Pushing the Rushing: Find the Gap Week 8
In the latest edition of this regular feature, we recap the Week 7 predictions for rushing success, and our choices for the Week 8 schedule.
Recapping Week 7
As always, let’s cover how the previous three teams did. The three teams for the Week 7 spotlights were . So did the rushing game pan out for those selections?
Green Bay Packers at HOU – 27 carries, 96 yards, 1TD
It was a decent week all round for the selections. The Packers produced the lowest numbers of the three chosen teams. But the amount they still put up is nothing to turn up your nose at. With Aaron Jones suffering a calf strain in the days leading up to the contest, there were doubts that this prediction would come through. But Jamaal Williams has already seen a generous amount of carries this season. With those under his belt, he settled in just fine. He was only stopped at the line on three of his 19 carries, and ended up with a respectable 4.1 yards per attempt. He also got himself a rushing touchdown for his efforts on a vital bounce back game for the Packers.
Aside from that, Aaron Rodgers seemed determined to keep pace with Russell Wilson and recover from his showing against the Buccaneers. Passing touchdowns outscored rushing by 4 to 1. However, the Texans rushing defensive record suggests that the gap could have been closer had they so chosen…
New Orleans Saints vs. CAR – 29 carries, 138 yards, 1 TD
Next up is the Saints, who used their two running backs in a similar way than was suggested last week. The carry split between Alvin Kamara and Latavius Murray was relatively even. Kamara’s 14 attempts produced 83 yards, while Murray’s 11 carries picked up 47. That put them both over 4 yards per carry. But neither of them managed to sneak a touchdown in from the 1 yard line, as was the way on the night. That privilege went to Drew Brees, who made sure that the ball crossed the plane before pulling it back. The play was reviewed – which was fortunate as Brees fumbled the ball shortly after scoring.
I did mention the script in the previous week’s article – and could the Saints defence help keep their offense ahead in the game. Well, the answer was no – they allowed the Panthers back into the game. And the script wasn’t assured as a result. Ultimately, the Saints still managed to find some rushing success. But it could have been so much more.
Los Angeles Chargers – 32 carries, 135 yards, 2TDs
There were question marks around Justin Jackson’s health leading into this game. As a result, Joshua Kelley was earmarked to get the majority of plays. But it turned out that Jackson could play. But either way, it didn’t really matter, because both Running Back’s numbers were small compared to those of de-facto OROY Justin Herbert.
Herbert is steadily proving so many people RIGHT in their predictions for how he would do this season once he got the nod. And, as well as his incredible throwing, has shown such effectiveness with his feet as well. His 9 carries gave some vital movement in drives, picking up 66 yards. He also grabbed himself a touchdown, finding a gap in the end-zone coverage and diving in for the score.
The Chargers have also been making good use of their Wide Receivers in end around plays and movement before the snap. Joe Reed slammed his way into the end-zone on a particularly evasive route through defenders very early on in the game. Even with Kelley and Jackson available, Los Angeles are still making it difficult for defenders to guess where the rushing is coming from.
So, who is getting the nod this week? Due to last week’s bye, we were missing several teams who have been poor against the rush. Does one of their opponent’s get the go-ahead look? Yes.
LOS ANGELES RAMS (at MIA)
The Dolphins are in the crosshairs on their return from the bye. On its own, their rushing defence has struggled – but that’s not the only reason I’m choosing their opponents this week.
Let’s cover the usual reasons why I have placed Miami as the fall guys this week.
The Dolphins have faced 148 runs in total up to Week 8. That volume is relatively low, based on the fact that they have taken their bye week, and other teams haven’t. However, that does not excuse the fact that the percentage of rushes they have kept to three yards or below is the smallest in the NFL. Of those 148 runs, only 68 have seen 3 yards or less. That leaves just over 54% of carries (80) that have been 4 yards or over – the highest percentage in the league.
On the other side of the ball, their opponents have been very carry-happy. The Rams have run the ball the most of any NFL side up to Week 8. So it would not be surprising to know that they have had the most runs of three yards and under (116) AND the most runs of four yards and over (105).
