Over the last 15 years, only quarterbacks and running backs have been named league MVP. It took a talent like Jerry Rice to earn that award outside of those two key positions. In 1987, he was the last non-QB/RB to win the trophy. However, as each week passes it’s becoming clear that that all might change this season. And what’s more surprising – the leading candidate for the award is a 3-4 defensive end.
JJ Watt was just one of several impressive defensive performances from week seven. Which players stood out along with him?
JJ Watt has been without question the best defensive player in the league this season, and you’d be hard pressed to find a player who has had a bigger impact in each game than Watt. The numbers he’s putting up are astounding. Watt has recorded 9.5 sacks, hit the quarterback an additional 16 times, and deflected 11 passes (the record for a defensive lineman in a season is 11, set by Jared Allen). His latest tip, against Baltimore, turned into a touchdown as fellow Texan Jonathon Joseph picked it off and ran it back. Opponents have tried a number of different ways to stop him, but nothing has even begun to slow Watt down.
Perhaps even more surprising than the raw numbers he’s accumulating is where he’s doing it from. Traditionally, a 3-4 defensive end would never put up numbers like Watt has. Over the past several seasons, San Francisco’s Justin Smith would widely have been considered to be the best 3-4 DE in the game, and it would have taken him a whole season to accomplish what Watt has in less than half a season.
Watt has accomplished in only his second year what most players could go a whole career without even coming close to. He’s been what has made Houston’s defense one of the best in the league, and there’s no question that were he not on the field, the Texans would look much, much different.
He’s having the type of impact that we don’t often get to see out of a defensive player. When his defensive coordinator Wade Phillips said Watt would be a hall of famer, many felt it was an exaggeration. A few months later, and now it just seems like an almost obvious prediction.
As usual, there have been several quarterbacks getting plenty of MVP buzz at this point in the season. Aaron Rodgers is getting plenty of consideration, as is Matt Ryan in Atlanta. And while both of those guys are having great seasons, neither one is having the same impact on the game that Watt has had. Take away either quarterback from their offense and insert another starting level quarterback, and you’d still have good offensive production. However, there’s not a player in the league who could replace what Watt has done for the Texans’ defense. And for me, that’s the definition of Most Valuable Player.
Recapping the Match-ups to Watch
Baltimore DBs vs. Houston WR Andre Johnson
If Sunday was any indication, the Ravens are going to sorely miss Ladarius Webb. Jimmy Smith and Cary Williams didn’t put up much of a fight against the Texans, giving up over one hundred yards passing and a touchdown between the two of them.
Even though it was Kevin Walter, and not Andre Johnson doing most of the damage, the result was still an overwhelming win for the Texans’ offense in this match-up. Baltimore came into the season with Super Bowl hopes, but at least at this point it doesn’t look like they have Super Bowl quality depth on defense.
Washington LT Trent Williams vs. New York DE Jason Pierre-Paul
For the Redskins to have any chance on Sunday, they needed to protect Robert Griffin III from the Giants’ pass rush. For most of the game, RGIII did have decent protection, and Washington probably would have won the game as well, were it not for Eli Manning and Victor Cruz’s late game heroics.
Both Jason Pierre Paul and Osi Umenyiora got to RGIII once, but those two plays weren’t enough to slow the rookie phenom down. The former Baylor start went 20-28 for 258 yards and 2 touchdowns, and nearly led the Redskins to a major upset victory over the Giants.
The real question that follows this game is whether or not it’s the Washington offensive line that’s improving, or if New York’s defensive line isn’t quite as fierce as they once were. In reality, both possibilities may be correct. There’s no doubt that Trent Williams and the rest of the offensive line is much better than it was a couple of seasons ago. But outside of JPP, the Giants’ pass rush isn’t nearly as impressive as it once was.
Friday we highlighted three defensive rookies poised to have big weekends. How did they fare?
Green Bay DB Casey Hayward
With CB Sam Shields out with injury, Casey Hayward stepping into the starting lineup at St. Louis, and he didn’t disappoint. On paper, he ended up giving up nearly a hundred receiving yards – but over half of that was on a screen pass to Chris Givens. Givens had excellent blocking, including Hayward getting matched up with an offensive line man. There’s not much you can ask your cornerback to do in that situation.
Hayward only gave up three additional receptions and recorded an interception on the day as well. It was just one game, but he certainly looked like a guy the Packers will be able to rely on as long as necessary.
Tennessee DT Mike Martin
The Titans got a relatively unexpected boost when Jurell Casey was able to get healthy enough to make it back to the starting lineup against Buffalo, but that didn’t mean Mike Martin wouldn’t have a chance to make an impact. The entire defensive line struggled to stop the combination of Fred Jackson and CJ Spiller, but Martin didn’t have a poor game in the trenches.
His biggest play of the day however, came surprisingly enough in pass coverage. As the Bills tried to drive down the field with under a minute left in the game, Martin dropped back in coverage and found himself matched up with a tight end. He did give up the completion, but made an excellent open field play, keeping the tight end in bounds and stopping him short of the first down.
New England DE Chandler Jones
Chandler Jones was the only rookie defender in this group to put up a disappointing showing on Sunday. On paper, his match-up with the inconsistent D’Brickashaw Ferguson should have been one that the rookie could take advantage of. But instead it was Ferguson who was the dominant player, and he minimized any impact that Jones made on the game.
The Patriots eventually won the game, but it wasn’t thanks to Jones. He only got one pressure on Sanchez, and was quiet for most of the game. He’s still the best defensive rookie of the year, but like most rookies, he still has to improve his consistency.
Scouting Notes from Across the League
The Patriots defensive line did not have a good game, but linebacker Brandon Spikes more than made up for it. He can be a liability in coverage from time to time, but he’s always a pleasure to watch against the run.
Matt Stafford is getting a lot of his for another poor performance (and rightfully so). But don’t discount the job that the Bears defense did in Monday Night, either. Specifically, Charles Tillman did an outstanding job of shutting down Calvin Johnson. Not only did Tillman deflect a would be touchdown pass, but he also forced two fumbles during the game.
Maybe it’s not saying much, since Carolina’s defensive line has struggled all season long, but Dallas’ offensive line did a fantastic job of keeping Tony Romo protected. Romo will get deserved credit for the win, but we shouldn’t over look a great offensive line performance as well.
Tampa Bay didn’t get the win, and Josh Freeman put up massive numbers, but don’t think Doug Martin didn’t have a great game. He showed the elusiveness that had been missing from his game against New Orleans, and hopefully that will carry over to the rest of the season.
St Louis defensive end Chris Long can be one of the best pass rushers in the league, but he was terrible on Sunday. Robert Quinn outshined him on the defensive line in this particular game.