Week 12 Mismatches: Kenny Clark ready to roast Vikings' O-line
Here's a breakdown of the most notable mismatches we expect to see in Week 12.
Packers DL Kenny Clark vs Vikings RG Mike Remmers
To the surprise of many, Kenny Clark - not Mike Daniels - has been the Packers' best defensive lineman this season. And with Daniels sidelined by a foot injury, Green Bay will rely on Clark even more heavily.
Clark's accumulated 44 tackles, including seven for loss, along with eight quarterback hits and five sacks. Listed at 6-foot-3 and 314 pounds, he's stout enough to hold his ground at the point of attack, and he's quick enough to penetrate and make plays behind the line of scrimmage. He's one of the few 300-plus-pounders who's equally effective against the run and pass.
This week, Clark gets a tasty matchup against the Minnesota Vikings. The Packers flip the alignment of their defensive tackles throughout the game, so Clark's set to see time in the A- and B-gaps on both sides of the center. While he should get a favorable matchup no matter where he aligns, Vikings right guard Mike Remmers is a player Clark can dominate.
This was showcased in Week 2 when Clark battered Remmers, accumulating four tackles and a sack while making life difficult for Minnesota. On his sack, Clark did an excellent job blending his power, hand usage, and timing to beat Remmers on his way to the quarterback:
Here, Clark aligns with an outside shade over Remmers (No. 74). After the ball is snapped, Clark immediately pushes vertical and looks to initiate his bull rush. Without much of a head start, Clark needs to rely on his pad level, hand placement, and raw power to knock back Remmers on contact.
Remmers does a great job of anchoring against the bull rush; Clark isn’t able to gain a ton of ground with his initial push. Nevertheless, Clark has another trick up his sleeve.
Once Clark feels Remmers sit on his power and begin to exert force forward, Clark uses the momentum against him, employing a push-pull (or bull-jerk) move to yank Remmers over his toes. Clark exits with a swim move to clear contact and continues pursuing the quarterback. The result is a 9-yard sack for Clark.
This week, Clark might not even have to resort to Plan B on his bull rushes, as Remmers' ability to stymie power has faded in recent weeks. Here's an example:
At first glance, it may look like Remmers did a good job of anchoring against the bull rush, but once you consider that Remmers also has the leverage (lower pad level) and hand-placement advantage at the point of attack - something he won't enjoy often against Clark - it's actually disappointing that he cedes so much ground at the point of contact.
If Clark was the one bull rushing on that rep, Remmers would have been on his back with a great view of Clark bringing down Kirk Cousins for the sack.
Sunday's going to be a long day for Remmers.
Steelers LB T.J. Watt vs. Broncos RT Jared Veldheer
T.J. Watt has quietly been one of the most improved edge defenders in the NFL this season, recording an incredible 49 tackles - 10 for loss - with 14 quarterback hits, 10 sacks, and four forced fumbles in his sophomore season. The scary part is that Watt hasn't come close to reaching his potential, as he can still develop in a variety of areas.
The switch from right outside linebacker to left outside linebacker has been great for him - he's more effective against the run and can take advantage of the slower-footed right tackle against the pass. This week, Watt will look to take advantage of Jared Veldheer, once a very good offensive tackle whose skill set's declined rapidly this season with the Denver Broncos.
Watt will likely give Veldheer problems in pass protection, but he should really have his way with the Broncos right tackle in the run game thanks to his superior hand placement, footwork, and quickness. Veldheer tends to have trouble with quick defenders who can cross his face and penetrate his inside gap, an area where Watt excels. Here's an example:
On this play, the Jacksonville Jaguars are trying to run a simple inside zone against a light box, meaning that the Jaguars have more blockers than Pittsburgh Steelers defenders in the box. On paper, this play should be a success for Jacksonville; however, Watt makes sure it's not.
Coming off the left edge, Watt initially slow-plays the run, taking his first step directly at the Jaguars right tackle. Then Watt quickly reduces his outside shoulder and darts across the right tackle's face, putting him in position to bring down the ball carrier at the line of scrimmage.
Look for Watt to fill up the box score once again against Denver.
Panthers RG Trai Turner vs. Seahawks' DTs
The distribution of talent in the NFL means most individual mismatches up front favor the defense. The league has a plethora of high-level defensive linemen, but few elite offensive linemen. That's why Trai Turner facing off against the Seattle Seahawks' defensive tackles is so unique - it's one of the few trench matchups where the O-line has the advantage.
Listed at 6-foot-3 and 315 pounds, Turner is one of the most physically dominant presences at the point of attack. The Carolina Panthers right guard leverages his raw strength and hand techniques to consistently move defenders off their spots and into the turf. This typically manifests in the run game, but Turner brings the same intensity to pass protection. Here's a great example:
Here, Turner is matched up against Washington Redskins interior defender Matt Ioannidis, who is having a career year. Once the ball is snapped, Turner quickly comes out of his stance and establishes a half-man relationship with Ioannidis, which is crucial in pass protection.
From there, Turner latches onto Ioannidis, who attempts to use a "hump" move with his right arm to toss Turner out of the way. Turner doesn't budge. Instead, he rotates to his left and tosses Ioannidis to the ground like a bouncer throwing a rowdy patron out of a bar.
This week, defensive tackles Jarran Reed, Quinton Jefferson, and Shamar Stephen will be on the receiving end of similar punishment. Reed is the best of the bunch, but even he doesn't match up well with Turner. None of Seattle's defensive tackles should give Turner much trouble in pass protection, as they don't possess the necessary technique or quickness. The Panthers would be wise to take advantage of Turner's likely dominance Sunday.
Browns DT Larry Ogunjobi vs. Bengals C Billy Price
In his second season, Larry Ogunjobi has developed into a playmaker for the Browns' defense, recording 35 tackles (seven for loss), 13 quarterback hits, and 4.5 sacks. He's made a play behind the line of scrimmage in eight of Cleveland's 10 games.
Ogunjobi will look to keep it up against Cincinnati Bengals center Billy Price, who's struggled mightily this year. Price is having trouble playing with leverage, and his hand timing and placement have been inconsistent.
That's given Price issues with powerful defensive tackles at the point of attack - and it doesn't bode well against Ogunjobi, who puts a ton of pressure on centers as soon as the ball is snapped, like this:
On this play, Ogunjobi lines up as a 0-technique, or head-up on the center. As soon as the ball is snapped, Ogunjobi executes a powerful club move with his right arm to get to the center's edge and a rip move with his left arm to clear contact. He doesn't immediately clear all the contact, but it's enough for him to get downhill and pursue the quarterback for the sack.
These moves are tough to block for the even best centers in the NFL, so you can imagine how difficult it is for a rookie to stop them.
Price should fare better in the run game because he'll get help from the guards on most plays; however, when Ogunjobi gets matched up with Price one-on-one in the run game, the Browns interior defender should find a ton of success thanks to his superior strength and hand technique.
Don't be surprised if Ogunjobi adds another sack and a couple tackles for loss to his ledger this week.
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.