Wild Card Weekend Mismatches: NFC edition
Here's a breakdown of two significant mismatches in this weekend's NFC wild-card games.
Seahawks DT Jarran Reed vs. Cowboys LG Xavier Su'a-Filo/Connor Williams
Any team that plays Dallas in the playoffs should know how to attack the weaknesses on the Cowboys' offensive line.
Left guard Xavier Su'a-Filo struggled this season, and as a result, defensive tackles had a field day against the left side of the team's interior offensive line. If he misses Saturday’s game against the Seattle Seahawks because of an ankle injury, rookie Connor Williams could have his own issues.
Throughout the regular season, defensive tackles Vita Vea (one sack), Fletcher Cox (two sacks), Denico Autry (one sack), David Onyemata (three sacks), Da’Ron Payne (one sack), and Jonathan Allen (two sacks) were all productive against Dallas. Seahawks defensive tackle Jarran Reed also posted a dominant performance against the Cowboys, doing a lot of damage against Williams while recording two sacks in Week 3.
Reed is one of the NFL's most improved defensive tackles. Primarily a run defender over his first two seasons, the 26-year-old added some pass-rush ability to his game in 2018 to unlock his true disruptive potential.
After notching only three sacks over his first two seasons, Reed exploded for 10.5 sacks this year to go along with 50 tackles (12 for a loss), and 24 quarterback hits - all single-season career highs for the Alabama product.
This play illustrates Reed’s improved pass-rush skill:
Reed aligns as the 4i defensive tackle with a wide outside shade on Cardinals left guard Mike Iupati. At the snap, he explodes right at Iupati.
Just before he gets into striking distance, Reed cleverly jab steps outside of Iupati’s reach, causing the veteran guard to shift his weight slightly and open up to an inside move.
With Iupati leaning, Reed executes a beautifully timed swim move to cross his face and beat him. As soon as Reed clears the blocker, he forcefully plants his left foot to slow his lateral momentum, allowing him to push vertically into the pocket and bring down the quarterback.
Unfortunately for Dallas, Su'a-Filo and Williams don't fare well against that kind of pass rush. The former struggles with lateral movement because of footwork and balance problems, and the latter often lunges to compensate for his lack of power.
Here's an example of Su'a-Filo's weakness:
He's tasked with blocking Saints defensive tackle David Onyemata. When the ball is snapped, Su'a-Filo expands outside with two kick slides. However, on his third kick slide, Su'a-Filo's right foot moves backward instead of his left foot, causing him to give a soft corner.
Onyemata can then use a forceful club move, pulling Su'a-Filo down and leaving him unable to recover once the pass-rusher beats his hands. From there, Onyemata gets into the backfield and brings down Dak Prescott.
Seattle likes to move Reed around, which means Su'a-Filo or Williams won't have to handle him alone all game. Nevertheless, when he's matched up with either of those two expect Reed to take full advantage and have another productive day against the Cowboys.
Bears DT Eddie Goldman vs. Eagles LG Isaac Seumalo/Stefan Wisniewski
That's why the Bears need Eddie Goldman to exploit the primary weakness along the Eagles’ offensive line and capitalize on Isaac Seumalo's struggles (or do the same against Stefan Wisniewski if Seumalo misses his fourth straight game due to a chest injury).
Goldman is arguably coming off his best regular season, though his stats don't do it justice, as the fourth-year defensive tackle accumulated 39 tackles (five for a loss), three quarterback hits, and three sacks.
Much of what Goldman does up front for Chicago goes unnoticed. But his teammates often bear the fruit of his labor when he frequently occupies multiple blocks, giving others free runs at the ball carrier.
However, Goldman can still be a disruptive pass-rushing force when teams consistently leave him single blocked. Here’s an example:
Goldman aligns over Vikings left guard Tom Compton. With Minnesota sliding its protection right, Goldman has a one-on-one matchup.
After coming out of his stance, he shuffles inside to manipulate Compton's movement. He gets the guard to slide inside as well, creating a giant gap between Compton and the left tackle. Goldman then executes an effective club-arm over move to take advantage of that large hole, and he blows past the lineman to bring down Kirk Cousins.
Goldman will be similarly successful against the Eagles if they don't double-team him or provide help of some kind. He's stronger than Seumalo and Wisniewski, with more deliberate hand technique than both, too.
Goldman should be able to have his way at the point of attack and be excellent against the run. Against the pass, look for him to pick his spots and apply pressure, using his violent club move to bully his way into the pocket.
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.