LeGarrette Blountâ€™s fantasy owners might be hesitant to give the big running back a start in Week 7 for two reasons.
For one, Blountâ€™s production has dipped since Tom Bradyâ€™s return to action. Blount was a workhorse in the seasonâ€™s first quarter, racking up 88 carries, 352 yards and four touchdowns. In Bradyâ€™s two games back, Blountâ€™s turned his 31 carries into just 87 yards. If not for two short touchdown runs, heâ€™d be all but useless in that span from a fantasy perspective.
The other reason is that Blount has a matchup against a typically stout Pittsburgh Steelers run defense. The Steelers rank in the top half of the league against the run and have held four of their six opponents to under 90 rushing yards. And, of course, when New England played Pittsburgh last year, it needed 24 carries to pick up 80 yards on the ground.
These are both valid concerns, but, in Week 7 at least, neither should pose a threat to Blountâ€™s fantasy prospects.
While Pittsburghâ€™s run defense is typically stout, there were signs of cracks in the armor, to put it mildly, last week. The Steelers got gashed by a Miami Dolphins ground game that ranks among the worst in the league. Jay Ajayi, a back who hadnâ€™t gone for more than 42 yards all season, exploded to the tune of 204 yards and downright demoralized the Steelers defense.
So whatâ€™s to explain the thrashing Pittsburgh took? Fatigue played a part, as many Steelers cramped or even vomited in the Miami heat. That wonâ€™t be an issue in chilly Pittsburgh. However, the absence of stalwart defensive end Cameron Heyward played a major part in Pittsburghâ€™s shoddy defense.
Heywardâ€™s a Pro Bowl-caliber player. Pittsburghâ€™s defense isnâ€™t exactly overflowing with marquee talent, so losing a player of Heywardâ€™s stature is tough to come back from. It showed last Sunday, when the Dolphins simply wore down and punished Pittsburghâ€™s thin front seven. The physical Blount should be able to do the same.
That is if he gets the opportunity. As noted, the controls of the offense are back in Bradyâ€™s capable hands and New England is again a pass-first team. From a season-long standpoint, that wonâ€™t change. However, given the nature of the upcoming game, Blount should get plenty of chances against the Steelers.
See, New Englandâ€™s clash with Pittsburgh once had the makings of a shootout. A showdown between AFC powers where 100 combined passing attempts wasnâ€™t out of the question. That was before Ben Roethlisbergerâ€™s torn meniscus. Now the Steelers will simply hope to have a shot at the end with Landry Jones under center. Most agree that even thatâ€™s unlikely.
If this game does play out in the manner so many expect, then New England will likely have a multiple-score lead before too long. If thatâ€™s the case, then donâ€™t be surprised when the Patriots look to take the air out of the ball (get it?). Barring a miraculous performance for Pittsburgh, that should lead to plenty of Blount throughout the gameâ€™s second half. And, given that heâ€™ll likely be juiced up to play a Steelers team that he left under less-than-ideal circumstances, that could mean a long day for the Pittsburgh defense.
The return of Tom Brady and some tough run defenses (New England still plays Baltimore, Seattle and the Jets) could spell trouble for Blountâ€™s long-term fantasy outlook, but, in Week 7 at least, heâ€™s an easy start.