Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers
Cam’s MVP candidacy was solid before this game, but it took off after it. 5 touchdowns passes, 62% on his throws and 246 yards in a simple win against the Washington Redskins. His place on this team wasn’t so simple though, and I thought it only right to talk about Jameis Winston too, who also had a 5 TD game (I swear our editor-in-chief and resident Bucs fan isn’t making me…) Winston’s performance was very good, but he had moments of sheer madness on some passes that should have been intercepted and taken the other way. Yes, Cam had a pick 6 wiped off on a bad flag but that was a great play by the corner rather than poor by Cam. Overall I’ll take safety with the football over throwing it up when in doubt. There’s also the fact that Winston gets to throw passes up to Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson while Cam is working with the dregs and rejects of the NFL (and Greg Olsen). The Panthers 10-0 start is mightily impressive and has a lot to do with the defense and ground game, but Newton has made strides this year as a passer and it makes Carolina more deadly than ever.
Thomas Rawls, Seattle Seahawks Doug Martin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Thomas Rawls’ performance was close to assault given the number of 49er defenders’ ankles he broke. But the truly impressive thing about his game was the consistency. He had 30 carries for 209 yards, but even if you take away his longest of the day (30 yards) that’s still over 6 yards a carry. Add in 46 yards on 3 catches and you have the kind of day that a Hall of Fame bound RB would look at with pride. What’s even more impressive is that Seattle have been struggling to run the football all year. Who needs Marshawn Lynch? It’s been a while since Doug Martin’s impressive rookie season but he’s finally injury-free and back on track. The show he put on against Philly was an impressive mixture of patience, burst and finish. Martin’s 235 yards on 27 carries were highlighted by an early explosive run off through the left side where he burst through a gang of 4 Eagles who seemed to expect the other to make the tackle. Martin was more than happy to wait for the blocks to come and take the first bit of real estate he could find – something he wasn’t doing last season. It’s nice to see him return to form, and even nicer for Jameis Winston to have a ground game he can rely on.
DeAndre Hopkins, Houston Texans Danny Amendola, New England Patriots
Hopkins took a Sunday afternoon trip to Revis Island and burnt it to the ground – by half-freakin’-time!! 5 catches on 12 targets for 118 yards and 2 touchdowns doesn’t come close to describing his dominance on one of the best cover corners around. He consistently worked himself open and only pressure from the Jets front caused wayward throws. Hopkins reeled in a one handed catch with ease on the right sideline before beating Revis like a drum on a fly pattern up the field for the 61 yard touchdown. Then there was another easy one handed grab on a ball that was out of bounds, just for the hell of it. Amendola is here because he was the only person who could throw off the shackles of the Bills defense. Brady was hit hard and often, Gronk was smothered, Blount kept down. But Amendola was everything the Patriots needed and more. With Edelman and Lewis out it was always going to be hard going, and early in this game it looked impossible as no one was getting wins against coverage… and then Amendola turned it on. Those quick double moves and option routes that have been a staple of the Pats offense for so long started clicking, he was juking his way through punt returns to give the Pats the edge in field position. His 117 yards would have been far more but for an inadvertent whistle when he was all alone on his way to the end zone. The only thing that truly stopped him was a non-contact knee injury towards the end of the 3rd quarter.
Kyle Rudolph, Minnesota Vikings
There wasn’t a lot to be pleased about for the Vikings on Sunday but Kyle Rudolph had a good game. He’s not a very well-polished route runner but he pulled in all of his catchable targets and was the only serious threat to through the air for Minnesota.
OT: Cordy Glenn, Buffalo Bills OG: Logan Mankins, Tampa Bay Buccaneers C: Travis Frederick, Dallas Cowboys OG: La’el Collins, Dallas Cowboys OT: Tyron Smith, Dallas Cowboys
It wasn’t a perfect day for Glenn – only Tyrod Taylor’s athleticism prevented him from giving up a sack or two – but it was a marked improvement over the last time he faced Chandler Jones and he was still a big part of the run game for Buffalo. When the running back has a big day there’s usually a lineman or two to thank. It’s been a long time since Mankins’ prime but in portions of this game he rolled back the years. Logan has always been a nasty man in the ground game and he showed that here moving bodies and making second level blocks at a good rate. The fire has gone from some of his play since leaving New England but #70 can still put on a show from time to time. The ‘Boys got a win for the first time since September thanks to the return of Tony Romo stabalising their offense. But the left side of the Dallas O-Line did their part as well. Frederick is becoming a savant where double teams and angles are concerned. He can bump the backside DT, help with the play side and still get a hand on a linebacker. Collins continues to be the best, nastiest and brutalist run blocker in the NFL today. On a 3rd and short in the first quarter Dallas lined up and ran behind him for an EASY first down. Collins moved his DT aside, picked up an LB and was 5 yards down field when the play ended. He is the guy to watch when Dallas are playing now, and it’s not even close. Smith is the antithesis of Collins. Its all smooth fluidity and calmness in pass protection rather than violence in the run game. He handles every rusher with ease and once he latches his massive hands onto people there’s almost no getting away. The playoffs are an outside chance for the Cowboys but if their OL can keep up their standard of play it’s not impossible.
