Another year, another slew of great performances, and most striking of them is how many performances were done by 1st and 2nd year players. This was truly the year of the young’un.
I mean, just look at your league leaders this season.
Alfred Morris – Rookie – 2nd place with 1613 yards, 2nd place with 13TDs
Doug Martin – Rookie – 5th place with 1454 yards, 5th place with 11TDs
Stevan Ridley – 2nd year – 7th place with 1263 yards, 3rd place with 12TDs
Trent Richardson – 5th place with 11TDs
Mikel Leshoure – 9th place with 9TDs on
J.J. Watt – 2nd year – 1st place – 20.5 sacks
Aldon Smith – 2nd year – 2nd place – 19.5 sacks
Von Miller – 2nd year – 3rd place – 18.5 sacks
Richard Sherman – 2nd year – 2nd place – 8
Patrick Peterson – 2nd year – 4th place – 7
Casey Hayward – Rookie – 5th place – 6
Robert Griffin – Rookie – 4th place – 102.4 on 393 att
Russell Wilson – Rookie – 6th place – 100 on 393 att
Colin Kaepernick – 2nd year – 9th place – 98.3 on 218 att
Blair Walsh – Rookie – 1st place with 35FG made, 2nd in average kickoff distance at 68.1
Greg Zuerlein – Rookie – 5th in average kickoff distance at 67.1
Kai Forbath – Rookie – 1st in accuracy with 17/18 FG made, has name like Kai Forbath (Name of the Year)
Andrew Luck was 7th in passing yardage
6 of the 12 playoff teams were starting 1st or 2nd year quarterbacks
Everyone who has ever thrown for 4800 yards in NFL history has averaged 38.75 TDs in the season they did it. Matthew Stafford had 20. I hate fantasy football.
One Last Fantasy Bitch (and only because the statistics made me…)
Matthew Stafford had a season only my fantasy curse could produce. Despite shattering the all-time record for pass attempts in a season with 721 (Drew Bledsoe, 1994, 691 att), and being 2nd in the league with 4,967 yards, he somehow only produced 20 passing touchdowns, and didn’t hit Calvin Johnson in the end zone until Veteran’s Day. How disproportionately unproductive is that 721/4,967/20 statistic?
In this season alone, EVERY quarterback from 3rd to 18th on the passing yardage rankings with the exception of Cam Newton at #13 (and everyone knows many of his touchdowns come on the ground) had more touchdowns through the air. This list includes all-time greats like Ryan Fitzpatrick, Sam Bradford, Carson Palmer, and Josh Freeman. Going further down the list, 21st ranked Ben Roethlisberger threw 26TDs over 3.265 yards and an injured throwing shoulder, 22nd ranked Robert Griffin needed 3,200 yards and 15 games to throw 20TDs, and 23rd ranked Russell Wilson threw 26TDs on a scant 3,118 yards.
In the all-time record book, Stafford’s season is 7th all-time in yardage. If you average every other 4800 yard season or more (there’s 12), you come up with an average of 38.75TDs to go with that season, making Stafford’s 20 look all that more disparate. In fact, you have to go ALL THE WAY DOWN TO 50TH on the all-time list (Mark Brunell’s 1996 – 4367 yards and 19TD with 20INTs) to find a passing season with that much fewer touchdowns on big yardage. Of those 50 seasons, Only Lynn Dickey’s 1983 Packers season (4458 yards, 32TDs, 29INTs), Drew Bledsoe’s 1994 Patriots season (4555 yards, 25TDs, 27INTs, and the previous record of 691 attempts), and Rich Gannon’s 2002 MVP year with the Raiders (4689 yards, 26TDs, 10INTs) make me bat an eye.
The pass attempts thing is a little harder to define, because he broke the record by 36 attempts, a full game’s worth by most standards. In this regard, there are fewer comparable seasons. The 9 other quarterback seasons that had 648 attempts or more averaged 33.78TDs per season, still well above Stafford’s 20.
I think the NFL is better without me playing fantasy.
