Secret Superstars: Week 14
As Week 14 came and went, we saw the New England Patriots assert themselves as the dominant force in the AFC with a statement win over the Houston Texans and more strong performances by the various postseason awards contenders.
By this point in the season it’s pretty obvious who’s in the running for Most Valuable Player and the Offensive and Defensive Player of the Year awards. Now — I hear you ask — what about those players that are doing a pretty good job in their own right, only to be outshone by the players at the top of the league?
This week we’re highlighting a full back in Minnesota, a running back in Indianapolis, a defensive tackle in Tennessee, and a cornerback in Oakland.
Rhett Ellison – FB, Minnesota Vikings
While Adrian Peterson presses on in his bid to reach 2,000 yards — if not a new single-season rushing record — it’s worth highlighting some of the players who help him on his way. One such player is fourth-round pick Rhett Ellison. Currently our second-highest graded fullback in terms of run blocking, Ellison has been an asset to the Vikings both in his blocking, and in his ability to play both fullback and tight end. With just 58 receiving yards in 2012, Ellison isn’t likely to strike fear into opponents as an offensive weapon. Still, he’s made himself stand out when you dig a little deeper into his game.
Sunday was typical of that, with one reception for -2 yards as a receiver. As a blocker, however, he didn’t allow a pressure on all four pass blocking attempts while dominating, albeit on a limited snap count, as a run blocker. As Peterson racked up the rushing yards early in the game, Ellison had three key blocks in the first quarter. Two of those came while he was lined up as a tight end, but on 1st-and-10 with 5:16 left in the opening quarter, he took care of Bears defensive end Israel Idonije from the fullback position. Meeting the defensive lineman at the Vikings’ 29-yard line, he drove him backward and to the ground, opening up a hole for Peterson.
Vick Ballard – HB, Indianapolis Colts
With the Indianapolis Colts pushing towards what would have seemed like an unlikely playoff spot back in August, rookie quarterback Andrew Luck understandably gets most of the headlines on the field. In truth, what has the Colts knocking on the door of the postseason is the collection of players assembled by the front office, including the aforementioned No. 1 overall draft pick as well as running back Vick Ballard, drafted in the fifth-round of April’s NFL Draft. Ballard has started the past nine games for the Colts in his rookie season and this week rewarded them with the best performance of his young career.
With four missed tackles forced from 19 rushing attempts, on top of an average of 2.53 Yards After Contact per carry, Ballard came out of the game with the Tennessee Titans as our third most elusive runner of the week with an Elusive Rating of 50.5. Without a single negatively-graded play all game, Ballard continued to perform well late in the game as the Colts sought to run out the clock. On 2nd-and-9 with 2:37 left in the game, Ballard’s good burst initially saw him through the hole. Cutting his way past Titans’ safety Michael Griffin, he churned his way for another first down.
Sen’Derrick Marks – DT, Tennessee Titans
While they couldn’t stop Ballard from picking up the first down late in the fourth quarter, the Titans defensive line can hold their collective heads high after a strong showing on Sunday. The premier performer was defensive tackle Sen’Derrick Marks, who accounted for more than 25 percent of his season’s total pressure in the game against the Colts. A second-round draft pick for the team back in 2009, Marks’ career has been littered with poor performances with the odd flash of brilliance thrown in.
Sunday may have just been another flash or it could be the start of something for the defensive tackle, regardless, it was the best performance we’ve seen from him since entering the league. As a pass rusher Marks finished the game with a Pass Rushing Productivity rating of 14.4, with five hurries from 26 pass-rushing snaps. That was impressive enough, but his play against the run was even better. Marks led all defensive tackles with a Run Stop Percentage of 17.4%, with all four of his tackles against the run resulting in defensive stops.
Phillip Adams – CB, Oakland Raiders
For the second week in a row we are highlighting a young defensive back from the AFC West, this time it’s Oakland Raiders cornerback Phillip Adams. Drafted in the seventh round of the 2010 NFL Draft by San Francisco, Adams has been used sparingly by the Raiders since picking him up in September. Sunday was the most snaps he’s seen in a game all season and he rewarded the team with the best performance of his career and the second-highest coverage grade for a cornerback in Week 14.
Targeted in coverage five times by Peyton Manning, Adams picked off a pass and broke up another. Equally as impressive was the fact that the two receptions he allowed went for gains of just 1 and 5 yards — based on 23 snaps in coverage, that gave him a Yards Per Coverage Snap average of just 0.26. His interception of Manning was particularly impressive, stopping a potential touchdown throw that would have made the score 20-0 midway through the second quarter. On 1st-and-10 with 8:42 left in the first half, he pounced on the underthrown pass to wide receiver Matt Willis on a go route, resulting in a touchback.
Follow Gordon on Twitter: @PFF_Gordon