DE: JJ Watt, Houston Texans DT: Roy Miller, Jacksonville Jaguars DT: Aaron Donald, St. Louis Rams DE: Will Hayes, St. Louis Rams
Breaking news: JJ Watt is pretty good at this football thing. He was a dominant force all day in this one, bursting through to chase down runs the other way. Getting 2 sacks on Ryan Fitzpatick and 5 QB hits in total as well as 5 tackles for loss overall. The only blemish on his day was not catching his one goal line target. I guess he can’t be great at everything. The Thursday Night match between the Jags and Titans was, as expected, full of bad football and poor play, but Roy Miller was a happy port of quality in that storm of misery. Sure, he only got 2 tackles all day but he was a constant menace demanding double teams and still winning at the line, pushing the pocket and almost getting a safety. Miller has been good for a long time, and even though he’s in Jacksonville he deserves more credit for all the hard work and performances he’s putting in. Aaron Donald is unfair. He was just too fast and too strong for the Baltimore offensive line to handle. He swam through a would-be double team in a flash on the play that ended up breaking Justin Forsett’s arm. He bounced off a cut block and chased a run down from behind. And after all the quick moves he used pure power to bull rush John Urschel backward before sliding off to make his one sack of the day. If it wasn’t for JJ Watt Donald would be considered the best defensive player in the NFL. When Aaron Donald wasn’t the one causing havoc Will Hayes was. Standing in for Robert Quinn Hayes flashed great speed off the ball as well as very good run defense. Hayes isn’t the pass rusher Quinn is but he got 2 hits on Flacco and 3 other hurries as he played his part in dissecting the the Ravens blocking.
OLB: Khalil Mack, Oakland Raiders MLB: Derrick Johnson, Kansas City Chiefs OLB: Tamba Hali, Kansas City Chiefs
Mack had a great day against the run. A good day as a pass rusher and an ok day in coverage. Roll that all up into one and you have a fantastic performance. Mack made 8 solo tackles including 2 for a loss as he locked down the left side of the defense. He was bumping and working the catchless Eric Ebron with regularity on the line of scrimmage and then covering the flats with ease. Mack blurs the line between defensive end and outside linebacker but he does both jobs exceedingly well. The Kansas defense had a field day against San Diego, led by their two veteran linebackers. They limited the Chargers to just 2.1 yards a carry and 3 points all day thanks mainly to the great play of Johnson in the middle against the run, where he amassed 8 solo tackles, and Hali causing havoc off the edge – hitting Rivers 4 times and sacking him twice. The Chargers had no answer for these two or Dontari Poe who was close to making the Team of the Week himself.
Desmond Trufant, Atlanta Falcons Logan Ryan, New England Patriots
Desmond Trufant was flirting with the upper echelon on coverage last season. This year he’s not just there, he’s become the benchmark. It was another great day in coverage for Trufant, locking down the left side of the defense in zone coverage and tying his man up when one on one. He had 2 pass deflections and even a sack when Dan Quinn called his number on a blitz. Trufant is playing at an All-World level this season. While Malcolm Butler dueled with Sammy Watkins and Patrick Chung got beat by Chris Hogan Logan Ryan was very quietly locking down his man and very loudly making plays in the run game. New England had a good day in run defense thanks to their front 7 and Ryan, who provided the support needed on the edges to prevent big plays by Karlos Williams and LeSean McCoy. He led the team in tackles, including one for a loss, and put in a performance you’ll rarely see from corners agains the run.
Devin McCourty, New England Patriots Reshad Jones, Miami Dolphins
Devin McCourty spent most of his day roaming far from the action. As Buffalo ran and ran between the twenties he stayed back and protected against the deep pass. And when those passes came he flew into action. There wasn’t a single piece of coverage better than McCourty breaking up a would-be touchdown to a wide open LeSean McCoy in the corner of the endzone late in the 2nd quarter. Jones continued his good season in this game, allowing just 1 catch for 9 yards in coverage, flying down hill to help against the run and even blitzing well. Miami’s defense has been disappointing this season but the bright spot has been Jones.