A Week 5 meeting between the Atlanta Falcons and the Washington Redskins will, in both real life and fantasy football games, be hinged on how each team’s respective run game fares. This contest features not only the league’s top-ranked rushing attack, but also two top-five units in terms of defending the run.
The story for Atlanta is simple. Devonta Freeman’s been simply unreal over the past two weeks. He’s got 342 total yards in the Falcons’ past two games and that alone suggests he’s a worthy fantasy option moving forward. Tack on six touchdowns in that same time frame and you’ve got a guy who simply can’t be sat.
Against a Washington run defense currently surrendering under 80 yards per game, it’s hard to envision a scenario in which Freeman blows up for a third straight week. However, the quartet of backs Washington has faced thus far (Lamar Miller, Tre Mason, Rashad Jennings and DeMarco Murray) have hardly been killing it this season. In fact, Miller and Murray have had their best days against Washington.
The Redskins have faced off with four bottom-third offenses and now they face one that sits firmly in the top five. The strength of Atlanta’s aerial attack should open things up some on the ground. Freeman, with the fifth-most receptions among running backs, will be a factor in the passing game. It’s not likely he maintains his eye-popping pace, but, until he gives you ample reason to bench him, his is a wave you should ride.
Things get a bit more uncertain when it comes to the Redskins. Alfred Morris and Matt Jones have taken turns leading the team in rushing yardage. Each back has a 100-yard outing to their credit, but their other leading efforts have been subpar. Jones “lead” the way in Week 3 with 38 yards and Morris managed 62 in the team’s following game. After a standout opener, Morris has been held to 3.6 yards per carry or less in his following three games. If not for 38 yards on Washington’s final drive against the Eagles, his day would’ve been far worse.
And that’s to say nothing of second-year man Chris Thompson. Thompson’s seen 18 touches over the past two weeks and has managed 163 yards and a score with those looks. It’s too soon to anoint him the next leading man in Washington, but the burst he’s shown suggests he should be the recipient of more touches in coming weeks.
Like Washington, Atlanta’s run defense, in spite of their impressive standing, might not truly be a unit worthy of elite status. They shut down last year’s leading rusher in Murray, but that feat gets less and less impressive as the season wears on. After that, it stood up against an underwhelming Giants run game, got gashed by Joseph Randle and took too big a lead, too early, to let the Texans’ ground game make any noise.
The Redskins can certainly make an impact with the run and, if they’re to stand a chance in this game, will surely need to. For owners of any member of this frustrating backfield, the question is simply who is worth playing. Matt Jones looks as though he can be safely ruled out. He coughed up a backbreaking fumble and has averaged under three yards per carry since his Week 2 breakout.
Morris, though he may be a tough sell, is still the lead dog in this backfield and showed some signs of life against Philly. Morris has been a tough play over the past several weeks, but, unless you’re in an eight-team league, you likely have to play him. He could, once again, frustrate owners, but one touchdown plunge is all it would take to reward his owner’s faith. The Falcons, in spite of their high ranking against the run, have given up a league-leading seven rushing scores.
Thompson, perhaps surprisingly, may be the most appealing option in Washington’s backfield. Atlanta’s been susceptible to receiving backs all season, allowing each of Darren Sproles, Shane Vereen and Lance Dunbar at least 76 yards through the air. Thompson has showcased soft hands and the ability to break off big gains as his touches have increased. He may be a risky play, but he’s also an intriguing one – especially in PPR leagues.