Another week is in the books and it’s time to look at who had the best game at each position. As ever these are opinions built on watching the games rather than scouring box scores. Gaudy numbers are no match for flawless process and efficiency. All of which means that yes, some weekend fantasy leaders are missing from this team but these are the best players from week 15 in my opinion. So let’s get straight into it…
Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions
For all the stats Cam Newton put up there were some terrible decisions and bad throws in there. Matthew Stafford however was about as perfect as it’s possible to be. He had 3 – that’s right, THREE – incompletions all day as he picked the Saints defense apart with screens and quick passes. It’s not as flashy as Newton & Wilson running around or Palmer launching bombs downfield but it was a beautifully efficient performance from a guy who’s been receiving very little praise recently.
David Johnson, Arizona Cardinals Danny Woodhead, San Diego Chargers
Every week since september David Johnson has done something to impress and since injuries to Chris Johnson and Andre Ellington forced him into the bell cow role he has flourished. On sunday night Johnson battered a usually strong Eagles run defense to pieces with 187 yards and 3 touchdowns on the ground, including a 47 yard run that Marshawn Lynch would have been proud of as he bounced off body after body before hitting the sideline, stiff arming a defender and making it to the end zone. Johnson added 42 yards on 4 catches and a series of great blitz pick-ups to put the division title away for the Cardinals. Danny Woodhead had 60 yards on the day but found his way into the endzone 4 times in 4 very different ways. His first touchdown he roasted Kelvin Sheppard on an out & up from the slot. The second he flared out from the backfield and somehow found space in the corner of the endzone on a scramble drill. The third was a goal line dive that he jinked to the outside on for an easy score and on the fourth he was lined up wide left and ran a slant. It’s that versatility that makes Woodhead such a deadly part of any offense. Sure, his size is always a worry – he was engulfed more than once thanks to poor blocking – but he’s a quarterbacks dream and a defenses nightmare.
Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers Emmanuel Sanders, Denver Broncos
When the Steelers couldn’t run the football they went to #84 over and over again against probably the best pass defense in the NFL and what did Brown do? Hhe burnt them to the ground with 16 catches on 18 targets for 189 yards & 2 touchdowns. Brown hauled the winning touchdown in after destroying the secondary on an inside seam route. His season has been ridiculous while Ben Roethlisberger has been healthy, and without him it’s been merely amazing. While Brown was tearing up the Broncos secondary Sanders was on the other side slicing and dicing the Steelers. He pulled in 10 of 16 targets for 181 yards and a touchdown. He abused Steelers defensive backs with short hitches and deep digs, and while the touchdown came on a busted coverage he was a constant terror to all who tried to cover him.
Jordan Reed, Washington Redskins
With Rob Gronkowski having an off day someone was going to get a rare appearance in our Team of the Week, that someone was Washington’s Jordan Reed who finished the day with 7 catches, 84 yards and 2 touchdowns. Reed looks far more like a wide receiver than he does a tight end – he can throw blocks where necessary but he’s by far most effective running routes. His first touchdown came when he was lined up wide out against a safety and pulled in a fade route easily. His second score was a far more impressive post route from the slot that split 2 defenders. Reed is dynamite with the ball in his hand and has finally found some fitness this season, allowing him to become one of Kirk Cousins’ favourite targets.
David Bakhtiari, Green Bay Packers
Marshal Yanda, Baltimore Ravens
Rodney Hudson, Oakland Raiders
Brandon Brooks, Houston Texans
Joe Thomas, Cleveland Browns
Bakhtiari had a superb day on sunday as he stonewalled pass rushers and crushed defenders in the run game. His speed across off the ball was impressive as he got across the formation on zone runs the other way and out to the sideline on sweeps his way while he was more than happy to kick back by himself against all comers, including Khalil Mack. Poor old Yanda. He spends his day making perfect blocks only to turn around at the end of the play and see a ruin of an offense behind him. A better back could have got 100 yards behind his blocks in the run game on sunday, as it was Terrance West managed 35 on 7 carries because it turns out there isn’t a guard in the world that can make Jimmy Clausen a good quarterback. Hudson was a big signing in the off-season who has helped turn around the Raiders offensive line thanks to good communication and solid play. This week he was a rock against Green Bay’s rotation of nose tackles, getting good movement to open holes for Latavius Murray and holding the top of the pocket. He lead Derek Carr to 3 yards on a sneak and Murray to a 4th down conversion as well. Brooks was one of the few highlights in this game. He got movement in the ground game consistently and maintained a clean pocket for the quarterbacks he was protecting to step up. He’s been the Texans best offensive linemen this year, which isn’t saying much, and is one of the few pieces on this offense that should be back without an issue next season. Joe Thomas missed practice time last week with a knee injury but it takes more than that for Thomas to miss a snap, which he hasn’t done in his 9 year career. This week was another exhibition of left tackle play as he blanked every one of Seattle’s DE’s that tried to take him on. He’s as good as it gets in the NFL and I won’t ever get bored of watching him.
