Trench Warfare: RB Matchups and Rankings Week 10
Each week in Trench Warfare we will take a look at the RB matchups for the upcoming week based on individual matchups in the trenches and team tendencies. Most matchup articles you will find take into account statistics you can find on NFL.com that rank run defenses based on total rushing yardage given up. In doing so, they neglect important factors. For example, if a team is ahead by multiple scores they are more likely to run the ball and this will inflate the numbers. If a defense squared off agains the two best running teams in Weeks 1 and 2, can we really deem them to be a “bad rushing defense” and one to exploit?
At PFF we have the luxury of analyzing premium statistics that are derived from game film. Every player has every snap observed and every player gets a grade. To predict the success of a RB on a given week we can look to tendencies and matchups instead. For example, if I know that Team X has ran constantly off left tackle, behind a left tackle, tight end and left guard who have consistently graded out strongly in run-blocking and is matched up against Team Y who starts a RE and DRT who struggle to defend the run — I know that we can expect Team X to run often off left tackle, and to have a great chance to win those battles the majority of the time.
Of course, any week I can just tell you that Ray Rice, Arian Foster, and LeSean McCoy are the best matchups — but that would defeat the whole purpose of this article. The idea is to give you an idea of players who are expected to perform one way, but perform the complete opposite based on trends and matchups.
You can also find my RB Rankings based on the matchups below and under each excerpt I will refer to my prediction from the previous week. *Note that in these rankings, I am advising that only these backs I allude to in the chart can safely be played as your flex or RB2. Any other option this week should be avoided due to matchup concerns regardless of their current role in the offense.
Unless notified as otherwise, all of the ratings in parenthesis are grades for the year-to-date and not just the past week.
|Rank||Player||Team||Oline Grade||Opp. Def Grade|
Best Matchup of Week 10
Stevan Ridley vs. Buffalo
When they met earlier this year, Ridley ripped off 106 yards on only 22 carries reaching pay-dirt two times and rewarding his fantasy owners with an excellent performance. From that point on, things have continued to go downhill for the Buffalo Bills run defense. For the season, Buffalo has graded out as the third-worst team in the NFL (-20.3) against the run. Bye weeks tend to help teams prepare, but x’s and o’s won’t help a front seven that is outmatched agains the Patriots blocking. Individually, the Bills weakest link has been once-promising DT Marcell Dareus (-9.9). The Bills have moved him from DRT to DLT, back to DRT and then back to DLT again but no matter where they put him he seems to lose his individual matchups.
The Patriots are a team that love to rush off the ends using their TEs, namely Rob Gronkowski (+11.4), who has graded out as one of the best run-blocking tight ends in the NFL in 2012. In fact, one-third of all of Stevan Ridley’s runs have gone off of Left End or Right End. He has run 50 times (out of 150) off either end and compiled exactly 300 yards rushing (6.0 ypc). Expect New England to motion Gronk to the left side of the formation and attack replacement RE Chris Kelsay who has graded out poorly in the two games since starting (-2.4, -2.1).
Other Favorable Matchups:
Willis McGahee @ Carolina
Well…they’re back. The Carolina Panthers as a collective whole have reclaimed their throne as PFF’s worst run defense through nine weeks (-41.5). Their brief improvement when rookie LB Luke Kuechly took over at MLB was washed away as they struggled to defend the Redskins on a per-rush basis last week. Overall, the Panthers are weak through the middle when it comes to the first line of defense (DTs) and their outside linebackers get beat and rarely make plays at the second level.
Denver has been right around league average when it comes to run blocking (+1.2). Their best blocker has been LG Zack Beadles (+3.0) and he matches up with the Carolina DT Dwan Edwards (-2.7), not to be confused with their other equally as incompetent tackle, Ron Edwards. This is a juicy matchup for Denver to exploit. 56 of McGahee’s 146 runs have gone through the middle of the line and the Broncos should continue to be successful running the ball through the weak middle of this Carolina Panthers front seven.
Frank Gore vs St. Louis
On the surface, Frank Gore matches up against only the 12th-worst run defense in the NFL in the Rams. It may not seem like the best of matchups, but when you look a bit deeper you realize that the Rams defense has gotten worse as the season has progressed. They had a bye last week, but in the week before that they took on the Patriots and Stevan Ridley rushed the ball 15 times for 127 yards (8.5 ypc). The Rams were gashed off the right end for 81 yards on just four carries. While DLE Chris Long is a phenomenal pass rusher (+12.5), he struggles to defend the run (-2.5).
The matchup is perfect for San Francisco which continues to grade out leaps and bounds ahead of any other team in run blocking (73.6) and just as importantly they love to use their backs and tight ends to block on the edge and also attack the middle of the defense. San Francisco should get out to a lead at some point in the early third quarter behind Frank Gore’s legs and some gaping holes created by their best of an offensive line.
Desperation Flex Play of the Week
Taiwan Jones @ Baltimore
Although he is just 6’0″ tall and weighs under 200 pounds, Jones displays explosive burst and ability that made Greg Cosell compare Jones to Chris Johnson and Jamaal Charles when he entered the draft. His explosion is still there even though his opportunities up until now have been sapped by injuries and poor pass protection. While most people are yammering for you to grab Marcel Reece, please remember that he is a FB and Jones will get a real shot to be the Raiders RB this week. Jones will get his shot this week against an aging and injured Baltimore Ravens defense. This is a Ravens defense that has given up back-to-back 100+ yard rushing games. You can do a lot worse in your flex this week than Taiwan Jones. The upside with Jones is much better than Marcel Reece.
Matchups Sure to Avoid:
Jonathan Stewart vs. Denver
The Denver run defense is one of the NFL’s stingiest and has graded out as the third-best so far in 2012 (+36.7). This is not the week to hope that Stewart’s new ascension into the “feature back” role is going to pay off. Carolina has not graded out well as a team run-blocking (-10.6) and they have been much worse since losing all-pro C Ryan Kalil to season-ending injury. If Denver gets ahead by multiple scores, Carolina will abandon the run and Stewart’s day will be cut short. While he can contribute in the passing game, this is not the week to expect gaudy rushing numbers. Send Stewart to your bench.
Steven Jackson @ San Francisco
The 49ers boast the second-highest graded run-defense so far in 2012 (+42.9). They are stingy up the middle, can contain on the edges, and their linebackers offer very little to opposing running backs at the second level. While the presumed return of last year’s PFF favorite C Scott Wells should provide a boost for the Rams run-blocking (+8.6) which hasn’t been so bad anyway, it may take him a few games to get back into “football shape”. With Daryl Richardson waiting in the wings and expected to steal carries as usual, and Coach Jeff Fisher talking up getting rookie Isaiah Pead some touches this week, Jackson should be sent to your bench.
Top Back Most Likely to Disappoint:
LeSean McCoy vs. Dallas
There are many factors working against McCoy this week for fantasy purposes. First of all, Dallas’s run defense is one of the stingiest in the entire NFL and has graded out as PFF’s fourth-best (34.6). Their defense as a whole, particularly agains the run, has improved tremendously in the past four weeks since NT Jay Ratliff has returned to the starting lineup. On the other side of the ball, the Eagles just lost RT Todd Herremans to season-ending injury this past game. It’s a huge loss for the Eagles as he was their second-best run-blocker for the year (+7.2) and McCoy has attempted 52 of his 146 rushes off of right tackle or right end averaging over 4.5 yards per carry. He will now have to run behind the mighty King Dunlap (-1.7) who does not project as well.