Smith was the better player — he was an 11-time Pro Bowler and an 8-time AP first-team All-Pro, compared to just 5/2 for Greene — and consequently was a clear first-ballot Hall of Famer. For whatever reason, it took Greene 12 years, but this summer, he will finally be inducted into the Hall. Given the fact that Smith has 25% more career sacks than Greene, you probably think that Smith was the better pass rusher. To that, the Gray Ink test says not so fast, my friend. [click to continue…]
- The Eagles, after starting 0-2, paid a million dollars to Memphis to essentially buy White from the league. [↩]
Yesterday, I previewed Saturday’s games with um, mixed results (skip the Denver-Baltimore preview and just read the San Francisco-Green Bay breakdown twice). Let’s take another crack at it by examining Sunday’s matchups.
Seattle Seahawks (11-5) (+1) at Atlanta Falcons (13-3), Sunday, 1:00PM ETOnce again, Atlanta is tasked with facing a dominant wildcard team. Is this the year Matt Ryan finally silences his critics?
Atlanta is only a one-point favorite, just the seventh time a home team has been given such little respect this late in the season since 2000. Home teams are 3-3 when underdogs or small favorites over that span in the divisional conference championship rounds, although one of those losses came by the Falcons in 2010 against the Packers when Atlanta was a 1.5-point favorite. But let’s focus on these two teams, because the stats might surprise you.
Russell Wilson edges Matt Ryan in Y/A (7.9 to 7.7), AY/A (8.1 to 7.7), and passer rating (100.0 to 99.1), despite having a significantly worse set of receivers. Ryan does have the edge in NY/A (7.0 to 6.8) but the two are deadlocked in ANY/A at 7.0. Both quarterbacks led four 4th quarter comebacks this year, and Wilson led 5 game-winning drives while Ryan led six. Considering one quarterback has Roddy White, Julio Jones, and Tony Gonzalez, and the other is a 5’10 rookie, I consider this pretty remarkable.
[click to continue…]
At the New York Times Fifth Down Blog this week, I explain my choices for the major awards this season.
Offensive Player of the Year: Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings
Generally, the Most Valuable Player award is given to the best quarterback, while the Offensive Player of the Year is usually the player with the most impressive statistics. In the last five years, Tom Brady — first in 2007, and then again in 2010 — is the only player to take home both awards in the same season. Last year, Drew Brees won the award while Aaron Rodgers took home the M.V.P., but running backs Priest Holmes (2002), Jamal Lewis (2003), Shaun Alexander (2005), LaDainian Tomlinson (2006), and Chris Johnson (2009) have all won the award in the last decade. While Calvin Johnson will probably get some support for breaking Jerry Rice’s single-season record for receiving yards, Adrian Peterson has had this award locked up for a month, and finishing the season with 2,097 yards was the icing on the cake.
I don’t think you’ll find too many people arguing about this one. Peterson’s story is outstanding, and it’s hard to argue that he didn’t provide the single most impressive performance by an offensive player this year. Quarterbacks may be more valuable, but it’s hard not to just sit back and admire what Peterson’s done. Johnson’s also had a magnificent season, but he was greatly aided by the Lions also breaking the record for pass attempts in a season.
Defensive Player of the Year: J.J. Watt, Houston Texans
The shine is off the Texans, but there’s no denying that their star lineman has been outstanding this year. If the stars were aligned slightly differently — say, the Texans were streaking towards the end of the year, and Watt had a monster primetime game late — he’d have a legitimate chance at the M.V.P. award. Last month, I talked about how this award was a three-man race with the stars all coming from the 2011 Draft. In that article I also mentioned Geno Atkins as a possible darkhorse, and he’s been ever better since. But Watt has 20.5 sacks and the national reputation as the Sultan of Swatt, so this award is pretty easy to predict.
And well justified. Watt’s production as a 3-4 defensive end is remarkable. He now owns the single-season record for sacks by a player at that position, but he’s far from one dimensional. We know that he is fantastic at tipping passes at the line of scrimmage and is excellent in run support. He’s a complete player in every respect, a dominant force at a position that rarely receives media attention.
