Analysis

The Key Matchups That Defined Sunday’s Divisional Playoffs

The Key Matchups That Defined Sunday's Divisional Playoffs

After a whirlwind of a Divisional Playoff Round, here we check in with a look at the key matchups that defined Sunday’s outcomes.

Rams over Bucs

Von Miller vs Donovan Smith

With star RT Tristan Wirfs out for the game, the questions surrounded the RT position as a potential problem for the Buccaneers. However it was the Bucs LT, Donovan Smith that created a headache for the offense. Von Miller seemingly regained his 2015 playoffs shape, and looked like prime Von Miller for the first time since his trade to LAR. He clearly had the advantage in this matchup. Miller displayed impressive bend and flashed his patented ghost move, bending around the corner on multiple occasions. With Miller getting consistent pressure all game, this made it increasingly difficult for the Buccaneers to push the ball down field. Miller’s ghost move led to a QB hit and a critical Tom Brady unsportsmanlike penalty. The combination of speed, bend, and power created problems all day for Smith.

All this was highlighted by Miller when he was able to get by Smith, bend the corner and force a fumble on Brady in the fourth quarter. Miller finished the game with ten total pressures generated, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble, and an impressive 30% pass rush win percentage. If Von Miller can continue to produce this way, the Rams are going to be in really good shape to win the whole thing. 

Cooper Kupp vs. Sean Murphy-Bunting

The Rams offense has no special trick or change up in this weekend’s game. All season long they have relied on Cooper Kupp dominating his matchups, and nothing changed today. Kupp continued his fantastic season to the tune of 9 receptions for 183 yards and a touchdown. The biggest play of the day for Kupp was his catch at the end of the game on a seam route that put the Rams in field goal position with less than 20 seconds left. His performance showed he can win his speed as well as beat defenders with his “technician like” route running, allowing him to separate anywhere on the field. Kupp will have to continue his streak of great games if the Ram want to be competitive in their matchup next week against the 49ers.   

The Buccaneers secondary has gone through a laundry list of names due to the amount of injuries they have had this season. Sean Murphy-Bunting has been a consistent starter for them since returning from injury earlier this year. He played a critical role in their Super Bowl run in 2020 but today’s performance did not mirror that. Murphy-Bunting allowed a team high 7 completions today which was tied for fourth most in the divisional round. On the 8 open targets allowed by Murphy-Bunting (most allowed out of all players this weekend), Kupp took advantage to help the Rams pull through.

Chiefs over Bills

Travis Kelce vs. Matt Milano

It is a rare sight that a linebacker and tight end matchup battle vastly changes the tide of a playoff game but this one saw massive implications from both Travis Kelce and Matt Milano. Kelce ended the night with 8 receptions, 96 yards, and a touchdown that sealed the overtime victory for the Chiefs. His ability to pick up yardage on critical downs and be a reliable safety net for the Chief’s offense is what made him so dangerous today. The out-and-up route he caught in a back shoulder position in the end zone, to win the game over Milano, is the type of body control and hands you see from top tier receivers. His impact cannot be fully recognized with his stat line. His significance in this Chiefs win is more than just the numbers he put up. Kelce is a matchup nightmare for linebackers who have the responsibility of manning him up at the end of the line or in the slot. 

Matt Milano’s matchup with Travis Kelce was one of the toughest assignments given in today’s game. Milano brings a savvy football IQ combined with coverage skills to the Bills. His stat line ended up with 11 total tackles which led the Buffalo defense. In today’s game Kelce got the best of him at the end, when he was assigned to man-up Kelce into the endzone on the toughest ball position for LB to cover, a back shoulder throw. The Bills scheme consisted primarily of cover-2 with cover-1 thrown in on 3rd down. Milano’s assignments were typically to drop just outside the half in the intermediate of he field. He showed the ability to transition out of his drop and limit the run after catch yardage of most players including Kelce. This overall matchup is decided by the game winning touchdown at the end where Kelce made a fantastic catch to seal the game for the Chiefs. 

Tremaine Edmunds in Underneath Zone Coverage vs Chiefs Skill Players

The Bills played a two high safety shell on 92% of the plays in this game in effort to play the sticks and try to keep everything in front of them. Mahomes and the Chiefs are known for their explosive offense and such a strategy was implemented to prevent these big plays. With their outstanding speed, Tyreek Hill and Mecole Hardman are threats to take any pass the distance.

The Bills relied on their linebackers and secondary to keep everything in front of them and swarm to the football. Unfortunately, they had many lapses in coverage and allowed a lot of easy catch and run opportunities for the Chiefs. One player who got picked on for the Bills was Tremaine Edmunds. The Chiefs keyed in on Edmunds a handful of times in this game which resulted in him looking lost in coverage at times. Being a step slow in coverage throughout the game allowed the Chiefs to pick up much needed yardage against the Bills defense over the middle of the field and underneath. Players such as Jerick Mckinnon, Byron Pringle, Tyreek Hill, and others created huge problems for the Bills. Edmunds was targeted 11 times, all coming within the numbers, and he allowed 9 completions for 99 yards.