My Most Improved Player goes to Michael Crabtree because this was certainly a breakout-or-bust season for who I thought was one of the more pro-ready and gifted receivers to come out of college in a while. Crabtree’s post-draft holdout and nearly 2 seasons under Mike Singletary didn’t help him, and he isn’t the gamebreaking deep-threat many of today’s top receivers are, but in an offense centered around tight end and running backs, he has carved himself a huge third down niche in spite of the additions of Randy Moss and Mario Manningham. He has been in the top 5 in receiving touchdowns, yards and catches among everyone in the NFL since Week 11, has become the league’s premier 3rd down receiver (ripping the title from Antonio Brown). Crabtree is at his best when it counts, sustaining drives and sparking them with equal effectiveness. 22 of his 85 catches were 3rd down conversions, the best percentage in the league, and 11 of them were on 3rd and more than 7. Crabtree made himself indispensable in a year he could have been made unemployed.
(Side Note: Vincent Jackson led the league for the 2nd consecutive year in percentage of receptions going for first downs with 84.7%. In the past two seasons 105 of his 132 catches have moved the sticks.)
The SPTKF Coach of the Year always deviates from the path a little. To me, it’s not about how high your ceiling is, but how low your basement is. Alot of guys can come in and improve a team by 3-4 wins just because they’re a fresh voice in year one, and if they don’t, well, they’re new! Give them a chance. I need a coach that stood to lose alot with a bad season, made risks with his decisions that paid off, and thought outside the box enough to scare his opponents. In the 7-year history of SPTKF, no coach has embodied my intentions for the award more than Pete Carroll did coaching the Seahawks this season. Not everyone has the balls to start a 3rd round pick at quarterback when the team just signed a free agent to a 4-year deal for the same job in the same offseason even if they DO see what Carroll saw in Russell Wilson when he got to training camp. If the team spends that kind of money on Matt Flynn, Carroll benches him, and the Wilson thing doesn’t work out, he’s looking at a third consecutive 7-9 or worse season, and he’s gone. Someone else gets the credit for the defense he built, Beast Mode toils in relative anonymity, Golden Tate toils in absolute anonymity, Sidney Rice’s contract looks like a total mistake, and the whole thing’s a mess. Many people underestimate Pete Carroll. I don’t. The man has brass ones, and he’s much more of a defensive mastermind than he’s given credit for. He built a secondary against the grain with long-armed tall freaks, generates a pass rush by allowing his D-line to play conventional pass-rush while letting Bruce Irvin (another rookie trusted to make a large impact and did) run wild off the edge without much assignment detail, and can still ram it down your throat with Marshawn to close things out.
The Comeback Player of the Year is far less controversial in Peyton Manning, who made much more than a physical comeback. I never thought Peyton’s comeback would fail because of Peyton. I thought it might hit a wall in year one because of all the new people he surrounded himself with. Hardly, and that’s what makes this comeback special. Not only did the player have to come back to the level he was used to, but he had to bring his style off the field to a new team that would hopefully adjust to it quickly. The Colts were different in that Peyton demanded he get all the practice snaps and time with the first-team offense. When he left and Curtis Painter hit the real field without even seeing the practice field, the results spoke for themselves. Denver didn’t have to just believe in Peyton’s neck. They had to believe in his habits, which one can argue speak for themselves as well, but they also had to see how fucked they were if he reinjured it by seeing how fucked the Colts were with him gone. 4659 yards and 37TDs later, even without a full recovery, I think they have their answer.
The debate over Rookie of the Year is a little senseless to me. Andrew Luck wins the Offensive Rookie of the Year hands down.
Buh waaaaah Wussell Wiwson won a pwayoff game – Yeah against a fellow rookie quarterback who might as well have been repeatedly shot by a sniper in the mezzanine during the game after he outclassed him on a bad knee in the 1st quarter.
Buh waaaaah AwGee Thwee had a bettew wating – Christ, do you even WATCH their offense? Griffin had the least learning to do of the three quarterbacks in the running for OROY. They literally brought his Baylor offense (which didn’t have a playbook) into their zone blocking scheme. Griffin never had to make more than one read on a pass play. Everything was based off of sophisticated run action against en-vogue shitty tackling technique. Mark my words, NO quarterback has had a scheme-to-ability fit like Griffin has right now in perhaps 20 years.
