Tuesday, November 29, 2011

NFL Second Trimester Awards

This is a picture of Gary Kubiak when he played for the Broncos...and they say Tebow has an unorthodox delivery!
 Hard to believe, but the NFL season is more than two-thirds of the way done.  With the playoffs very much in sight, there is still a lot left to be determined. Several divisions are still in play, the wild card spots are very much up in the air, the Packers are still chasing a perfect season, and Tim Tebow is attempting to force every football “expert” into early retirement.

With plenty left to figure out, it’s important to step back and see where we are at this moment. Here are the award winners after the NFL’s second trimester:


Honorable Mention: Arian Foster, Wes Welker, Calvin Johnson, Tony Romo, DeMarco Murray, Von Miller, Tim Tebow (why not?)

Toughest Omission: LeSean McCoy – Yes, I know the Eagles have been the biggest disappointment in the NFL. Believe me, I know. Don’t put that on ‘Shady’ McCoy though, as he’s found a way to lead the NFL in rushing yards despite playing in Andy Reid’s Arena League type system. With five games left to play, McCoy has already topped the 1000 yard mark (1050 yards) and has a league high 11 TD’s (tied with AP). But wait, there’s more! McCoy leads the league in runs for first down with 64 (14 above the next highest!), is tied for first in carries of 20 or more yards, and is 7th in Y/A with an obscene average of 5.3 Y/A. Oh yeah, and he’s also the only top 10 rusher with 0 fumbles. The Eagles may suck, but LeSean McCoy definitely does not.

5. Frank Gore –While Gore isn’t having the monster statistical season some of his peers are having, he’s arguably the most impressive of the group. While Alex Smith’s sudden resurgence (did he ever surge to begin with?) is getting most of the press, Gore’s dominance in the running game is what really keeps the ‘Niners competitive on the offensive end. If you’ve spent any amount of time watching 49ers games, you know Gore isn’t getting much help from his line. According to Football Outsiders, San Francisco’s Adjusted Line Yards of 4.00 Y/A rank just 18th in the league. Meanwhile, Gore is averaging 4.5 Y/A, a significantly higher number than the talent of his line should allow. Given the number of eight man boxes and the relative “low risk” approach by the passing game, Gore’s 909 yards simply can’t be credited enough.

4. Matt Forte – Unfortunately for Gore, I did say he’s “arguably” the most impressive. That argument ends with Matt Forte’s season. Since we started down the Football Outsider’s road with Gore’s production, let’s take a similar look at Forte’s. The Bears putrid offensive line ranks 29th in the NFL with 3.79 Adjusted Line Yards per attempt. Meanwhile, Forte is averaging 5.0 Y/A! That’s more than a full yard higher! You can talk about Cutler all you want, but the Bears are in playoff position because Forte is putting together a vintage Marshall Faulk-like season. I don’t know if they’ll make it with Caleb Hanie, but they certainly have a fighting chance with Forte.

3. Tom BradyI feel bad about going the QB route for my top three candidates, but there’s really no valid argument for excluding any of them. After an oddly rough start to his season (8 INT’s in the first 6 games), Brady has rebounded to post some very Tom Brady-like numbers. Since those first six games, Brady has thrown just two INT’s in 184 pass attempts – an INT rate of just 1%. Those types of numbers would seem to be enough to land him at #2 on this list, but his recent struggles against the Steelers and Giants must be accounted for. He wasn’t “bad” in either game, but he certainly wasn’t in top form either. Unfortunately for the 2011 Patriots, it seems they absolutely need a dominant performance from their QB to hang with the NFL’s elite. Nevertheless, it would be unwise to count out the Patriots, and Brady’s last three games might very well be an indicator that he’s peaking at the right time.

2. Drew BreesThe Saints are once again sniffing the Super Bowl and there’s little doubt as to why that is the case. The biggest issue I had with Brees in my first MVP rankings was his inexplicable INT rate, which had seemingly carried over from last season. For whatever reason, I have this vision of Sean Payton pulling Brees aside and quietly saying, “Hey Drew, maybe you should stop throwing the ball to the over team,” because his INT rate has fallen drastically over the last five games. In that stretch, Brees threw just 3 INT’s in his 196 pass attempts. That’s a miniscule INT rate of just 1.5%! Given the Saints status as a contender and the historic numbers Brees is posting, there’s no question he deserves to be mentioned near the top of this list. Still, the assertion by ESPN NFC South blogger Pat Yasinkas that Brees is a better MVP candidate than Aaron Rodgers is laughable at best. It was inevitable that we would reach this point, as all obvious things in sports must eventually be over thought by the media, but it makes it no less of a joke. That having been said, your MVP is still…

1. Aaron RodgersNo matter what Pat Yasinkas or any other over thinking blogger wants to sell to you, Aaron Rodgers is the runaway winner. No question. The guy has just 200 less yards than Drew Brees, but in nearly 100 less passing attempts. The guy has 6 more TD’s than Brees, but 7 less INT’s. Considering that Green Bay is undefeated and has the league’s top offense, despite the lack of a running game, how can there even be a question?

