Week 7 Mismatches: Gurley primed to gash 49ers' run defense
Icon Sportswire / Getty

Here are four of the most one-sided matchups in Week 7:

Todd Gurley vs. 49ers' run defense

Todd Gurley is off to a blistering start in 2018, playing at an MVP level through six weeks. He leads the league in rushing yards (623), rushing touchdowns (nine), first downs (36), explosive runs (18 runs of 10-plus yards), and yards after contact (390). Gurley is also eighth among running backs in receiving yards (247) and fifth in receiving touchdowns (two).

He's a mismatch against any team. Not only is he an ultra-talented running back with tremendous receiving ability out of the backfield, but Sean McVay, one of the greatest offensive minds in football, isn’t afraid to get Gurley involved in creative ways. Somehow, Gurley has seen the least eight-plus-man boxes among running backs with 60-plays carries, per Next Gen Stats.

Even though the Rams' rushing offense uses a wide variety of concepts, Gurley is most dangerous on zone runs, where his vision and explosiveness allow him to slice and dice defenses. Here’s a great example:

On this play, the Rams are running an outside zone concept with the goal of horizontally stretching the defense, which creates fissures and alleys for the running back to cut into.

After receiving the handoff, Gurley quickly reads that the front side of the Broncos' defensive line has outside leverage against the Rams' front-side blocks, which means he has to bend his path to the backside of the run.

From there, Gurley shows off his impressive burst, as he quickly accelerates through the second level of the Broncos' defense, splitting two defenders in the process. The two-time Pro Bowler then displays excellent vision to cut into the open space and maximize his gain.

McVay also finds creative ways to get Gurley the ball in space:

Over the past two weeks, the Rams have used the touch pass to get Gurley the ball in the open field.

On this play, he lines up with a reduced split to the right of the formation, functioning as a wide receiver. Right before the ball is snapped, Gurley begins to motion across the formation. Then after the snap, Jared Goff tosses the ball to Gurley, who has built up the speed to race around the edge.

While rounding the corner, Gurley veers slightly inside to avoid one defender while stiff arming another. He then blasts off down the sideline before being forced out of bounds after a 13-yard gain.

The 49ers' formidable front-seven talent - including DeForest Buckner, Reuben Foster, and Fred Warner - struggles to play as a unit. The team is especially weak against the run and has given up 142.5 yards per game on the ground, the third-highest average in the NFL.

Expect Gurley to have another big game on the ground while making a couple of plays as a receiver.

Eagles' DEs vs Panthers' OTs

The Eagles have an embarrassment of riches at defensive end, boasting four players capable of starting on most NFL teams.

Brandon Graham headlines the group, as he brings the best mix of run and pass productivity. Derek Barnett has improved in his second year, shoring up his defects against the run while still bringing a potent speed rush to the table as a pass-rusher. Michael Bennett is the Eagles' best pure pass-rusher, using an explosive burst and refined hands to quickly generate pressure off the edge. Finally, Chris Long is sometimes forgotten, but he’s a productive pass-rusher in his own right and recorded five sacks along with four forced fumbles in 2017.

On Sunday, those four will be pitted against Carolina Panthers tackles Chris Clark and Taylor Moton. Clark is the weaker of the two in pass protection, and his Pro Football Focus grade has dropped significantly over the past two seasons. Moton has actually been effective in 2018, but he doesn’t match up well with Graham’s speed off the edge.

At 6-foot-5 and 325 pounds, Moton could struggle to keep up with Graham’s speed while also playing low enough to get a hand on the relatively short Eagles defensive end (Graham is 6-foot-1).

Here’s a great example of Graham’s speed rush:

Graham lines up in a wide alignment outside of the Vikings' tight end. After the snap he accelerates upfield, stressing the right tackle’s pass set and forcing him to prematurely turn his shoulder perpendicular to the line of scrimmage. Graham then executes a well-timed two-hand swipe technique to defeat the blocker’s strike as he wraps around the edge with speed and balance, resulting in a sack.

On the other side, expect Bennett to dominate Clark, with the veteran's active hands giving the tackle fits.

Overall, expect the Eagles' defensive line to generate steady pressure on Cam Newton, making life difficult for the former MVP. As long as Philadelphia's secondary can hold up in coverage, the Eagles' defense should have a surprising amount of success against Carolina.

Yannick Ngakoue vs. Texans' OTs

Yannick Ngakoue is one of the most explosive and fearsome pass-rushers in the NFL. He has a juicy matchup this week because the Texans' tackle duo is among the league's worst.

Julien Davenport has given up the most pressures in the NFL, per PFF, and he's struggling as a run-blocker, too. Kendall Lamm has been better than Davenport in pass protection, which isn’t saying much, but he's somehow worse as a run-blocker, and has been the reason for many of Houston’s blown-up run attempts. The Texans are averaging just 3.9 yards per carry.

Last week, Ngakoue proved he’s a tough matchup for even the best offensive tackles, as he beat All-Pro left tackle Tyron Smith a few times:

Here, Ngakoue lines up so far outside Smith that he begins off the frame. After accelerating forward, Ngakoue uses a stutter step to freeze Smith and draw out his hands. Once Smith paws with his outside hand, Ngakoue explodes to the tackle's outside edge using a well-timed cross-chop move to beat the block on his way to hitting Dak Prescott.

Ngakoue has the most potent cross-chop move in the NFL, outside of perhaps DeMarcus Lawrence. He won't hesitate to use it frequently on Sunday against Davenport and Lamm. Don’t be surprised if Ngakoue nabs multiple sacks for the second consecutive week, adding to his total of four on the season.

Andy Dalton vs. Chiefs' defense

Lost in the magic of the "Patomic Bomb" and the Chiefs' blistering offensive start is how poor their pass defense has been. Kansas City is giving up the second-most yards through the air (340.3 per game) this season.

Andy Dalton and the surprisingly effective Bengals' offense, which ranks sixth in points per game (29), will likely be the latest to take advantage of the Chiefs' leaky secondary.

While he hasn’t been perfect, Dalton has performed admirably thus far, accumulating 1,674 passing yards, 14 touchdowns, and seven interceptions while completing 65.1 percent of his throws. But although Dalton leans heavily on receivers A.J. Green and Tyler Boyd, don’t be surprised to see Cincinnati get running back Joe Mixon involved in the passing attack, as the Chiefs' linebackers have struggled mightily in coverage.

Here’s an example of how Cincinnati can do just that:

Mixon matches up with the Dolphins' outside linebacker in coverage. After the snap, Dalton does a great job of hanging in the pocket just long enough to hit his running back, who generates separation on his corner route. Even though the throw is a bit behind, Mixon is able to step on the brakes, make the catch, and get into the end zone.

If the Bengals can scheme one-on-one opportunities for Mixon as a receiver against Chiefs linebackers Anthony Hitchens and Reggie Ragland, Dalton should take advantage.

When he’s not targeting Mixon, expect Dalton to focus on Kansas City’s suspect cornerback play through a heavy dose of Green, who should also have a big game on Sunday.

John Owning is a football writer at theScore. He has written for Bleacher Report and Football Insiders. He was also the lead NFL content editor at FanRag Sports. John provides analysis on the Dallas Cowboys for the Dallas Morning News and edits for The Quant Edge. Find him on Twitter @JohnOwning.

Comments
Week 7 Mismatches: Gurley primed to gash 49ers' run defense
  Got something to say? Leave a comment below!