Yardbarker’s Michael Nania analyzes the biggest positional mismatches each week during the NFL season.
Eagles guard Brandon Brooks vs. Patriots run defense
Why Patriots are overmatched: New England’s run defense has faltered after a hot start. From Weeks 1-3, the Patriots allowed the fewest rushing yards per game (36.7) and yards per rush attempt (2.3) in the NFL. Since then, they have allowed 130.3 rushing yards per game (seventh worst) and 5.6 yards per rush attempt (worst).
In particular, the Patriots have struggled mightily to stop the run when they have gone up against elite guards. New England has played against three of Pro Football Focus’ top-10 graded run-blocking guards — Brandon Scherff (Redskins, No. 3), Marshal Yanda (Ravens, No. 6), and Joel Bitonio (Browns, No. 10). In those three games, the Patriots allowed their three highest rushing yardage totals of the season, yielding averages of 171.3 rushing yards and an incredibly poor 6.2 yards per rush attempt.
Why Brooks will dominate: Brooks, in the midst of a dominant season, is Pro Football Focus’ highest-graded guard, topping the position as pass-blocker and run-blocker. His elite play was recently rewarded with a four-year, $56.2 million contract extension that makes him the richest guard in football.
Eagles lead back Jordan Howard has had a lot of success running behind Brooks. On carries to the right side, Howard has picked up 308 yards and 18 first downs over 67 carries. That gives Howard an average of 4.6 yards per attempt and a strong first-down rate of 26.9 percent (league average 22.7 percent) on runs to the right.
Fantasy impact: Howard is coming off of his best two-game stretch of the season. In Weeks 8-9, he averaged 89 rushing yards and 8.0 receiving yards and scored a rush touchdown in each game. Over that span, he ranked eighth among running backs in standard scoring and 12th in PPR scoring.
How Brooks does it: Brooks’ most recent game, against the Bears, earned PFF’s highest grade of the week among all players, regardless of position. It was seen by some as one of the greatest offensive line performances ever.
There were many things Brooks did at a dominant level that afternoon, but his performance in the screen game was perhaps the most remarkable. Watch as Brooks (right guard, #79) gets out in the open field and flattens Pro Bowl safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix about 10 yards downfield, paving the way for Miles Sanders. Not many guards can execute a block that far down the field this perfectly.
Saints safety Marcus Williams vs. Bucs QB Jameis Winston
Why Winston is overmatched: He ismore of a turnover machine than ever, leading the NFL with 18 giveaways. His 14 interceptions leads the league, and his interception rate of 3.9 percent is a career-high. He also is tied for the fifth-most lost fumbles, with four. He has 10 fumbles total.
In his past four games, Winston has turned the ball over 13 times, a dramatic regression from earlier this season. From Weeks 2-5, Winston turned the ball over just twice. He posted a 111.5 passer rating over that span (league average 92.1) as the Buccaneers went 2-2. Since then, the Bucs have gone 0-4 and dropped to 31st in turnovers (21).
Why Williams will dominate: In his third season, he is one of the league’s top playmaking deep safeties. His career total of nine interceptions is tied for the third most among safeties since 2017. Williams has played free safety extremely effectively, allowing only 11.8 yards receiving per game over his 40 games.
Williamson leads safeties this season with 10 passes defended, and is tied for the position lead with three interceptions. In coverage, Williams has allowed career-lows of 5.7 yards per game and 3.9 yards per target, and he has not committed a penalty. Pro Football Focus rates him as the top-graded safety in the NFL.
Fantasy impact: Despite his struggles to make an impact in real football, Winston is a strong fantasy play, ranking 10th among quarterbacks in standard scoring this season. In the fantasy world, Winston has been able to overcome his turnover issues thanks to his aggressiveness (10.4 air yards per target, second highest in NFL) and numerous pass attempts (tied for the league lead with 39.4 attempts per game). Expect Williams to neutralize Winston, perhaps picking him off a time or two. But Tampa Bay’s quarterback will always be a good fantasy option.
How Williams does it: In Week 10 against Atlanta, Williams became the first Saints safety since Kevin Kaesviharn in 2007 to defend four passes in a game. Two of those came against Julio Jones, including this outstanding play below. Williams (#43, deep middle) tracks this ball incredibly well, darting full speed to the landing point with no wasted motion. He beats Jones to the spot to take away what would have been an uncontested shot at the over-the-shoulder grab.
Rams CB Nickell Robey-Coleman vs. Bears passing attack
Why Bears are overmatched: The Chicago passing attack is putrid, ranking 31st in net yards per pass attempt (5.0). The Bears have not made many big plays, averaging a league-worst 9.3 yards per completion. Matt Nagy’s group has only generated two passing touchdowns of 20-plus yards or more. Only the Colts and Dolphins (one each) have fewer.
One of the primary issues for the Bears is a lack of production from the slot. Their leading receiver from that spot is Allen Robinson, with 260 yards (26th in league). Robinson is efficient in the slot, averaging 8.1 yards per target and not dropping a pass, but nobody else has stepped up. From the slot, all other Chicago receivers have averaged just 5.8 yards per target, with a combined five drops.
Why Robey-Coleman will dominate: A top-notch nickelback, he has allowed just 0.51 yards per cover snap out of the slot, best among the 32 cornerbacks with at least 100 slot coverage snaps.
Teams have challenged Robey-Coleman, as he has faced the 10th-most targets out of the slot (31). But he has allowed only 4.0 yards per target, second best behind only Baltimore’s Brandon Carr. Robey-Coleman has allowed the lowest completion percentage (51.6 percent) and third-fewest yards after catch per reception (3.1) out of the slot, signifying the tightness of his coverage.
Fantasy impact: Anthony Miller and Robinson lead the Bears in slot snaps by a wide margin, with 170 and 132, respectively. Miller is a fantasy non-factor. Robinson, who has run 40.5 percent out of his routes out of the slot, could be quieted by Robey-Coleman. When the pair last met in 2018, Robinson caught just five passes for 42 yards and no touchdowns. If the Bears keep Robinson out of the slot, he will probably be defended by star cornerback Jalen Ramsey, an unfavorable matchup for Chicago’s top weapon.
How Robey-Coleman does it: As evidenced by a low number of yards allowed after a catch, Robey-Coleman is a strong tackler. He is prone to miss now and then, but when he is clicking, he tackles with strong force and prevents extra yardage. On this play below against the 49ers, Robey-Coleman (slot on defense’s right side) is lined up against Deebo Samuel. The 49ers’ rookie is one of the league’s most dangerous ball-carriers in the open field, ranking fourth among wide receivers in YAC per reception (7.4). Robey-Coleman reads this play quickly, shooting in fast enough to evade the oncoming blocker. He finishes with a fluid wrap-up to bring Samuel down for a two-yard loss.
By: Michael Nania