In the latest edition of this regular feature, we recap the Week 8 predictions for rushing success, and our choices for the Week 9 schedule.
RECAPPING WEEK 8
As always, let’s cover how the previous three teams did. The three teams for the Week 8 spotlights were the Patriots, the Packers and the Rams . So did the rushing game pan out for those selections?
Green Bay Packers – 24 carries, 109 yards, 0 touchdowns
Let’s get this one out of the way. Last week I said that both teams were as bad as each other in terms of their defensive record, and I could have chosen both sides. And my reasons behind picking the Packers were good. It was especially difficult for the Vikings to get Aaron Rodgers off the field in the first half. There were only five drives before the half. Four of those ended in touchdowns and the fifth was one play right at the end of that second quarter.
The problem was that Green Bay couldn’t keep up with the menace of Dalvin Cook. Cook scythed apart the Packers defence with 163 yards on the ground alone. As I said last week, Green Bay have struggled to stop anyone at the line and it showed in Cook’s rushing stats. Out of his 30 runs, the Running Back was only stopped four times at the line.
Cook steamrolled the Vikings ahead with three rushing touchdowns and a catch and run from midfield to change the game script. And with Aaron Jones ruled out of the game the Packers had only Jamaal Williams and rookie AJ Dillon to fall back on.
Their rushing stats may not have looked as impressive as Cook’s but Williams still managed a 4.7 yards per carry average. 16 rush attempts gave him 75 yards – which could well have been more had the Packers been able to stop the dominant Cook.
With Aaron Jones in play, this could have gone the way of the Bay. But I’m happy to hold my hands up and say that I chose the wrong side last week, and move on.
New England Patriots – 34 carries, 188 yards, 2 touchdowns
The Patriots could have won this game had it not been for Cam Newton’s costly fumble at the end. New England decided against overtime and ended up coming away with the loss.
But the prediction of a successful run game does give me a win in this column to counteract that Packers pick. All rushing personnel ended up with a rushing average of over 4 yards per carry. And rookie Damien Harris proved his fantasy relevance by breaking through 100 yards on the day. Both he and Cam Newton managed to get themselves a rushing score as well. The Bills showed their weaknesses against the Chiefs, and the Patriots found those same gaps.
Los Angeles Rams – 29 carries, 131 yards, 1 touchdown
It’s difficult to understand why the Rams moved away from rushing the football when they were doing so well with it. Darrell Henderson and Malcolm Brown were moving the football and the Rams even managed a rushing touchdown through Robert Woods. Where did he go? You guessed it – the left end of the offensive line. Incidentally that area only saw three runs the whole game, and still averaged 7.3 yards a carry.
Perhaps it was the Dolphin’s defensive heroes that did it. They came to the rescue in this game, helping propel their team into a amazing offensive positions. They even helped out with a fumble return touchdown – and Jakeem Grant took a punt return to the house as well.
Sadly, this flipped the game script, although Cam Akers flashed brilliance on his return from apparent retirement. He saw 9 carries for 35 yards, which was tied for his most carries since Week 1. This could be promising news for the Rams, it just wasn’t enough to help turn the tide this week.
Still, I’d consider this a win for the analysis.
Week 9 picks
So, who are we going to go with this week?
PITTSBURGH STEELERS (@DAL)
I’ve decided that I need to take my easy picks while I’ve got them. Pittsburgh stand alone as the last undefeated team in the division. And, on paper, this should be a straightforward way of keeping the streak very much alive. Not just because of the form that these teams have coming into the match. But the stats back this up as well.
And the key for this could be with Pittsburgh’s defensive unit. Their rush defence saw a slight upset this week when the Ravens managed to hammer 265 yards past their them. Rookie J.K. Dobbins got over 100 yards, Gus Edwards got a touchdown and Lamar Jackson had an end-zone rush ruled out for a penalty.
But the Ravens’ rushing yards against the Steelers was more than that defence has conceded in the three previous games combined (251 yards vs. Titans, Browns and Eagles). In fact, there has only been one team to put up more than 100 yards before that game – the Broncos in Week 2. They have been adept at keeping the rushing quiet, including names like Derrick Henry, Miles Sanders and Kareem Hunt.
And herein lies a huge problem for the Cowboys offense. Dak Prescott is out for the season and Andy Dalton looks unsteady even without a concussion. If Ben DiNucci is left to ‘sling it’ then that offense might need to turn to Ezekiel Elliott once again. It’s something that the Eagles predicted, keeping Elliott to 63 rushing yards. And the Steelers will be ready for the same to happen this week. If the Cowboys continue to stall their offense, then the Cowboys defence will be facing Big Ben and his weapons more often than they’d like.
THE REAL STEEL
If the game goes the way as expected (and plenty of people believe it will), then Pittsburgh will have opportunities to take this game by the scruff of the neck. And, based upon the Dallas defence, the rush game can be the way to do it. The Cowboys have faced the most rush attempts of any team this year (266), partly because of their anaemic offensive efforts of late. For perspective, the second-placed Chiefs have only faced 238.
Furthermore, the percentage of those runs that have gone for over 4 yards is the second highest in the league – 52.3%. This is likely because they have struggled to slow down runners, whichever direction they come from. Whether the run comes through the centre, the tackles or around the ends, opposing running backs have seen a carry average of over 4 yards.
The worst affected area is the offensive right tackle, where the average yards per carry is 5.86 – 7th worst in the NFL. Incidentally, the Cowboys have faced 36 runs through that area, higher than any other NFL team. Coincidentally, that same area is where Pittsburgh see 8 yards per carry – their best zone average. In fact, the Steelers’ right tackle average is the best in the NFL.
