RB Index, Week 6: Cowboys among teams built for 'tough' yard

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The "tough" yard.

It comes up every week in the NFL -- the fourth-and-1 scenario when the defense knows the offense is going to run the ball up the gut. The ability to get that "tough" yard will often determine a game's outcome. Teams built to convert the "tough" yard possess a strong interior offensive line to win the line of scrimmage and a tough ball carrier (quarterback or running back) who can beat the extra defender the O-line can't account for.

There are nine NFL teams who are best-equipped to gain the "tough" yard: the Baltimore Ravens, Carolina Panthers, Dallas Cowboys, Jacksonville Jaguars, Kansas City Chiefs, Los Angeles Rams, New England Patriots, Oakland Raiders and Pittsburgh Steelers. Two of these teams -- the Rams and Cowboys -- found themselves in what proved to be critical "tough" yard situations in Week 5.

Sean McVay and Jason Garrett's contrasting coaching decisions in those situations propelled their teams in opposite directions with their respective games on the line. With the Rams holding a 33-31 lead over the Seattle Seahawks and 1:39 left in the game, McVay, influenced by his players, chose to go for it on fourth-and-1 from Los Angeles' 42-yard line. Jared Goff easily picked up the first down on a quarterback sneak to secure the team's fifth win of the season. In Houston on Sunday night, the Cowboys faced a fourth-and-1 on the Texans' 42-yard line on the first drive of overtime. Instead of opting to keep his offense on the field and go for the conversion, Garrett sent out the punting unit and watched the Texans drive down the field on the ensuing drive before kicking a game-winning field goal.

Garrett defended his decision after the game, telling reporters, "Yeah, it was a long one [yard]. You know, we had a third-and-2 and we didn't make much on it, and we just felt like, at that point in the game, the way our defense was playing, the idea was to pin them down there."

A "long" yard? Come on, Jason! With Ezekiel Elliott, Dak Prescott and an offensive line that includes two All-Pros even with Travis Frederick sidelined, the Cowboys should be going for it every time on fourth-and-1 if the ball is at their own 40 or further down the field. In fact, the Cowboys have converted all three of their fourth-and-1 attempts when running the ball in that situation this season, with Dak making two and Zeke converting one.

NFL teams have converted 29 of 33 fourth-and-1 rushing attempts this season for a conversion rate of 87.9 percent, per NFL Research. This is proof that even the most conservative coaches -- including those whose teams don't boast all the traits of the clubs listed above -- should muster up some guts and go for the first down. The decision could end up altering a game, and possibly a season.

Former NFL rushing leader and NFL Network analyst Maurice Jones-Drew will survey all running backs and rank his top 15 each week of the 2018 season. His rankings are based on this season's efforts alone. Here is MJD's list heading into Week 6.

NOTE: Arrows reflect changes from last week's rankings.

1
Todd Gurley
RB
Rams

Previous rank: No. 1

Another game, another three-touchdown day for Gurley. Is there anyone who can keep this guy out of the end zone? Bueller?

2018 stats: 5 games | 101 att | 415 rush yds | 4.1 ypc | 7 rush TDs | 19 rec | 230 rec yds | 2 rec TDs

2
Alvin Kamara
RB
Saints

Previous rank: No. 2

There was a lot going on for the Saints last week, with Mark Ingram returning from suspension and Drew Brees becoming the all-time leading passer. Kamara had just nine touches in that game, but after carrying the load for much of the first four weeks, Kamara's deserving of this Week 6 bye.

2018 stats: 5 games | 62 att | 299 rush yds | 4.8 ypc | 5 rush TDs | 38 rec | 351 rec yds | 1 rec TD

3
Kareem Hunt
RB
Chiefs
2

Previous rank: No. 5

With the Jaguars keeping Patrick Mahomes in check, Hunt came through with a solid day for the Chiefs -- 22 carries for 87 yards and a touchdown and one catch for 7 yards. Headed to New England this week, Hunt returns to the place of his NFL debut, where he put up a whopping 246 scrimmage yards in Week 1 last season.

2018 stats: 5 games | 93 att | 376 rush yds | 4.0 ypc | 4 rush TDs | 5 rec | 66 rec yds | 1 rec TD

4
Saquon Barkley
RB
Giants
2

Previous rank: No. 6

A big reason why he keeps climbing the ranks: Barkley has been very productive, with at least 100 scrimmage yards in each of his first five games. The rookie and the Giants' run game will get tested Thursday against an Eagles defense that has yet to allow a 100-yard rusher this season.

2018 stats: 5 games | 71 att | 308 rush yds | 4.3 ypc | 3 rush TDs | 31 rec | 274 rec yds | 2 rec TDs

5
Melvin Gordon
RB
Chargers
2

Previous rank: No. 7

Gordon has been a beast this season, as he and Austin Ekeler have taken the Chargers' offense to new levels. The duo is averaging 201 scrimmage yards per game and is on pace for 3,216 scrimmage yards. If they keep this up, they will surpass what Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram did a season ago (3,094).

