Splitsville: Chain movers

Michael Salfino
Yahoo Sports

My theory with running backs is that it’s extremely important to have them tied to quarterbacks who can move the chains on third down, keeping them on the field and creating a constant stream of carries.

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Third down? No problem for Aaron Rodgers (USAT)

The NFL has stats now that give us yards over average for quarterbacks on third down, adjusting for the distance of the conversion and factoring in the average gain in these situations by all quarterbacks. But of course, that doesn’t mean you want those RBs because committees and just the quality of that team’s running game/backs are also a factor. These are the quarterbacks that provide the best environment for their backs:

Leaders in yards over average this year on third down: Aaron Rodgers (209.22), Matt Ryan (186.07), Colin Kaepernick (152.52), Matthew Stafford (138.33), Peyton Manning (128.73), Philip Rivers (107.10), Cam Newton (104.94), Drew Brees (88.61).

Trailers on third down: Tom Brady (minus-190.67; WOW!), Mike Glennon (-173.11), Blaine Gabbert (125.83), Brandon Weeden (97.78), Michael Vick (-97.05), Andy Dalton (-68.51), Carson Palmer (-66.09), Ryan Tannehill (-65.35), Tony Romo (-65.32). Again, the point here is that these quarterbacks are not providing a great running environment for their backs because they have been unable to convert on third down. So this is a running back stat more than a QB stat. Use it that way.

And running well when the down marker resets to “1” is key, too, for running backs to increase their volume. Here are the leaders among current starters in yards gained on first down. I’m not including Andre Ellington’s 8.33 due to sample size issues. But you can if you want. Also Donald Brown, the latest running back to be better than Trent Richardson without his team caring, is at 6.10 without many opportunities.

Leaders in average gain on first down, again according to the NFL: Darren McFadden (5.33), Zac Stacy (5.12), Matt Forte (4.99), Adrian Peterson (4.96), Alfred Morris (4.93), DeMarco Murray (4.89 but remember Romo has been bad on third downs), LeGarrette Blount (4.77), Frank Gore (4.60), Bilal Powell (4.50), Marshawn Lynch (4.50).

Trailers: Steven Jackson (1.07 and I accept everyone’s apology for ripping me for listing him as obscenely overvalued all summer), Montee Ball (1.91 and okay I sucked with Ball or should I say the Broncos sucked in picking Ball), Stevan Ridley (2.52), BenJarvus Green-Ellis (2.97), Daniel Thomas (3.03), Rashard Mendenhall (3.03), Ray Rice (3.21), Trent Richardson (both teams, 3.37).

[Watch: Why the Steelers will upset the Patriots]

Continuing to focus on the running game, here are the offensive lines with positive grades based on analysis by ProFootballFocus.com of every linemen on every play in all games: Eagles (plus-15.6), Seahawks (13.5), Panthers (10.5), Redskins (8.4), 49ers (7.8), Texans (6.7), Packers (5.1), Colts (4.9), Bears (4.5), Vikings (3.9), Browns (3.8), Bucs (3.1 and pretty damning for Doug Martin).

Worst run blocking lines: Bills (minus-10.5), Ravens (-9.6), Jaguars (-7.7), Jets (-6.1), Giants (-5.9), Titans (-5.1), Cowboys (-4.8), Steelers (-4.0), Bengals (-2.8), Cardinals (-2.4), Broncos (-2.4), Chargers (-2.4). It’s hard to blame the backs on these teams for their lack of success. Cross reference this list with the first-down rushing average list, too. But remember for the backs, the result is the same whether or not it’s their fault.

Yards per point is a great stat that we can use to see which teams are over and underachieving in touchdowns, obviously important in our fake game. The NFL average every year is usually around 15.0 yards per point. Turnovers and field position (which are clearly linked) play a big role here as does, of course, red zone efficiency.

Eight teams are easily beating the league average: Broncos (10.9), Cowboys (11.9), Bears (12.1), 49ers (12.6), Colts (12.9), Vikings (13.1), Seahawks (13.2), Panthers (13.5). Let’s agree there at least isn’t a lot of upside in these offenses and downside if they regress to the league-average rate.

On the other end of the spectrum are teams that are grossly underachieving in the points scored relative to the yards they gain. Here we have the Jaguars (26.7 yards per point but I am not saying to get Jaguars, only that the Jaguars have left a lot of points on the field), Houston (21.9), Bucs (20.8), Giants (18.6), Jets (18.5), Eagles (18.1), Steelers (18.0).

A factor in these stats for the Jaguars especially may be garbage time, where yards are easier and points harder, it would seem. That’s a study for another day though.

As always, here’s your guide to picking matchups for your offensive players.

Toughest pass defenses: Seahawks (10.5 fantasy passing QB points allowed per game based on season-to-date statistics), Steelers (12.2), Panthers (13.7), Chiefs (13.8), Titans (14.4), Texans (15), Patriots (15), Saints (15.4), Colts (16), 49ers (16.3).

Easiest pass defenses: Vikings (26.1), Bills (25.2), Falcons (25.1), Redskins (24.5), Cowboys (24.3), Eagles (23.6), Broncos (23), Jaguars (22.8), Jets (22.4), Packers (21.8).

Toughest run defenses: Panthers (9.6 fantasy points per game to RBs based on full-season stats, not including catches or receiving yards, which are in the passing stats), Cardinals (11.1), Ravens (11.3), Jets (11.5), Chiefs (11.8), Bengals (12), Bucs (12), Chargers (12.3), Bills (13.3), Packers (13.5).

Easiest run defenses: Jaguars (25.9), Redskins (20.9), Steelers (19.9), Vikings (19.1), Bears (18.6), Titans (18.6), Texans (17.4), Browns (17.1), Dolphins (17), Rams (16.9).
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