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The Week 4 slate began with a hard-fought AFC North battle between the Browns and Ravens. As expected, the Browns fought gamely against a Ravens squad that played one of the more grueling schedules seen in recent memory. Fans were excited to get the fantasy week started with Joe Flacco, Torrey Smith, Anquan Boldin (sleeper) and a pair of top-notch running backs at the ready.
Trent Richardson didn’t find much running room against Haloti Ngata and the Baltimore front (47 rushing yards on 14 carries), but he did score for the third straight game. Richardson added four receptions for 57 yards to put owners over the top.
Conversely, Ray Rice failed in his goal-line opportunity and watched Flacco run it in himself. Rice finished with 96 total yards on 26 touches (eight receptions for 47 yards). He’ll enjoy the long break before facing the Chiefs in Week 5. In the interim, he did post a message of apology to his fantasy owners on Twitter last night.
I would be remiss if I failed to acknowledge the return of the “real” referees for Week 4. The referees received a standing ovation before calling 18 penalties and sweating out a “Hail Mary” attempt by Brandon Weeden. Welcome back.
Let’s leave the Thursday game behind and spotlight the good, bad and ugly for the week to come. It’s time for another round of “Lineup Calls.”
Jamaal Charles vs. SD
Some fantasy owners are still hitting up the Twitterverse to ask Sit-Start questions concerning Charles this week. Unless you’re in a league that only allows a single RB, Charles is in your lineup. He logged nearly 90 rushing yards in tandem with Peyton Hillis in Week 1. Charles then left the Week 2 contest against Buffalo with a knee injury, prompting many owners to retreat. Of course, we’re well aware of his 91-yard sprint to daylight in Sunday’s comeback against the Saints.
The Chargers have effectively limited running backs to 59 rushing yards per game. However, opposing backs have made their mark in the passing game, producing 25 receptions for 165 yards (55 yards per game).
BenJarvus Green-Ellis at JAC
Bang the drum for “The Law Firm” this week! The Jaguars allow the third-most fantasy points to running backs, surrendering 170 total yards and two touchdowns per game (Minnesota, Houston and Indianapolis).
Green-Ellis has averaged 18.7 carries and 68 yards per game with two touchdown plunges. Look for Andy Dalton to post another big day downfield with Green-Ellis ready to pounce at the painted stripe.
Ryan Mathews at KC
Mathews had his opportunity to make a huge splash in his return to the field, but he fumble near the goal line. The Chargers were blacked out on television last week, and those fans that stayed away probably were happy when they saw the final score of that debacle. Mathews amassed 76 total yards on 15 touches in the lopsided loss (five receptions for 32 yards).
Mathews exited the game without a setback, and that allows fantasy owners to start him without hesitation in Week 4. He’s a prime play against the struggling Kansas City defense. The Chiefs have allowed the 11th-most points to running backs this season (145 total yards and a touchdown per game).
Frank Gore at NYJ
Gore and the 49ers met a swarming and aggressive Vikings defense in Week 3. He ran well (5.3 yards per carry), but the 49ers couldn’t convert on third down and establish the normal dominance at the line of scrimmage.
This week’s matchup doesn’t look particularly attractive. You think “J-E-T-S.” You think about a dominant defense. To date, the Jets have allowed the eighth-most fantasy points to running backs (165 total yards per game with four touchdowns). Look for the 49ers to get back to basics in the trenches.
Doug Martin vs. WAS
Don’t fear the current ranking of the Redskins against the run. Washington has played the Saints, Rams and Bengals, teams that torched their beleaguered back-seven. The Redskins have allowed the 13th-fewest points to running backs (96.7 total yards per game with two touchdowns).
The Tampa Bay offense is hardly a dominant proposition. Martin is averaging 3.4 yards per carry, and Josh Freeman is wildly inconsistent. However, Martin remains one of the few true workhorses in the NFL right now. He’s posted at least 20 touches in each of the Buccaneers’ first three games.
Michael Turner vs. CAR
Turner is losing touches to Jacquizz Rodgers. That’s not going to change. Rodgers posted an equitable split of touches in Week 3 against the Chargers and will remain a fixture in this offense on passing downs. However, I’m still anticipating a big day from Turner against the Carolina front. The Panthers have allowed the fifth-most points to running backs, surrendering 133 rushing yards per game.
Stevan Ridley at BUF
Fantasy owners felt like they’d been “Shanahan’d” by Bill Belichick in the Sunday night game against the Ravens. Tom Brady and the Patriots changed up tempo and looks, thereby relegating Ridley to a committee situation and a limited touch count (13 carries for 37 yards). Look for Ridley to post a bigger touch count and borderline RB1 numbers this week against the Bills (17th against running backs at 128 total yards allowed per game). Try and buy him at the low point right now.
Alfred Morris at TB
Morris’ main competition for touches in the Washington backfield is his quarterback right now. Roy Helu, Jr. was placed on injured reserve, thereby solidifying Morris’ role for the foreseeable future. Morris has posted at least 16 carries in each of the Redskins’ first three games while averaging 4.3 yards per carry (three touchdowns).