When it comes to dealing with such large differences in numbers, percentages can help even out the playing field. And in doing so, Los Angeles’ effective run (4 yards+) percentage of 47.5% ranks 9th in the NFL. That’s a very promising number when coming up against a defence that concedes effective runs.
STILL NOT A STRONG SIDE
This is also a team that struggles against runs to the outside of the offensive line, particularly on the left hand side. I previously mentioned this when the Dolphins came up against the Niners. Surprise, surprise, this was precisely the area where Raheem Mostert hit a huge run to move San Francisco down the field. Ty Johnson, the latest New York Jets Running Back, also hit a 34 yard run through that same area in the next week.
The Dolphins have faced only 15 runs around that side of the line. Yet they have conceded 9.99 yards per carry – just under 150 yards. And it just so happens that they come up against the team that have the most runs in that direction. The Rams have directed 41 carries around the left end, four more than the Ravens in second.
This has been particularly effective with pre-snap movement to pull defenders away from that left hand side. The Rams showed of several examples of this move against the Bears on Monday night.
Many of these runs have come from Wide Receiver end arounds, particularly from Robert Woods. But current lead back Darrell Henderson has also seen a sizeable share or runs in that direction. In last week’s game alone, 5 of his carries went to the left end – the shortest of which was 5 yards. So, if Henderson and the offensive personnel continue to direct traffic down that weaker side, then they should be onto a winner.
Now all they need to do is read this article!
CHANGING OF THE GUARD
A separate reason I feel that this could be a big game for the Rams defence is the changing of the face behind the line. No longer will Ryan Fitzpatrick be able to sprinkle his magic.
No, now it is Tua time.
No-one would ever consider that Tua will have been put in without being fully tested by the Dolphins staff. And not just in a medical sense, but in a sense of play-time situations. But the Dolphins come up against a fearsome pass rush. Aaron Donald and the rest of the Rams defence made life extremely difficult for the Bears on Monday night. If they can make an experienced Quarterback struggle even more than usual, what can we expect from a rookie starting his first game?
And that’s not all. The outgoing Quarterback was quick on his feet. He was able to scramble, pick up those yards and keep those drives going. Their new, shiny Quarterback is coming off a serious injury and is untested in those crucial situations.
One or two offensive mistakes could lead to the loss of a drive or even a turnover. A few more could lead to a team falling behind. And while these potential errors will likely get ironed out with time, we are talking about the game in front of us. So there might be other reasons to consider the Rams getting that extra rushing volume.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS – at BUF
After their horror show on that wet night against the Chiefs, the rushing stats do not look good for the Bills. I noted in a previous article that the team’s previous opponents have made their stats look favourable. After last week’s game, they rank 29th (4th worst) in conceding runs of 4 yards or over. A seemingly easier game against the Jets may have made those numbers more palatable. As it stands, the stats are now, on the whole, a fairer reflection of the Bills’ schedule so far.
But even the Jets game saw 6 of Frank Gore’s 11 runs go for 7 yards or over. Over 50% of the timeless back’s carries were effective. And his backup LaMical Perine also managed a run of 20 yards during his 11 carries. So, without the distraction of a mobile Quarterback, there were still plenty of chances for the two Jets Running Backs to deal some damage.
And, for the New England Patriots, one area that isn’t lacking for personnel at the moment is that Running Back room. At last count, there were four fit ball-carriers in that position. And that’s without Sony Michel, who snuck onto the COVID list at some point during his injury.
However, there doesn’t seem to be a bonafide lead back this season. And that’s because Cam Newton has been making plenty of runs himself. The Quarterback has got 50 runs already this season, with 244 yards and 5 touchdowns to show for his efforts. The Running Backs remain behind him, with carries split relatively evenly between them.
ALL EYES ON ME
Newton is very good at focusing attention on him – not least due to his flamboyant dress style. And getting the Buffalo Defence’s attention will also be key in this match up. Much like Mahomes and Edwards-Helaire in the Chiefs game, the Patriots have an opportunity to make disguise and decoy plays to keep the defenders on their toes. Newton can extend plays and make those scrambles when needed.
