Team of the Month, Q3
Another NFL season is getting ready for its final run in. In this ultra-competitive season not many teams are fully out of the race and as we enter the final four weeks there is still plenty of intrigue and plenty to unravel around the whole league. Before we look ahead to the run in, it’s time to take a look back and doff our virtual cap to the players who, in the penultimate month of the season (Week 10 to Week 13), put in the quality performances over a four-week spell to try and put their teams in position for the crucial post-Thanksgiving finish.
Quarterback: Russell Wilson, SEA (+11.2)
Retaining his place in the Team of the Month after stepping up his play from Week 5 onward, Wilson earned the highest overall grade of any quarterback in spite of only playing three games due to the Seahawks’ late-season bye week. Seven passing touchdowns play against zero interceptions in a month capped off with a strong display against the Saints last night to give the Seahawks a healthy lead for the No. 1 seed in the NFC.
Honorable Mention: Tom Brady (NE)
Running Back: Adrian Peterson, MIN (+5.9)
Helped in no small part by his devastating display against the Bears in the Vikings’ overtime victory on Sunday, Peterson racked up more than 100 yards more than any other running back this month. On 108 carries this month Peterson gained 497 yards, earned 2.6 yards per carry after first contact and broke 23 tackles on the ground. If he hadn’t broken a single tackle prior to this month Peterson would stand 12th in the league for missed tackles forced on the strength of this month alone.
Honorable Mention: LeSean McCoy (PHI)
Full Back: Jerome Felton, MIN (+11.6)
Leading the way for Peterson in his big day on Sunday and leading the way for Peterson in the team of the month is Felton. Absent early in the season Felton has taken a while to re-discover his 2012 form but has done that and more in the month playing a pivotal role in setting up Peterson’s destructive month.
Honorable Mention: John Kuhn (GB)
Tight End: Rob Gronkowski, NE (+7.7)
Central to the Patriots’ passing game ever since his return in Week 7 Gronkowski has been in fine form this month snagging a touchdown in each of the three games he has played tying Vernon Davis and Anthony Fasano for the most touchdowns amongst tight ends this month. Notching zero drops to 18 receptions this month, Gronkowski only has one drop to 37 catches this season.
Honorable Mention: John Carlson (MIN)
Wide Receivers: Josh Gordon, CLV (+9.3) and Michael Floyd, ARZ (+9.9)
What do these two receivers have in common this month? Massive games against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Floyd set the bar high with 193 yards and a touchdown in Jacksonville back in Week 11 (shaking five tackles in the process) and Gordon cleared it quite comfortably this week with 261 yards and two scores. It’s not all about the base stats, but when you rack up consecutive 200-yard receiving games in a month it’s rather difficult to keep you out of the team. Only one drop apiece from Floyd and Gordon this month also highlights the consistency to go with the big plays.
Slot Receiver: Julian Edelman (NE)
Honorable Mention: Calvin Johnson (DET) and Antonio Brown (PIT)
Tackles: Tyron Smith, DAL (+8.7) and Justin Pugh, NYG (+6.4)
Only four pressures (all hurries) surrendered in three games this month by Smith paired with strong run blocking has seen him rise close to our Top 10 tackle grades for the season. Smith hasn’t surrendered a hit or a sack since Week 7. On the opposite side is Pugh who just edges fellow first round rookie Lane Johnson in a strong month as the NFC East’s rookie tackles find their feet. Including one game at guard against the Raiders, Pugh allowed only one sack and five hurries this month with ever more consistent and improved run blocking only building as his rookie season goes on.
Honorable Mention: Joe Thomas (CLV) and Lane Johnson (PHI)
Guards: Josh Sitton, GB (+10.2) and Larry Warford, DET (+11.3)
An all NFC North guard pairing with Warford also completing an all-rookie right side of the line. Untroubled in pass protection, the Lions’ third round pick has been dominant as a run blocker the last three weeks earning a +5.4 run block grade from his last three games alone. Only isolated poor games in pass protection (-1.4 vs Cincinnati) and run blocking (-1.4 at Arizona and Washington) take away from a consistently good rookie season. On the left side Sitton has been the league’s most consistent pass protecting guard and, aside from the opener in San Francisco, has made a very smooth transition from the right side to the left.
Honorable Mention: Ben Grubbs (NO) and Rodger Saffold (SL)
Center: Stefen Wisniewski, OAK (+10.2)
Only two pressures surrendered this month and a couple of terrific games leading the Raiders’ ground game in the middle give Wisniewski’s his spot in the Team of the Month. His +3.0 run block grade against the Giants in Week 10 was the highest single game run block grade of his career and he went and beat it week later with a +4.6 grade against the Texans in Houston.
