In a week where starters were rested it seemed like a great opportunity for some of the lesser known players to make a name for themselves. A chance to impress and stake a claim for more playing time in the future. That certainly occurred for some, but as is often the case, the best performances were left to those guys who we’re used to seeing it from.
In that respect, Week 17 wasn’t different to any others.
We’ve got a couple of All-Pro receivers, some fearsome pass rushing Vikings, and further proof Pro Bowl voters need a ‘Wake’ up call. That’s a pun, and if you read on all will be revealed in our Week 17 Team of the Week.
Quarterback: Philip Rivers, SD (+9.4)
2011 hasn’t exactly been the year where Rivers took ‘QB play to a whole new level’ as PFF Founder Neil Hornsby predicted, but he ended the year with one of the finest performances of the season. He completed 73.1% of his throws, for a remarkable 11.9 yards per attempt and suffered two drops. He didn’t have the stats of some others, but then he didn’t make as many throws so what do you expect?
Running Back: Michael Turner, ATL (+2.7)
Just the 172 yards for Turner on 17 carries. Imagine what could have happened if the Falcons hadn’t rested him after he broke an incredible nine tackles on those carries.
Fullback: Jed Collins, NO (+4.2)
That’s as good a fullback display as you’re likely to see all season. Collins capped his day with a touchdown but his blocking was superb, forcing the Panthers defenders to go where he wanted them to. A revelation in 2011.
Tight End: Aaron Hernandez, NE (+5.5)
Fewer touchdowns than Rob Gronkowski but it was getting the ball in the hands of Hernandez that sparked the Patriots’ comeback. Is playing as well as he ever has.
Wide Receivers: Larry Fitzgerald, ARZ (+5.4) and Calvin Johnson, DET (+4.5)
Another monster day for Johnson, but strangely, with nearly 100 fewer yards, Fitzgerald may have been more impressive. Erratic QB play and a bruised lung couldn’t stop him making the kind of plays that deserve more attention.
Tackles: Jared Veldheer, OAK (+5.6) and T.J. Lang, GB (+4.3)
A great way to end the season for Veldheer who not only drew a blank in pass protection but also had the highest run-blocking grade of the week for a tackle. Lang also gave up nothing in pass protection which is impressive from the makeshift tackle.
Guards: Carl Nicks, NO (+4.6) and Geoff Hangartner, CAR (+2.3)
Nicks had some stiff competition this week with our top seven guards all playing on the left side. His excellent work in space helped seal the nod, with Hangartner the best of a mediocre bunch on the right guard front.
Center: Nick Mangold, NYJ (+3.1)
He gave up a pressure but his run blocking, against a good Dolphins defense, was exactly what you’d expect from a talent like Mangold.
4-3 Defensive Front
Defensive Ends: Jared Allen, MIN (+6.3) and Brian Robison, MIN (+9.0)
Allen received the plaudits, but it was his combination with Robison that destroyed the Bears’ offensive line. The pair combined for five sacks, two hits and eight pressures.
Defensive Tackle: Derek Landri, PHI (+4.7) and Tyson Alualu, JAX (+3.7)
I’ve dogged on Alualu all year for failing to make an impact, so it’s only fair to give him some credit when he puts forth the kind of display we saw from him as a rookie (even if it was against the Colts). Landri should have plenty of suitors this year–there aren’t many tackles as quick off the mark as the Eagle.
Linebackers: Daryl Smith, JAX (+4.5), Curtis Lofton, ATL (+4.5) and Lance Briggs, CHI (+3.1)
The best linebacker nobody ever talks about? It’s Daryl Smith who was superb once again in registering a hit, a hurry, and five defensive stops against the Colts. Briggs couldn’t quite match those numbers but had one of his better performances of the year. In the middle, Lofton gets the nod after his pick-six and five defensive stops.
3-4 Defensive Front
Defensive Line: Vonnie Holliday, ARZ (+5.5), Sione Pouha, NYJ (+3.3) and Glenn Dorsey, KC (+5.4)
Holliday was forced into more snaps than you’re ever likely to see from him again, and showed he still has it with five defensive stops and two QB hits. Dorsey may never live up to his draft slot, but when he’s brought his “A” game, few can disrupt the run like he can. Pouha rounds up a front three you won’t be able to run on.
Outside Linebackers: Cameron Wake, MIA (+5.1) and DeMarcus Ware, DAL (+4.0)
Why aren’t more people talking about Cameron Wake? I thought he’d struggle to better his 2010 but he just can’t be stopped when it comes to constantly generating pressure. Ware showed up with two sacks, a hit, and three pressures when it mattered most, even if it ultimately mattered very little as the Cowboys’ season ended prematurely (for them).
Inside Linebackers: NaVorro Bowman, SF (+5.6) and Sean Lee, DAL (+4.2)
The two former Penn State linebackers reunited by their mutual brilliance. They combined for a sack, four hurries, 11 defensive stops and a pass deflection. They’re pretty good.
Cornerbacks: Charles Tillman, CHI (+4.1) and Brandon Browner, SEA (+3.2)
Some people get their Pro Bowl nod and put their feet up – not Tillman who made some plays (an interception and pass deflection), helped out in run support and gave up just 9 yards on the six balls thrown his way. Browner may be the success story of the year, given how utterly terrible he was to start with. He broke up three balls and allowed nothing on the four passes aimed at him.
Safeties: Troy Polamalu, PIT (+5.7) and Nate Allen, PHI (+3.3)
Remember how last year Polamalu looked hurt heading into the playoffs? Well this year he’s playing some of the best football of his career. You have been warned. Allen looked as good as he has since picking up an injury that ended his 2010 season – that bodes well for next year.
Eric Frampton picked up two tackles on kickoffs … Brett Kern channeled his inner Jeff Feagles for some superb directional punting … Neil Rackers nailed one from over 50 and picked up three touchbacks … Great day to be Richard Goodman when you score a TD on a kick return.