Another weekend of football is done and it’s time to sift through the good and get to the best performances of the week. There are the familiar names here as great form continued for some but there are also some new faces. Despite being blanked against New England and sporting a broken hand, JJ Watt gained serious consideration this week as the Patriots designed their entire protection system and game plan around not letting him get to Brady. His mere presence gave easier paths to the QB for Clowney and the rest of his teammates. I’ve never seen a defensive linemen so strictly gameplanned for. Cam Newton and Russell Wilson once again juked it out for a place here only to be beaten to the punch by a supremely efficient performance from another. And then there was perhaps the best single game performance from a defensive player we’ve seen this season…
Eli Manning, New York Giants When the Giants needed a great performance from Manning they got one. He completed 27 of 31 passes and two of those were throwaways. Eli was superb at picking his spots to go deep and found windows where necessary. His command at the line was brilliant as well – Manning was shifting between plays at the line to the best play necessary and yes, Odell Beckham Jr reeled in a great catch, but he put it in the only place he could. It really was flawless from Manning.
Isaiah Crowell, Cleveland Browns Todd Gurley, St. Louis Rams
The Browns haven’t had a good season on the ground – or anywhere else really – but they smashed the 49ers behind a good performance from Crowell. Patient when he needed to be and explosive when the hole was there, he ran through tackles and exposed the 49ers’ defensive issues. 145 yards on just 20 carries and two trips to the end zone gave Cleveland their first win in over two months.
Watching the St. Louis game wasn’t that much fun… until Todd Gurley got going. He was truly spectacular in the second half of this contest as he burst through tacklers with all the speed and power we’ve come to expect from him. He finished with an average of 8.8 yards per carry, which is insane. He gained over 5 yards after contact PER CARRY. My words can’t do his play justice, go and watch him rain fire upon the Lions defense.
Odell Beckham Jr, New York Giants Tyler Lockett, Seattle Seahawks
No one in the NFL defies the laws of physics than Odell Beckham Jr. There were no ridiculous one handed catches on Monday night, instead it was truly outrageous body control to keep his feet in bounds as he caught a ball that I don’t think actually go into the endzone at any point. He was generally uncoverable against the Dolphins, picking up a 45 yard pass in a key scoring drive at the end of the first half and then bursting between the safeties on a option route for an 84 yard score that ended up being the winner. Beckham finished the night with 7 catches on 9 targets for 166 yards and 2 touchdowns as well as earning a pass interference flag on 3rd down. Lockett was a nuisance all day to the Ravens secondary. From quick hitches and jinking past tacklers to blazing past coverages to make one handed catches and holding on through big hits; Lockett just had it all. Even on routes he didn’t get targeted on he was winning. He’s become a weapon in the passing game far quicker than anyone thought he would, and is so deadly that he might not be long for the kick return world as an injury would be devastating.
Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots
The NFL is just a better place with a healthy Gronk. In his first game back from what was a scary looking knee injury he was a little limited – for about 8 plays. Then Gronk started embarrassing people in coverage. He left one linebacker in his wake on a 45 yard reception early on and then snagged a touchdown against an overmatched safety Quintin Demps. His blocking was also instrumental in the Patriots having some success against the strong Texans front seven.
Cordy Glenn, Buffalo Bills Matt Slauson, Chicago Bears Weston Richburg, New York Giants TJ Lang, Green Bay Packers Terron Armstead, New Orleans Saints
Glenn has been among the best offensive tackles all season and this week was no exception. He locked down the left side in pass protection on all but one play, when he was lined up on the right as an extra tackle. In the ground game he was monstrous, moving bodies on the shotgun sweeps and sealing the edge. When asked to pull he was quick across the ground and dominant on contact. Slauson is one of the most improved blockers through this season and Sunday was just the next step. He was pretty much perfect in pass protection, giving Cutler plenty of space to step into – although he sometimes didn’t take it and got rocked for it! He was also moving bodies in the running game to open lanes for Forte and others. It was one of the best games I’ve seen him play. The Giants have had offensive line issues for a few seasons now but Richburg is one of the few bright spots for them. He played guard last season as a rookie but since moving to center he’s been fantastic. On Monday he was gaining movement against nose tackles without any help and generally keeping the top of the pocket clear while the rest of the Giants O-line struggled. The Packers decided to role back the decades and go ground and pound on the Cowboys to the tune of 230 yards at over 5 a carry. Most of the grunt work up front was done by Lang who has been a stalwart member of the Packers O-Line for a while now but struggled this season. If he’s back to form though – along with Josh Sitton – he can make the Packers deadly again. Armstead is perhaps the most physically gifted tackle in the NFL today; fast, long and strong. He put all those elements to work against the Bucs as he stonewalled rusher after rusher. His footwork wasn’t as crisp as it could be but those long arms bail him out of any mistakes and his hand placement was great. Armstead is on his way to being a truly elite pass protector in the NFL.