He dips into mid-RB2 territory this week against Tampa Bay. The Buccaneers have allowed the seventh-fewest fantasy points to running backs (116.7 total yards with two touchdowns).
Cedric Benson vs. NO
Benson probably rates more as a “must-start” option this week against the heretofore woeful New Orleans defense. The Saints have been dominated by running backs, ceding 643 total yards with six touchdowns to the Redskins, Panthers and Jamaal Charles of the Chiefs.
Benson has hardly been dominant with his 3.1 rushing average, not the schedule has been terribly friendly with the 49ers, Bears and Seahawks in the first three weeks. However, he has been given a sizable workload in back-to-back weeks (24 and 21 touches against the Bears and Seahawks, respectively). That’s enough to make me a believer for Sunday’s home tilt.
Ryan Williams vs. MIA
The Cardinals placed Beanie Wells on injured reserve because of turf toe, thereby putting Williams in the lead role against the Dolphins. He posted nearly 100 total yards in Week 3 against the Eagles.
The Dolphins have surrendered the 355 total yards with three touchdowns to running backs. Most of the damage was done by the Houston offense in Week 1. Miami shut down Darren McFadden in Week 2 and, well, the Jets didn’t surmount much of an effort. I’m looking for the Arizona defense to create short fields for Kevin Kolb and the Arizona offense against Ryan Tannehill.
Andre Brown at PHI
Ahmad Bradshaw is back in the starting role, but he’s not assured a huge workload coming off of his neck injury. That puts Week 3 standout Brown in position for a sizable workload in tandem with Bradshaw.
I know that the Eagles rank 10th against running backs, but the Giants post a different challenge because of the myriad receiving options available to Eli Manning. I ranked Brown as a back-end RB2 in his my first-look Week 4 rankings.
Jacquizz Rodgers vs. CAR
Rodgers logged more snaps than Michael Turner in Week 3 against the Chargers, a game dominated by the Falcons. He posted 15 touches for 67 yards with a receiving touchdown.
He’s a strong “sleeper” option this week against the woeful Panthers. I do expect Carolina to play a more inspired (check for pulse) game following last week’s debacle. However, this unit has allowed 621 total yards and four touchdowns, including 221 receiving yards on 28 receptions. That’s where Rodgers makes an impact this week.
Ben Tate vs. TEN
It’s tough to trust that Tate will receive a large workload and reward your faith as a low-end RB2 or Flex play. However, this week’s opponent has been obliterated by opposing offenses for three straight games (37.7 points allowed per game, worst in the NFL). As a result, it’s not a stretch to believe that the Texans, considered by most pundits and fans to be one of the top-3 teams in the game, will dominate this home tilt against the Titans. If that holds, then Tate is grinding up yardage and clock to salt away a Houston victory.
Opposing running backs are averaging 225 total yards per game with four touchdowns through three games (New England, San Diego and Detroit).
Mikel Leshoure vs. MIN
Leshoure posted a fantastic NFL debut in Week 3 against the Titans. He rushed for 100 yards with a touchdown on 26 attempts, adding 34 receiving yards on four receptions. Detroit fans and fantasy owners are optimistic that the Lions have finally solved the running back dilemma that has plagued them since Barry Sanders walked away.
The second-year (second-game) tailback from Illinois represents an interesting dilemma for fantasy owners this week. The potential for a huge workload and any goal-line touches makes him a solid No. 2 option this week against the Vikings. However, we watched as the Minnesota front shut down the vaunted San Francisco running attack in Week 3. The Vikings rank second in fantasy points allowed to running backs. Minnesota has yet to surrender a rushing touchdown to a running back. Temper those lofty expectations.
Steven Jackson vs. SEA
Jackson hasn’t practiced this week because of a lingering groin injury. It’s been tough sledding through three weeks, as Jackson has averaged just 3.4 yards per carry while playing through this injury.
Even if he were to suit up for practice on Friday, he’s a difficult proposition against the tough Seattle run defense. The Seahawks have surrendered 39.7 rushing yards per game to opposing running backs with two touchdowns. They rank fifth in terms of fantasy points scored per game.
Shonn Greene vs. SF
Greene nearly approached 100 yards in Week 1 against the Bills. Lost in the euphoria of him reaching the painted grass was the fact that he averaged a pedestrian 3.5 yards per carry. In road tilts against the Steelers and Dolphins, Greene averaged 2.1 yards on his 30 carries.
He faces a terrible matchup this week against the top-ranked San Francisco run defense. The 49ers have allowed the fewest fantasy points to running backs, ceding just 63 rushing yards per game. San Francisco has not allowed a rushing touchdown to a running back this season. He’s also staring at a showdown for touches against Bilal Powell, who tallied 69 total yards on 12 touches in Week 3.
Chris Johnson at HOU
Sometimes, you need to take the chalk. Last week’s game against the Lions played out precisely as expected with the scoreboard rolling over like a pinball machine. Alas, Johnson averaged 1.7 yards on 14 carries (24 rushing yards) in another putrid effort.
He faces the dominant Houston run defense. The Texans have allowed 66.3 rushing yards per game to running backs and have yet to surrender a touchdown. Johnson will eventually post a huge game (maybe?), but he’ll do so from your bench.
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