Championship game mismatches: Why Sherman gives Niners major edge

Yardbarker’s Michael Nania analyzes the biggest positional mismatches during the NFL playoffs.


DVOA (Defense-Adjusted Value Over Average): A method of evaluating teams, units or players in a comparative fashion. It takes every play during the NFL season and compares each to a league-average baseline based on situation.

EPA (Estimated Points Added): The measure of a play’s impact on the score of the game. It represents the difference between a team’s “expected points value” (the net point value a team can expect given a particular combination of down, distance and field position) before and after a play.

Titans offensive line vs. Chiefs run defense

Why Tennessee has the edge:  Derrick Henry has produced at a historical level, rushing for at least 182 yards in each of his past three games and eclipsing 100 yards in seven of his past eight. His efficiency and high volume are impressive (6.3 yards per attempt on 25.4 carries per game since Week 10).

In the Titans’ surprising run, Henry has benefited from impressive offensive line play. Including the postseason, the Titans own a 72.2 Pro Football Focus run-blocking grade, fifth best in the league. Tennessee’s three best run-blocking performances, according to PFF, have come in the past three games. In the regular season, Tennessee ranked fourth in Football Outsiders’ adjusted line yards per carry (4.66) and converted at the fifth-best rate in short-yardage (third or fourth down, two yards or less to go) rushing situations (73 percent success rate).

Why Kansas City will struggle: Run defense is Kansas City’s Achilles heel. The Chiefs ranked 29th in run defense DVOA in the regular season. They allowed the fourth-most yards per rush attempt (4.9) and yielded the eight-highest conversion rate in short-yardage rushing situations (71 percent), numbers that suggest a huge problem playing against Henry.

How Tennessee does it:  Left guard Rodger Saffold, a longtime Ram who was signed a four-year, $44 million deal before the 2019 season, is an unheralded star in Tennessee’s hot streak. His run-blocking has paved the way for major gains by Henry, including several in the Titans’ 35-32 win against the Chiefs in Nashville in Week 10. Henry rushed for 188 yards (8.2 yard average) and two touchdowns against Kansas City. On this play, Saffold (#76) hits the second level and wallops Chiefs linebacker Damien Wilson (#54), clearing a lane for Henry to pick up 14 yards.

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