With the regular season coming to a close this will be our last Team of the Week for the season. It’s sad I know. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed sifting through the good (and the bad) performances every week to find the hidden gems in a Jaguars-Titans match… Ok, maybe I haven’t enjoyed every minute of it! While most often I have been confirming the brilliance of well known stars – Hello JJ Watt and Antonio Brown – it has been fun discovering the likes of Damon Harrison, Hroniss Grasu and Josh LeRibeus. I hope you’ve enjoyed our weekly Wednesday feature as well. So without further ado here are Week 17’s best performers.
Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers
It’s fitting that Cam makes our Team of the Week this time around. As the QB whose team has the best record he’s the frontrunner for the MVP this year and Sunday was a perfect microcosm of his season. He was accurate, effective throwing down the field and deadly with his feet. His first touchdown was a beautiful play action naked bootleg that had the whole defense going the wrong way. The second Cam fitted a deep pass to Cotchery into a tight window, the ball just beating the safety to Cotchery’s hands. The third was just a straightforward QB sneak at the goal line, it was almost boring by his usual standard. Finally there was a fastball to Devin Funchess on a slant. It was a brutal, MVP performance from Cam.
Rashad Jennings, New York Giants Alfred Blue, Houston Texans
Jennings was an absolute workhorse for the Giants as he took 27 carries and 2 catches on 5 targets for 176 yards against an Eagles front that was performing well. Jennings has had a tough time getting consistent work this season, and when he has the blocking was rarely good enough, but being fed the ball in this game he proved he should be getting more of the ball in the future as he showed the kind of burst and quickness that the rest of the Giants backs haven’t – Shane Vereen aside. Alfred Blue is a name that is usually far from making this list but Sunday was an excellent display of running the football. He was aggressive when he needed to be – hitting holes hard and exploding through players – but also very patient as he waited behind a wall of bodies until a gap appeared. He had great burst on the long-developing stretch plays and when there was a glimmer of yards he would pound out more than just what the blocking got him. He had a 60 yard run called back for a hold, which did little to spring him. It was a good sign for Houston, who are going to need a steady ground game if they want to go far in the playoffs.
Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions
In my Best Bets last week I said just how high Antonio Brown’s numbers with Ben Roethlisberger were this year, well this game pushed that hypothetical season total beyond 2,000 yards! His first half total of 10 catches for 150 yards and a touchdown spoke of just how easy his day way. Only Roethlisberger’s misfirings prevented him from breaking records as he got just 3 catches for 37 yards in the second half. But that doesn’t matter, it was another All-World performance from Brown, whose touchdown reception on a skinny post was a clinic in freezing defensive backs and slicing up coverage. It was a vintage performance from Calvin Johnson. He dominated Tracy Porter’s press coverage early on – swatting him aside for his first catch on a vertical route and then catching a back shoulder throw for another chunk of yards. It forced Porter and the rest of the Bears to back off him a bit and he used that space to his advantage on the way to a 137 yard day. His touchdown was a classic Calvin play – he won the route and then adjusted to a poor throw and made a great catch.
Zach Ertz, Philadelphia Eagles
Ertz had a nice day run blocking but he is here for an enormous 152 yards through the air and was a perfect 9 for 9 on the day. Ertz was able to take advantage of the soft middle of the Giants defense and then, as they over-compensated he broke out on corner and out routes as he drove the defense mad.
Joe Thomas, Cleveland Browns Brandon Scherff, Washington Redskins Jason Kelce, Philadelphia Eagles Marshal Yanda, Baltimore Ravens Tyron Smith, Dallas Cowboys
While the rest of the Browns offensive line was victimized by Pittsburgh’s blitzes and loops Thomas was his usual calm and tranquil self. The best left tackle in football put in another great display, providing Austin Davis with an escape route on multiple occasions as he fled the rushers his line-mates couldn’t handle. It’s been a tough transition for Scherff going from tackle in college to guard in the pros, but he’s been improving all season and Week 17 was a culmination of everything he’s learned this year. He’s always been a brute in the run game and now that he’s got some of the leverage angles sorted out from guard he’s becoming that again but the most impressive aspect was his pass protection. Scherff was excellent passing off crosses and twists, leaving one man and quickly anchoring down against another. He got caught on one excellent delayed safety blitz but I don’t blame him for the pressure that ensued. A nice game from Kelce, who is a lot better than he’s played for stretches of this season. His pass protection was close to perfect and he did a great job with the fake zone passes that Philly ran. There isn’t much left to say about Yanda this season. He was magnificent again on Sunday, battling Geno Atkins to a draw when they were matched up head to head and then erasing linebackers from plays when he got hands on them. On the few pulls and runs where he got going in space it was game over for anyone in his path. While Kellen Moore was fumbling and throwing interceptions Smith was a brick wall in pass protection. When they ran his way he moved bodies, making a pair of nice blocks to spring McFadden for 10 yards early on. Smith passed players on well and was never panicked by speed on the edge. It was a good display, something we have come to expect from Smith every game.
