We’ve seen our fair share of college and pro coaches fall by the wayside because they couldn’t or wouldn’t change with the times. Recognizing that the game is being played differently or integrating new methods to achieve goals is something that every coach should be willing to do, but that isn’t always the case. In most cases, coaches tend to get stuck in their ways.
The departure of three starters from the Chiefs offensive line caused quite a bit of fantasy writer on fantasy writer arguing with the typical smattering of Twitter fantasy owners telling you how dumb you were if you dared to say that Jamaal Charles could succeed at a high level despite his brand new offensive line. My argument was that Charles is quite a bit like LaDainian Tomlinson in his prime when “LT” excelled despite having a very average offensive line.
Of course there need to be some creases for any runner to have a big year, but Charles is special enough that you just have to give him a fighting chance and that is what Andy Reid has been doing so well over the last three games. We all know the Chiefs aren’t going to beat you with their passing game so the big fear is that Charles will see eight man fronts for huge chunks of the game. Andy Reid has been masterful at utilizing formations, personnel groupings and play design to limit the 8+ man fronts to just 27% of his carries over his last three games. During that same span, Charles has 40 carries for 203 yards against 6 and 7 man fronts.
With Travis Kelce fully integrated and De’Anthony Thomas healthy, Reid’s play-calling was as creative as I’ve seen in years. Reid played to the defense’s fear of Kelce by lining him up as an inside receiver in trips looks and having him run bubble screen looks even on running plays. This helped to take the attention away from Charles and put the Chargers in a passive mode. Reid was also using Thomas as the “over-the-top” decoy look on some of his power and inside zone plays. By using Thomas’ blazing speed as decoy, Reid is able to get defensive ends to stay at home for a split second which is all Charles needs.
Of all people, I’m not going to minimize the impact of an offensive line on a running game or a running back’s fantasy value; however, I do want to stress that there is something that your local, neighborhood play-caller can do when trying to get your favorite fantasy running back going.
The Art of Tackling
When I look for my favorite RB match-ups in my annual leagues or my FanDuel battles, one of my favorite elements to dig into is “expected output” based on consistent characteristics by the defense. Granted, there needs to be a decent sample size available before I can really start to fully trust what I find, but I feel like we are at that stage now.
Tackling is one of the most accurate indicators of team success you’ll find. You won’t hear that all that often and I understand that data can be a little limited in terms of public availability, but it is critical to wins and losses. Teams who don’t tackle well lose because they tend to give up the most yards or the most big plays. I think we, as fantasy owners, are all in the business of finding players who partake in the arts of “most yards” and “big plays”.
For this week’s games, I have created an “Expected Yards per Carry” for each team based on the offense’s ability to make rushing yards after contact and the defenses ability to shut down RBs at the point of contact through high-quality tackling. The “Expected YPC” is compared to the “Season YPC” to give us a look at what the expected difference from the norm should be. For example, the Arizona Cardinals are a team who looks like they should have an above average game on the ground while the Jets are going to find things much more difficult thanks to the tackling of the Bills.
Moving the Sticks
o I never thought Baltimore Ravens RT Ricky Wagner would ever be much of an NFL player but I was clearly wrong. Wagner has done a terrific job of stabilizing that spot in the running game and the Ravens have already gained 353 yards when running over right tackle and right end.
o Maybe it’s just me, but it sure does look like Ronnie Hillman is playing like a man who thinks Montee Ball should keep catching pine once he’s healthy. Hillman looks very fast through the hole and has more “make you miss” on the second level than Ball has.
o The Bills may say they are going with a timeshare between Bryce Brown and Anthony Dixon now that Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller are out but are we really to believe that? Dixon is a plodding banger who has to get his fantasy numbers through short yardage TDs and carries in bunches while Brown has juice to hit big plays and is much more dangerous out of the backfield.
o The revival of the Pittsburgh Steelers running game has been equal parts RB Le’Veon Bell and offensive line coach Mike Munchak. Bell’s weight loss has led to a dramatic increase in burst (despite stutter-stepping to the line of scrimmage) and he can turn the corner giving the Steelers an outside rushing threat. There are now running lanes thanks to improved technique and cohesiveness with the offensive line. The Steelers don’t have the most talented offensive line out there, but Munchak has them playing like a unit and there are far fewer breakdowns from position to position than we saw last year.
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