That involves looking at middle linebackers in 4-3 defenses and both inside linebackers in the 3-4 versions. We’ve put together a Top 5 at both spots with each set taking into consideration how these single-game studs performed against the run, in coverage, and rushing the passer while also taking into account what (if any) penalties they picked up.
So let’s start with the five top-graded middle linebacker performances.
Top 5: 4-3 Middle Linebacker Performances
5t. Paul Posluszny, Jacksonville Jaguars: Week 1 vs. Tennessee (+5.1)
5t. Brandon Spikes, New England Patriots: Week 6 vs. Dallas (+5.1)
Posluszny wasted no time in showing Jaguar fans why their team paid so much to land him. In Week 1, he picked up two pressures (one of them in rapid order against Michael Roos), broke up a Matt Hasselbeck pass, and finished off three tackles for no gain. That may have been a more complete display than what we saw from Spikes, but the Patriot earned the same grade in no small part down to some excellent work in the run game. He would pick up more tackles a week later but it was his constant defeat of blockers that helped limit Dallas to just 77 yards rushing.
4. Stephen Tulloch, Detroit Lions: Week 3 at Minnesota (+5.4)
Tulloch proved that he was a match made in heaven for Detroit early in the season and his highest-graded performance occured in Week 3. In coverage he gave up just 15 yards on three completions, including one that resulted in a tackle short of the marker on third down. He was also a complete force with five defensive stops against the run and he dominated the Vikings linemen when they made it to the second level. Heck, he even stood up the well-respected Jim Kleinsasser at the point of attack. Not something you see every day, and that tag line sums up this performance.
3. James Laurinaitis, St Louis Rams: Week 11 vs. Seattle (+5.5)
If we’re being completely open, 2011 wasn’t the best year for Laurinaitis. You could never say he was low on talent, but the consistency just wasn’t there in a struggling Rams outfit. That makes it all the more encouraging (or frustrating depending on your perspective) when you see how well he played in Week 11. He was a well-oiled tackling machine, showing a real nose for the ball carrier. Laurinaitis picked up a tackle for a loss, made six tackles for less than 2 yards, and even brought on the kicking unit with a third-down stop in coverage. It’s what he can do, and what the new coaching staff will be hoping he does more of in 2012.
2. Ray Lewis, Baltimore Ravens: Week 4 vs. New York Jets (+5.7)
He’s still got it. The type of leader that Lewis is makes it easy to forget that he’s still an incredible player, for whom losing a step only brings the chasing pack closer (with some surpassing him). The Jets came into town in Week 4 and Lewis picked up two quarterback hits, a forced fumble, and a pass deflection to go with three defensive stops. A truly imposing display from a truly imposing player.
1. Pat Angerer, Indianapolis Colts: Week 15 vs. Tennessee (+6.6)
While we were as sick as anyone being told Angerer was a top player because he made a lot of tackles (newsflash, the Colts all made lots of tackles because their defense was on the field so often) we wouldn’t argue with how excellent he looked in Week 15. He ended up with seven defensive stops (including a tackle for a loss) while forcing a fumble, breaking up a pass, and hauling in an interception. A performance to excite a fan base who had little to get excited about in 2011.
Top 5: 3-4 Inside Linebacker Performances
5t. Daryl Washington, Arizona Cardinals: Week 1 vs. Carolina (+6.0)
5t. Patrick Willis, San Francisco 49ers: Conference Championship vs. New York Giants (+6.0)
An All-NFC-West tie for fifth place, but for different reasons. Willis stood out with some excellent work in coverage that saw him give up four of six balls into his coverage for just 17 yards (with a pass deflection) while adding a sack and hit when rushing the passer. Washington was able to pick up two sacks and two interceptions (one called back by penalty), but also stood out in the run game where he showed off his talent for getting off blocks by beating players like Jordan Gross and Ryan Kalil for tackles for losses and short gains. Fine days by both players.