This could continue the trend of Quarterbacks being a outlet of attack against the Bills. Ryan Tannehill made 42 yards from 4 carries in Week 5, while Mahomes picked up 38 yards from 8 carries. Even Derek Carr, not often known for his mobility, made 20 yards of four carries. Newton is actively involved in the rushing game, and has effectiveness at running the ball (4.9 ypc). So it stands to reason that he can give this offense a much-needed kick start.
And, as we all know from Buffalo’s disastrous outing against the Chiefs two weeks ago, they can not defend against a rushing game. Clyde Edwards-Helaire put up a record-breaking number of yards against them. And the Chiefs racked up a whopping 7 runs that went for over 10 yards.
In fact, coming into Week 6, the Bills had only conceded 12 runs that went for over 10 yards. That number has nearly doubled in two weeks (7 vs. Chiefs; 3 vs. Jets). And now they face a team who have recorded the 5th highest number of effective runs in the NFL this season. So would it be unreasonable to suggest that the Patriots can continue to stack on top of that number this week? I don’t think so.
Bill Belichick must be tearing holes in his shirts thinking about what can be done to solve the Patriots’ offensive problems. But, when you consider the two sides’ strengths and weaknesses, there may be hope for him in this divisional matchup.
GREEN BAY PACKERS vs. MIN
This could be a risky pick – potentially the riskiest of the week. Both teams have got equally terrible defensive records against the rush. Both have proven themselves vulnerable to rushing personnel this season. The Packers have really struggled to stop rushing personnel at the line of scrimmage, with the second lowest number of stuffs in the NFL. And Minnesota have conceded the fifth highest percentage of effective runs this season (50.81% of opposing have gone for over 4 yards).
So, both teams that are both finding defensive aspects of their game difficult. And these are two teams who also have RB1-calible backs returning to the side, with Aaron Jones and Dalvin Cook looking to return after minor injuries. Both have been setting the NFL alight with their play. And, given the opportunity, either of these Running Backs can go to town on the opposition’s defence this week.
But that seems a little bit of a cop out to say that both sides are my pick.
So I’m going to side with Aaron Jones, his brilliant back up Jamaal Williams and the Green Bay Packers this week.
WHAT ABOUT THE POINTS?
“But Rob, the Packers are top of the list for conceding fantasy points to Running Backs! Why are you not choosing the Vikings?”
Well, I could and it could be the right pick. They’re both as bad as each other in defending against aspects of the run. But simply choosing them because of that standing is, frankly, lazy.
Looking back several weeks, the main reason that I chose Tampa Bay to beat the Packers is due to how good their defence is. Stopping Aaron Rodgers and his offensive mastery was the key in making sure that the Bucs won. And they did. The Packers defence was defeated simply through prolonged exposure.
However, getting Rodgers off the field is the area that the Vikings will struggle in. And we don’t need to theorise. These two teams have already played each other in Week 1. Rodgers shipped four passing touchdowns past the Vikings that day, without an interception or a sack. Comparatively, Kirk Cousins threw a first half interception to put the team on the back foot, and got sacked twice. If anything, it was Cousins leaving the field more often than Rodgers.
In fact, Cousins’ 2020 touchdown and interception record is far from sterling. 11 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Only one game where no pick has been thrown, and 3 interceptions alone in one half of football against the Falcons in Week 6.
These picks have often come when the Vikings are chasing the game, even when they are just one score behind. Three drives in a row against the Colts saw Cousins throw interceptions, trying to get his team back in the game. And, if the Vikings struggle with Rodgers once again, picks when chasing the game could be a key contributing factor for momentum. It can only swing the game script further towards the Packers.
Once the game’s direction has been decided, this can be the time for Jones and Williams. They can take advantage of that struggling Vikings rushing defence and begin to total up the numbers. If they haven’t already been doing so, that is!
Join me next time to see how these teams got on!
Until next time