DeMarcus Lawrence, Dallas Cowboys Geno Atkins, Cincinnati Bengals Aaron Donald, St. Louis Rams Olivier Vernon, Miami Dolphins
Lawrence was a whirling ball of unblockable energy on Thursday Night Football: Saturday Edition (Thanks NFL Network). He made 6 tackles within a yard of the line of scrimmage including 2 tackles for loss at the goal line – one on 4th down. He was the main part of a huge effort from the Cowboys defensive line that panicked and harassed Ryan Fitzpatick all day. He finished his day with 4 tackles in the backfield, a sack and a wake strewn with floored offensive linemen. Geno Atkins was a constant menace. On the second play of the day he blew up Clint Boling and made a tackle in the backfield. He picked up 2 sacks on Blaine Gabbert as he tormented a good interior offensive line. When Atkins wasn’t in the difference was noticeable as the Bengals had more time in the backfield to let plays develop, with Atkins on the field though it was all they could do to get the ball back to the line of scrimmage. When he wasn’t making plays the attention paid to him by Cincinnati was allowing others to pick up tackles and pressures. Seriously, if you haven’t sat down and watched Donald go to work you need to do it soon. This is the most dominant season from a defensive tackle I’ve seen since Warren Sapp’s prime. Donald didn’t get a sack on Thursday against Tampa Bay, instead he had 5 tackles – 2 in the backfield – against the run and instigated almost every positive play the Rams defense had. He laid down 3 monstrous hits on Jameis Winston that had him skittish all day and just abused any blocker in his path. This is Vernon’s second appearance in our Team of the Week, which is no doubt the first thing that GM’s will look at when evaluating him during free agency after the season! Vernon had everything you could want from a defensive end on sunday: Backside integrity on run plays, quick pressure on the quarterback and array of moves that so confused Chris Hairston that he ended up being able to walk the left tackle back into Phil Rivers’ lap. And then there was his elite run defense as he picked up 2 tackles in the backfield. He should have a lot of suitors after this season if Miami don’t slap a franchise tag on him.
Melvin Ingram, San Diego Chargers
NaVorro Bowman, San Francisco 49ers
Jamie Collins, New England Patriots
Ingram was just starting to edge his battle with Branden Albert when the Pro Bowl left tackle got injured. After that it was a slaughter. First Dallas Thomas tried to stop him but he could barely get a hand on Ingram, when he did Ingram span off so fast you’d be forgiven for thinking it was Dwight Freeney out there. Ulrick John did no better when he came in. Bored of constantly getting around the edge Ingram was sent on crosses that drew so much attention his running mates had free shots at Tannehill. It was easily Ingram’s best performance of the season and just what Chargers fans have been waiting for from the former first round pick. It’s safe to say that Bowman is back to his best. He was flying around the field on Sunday tracking down almost everything. He made 3 consecutive tackles on Giovani Bernard in the first quarter, first on a 4th & 1 run, then on an off-tackle right on the next drive and then in coverage of him. He even managed to pancake Andre Smith on a blitz. Bowman finished up with 12 tackles on the day as he crushed the Bengals ground game. Missing 4 games is going to hurt Collins when it comes to the end of season awards but when on the field he has been ridiculous. Sunday was no different as he folded Marcus Mariota in half on a sack and then picked off Zack Mettenburger and nearly took it back for a score. When he wasn’t tormenting quarterbacks he was crushing running backs and blanketing tight ends.
Jason Verrett, San Diego Chargers Malcolm Butler, New England Patriots
When Ryan Tannehill wasn’t on the floor he was avoiding Verrett like the plague. After finding no early success – including on a double move from Mike Wallace that was covered to perfection – Tannehill just stopped looking Verrett’s way. That didn’t stop Verrett nearly picking off two passes though. He was breaking to the ball almost before Tannehill threw it. Verrett was also very good at disguising his coverages. It was a superb display all round. Butler was targeted twice in man coverage, giving up 10 yards and getting an interception in the endzone. He had a second interception in man coverage called back for a penalty on another player. It was an extremely impressive day in coverage for Butler as he shut down anyone he was lined up against. He’s also very underrated for his play against the run which was outstanding on sunday. He’s come along way from West Alabama.
Mike Adams, Indianapolis Colts Tyrann Mathieu, Arizona Cardinals
Adams is the first Colt defender to appear in our Team of the Week this season! Adams did all his best work against the run. He was flying up and laying in hits at every opportunity as he made 10 tackles on the day. Another appearance for Mathieu, but it will unfortunately be his last. After flying around the field in pursuit of tight ends twice his size and breaking up a sure-fire touchdown he tore his ACL on an awkward landing after grabbing an interception. Mathieu was one of the many things that make Arizona the most watchable team of this season and losing him will hurt this defense a lot.
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