Here's a breakdown of one significant mismatch in each AFC wild-card game this weekend.
In a postseason divisional matchup, failing to take advantage of mismatches could be the difference between a win and a loss.
Sheard doesn’t receive much acclaim, but he’s been one of the most well-rounded defensive ends in football over the last four seasons.
While he’s never recorded double-digit sacks, Sheard has registered multiple pressures in every game but one this season. Against the run, he leverages his effective hand technique to make plays at or near the line of scrimmage:
On this play, Sheard is aligned with a wide outside shade over Titans right tackle Dennis Kelly. As soon as the ball is snapped, Sheard comes out of his stance and appears ready to meet Kelly at the point of attack.
However, it’s a trap!
Sheard acts like he’s going to attack the block before swiftly darting inside with a two-hand swipe move.
From there, he is able to take on the tight end’s block and impede the running back’s progress, allowing his teammates to clean up the tackle near the line of scrimmage.
This is the area where Lamm will hurt the Texans the most, as he still struggles mightily as a run-blocker. Lamm simply doesn’t possess the strength to move defensive ends off their spot, and he lacks the hand placement to steer defenders out of the hole.
Sheard is likely going to be a huge thorn in the side of Houston’s offense all game long.
In all honesty, it’s a miracle Tevi has a starting job in the NFL, as he's proven over and over again this season to be below replacement level by NFL standards. Tevi is a mess technically and has trouble with nearly every pass-rusher he faces as a result. It’s incredible that Philip Rivers has played so well this season despite Tevi’s turnstile-like qualities on the right side.
When the Ravens faced the Chargers in Week 16, Suggs had one the best sackless performances of his career, as he was able to consistently beat Tevi and generate pressure off the edge. Below is an example of Suggs using his effective hand technique and deceptive footwork:
Here, Suggs is aligned with an outside shade over Tevi. Once the ball is snapped, he mimics as if he’s going to engage at the point of attack by reaching his left hand toward the offensive lineman's chest.
As Tevi shoots his hands to latch onto the veteran pass-rusher, Suggs abruptly darts inside with a two-hand swipe. Although it doesn’t land cleanly, Tevi is unable to adjust or recover.
From there, Suggs avoids Melvin Gordon’s block and pressures Rivers just as he throws downfield (the pass was intercepted).
While Suggs wasn’t able to turn any of his pressures into sacks in Week 16, don’t expect that to happen again in the second matchup between these two teams.
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.