Week 9 saw some huge upsets around the league, and some even bigger performances. As with every week, we’ve watched every game and chosen the best outings from across the Week 9 games to come up with the definitive Team of the Week – see who made our TOTW below!
Derek Carr, Oakland Raiders
The Raiders-Steelers game was an offensive showcase, as you’ll see by some of the other selections, but it was most noticeable as the next step of Derek Carr’s impressive maturation in his second season. Carr spread 44 targets across 8 receivers and largely avoided forcing the football in this shootout. His 4 touchdowns were spread to high-end WR talent (Crabtree & Cooper) as well as unknown rookie TE’s (Clive Walford) as he took what Pittsburgh gave him. The Raiders are finally nearing respectability after so long being the butt of all the jokes. If they are to begin truly contending the Carr’s performances will be the main reason.
DeAngelo Williams, Pittsburgh Steelers Karlos Williams, Buffalo Bills
225 total yards and 2 trips to the endzone are more than enough to earn your way onto our Team of the Week. The sky was falling for Pittsburgh when LeVeon Bell went down with an injury, but DeAngelo Williams has proven to be more than capable of filling the shoes left by Bell. Sure, he’s not quite the receiver Bell is, nor is he able to make quite so much out of nothing, but Williams has always been a talented runner. Most impressive among his achievements on sunday was the 70 yards after contact he piled up as he barreled his way through the Raiders defense. Williams is truly astonishing. Every time he touches the ball he’s a threat to take it to the house. This week he did it twice. First it was an 11-yard dash around the left end for a score and then a beautiful 38 yard dart through the Miami defense. Williams took a shotgun run out towards the left end, patiently waited for his blocks to come and when Richie Incognito sealed the outside he planted his foot in the ground, turned up field and made the rest of the 21 payers on the field look in slow motion.
Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers Sammy Watkins, Buffalo Bills
There’s fierce competition every week for these Wide Receiver spots, so when someone goes above and beyond like Antonio Brown did this week I’m very thankful. Brown doesn’t look like your typical dominant receiver. He’s not 6 foot 5, he doesn’t have amazing speed or an insane vertical jump; but he is so precise in his movements, so quick with his cuts – he is greater than the sum of his parts, and the Steelers fans are the ones who benefit. Brown tormented the Raiders all day with 17 catches on 23 targets for 284 yards, adding 22 yards on the ground. He didn’t slow down when Ben Roethlisberger got hurt again as Landry Jones made the wise choice to keep feeding him the ball. Much of Sammy Watkins’ draft day luster has gone. Remaining is the reality that he’s a talented wide receiver suffering from inconsistent quarterback play and niggling injuries. In this game, though, he was healthy and had the surprising Tyrod Taylor back under center. As a result Watkins was a terror, hauling in all 8 of his targets for 168 yards and a touchdown. These included a 63 yard grab and his touchdown came on a 44 yard play. Watkins was successful on a variety of routes from the deep flys to short hitches.
Tyler Eifert, Cincinnati Bengals
Before this season if I were to have asked you for a list of the most dangerous redzone receivers where would Eifert have come? 20th? 30th?! Eifert’s first two years in the NFL had been highlighted by injuries and unused potential. But this season he’s turned into Gronkowski-lite. That transformation was marked by 3 touchdowns against Cleveland on Thursday, all of them short, redzone receptions. First a 9 yard seam in between Cleveland’s zone defense. The second on a play-action to the left corner where he worked his way to the back of the endzone and plucked the ball away from diving defenders. His final touchdown came when split out wide to the left on Tramon Williams, Eifert sold him a glorious head-fake inside and blew past him with ease for the exclamation point on an impressive night. Eifert’s run blocking was just an exclamation point on the night as he handled his responsibilities well.
Tackle – Andrew Whitworth, Cincinnati Bengals Guard – Zack Martin, Dallas Cowboys Center – Alex Mack, Cleveland Browns Guard – Richie Incognito, Buffalo Bills Tackle – Cordy Glenn, Buffalo Bills
Whitworth is one of the old-guard of left tackles that don’t get talked up as much as the younger models, but he still executes everything brilliantly on Sundays. Or in this case, Thursday. Whitworth was perfect in pass protection. He didn’t allow so much as a pressure on Andy Dalton nevermind a hit or a sack. In the ground game he got movement on his man consistently and was a terror at the second level. With Cincinnati drafting offensive tackles high this year there was talk that Whitworth’s time in Cincinnati was coming to an end. On this performance that would be a grave mistake. It feels like every week there’s a Cowboy on our offensive line. This week it’s the second-year guard who pushed around Philadelphia’s enormous defensive line, opening lanes for Darren McFadden and keeping the top of the pocket clean. Mack hasn’t quite been the same since breaking his leg last year when he was the best center in the NFL, but this week he looked more like his old self. The Bengals defense poses a lot of challenges for a center, from a varied rotation of defensive tackles to stunts and cross blitzes but Mack coped with everything they threw at him while organising the protections and managing to get out on screen passes. The left side of the Bills line was spectacular on Sunday. Incognito was burying defenders in the run game on pulls and traps while looking better in pass protection than he usually does. Glenn, meanwhile, was a brick wall in pass protection all day, not even allowing a pressure never mind anyone getting a hand on Tyrod Taylor. His second level blocking was incredible, getting up and across to seal off pursuit that would have prevented LeSean McCoy’s early touchdown.
