Team of the Month, Q4
So the 2013 NFL season is in the books and while that means it’s time for the awards season it’s also time to give due recognition to those players finishing the season strong.
In our final ‘Team of the Month’ for this season we’ll take a look at those players who left it all on the field in the final month of the season with quality displays. Whether they were decisive performances that got their team into the postseason or strong finishes to take momentum in the offseason, we’ll give credit to this month’s best performers here.
Quarterback: Peyton Manning, DEN (+16.8)
Returning to the Team of the Month for the first time since September, Manning finished the season spectacularly, tossing 14 touchdowns to only one interception over the final four weeks of the season. Manning’s season stats are great, but his first (+18.8) and final (+16.8) months stand well above the work he did in the middle (+3.5 Q2 and +4.2 Q3) of the season. Can he ride this spectacular end to playoff success this year?
Honorable Mention: Andy Dalton (CIN)
Running Back: Jamaal Charles, KC (+12.9)
Despite sitting in the final week of the season, Charles was still our highest graded running back this month, ahead of LeSean McCoy’s spectacular final month. That alone should tell you how ridiculously well Charles played as both a runner and receiver in the three games. Charles forced a dozen missed tackles as a runner on 41 carries and added another three as a receiver en route to crossing the goal-line eight times by air and ground.
Honorable Mention: LeSean McCoy (PHI)
Full Back: Anthony Sherman, KC (+4.0)
With voters choosing to go for versatility over blocking ability and efficiency for the Pro Bowl, the league’s best blocker was overlooked, but Sherman finishes the season strong and takes his spot in our TOTM. Sherman ends the regular season as our highest graded blocking fullback by a long way.
Honorable Mention: Marcel Reece (OAK)
Tight End: Brent Celek, PHI (+5.1)
Other tight ends were targeted more this month but Celek got maximum impact from the 11 targets he saw, snagging nine for 183 yards and two touchdowns. Celek also added value as a blocker with strong run-blocking displays against Minnesota and Chicago as the Eagles finished strong to clinch the NFC East.
Honorable Mention: Jason Witten (DAL)
Wide Receivers: Anquan Boldin, SF (+9.4) and Eric Decker, DEN (+11.6)
The beating heart of the 49ers’ passing game in the absence of Michael Crabtree, Boldin put in a stellar final month even with Crabtree’s return to the field, including close to 150 yards in the final effort of the season. Decker completed his rebound from an awful start to the season with a strong final month snagging four touchdowns and adding value as an open field blocker for runners and his fellow receivers.
Slot Receiver: Marques Colston (NO)
Honorable Mention: Brandon Marshall (CHI) and A.J. Green (CIN)
Tackles: Jason Peters, PHI (+18.3) and Phil Loadholt, MIN (+10.8)
Making his return from injury this season, Peters has gradually found his way back to form with some inconsistent displays especially as a run blocker but he produced a dominant month to finish the season. His +18.3 overall grade this month is the best single month for any tackle and included three games where he yielded no pressure at all. On the opposite side, Loadholt capped off a strong season letting up only five pressures (1 Ht, 4 Hu) all month.
Honorable Mention: Tyron Smith (DAL) and Andre Smith (CIN)
Guards: Josh Sitton, GB (+13.2) and Brandon Brooks, HST (+9.4)
A fantastic month from the top left guards in the league to finish the season. Sitton edges out the former Bengals teammates by maintaining his stunning season in pass protection (yielding only one hurry this month) and added his best month as a run blocker, capped off with three straight grades above +2.0 in the final three weeks. At right guard, Brooks has been one of the few success stories in Houston this season and finishes just outside our Top 10-graded guards in the league.
Honorable Mention: Andrew Whitworth (CIN) and Evan Mathis (PHI)
Center: Jason Kelce, PHI (+13.3)
The Eagles’ offensive line all finished the season strong with Kelce at the heart of it, letting up only one hurry in pass protection and consistently dominating as a run blocker. Since Week 10, Kelce has only surrendered two hurries and only has four negatively-graded games as a run blocker all season.
