Cover-Two: Quarter-mark awards
With the 2013 NFL season one quarter in the books, Audibles’ Chris Burke and Doug Farrar assess where things stand. Below, a very early look at the award races, traditional and otherwise.
Most valuable offensive player
Chris Burke: Peyton Manning, Broncos. We almost take for granted Manning’s talent at this stage of his career, but what he has done through four games is nothing short of sensational. Sure, his offense is loaded, and Denver has seen some shaky defenses. But 16 TDs, no interceptions and a 75-percent completion rate are otherwordly numbers.
Doug Farrar: Philip Rivers, Chargers. Since Peyton Manning is the obvious response, I’ll go with the non-Manning answer of Rivers. After several years of sub-par play, Rivers is thriving under new head coach Mike McCoy, and the Chargers are 2-2 despite a defense that currently ranks dead last in Football Outsiders’ efficiency metrics.
Least valuable offensive player
Burke: Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars. Has to be someone on the Jaguars, right? MJD, in a contract year no less, is averaging all of 2.4 yards per carry and has fewer yards rushing than Colin Kaepernick, Alex Smith or Terrelle Pryor.
Farrar: We’ll combine Blaine Gabbert and Chad Henne into one entity entitled “Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback“ and hand it right over. That entity has completed 53 percent of its passes, thrown one touchdown against seven interceptions, and it might be controlling the worst offense of the NFL’s modern age.
Most valuable defensive player
Burke: Justin Houston, Chiefs. OK, so J.J. Watt’s on pace for another Defensive Player of the Year award — and he deserves to be, given his start. But Houston deserves some acclaim for his part in a 4-0 start. He’s leading the league with 7.5 sacks on Kansas City’s improved defense.
Farrar: Dontari Poe, Chiefs. Yes, Houston is racking up sacks at an incendiary rate, but without Poe stoning offensive linemen over and over at the nose tackle position, neither Houston nor Tamba Hali would be nearly as effective. Poe also gets the nod for his ability to penetrate double teams on an alarmingly regular basis.
Least valuable defensive player
Burke: Cortland Finnegan, Rams. Not many redeeming qualities in Finnegan’s play thus far. Most recently, he was torched by San Francisco before leaving with a leg injury. According to Pro Football Focus, QBs have a perfect 158.3 rating when throwing in Finnegan’s direction.
Farrar: Cortland Finnegan, Rams. Not to pile on, but Finnegan isn’t just allowing a 158.3 passer rating overall — he’s also doing so both outside and against slot receivers.
Burke: Denver Broncos. It’s not just that the offense is playing at an unstoppable level right now. It’s that the defense has held its own, too, and should only get better once Von Miller returns to the lineup in a couple of weeks.
Farrar: New Orleans Saints. Yes, the Broncos are playing incredibly well, and the Seahawks’ defense is amazing. But right now, I don’t think there’s a team firing on all cylinders like the Saints. Not only is Drew Brees playing at an MVP pace with Sean Payton back in the fold, but also Rob Ryan is doing amazing things with that defense. I don’t know if they’re the best team overall, but if we’re talking about the best team now, I think the Saints have a great argument.
Burke: New York Giants. Would the Giants beat up on the 0-4 Jaguars? Probably. But given that New York was considered an NFC East contender, its own 0-4 start — with a minus-85 point differential — is inexcusable. The Giants can’t block, can’t run, can’t play defense and generally can’t do much of anything right now.
Farrar: Jacksonville Jaguars. Yes, the Giants and Steelers are relative disasters compared to their expectations, but how can it be anyone but the Jags? We’re dealing with historical inefficiency here, which is a shame for the front office and fanbase. Owner Shad Khan has put smart people in place for a rebuild, but it’s going to take a loooooong time.
Best new coach
Burke: Andy Reid, Chiefs. Perhaps it’s not fair to Romeo Crennel to say that all the Chiefs needed was a little better leadership. But the fact is that this team had ample talent last season, and Reid — with stability at QB, in Alex Smith — has managed to bring it out.
Farrar: Andy Reid, Chiefs. We’ll give it to Reid, but the real star here is new defensive coordinator Bob Sutton, who has turned Kansas City’s defense into the NFL’s best (or near-best, for those Seahawks fans preparing to shout that down) with some amazing schemes and concepts.
