They’ll make their calls on the pair of potential perfect seasons, identify their choice for second-best defensive rookie in the league, and offer up some interesting pairings when looking at vet-rookie teammate combos.
This week wraps with a hypothetical about what they’d like to add to PFF’s analysis if there were no restrictions in place.
1) Best performance of the week?
Khaled: I was quietly blown away by just how good Da’quan Bowers looked. Revelation time: I’m not a doctor, so I don’t know how his knee is holding up or how long he’ll play for, but if the Bucs can get him on the field, they’ve got a steal.
Neil: Just how stupid are the Vikings? Percy Harvin is their best and most lethal player on offense (well with Adrian Peterson sidelined for sure) and yet has played only 55% of snaps overall this year. In a less than credible 64% of snaps he pulled in eight of nine balls thrown his way for 156 yards and two touchdowns. If I was a Minnesota fan I’d be bouncing off the walls with rage.
Ben: I’m going to go all the way back to last Thursday and Marshawn Lynch. Beast Mode was in full effect and he embarrassed the Eagles’ defense last Thursday, though they did a fairly good job of embarrassing themselves as well.
Sam: Aaron Rodgers was superb, but Jason Pierre Paul tore Marshall Newhouse a new one in that same game, and if this way I get a chance to mention him by his nickname, the Haitian Sensation. He was legitimately sensational in that game, and nearly upset Rodgers enough for the Giants to sneak the win.
Nathan: Ray Rice and the Ravens’ run blockers. The Browns knew Baltimore was running on most plays, put an eighth man in the box to try stopping it, but still couldn’t do it. It’s not often we see 200 yard rushing performances, but this was one of them.
2) Looking into the coming four weeks, which opponents represent the best chances to derail either of the perfect seasons (Green Bay, Indianapolis)?
Khaled: Jacksonville in Week 17. Blaine Gabbert is capable of messing anything up.
Neil: The Colts looked a lot more functional this week. Not enough to beat Baltimore away but the week after that they’ll have a good chance at home to the Titans. If they don’t get that then I think they should beat Jacksonville in an empty stadium in Florida on New Years eve. As for the Packers, I can’t see any of the next three worrying Aaron Rodgers overtly but they may just struggle with the Lions. Truthfully I think Green Bay have 16-0 in the bag.
Ben: I think the Colts are sunk, but the Packers’ sternest test I think could come this weekend against the Raiders. You never know which Raiders team is going to show up but the Packers will force them into their nickel defense frequently which is Oakland’s best defense. The pass rush led by, but not single handedly powered by, Kamerion Wimbley is the best base pass rush the Packers will face this year and it’s the best chance to knock Rodgers off of his stride.
Sam: At this point, I think the only team that can beat the Packers are the Packers, i.e., if they decide to rest players in the late games. The Raiders have the potential to get it done legitimately if they fire on all cylinders, but I wouldn’t bet on it. As for the Colts, it’s the same thing but in reverse. I can’t see them winning a game unless teams rest players. Maybe, just maybe, Jacksonville sucks enough to blow it in Week 17.
Nathan: I would say the Colts’ Week 17 matchup against the Jaguars. The Colts offense has started to do well against poor defenses, and the Jaguars have lost a few defensive players since their last time these two teams played.
3) Outside of Von Miller, which defensive rookie has caught your eye as one who could slot in as the No. 2 in the class?
Khaled: Check out my Rookie of the Year piece. I don’t give that information away for free!
Neil: Aldon Smith is the next up in my view. 10 sacks, 8 hits and 23 hurries playing almost exclusively in sub packages is a phenomenal return. What happens when 47% of snaps becomes 85%?
Ben: Pernell McPhee has impressed me every time I’ve seen him as a situational interior pass rusher, but I think Aldon Smith is clearly the second-best defensive rookie from this class. He’s also playing largely as a situational pass rusher but as the season progresses, he’s looking all the more dominant coming off the edge.
Sam: It really is a one-man race on the defensive side of the ball. It’s Von Miller and then a pack of people doing OK for rookies. I really like the look of Pernell McPhee for the Ravens if they would give him some more snaps. He looks like he’s a real player, but so far he’s just playing spot-duty.
Nathan: Richard Sherman who plays cornerback for the Seahawks. He’s only been starting since Week 8, but once he cracked the lineup, he’s played as well as almost anyone at the position.
4) I’m interested in some of the vet-rookie combos out there. Give me a same-team, old guy / young guy duo that has impressed you this season – whether they be a pair of linebackers or linemen starting next to each other, a quarterback-receiver battery, or cover men handling their sides of the field – somewhere we can see youth and experience on display in tandem.
Khaled: Whoever goes for Newton/ Smith should be sacked for unoriginality. Likewise for Willis/ Bowman. No, I’m going for Antonio Smith and J.J. Watt. They complement each other and have been big parts of why that Texan defense has turned it around with the move to a 3-4.
Neil: The one that stands out for me is the combination of ends on the Houston line. This isn’t just because it’s vet and rookie but also because of the contrast in styles. It’s a little counter-intuitive in that rookie J.J. Watt is the solid, all-rounder good in all facets of play, while the 8-year player is the hard-charging elite pass rusher who gives up lots of penalties and isn’t quite as polished against the run as you’d like.
Ben: Cam Newton may have set an all time record for rushing TDs by quarterbacks in a season this weekend but it was his work in the passing game that was so impressive and surprising this year. His instant impact there came as a result of his instant chemistry with Steve Smith. Impressive from both guys with Newton making an immediate impact and Smith recovering from a 2010 season blighted by the quarterback situation in Carolina.
Sam: It’s a pretty obvious one but I love the rapport Steve Smith and Cam Newton have. Smith was the forgotten man in the NFL before this season but all he really needed was someone willing to fire him the ball and give him a chance and he looks completely rejuvinated.
Nathan: I’ll go with the Houston 3-4 defensive ends who are next to each other in the nickel. First round pick J.J. Watt paired with Antonio Smith has sent an interior pass rush that is unmatched in the AFC.
5) In a world without limits, what is the one thing you wish PFF could track that we currently don’t?
Khaled: Nothing to do with stats because I think we can track those with a little thinking on our parts, but rather deeper analysis down the field. I’ll be surprised if anyone answers differently because getting All-22 and doing that would add an awful lot.
Neil: When All-22 footage becomes available, we chart each receiver and defensive back on every down and look for open guys and broken coverage.
Ben: The only things that comes up immediately for me are two things I have in mind to add in to our analysis next year which is two further check boxes for pass plays for throws on the move and throws off of play action. Just to add an extra layer of depth to our pass play analysis for both offensive and defensive players. For safeties and linebackers in particular, looking at how they cover against passes that aren’t play action and those that are would be something very interesting to see.
Sam: Loads of things, some of which I’m sure it’s just a matter of time before we bring in. Double teams on the line, double teams in coverage, chip blocks, draw plays, play action, etc., etc. Onwards and upwards!
Nathan: While there is an endless list of things that would be great to have, one of the first ones that comes to mind is how fast players react to the snap of the ball.