Trench Warfare: RB Matchups and Rankings Week 15
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.
RB production is hard to pinpoint and predict in fantasy football but there are some factors that make it more likely a player will succeed such as :
1. The matchups along the offensive line and defensive front seven
2. The likelihood that player will be in scoring position and the % of snaps that player lines up at RB for his team
3. The actual talent and past production of the player.
Unless notified as otherwise, all of the ratings in parenthesis are grades for the year-to-date and not just the past week.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis @ Philadelphia
Look no further than the Thursday Night thriller for one of the best matchups of the week (great job NFL scheduling committee, two of our prime time games this week are Eagles/Bengals and Jets/Titans). Green-Ellis has been on a role in recent weeks, rushing for 336 yards on just 56 carries ( 6.0 ypc) in his past 3 games. He finds himself matched up with a Philadelphia Eagles defense that ranks as the fifth-worst at stopping the run (-27.4)
Key Matchup: The key matchup is Bengals RT Andre Smith (+9.8) who has been one of the best Right Tackles in the game this year and he will find himself matched up with undersized LE Brandon Graham for most of the game. Rookie RG Kevin Zeitler (+4.1) has also been great in the run game this year.
Trends/Tendencies: It is no surprise that the LawFirm finds his best success running off Right Tackle, behind Smith, where he has carried the ball 33 times for 189 yards (5.7 ypc). Look for the Bengals to exploit this strength and for BGE to find success.
Joique Bell @ Arizona
After taking a beating 58-0 to Seattle last weekend, Arizona is the NFL’s sorriest team. Marshawn Lynch put up over 30 fantasy points against a defense that was on the field far too long and looked like it was trying to make a point that Ken Wisenhunt needed to be fired. While the Lions playoff hopes may be dead, Jim Schwartz is looking for a feel-good blowout victory. This one seems perfect. While he was not named starter yet, Bell has started to get a majority of touches and even goal line work. Against bad teams, the Lions are around the red zone a lot (Ex: @Jacksonville, Leshoure had 3 rushing TDs)
Key Matchup: Arizona has the third-worst graded run defense in the league (-30.2). Once a dominant player, LE Darnell Dockett is battling through injury and has also quit on his team. He’s been atrocious in defending the run (-13.1). LILB Paris Lenon has been worse (-14.4) and the best matchup for the Lions will be to run off of Right Guard and Right tackle. This matchup works out perfectly for Detroit as their best run-blocking lineman has been RG Stephen Peterman (+6.0)
Trends/Tendencies: Bell played 44 snaps to Leshoure’s 31 last week and it looks like a changing of guard has finally taken place in Detroit’s backfield and Leshoure’s burst is not fully there after his Achilles injury in 2011.
Ahmad Bradshaw/ David Wilson @ Atlanta
*Update: Multiple Giants beat writers are predicting that Ahmad Bradshaw will not make the trip to Atlanta. If this is true, David Wilson is a sure-fire RB1 in this incredible matchup and with his electric skill set and a workhorse role.
Either of these two options are good flex/RB2 plays against the Falcons and their fourth-worst run defense in the league (-27.2). If Bradshaw sits, then David Wilson immediately becomes an RB1 and Top 10 option for this week after his 100 yard rushing game last week. While the Faclons run defense has officially collapsed in the last two weeks (-16.2), the Giants run blocking has continued to improve (+31.9) on the year and they are now the fifth-best run-blocking team. The Giants will look to stay balanced on Sunday and each back should get a healthy dosage of carries and plays.
Key Matchup: Giants RG Chris Snee (+6.0) against Falcons DLT Jonathan Babineaux (-7.0) who is also playing through an injury in recent weeks. The Giants can exploit this and attack off Right Guard for quick holes.
Trends/Tendencies: Ahmad Bradshaw and David Wilson have rushed a combined 34 times for 191 yards off of Right Guard through the right-middle of the defense, averaging just under six yards-per-carry.
Matchups To Avoid
Stevan Ridley vs. San Francisco
Ridley’s fantasy success is becoming more and more dependent on whether he scores a touchdown or not. His fumble in the redzone on MNF can’t go a long way to helping him increase those touches. He rarely if ever receives any swing passes or screens, so his value is dependent on rushing yards and touchdowns. He finds himself matched up against PFF’s best run-defense (+77.1) without his best blocker on the edge for another game (Gronkowski). I advise to bench Ridley for your fantasy playoffs matchup.
Key Matchup: Ridley’s best success has been running off of Right End, where he has averaged over five yards-per-carry, though he has sorely missed Gronkowski in recent weeks. TE Michael Hoomanawanui played his most snaps by far last week as an in-line TE (46) and he has struggled in run-blocking for the time he’s played (-2.3). He will be matched up on the edge with LE Ray McDonald (+6.9) and LOLB Ahmad Brooks (+10.4). It doesn’t look like running of right end will work for Ridley this week.
Trends/Tendencies: Ridley played only 31 snaps this past week, his lowest total since Week 8. With Brandon Bolden returning and Shane Vereen carving out a bigger role, we may see a change of guard in New England.
Vick Ballard @ Houston
While Ballard has carved out a feature-back role due to injuries to Donald Brown and Delone Carter (both out this coming week) he is about to match up against the third-best run defense thus far (+54.1) in a week where they will be hungry to avenge an embarrassing loss on MNF against a division rival. Ballard should struggle to get any yardage going this week.
Key Matchup: LT Anthony Constanzo (+9.1) has been a very strong run-blocker, and the Colts have ran Ballard off of left end and left tackle more frequently than any other spot. In this case, they can run away from LE J.J. Watt towards the weak side of the defense. ROLB Connor Barwin (+5.5) is a stout run-defender and should have his hands full with Constanzo but the Texans play great team defense.
Trends/Tendenices: 62 of Ballard’s 143 rushes have come off of left end or left tackle.
Montell Owens @ Miami
I know, I know, this Owens guy was available in all your leagues and when you really needed a RB or flex play he was there for you last week agains the Jets picking up 15+ fantasy points! Listen, the Jets run defense has been in the middle of the pack all season long. Miami’s scheme and front seven talent has them graded out as the seventh-best run-defense in 2012 (+30.3). Miami has a good chance to get ahead in this one, and it will be a struggle for Owens (the former special teamer) to find carries and goall-to-go opportunities.
Key Matchup: The Jaguars block well on the edges using FB Greg Jones (+4.8) and TE Mercedes Lewis (+5.6). However, in this matchup, LE Cameron Wake (+6.8) has really rounded out his game this season and turned into an impressive run defender on the edge. The Jaguars would like to attack the right end and right tackle direction, but will run into Wake and a strong resistance.
Trends/Tendencies: Montell Owens earned the highest single-game grade of any Jaguars RB in 2012 since Maurice Jones-Drew went down to injury.