2018 stats: 5 games |73 att | 334 rush yds | 4.6 ypc | 3 rush TDs | 28 rec | 261 rec yds | 3 rec TDs

6
Carlos Hyde
RB
Browns
2

Previous rank: No. 8

Hyde has provided the Browns with a strong run game that only helps rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield. Cleveland's rushing attack ranks second in the league heading into Week 6.

2018 stats: 5 games | 100 att | 348 rush yds | 3.5 ypc | 5 rush TDs | 6 rec | 29 rec yds | 0 rec TDs

7
Christian McCaffrey
RB
Panthers
3

Previous rank: No. 4

Cam Newton's favorite target in 2018, McCaffrey leads the NFL in scrimmage yards per game (130.3) heading into Week 6.

2018 stats: 4 games | 63 att | 329 rush yds | 5.2 ypc | 0 rush TDs | 27 rec | 192 rec yds | 1 rec TD

8
Ezekiel Elliott
RB
Cowboys
5

Previous rank: No. 3

I'm still trying to wrap my head around the fact that Jason Garrett didn't go for it on fourth-and-1 knowing he has Zeke in the backfield. Makes no sense. Anyway ... the NFL Research team dug up this nifty tidbit heading into Week 6: Zeke is on pace to be the first rushing champion on a sub-.500 team since I (Maurice Jones-Drew) did it with the 5-11 Jaguars in 2011.

2018 stats: 5 games | 93 att | 480 rush yds | 5.2 ypc | 2 rush TDs | 22 rec | 155 rec yds | 1 rec TD

9
T.J. Yeldon
RB
Jaguars
3

Previous rank: No. 12

Yeldon's making the most of his opportunities with Leonard Fournette sitting on the sideline. Looks like he'll get another start this weekend in Dallas.

2018 stats: 5 games | 59 att | 258 rush yds | 4.4 ypc | 1 rush TD | 22 rec | 194 rec yds | 3 rec TDs

10
Jordan Howard
RB
Bears
1

Previous rank: No. 11

With fresh legs coming off a bye week, Howard should have some success against a Dolphins team that ranks 20th against the run.

2018 stats: 4 games | 64 att | 203 rush yds | 3.2 ypc | 1 rush TD | 10 rec | 78 rec yds | 0 rec TDs

11
Joe Mixon
RB
Bengals
NR

Previous rank: Not ranked

Giovani Bernard held it down in Cincinnati's backfield while Mixon recovered from a knee injury, but after watching Mixon help the Bengals to a comeback win over the Dolphins, it's clear the offense hits another level with Mixon. The second-year back was a big part of the rally, with 14 touches for 90 scrimmage yards and a touchdown in the second half.

2018 stats: 3 games | 60 att | 272 rush yds | 4.5 ypc | 1 rush TD | 9 rec | 79 rec yds | 1 rec TD

12
James White
RB
Patriots
2

Previous rank: No. 14

With Julian Edelman out for the first four weeks, it's not surprising that White has been Tom Brady's most reliable target. White could continue to thrive against a Chiefs team that ranks dead last in total defense.

2018 stats: 5 games | 23 att | 110 rush yds | 4.8 ypc | 1 rush TD | 32 rec | 270 rec yds | 4 rec TDs

13
Adrian Peterson
RB
Redskins
4

Previous rank: No. 9

You know Peterson didn't have a great game when he had more receiving yards (36) than rushing yards (6), the reason for his drop.

2018 stats: 4 games | 60 att | 242 rush yds | 4.0 ypc | 3 rush TDs | 7 rec | 136 rec yds | 0 rec TDs

14
James Conner
RB
Steelers
NR

Previous rank: Not ranked

Conner's being so effective on the field that teammates are vouching for him to keep the starting spot once Le'Veon Bell comes back. That's some big praise.

2018 stats: 5 games | 84 att | 342 rush yds | 4.1 ypc | 5 rush TDs | 22 rec | 239 rec yds | 0 rec TDs

15
Isaiah Crowell
RB
Jets
NR

Previous rank: Not ranked

It's hard to keep Crowell off this list after he put up 219 rushing yards against the Broncos last week. Yes, he has had huge single-game performances, but I still want to see a little more consistency.

2018 stats: 5 games | 57 att | 390 rush yds | 6.8 ypc | 5 rush TDs | 6 rec | 36 rec yds | 0 rec TDs

Dropped out: Phillip Lindsay, Broncos (Previously No. 10); Matt Breida, 49ers (No. 13); Marshawn Lynch, Raiders (No. 15).

The Ground Index delivered by FedEx ranks NFL running back performances all season long. Check out the FedEx Ground NFL Players of the Week and cast your vote.

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