Another thing these two guys don’t have around them is AN ENTIRE ROOKIE CLASS OF PLAYMAKERS AROUND THEM. Luck improved his team’s win total by 9 games in one season with TWO rookie tight ends, TWO rookie receivers, and rookie Vick Ballard in his backfield. It’s one thing to step into a team that has talent and be the thing that ties it together to win games like Wilson is to Seattle. It’s one thing to be the optimal athlete to fit what a team wants to accomplish with scheme like Griffin is to Washington. It’s a totally different thing to step into a rebuild as a rookie, surround yourself with rookies, work with an interim head coach the entire year when you’re not expecting to, and still go 11-5 while showing pocket presence beyond your years and immediately stretching the field upon your arrival. Don’t let the scramblers fool you. This guy is the man. This guy is the future.
In a year without a runaway impact candidate, I’m resigned to give the Defensive Rookie of the Year to Luke Kuechly because he led the league in tackles as a rookie. I’m actually a little pissed there isn’t someone better to pick, because he was on an awful defense, but most of the defensive rookie starters from this year’s first round are on bad defenses that are still bad with them there, so it levels out. Kuechly is your stereotypical hard-nosed kid that fans love
because he’s white because he’s a fundamentally sound tackler, hits hard and fast into his run fits and doesn’t miss many assignments. He’s flat out awful in coverage, however, and that might continue to get worse if he has to dial it back a half-step and do more cerebral things as a defensive leader. Regardless, most teams want an inside linebacker like this, and Carolina looks like they’ll have him for a decade.
Given the outstanding draft he had and the seemingly great coaches he hired, I’m surprised more people don’t know who Ryan Grigson is. Let me tell you. Ryan Grigson is the SPTKF7 Executive of the Year, because he had the best draft class since Jerry Reese’s 2007 Giants, wisely hired away Bruce Arians from the Steelers because of his well-known experience in turning Ben Roethlisberger from a raw product into the star he is now, and hired a defensive complement in Chuck Pagano as head coach (which also served as the reason Reggie Wayne stayed.). He also got 145 tackles, 2 sacks and 2 takeaways from an undrafted free agent in Jerrell Freeman. The Colts have introduced more rookie playmakers in one season than any NFL team I can remember in my lifetime, and they handled the #ChuckStrong thing with the utmost class. One had to be worried that the culture would change with all of the other things that changed in Indianapolis. Not so. The Colts are the same warm and fuzzy franchise they’ve always been, they’re a class act from the top down, and they have a wonderful chance to return to prominence for years to come. That’s what a good draft will do for ya.
Amongst all the Brady-Manning-Peterson talk, we all kinda missed the following season.
5177 yards, 43TD, 63% completion, 19INT, 96.3 rating.
Yup *yawn* Drew Brees threw for 5000 yards for the third time in his career, tossed 43TDs, and stayed focused on a bad team with no coaching staff, and deserves Offensive Player of the Year for the 2nd year in a row. Granted this was on a whopping 670 pass attempts, but the Saints always put up points, and could balance the attack with their running game. It was their defense that cost them their season. Let us go through a short list of all the passing records Drew Brees holds. Their controversy was their controversy, and with Sean Payton locked up for the future, it’s time to hunker down with this group and get another ring. Their window is closing.
(Side Note: Since his 16-0 season in 2007, 5 seasons of work given the 2008 knee injury, Tom Brady has thrown 187 TDs and 45 INTs. That’s a 4:1 ratio in a league where a 2:1 ratio keeps your job.)
Defensively, this year was defined by the 3-4 defensive end becoming an impact playmaker. The work of Justin Smith, Geno Atkins, and most influentially, J. J. Watt of the Houston Texans will most certainly impact this coming draft. People are going to be looking for someone this disruptive. How bad of a man was Watt this year? Well, SPTKF readers know what I like. I don’t like guys who rack up sacks and don’t put up other stats (Jason Babin’s 18 sack – 40 tackle 2011 season is a great example). I don’t like guys who can’t play the run from their position, and I don’t like guys who are renowned for their aggression, yet because of that aggression blow contain and can’t play in coverage if they’re on the back seven (James Harrison).
