If you love old-school, ground-and-pound football, Monday night’s AFC North clash between the Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns was for you.
It was such a fascinating contest, with the two teams combining for nine rushing touchdowns to tie the all-time record (set in a pair of games back in 1922!), according to NFL Media Research. The six players who recorded touchdowns in the Ravens’ 47-42 victory included Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson (two), Gus Edwards (two) and J.K. Dobbins (one) and Cleveland’s Nick Chubb (two), Kareem Hunt (one) and Baker Mayfield (one). There’s no stopping these guys when the ball is in their hands.
Watching two of the league’s scariest and most dynamic rushing attacks made Monday night’s contest the game of the year — a true dream for us run-game lovers. With three weeks remaining in the regular season, I’ve listed the five most dangerous rushing teams in the league right now. Let’s get started.
One of the Ravens’ most telling performances of the season was the Wednesday afternoon clash with Pittsburgh in Week 12. Baltimore was completely depleted on offense, missing three key members of the rushing attack (Jackson, Mark Ingram and Dobbins) — but they found their identity by running the ball. I mean, the Robert Griffin III-led offense nearly led the struggling Ravens over the then-undefeated Steelers by doing what Greg Roman’s group does best. Since Jackson’s return in Week 13, the Ravens’ rushing attack has been utterly unstoppable, rumbling for 294 yards against the Dallas Cowboys and 231 more against the Browns on the way to a total of seven rushing touchdowns. We’ve seen how happy the quarterback is to be back on the field, where his play is again resembling his 2019 MVP performance. Jackson has provided the offense with a much-needed spark by running for 218 yards over the last two games, both Baltimore victories, to keep an AFC wild-card spot within reach. Lamar looked as dynamic as ever on Monday night, making huge chunk plays with his legs against Cleveland’s man coverage.
Jackson ranks 10th in the league in rushing yards (793) — however, it hasn’t been all Jackson. Edwards deserves a ton of credit for what he’s done for the Ravens’ top-ranked run game. Over the last three games, the third-year back has averaged a whopping 7.0 yards per carry and added three touchdowns. Ingram and Dobbins have certainly played their parts, as well, adding a combined seven rushing touchdowns this season. The sheer depth of Baltimore’s run game is unmatched. With this group heavily featured in Roman’s scheme, the Ravens should have no issue running the table down the stretch.
While the Ravens feature a four-man band out of the backfield, the Titans’ success in the run game derives almost entirely from one player: Derrick Henry. Tennessee ranks second in the NFL with 157.8 rushing yards per game, and Henry accounts for 117.8 rushing yards per game (most in the NFL). We’ve watched Henry, who has a real shot to rush for 2,000 yards this season, absolutely take over games down the stretch in the past several seasons. Since 2018, he’s averaged 113.7 rushing yards per game in November and December, more than 20 rushing yards per game ahead of any other player in such games in that span, and he’s registered three 200-yard rushing performances in December, including in Sunday’s win over Jacksonville. The Titans will go as far as Henry does — last year, that meant reaching the AFC Championship Game — due to his size (6-foot-3, 247 pounds) and punishing running style. I don’t blame guys for not wanting to tackle a player as big and fast as Henry on any given day, let alone in cold temperatures. We haven’t seen a player carry a team like this since Adrian Peterson roughly a decade ago.
Different than the Ravens and Titans, the Browns’ third-ranked rushing attack features a dynamic one-two punch in Chubb and Hunt, both in the top 11 in rushing yards this season. This unit is at its best when both of these players are healthy, and this rushing duo has the ability to carry Cleveland into the postseason and perhaps further. The former Pro Bowlers complement each other in Kevin Stefanski’s offense. Chubb thrives as a physical rusher between the tackles and a home-run hitter from anywhere on the field, while Hunt is elusive at the line of scrimmage and makes defenders miss in space at the second and third levels. Having two interchangeable backs at this point in the season is critical to Cleveland’s offensive success, like we saw Monday, and I envision this unit getting even better as the weather turns colder.
The Saints have a solid run game with Alvin Kamara and Latavius Murray, but Taysom Hill brings the attack to another level. As long as Hill is under center — and he may not be the starter for long, with Drew Brees seemingly close to a return — the Saints are almost impossible to stop. With three dangerous ball-carriers, Sean Payton has dialed up unique game plans that include QB-designed runs, something he simply can’t do with Brees. Doing so with Hill, who will still get a set number of plays at QB even when Brees returns, stretches the defense and allows for major chunk plays, no matter who totes the rock. Kamara is the most dynamic running back in the game; he can succeed between the tackles and as a pass catcher out of the backfield as a slippery rusher in space. Murray’s frame and physical style make him tough to bring down.
The NFL should fear the Indianapolis Colts right now. Behind arguably the best offensive line in football, the Colts’ run game is starting to show up just when they needed it most. Specifically, Jonathan Taylor has started to look like the player we all saw at Wisconsin after going through a rocky stretch of his rookie season, rushing for 241 yards and two touchdowns on 33 carries over his last two games (that’s 7.3 rushing yards per carry). Taylor’s just hitting his stride — and Indianapolis can complement him with a pair of playmakers in Nyheim Hines, a big asset as a pass-catcher, and Jordan Wilkins, who brings a different dimension to Frank Reich’s offense. One of the biggest improvements the run game has spurred was with regard to the play-action pass, with Philip Rivers and T.Y. Hilton taking advantage of defenses in recent weeks. Having won four of their last five games, the Colts would be wise to lean on their newfound dynamic ground game down the stretch in an effort to secure a wild-card spot.
