Every year we hear about how disposable the running back position is becoming in the NFL. In some cases that may be a function of how many players are capable of stepping and playing the position at an NFL level, but there's also a need for many teams to break up the workload, either based on specialties or lack of a dominant performer.
Add injuries to the mix, and last week sent three more nominal starters (Cedric Benson, Ryan Williams and Donald Brown) to the sidelines, and it becomes a war of attrition in some cases.
Consider the following touches for each team's runners:
Arizona - Ryan Williams (65), Beanie Wells (30), William Powell (8)
Atlanta - Michael Turner (81), Jacquizz Rodgers (41)
Baltimore - Ray Rice (104), Bernard Pierce (20)
Buffalo - C.J. Spiller (57), Tashard Choice (34), Fred Jackson (32)
Carolina - DeAngelo Williams (52), Jonathan Stewart (29), Mike Tolbert (21)
Chicago - Matt Forte (68), Michael Bush (63)
Cincinnati - BenJarvus Green-Ellis (98), Brian Leonard (9), Bernard Scott (8)
Cleveland - Trent Richardson (101), Chris Ogbonnaya (16)
Dallas - DeMarco Murray (77), Felix Jones (9)
Denver - Willis McGahee (97), Lance Ball (20), Ronnie Hillman (19)
Detroit - Mikel Leshoure (47), Kevin Smith (35), Joique Bell (25)
Green Bay - Cedric Benson (85), Alex Green (12)
Houston - Arian Foster (142), Ben Tate (39)
Indianapolis - Donald Brown (63), Vick Ballard (22)
Jacksonville - Maurice Jones-Drew (98), Rashad Jennings (15)
Kansas City - Jamaal Charles (117), Shaun Draughn (45), Peyton Hillis (26)
Miami - Reggie Bush (98), Daniel Thomas (40), Lamar Miller (23)
Minnesota - Adrian Peterson (109), Toby Gerhart (34)
New England - Stevan Ridley (107), Danny Woodhead (41), Brandon Bolden (39)
New Orleans - Pierre Thomas (50), Darren Sproles (45), Mark Ingram (38)
N.Y. Giants - Ahmad Bradshaw (74), Andre Brown (44)
N.Y. Jets - Shonn Greene (79), Bilal Powell (33)
Oakland - Darren McFadden (75), Marcel Reece (14), Mike Goodson (13)
Philadelphia - LeSean McCoy (115), Bryce Brown (15)
Pittsburgh - Isaac Redman (51), Jonathan Dwyer (28), Rashard Mendenhall (16)
San Diego - Ryan Mathews (49), Jackie Battle (42), Curtis Brinkley (38), Ronnie Brown (28)
San Francisco - Frank Gore (85), Kendall Hunter (40)
Seattle - Marshawn Lynch (121), Robert Turbin (24)
St. Louis - Steven Jackson (84), Daryl Richardson (41)
Tampa Bay - Doug Martin (79), LeGarrette Blount (14)
Tennessee - Chris Johnson (85), Darius Reynaud (7)
Washington - Alfred Morris (102), Evan Royster (15)
There are many teams that are committed to number one backs; this isn't to suggest that it's committees all around, but as injuries accumulate throughout the season and teams spread out the workload -- look at Kansas City's distribution, for example, even though Charles ranks third in touches -- there are changes to monitor week after week when it comes to NFL running games.
This week, that means James Starks, William Powell and Vick Ballard are among those slated for more carries. Last week, it was Rashard Mendenhall, Ahmad Bradshaw and Ryan Mathews re-establishing their No. 1 roles. Next week, we'll have new names to keep an eye on.
Now, a look at the Week Six matchups:
PITTSBURGH (-6) at TENNESSEE
Pittsburgh rolls into Tennessee with a more balanced attack, now that Rashard Mendenhall is back in the lineup and that gives the Steelers a leg up on the Titans' 28th-ranked run defence that has allowed 144.2 yards per game. Of course, the Titans don't offer much of a counter as Chris Johnson has been held uner 25 yards rushing in four of five games this season.
