Defensive Line All-Stars: Chargers step up on Wild Card Weekend
After another slate filled with sacks, stops, and stuffs, let's review the standout performers from the trenches during Wild Card Weekend:
Defensive Lineman of the Week: Chargers DE Melvin Ingram
Los Angeles Chargers pass-rusher Melvin Ingram is blessed with a rare combination of speed, explosiveness, and flexibility, but he took a step back in the 2018 regular season with 43 tackles (eight for a loss), 16 quarterback hits, and seven sacks. Those are still strong numbers by most standards, but they were all down from Ingram's production in 2017.
It turns out Ingram was just saving his best for the playoffs, as he submitted his finest performance of the campaign on Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens. And as usual, he made his biggest contributions as a pass-rusher - recording two sacks and three QB hits - but with a twist.
The Ravens possess one of the best offensive lines in football, but with a glaring weakness at left guard, where Alex Lewis starts and James Hurst backs him up. To attack that weakness, Los Angeles made a conscious effort to scheme up one-on-one matchups for Ingram inside - rather than on the edge - and it paid off big time, as he beat a left guard on both sacks.
Here's the first, which came against Lewis:
On this play, Ingram begins by accelerating toward the outside edge of Lewis, which forces the guard to expand farther away from the center, creating a wider gap. With Lewis' momentum taking him outside, Ingram then uses a powerful cross-chop move to keep himself clean before spinning inside through the wide gap and then sacking quarterback Lamar Jackson.
Ingram’s footwork on the spin was a little clunky - as he needed a gather step before continuing forward - but it didn't matter because it was set up and executed with such great timing that Lewis had no chance to recover.
Hurst was the victim on Ingram's second sack, as seen below:
Here, Ingram doesn't walk down to the line of scrimmage until immediately before the snap, and then uses his forward momentum to burst toward Hurst's midline.
Just before he gets within striking distance, Ingram jab steps inside and then expands outside, which crosses up Hurst and draws out his hands. As he expands outside, Ingram executes a cross chop to fend off Hurst's strike and then easily penetrates through to sack Jackson in the pocket.
These sacks displayed Ingram's technique, timing, and finishing ability, as the seventh-year pass-rusher finally played at the level that's been expected of him this season. Against the New England Patriots this coming weekend, look for the Chargers to continue moving Ingram around as a mismatch piece to take advantage of any weak link on the opposing line.
Pass Rush of the Week: Chargers LB Uchenna Nwosu
With the Ravens near midfield and driving to win the game with less than 30 seconds remaining, the Chargers needed someone to step up and make a play.
Most would have expected that play to come from Ingram, Joey Bosa, or Derwin James, but it was rookie edge defender Uchenna Nwosu who secured the victory with a sack-fumble of Jackson that was recovered by Los Angeles:
On this play, Nwosu's lined up on the edge with an outside shade over rookie right tackle Orlando Brown. After the ball is snapped, Nwosu explodes out of his stance and pushes vertical for two steps.
Right before he gets within striking distance, Nwosu executes a quick jab step toward Brown's inside edge, which leads the offensive tackle to briefly shift his weight inside. This prevents Brown from getting much width on his pass set, which gives Nwosu a short corner. From there, Nwosu expands his rush outside and uses a long-arm move with his inside hand - which causes Brown to rotate on his spot - shortening the corner even more.
At that point, Nwosu's footwork and stride length allow him to turn the corner and flatten to Jackson before knocking the ball loose as the quarterback winds up to throw.
It was a masterful display of shortening the corner using footwork and hand technique - something rarely exhibited by a rookie - and it came when the Chargers needed it most.
Run Defender of the Week: Bears DT Eddie Goldman
The Chicago Bears may have suffered a gut-wrenching loss against the Philadelphia Eagles, but that shouldn't take away from defensive tackle Eddie Goldman's outstanding performance against the run. Chicago needed Goldman to take advantage of his matchup, and that's exactly what he did throughout the contest.
Goldman's final stat line (four tackles) doesn't do his performance justice, as the fourth-year player did an excellent job of occupying blocks and clogging running lanes, which allowed his teammates to make plays. The Eagles averaged just 1.83 yards per carry, in large part due to Goldman’s presence in the interior.
Meanwhile, each of Goldman's tackles resulted in an unsuccessful play for the offense, as all four came within 1 yard of the line of scrimmage. The stop below is a great example of his dominance against the run:
However, when the ball is snapped, Goldman does a great job of mirroring and engaging Seumalo, which makes it difficult for Kelce to square up Goldman and push him off the spot. From there, Goldman leverages his superior hand placement to execute an arm-over move that beats Seumalo's block and allows him to penetrate through for a tackle on the running back.
Even though the Bears will be watching the next round of the playoffs from home, Goldman should hold his head high after a winning performance against the run. The 25-year-old was one of Chicago's most improved players this season and his future looks bright.
In the Spotlight: Cowboys DT Antwaun Woods
The Dallas Cowboys employed one of the worst defensive tackle rotations in the league last season. When David Irving wasn't in the game, the group usually struggled to make a positive impact against the run or pass.
That changed this season, thanks in large part to the addition of Antwaun Woods, who'd played in just one NFL game before signing with Dallas. The Cowboys challenged Woods to lose weight in an effort to maximize his short-area quickness and explosiveness, and he obliged, coming into camp considerably lighter than he was in college with Tennessee.
Initially signed as a backup, Woods (literally) fought his way into the starting nose tackle gig once the season began, and hasn't looked back. He didn't post the most impressive stat line on paper - 34 tackles (two for a loss), five quarterback hits, and 1.5 sacks in 15 games - but the 26-year-old still provided a ton of value.
In fact, one reason that Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith excelled this season is that Woods - an extremely powerful player who uses his natural leverage advantage effectively - often occupies blockers and plugs gaps.
At times, Woods has also displayed impressive awareness and quickness, which give him the ability to make plays outside of his responsibilities. Against the Seattle Seahawks in the wild-card round, he did just that by blowing up a screen pass:
Here, Woods is lined up with a slight inside shade over the Seahawks' left guard. Once the ball is snapped, he does well to square up and engage the guard at the point of attack, which makes it hard for Seattle's center to take over the block once the left guard attempts to leak out for the screen. This frees up Woods to get his eyes into the backfield, identify the play, and then rush forward to immediately tackle the running back.
Nose tackles aren't supposed to blow up screen passes 8 yards behind the line of scrimmage, but Woods has shown he's more than capable of doing so. In this instance, his effort and quickness were on full display.
Overall, the Cowboys' defense has been one of the best in the NFL this season, and the addition of Woods is one of the bigger - and underrated - reasons why.
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.