Everyone knows about J. J. Watt’s league-leading 20.5 sacks, but they may not know that he had 81 tackles, 15 more than any other defensive lineman this season. Most people know about his proficiency at batting balls down at the line of scrimmage, but I think you really have to look at the numbers to tell the tale. Problem is, the NFL’s official statistic doesn’t count batted balls at the line of scrimmage as a “pass defensed”, whereas other sources like ESPN do. If you equate the two, and I do, this is where Watt stands.
Yes, you’re reading that right.
Yes, you’re reading that right. J. J. Watt lead the league in sacks, led his position in tackles, and was TENTH in the league in passes defensed without ever having to cover anyone and is the SPTKF Defensive Player of the Year. The only player in NFL history to even have a season comparable to this is Reggie White’s 1991 season with the Eagles with 100 tackles, 13 batted balls, and 15 sacks. Watching him annihilate double teams in the playoffs was terrifying, and indicative of the kind of impact he had on games this year. You may not see another performance like that in 20 years.
The SPTKF7 MVP
Quarterbacks have won 10 of the last 12 MVPs, and with good reason. The league has been fortunate enough to have 2 of the 5 best quarterbacks who ever lived playing against each other year in and year out at the same time. People have tried to model their teams after this, hoping to find someone with both the physical gifts to make any throw and the brains to essentially coordinate on-the-fly. Set plays have taken a back seat to “concepts”, where both quarterbacks and receivers read what they think they see together and make timed route changes based on what happens both before and after the snap. The Internet has helped this boom as well. The perception that the game “can be figured out” mentally is the reason 9,265,432,345,098 football blogs like this one exist. Americans love the chess game played on each play before one side snaps the ball and shows their hand.
…but that alone is not what makes this game great…
What makes this game great is that it tests your brains in planning, and tests your will in execution. I think it’s been slightly lost over the past decade or so how the physical imposition of the will is truly the quickest path to victory. One player defined the “you know what’s coming and you still can’t stop it” old-school effectiveness of simply kicking the other team’s ass.
The Vikings passed the Bears, Giants, and Cowboys to make the playoffs despite an average defense, the 2nd worst passing offense, and a negative turnover ratio.
Adrian Peterson beat the odds, then proceeded to beat the brakes off of his opponents in a one-man show that produced a playoff spot, and is the SPTKF MVP. What really seals this for me is a long look at the rosters of the teams that finished just behind the Vikings in the standings, because they are all insanely more talented than the trash AD put on his back. This team was nothing special. They finished with the 3rd overall pick last year, and this year sported a defense that was 15th in scoring, 16th in yardage, 24th against the pass, and a somewhat impressive 11th against the run. The remainder of their offense aside from Peterson left even more to be desired, with the notoriously guarded Christian Ponder leading the 2nd worst passing offense in the league. Name one wide receiver they have… exactly. Wanna see just how insane AP was this year?
AP got better as the game went on, faced more eight man fronts than anyone in his era, and was still as explosive as any pass play.
Perhaps the best case for AP over a quarterback is the fact that 1,428 of his 2,096 yards on the ground came on plays of ten yards or more, essentially making him as explosive as a good passing game throughout the season. The answer to this is that this bulk speaks of inconsistency. If you gain 2/3 of your yards on 1/6 of your carries, you’re either hitting the home run or striking out. If AP was ever inconsistent this season, it wasn’t game-to-game. Peterson had 7 games of 150+ yards, tying an NFL record appropriately set by Earl Campbell, and gained 1,313 yards over an eight-game span, a first in NFL history. He’s also valuable for how he set the tone early in drives. On 1st downs with 8-10 (mostly 10) yards to gain, Peterson averaged 6.2 yards a carry for 1,096 yards.
This is the first player in NFL history that we worried about in September, where by December we were worried about who he was hitting. Congratulations.
See you Saturday.