Secret Superstars: Week 15
Week 15 saw the Denver Broncos leapfrog the New England Patriots in the race for a first-round bye in the AFC playoffs, a second straight 50-point performance from the Seattle Seahawks, and Calvin Johnson and Adrian Peterson continue to make Jerry Rice and Eric Dickerson nervous.
That’s old news to you now, as you’ve spent the week watching highlights of Peterson or listening to talking heads debate whether or not the Seahawks should have indeed faked that punt. So let’s dig a little deeper and find those players who didn’t quite get that level of recognition, but caught our attention all the same.
This week we’re highlighting a running back in Oakland, a tight end in Indianapolis, a cornerback in Arizona and an outside linebacker in Baltimore.
Mike Goodson – HB, Oakland Raiders
While the Oakland Raiders haven’t made much of an impact this season, the play of their backup running backs has proved to be an interesting storyline. Truth be told, despite leading the team in rushing with 626 yards so far, Darren McFadden has been the least impressive of the top three, with both Marcel Reece and Mike Goodson outperforming him in their limited roles. After Reece impressed earlier in the season when the other two went down injured, it was Goodson who got it done in Sunday’s 15-0 shutout win over the Kansas City Chiefs.
Rushing for 89 yards on 13 carries, including a long run of 43 yards, Goodson produced his best game of the season. With three missed tackles forced from those 13 attempts, to go along with an impressive Yards After Contact Average of 5.62, he finished the game with an Elusive Rating of 120.3. It was that long run on 2nd-and-10 with 31 seconds left in the third quarter that impressed us the most however, in what would be one of the week’s most impressive plays by a running back. Met by Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson at the line of scrimmage, he first managed to spin away from the tackle before regaining his balance and cutting past another defender on his way downfield. As a high draft pick, McFadden continues to see the bulk of carries in Oakland, but, as they head into next season, they might want to start featuring Goodson and Reece more if they want to improve their running game.
Dwayne Allen – TE, Indianapolis Colts
As we highlighted last week in looking at running back Vick Ballard, the Indianapolis Colts’ front office have managed to add a considerable cast of productive players as they begin to build around the new face of the franchise, quarterback Andrew Luck. Back in April, in the same draft they selected Luck No.1 overall, they drafted two tight ends and both have rewarded the team with impressive performances. While Coby Fleener was the higher draft pick of the two, it’s Dwayne Allen who has impressed the most, playing 814 snaps for the Colts through the first 14 games of the season.
Impressive as a receiver on Sunday against the Houston Texans with three receptions, including one for a touchdown, it was his play as a run blocker than really stood out. On the field for 22 plays as a run blocker, Allen had just one negatively graded play. It wasn’t that he was driving players to the ground with devastating blocks, but he consistently got the better of the defender in front of him, making life easier for Ballard as a runner. His day was blackened in allowing Bryan Braman to beat him and block a punt that was returned for a touchdown on 4th-and-16 with 1:54 left in the first half, but his play on offense, like it has been for much of the season, was a real highlight for the Colts.
Greg Toler – CB, Arizona Cardinals
With a nine-game losing streak coming into the game, it was always going to take an impressive performance on defense for the Arizona Cardinals to beat the Detroit Lions on Sunday. That’s exactly what they got from cornerback Greg Toler. Coming into the league as a fourth-round draft pick in 2009, Toler has shown enough in flashes throughout his career to make you wonder if he could piece together some consistency and prove that he can be a week-in, week-out starter. Sunday’s performance went a bit beyond just flashy, however, as the cornerback produced the most impressive performance of his career.
It’s always something to note when you’re targeted six times in coverage and don’t yield a single reception, such as Toler did on Sunday. It’s even more impressive, however, when you break up three of those passes and return another one 102 yards to put the cherry on the cake of a victory. On 4th-and-2 with 5:24 left in the game, Toler broke on a poorly thrown pass by Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, before following a convoy of Cardinals’ defenders the length of the field. Given that Calvin Johnson was open on a slant route in the end zone it’s fair to wonder why Stafford was throwing that way at all, but Toler made the most of the opportunity regardless.
Courtney Upshaw – OLB, Baltimore Ravens
As the Baltimore Ravens plunged to their third straight loss, and second in a row at home, there was plenty of blame to go around. One player who didn’t deserve much of the blame, however, was second-round draft pick Courtney Upshaw. Drafted to replace the departing Jarret Johnson, Upshaw was quietly gone about his business this season and, while he has added little as a pass rusher, is currently our second-highest graded outside linebacker against the run.
Sunday wasn’t a good day for the Ravens’ run defense, particularly on that long fourth-quarter drive that ran 10 minutes off the clock. Upshaw’s play was about the only positive thing you could say about the unit on Sunday, with three of his five tackles against the run resulting in a defensive stop. Coming on 34 plays against the run, that resulted in a Run Stop Percentage of 8.8% as he consistently got the better of Broncos tight end Joel Dreessen. That was particularly evident on 2nd-and-5 with 6:00 left in the game as he beat him to the inside to record a tackle for loss on running back Ronnie Hillman. The Ravens’ linebackers have struggled to stay healthy this season, but at least they appear to have found an instant replacement for Johnson against the run.
Follow Gordon on Twitter: @PFF_Gordon