I’d select Von Miller as my runner-up and give Atkins the bronze. While Aldon Smith gets more attention because of his lofty sack totals, he’s a one-dimensional player. While he’s outstanding at that one dimension, just being a dominant pass rusher only makes him the fourth best defensive player this year. He also disappeared down the stretch, which not coincidentally began when star defensive end Justin Smith went down with a triceps injury.
Comeback Player of the Year: Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos
Peyton Manning missed the entire 2011 season, but as soon as he took the field in 2012 he became the favorite to win Comeback Player of the Year. A quarterback has won this award each of the last four years — Chad Pennington (2008), Tom Brady (2009), Michael Vick (2010), and Matthew Stafford (2011) — and the trend should continue in 2012. Comeback Player of the Year is a two-man race, and there’s no wrong answer when choosing between Manning and Peterson. If the voters could, surely the majority would pick that Manning and Peterson split the award. If ever an award called for a split, this was it.
Peyton Manning’s neck injury was considered career-threatening this time last year. Many questioned his arm strength in the pre-season and in September, but by the end of the year he was once again the best quarterback in the league. It’s simply splitting hairs picking between Manning and Peterson, who tore two ligaments in his knee just over a year ago and rebounded to rush for 2,000 yards. And let’s at least recognize Jamaal Charles, who in any other year would likely take home the award. The Kansas City running back tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee last season, and rebounded to rush for over 1,500 yards in 2012. My guess is that those voters looking for a tiebreaker focus on the fact that Manning missed the entire 2011 season while Peterson ran for 970 yards and 12 touchdowns last year, making Manning more of a “comeback” story.
You can view the full post here.
The tables below show the single-season leaders by various defensive players in 3-4 and 4-3 schemes from 1982 to 2011.
Let’s start with a look at the most sacks by a 3-4 defensive end:
|1990||BUF||Bruce Smith||3-4 DE||19|
|1983||SFO||Fred Dean||3-4 DE||17.5|
|1984||PHI||Greg Brown||3-4 DE||16|
|1983||MIA||Doug Betters||3-4 DE||16|
|1983||SEA||Jacob Green||3-4 DE||16|
|1992||NOR||Wayne Martin||3-4 DE||15.5|
|1986||RAI||Sean Jones||3-4 DE||15.5|
|1985||NYG||Leonard Marshall||3-4 DE||15.5|
|1993||KAN||Neil Smith||3-4 DE||15|
|1986||SDG||Lee Williams||3-4 DE||15|
|1986||BUF||Bruce Smith||3-4 DE||15|
|1984||KAN||Art Still||3-4 DE||14.5|
|1984||SEA||Jeff Bryant||3-4 DE||14.5|
|1983||GNB||Ezra Johnson||3-4 DE||14.5|
|1997||BUF||Bruce Smith||3-4 DE||14|
|1993||BUF||Bruce Smith||3-4 DE||14|
|1992||BUF||Bruce Smith||3-4 DE||14|
|1989||SDG||Lee Williams||3-4 DE||14|
|1984||MIA||Doug Betters||3-4 DE||14|
|1984||CLE||Reggie Camp||3-4 DE||14|
|1983||PIT||Keith Willis||3-4 DE||14|
As you can imagine, 3-4 defensive linemen don’t rack up many sacks. Bill Pickel, a nose tackle for the Raiders in the ’80s, recorded 12.5 sacks in both ’84 and ’85, making him the only 3-4 tackle to record more than 12 sacks in a season. Karl Mecklenburg, with 13 sacks for the Broncos in ’85, remains the only inside linebacker in a 3-4 with more than a dozen sacks.
