Here's a breakdown of four significant positional mismatches in Week 14:
After one of his best performances of the season, New England Patriots interior defender Lawrence Guy has an opportunity to replicate that showing this weekend against Miami Dolphins guard Jesse Davis.
Guy's pass-rush style resembles a bull rampaging through a china shop. He isn't blessed with otherworldly speed or explosiveness, so he compensates with strength, leverage, and active hands. Here's an example:
On this play from Week 13, Guy's aligned with a slight outside shade over Minnesota Vikings right guard Mike Remmers. Once the ball is snapped, Guy pushes vertically, attacking Remmers' outside edge with a rip move.
Once he reaches the apex of the quarterback's drop, Guy transitions to a powerful "hump move" made popular by Reggie White. Even though Guy doesn't generate much speed on this rush, his upper-body strength allows him to toss Remmers aside. From there, Guy gets his hips on track and pursues the quarterback, resulting in a hit just after the ball is released.
But while Guy should generate pressure as a pass-rusher against Davis, his biggest impact will come defending the run, as his raw strength makes him almost impossible to displace at the point of attack. This fourth-down stand against the Vikings is a great example:
Here, Guy's lined up in the backside A-gap between Minnesota's center and right guard. He's immediately double-teamed when the ball is snapped, but uses leverage and lower-body strength to absorb the contact and hold his ground against two 300-plus-pound offensive linemen.
Meanwhile, the Vikings actually do a great job of opening a crease in the other A-gap and look primed to convert the fourth down - but Guy has other ideas. His eye discipline allows him to identify the ball-carrier's path before escaping the double-team and making the tackle short of the stick.
This is where Davis will truly struggle against Guy. There might not be a guard with sloppier technique, which includes clumsy footwork and a lack of timing with his strikes.
Davis also carries his hands too wide, which allows defenders to initiate contact with superior placement. That would be fine if he had the footwork and core strength to anchor against power, but he doesn't.
It's a recipe for disaster against Guy, whose Hulk-like strength allows him to get the better of some upper-echelon guards - let alone someone like Davis. It’s difficult for interior defenders to accumulate big stats in Bill Belichick's system, but don't be surprised if Guy thoroughly dominates the line of scrimmage against Miami.
Sheldon Rankins is quietly becoming one of the most disruptive defensive tackles in football. In 12 games with the New Orleans Saints this season, the 2016 first-rounder has racked up 30 tackles - 10 for loss - 12 quarterback hits, and seven sacks.
Rankins is poised to keep producing in a tasty matchup against Tampa Bay Buccaneers right guard Caleb Benenoch. The 24-year old Benenoch struggles to get enough depth in pass protection, leaving little room for error if he's beat off the snap. Additionally, he lacks nuance and timing with his strikes, making it easier for defenders to get in a rhythm as the game goes on.
That's bad news against Rankins, who possesses outstanding quickness, sneaky power, and a mix of hand and foot techniques that rival any interior defender not named Aaron Donald. Here's an example:
On this play, Rankins is aligned in an A-gap with a slight inside shade over Atlanta Falcons right guard Ben Garland. After the ball is snapped, Rankins quickly engages Garland and controls him with superior hand position.
Next, Rankins peaks inside, which leads Garland to shift his weight in that direction. Seeing that, Rankins quickly jukes back outside, gets around Garland, and exits with an arm-over move. From there, Rankins' skilled footwork (toes pointed at the quarterback) allows him to get his hips on track with enough burst to chase down Matt Ryan for the sack.
Unless he gets considerable help throughout the game, Benenoch is in for a long day against Rankins.
After an impressive seven-sack rookie campaign, the former No.1 overall pick has taken the next step this season by recording 32 tackles - including nine for a loss - 22 quarterback hits and 11.5 sacks. Most defensive ends would be ecstatic with those numbers across 16 games.
Things won't get easier against Garrett, whose speed is incredibly difficult to deal with. The 6-foot-4, 272-pounder possesses an uncanny ability to burst around the edge at sharp angles while reducing his blockable surface area. This play is a great illustration:
Here, Garrett's aligned with a wide outside shade over the left tackle. Once the ball is snapped, Garrett explodes out of his stance and pushes vertically. Then, like a runner rounding the final corner during a 400-meter dash, he sprints around the edge and finishes for the sack.
The tackle can barely lay a hand on Garrett as he speeds around the edge. It's rare for such a large human to possess that explosiveness and lower-body pliability, which is why Garrett's such an anomaly in the NFL.
Meanwhile, the above sack is similar to one that Clark allowed to Tampa Bay's Jason Pierre-Paul last week, so it’s easy to see why this matchup leans heavily in Garrett's favor. Expect the pass-rusher to generate a ton of pressure on Cam Newton.
Seattle Seahawks right tackle Germain Ifedi looks like a different player under new offensive line coach Mike Solari. After being one of the league's worst at the position under Tom Cable, Ifedi's been average - or perhaps slightly above average - this year. He's gotten better by cleaning up his footwork issues and improving his hand techniques.
But even with the drastic improvements, Ifedi faces an uphill battle Sunday against Danielle Hunter, who's become a star this season after years of playing second fiddle to Everson Griffen. Hunter's fourth in the NFL with 11.5 sacks, while also recording 58 tackles - 16 for loss - 15 quarterback hits, and a fumble recovery that went for a touchdown.
At 6-foot-5 and 252 pounds, Hunter has a rare mix of power and speed, but his technique is the key that allows him to maximize those physical gifts:
Here, Hunter's aligned well outside of Detroit Lions right tackle Rick Wagner. After the ball is snapped, Hunter pushes at a 45-degree angle toward the pocket, allowing him to manipulate the width of Wagner's pass set.
Next, Hunter suddenly throws on the brakes and executes an inside-arm-over move to beat Wagner's hands. The right tackle's momentum is pulling him forward, making it difficult to stay balanced as he whiffs with his strike.
From there, it's almost impossible for Wagner to recover. His only hope is to hold Hunter, but that fails as the pass-rusher's power allows him to continue pursuing Matthew Stafford, resulting in a sack.
After being held sack-less since Week 9, Hunter's primed to end the drought this week. Ifedi's improved, but he's still not ready to handle Hunter in one-on-one situations.
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.