Honorable Mention: John Sullivan (MIN)
Using the defensive format you will now be familiar with from the Team of the Week articles we nominate two edge rushers (4-3 defensive ends or 3-4 outside linebackers), three players on the “interior” of the defensive line (defensive tackles or 3-4 defensive ends) and two linebackers (all inside linebackers and 4-3 outside linebackers).
Defensive Interior – Ends: J.J. Watt, HST (+39.7) and Gerald McCoy, TB (+19.1)
His “raw” numbers might be down and the Texans may not be competitive but that doesn’t mean that J.J. Watt isn’t comfortably the best defensive player in the league this season. Anyone who cared to pay close attention to Watt this month will have seen the most jaw-dropping month of form both in run defense and as a pass rusher. His 22 stops were the most by any defensive player this month. Joining him on the interior is McCoy who has been equally destructive as a pass rusher notching 26 total pressures, like Watt leading that defensive category this month from an interior position.
Honorable Mention: Calais Campbell (ARZ), Ndamukong Suh (DET) and Jurrell Casey (TEN)
Defensive Interior – Nose: Marcell Dareus, BUF (+13.2)
Only three defensive tackles registered more than Dareus’ 10 stops this month blending strong and consistent run defense with some useful pass rushing for the Bills. His +6.3 pass rush grade this month comes from only three games where he has notched a dozen pressures converting two of those pressures into sacks.
Honorable Mention: Damon Harrison (NYJ)
Edge Rushers: Robert Quinn, SL (+19.7) and Von Miller, DEN (+20.2)
So those questions about Robert Quinn sustaining his fast start are well in the rearview mirror. Highlighted by his demolition of the Bears, Quinn again earned the highest grade for a 4-3 defensive end and his grade has actually improved each month. Another stellar defensive player of the year candidate undermined by playing for a team not quite in contention? Joining Quinn this month is Von Miller who racked up 22 pressures and put in two terrific games of run defense in San Diego (+5.3) and New England (+4.4) to balance his terrifying pass rush.
Honorable Mention: Rob Ninkovich (NE) and Elvis Dumervil (BLT)
Linebackers: Vontaze Burfict, CIN (+12.3) and K.J. Wright, SEA (+10.0)
In the ever pass-happy NFL you need your linebackers to be able to cover, both Burfict and Wright have put on a clinic in coverage this month. Playing the pass at linebacker isn’t always about making a play on the ball so much as limiting the gain after the catch for the receiver. In the final game of the month against the Saints last night, Wright played a leading role in shorting down the short areas for Drew Brees while also showing the ability to run with tight ends. Meanwhile, Burfict highlighted his month with a terrific display, including a touchdown, at home to the Browns in Week 11. Neither defender shirked their run defense responsibilities either, with both defenders earning a run defense grade above +3.0 for the month.
Honorable Mention: Stephen Tulloch (DET) and Patrick Willis (SF)
Cornerbacks: Lardarius Webb, BLT (+8.4) and Alan Ball, JAX (+8.8)
Making plays on the ball and adding value as run defenders these two both had stellar months in broadly similar ways. Both surrendered less than 50% of their 20+ targets this month to be completed with Webb getting his hands seven passes (1 Int, 6 PD) and Ball going one better with eight pass defenses. Neither player surrendered a touchdown all month.
Slot Corner: Tyrann Mathieu (ARZ)
Honorable Mention: Patrick Peterson (ARZ) and Tramon Williams (GB)
Safeties: Jairus Byrd, BUF (+6.0) and Donte Whitner, SF (+5.5)
It took a while for Byrd to get on the field this season but when he has been on the field his customary range and coverage instincts have been all too apparent to see. In three games this month Byrd notched three interceptions and tied a career high with three stops against the Falcons on Sunday. Alongside him Whitner has shown a marked improvement in coverage this season and has only yielded on catch (for 4 yards) on eight targets into his primary coverage in the last two weeks.
Honorable Mention: Ryan Clark (PIT) and Kenny Vaccaro (NO)
Kicker: Justin Tucker, BLT (+5.2)
Without a miss since going 0-for-2 against the Browns in Week 2, Tucker was a perfect 13-for-13 this month and 6-for-6 beyond 40 yards.
Punter: Shane Lechler, HST (+13.6)
Just when you thought Lechler was moving to a challenger where he might have a quieter time of things, the Texans go downhill. One of the few bright spots this season has been getting to see Lechler continue to show why he’s still right up there among the league’s very best.
Returner: Jacoby Jones, BLT (+3.9)
Only 16 returns this month for Jones but 352 return yards highlight a player making the most of every opportunity to aid his team in the field position battle.
Special Teamer: Justin Bethel, ARZ (+9.0)
Undoubtedly the league’s best special-teamer, Bethel notched 10 tackles this month and opened the month by putting on a special teams clinic against the Texans.
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