If Tennessee is going to find a way to keep pace with the Steelers, and understanding that it may not be likely for Johnson to run effectively, then that would mean finding passing success against the third-ranked Steelers pass defence. However, with OLB Lamar Woodley out, the Steelers' pass rush won't be quite the same, and the absence of SS Troy Polamalu takes a playmaker out of the Pittsburgh secondary.
To that end, the Titans will need a big game from QB Matt Hasselbeck, of course, but if he can spread the ball to wide receivers Nate Washington (former Steeler), Kendall Wright and Kenny Britt, maybe the Titans can get enough big plays to stay in the game.
OAKLAND (+9) at ATLANTA
Oakland has the 28th-ranked pass defence, which immediately conjures problems when going against an Atlanta offence that is averaging 281.6 passing yards per game (ranking seventh in the league). That means potentially big days for any (or all) of Atlanta's prime targets -- Roddy White, Julio Jones or Tony Gonzalez.
The Raiders' best chance to keep close with Atlanta would be to grind out yards on the ground, with RB Darren McFadden central to the gameplan, but Oakland's 32nd-ranked running game isn't an ideal matchup, even against Atlanta's 27th-ranked run defence.
DALLAS (+3.5) at BALTIMORE
From week to week, it's hard to gauge what the Dallas Cowboys will bring to the table. QB Tony Romo is the key - when he's on, the Cowboys have enough weapons (and the fourth-most passing yards per gme) to put pressure on the Ravens secondary which, aside from CB Lardarius Webb, has been open for business.
Dallas' pass defence, on the other hand, ranks first in the league right now, allowing 169.5 passing yards per game, so that could pose matchup problems for Baltimore's new-and-improved aerial attack. However, if that leaves the Ravens to run an under-utilized Ray Rice more often than they have so far this season, that can still work. Whether Dallas might be able to mount any kind of rushing attack to keep the Ravens' defence honest, on the other hand, is also fair to question since DeMarco Murray has run for a total of 106 yards (on 41 carries) in the last three games.
CINCINNATI (-1) at CLEVELAND
The Bengals were held in check by Miami last week, but still have a solid offence, particularly in the passing game, where QB Andy Dalton not only has star WR A.J. Green, but an improving supporting cast which includes Andrew Hawkins and Armon Binns.
The good news for the Browns, who rank 26th against both the run and pass, is that they get lockdown CB Joe Haden back from suspension this week and if Haden can neutralize Green, that will go a long way towards giving the Browns a fair chance to earn their first win.
Furthermore, the Browns have been getting decent production from rookie QB Brandon Weeden and RB Trent Richardson, which was expected to some degree, but they are also finding new options in the passing game, since Greg Little's drops have cost him favour in the offence.
With Mohamed Massaquoi out, that means Jordan Norwood and rookie Josh Gordon have taken on bigger roles for the Browns and expanding the options for Weeden gives the Browns a chance, but they could just as easily provide competitive opposition on the way to another loss.
ST. LOUIS (+3.5) at MIAMI
This could be another meat-grinder of a game for the Rams. St. Louis generated a great pass rush against Arizona last week and putting that kind of pressure on Dolphins rookie QB Ryan Tannehill does increase the possibility of forcing turnovers.
Additionally, while Tannehill has started to gain some level of comfort with WR Brian Hartline as his preferred target, the Rams have the corners, Cortland Finnegan and Janoris Jenkins, that will make it difficult for Hartline to get loose, especially if defensive ends Chris Long and Robert Quinn are forcing Tannehill to release the ball quicker.
That means that Reggie Bush could be the Dolphins' best weapon. His primary complement in the backfield, with Daniel Thomas suffering a concussion, could be Lamar Miller, who is averaging 5.5 yards per carry in a reserve role.
From the Rams' perspective, they will be hard-pressed to run against Miami's top-ranked run defence, but they hardly have the personnel to take advantage of Miami's 27th-ranked pass defence, even if it's possibly worse without CB Richard Marshall, who is battling a back injury.
The Rams have a pedestrian passing attack at the best of times and now that they have lost Danny Amendola for the next month, or more, there are going to be more opportunities for Brandon Gibson, Chris Givens and, potentially, Steve Smith, but none of those players has established that they can be the focal point of an offence.
