Lance Zierlein

The Smash Mouth

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Spiller's Struggles & More

Thursday, October 3, 2013

There is an uneasiness settling in amongst fantasy owners as those stud running backs we expected to light up scoreboards simply aren’t doing it. Doug Martin is still getting the touches but can’t find much room, and the same can be said for Adrian Peterson who has an offense that begs defensive coordinators to put as many defenders in the box as possible.

The good news is that passing games will continue to flourish around the league if the pass protection is as good for as many teams as I saw this week. I had an “A” grade in pass protection for 10 of the 30 teams who played last weekend. Granted, I also gave “F” grades to 6 teams, so there is that.

Today I will give you a few of my observations from the trenches around the league, I’ll highlight four must-see matchups along the offensive line, and we’ll take a look at “explosive plays” for some of the top running backs in the league up to this point in the season.

Moving the Sticks

* If I’m the Indianapolis Colts, there is no way I’m putting Samson Satele back in the starting center spot over Mike McGlynn, who moved from right guard to center for the injured Satele before the Week 3 49ers game. Satele is athletic but wasn’t playing well at the time of his injury, and McGlynn has shown more power and consistency. That is exactly what Chuck Pagano wants from his run game.

* I’ve been surprised at the number of holes that Buffalo Bills running back C.J. Spiller has missed this year. I’m not saying there is massive running room for the Bills' speedster, but his vision has definitely failed him at times and it is all there on the All-22.

* Maybe moving from one side of the offensive line to the other isn’t so easy after all. Rookies Lane Johnson, Eric Fisher and Luke Joeckel have all struggled early -- especially with pass protection -- after moving from the left tackle spot in college over to the right side. Joeckel and Fisher are showing improvement, but Johnson is going to have to prove that he’s strong enough to drop anchor, which was a concern I had when he came out of college.

* The San Francisco 49ers should continue to see success for Frank Gore as long as they stay committed to the run. Teams are attacking the mesh-point between Colin Kaepernick and the running backs on zone-read plays, and they are forcing Kaepernick to give the ball to the back. While Kaepernick’s rushing total will be lower per game than last year, it should create an advantage for Gore and the offensive line in front of him.

* When the New England Patriots wanted and needed to run the football against the Falcons, they did. The Patriots opened and closed the game (1st and 4th quarters) with a total of 106 rushing yards, which was 80.3% of their yardage total for the day. The Patriots used their power game, trap plays, and toss plays and beat on the Falcons with three different running backs in an impressive display of imposing their will. While the passing game has been uncharacteristically inconsistent, the running game might end up becoming a much bigger part of the equation moving forward.


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The Big 4 Matchups

1. George Selvie/DeMarcus Ware vs. Broncos OTs - If there is one thing I know, it is that defenses have absolutely no prayer of stopping or even slowing Peyton Manning unless they heat him up. Selvie has a sack in 3 of his first 4 games while Ware still has something in the tank. Monte Kiffin’s defense must get pressure by just rushing four, and Selvie and Ware have a favorable matchup against tackles Chris Clark and Orlando Franklin.

2. OLB Justin Houston vs. RT David Stewart - Houston leads the league with 7.5 sacks and can beat tackles with solid quickness or straight ahead bull rushes. Stewart is a reliable hoss on the right side, but his pass protection is vulnerable, and with a less mobile quarterback under center now in Ryan Fitzpatrick, this matchup will be critical.

3. Packers O-line vs. Lions D-line - Two talented rookies will battle it out with LT David Bakhtiari going up against DE Ziggy Ansah. Both players are very athletic with Bakhtiari having the edge in polish and Ansah having the edge in raw talent. The real key to this matchup, however, is the Packers' guard play against Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley. The explosiveness of the Lions' defensive tackles may be too much for the Packers to handle.

4. DE Robert Quinn vs. LT Luke Joeckel - There is very little reason to watch this game from a fantasy standpoint, and even less reason to watch it as a pure football fan, but I am excited to see how the rookie tackle does in his first NFL start back at LT against one of the tougher edge rushers in the league in Quinn.

Explosive Running Games

* STATS Ice defines “explosive carries” as runs of 15+ yards. This past week, Frank Gore and Reggie Bush both had four explosive rushes. Here is a look at the top 20 RBs with a minimum of 25 carries:

Player Carries 15+ Yard Runs Explosive Carry%
Frank Gore   61   6   9.84
LeSean McCoy   78   7   8.97
LeGarrette Blount   34   3   8.82
Knowshon Moreno   46   4   8.70
Jamaal Charles   70   6   8.57
Reggie Bush   48   4   8.33
Darren McFadden   53   4   7.55
Alfred Morris   56   4   7.14
Ben Tate   34   2   5.88
James Starks   34   2   5.88
David Wilson   38   2   5.26
Marshawn Lynch   79   4   5.06
DeAngelo Williams   62   3   4.84
Chris Johnson   84   4   4.76
Lamar Miller   43   2   4.65
Matt Forte   69   3   4.35
Fred Jackson   48   2   4.17
Doug Martin   100   4   4.00
Arian Foster   76   3   3.95
Adrian Peterson   92   3   3.26

* The three highest percentages for running backs with at least two explosive rushes but under 25 carries went to Shane Vereen (28.6%), Andre Ellington (18.2%) and Donald Brown (15.4%).

* Shane Vereen and LeGarrette Blount combined for 7 explosive rushes over 48 carries (14.58%) while Stevan Ridley has just 1 over 47 carries (2.13%).

* It may surprise you that Doug Martin isn’t that far off from his explosive rush % from last year of 4.7%. What this tells me is if he can get any improvement up front, Martin should be ready for some bigger days ahead.

* Last year, 11.5% of Adrian Peterson’s carries went for 15+ yards, while this year he’s at a measly 3.26%. The Vikings continue to stay in formations that actually create 8- and 9-man fronts, so I hope Peterson has his shoes tied tight for the rest of the season. The formations and personnel groupings the Vikings are using aren’t doing him any favors.

* Arian Foster hit 19, 18 and 17 explosive rushes in 2010, 2011 and 2012 respectively. This year he is on pace for 12 and he has the lowest explosive % of his career.

Lance Zierlein is sports talk show host on KMBE 790 AM in Houston, Texas. Follow him on Twitter @lancezierlein.
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