Coach who needs to go
Burke: Greg Schiano, Buccaneers. This is obvious to everyone, right?
Farrar: Greg Schiano, Buccaneers. Not since Bobby Petrino has one man been so ill-suited for the National Football League.
Burke: Rob Ryan, Saints. New Orleans probably cannot maintain its current pace on defense — the 13.75 points allowed per game so far will bump up with games at Chicago and New England in the next two weeks. Still, the turnaround from last season’s atrocious outfit is staggering and, combined with Drew Brees, gives the Saints the look of a Super Bowl contender.
Farrar: Dan Quinn, Seahawks. Since we already mentioned Sutton, how about a nod to Quinn, who has taken Pete Carroll’s front concepts and expanded them with timely blitzing and an interesting set of disguised coverages.
Burke: Brian Schottenheimer, Rams. More on Schottenheimer’s impact in making Tavon Austin a non-factor here, but the lack of creativity for an offense with as many talented players as St. Louis has is downright ridiculous.
Farrar: Billy Davis, Eagles. It’s never nice to beat up on a guy so soon into his run, but Philly’s new defensive coordinator has been trying to weld 4-3 personnel into a 3-4 defense, and it’s not working. The Eagles have frequently been lined up in coverage mismatches this season, and though Davis vows that things will get better, there are basics that are not being covered here.
Burke: Kenbrell Thompkins, Patriots. Plenty of contenders here, including Houston’s DeAndre Hopkins. But Thompkins has been a big-play threat for the Patriots, and he has raised his game in recent weeks — two TDs vs. Tampa Bay, then 127 yards in Atlanta.
Farrar: DeAndre Hopkins, Texans. Hopkins was my favorite receiver in this draft class — I loved his toughness in traffic, route awareness and deceptive speed. It’s been hidden behind the calls in Houston for Matt Schaub’s head, but Hopkins has shown all of those attributes in the NFL. He stands to become one of the league’s better No. 2 receivers, and could develop into more than that over time. (Note: It was really tough to exclude Cincinnati’s Giovanni Bernard here, so I won’t.)
Burke: Kiko Alonso, Bills. Alonso’s on his way to a Pro Bowl berth if he can even remotely maintain his current performance. He almost certainly will not stay on a 16-interception pace. But that 128-tackle clip? Very doable for the do-everything linebacker.
Farrar: Star Lotulelei, DT, Panthers. Alonso is the consensus pick, and it’s hard to argue. But I’d like to give a nod to Lotulelei, who has looked just as strong and explosive in the NFL as he did in college, right off the bat. We don’t often see that, as professional offensive lines tend to shave rookies down. But Lotulelei has been a force from Day 1.
Best player in a new place
Burke: Reggie Bush, Lions. The 3-1 Lions can attribute two of their wins rather directly to Bush’s impact on offense. He delivered multiple key plays in a Week 1 victory over Minnesota, then drove the Bears mad in Week 4. If he can stay healthy and in the lineup, the Lions might have a legitimate shot at the NFC North title.
Farrar: Reggie Bush, Lions. I’ll go with Bush as well. Not only has he been incredibly dynamic on his own, but he’s also changed Detroit’s offense — Matthew Stafford has a much-needed escape hatch in the passing game, and the Lions’ offensive linemen are blocking their tails off as much as 20 yards downfield. This is a transcendent player in the perfect offense for his skills.
Worst player in a new place
Burke: Michael Huff, Ravens. Brought in to help offset the losses of Ed Reed and Bernard Pollard at safety, Huff kept his starting job for all of one week. In that week, against Manning’s high-powered Broncos, he helped launch the Legend of Julius Thomas with some egregiously poor coverage.
Farrar: Matt Flynn, Raiders. After losing his job to Russell Wilson in Seattle, Flynn was traded to the Raiders, where he promptly lost his job to Terrelle Pryor in the 2013 preseason. Flynn started last Sunday against Washington’s epically bad defense, and completed 21-of-32 passes for 221 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
“Matt didn’t play well, and we’ve gotta move on,” head coach Dennis Allen said after the game. “We’ve got to get better than that.”