simply could not stop the run. And it happened all night. The resulting yardage was the highest ever seen in the Andy Reid era at the Chiefs. That’s how much of a success the run game was.
On watching the game, it looked like Clyde Edwards-Helaire could have kept going all night. He got his longest run of his career so far. Breaking tackles left and right. 161 yards off just 26 carries – incredible stuff.
His lack of rushing redzone scoring was almost resolved as well. At least, it would have been, had it not been for the holding call bringing the play back. So Darrel Williams ended up getting the nod to grab himself a touchdown and a little bit of relevance…before Le’Veon Bell becomes the number one back up.
Plenty of positives to take away for the Chiefs, and a real self-examination needed by the Bills rushing defense.
So who are the team who will be under the spotlight this week?
Green Bay Packers (@ HOU)
Surprisingly, the Green Bay Packers find themselves at the top of the list for Fantasy Points conceded to Running Backs. So you would think that, after the Buccs slapped their first L on their record (and a huge one at that), maybe I’d opt for the Texans.
We can accept that the Packers defence have not had much success with dealing with the run. They particularly struggle against conceding touchdowns (7 so far this season) – and hence why they were chosen to be the fall guys last week. But I feel that the offense will rebound after a shock to the system last week. And the team that they are facing, the Texans are not of the standard of that dominant Buccs defence. So hopefully this puts the Packers on the right course, and allows their own rushing personnel to crush it this week.
We already know the volume of opposition carries that Houston have faced in the run game – ranking 2nd on the list (196). But they rank third worst on carries over 4 yards (91) and worst on the list for carries of 11 yards and over (29). There are clearly gaps for the opposing rush personnel to move into. So, where are those gaps?
Right down the middle of the line, it seems. The Texans have faced the second most carries through the centre of the offensive line, just behind our first team, the Jaguars. However, the biggest difference between the two sides is the yards per carry in that area. Jacksonville have only conceded 3.49 yards per carry over the 114 attempts up the middle. The 107 carries against the Texans through the same area? 6 yards per carry – by far the worst in the league.
KEEPING UP WITH THE JONES
Another player that will look to get back on track is Aaron Jones. The Running Back was kept incredibly quiet against the Bucs – only 15 yards on 10 attempts. He finished third on the rushing charts, behind Jamaal Williams and AJ Dillon, which was unheard of until that game. So Jones should look to make efforts to right that wrong, and the Texans is the perfect team to find some success against. Half of Jones’ runs have gone through the centre of the offensive line (37 out of 75 runs), and have racked up 5.7 yards per carry through that area. Impressive highlights include two decisive runs against the Falcons, and that dazzling 75 yard touchdown dash against Detroit.
So, all being well, I would not be surprised to see Aaron Jones, and the Packers, come up trumps against this Texan D-Line.
New Orleans Saints (vs. CAR)
One of the teams coming in off the bye week are the Saints. Michael Thomas is likely returning to the side, barring any disciplinary mishaps. While this finally gives Drew Brees that offensive piece he’s been missing, it could also be good news for the running game as well.
Not that the Saints rushing offense has been struggling. Alvin Kamara may have been getting a bigger piece of the pass catching, but he’s still been doing the business on the ground. And Latavius Murray is more than a capable backup – he would likely be a starter at many other teams.
The split on carries has been relatively even, and there have been weeks where Murray has actually out carried Kamara. But, with Thomas’ return to the side, it is likely that Kamara will see less of the targets. As a result, he may well end up getting that bigger share of carries once again. Not great news for Murray, but good news for the team, and the chances of success on the ground against this Carolina defense.
THE BELLY OF THE PANTHER
Carolina’s performance against the Bears showed some grit, and helped them reduced their fantasy points conceded against Running Backs. As a result, their ranking reduced from worst…to fourth worst. Better…but still not great. They still ended up conceding a rushing touchdown to Nick Foles – adding another to the tally. The touchdown should have been David Montgomery‘s, who was held up at the line on the previous play. While we can agree that Monty is a player with a steady floor, he hasn’t really set the world alight with his carries.
But he’s had to do it on his own for a while. The Tarik Cohen injury earlier in the year has meant that Chicago don’t really have an experienced Running Back to fall back on. And it was surprising that makeshift RB Cordarelle Patterson saw just one carry against that less-than-effective Panther defence. So their relative lack of success against Carolina could have been self-inflicted.