Honorable Mention: Nick Mangold (NYJ)
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 (+22.4) and Calais Campbell, ARZ (+14.0)
Capping off another incredible season, Watt features in our TOTM for the fourth time this season completing a clean sweep. Even with a couple of merely solid games (+1.7 at Indianapolis, +2.6 vs Houston) he still earned the highest grade for all 3-4 defensive ends with dominant displays in Jacksonville and Tennessee. Alongside him, Campbell finished another excellent season as well with strong work as a run defender and his customary contributions as a pass rusher. His 19 total pressures tied Watt for the lead among 3-4 ends this month converting more than 50% (10-of-19) into sacks and hits.
Honorable Mention: Gerald McCoy (TB) and Kyle Williams (BUF)
Defensive Interior – Nose: Brandon Mebane, SEA (+13.7)
Ending on a high note, Mebane earned a positive grade as both a run defender and as a pass rusher in each of his final three games of the season — his two highest graded games came in the final three weeks. Entering the post season in terrific form not only a run defender Mebane’s 11 pressures this month were fourth most among all defensive tackles.
Honorable Mention: Terrance Knighton (DEN)
Edge Rushers: Robert Quinn, SL (+21.8) and Greg Hardy, CAR (+13.6)
Much like his fellow Defensive Player of the Year candidate J.J. Watt, Quinn completes a season sweep by appearing in our team of the month for the fourth time. His grade increased every single month and he closed out the season with half a dozen sacks and 14 total stops in the final four weeks of the season. Opposite, Hardy finished the season on fire with 27 total pressures and eight sacks in the final month as he took full advantage of favorable matchups on the edge to play a key role in helping the Panthers clinch the NFC South.
Honorable Mention: Aldon Smith (SF) and Cameron Wake (MIA)
Linebackers: NaVorro Bowman, SF (+11.2) and Lavonte David, TB (+9.5)
Bowman made one of the iconic plays of the season taking back a tipped interception for a touchdown to clinch the 49ers’ playoff berth last Monday. However, he also put in his most consistent work of the season as a run defender, notching 18 stops in the final four weeks of the season. Alongside him one of the league’s most consistent defenders who all season long was a machine scything down run and pass plays alike for defensive stops. David added another 20 stops this month and didn’t miss a single tackle. Quite how David missed out on the Pro Bowl is a mystery to me.
Honorable Mention: Dont’a Hightower (NE) and Karlos Dansby (ARZ)
Cornerbacks: Dee Milliner, NYJ (+8.6) and Byron Maxwell, SEA (+6.5)
A trying rookie season for Milliner which his seen him benched on more than one occasion saw him finish it in style with a strong final month which featured three interceptions and five pass defenses. Teams weren’t shy of throwing his way this month (38 targets, most targeted corner this month) but he only allowed 50% to be completed. Opposite him, Maxwell has made the most of his elevation into the starting defense surrendering completions on fewer than 50% of his targets (8-of-20) and snagging four interceptions this month.
Slot Corner: Brandon Boykin (PHI)
Honorable Mention: Trumaine McBride (NYG) and Stephon Gilmore (BUF)
Safeties: Troy Polamalu, PIT (+8.2) and Will Hill, NYG (+6.4)
The Steelers finished strong almost sneaking a playoff spot and their leader at safety was one of their form players in December. Along with nine stops, Polamalu notched an interception and three pass defenses earning a coverage grade of +1.0 or higher each week. Alongside him is Hill who has been one of the most underrated and under-appreciated safeties in the league this year. He might not make too many plays on the ball, but for consistently being in the right place and not making costly errors at the safety spot there have been few better.
Honorable Mention: Eric Weddle (SD) and Antrel Rolle (NYG)
Kicker: Dan Bailey, DAL (+11.2)
A perfect 9-for-9 this month including 6-for-6 from beyond 40 yards.
Punter: Johnny Hekker, SL (+9.5)
Another excellent month for Hekker who made our Pro Bowl Team. Seven of his 18 punts this month resulted in a fair catch and only four were returned for net gain of 1 yard.
Returner: Jeremy Ross, DET (+5.0)
Pulling double duty on kick and punt returns, Ross got the month off to a spectacular start with two scores in the snow bowl defeat in Philadelphia and was solid thereafter.
Special Teamer: Akeem Jordan, KC (+5.0)
A strong month for Jordan recording more than half of his season total for special teams tackles in the final four weeks of the season, grading positively each week.
Follow Ben on Twitter @PFF_Ben