JJ Watt, Houston Texans Aaron Donald, St. Louis Rams Damon Harrison, New York Jets Michael Bennett, Seattle Seahawks
Watt has long-tormented Jacksonville and this Sunday was no different as he put on a show with 3 sacks, a forced fumble, a recovery, 3 tackles in the backfield, 2 pass deflections and a pair of holding flags from the unfortunate souls who tried to stop him. It was Watt’s first game without a club since breaking his hand and he celebrated in style. While Watt was adding to the flashy sack total Aaron Donald was busy wrecking the 49ers offensive line. While his stats line shows just 2 tackles and no sacks Donald was once again the first guy to the QB on the majority of plays and hit Gabbert 4 times. The “lack of stats” for Donald (11 sacks, 22 TFL, 37 QBH) compared to Watt (17.5 sacks, 29 TFL, 50 QBH) will hurt his Defensive Player of the Year recognition but Donald is the only guy in Watt’s class this year and would be just as deserving a winner as Houston’s #99. While Wilkerson, Richardson and Williams get all the headlines for the Jets defense Harrison has quietly been having a monstrous season at nose tackle. Sunday was no different as he dominated the interior of the Bills offense and got in on 8 tackles as he was the main driving force behind a stunning display by the Jets against a good ground attack. Bennett has long been known as a spectacular run defender, and those traits were once again on show, but it was his pass rushing that got him this spot. Just half a sack on the day hides the true impact of his play. He was a terror all day as he laid down 5 huge hits to QBs through the game.
Whitney Mercilus, Houston Texans Eric Kendricks, Minnesota Vikings Vontaze Burflict, Cincinnati Bengals
While Watt was dominating one edge Mercilus was owning the other. He finished with 3.5 sacks and 2 other tackles in the backfield as he feasted on Luke Joeckel early on. Kendricks showed just why he’s been getting Rookie of the Year buzz in this on. Twice he chased down receivers from yards behind them on outs, and then he was a hammer in the run game as he pounded on Starks and Lacy, keeping them both under 3 yards a carry. Just like Kendricks Burfict was a beast against the run, taking on all comers and handling Yanda better than anyone else. He finished the day with 12 tackles but was also impressive in coverage, which was his weakness when he came into the league.
Xavier Rhodes, Minnesota Vikings Bradley Roby, Denver Broncos
It wasn’t just the interception in the endzone in the last 2 minutes that got Rhodes his spot in our Team of the Week, he was a rock all night on the right side of Minnesota’s coverage schemes, allowing just 39 yards by my count. Roby often gets overshadowed by Chris Harris, but not today. He was spectacular in coverage, sticking close to his receivers all day and allowing a measly 20 yards on 8 targets all night.
Ron Parker, Kansas City Chiefs Earl Thomas, Seattle Seahawks
A utility DB Parker is listed as a safety, so that’s where he goes today. If you never heard of him then you’ll be forgiven but Sunday was a great showing from Parker who gets into our Team of the Week as many of the big name safeties had an off day. Parker finished with one interception, a forced fumble and 6 tackles, and while he allowed a few receptions everything was kept in front of him and he made the tackles that needed to be made. A quiet day for Thomas as he kept great discipline up high to prevent the deep threat Cardinals from firing their shots. He finished with one pass deflection and managed to snag himself an interception as the Seahawks put the hammer down on what was our #1 team going into Week 17.
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