Secret Superstars: Wild Card Round
Has there ever been a better wild card weekend in the NFL? Minus the Andy Dalton disaster show in Cincinnati, every other game of the weekend was a nail biter, coming down to the final minutes. Even better, it’s set up some fantastic matchups next weekend as we inch ever close to the Super Bowl.
You already know all about Andrew Luck’s second half heroics and Colin Kaepernick slicing through the Green Bay defense on quarterback runs, but what about some of the other players who stood out on Saturday and Sunday?
Highlighting a safety in Kansas City, a running back in New Orleans, a fullback in San Francisco, and a situational defensive back partnership in San Diego, here are your Secret Superstars from wild card weekend.
Darrell Stuckey and Jahleel Addae, DBs, San Diego Chargers
As the San Diego Chargers forced Dalton into enough mistakes to see off the Cincinnati Bengals with relative ease, they were able to boast solid performances from the two men who come onto the field in their nickel and dime packages.
Darrell Stuckey (+2.2), a 2010 fourth-round draft pick, saw the highest snap count of his career with the Bengals chasing the game in the fourth quarter. He’d seen an increase in snaps over the final three games of the regular season, after playing just 19 snaps in the first 14 weeks of the season.
Likewise, Jahleel Addae (+1.9), who arrived in San Diego as an undrafted free agent this year, also saw the highest snap count of his career after seeing his snaps increase late in the year.
Though he was on the field for 43 snaps, with just three coming against the run, Stuckey saw just two passes thrown into his coverage. What was really impressive was that both of those passes were broken up by him, including knocking the ball away from wide receiver A.J. Green on a deep pass on 1st-and-10 with 6:09 left to go in the game.
Addae wasn’t quite as perfect in coverage, allowing two of the three passes thrown his way to be caught, though they went for a total of just 22 yards. His big impact in the game came on 3rd-and-14 with 5:51, scooping up a Dalton fumble after the QB lost the ball trying to dive for a first down. They’ll face an even bigger challenge in Denver next weekend, but at least they go there on the back of an impactful performance this weekend.
Husain Abdullah, S, Kansas City Chiefs
Another former undrafted free agent from the AFC West saved his best performance of the year for the playoffs in the form of Kansas City’s Husain Abdullah (+3.1). Normally a backup defensive back for the Chiefs, he started for the second consecutive week in the loss to the Indianapolis Colts.
Delivering a well-rounded performance that saw him grade positively against the run, in coverage, and as a pass rusher, he wasn’t part of a winning effort but is still more than worthy of some praise.
While he made plays as a pass rusher and against the run, it was in coverage where his biggest impact was felt. Targeted seven times by Luck and the Colts’ offense, he allowed three receptions for 38 yards, but managed to record two interceptions in the third quarter.
The first, coming on 1st-and-10 on the opening play of the second half, came off a forced throw by Luck, with Abdullah breaking on the ball and picking it off in front of running back Donald Brown. The second again came on 1st-and-10, this time with 5:50 left in the quarter, with the pass slightly behind receiver T.Y. Hilton going through his hands and into Abdullah’s. The ending to the game might not be what he envisioned, but Abdullah can hold his head high after ending the season with an impressive performance.
Khiry Robinson, HB, New Orleans Saints
The New Orleans Saints lost a talented running back in the offseason when Chris Ivory headed to the New York Jets, and were also without another on Saturday night, with Pierre Thomas sidelined. All of this caused the Saints exactly zero problems in terms of execution in the running game with Mark Ingram continuing his strong end to the season with another fine performance.
While Ingram’s performance was to be expected, at least in terms of his late season play, the way backup Khiry Robinson (+2.3) stepped up in Thomas’ absence was an impressive surprise, with the 2013 undrafted free agent from the football powerhouse that is West Texas A&M putting on an impressive showing in his first taste of playoff football in the NFL.
On the field for just 15 snaps, he ran the ball on eight occasions, racking up 45 yards in the process, with 28 of those yards coming after contact and two missed tackles forced. That gave him an Elusive Rating of 87.5, the third-highest amongst all running backs on wild card weekend.
Both missed tackles came in the fourth quarter, including a nice little cut to leave safety Patrick Chung clutching at air on 2nd-and-9 with 8:46 left in the game. The Saints will obviously be hoping they have Thomas back for the trip to Seattle, but at least they know Robinson has shown the ability to do some damage should they need to call on him again.
Will Tukuafu, FB, San Francisco 49ers
It really wouldn’t feel like Secret Superstars if we weren’t praising a blocking fullback would it? Surprisingly it wasn’t Kansas City’s Anthony Sherman, who should be on his way to the Pro Bowl in my opinion, who shone this week.
Rather, it was San Francisco’s big man in the backfield in Will Tukuafu (+2.1). A defensive lineman as recently as this past preseason, the 272-pound Tukuafu is hardly the sight many linebackers, let alone defensive backs, want to see powering their way as a lead blocker.
Just watch him on the 49ers’ final two offensive plays on Sunday to get an idea of how good he can be as a blocker. On the first play, the crucial 3rd-and-3 with 56 seconds left on the clock that allowed the 49ers to run the clock down before the game-winning field goal, he seals linebacker Nick Perry inside with ease. Perry ends up making the tackle after a change of direction by the running back but make no mistake about it, if not for the cutback inside, he’s not getting in on that tackle.
On the very next play, it was linebacker A.J. Hawk who was the victim, with Tukuafu meeting him at the point of attack and sending him to the ground. In a weekend that saw several teams run the ball very well, it was fitting to see a fullback slamming a linebacker into the ground on the final offensive play.
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