Every Friday during the NFL season we review the Yahoo! weekly position ranks. When an expert breaks from the herd, they're asked to show their work. We try to focus on names near the start/sit line in public leagues, or on acts of complete lunacy. Let's play the feud…
Atlanta has allowed the fifth-fewest fantasy PPG to running backs in the past six weeks. In that span, RBs, including Frank Gore(notes), LeSean McCoy(notes), Peyton Hillis(notes), Cedric Benson(notes) and Pierre Thomas(notes), have combined to average a meager 3.2 YPC against the Falcons. Of particular interest is how Benson and Hillis, straight-line, power forward types, combined for a line of 30/98/0. Blount certainly fits the Benson/Hillis mold. Once Blount picks his direction, there’s no veering off course. And if his direction is up the gut, he’ll be in big trouble against a Falcons defense that allows just 2.9 YPC up the middle. In fact, Atlanta is stout on the left edge, as well.
Also this week, Tampa Bay could have trouble exploiting the one soft spot on the Atlanta front line, the right side, given that RT Jeremy Trueblood(notes) missed practice on Thursday and is questionable to play. True, Blount was very impressive in Arizona last week without Trueblood, but it was against one of the softest run defenses in the league. It’ll be a much different story on the road against a team many feel could be the best in the NFC. And I’m just not ready to anoint an undrafted player who has already been cut by another team this season and has just 43 career carries (33 coming against the Rams and Cardinals) as matchup proof.
LeGarrette Blount – Behrens RB rank 12, Yahoo! composite rank 17
After these last two weeks, I'm not sure what else you need to see from Blount. The rookie gained 192 yards on 33 carries in Weeks 7 and 8, he found the end zone twice, and he's demonstrated that he's much more than a short-yardage bruiser. If you have any doubts at all about Blount's skill set, I'd encourage you to the visit the tape room. This kid is now the featured back for Tampa Bay, and he's about to face an Atlanta run defense that allows 4.1 yards per carry. What's not to like?
North-South runners have been stuffed against Hot-lanta this season. Peyton Hillis and Cedric Benson are prime examples. On the year, the Falcons have yielded just 2.9 yards per carry to rushers who’ve plodded up-the-gut, the third-lowest mark in the league.
No mention of the fact that Hillis was injured when he faced the Falcons (and he still managed to score), but whatever. The point is, my colleagues are worried about the fact that opposing ball-carriers are gaining just 2.9 YPC on runs up the middle against Atlanta. This would be a serious concern for Blount if he were simply a straight-ahead, up-the-gut runner. But let's look at where his 43 carries have actually taken him so far this season (stats via Inside Edge): 18 rushes to the right (7.4 YPC), 15 to the left (4.3 YPC), and 10 up the middle (2.4 YPC).
Brandon Jackson is the definition of a question mark at the running back position. He’s carried more than 15 times or surpassed 63 rushing yards just once despite having faced some very soft competition along the way, including the two most generous fantasy run defenses in Detroit and Buffalo. A knee-jerk reaction would be to look at the 1-6 Cowboys and the four 100-yard rushing games they have allowed and assume that the near-term future is bright for Jackson. But this is no pushover defense. Dallas allows the 12th-fewest fantasy points to RBs despite having faced six of the top 12 fantasy running backs and despite seeing the 10th-most carries against (27.1 per game). To think Jackson might be able to score more than 14 fantasy points (default setup) this Sunday is to believe he can do something against the Cowboys that Arian Foster(notes), Adrian Peterson, Ahmad Bradshaw(notes), Matt Forte(notes) and Maurice Jones-Drew(notes) couldn’t. I’m guessing he’ll be lucky to get half of that.
In a lot of ways he's the new Wes Welker(notes), a nondescript AFC East player that Bill Belichick stole off a competitor's roster and instantly elevated. Woodhead has scored in three of his last five games and he's collected 38 touches over his last three appearances, so you're getting some consistency here. Cleveland's defense has been a surprise against the run this year, but you can make plays when you force their linebackers into coverage. Look for Woodhead to snag five passes or more in Ohio and come up with a handy performance from your RB-2 or flex position.Tom Brady(notes) – Funston QB rank 1, Yahoo! composite rank 9
I’ll admit that I’m extremely optimistic about Brady this week, but I think there’s an easy argument to be made that he’s more of a slam dunk play than a borderline play, as my colleagues would have you believe. I think the reasonable expectation is that Brady is going to have to air it out against an immensely improved Browns run defense that has allowed the sixth-fewest fantasy PPG to RBs, including just one rushing TD. Against the pass, however, the Puppies get pounded, allowing the sixth-most fantasy PPG and the seventh-highest QB Rating (91.2) to QBs. The Browns are not good at getting after the QB and the Patriots are one of the best in the league at protecting their signal caller. Brady is going to have ample time to pick at a defense that he knows well given that he used to see it on a daily basis when Cleveland head coach Eric Mangini was a defensive coordinator for New England.
