Week 10 in the NFL saw some of the highest grades we’ve ever seen from a couple of players, including J.J. Watt (+11.3) turning in the best performance from a 3-4 defensive end since we began grading back in 2008.
Watt is well known, however, and you’ve not come here for us to wax on about how great he is, you know that well enough by now. Instead, it’s time for us to dig into the PFF database again and find those under-the-radar performances that caught our eye from this week’s slate of games.
This week we’re taking a closer look at a wide receiver in Miami, a running back and full back combo in New York, and a linebacker in Cincinnati.
Rishard Matthews, WR, Miami Dolphins
It’s been a tough few weeks for the Dolphins, who started the year 3-0 only to go 1-5 over the past six games. The off the field troubles have brought the team even further under the microscope and things got even worse as they became the first team to lose to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this year on Monday night. Still, if Dolphins fans are looking for any glimmer of hope from Monday’s game, look no further than the performance of wide receiver Rishard Matthews (+3.9). A seventh-round draft pick a year ago, he had a career night, pulling in 11 receptions for 120 yards after never totaling more than 42 yards in a single game in his short career so far.
After beating safety Dashon Goldson on a post route in the end zone on 2nd-and-3 with just 32 seconds left in the first half for the first touchdown of his career, he was able to give the Dolphins the lead on 2nd-and-10 with 2:08 remaining in the third quarter. Catching the ball at the Tampa Bay 20-yard line on a screen pass from the slot, he was able to speed past cornerback Leonard Johnson and Goldson straight into the end zone. He did most of his work from the slot for the Dolphins, picking up an average of 3.38 Yards Per Route Run, a mark which trailed only Brandon Marshall in Week 10.
Andre Brown, HB, New York Giants
With the Giants suddenly just a game and a half back in the NFC East, after starting the year 0-6, it’s worth highlighting the player who was the focal point of their offense in the win over the Oakland Raiders. A fourth-round draft pick back in 2009 out of North Carolina State, Andre Brown (+3.8) hadn’t carried the ball since Week 12 of the 2012 season. However, with the Giants feeling the strain at the position with injuries, they weren’t shy about giving the ball to Brown, who had only been reactivated that week after fracturing his leg in the preseason.
Running the ball 30 times, and adding a 5-yard reception for good measure, Brown didn’t disappoint, rattling off a string of productive runs on his way to 115 yards on the ground, the highest mark of his career so far. Watch what he does on 2nd-and-10 with 8:23 to go in the first half if you want to see what a very good 7-yard run looks like. First he makes a nice cut at the point of attack, allowing him to get into a bit of space and then, with linebacker Nick Roach and cornerback Phillip Adams trying to wrap him up, he stuck his foot into the ground and powered forward for another 4 yards.
John Conner, FB, New York Giants
While Brown deserves the praise we’ve given him above, it wouldn’t be right to mention him without giving the necessary hat tip to his lead blocker. John Conner (+2.5), didn’t make the final cut for the Cincinnati Bengals in August, losing out to Orson Charles in a move that you would expect was more down to versatility that anything else, with Conner grading out the higher of the two. That allowed him to sign with the Giants and, in just four games, he’s now our fifth-highest graded full back on the year.
On the field for 43.1% of the Giants’ offensive snaps on Sunday, he had his best day of the year so far as a run blocker. That came as a result of a fair number of impressive lead blocks, including meeting and turning defensive back Charles Woodson at the goal line on Brown’s 1-yard touchdown run on 1st-and-Goal with 2:19 left in the third quarter. Full backs rarely get the credit they deserve, but Conner is performing as well as he did at the end of his tenure with the New York Jets, and that’s very good news for Giants fans.
Vincent Rey, LB, Cincinnati Bengals
As a backup in the NFL, players know they need to take advantage of every opportunity they get and, in his second start for the injured Rey Maualuga, Vincent Rey (+3.9) turned in the best performance of his career and surely gave the Bengals something to think about going forward. After playing sparingly over the first three years of his career, limited mainly to special teams, the 2010 undrafted free agent out of Duke has missed just five defensive snaps over the past two weeks.
What was impressive about his performance during Sunday’s overtime loss to the Baltimore Ravens, was that he graded positively against the run, in coverage, and as a pass rusher. His success as a pass rusher was fairly obvious, with three sacks on just 13 pass rushes jumping out stat wise. His work in coverage was a little more subtle, but watch the job he does on tight end Ed Dickson on 3rd-and-10 with 12:44 left in the game. Terence Newman comes up with the interception on the play, but Rey was able to cover Dickson tightly after moving quickly from his middle linebacker spot, freeing up Newman to make the play on the ball. Adding his work in all three phases together, he finished the game with seven defensive stops, a mark which was tied for second among all inside linebackers in Week 10.
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