Week 7 takes the Panthers to face their divisional rivals. And the Saints and their Running Backs offer a different proposition for Carolina to deal with. The fact that there are two of them is already a big advantage, and a useful tool for Sean Payton in keeping the rushing personnel rested and ready to go. In addition, both Murray and Kamara have got higher yards per carry than Montgomery. Both have more touchdowns.
And, as a whole, the Saints running game is the most effective in the NFL. Although their carry volume isn’t the highest, They are the team with the highest percentage of total runs that went over 4 yards – with 51.4%. That puts them ahead of the unbeaten Seahawks in second (50.85%) and the third-placed Patriots (50.31%).
And this is before they play the Panthers, who already have the joint-worst percentage of effective runs conceded. 54.05% of carries against the Carolina defence have resulted in 4 yards or more – the same as the Miami Dolphins.
So that’s the team with the most effective running game, facing the team who are the least effective at run-stopping? Could be a match made in heaven – but not for Carolina.
SCRIPT = SUCCESS?
After all this, there are plenty of reasons to believe that the Saints’ rushing production will be better than the Bears. But it all depends on whether they can have the chance to do it.
Ordinarily, I would consider this to be a certainty for the Saints. But, while this is likely a Saints win on paper, the game script has stung me the last few weeks. And Carolina’s offense have already produced some surprise results early on in the season.
There is no doubt that the return of Thomas will help the offensive side of the field, but the responsibility will lie on the defence. Can they stifle a Panthers offense looking for a resurgence after the stutter last week? Can they keep their own attacking group in the game? That will be the key in unlocking a positive game script for the Saints. In doing that, they will be able to allow Kamara and Murray to feel the benefits.
Los Angeles Chargers (vs. JAX)
Although they too will be fresh from the bye week, the Chargers come into this game without their lead back Austin Ekeler. It could be some time before he returns so the powder blue boys will need to rely on their backups – Justin Jackson and rookie Joshua Kelley.
Their first outing since Ekeler’s injury saw them split the carries. Jackson got 15 attempts; Kelley slightly further back on 11. Both did reasonably well against a Saints D Line who have performed well enough to restrict nearly 63% of runs to under 3 yards. In this instance, Jackson was stuffed more than Kelley. Although he did come out with the larger yardage – mostly due to a 36 yard gain up the middle.
In all, this week’s opponents can offer more than the 111 combined rushing yards that the Chargers got against New Orleans. As I should have done last week, I’ve gone against the Jaguars this time.
Jacksonville face a second team in as many weeks who have come off a bye week. The Chargers have had chance to take stock of errors – and plan for this fixture. And, just like the Lions did in Week 6, I’m expecting Los Angeles to come out firing and use the ground game to their advantage.
VOLUME IS KEY
And there are certainly weaknesses for Kelley and Jackson to focus on. Jacksonville have a decent ratio at stopping the run – 57% of runs that the Jaguars have faced have been 3 yards or under. But wait. Although that percentage ratio may look good, the stats show us that there is more than meets the eye.
The problem is the volume of carries that they have faced. Against the Lions alone, Jacksonville faced 39 runs. That is a huge amount considering how close this game was predicted to be to begin with. In total, they have faced 186 opposition carries. That ranks as the 3rd most for the season – behind Dallas (1st; 201 carries faced) and Houston (2nd; 196 carries faced). And, of those 186 carries, 80 have gone for 4 yards or more, and they are now second highest in conceding runs of over 11 yards.
But this volume has come about because of one aspect of the Jag’s game. And the pivotal point in this game remains the same – whether Jacksonville can get their offense going. Minshew and his offensive group have struggled without key members to rely on. Minshew’s normal connection DJ Chark has been in and out of the team with injuries. James Robinson, although making a big impact, hasn’t featured as much since the opening weeks. And there has been a revolving door of kicking personnel. While hat last one may seem a little off-topic, the ability to put points on the board will keep Jacksonville in the game. And while they aren’t doing that, their opponents are taking advantage.
The Chargers need to do the same – get themselves ahead, and bounce back from the bye and the defeat to the Saints. And, as the game moves on, they will have the chance to do that with a ground based offense.
After two out of three last week, let’s hope the Saints, Chargers and Packers can give me a full sweep in Week 7!
Until next time,