Putting together this team seems to get harder every week. When you’re leaving out players with multiple sacks, 100 yard receiving games and quarterbacks who make miracle throws (Sorry Detroit fans) then you know people are going to be annoyed. But that’s just the kind of season it has been. Many of the usual faces are injured or struggling, rookies and back-ups are making plays that even their head coaches could barely envisage. Marcus Mariota gained over 100 yards rushing – but it’s just not good enough! That said there are some usual suspects that gain consideration every week. Aaron Donald might not have made this team but he gave Arizona fits. AJ Green torched Cleveland but it wasn’t enough. Cam Newton dragged the Panthers to another win but he couldn’t get back into our Team of the Week. So… Who did?
Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks
Another sublime day from Wilson sees him retain his place in our Team of the Week. The Seahawks QB was on point all day as he carved up the Vikings defense with his arm and legs; Completing 21 of 27 passes for 274 yards and adding 51 yards on 9 carries with a total of 4 touchdowns. Wilson even had a 53 yard touchdown run called back for a hold but that didn’t fluster him. He just reared back and threw a touchdown to Doug Baldwin on the next play. The Vikings sacked him twice, and had another wiped out for a flag, but nothing phased Wilson and he finished the game on the bench with a big smile on his face. With the offense playing as well has it has recently – against two potential playoff teams as well – then the rest of the NFL should take note.
Darren Sproles, Philadelphia Eagles Thomas Rawls, Seattle Seahawks
Sproles has had games like this before, but I thought they were in the past. 100 yards from scrimmage as he did battle with a returning Jamie Collins. An epic 83 yard punt return for a touchdown against one of the stingiest coverage units in the NFL. There were many important takeaways in the Eagles upset win against the Patriots but the main one – which might aid Philly’s late playoff run – is that Darren Sproles can still be a difference maker in the NFL. Rawls was the other part of the hammer that smacked the Vikings defense around all day. His burst through even the smallest gap in the line was the most spectacular thing about his day as he ran over defenders in a very different way to Marshawn Lynch. Lynch is all about power and he explodes through tacklers, Rawls has incredible acceleration in small spaces and just lowers his shoulder and keeps those legs firing. He averaged over 5 yards a carry against a tough front 7 and picked up over 120 yards from scrimmage. Don’t be too surprised if he’s a top 5 pick in fantasy next season and Marshawn Lynch is playing some where else.
Allen Robinson, Jacksonville Jaguars Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers
Every time Blake Bortles was in trouble he looked Allen Robinson’s way. And even when the ball was just put up for grabs Robinson was the one coming down with it. He ended up bringing in 10 of his 15 targets for 153 yards and 3 touchdowns during this shootout, including 2 scramble drills where Robinson’s chemistry with Bortles was on display. There’s no doubt that Jacksonville have found themselves a guy who demands special attention from defenses now. At this point I don’t think there’s anything Antonio Brown can’t do. He went to war with a good Colts secondary and it was a first round knockout. Brown was electric with the ball in his hands and on his routes – beating zone coverage and destroying man. He pulled in two touchdowns against All-Pro corner Vontae Davis and then in the fourth quarter returned a punt to the end zone just because he can.
Richard Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
Rodgers’ game was obviously highlighted by reeling in the winning touchdown, but before then he was the only consistent receiver Green Bay had all day. He pulled in all of his targets (8) for 146 yards and that winning score; A great day for a tight end even if you take away the 61 yard hail mary. His ability to work himself into a window just when Aaron Rodgers needed him to the most was impressive. The second year tight end has been one of the main beneficiaries of Jordy Nelson’s pre-season injury; becoming the teams 3rd target and a it’s most consistent red zone threat.
T: Joe Thomas, Cleveland Browns G: David DeCastro, Pittsburgh Steelers C: Russell Bodine, Cincinnati Bengals G: Mike Iupati, Arizona Cardinals T: Jared Veldheer, Arizona Cardinals
Just another day at the office for Joe Thomas. Perfect pass protection on the left side only to see his QB in a heap on the floor after the play. He’s shown amazing patience to stay in Cleveland for the last 8 years, protect countless crappy QB’s and have his amazing play seen by so few. David DeCastro is finally delivering on his draft day potential. Sunday was just another example of what he’s done all year, brutal run blocking and smooth as silk pass protection. He was simply too good for the Colts interior defense on sunday, helping DeAngelo Williams to over 5 yards a carry and not allowing so much as a hurry on Roethlisberger. Bodine is often the forgotten man on the Bengals offensive line but he had a wonderful day against the Browns, getting movement with regularity and being particularly effective with his second level blocks which opened up lanes for Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard. While the right side of the Cardinals offensive line was struggling to control Aaron Donald the left side was blowing up St. Louis’ defense. On 9 rushes to the left side the Cards picked up 86 yards. Iupati cleared the way for Kerwynn Williams’ touchdown in the third quarter and the two of them kept Carson Palmer’s blind side locked down all day.
