QB: Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints
We start with the least surprising pick of this week; 40 completions on 50 attempts, 511 yards and an NFL record-tying 7 touchdowns gets you in our Team of the Week no matter who you’re playing against. If you were playing Brees in fantasy this week, as I was, it wasn’t a pleasant experience to watch him carve up the Giants defense. Perhaps the most impressive thing about Brees’ day was the way he spread the ball around. 10 receivers were thrown to and no player got more than 10 targets. Brees was rarely harassed by the Giants pass rush in part to his own mastery of pocket movement as well as good blocking (we’ll get to that). Those shoulder issues that plagued him at the start of the season seem to have cleared up, as a result the Saints are on a 3 game winning streak that is keeping them in touch of the play-off race.
RB: Todd Gurley, St. Louis Rams
Look who’s back. It all seems to easy for Gurley. Another week, another great performance. 133 yards at a ridiculous 6.65 yards per carry and a touchdown. That takes his season rate UP to 6.1 yards a carry. Sure, the bulk of that came on his long touchdown run, but he had very little help from his run blockers St. Louis don’t meet top-end run defense until week 13 and the Arizona Cardinals, so it looks like Gurley could be making our Team of the Week for a while yet.
RB: Latavius Murray, Oakland Raiders
Big running days against the New York Jets are a rarity, but on Sunday Latavius Murray and the whole Oakland offense had something of a coming out party as they sliced and diced the much vaunted Jets defense. Murray picked up 113 yards at 5.7 a carry thanks to some great blocking and some insane quickness. With 4.6 ypc this season and a total of 639 yards from scrimmage Murray has been a great compliment to the growing passing game. There is light at the end of the long, bleak tunnel Oakland has been stuck in for so long.
WR: DeAndre Hopkins, Houston Texans
It’s not been an easy season for Hopkins. Multiple changes at Quarterback, defensive implosions and many, many double coverage looks. But that hasn’t stopped him being productive. He hauled in 8 catches for 94 yards and a touchdown on Sunday, highlighted by a gorgeous leaping touchdown catch on a ball that could have been picked off. Unlike many of the other elite receivers Hopkins doesn’t have blistering speed or an enormous frame, instead he relies on crisp route running and quick breaks. His curl routes and outs were giving the Titans cornerbacks fits all day.
WR: Odell Beckham Jr, New York Giants
Beckham was, understandably, Eli’s favourite target in the Louisiana Shoot-Out. OBJ hauled in 8 of his 9 targets for 130 yards and 3 touchdowns. It’s been an up and down season for Beckham after expectations were blown out of the water in his rookie year. If his lingering hamstring injuries would disappear maybe we’d see the fireworks more often.
TE: Ben Watson, New Orleans Saints
Brees’ favourite target in this game, Watson has been having a renaissance in 2015. He’s already topped his receptions and yards totals for 2014 and 2013, he’s on pace to match his career-highs that he set in 2010 with Cleveland. This week it was 9 catches on 10 targets for 147 yards and a touchdown that did the damage against the Giants.
LT: Terron Armstead, New Orleans Saints
When the passing game is working the way it was there has to be someone up front who was playing well, for the Saints that man was returning Left Tackle Terron Armstead. Armstead, who had missed weeks 5 and 6, is perhaps the fastest offensive linemen in the NFL and that speed underpins his great protection work on the blind side and his ability to get to the outside on runs.
G: Evan Mathis, Denver Broncos
This game was something of a coming-out party for the Denver offensive line. Peyton Manning was kept clean all day, getting hit just 3 times but never in danger of getting sacked. Meanwhile the running game was vastly improved, and a lot of that had to do with Evan Mathis’ play. Mathis only signed with the Broncos at the end of training camp so struggles with the system were always going to happen. But with a 2 months in the team and a bye week to get truly to grips with the offense and his linemates Mathis had a birthday to remember as he sprung CJ Anderson for a touchdown.
C: Alex Mack, Cleveland Browns
The Cardinals defense presents a very serious challenge for centers. They run so many cross blitzes, loops, and frequently bring linebackers up to the line only to drop them out again that it can confuse protection calls and play havoc with a centers game. But not Mack. He was masterful in diagnosing what was going on in front of him and then picking up the twists and crosses to keep the top of the pocket clean for Josh McCown.