Of course, 3-4 outside linebackers get all the glory in that scheme. San Francisco’s Aldon Smith has 19.5 sacks so far in 2012 with two games remaining, but here were the leaders prior to 2012:
|1986||NYG||Lawrence Taylor||3-4 OLB||20.5|
|2008||DAL||DeMarcus Ware||3-4 OLB||20|
|1990||KAN||Derrick Thomas||3-4 OLB||20|
|2011||DAL||DeMarcus Ware||3-4 OLB||19.5|
|1989||GNB||Tim Harris||3-4 OLB||19.5|
|1984||NWE||Andre Tippett||3-4 OLB||18.5|
|2008||MIA||Joey Porter||3-4 OLB||17.5|
|1995||BUF||Bryce Paup||3-4 OLB||17.5|
|2009||DEN||Elvis Dumervil||3-4 OLB||17|
|2006||SDG||Shawne Merriman||3-4 OLB||17|
|1992||SFO||Tim Harris||3-4 OLB||17|
|1991||NOR||Pat Swilling||3-4 OLB||17|
|1989||NOR||Pat Swilling||3-4 OLB||16.5|
|1989||RAM||Kevin Greene||3-4 OLB||16.5|
|1988||RAM||Kevin Greene||3-4 OLB||16.5|
|1985||NWE||Andre Tippett||3-4 OLB||16.5|
|2008||PIT||James Harrison||3-4 OLB||16|
|1992||DEN||Simon Fletcher||3-4 OLB||16|
|1990||SFO||Charles Haley||3-4 OLB||16|
|2010||DAL||DeMarcus Ware||3-4 OLB||15.5|
|1988||NYG||Lawrence Taylor||3-4 OLB||15.5|
|1998||CAR||Kevin Greene||3-4 OLB||15|
|1989||NYG||Lawrence Taylor||3-4 OLB||15|
|1984||PIT||Mike Merriweather||3-4 OLB||15|
What about 4-3 defensive ends?
|2001||NYG||Michael Strahan||4-3 DE||22.5|
|2011||MIN||Jared Allen||4-3 DE||22|
|1984||NYJ||Mark Gastineau||4-3 DE||22|
|1989||MIN||Chris Doleman||4-3 DE||21|
|1987||PHI||Reggie White||4-3 DE||21|
|1992||PHI||Clyde Simmons||4-3 DE||19|
|1983||NYJ||Mark Gastineau||4-3 DE||19|
|2003||NYG||Michael Strahan||4-3 DE||18.5|
|2002||MIA||Jason Taylor||4-3 DE||18.5|
|1986||WAS||Dexter Manley||4-3 DE||18.5|
|2011||PHI||Jason Babin||4-3 DE||18|
|1988||PHI||Reggie White||4-3 DE||18|
|1984||CHI||Richard Dent||4-3 DE||17.5|
|1999||STL||Kevin Carter||4-3 DE||17|
|1992||SDG||Leslie O'Neal||4-3 DE||17|
|1985||CHI||Richard Dent||4-3 DE||17|
|2011||NYG||Jason Pierre-Paul||4-3 DE||16.5|
|2008||ATL||John Abraham||4-3 DE||16.5|
|2000||MIA||Trace Armstrong||4-3 DE||16.5|
|1999||ARI||Simeon Rice||4-3 DE||16.5|
|1998||SEA||Michael Sinclair||4-3 DE||16.5|
|2005||OAK||Derrick Burgess||4-3 DE||16|
|2004||IND||Dwight Freeney||4-3 DE||16|
|1998||GNB||Reggie White||4-3 DE||16|
|1983||STL||Curtis Greer||4-3 DE||16|
And 4-3 defensive tackles:
|1989||MIN||Keith Millard||4-3 DT||18|
|1986||PHI||Reggie White||4-3 DT||18|
|2000||NOR||La'Roi Glover||4-3 DT||17|
|2000||TAM||Warren Sapp||4-3 DT||16.5|
|1997||MIN||John Randle||4-3 DT||15.5|
|1997||SFO||Dana Stubblefield||4-3 DT||15|
|1992||SEA||Cortez Kennedy||4-3 DT||14|
4-3 outside linebackers rarely rack up huge sack numbers. In fact, Denver’s Von Miller, who has 16 sacks this year, is already the record holder in the official sack era. Derrick Thomas (14.5 sacks in 1992, 13 in 1996) in Kansas City, Washington’s Ken Harvey (13.5 in ’94) and Cleveland’s Jamir Miller (13 in ’01) are the only other 4-3 outside linebackers with more than twelve sacks in a season since 1982. (Of course, Thomas also had a 20-sack season a 3-4 outside linebacker.) Charlie Clemons, with 13.5 sacks in 2001, is the record holder among 4-3 middle linebackers.
