The Eagles have been a pass-centric team all season long, so the initial reaction to the loss of Miles Sanders to an ankle injury for an undetermined amount of time was that they would lean even more on an aerial attack.
It turns out that might not be the case, as coach Nick Sirianni aimed to shut that notion down when he said, “You just can’t abandon [the running game] when one guy goes out. It’s got to be next man up.”
The Eagles have taken a lot of grief for relying too much on analytics to make decisions over the years, but in this case the numbers agree with Sirianni, as rushing prowess is overwhelmingly based not on the quality of the back, but rather the quality of blocking.
I have been breaking down run blocking for over 15 years, and every study done in that span indicates that plays with good run blocking (very roughly defined as when the offense doesn’t allow the defense to disrupt a rush attempt) are three to four and sometimes even five times as productive as plays with bad run blocking.
The metric used to gauge this production is called good blocking yards per attempt (GBYPA). Last year, the leaguewide average in GBYPA was 8.5 yards, whereas the leaguewide pace on bad blocking plays was 1.9 yards.
The GBYPA trend extends to individual backs as well. J.K. Dobbins topped all qualifying running backs (100+ planned rush attempts to qualify) in GBYPA last year with an 11.5-yard mark. This shows just how impactful the ground game can be when the offense excels at run blocking, but the more important measurement here are the 7.1 GBYPA totals posted by Mike Davis and Frank Gore. They ranked tied for last among qualifying backs in GBYPA and still managed to tally the kind of production pace that can keep a ground game moving.
It’s also worth noting that Sanders posted a 9.7 GBYPA last season, a total that placed 11th, but Boston Scott wasn’t very far behind him with a 9.1 GBYPA and Jalen Hurts was fairly close with an 8.7 GBYPA.
Add all of these trends to the Eagles having led the league in good blocking rate last year and posting superb good blocking rate totals this year on the rare occasions when they run the ball and Sirianni is correct. This team should be able to rush with topflight effectiveness even with Sanders on the sideline.
Here is this week’s gambling 10-pack, a section that reviews some of the top gambling, fantasy, and DFS plays for NFL games in Week 8 (gambling odds per BetMGM).
1. Eagles fans who didn’t already have Kenneth Gainwell on fantasy rosters have probably already picked him up due to Sanders’ injury, but those managers should also not forget about potentially adding Scott to the lineup. This duo could split the between the 20 rushing attempts between them, and Scott may end up as the goal-line back of that tandem. That latter talent could come in handy against a Lions rush defense that has played better of late but is still a weak link for Detroit.
2. The Packers are in a tough way due to COVID-19, as they will be missing wide receivers Davante Adams and Allen Lazard for this matchup, but Green Bay’s offense was already in a bad spot because they have a short week road matchup against the superb Cardinals defense. Arizona is understandably known for its offensive prowess with Kyler Murray, DeAndre Hopkins, and now Zach Ertz operating in the creative Kliff Kingsbury system. But the Cardinals rush defense has been superb (115 yards allowed in the past two games), Robert Alford is a shutdown cornerback (4.0 yards per target allowed on 33 targets this year), and they have tallied 14 takeaways in seven games. It will all be too much for Green Bay to overcome, so take Arizona minus the 6.5 points.
3. Daniel Jones makes for a good upside play in fantasy football this week, as the Chiefs provide the Giants with the most favorable passing defense matchup in Week 8 per my matchup grading system. This matchup could also make any Giants wide receiver a quality fantasy/DFS start, but it may take keeping a close eye on the injury reports this week to make a call on that, as this is a Monday night game and the Giants active players may not be clarified until 90 minutes before kickoff.
4. Don’t be surprised if the Vikings pass defense fares much better against Dallas than is generally anticipated. Minnesota’s defense was awful last season, but it is finally starting to look like a Mike Zimmer platoon again, as the Vikings have allowed fewer than 200 net passing yards in three straight games, have racked up five takeaways in the last two weeks, and posted three or more sacks in all but one game this season. Combine this with Zimmer likely aiming to slow this contest down with the ground game and it makes the under of 55 points a solid play.
5. Chicago could make for a great fantasy D/ST addition given its improved play of late. Before the Tampa Bay matchup, the Bears had posted three-plus sacks in five straight games. The 49ers’ pass blocking has been average at best this year and Jimmy Garoppolo ranks 24th in interception rate, so Chicago’s defense could fare well in an early kickoff road trip for San Francisco.
6. Atlanta should be favored by much more than three points in a home contest against Carolina. The Falcons offense is finally showing signs of being an Arthur Smith-led platoon, as it has racked up 847 offensive yards the last two weeks and has scored 27-plus points in three straight weeks. The Panthers have collapsed in nearly every area after a great early start, as their passing offense and pass rush have both fallen to near the bottom of the league levels over the last month. These trends indicate the Falcons are arguably as much as seven points better than the Panthers and thus should be favored by as much as 10 in this matchup, so take Atlanta minus the points.
7. There are four games with double-digit point spreads this week: Miami at Buffalo (-13.5), Cincinnati (-10.5) at New York Jets, Los Angeles Rams (-14.5) at Houston, and the New York Giants at Kansas City (-10). The most favorable of these matchups looks to be the Bengals over the Jets. The Jets defense has been atrocious this year, as it has given up 24-plus points in every game since Week 1, allowed 1,431 offensive yards over the last three weeks, and completely fell apart in a 54-13 obliteration against New England last week. Cincinnati will face that squad with potential rookie of the year Ja’Marr Chase and Joe Burrow, but now has added a secret weapon in tight end C.J. Uzomah, who should be considered a must add in fantasy football. Put all of this together and the Bengals ought to be able to cover this spread.
8. It’s understandable if Eagles fans don’t want to have Carson Wentz on a fantasy team, but for those willing to put team affiliations out of their minds, Wentz can be a very good addition to fantasy squads. Working with Frank Reich has helped Wentz get rid of his penchant for throwing risky passes, as he leads the league in interception rate. The Colts’ next three foes are Tennessee, the Jets, and Jacksonville, and they have a Week 13 matchup against Houston. That kind of schedule favorability should make Wentz a superb stream starter in fantasy over the next month and a half.
9. Fantasy managers looking to gain a potential injury insurance policy player may want to add Washington’s J.D. McKissic to their teams. McKissic has been a good point producer this season (he ranks 24th in RB fantasy points per game this year in ESPN leagues) and could end up with even more workload if Antonio Gibson has to be shut down for a time due to a shin injury. Fantasy managers in deeper leagues could also consider adding Jaret Patterson, who is the third-string running back on Washington’s depth chart.
10. Another stockpile name to consider in fantasy football is Marlon Mack. The Colts are looking to deal Mack before next week’s trade deadline and have been trying to feature him when possible. Mack has played well during those featured plays and thus could draw some attention if a contending club loses a running back to injury this weekend. Mack is available in nearly all fantasy leagues and thus might be available for next to zero cost in a move that may have a big fantasy payoff starting next week.