So this could be a match made in heaven for the Steelers’ runners. If they can keep hitting those weak points, and finding those gaps, then rushing success and a 8-0 streak, should be on the cards.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS (at GB)
Watching the Packers’ defence getting destroyed last week by the Vikings has made me go for the easy option. But again, not because they concede the most fantasy points to the position. The matchup can provide more insight.
KITTLING ME SOFTLY
The Niners’ seem to be having the worst luck with their injuries this season. Two returning pieces of the offense lasted barely a few games before returning to the doctor’s table. And the Niners’ can not take losing Jimmy G and George Kittle too lightly. Now they have to come back to Nick Mullens. The backup QB did a good job behind the line, and managed to get a better QB rating than Russell Wilson!
Which should hopefully help them when it comes to playing the Packers. His performance and connection with the Wide Receivers should give the Green Bay defence cause for concern. In turn, it should take players away from the defensive line and allow holes to appear for runners to find.
And, if there’s one thing that the Packers have had difficulty with, it’s plugging those holes. Although the Packers have faced amongst the lowest number of rushes, Dalvin Cook‘s stellar performance last week considerably raises that number. And they now rank joint-worst in keeping opposing rushers at the line of scrimmage. Of the 179 rushes that the Packers have faced, only 25 have been stuffed.
The difficulties don’t just end there. Opposing rushes around the right end of the offensive line have produced the highest average against the Packers – over 10 yards a carry. Which bodes well for the Niners, who are fond of using the ends of the offensive lines to take carries. They have directed over 60 carries in those directions, and have seen an average of 6.2 yards/carry using those ends. So, even with Deebo Samuel out, Brandon Aiyuk could see some sneaky success taking those balls on an end around.
STINGS FROM LAST TIME
This is a risky game to choose, as the status of Aaron Jones had an effect on the outcome of the game last week. His injury meant less of an impact from the backfield and likely swung it in the favour of the Vikings. This time, his presence could have another negative impact – taking the game script in favour of the Packers. And Aaron Rodgers will be doing his upmost to make sure that he doesn’t repeat last week’s divisional defeat. However, recent reports suggest that Jones is a doubt for Thursday night’s game. Tyler Ervin is also questionable. Furthermore, after AJ Dillon’s positive COVID test, Jamaal Williams has also been ruled out due to being a close contact. With Green Bay potentially missing all of their first four Running Backs, this game becomes a whole lot more predictable for San Francisco. And it goes very much in their favour.
Which is lucky, because the lack of clarity in the Niners’ backfield, combined with the injuries to their stalwarts, does make this seem like a desperation pick. In a way, it is. But certainties have not come out for me before. So I’m turning to the Niners’ defence to keep them in the game…and the Packers defence to keep them in it as well.
ARIZONA CARDINALS (vs. MIA)
After the Bye Week, Kyler and the Cardinals come back into my selections. And, let me tell you – after the Dolphins decided to bring the pain to Jared Goff, it was a tough decision to choose their opponents. But, ultimately, that defensive unit is the exact reason why I’ve chosen the Cardinals this week.
There is no denying that the Dolphins defence played the game of their lives against Los Angeles. The fantasy points kept racking up, with two forced fumbles, two interceptions and two DST touchdowns. That brings the number of fumbles up to 6, and the interceptions up to 7.
But for all their heroics against the Rams last week, the Dolphins have only papered over the cracks that have been forming in their rush defence. When they weren’t mishandling the ball, the Rams managed to put 131 yards and a touchdown past the Dolphins this week. And, of the seven games that the Dolphins have played, 5 games have seen their opponents score over 100 yards rushing. Their last three games have also been above this mark.
But where are the weaknesses that the Cardinals can exploit? Well, they are very similar to last week’s. Just 43% of runs against the Miami defence were stopped at under 4 yards. That is the lowest in the league. They’re also the team with the second highest percentage of runs that go for between 4 and 7 yards – 35% of runs make it that far.
KYLER IS THE KEY
Jared Goff isn’t well known for running, nor is he notorious for escaping the pocket at whim. However, Arizona have somebody who can do both. Kyler Murray might be the key to opening up this Miami defence.
The Dolphins still have a glaring weakness against runs from the left end of the offensive line. Although the average has dropped slightly, they are still conceding 9.61 yards per carry. That’s where Robert Woods bagged his rushing touchdown last week. And the edges are also where Kyler Murray finds his most effective runs.
Murray has made 65 rushes so far this season. 23 of them have been up the middle of the offensive line, but 37 of them have gone around the sides of the offensive line. 20 have gone to the left side, with 17 to the right. Incidentally these areas are where Kyler finds his most effective runs – 11 of these runs have gone for over 10 yards.
His presence alone will be causing many headaches for the Miami Defensive Coordinator. And not only does Murray pose a running threat, he now has a few half-decent Wide Receivers to use as well. So that’s even more for the defensive staff to get their heads around.
LOVE THE CHASE
And that doesn’t even take the addition of Chase Edmonds into the mix. In stark contrast to Murray, whose runs flitter between the centre and edges, the vast majority of Edmonds runs have been up the middle (21/29 rush attempts). But Edmonds was the pass-catching back before Kenyan Drake‘s injury – and currently ranks third in targets this season. Now Drake is out, Edmonds takes on a bigger role. With that comes the possibility of Edmonds being used for the run OR the pass. And that’s yet another coverage conundrum to consider.
Arizona have got the potential to give Miami the run around with their whole offense. The question is whether they can keep that hungry Dolphins defense at bay to allow that rushing success to come.
With hope, join me next week for a better set of results across the board,