Defensive Player of the Year

3. Von Miller – This was a tough call putting the rookie over Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman. After all, the 49ers defense has been about as good as you can get, and those two are the main reasons why. Still, it’s impossible to overlook what Von Miller is doing on a mostly talentless defense. After all, this is the same defense that ranked dead last in total defense last year, allowing 29.4 PPG. We can certainly talk about Tim Tebow all day (happy to do it), but Von Miller has been the game changer for this team. With sacks in 9 of his 11 games, the rookie has been consistently dominant and has keyed Denver’s recent surge.

2. Jared Allen– There’s certainly an excellent argument for Allen to be ranked first, but his slowed production – just 2 sacks in his last 4 games – and DeMarcus Ware’s surge has relegated him to second place. That could change at any time, however, as Allen’s 10 sacks in 5 games binge earlier this season shows his ability to dominate for long stretches of time. Unfortunately, Minnesota’s overall lack of defensive success – or success of any kind – definitely counts against him. 

1. DeMarcus Ware – I still find it mind-boggling that Ware has never won a DPOY award. If ever there was a time to reward him for his long stretch of dominance, this would certainly be it. The surface numbers alone – 14 sacks! – are enough to make him the leading contender, but even that doesn’t do him justice. As someone who has watched every Cowboys game this season, I can tell you that DeMarcus Ware isn’t just a valuable piece of the defense…he IS the defense. Other than Jay Ratliff and Sean Lee, there are literally no other players worth mentioning on the Dallas Cowboys defense. The line struggles to get a solid pass rush, Anthony Spencer goes missing for large portions of the game, and the secondary is perhaps the least talented group in the NFL. If you doubt my anointing of Ware as this year’s DPOY, go watch a Cowboys game and follow Ware on every defensive snap. Watch how Ware is lined up all over the field, succeeding wherever he’s put. Watch how Ware physically dominates even the best linemen in the NFL. Watch how Ware fights through double teams, tight ends, chip blocks, and anything else thrown at him to apply consistent pressure on the QB. Watch how the opposing QB is always aware of where he is, and how his presence has a huge impact even if he’s unable to register a sack. It really is incredible. Watch a game, pay close attention to Ware, and I guarantee you won’t argue with me afterwards.

Offensive Rookie of the Year

3. Cam Newton – Since I’m sure to receive some backlash on this, let me explain why Andy Dalton didn’t make the top three. Basically, I believe he’s getting too much credit for Cincinnati’s success. I debated between Newton and Dalton at #3, but chose Newton for two reasons. One, I’m not willing to place the burden of losing on Newton when his defense is giving up 27.7 YPG. We’ve gone over this stupid “QB Wins” thing enough times already, and I’m not going to elaborate on this. It’s not Newton’s fault that his defense sucks, and it’s not solely Andy Dalton’s doing that the Bengals are in the playoff hunt. Two, Dalton’s stats really aren’t that impressive. A comparison of the two shows that Newton has a higher completion percentage, a much higher Y/A, and far more yards. Certainly Dalton holds the edge in TD’s and INT’s, but Newton’s 10 rushing TD’s more than make up for the lack of scores and the INT difference is only 2. Look, if you want to put Dalton on this list, then fine. I won’t fight on this one, because Dalton has been good as a rookie. The thing is, I see a marked difference between the two every time I watch them. Newton has done far more with far less, and it’s clear to me who is the better player. 

2. DeMarco Murray – If Murray continues his current pace, he has a pretty darn good shot of jumping to the top spot. As it stands, Murray has been arguably the best RB in football since his ascendance to the starting spot. Despite being the feature back in only 6 games, Murray already ranks 8th in rushing yards (834) while posting an incredible 5.7 Y/A. What’s more important is the 5-1 record the Cowboys have posted in that time. Competition obviously played a factor in that success, but there’s no doubting Murray’s impact on the team.