Top 10 Running Backs
Former NFL rushing leader and current NFL Network analyst Maurice Jones-Drew will survey all running backs and rank his top 10 each week of the 2020 season. His rankings are based on this season’s efforts alone. Here is MJD’s list heading into Week 15.
NOTE: Arrows reflect changes from last week’s rankings.
2020 stats: 13 games | 297 att | 1,532 rush yds | 5.2 ypc | 14 rush TDs | 17 rec | 109 rec yds | 0 rec TDs
After a monster 200-yard, two-TD rushing performance in Tennessee’s win over the Jaguars, Henry is now the only player in NFL history with four career games with at least 200 rushing yards and two touchdowns. Who does he leave in the dust? Just a trio of Hall of Famers (Jim Brown, Barry Sanders and LaDainian Tomlinson). What a season the league rushing leader is putting together.
2020 stats: 12 games | 273 att | 1,352 rush yds | 5.0 ypc | 14 rush TDs | 37 rec | 322 rec yds | 1 rec TD
It’s certainly hard to look past Dan Bailey’s four missed kicks (three field-goal tries and one extra point), but the only Viking that truly matters in this exercise is Dalvin Cook. Tied with Henry for the most rushing TDs this season, Cook ran all over the Bucs’ top-ranked run defense for 102 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries. The Vikings played well enough to win this game behind Cook’s performance.
2020 stats: 9 games | 150 att | 881 rush yds | 5.9 ypc | 9 rush TDs | 9 rec | 96 rec yds | 0 rec TDs
Chubb morphs the Browns’ offense into a much better unit with his punishing run style and his refusal to be tackled. He’s gained +292 rushing yards over expected (most in the NFL), per Next Gen Stats. Against the Giants this week, he’ll face one of his tougher challenges: the NFL’s seventh-ranked run defense, which is allowing the second-fewest rushing yards over expected per attempt. I’ll tell you one thing — the Giants must stall the Browns’ rushing attack if they want a chance to win this one.
2020 stats: 13 games | 154 att | 723 rush yds | 4.7 ypc | 10 rush TDs | 77 rec | 699 rec yds | 4 rec TDs
The Saints haven’t quite used Kamara the same since Taysom Hill took over as the starter. He’s recorded fewer than 100 scrimmage yards in each of the last six games (the longest such streak of his career). However, against the Chiefs, he has to be one of the focal points of the offense. As one of the most dynamic players in the league, Kamara might be the one guy who can help keep the Saints competitive offensively against the Chiefs.
2020 stats: 13 games | 224 att | 1,035 rush yds | 4.6 ypc | 7 rush TDs | 46 rec | 326 rec yds | 2 rec TDs
James Robinson continued his stellar rookie campaign against the Titans and now holds the record for most scrimmage yards (1,361) by an undrafted rookie in the common-draft era (1967), surpassing the mark set by Indianapolis’ Dominic Rhodes (1,328) in 2001. The Jaguars face three tough opponents (Ravens, Bears, Colts) to close out the season, but I’m eager to see what Robinson can do.
2020 stats: 13 games | 180 att | 900 rush yds | 5.0 ypc | 6 rush TDs | 28 rec | 165 rec yds | 1 rec TD
Coming off a solid outing against Minnesota, Ronald Jones had a pin placed in his fractured pinky finger on Tuesday after injuring it in last week’s game. There’s a chance Jones could play this weekend against the Falcons. If he doesn’t play, the Bucs will be forced to go with two veterans, Leonard Fournette and LeSean McCoy, who haven’t been all that impressive in 2020.
2020 stats: 11 games | 160 att | 823 rush yds | 5.1 ypc | 7 rush TDs | 38 rec | 285 rec yds | 2 rec TDs
Aaron Jones and the Packers’ run game have taken a backseat to Aaron Rodgers’ MVP campaign, but there’s reason to believe he’ll have a big game against Carolina on Sunday. Jones’ touchdown totals are down significantly from 2019 (19 total TDs), but he could get back on track this weekend as he has scored a touchdown in all three games vs. NFC South opponents this season.
2020 stats: 13 games | 177 att | 772 rush yds | 4.4 ypc | 5 rush TDs | 31 rec | 252 rec yds | 5 rec TDs
Hunt is so fun to watch in Kevin Stefanski’s system. The former Pro Bowler led the Browns in receptions (six) and receiving yards (77), which included a game-tying 22-yard TD reception to tie the game with 1:04 remaining, in Monday night’s narrow loss to Baltimore. The effort — combined with several poor outings by others — was good enough to climb back into the top 10.
2020 stats: 12 games | 170 att | 760 rush yds | 4.5 ypc | 4 rush TDs | 42 rec | 333 rec yds | 2 rec TDs
Since returning from injury in Week 12, the second-year running back (409) trails only Chubb and Tyreek Hill in scrimmage yards. Finally providing the Bears with an efficient ground game, David Montgomery has averaged 7.4 rushing yards per carry and 96.0 rushing yards per game in that span. It’s an element the Bears must have if they want to claim a wild-card spot.
2020 stats: 12 games | 2219 att | 831 rush yds | 3.8 ypc | 9 rush TDs | 30 rec | 200 rec yds | 0 rec TDs
Even with three straight games with under 60 rush yards, Josh Jacobs still ranks eighth in rushing yards this season.
DROPPED OUT: Damien Harris, Patriots (previously No. 8); Wayne Gallman, Giants (No. 9); Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Chiefs (T-No. 10).
The Ground Index presented by FedEx ranks NFL running back performances all season long. Check out the weekly FedEx Ground NFL Players of the Week and cast your vote after Sunday Night Football.
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