INDIANAPOLIS (+3) at N.Y. JETS
Jets QB Mark Sanchez is coming under fire -- as though he should be just fine throwing to Jeremy Kerley and Chaz Schilens as his starting receivers -- but should have a better chance to produce this week.
Even though the Colts' pass defence is ranked 13th, allowing 225.3 yards per game, they won't have their top pass rusher, OLB Robert Mathis, and any quarterback is better with more time to throw.
Of course, the Jets actually need to have some semblance of an effective offence because it's likely that the Colts will find a way to move the ball. QB Andrew Luck has been forced to throw a lot, but he's gone over 300 yards in three of four games and it's not unreasonable to think he can do that again facing a Jets secondary without Darrelle Revis.
With Donald Brown out for 2-3 weeks after knee surgery, Indy's running game will be in the hands of Vick Ballard, who has run 21 times for 42 yards this season; all the more reason to expect Luck to focus his attention on receivers Reggie Wayne, T.Y. Hilton and Donnie Avery.
DETROIT (+4) at PHILADELPHIA
Coming off a bye, the Lions have the second-ranked passing game (322.0 yards per game) yet they've still been generally disappointing, so they face a tough matchup against the Eagles' secondary, boasting corners Nnamdi Asomugha and Domique Rodgers-Cromartie.
Looking for balance, the Lions have a better running game, with Mikel Leshoure and, potentially for the first time this season, Jahvid Best, so they should be equipped to challenge Philadelphia, but the Eagles have been grinding out close games and nearly did it against the Giants last week too.
If Michael Vick plays well, that opens the door for the possibility that this game could be a shootout, with plenty of talent on both offences, but until Vick stops turning the ball over, expect the Eagles to keep him under wraps as much as possible.
KANSAS CITY (+4) at TAMPA BAY
Brady Quinn will be under centre when the Chiefs visit the Buccaneers and while Quinn has struggled at times in his NFL career, he shouldn't represent a huge drop-off from Matt Cassel and, going against the Bucs' struggling secondary, that means yards will be available for Dwayne Bowe and Jon Baldwin.
Where the more interesting matchup comes will be at the point of attack, where the Chiefs rank second in rushing yardage, with Jamaal Charles leading a group that averages 180.8 yards on the ground and they face a Tampa Bay defence that ranks fourth in rushing yards allowed (73.8 per game).
Tampa Bay has struggled offensively and won't find it easy against Kansas City, who held the Ravens to three field goals last week and has a pass-rushing tandem, Justin Houston and Tamba Hali, that can make life difficult for Bucs QB Josh Freeman.
BUFFALO (+4.5) at ARIZONA
Reeling after back-to-back blowout losses, the Bills go on the road to face a vulnerable Cardinals team that, despite being 4-1, has holes even the Bills might be able to exploit.
The first and foremost problem for Arizona is their offensive line, which isn't creating holes in the running game or protecting QB Kevin Kolb. Buffalo's defensive line has come under fire, justifiably, for its recent performance, but if DT Kyle Williams and DE Mario Williams can't take advantage of Arizona's O-line problems, then it's going to be an indictment of the Bills' defence.
Arizona's ground game is going to fall to William Powell and LaRod Stephens-Howling, third and fourth on the depth chart coming out of camp, after injuries to Beanie Wells and Ryan Williams.
NEW ENGLAND (-3.5) at SEATTLE
New England obviously presents a test for the Seattle defence which, in its own right, could present problems for Tom Brady and Co. The Patriots' recent success running the ball certainly helps their chances, but the Seahawks have the third-ranked run defence, allowing 66.6 yards per game.
If that means more passing for Brady, to Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd and Rob Gronkowski, well, Brady will have to do it against a strong Seahawks secondary and a pass rush that has been bolstered by rookie Bruce Irvin.
While Seattle's defence presents challenges for New England, the Patriots defence should be problematic for Seahawks rookie QB Russell Wilson. New England's defensive weakness is the passing game, but Wilson has struggled to put up big yardage, leaving a lot of the offensive load for RB Marshawn Lynch and the Patriots won't hesitate to fill the box in order to force Wilson to make plays.
N.Y. GIANTS (+6.5) at SAN FRANCISCO
Following their loss at Minnesota, the 49ers have throttled the Jets and Bills, re-establishing their defensive dominance and now they will try to keep that roll going against a more accomplished Giants offence.
