We're taking a look at one critical matchup in every NFL playoff game, continuing on with Sunday's wild-card contests …
Chargers QB Philip Rivers vs. Ravens' pass rush
In a loss that all but eliminated the Chargers' chances of securing the top seed in the AFC, Rivers threw for just 181 yards (then a season low before the Week 17 outing against the Broncos) and two interceptions in a 22-10 defeat to the Ravens two weeks ago. The 37-year-old quarterback faced a barrage of pressure throughout the day, taking four sacks and eight hits.
While providing Rivers more protection and time to pass will be paramount for Anthony Lynn's offense, staving off Baltimore's rush is not merely a responsibility for the offensive line. The Ravens have blitzed on 37.1 percent of their defensive snaps, choosing to rely on a steady secondary that has held opposing quarterbacks to a league-low 58.4 percent completion rate and 6.3 yards per attempt.
While Rivers has scaled back on his gunslinger approach this season, employing a quick-hit distribution will be imperative on Sunday. Getting open-space opportunities for Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler, who combined for 89 catches in the regular season, could be one of the biggest shifts for the Chargers offense from the previous meeting after Gordon had just three catches for 13 yards and Ekeler was held out.
One element that could be crucial for Los Angeles will be integrating more play-action attempts, as Rivers' 130.6 passer rating on such plays ranks third among all quarterbacks, according to ESPN.
Bears RB Tarik Cohen vs. Eagles linebackers
Chicago's 5-foot-6 all-purpose threat should be a big concern for Philadelphia. Cohen led the Bears with 71 receptions and finished second on the team with 725 receiving yards. And while Mitchell Trubisky could attack the outside of an Eagles pass defense that ranked 30th with 269 yards allowed per game, the running back could be the key figure in the air attack.
Philadelphia has been burnt by dynamic receiving threats out of the backfield throughout the season, including the Rams' Todd Gurley (10 catches for 76 yards) and Ezekiel Elliott (12 catches for 79 yards) in recent weeks. And while no back has eclipsed the 100-yard receiving mark against the defense, a proclivity for giving up big plays could indicate that Cohen could break the game open.
The Eagles will likely try to prevent their linebackers from finding themselves in coverage against Cohen, but Matt Nagy's diverse offense could force some mismatches. In particular, the Bears could create havoc by going with empty sets and splitting Cohen out wide to force defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz to show his hand.
Follow Michael Middlehurst-Schwartz on Twitter @MikeMSchwartz.
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