Secret Superstars: Week 12
Week 12 saw wide receivers Andre and Calvin Johnson combine for over 300 yards receiving in the same game on Thanksgiving, along with Cam Newton reminding us of how good he was at times in his rookie season with an impressive performance on Monday Night Football.
You probably saw the Johnsons’ big game as you sat on the couch working off, or working up to, your turkey dinner. So we’re not going to tell you about that, and instead we’ll focus on those performances that came from unheralded players, or those that flew under the radar.
This week we’re highlighting a pair of defenders in Baltimore, a seventh-round rookie sensation at running back in Philadelphia, and a blocking tight end showing how it should be done in Chicago.
Arthur Jones – DE – Baltimore Ravens
When one of your brothers is a UFC Champion, and the other was just drafted in the first round of the NFL draft, it’s easy to fly under the radar. Beyond that, Ravens defensive end Arthur Jones hasn’t made the type of impact so far in his NFL career to warrant much praise being thrown his way. Drafted in the fifth round of the 2010 NFL Draft, Jones has seen an increase in playing time after the Ravens saw Cory Redding leave via free agency. That increase in playing time failed to translate into much productivity heading into Week 12, with the defensive lineman generating just 11 total pressures in the first 10 games of the season.
Fortunately for the Ravens, Jones finally repaid the faith the coaching staff have shown in him with the best performance of his career on Sunday. As a pass rusher he recorded two sacks and three hurries — nearly half of what he’d recorded the rest of the season combined — he had a Pass Rushing Productivity (PRP) Rating of 23.6 – the most among 3-4 defensive ends this week. Against the run he was almost as impressive, with both of his solo tackles resulting in a defensive stop giving him a Run Stop Percentage of 18.2%. It’s just one game, but if Jones can replicate that form down the stretch, the Ravens will be forced to use him even more.
Brendon Ayanbadejo – LB – Baltimore Ravens
In the same game that saw Jones shine, the Ravens also got a startling performance from backup inside linebacker, and long time special teams standout, Brendon Ayanbadejo. Far enough back on the depth chart that even the injury to Ray Lewis hadn’t lead to many extra snaps on defense, Ayanbadejo finally got his chance when Dannell Ellerbe hobbled off the field in the win over the San Diego Chargers.
He saw just five snaps against the run but was able to register two tackles which resulted in a defensive stop, giving him a Run Stop Percentage of 40.0% – the best mark among inside linebackers albeit on a very small sample size. He saw even fewer snaps as a pass rusher, going after the quarterback just three times. He did however manage to register a hurry on one of those rushes, giving him a PRP Rating of 25.0. It was in coverage however that he really shined. In coverage for 15 snaps, he was a frequent target of quarterback Philip Rivers, with the Chargers’ signal caller going after him five times. While he did allow three receptions, they were for a combined 11 yards with none going for anymore than six. He also had a crucial pass breakup on 3rd-and 3 with 5:12 left in overtime, breaking up the pass to wide receiver Danario Alexander on a slant route to force the Chargers to punt.
Matt Spaeth – TE – Chicago Bears
If there was ever a type of player who needed our Secret Superstar series to highlight all the good work they do, the blocking tight end would be it. Matt Spaeth fits perfectly into that category and, unless you spend plenty of time watching the NFC North, you’d be forgiving for barely knowing he played football. On the field for 325 snaps this season, he has seen just eight passes thrown his way, resulting in the whopping total of 21 receiving yards through Week 12 of the season.
On Sunday he saw just the one pass through his way, albeit for a 13-yard touchdown. Yet, despite this, he finished the week as our highest graded tight end. That was in no small part due to a quite phenomenal day as a blocker. With no fewer than 12 positively graded blocks in the running game, he stood out despite the Bears averaging just 2.9 yards per carry. His most impressive block of the day came on 2nd-and-20 with 2:00 left in the first quarter. Meeting Vikings’ linebacker Erin Henderson in the backfield on a pull block, Spaeth was able to drive him back and block him to the ground, clearing the way for running back Matt Forte. It’s definitely not the sort of performance that gets noticed much, but for players like Spaeth, it was as close to a perfect game as anyone has come this season.
Bryce Brown – HB – Philadelphia Eagles
While Spaeth made this week’s feature due to playing a position that rarely gets much fanfare, Eagles running back Bryce Brown after racking up nearly 200 yards of total offense on Monday Night Football. Coming into this week’s game the 2012 seventh round draft pick had never seen more than five carries in a game. Despite this, he had shown enough promise to warrant extra carries, averaging 6.83 yards per carry on the 12 attempts he had seen in the previous three weeks.
Seizing the opportunity in front of him on a national stage, Brown ran for a huge 178 yards and two touchdowns on Monday night. His overall grade and performance was dented due to his two third-quarter fumbles, and rightly so, but his performance was still enough to make us take notice. Forcing a total of nine missed tackles on 23 total touches, and averaging 5.68 yards after contact per attempt, he had an Elusive Rating of 222.4 – the most of any running back who played at least 50% of their team’s offensive snaps. His 65 yard touchdown run on 2nd-and-7 with 11:07 left in the second quarter was a hint at how good Brown has the potential to be. Showing a good burst at the line of scrimmage, he was able to run through attempted tackles by safeties Sherrod Martin and Charles Godfrey. When LeSean McCoy gets back onto the field, Brown will struggle to see close to this number of snaps, but he has at least shown the ability to make the most of whatever he’s given.
Follow Gordon on Twitter: @PFF_Gordon