Minus Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush(notes), the Saints ground game has been enigmatic. Rotting leftovers Julius Jones(notes) and Ladell Betts(notes) have provided little consistency. Ivory, too, hasn’t exactly been the object of dependability. Only once, Week 6 at Tampa, has the undrafted product accumulated double-digit fantasy points.
However, Week 9 is a prime opportunity for the rookie.
Strength-on-strength will be name of the game in Charlotte. The Panthers boast one of the league’s stingiest secondaries; New Orleans, a fearsome passing attack. If the Saints win that battle, the ground game should thrive. Carolina has surrendered 140.3 total yards per game and six scores to tugboats this season equal to the 12th-most fantasy points allowed. As Matt Forte proved in Week 5, a trip to Carolina can resolve just about any interior problems.
Remember Ivory racked 67 yards on just 12 carries in the division rivals’ first meeting Week 4. If the youngster nets 15-plus touches, he could flirt with the century mark, labeling him an upside RB2/Flex in deeper formats.
Steve Smith (Carolina) – Pianow WR rank 26, Yahoo! compoiste rank 17
He's at least got a chance these days now that Matt Moore(notes) has returned to action, that we can agree on. But it's not like Smith has been rewriting the record book over the past two weeks: 13 receptions, 135 yards, no scores. That level of performance does not automatically land you in anyone's starting lineup. And for all the problems in New Orleans this year, the pass defense has been steady of late; the Saints rank second over the past month in limiting fantasy points to opposing receivers. I don't want my Week 9 game resting on the erratic production of the North Cackalacky offense; Smith is a fallback option at best against the Saints.Michael Bush(notes) – Evans RB rank 15, Yahoo! composite rank 24
Over the past few weeks the Raiders have launched a ground offensive not seen since D-Day. Darren McFadden(notes) has transformed from McFake to McRake, reeling in massive paydays for those who exercised diligence. His trusty sidekick, Bush, has also been quite productive. In four of his past five contests he’s penetrated the end zone and totaled at least 60 yards, good for the 15th-best weekly output among RBs during that stretch.
Glenn Dorsey(notes) and company have significantly improved on defense, particularly in the trenches. No rusher has eclipsed 75 ground yards against them yet this season. However, outside Houston in Week 6, the Chiefs have not faced a running game equal to Oakland’s magnitude. The Raiders offensive line has dominated the line of scrimmage, creating JaMarcus-wide holes for McFadden and Bush to shoot through. In a game with significant division championship implications, the home team won’t let the freaks in the stands down.
Yes, it may seem hard to faithfully support a back netting 30-40 percent of the workload, but odds are strong Bush will again dive over the pylons. In a week overflowing with sketchy options at RB, he’s a very dependable RB2 in 12-team leagues and deeper.
It's time to stop chasing this stock, gamers. Let's examine the facts here: Mike Tolbert(notes) has a touchdown in five of the last six games; Tolbert also has a higher YPC than Mathews (4.6 to 4.4, despite all of Tolbert's goal-line work); Darren Sproles(notes) has been stealing touches of late (19 the last two weeks). It's not that Mathews lacks for ability, but the Chargers have recognized that they have a better fit for the goal line (Tolbert) and a more-dangerous option in the screen game and on third down (Sproles). Mathews did get a season-high 15 carries last week but they didn't go anywhere (43 yards). If you forced me to start one San Diego running back at Houston, I'd pick Tolbert in a heartbeat.
It seems that three-fourths of the Yahoo! expert community has written off Matt Schaub — if you need confirmation, read this or watch this. I'm the only remaining Schaub loyalist. (That is to say, I'm the only Yahoo! analyst who hasn't overreacted to last week's road loss at Indy). Schaub gets a home start in Week 9 and he'll still have Andre Johnson(notes) at his disposal — AJ practiced on Thursday, and he's coming off back-to-back 100-yard efforts. In recent weeks, the Texans have also featured Arian Foster in the short passing game (15 catches on 15 targets). I realize that Schaub is about to face the NFL's No. 1 pass defense, but San Diego is basically a paper tiger. Somehow, the Chargers still haven't faced a passing offense that ranks in the top-half of the league; six of their eight opponents actually rank in the bottom 12. Check the schedule. Most NFL defenses would look good against that slate. Houston's passing attack will be the first degree-of-difficulty challenge for San Diego's secondary. I'm expecting top-10 numbers from Schaub this week, and top-five numbers in Week 10 at Jacksonville. This isn't the time to downgrade him.
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- Peyton Hillis