This week at the New York Times, I take a look at how three defensive stars from the 2011 Draft have dominated the league and helped make their teams Super Bowl contenders.
The 2011 N.F.L. draft class was initially talked up for its star potential at quarterback: Cam Newton (the first overall pick), Jake Locker (8), Blaine Gabbert (10), Christian Ponder (12), Andy Dalton (35) and Colin Kaepernick (36).
Twenty months later, the most dominant players have been guys named Smith, Miller and Watt. Those three are the front-runners for the defensive player of the year award:
Aldon Smith San Francisco took Smith, a Missouri linebacker, with the seventh pick in the 2011 draft. As a rookie, he was a role player who participated in fewer than half of his team’s snaps but recorded 14 sacks as the team’s designated pass rusher. This year, Smith is a full-time player and continues to be a dominant force. After sacking Miami’s Ryan Tannehill twice on Sunday, he has 19.5 sacks, the most of any player through 13 team games since the sack became an official statistic.
Smith has recorded more sacks in his first two seasons than Reggie White, Derrick Thomas or anyone else who has entered the league since 1982, the year the N.F.L. began officially tracking the statistic. Against the Bears on “Monday Night Football,” Smith recorded five and a half sacks against Jason Campbell, the most by a player in a game since 2007. He is within reach of Michael Strahan’s single-season record of 22.5, set in 2001. But as good as Smith has been, he is arguably just the third-best defensive player from his draft class.
Von Miller The Denver Broncos selected Texas A&M’s Miller with the second overall pick. He had an eye-opening rookie season that was somewhat overshadowed by Tebow Time, but he helped transform the Bronco defense and rightfully earned defensive rookie of the year honors. In 2011, Pro Football Focus rated Miller as the second-best defensive player in the league, and ranked him as the top linebacker against the run and the best pass-rushing 4-3 outside linebacker.
He has only gotten better in 2012. Miller has recorded a sack in each of the team’s last six games, all wins, and now has 16. More impressively, according to Pro Football Focus, Miller’s 16 sacks and 45 quarterback hurries are more than triple the numbers produced by the second-best 4-3 outside linebacker. He ranks as the best pass-rushing linebacker and the best run-stopping linebacker in the N.F.L., and neither race is particularly close. Miller is arguably the best all-around linebacker in the league and perhaps one of the three or four best pass rushers in the N.F.L., too. But Miller still isn’t the most highly regarded member of the 2011 draft.
J.J. Watt The presumptive favorite for the defensive player of the year award remains Houston’s Watt. With an 11-2 record, the Texans are tied for the best record in the N.F.L., and Watt, drafted out of Wisconsin at No. 11, is a huge reason for that. According to Football Outsiders, entering Week 14, Watt led the league with 41 “Defeats” (a turnover, a tackle for loss or a play that prevents a third- or fourth-down conversion); the next-closest player was Miller with 33. According to an e-mail conversation Monday with Aaron Schatz of Football Outsiders, who has been tracking the metric since 1996, only linebackers Ray Lewis (45) and Derrick Brooks (42) have recorded more “Defeats” in a full season, both doing so in 1999.
Watt’s production is remarkable for any player, let alone a 3-4 defensive end. Generally, defensive ends in a 3-4 scheme are not expected to fill up a stat sheet; they are supposed to absorb blockers to enable the linebackers behind them to achieve the glory. But Watt has recorded 16.5 sacks this season and became the first player to officially record 15 sacks and 15 passes defended in the same season. Pro Football Focus ranked Watt just ahead of Miller, and says he’s more than twice as valuable as the next best 3-4 defensive end in football, the Jets’ Muhammad Wilkerson.
Looking for a darkhorse? To identify the man who probably should win the underrated player of the year award — watch a Bengals game. Defensive tackle Geno Atkins was taken in the same draft as Ndamukong Suh but has delivered more production with a fraction of the hype. Atkins was at it again on Sunday against the Cowboys, delivering a sack and two other tackles behind the line of scrimmage, to go with two additional hits and six hurries against Tony Romo.