DE: Michael Bennett, Seattle Seahawks DT: Haloti Ngata, Detroit Lions DT: Geno Atkins, Cincinnati Bengals DE: Olivier Vernon, Miami Dolphins
Bennett was a monster all day. He tallied 3 tackles for loss, a sack, and 2 further QB hits. His true impact came against the running game though. Bennett has long been a savant when it came to working blockers, cutting off lanes and working back to the runner. Sunday was another masterclass in affecting the play without being the one to make the tackle. Ngata was a force all day against Green Bay, winning the battle against anyone in front of him against both the run and the pass. While he only finished with one tackle and one QB hit Ngata’s consistent push at the top of the pocket forced Rodgers into the arms of his team mates. His strength against the run forced backs to bounce out looking for more space. It was a performance at a level similar to his heyday in Baltimore. Geno Atkins was dominant on Sunday against an over-matched Browns offensive line. But if you check the stats sheet you’ll see a big goose egg next to his name – No tackles, no sacks. There were 3 QB hits however, and a seemingly endless stream of pressure from #97 as he blasted blockers back into Austin Davis’ face. It was a monstrous display from Atkins and allowed the rest of his line-mates to pick up the sacks and I’m sure he didn’t mind not getting one himself. Vernon got through Baltimore blockers like they were nothing. He dominated the edge all day and lived in Matt Schaub’s face. 3 sacks, 4 QB hits and 6 total tackled underlined a wonderful day for Vernon as he looks to improve his stock heading towards free agency.
OLB: Lavonte David, Tampa Bay Buccaneers MLB: Jamie Collins, New England Patriots OLB: Sean Lee, Dallas Cowboys
It’s been a good season for David, which by his usual standards means he’s been disappointing. But this week was a return to form for him as he sliced through the line of scrimmage for 2 tackles in the back field and was the main contributor in shutting down Devonta Freeman. Like all great linebackers he seams to slide through the traffic of a run play to get the ball carrier with the greatest of ease, allowing him to lead the team in tackles. David also iced the game with an interception. After 4 weeks out with an illness Jamie Collins slid right back into the line-up like nothing happened. He lead the team in tackles as he chased Darren Sproles around all night and knifed his way through blockers. His presence in the middle of the field helped ease the load on Patrick Chung in coverage and helped a solid defensive performance as the Pats D only conceded 14 points. Lee was everywhere during a poor Monday Night Football game. He racked up 13 tackles and a sack along with 2 tackles for loss as the Cowboys overcame 3 lost fumbles and an in-form Kirk Cousins.
CB: Desmond Trufant, Atlanta Falcons CB: Patrick Peterson, Arizona Cardinals S: Malcolm Jenkins, Philadelphia Eagles S: Earl Thomas, Seatte Seahawks
Trufant doesn’t get the credit he deserves as a great cover corner due to the way Atlanta mix up their coverages. He plays off in zone coverage because he doesn’t have the free safety help like Sherman does. He’s not often following around #1 receivers like Revis. But when needed to he can shut down everyone. Trufant was great in his zone coverage, rarely allowing yards after the catch and picking one off by trusting his instincts and crashing toward the flat zone. He also forced an interception in the 4th quarter by jumping a slant route to Mike Evans and getting a hand to it. Since getting his Diabetes under control Peterson’s level of play has picked back up toward the All-Pro level it used to be. Sunday was another example of that as he conceded just 40 yards in coverage while picking up 5 solo tackles and a pass defensed. Not only did Jenkins take a pick 99 yards for a touchdown in the middle of a Patriots meltdown on sunday he was also a force against the run. The Pats receivers and tight ends just couldn’t contain him in run blocking as he flew down into the thick of things, making 2 tackles for loss and 7 overall. The Seattle defense put on a clinic on Sunday, none more so than Earl Thomas who was a star at free safety. Not only did he snag an interception on a beautiful adjustment to a high throw but he flew across the top of the field and didn’t give Bridgewater a thing downfield.