Jabaal Sheard, New England Patriots Aaron Donald, St. Louis Rams Ndamukong Suh, Miami Dolphins Muhammad Wilkerson, New York Jets
Sheard will be in Derek Newton and Brian Hoyer’s nightmares for a while. He blew past the over-matched right tackle on almost every play in the second half to pick up 2 sacks, 3 QB hits and a tackle for loss in the run game. Hoyer – and his eventual replacement TJ Yates – were under siege for the last 30 minutes and the main offender was Sheard. Donald finds his way back into the Team of the Week once again as he victimised the Lions interior offensive line to the tune of 3 sacks and 6 QB hits. He was so fast off the ball on his first snap that he drove the initial double team back before overwhelming Warford. Donald’s speed is what sets him apart from other defensive tackles and while it might limit his longevity for now it makes him truly deadly. Despite Jon Gruden questioning his effort repeatedly Suh had a very disruptive night and made John Jerry’s night miserable. He was a force against the run. Shoving Jerry aside to hit Jennings in the backfield early on. One a 3rd and short he got off the ball so quickly he knocked Jerry back immediately and was the reason the play got stuffed. He also got a hand to a pass in at the goal line. His impact against the pass was minimized thanks to double teams and New York’s no huddle offense but he still played 60 of 67 defensive snaps and was the only reason the Dolphins had any success against the run. The Jets have invested first round pick after first round pick on their defensive line and it’s paid dividends. It is an extremely talented group that can take over a game and this week it was Wilkerson who was the stand-out star. 5 tackles, 3 sacks and a smattering of total domination put pay to the Titans chances of doing anything on offense beyond the extreme trick play.
Khalil Mack, Oakland Raiders Lavonte David, Tampa Bay Buccaneers Thomas Davis, Carolina Panthers
On Sunday Mack was the best player in the NFL by a country mile. He dominated and destroyed the Denver Broncos to the tune of FIVE sacks. It was a brutal display as he ran over and around any blocker in his path and beat the ever-loving crap out of Brock Osweiler. There are maybe a handful of games a season that are outright won by a defensive player – this was one of them. I can’t recommend his highlight reel enough, The sack when he literally ran over Ryan Harris was my favourite. David ended up leading the Bucs in tackles (13) as he overcame a poor performance from his defensive line. When a D-Line struggles, blockers get up to the linebacker level faster and more often than they should. But David was able to overcome that which is why he makes this team. He also got good pressure on Brees when blitzing and deflected a pass. The whole Panthers team could have made up our Team of the Week, but it’s Davis who really stood out. For someone with so many knee injuries and 11 seasons under his belt to fly around the field like a rookie is amazing. Davis forced a fumble on Julio Jones. He bull-rushed Jake Matthews back into the lap of Matt Ryan. He picked up 7 tackles, a sack and 2 more QB hits as he and the rest of the defense shutout the Falcons.
Logan Ryan, New England Patriots Malcolm Butler, New England Patriots
Tyrann Mathieu, Arizona Cardinals Kurt Coleman, Carolina Panthers
The pair of Pats corners get in here for doing a terrific job in taking away DeAndre Hopkins for all but one play as well as Nate Washington on deep plays. As Matt Patricia focused on blitzing and pressuring Hoyer the 2 corners were largely left on an island with their men – especially when Devin McCourty got hurt – and were so successful that never-before-heard-of TE Ryan Griffin ended up with more targets than Washington and the same as Hopkins. Mathieu is one of my favourite players to watch. You never know where he’s going to be on the field and what he’s going to do. With Arizona’s blitz happy scheme he could be up on the line of scrimmage and shooting round the edge or he could be 20 yards off the ball. Against Minnesota he did everything and finished with a team leading 11 tackles, one for a loss and one pass deflected. Another week, another Team of the Week appearance for Kurt Coleman. His discipline is the exceptional part of his play. He was never out of position, always hunting the football and his angles against the run are superb. He ended up leading the Panthers in tackles and snagged his 7th interception of the season to finish off a great game by the Panthers defense.