G: La’el Collins, Dallas Cowboys
Let me get one thing clear right off the bat. La’el Collins probably wasn’t the one of the top 2 guards this week but good lord he was fun to watch. A tackle in college Collins is still learning the intricacies of playing guard, particularly when it comes to pass protection. But when it comes to run blocking La’el Collins is a truly brutal man. Here’s him throwing the 309lb Brandon Mebane around:
Here he is going through 2 Seattle defenders like they weren’t there:
T: Jared Veldheer, Arizona Cardinals
Veldheer was almost flawless in this game against Cleveland. From pass protection to getting out on screens to hooking defenders. There was a fluidity to his movement that allowed him to have great success wherever he was blocking. While he wasn’t bowling people over like Collins was it was often because he didn’t have to. Veldheer was masterful at cutting defenders angle off and creating space behind him for the running backs.
DE: Greg Hardy, Dallas Cowboys
Greg Hardy is not a nice person, but he is a spectacular football player. He was unblockable for large portions of the game and only Wilson’s mobility prevented him getting multiple sacks. Instead he had to settle for 3 QB hits, 2 hurries and a batted ball that he then hauled in for an interception. Hardy wasn’t just a pass rushing machine on Sunday though, he played the run superbly and came away with 1 TFL and 3 other tackles in the run game.
DT: Michael Brockers & Aaron Donald, St. Louis Rams
The San Francisco run game isn’t what it once was, but to hold the running backs to 10 yards off 15 carries is spectacular. The pressure these 2 exerted on the 49ers interior O-Line was simply too much. Brockers’ drive forced a safety early on. And it wasn’t just the run game, these 2 combined for 4 QB hits and a sack as they terrorised Kaepernick all day.
DE: JJ Watt, Houston Texans OLB: Whitney Mercilus
These 2 accounted for 6 of the 7 sacks the Houston Texans defense came away with on Sunday. JJ Watt had a ridiculous 9 of the 14 QB hits as the Texans ruined Zach Mettenburger’s day. The game started, as it normally did, with the opposition focusing all their blocking around stopping JJ Watt. There were chips, double teams and running backs all heading after #99 early on, which left Mercilus with one on ones. As he was able to exploit those and hurry Mettenburger, the Titans had to even up their blocking assignments, and that’s when all hell broke loose. Watt’s 2.5 sacks all came in the 2nd half as he torched each and every offensive linemen in turn with his unique mix of power, speed and ferocity. He and Mercilus were racing each other to Mettenburger and they prevented the Titans from ever establishing a rhythm on offense.
ILB: Luke Kuechly, Carolina Panthers
Luke Kuechly was everywhere. Again. He was making tackles in the backfield, pressuring the QB and when push came to shove he was breaking up passes in the endzone to save the game. The Panthers middle linebacker is the heart of this defense, switching calls to match Andrew Luck’s audibles and generally causing havoc wherever he went. He doesn’t lay the biggest hits on the team, but he doesn’t miss a single tackle either and when it came down to it his consistent rallying to the football was rewarded with an interception in overtime off a deflected ball. The Panthers defense was good without him, but with him it’s truly remarkable.
OLB: Kwon Alexander, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The 4th round rookie out of LSU is far from a household name, but he could well be on his way. He was the man leading the charge for the Buccaneers defense against a very effective Falcons offense. His team leading 11 tackles were a big reason for Devonta Freeman failing to do Devonta Freeman-y things. Tampa might be struggling to develop certain talents but they aren’t shy at putting linebackers in and letting them sink or swim. So far Alexander is staying afloat and contributing to a defense that already has 2 stars in its front 7.
CB: Sean Smith, Kansas City Chiefs
Smith is one of those rare cornerbacks with size. When lined up with Calvin Johnson in this game he wasn’t giving away an inch to Megatron, which is simply ridiculous because no one matches up with Calvin. He used that frame not just to compete with Calvin for high passes, picking up 3 pass deflections, but also to make plays against the run. Smith’s interception was perhaps the easiest one he’ll ever have, sitting in off coverage Stafford hurled the ball right too him. But hey, they can’t all be spectacular plays.
CB: Richard Sherman, Seattle Seahawks
Sherman was paired up on the returning Dez Bryant for most of the night, following him around the field which is rare for Seattle to do. But it worked brilliantly. Bryant was held to one 15 yard catch on Sherman, who broke up 4 passes on the day and even drew an Offensive Pass Interference call on Dez because he was about to make an interception. It’s been something of a quiet season for Sherman, but he remains one of the best cover corners, and trash talkers, in the NFL.
S: Kurt Coleman & Roman Harper, Carolina Panthers
All these guys did was make plays. Coleman knocked a touchdown away from Colby Fleener breaking out of his cover 2 zone to make the play & diagnosed a run and flew up the field, gained the edge and made tackle for a loss of 4 yards. Harper was either flying around the middle of the field and being a total nuisance to everything the Colts were trying to do in there or could be found sitting over the top of TY Hilton and keeping him at bay.