4. Daryl Washington, Arizona Cardinals: Week 9 vs. St Louis (+6.1)
Our loyal Cardinals fans will be happy to see one of their own finally get some recognition here, won’t they? Washington wasn’t perfect here (he had some problems with Jacob Bell at the second level), but the super-active inside linebacker more than made up for that by constantly having an impact on the game. He finished with nine tackles (five of which were defensive stops), two pass deflections, and some more excellent work in coverage in preventing the chains from being moved on third down. He showed the kind of top-end talent to excite Cardinals fans when he can put it together consistently for a season.
3. Bart Scott, New York Jets: Week 4 at Baltimore (+6.5)
Wait, how can this be? Scott only had six tackles and three defensive stops here. Well, with Scott you always need to remember he’s a player that does a lot of the hard-hitting to help his teammates out. So, while three defensive stops may not seem like a lot, the work Scott did against Michael Oher and Andre Gurode in particular, was essential for other players being in position to make plays. Throw in three quarterback hits and another pressure and you’ve got a player who can still be a force coming downhill even if he may have lost a step that takes him out of certain situations.
1t. Desmond Bishop, Green Bay Packers: Divisional Playoffs vs. New York Giants (+7.2)
He’d have swapped his joint top-ranked ILB performance for a victory, but Bishop should take plenty of credit for doing his bit to try and stop the Giants. He got plenty of pressure on Eli Manning with two quarterback hits and three hurries on just nine pass rushes, deflected a pass, and added two tackles for losses and two more for short gains. It epitomized the player Bishop can be for the Packers.
1t. Sean Lee, Dallas Cowboys: Week 13 at Arizona (+7.2)
A near flawless display from Lee who graded negatively just once the entire game. He turned his eight blitzes into three pressures, picked up five defensive stops and even broke up a pass in coverage. What was even more impressive than the sheer numbers was how he took on linemen and beat them. Whether he was standing up Brandon Keith at the point of attack or beating Rex Hadnot at the second level to end a drive, Lee was on form with a performance that highlighted how important he has become to the Cowboys’ defense.
Below are the 10 top-graded games in terms of run defense for ILB’s (regardless of scheme) followed by the Top 5 coverage game grades for ILB’s.
Top 10 Run Defense Ratings for Inside Linebackers
1t. Sean Lee (DAL), Week 13 at Arizona (+4.3)
1t. James Laurinaitis (SL), Week 11 vs. Seattle (+4.3)
1t. Colin McCarthy (TEN), Week 11 at Atlanta (+4.3)
4t. Dan Connor (CAR), Week 7 vs. Washington (+4.1)
4t. Takeo Spikes (SD), Week 12 vs. Denver (+4.1)
6t. Lawrence Timmons (PIT), Week 1 at Baltimore (+4.0)
6t. Joe Mays (DEN), Week 17 at Kansas City (+4.0)
8. Patrick Willis (SF), Week 10 vs. New York Giants (+3.9)
9. Stephen Tulloch (DET), Week 3 vs. Minnesota (+3.8)
10t. Bart Scott (BLT), Week 4 vs. Baltimore (+3.6)
10t. NaVorro Bowman (SF), Week 12 at Baltimore (+3.6)
10t. Perry Riley (WAS), Week 11 vs. Dallas (+3.6)
10t. London Fletcher (WAS), Week 16 vs. Minnesota (+3.6)
10t. Kevin Burnett (MIA), Week 17 vs. New York Jets (+3.6)
Top 5 Coverage Ratings for Inside Linebackers
1t. Pat Angerer (IND), Week 15 vs. Indianapolis (+4.0)
1t.. Patrick Willis (SF), Conference Championship vs. New York Giants (+4.0)
3. Daryl Washington (ARZ), Week 9 vs. St Louis (+3.6)
4t. NaVorro Bowman (SF), Week 16 at Seattle (+3.1)
4t. David Harris (NYJ), Week 13 at Washington (+3.1)