1. A.J. Green –I said this last time I did these rankings and I’ll reiterate the point now…A.J. Green has been the true MVP in the Bengals offense. His production has been hampered lately by a knee injury, but he was an absolute big play machine prior to that. An astounding 15 of Green’s 44 receptions have gone for 20 or more yards, and he’s hauled 6 of them in for TD’s. As I watch more and more Bengals games, the difference between Andy Dalton and other QB’s of his talent level are clear. Dalton can chuck it up to Green and expect him to make a big play most of the time…other guys can’t.  

Defensive Rookie of the Year

3. Aldon Smith – Smith continues to be a terror off the edge, posting 7.5 sacks already, but has been far too erratic in other areas to seriously consider for this award. DeMarcus Ware went through a similar transition early in his career, and Smith definitely has the talent to turn into an all around force. When that happens, the 49ers linebacker corps will literally be a video game unit.

2. Ryan Kerrigan – It certainly helps to have Brian Orakpo on the other side, but Kerrigan has definitely made a name for himself in his rookie year. The former college DE has made a seamless transition to 3-4 OLB, posting 6 sacks, intercepting a pass, forcing 4 fumbles, and being a true 3 down player. Thank goodness the rest of the Redskins suck!

1. Von Miller – Please see the DPOY rankings. Guy is a monster.

Coach of the Year

3. Marvin Lewis – Nothing about this situation was ideal for Lewis, but he’s clearly pushed all the right buttons and has this team on the brink of a playoff berth. Considering how bad they were last year and the turmoil they went through in the offseason, that’s nothing short of a miracle.

2. Gary Kubiak – Yeah, I pretty much had an aneurysm when I considered that Kubiak might be #2 on my list. IT’S GARY FREAKING KUBIAK FOR GOODNESS SAKES!!! Still, when you consider what this team has had to overcome, it’s remarkable they’re in the position they’re in. Yeah, the Peyton Manning injury made things a lot easier on them, but they’ve had their own problems to deal with as well. Injuries to Mario Williams, Arian Foster, and Andre Johnson could have easily derailed their season, but the Texans not only held it together, they found a way to thrive. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but good job, Gary Kubiak! Now go out there and overcome the loss of your top two QB’s! You can do it with T.J. Yates!!!

1. Jim Harbaugh – I’m not even going to waste your time with an explanation. It’s as obvious a choice as Rodgers is for MVP.

Most Disappointing Team

Philadelphia Eagles – No question about it. Philadelphia spent approximately $73 billion in the offseason to buy their first Super Bowl, but instead bought a steaming pile of garbage. The line has been bad, the $100 million man has been bad, the secondary has been bad…everything shy of LeSean McCoy has been bad. You might have predicted them to struggle a bit, but I doubt you predicted this mess.

Honerable Mention: San Diego Chargers – I’m not sure if I should be disappointed with them anymore, but I still am. An underachieving Norv Turner team is an obvious choice, but a ‘more-awful-than-you-could-ever-imagine’ six game losing streak is not something I expected. Also not expected was Philip Rivers season long Kyle Boller impression.

Most Surprising Team

Denver Broncos – Denver is averaging 19.3 PPG since Tebow took over as the starter six games ago. They’re 5-1 in that stretch. 19.3 PPG is the same amount of points that Miami averages, except that the Dolphins have only 3 wins all season. If you figure out an answer to all this nonsense, please let me know.

Most Disappointing Player

Josh Freeman – There are any number of guys I can put here, including Michael Vick, Philip Rivers, Joe Flacco, Sam Bradford, and others. Freeman stands out to me though because I really thought he was special, and there is seemingly no reason for how bad he’s been. At least with Vick and Bradford you can blame injuries and poor line play. At least with Rivers you can blame coaching and poor line play. At least with Flacco…well, I knew he was bad. But Freeman? What’s the deal? He’s got a talented group of young skill players at his disposal that theoretically should have improved. He’s got a solid offensive line that ranks 6th in sack rate. He’s coming off a season in which he posted a historically high TD-INT ratio. With that in mind, his 16 INT’s and 6.61 Y/A are really mind boggling. I don’t know what the answer is, but there’s a possibility that he might not be good. For as great as he was last year, that certainly is a disappointing conclusion.

Most Surprising Player

Alex Smith – There’s no sense in over thinking this one, as Smith has far outplayed his previous norms in helping San Francisco to a likely first round bye. While I’m not willing to go overboard and say Smith is suddenly an elite QB, I will say he deserves a fair amount of credit for the 49ers success. Unlike the Trent Dilfer’s of the world, Smith is not just along for the ride.  

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