Giants RB Ahmad Bradshaw ran for 200 yards last week against Cleveland, but he will find it much more difficult to get loose against the Niners, even if running the ball may be the best course of action against San Francisco's defence.
New York's chances would get a boost if WR Hakeem Nicks is able to play, which remains uncertain, but he's the kind of playmaker that can win matchups on the perimeter.
As for the Niners, they are coming off a spectacular offensive showing against Buffalo. While it's not going to be duplicated this week, the efficiency of the San Francisco passing game figures to be a problem for the Giants' shaky secondary, particularly if the G-Men aren't getting a dominant pass-rushing performance from ends Jason Pierre-Paul and Justin Tuck.
MINNESOTA (+1.5) at WASHINGTON
This line is off the board in many locations while awaiting official word on the status of Redskins QB Robert Griffin III, who suffered a concussion last week, but appears on target to start Sunday.
Griffin has the benefit of an improving supporting cast. RB Alfred Morris has back-to-back 100-yard rushing games, but the Vikings are strong against the run, so it might be better to take to the air, with Pierre Garcon, Josh Morgan, Leonard Hankerson and Santana Moss all capable options. Morgan jumped ahead of Hankerson on the depth chart last week, though both were held to just one catch.
Minnesota is a surprise at 4-1, but they're legit, not only because of a strong defence, but because RB Adrian Peterson hasn't looked any the worse for wear in his comeback from knee surgery. Peterson suffered a sprained ankle last week, but he'll be motivated to return against Washington, since he suffered his torn ACL against the Redskins last December.
Beyond the running game and defence, though, the development of second-year QB Christian Ponder, who has enough receiving options, including wide receivers Percy Harvin and Jerome Simpson as well as tight end Kyle Rudolph, any of whom could go off against a Redskins secondary that has allowed 328.6 passing yards per game, ranking 31st in the league..
GREEN BAY (+3.5) at HOUSTON
The Packers have the personnel to be dominant offensively, but rank 15th in rushing yards and 20th in passing yards, so something is obviously amiss. They've missed WR Greg Jennings somewhat, but Jordy Nelson, James Jones and Randall Cobb are more than enough to keep the ball going downfield.
The running game presents a more pressing concern for the Packers. Cedric Benson is out for the next couple months, at least, leaving James Starks and Alex Green to fill the void against Houston's top-shelf defence.
One component missing from that defence, however, is ILB Brian Cushing, who suffered a torn ACL on a dirty block against the Jets last week, so it will be worth the Packers exploring whether or not the Texans have a hole left in the middle of that defence. Otherwise, though, the Packers' offensive line will have its hands full blocking DE J.J. Watt, the best defensive player in football this season, ranking second in sacks (7.5, just behind Green Bay's Clay Matthews, who has eight) and third in pass deflections (eight, the only non-DB with more than five).
Houston's offence has focused heavily on RB Arian Foster, which has been effective, but if the Packers can move the ball and score on Houston's defence, it's possible that the Texans will have to pass more frequently. Certainly more than last week, when top WR Andre Johnson managed just one catch (on six targets) against the Jets.
DENVER (+1) at SAN DIEGO
The Broncos have played well enough against Atlanta, Houston and New England to show that they aren't in the upper echelon, even if they rallied late to make the final scores more respectable. However, the Chargers aren't at an elite level either, so this should be a competitive matchup.
For all of the criticisms of Peyton Manning's arm strength, the Broncos have the fifth-best passing yards per game and face a Chargers secondary that ranks 20th in passing yards allowed, so look to wideouts Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker for productive games.
San Diego's passing game isn't really a threat, at least until TE Antonio Gates gets back on track. WR Malcom Floyd has been good and WR Robert Meachem scored a couple of touchdowns in his return to New Orleans last week, but Gates has just 13 catches for 143 yards in four games -- his 35.8 receiving yards per game is his lowest since his rookie year of 2003.
What the Chargers may have working in their favour, though, is that RB Ryan Mathews had a strong game at New Orleans and the Broncos have been more vulnerable against the run so far this season.
Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@bellmedia.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen. For more, check out TSN Fantasy on Facebook.