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The Tape Tells All - Lamar Miller's Week 12 Performances

If fantasy football was an amusement park, Lamar Miller would be the roller coaster that has so many sharp ups and downs that it breaks some world record for velocity. Lamar Miller is the Millennium Force of the NFL for those of you who've spent time at Cedar Point.

Aside from being an utterly confounding player, Miller is also the owner of a pair of 97-yard touchdown runs in his career. The vast majority of NFL players have never rushed for that long of a gain, but Lamar Miller has done that twice. He's also a guy who has routinely been out-touched by Alfred Blue, and considering Alfred Blue is the picture next to the definition of "three yards and a cloud of dirt" in the dictionary...well, it makes figuring out how to value Miller even more impossible.

Let's figure out the pressing question: can we trust Lamar Miller? Do the stats and the tape suggest that he'll be a strong option moving forward.

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Lamar Miller: The Tape Tells All

Background Information

Before the season started, I made the bold prediction that Lamar Miller would finish as an RB1 this season. It made sense at the time, because he'd put up RB1 numbers in the games Deshaun Watson had started last season, and Deshaun Watson was going to be starting this season.

But that thought process left out a few key things. First, Watson took some time to round into shape, and Miller didn't come out of the gates looking like the player people thought he could be (after a 98-yard game to open the year, he was a fairly middling option for the next four games), and second, Lamar Miller is still Lamar Miller, a guy who puts up strong games but also can disappear completely from the team's game plan. The mixture of Houston's weak offensive line and head coach Bill O'Brien's trust in backup Alfred Blue lead to games where Miller touches the ball far less than he should.

But Miller seems to have figured something out. He's crossed the 100-yard mark in three of the past five games and found the end zone in all three of those games, and he's got some pretty good looking numbers when you dig a little deeper:

  • Fourth among backs in yards created, i.e. in yards beyond what the offensive line was responsible for. Essentially, Miller's speed and elusiveness have helped him be productive despite some poor line play.
  • 12th in breakaway runs with eight carries of 15 yards or more. Again, speed.
  • 7.8 yards per carry against stacked fronts, which seems...extremely high, especially when you consider that he's run against stacked fronts on 23.4 percent of his carries, and that he hasn't been very effective against them in the past.
  • 15th among backs in evaded tackles.

So, umm, Lamar Miller is fast. Let's look at some clips from Monday's meetings with the Titans and talk about that speed.


The Game Tape

The Good

Let's look at what Miller did on Monday night.

Great cut on this play to find the opening and get the ball up the field. You can see pretty quickly how this play could have gone poorly if a slower back was in the game, as an unblocked Titans defender just misses getting Miller down behind the line. But he's got the quickness and the elusiveness to pop it back inside and get past that first wave of defenders.

Miller runs into a wall, but then we see that ability to pop it back the other way come into play. Miller is averaging over five yards per carry out of the shotgun this year, and that extra space allows time for him to survey what's happening and to recognize what he needs to do to get the ball to that next level.

Okay, one more play and then we can look at that touchdown.

Miller's able to glide through those holes on the left side. I think, after years of looking at box scores and seeing Miller's rushed 10 times for 12 yards, we forget just how fast he is, how he's able to squeeze past defenders because of his speed. There's a reason the Texans looked at him after his limited usage in Miami and thought he was worth bringing in. (There's also a reason why it's failed to work at times, which is that Miller has struggled against heavier fronts in the past, and before Deshaun Watson arrived there was such little threat from the passing game that Miller could essentially be game planned out by defenses too often.)



(But seriously, good job by Miller to keep moving and get past the early arm tackle. At that point, it's a race between his speed and the Titans defense, and Miller's speed is going to win that matchup. He's done this 97-yard thing before! Dude has done it twice against NFL defenses!)

The Less Good

Here's a first quarter run by Miller that doesn't go far.

Let's talk about the Houston Texans offensive line, because on this play I had to do a double take to make sure that the Titans didn't start the play with a defender on the Houston side of the line of scrimmage.

Per Football Outsiders, Houston's offensive line has the following ranks:

  • Adjusted line yards: 22nd
  • Power success: 26th
  • Stuffed ranking: 18th
  • Second level yards: 25th
  • Open field: 12th

Miller's speed contributes to that open field rank, but the other stats don't paint a pretty picture, and it's one reason that trusting Miller can be difficult. This line maybe isn't the mess that we expected, but it's still a mess, and Houston needs to address it in the offseason.

I also don't love the formation in this one, with Alfred Blue serving as a full back and coming all the way across the formation at the snap to go block. Maybe there are situations that that'll work in, but I think it requires a better offensive line for you to get away with the two half back look.


The Fantasy Impact

I think I'm back where I was at the beginning of the year, which is that I believe Lamar Miller is the perfect complementary back for a healthy Deshaun Watson.

Alfred Blue is a plodder, and sometimes that plodding is necessary, especially when defenses don't respect the pass. But with Watson looking like his rookie-year self more and more, Blue becomes less important and Miller's strengths -- his ability to elude tacklers, his speed once he gets some field in front of him -- are magnified, and his major weaknesses like struggling when defenses key in on him become lessened because defenses aren't able to key in on him. As silly and easy and redundant as it sounds, good play by one part of the offense helps all the parts of the offense.

Miller looks like a pretty safe fantasy start at this point, though Bill O'Brien's insistence on a timeshare in the backfield makes his overall ceiling lower than you'd like. Week 12 was the best Miller will be, but 100 yards and a touchdown is nothing to sneeze at. He's done that three times recently.

He also did nothing in Week 9, and sometimes you have to live with that. Miller has off days. You ride those out if you can, because his best days look to be coming closer and closer together.

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