Defensive End – Sheldon Richardson, New York Jets Defensive Tackle – David Irving, Dallas Cowboys Defensive Tackle – Linval Joseph, Minnesota Vikings Defensive End – Chandler Jones, New England Patriots
Richardson’s impact isn’t clear on the stats sheet, but it is on the film. He was frequently the first to pressure Blake Bortles, man-handling blockers and forcing the QB to move into the path of the other rushers. Richardson only recorded half of the seven sacks the Jets had on Sunday but he managed 4 QB hits and 5 tackles and many looks of apology from the Jags offensive line to their besieged QB. Irving lept off the screen on Sunday Night Football as he excelled in the middle of the Cowboys defense. An undrafted rookie, Irving was picked up from the Kansas City practice squad at the end of September and has become the latest example of Rod Marinelli’s genius. He was a disruptor of the finest form on Sunday, pressuring Bradford frequently, making stops in the run game and getting two hits on the Eagles QB. The Rams’ offensive line is hardly a contender for best of the year, but when you dominate as totally as Joseph did you get your name on this vaunted team. 10 tackles, 3 for a loss plus 0.5 sacks and 3 QB Hits only scratch the surface of his dominance in the middle of the field. So many plays were blown up from the start thanks to his crushing performance. Jones took sole possession of the lead in sacks early in this game, and while he didn’t get another he managed one further hit and generally tormented Kirk Cousins. His contain against the run was fantastic, same with his pursuit as New England shut down the ‘Skins run game. Jones isn’t receiving much praise for his hard work and success this season but he’s becoming one of the most well-rounded edge defenders in the NFL.
Outside Linebacker – Brian Orakpo, Tennessee Titans Middle Linebacker – NaVorro Bowman, San Francisco 49ers Outside Linebacker – Brandon Graham, Philadelphia Eagles
It’s not been an easy first season away from Washington for Brian Orakpo but he made a big impact on Sunday. He walked away with 2 sacks of Drew Brees and a pressure on a well executed twist that lead to Brees having to move awkwardly to his left, resulting in an interception. That’s the kind of impact performance that leads to a 6 game losing streak being ended. It’s rare that sentiment plays a role in my analysis, but when it comes to NaVorro Bowman I’m sure you’ll forgive me. The 3-time All-Pro didn’t play a single snap last season after suffering a horrific knee injury in the 2013 NFC Championship Game. The defense he returned to this season was much changed, with his old running mate Patrick Willis having departed. Bowman was somewhere near his best on Sunday as the 49ers defense tamed Devonta Freeman and harassed Matt Ryan. Bowman walked away with 7 tackles, a sack, 3 QB hits and a pair of tackles for loss in the upset win. Sometimes just a couple of plays are enough to get you in our Team of the Week when they come against the right opponent. For Graham that opponent was the terrific Dallas left tackle Tyron Smith. The Eagles edge rusher came away with 2 sacks of Matt Cassel and 7 tackles on the night. It was by no means every-play domination from Graham but he held his own play to play and came away with some big plays when needed.
Darrelle Revis, New York Jets Jason Verrett, San Diego Chargers
Revis was targeted seven times on Sunday, allowing just 2 receptions for 50 yards, but 33 of those yards came on a wild scramble drill. The rest of the time he was everything we’ve come to expect from Revis: maddeningly good. He got his hands to two passes, one of which lead to an interception. I know I know, Verrett left mid-second quarter with a groin injury and didn’t return. How the hell can he make this team? Because before he left he was erasing Alshon Jeffery from this game and afterwards Jeffery dominated. Jeffery was targeted 3 times against a healthy Verrett. The result of those plays were: jump ball defended in the endzone by Verrett; tackle that forced the ball loose on a drag route; interception returned for a touchdown. 3 targets, 3 incompletions, 6 points the other way. Not a bad start from Verrett at all. Unfortunately on the next play, or possibly during his return and celebration it’s unclear, Verrett injured his groin. Jeffery walked past him for 47 yards on his last play of the game. Alshon Jeffery’s big day can be broken down like this: vs healthy Verrett – 0 catches on 3 targets; vs injured Verrett/A. N. Other – 10 grabs on 13 targets for 151 yards. Go ahead and tell me he wasn’t playing sensational football that, had he not been hurt, wouldn’t have swung this game for San Diego.
T.J. Ward, Denver Broncos Jonathan Cyprien, Jacksonville Jaguars
It might have been an off-day for the Broncos defense as a unit but Ward was a ball-seeking missile. He was unfairly given a flag for a hard but clean hit on TY Hilton early on that set the tone for his day. 12 tackles, one for a loss, and 2 passes tipped. Yes, he missed some here and there but that only emphasised how frequently he was around the football on Sunday. A rare Jaguars appearance on this team! Cyprien has quietly done well this season, but on sunday his production was easy to see. 10 tackles and not a miss in sight, just 3 balls thrown his way and he got his hand on one of them. Gus Bradley has wanted to recreate the Seattle defense he helped build down in Jacksonville, Cyprien is a good block to build around.