Chad Pemberton: Watt, Peterson, Ryan deserve midseason credit
We've reached the halfway point of the NFL season, so it's time to hand out some midseason awards.
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR:
J.J. Watt, Houston Texans
Correct me if I'm wrong, but it doesn't seem like Houston is missing its former No. 1 overall pick, Mario Williams, who departed to Buffalo in the offseason for a $96 million contract. The Texans are second in yards allowed per game (283), fifth in passing yards allowed per game (200), fourth in rushing yards allowed per game (83), and sixth in points allowed per game (18.3). Most of which stems from the meteoric rise of second-year defensive end, former pizza delivery guy, J.J. Watt.
Watt leads the league in sacks (9.5) and tackles for losses (15), which is of course impressive, but to be fair, we've seen dominance like that from defensive ends in the past. Where Watt's ability can be measured as truly unique is on passing downs, when he uses his 6-foot-5, 295 pound body and 37-inch vertical to bat passes down at the line of scrimmage, which he has done 10 times. Maybe 10 pass deflections doesn't sound particularly impressive, but when you consider Watt is only three pass deflections from leading the league, and that he has twice as many pass deflections as any other defensive lineman, I think it's clear how uncanny this really is.
And what's more, Watt is doing all of this without Mario Williams and DeMeco Ryans (who was traded to Philadelphia in the offseason) and Brian Cushing (who is out for the year with a torn ACL), in a 3-4 scheme, which is traditionally not a statistic heavy situation for a defensive end. Forget Defensive Player of the Year, Watt might have a puncher's chance at earning Most Valuable Player.
COMEBACK PLAYER OF THE YEAR:
Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings
Peterson tore his ACL and MCL on Christmas Eve last year. Now, only 10 months removed from a (historically) catastrophic knee injury for a running back he's leading the league in rushing yards (775) and number of carries over 20 yards (8). While medical advances have made ACL rehabilitation more routine, it's still difficult to explain or even conceptualize Peterson's incredible recovery (he only missed one game).
MOST VALUABLE PLAYER:
Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons
Quarterbacks have had a stranglehold on the MVP award for the past decade. Only twice during that span has a non-quarterback won the award (Shaun Alexander in 2005 and LaDainian Tomlinson in 2006). Given the hyper-importance of quarterback play in today's pass-heavy league, I think things will remain status quo.
The problem with this award, though, is defining what it actually is. Are we saying it should go to the quarterback who holds the most value to his team? The one who has put up the best numbers? Or the one with the most wins? To me, the MVP is about blending those three things together, because none of those qualities can stand alone and adequately tell the whole story.
Prior to this season, Matt Ryan's career road record was a mediocre 17-15; this season he's 4-0 on the road. In Atlanta's 7-0 season start Ryan has the most game-winning drives (three) and ranks third in completion percentage (68.7), touchdowns (17), and Quarterback Rating (103).
Matt Ryan is excising the right demons (his woeful play on the road) and playing the best football of his career. Before the season, I wondered if he would be able to make "The Leap" from good to great. I'm now finding it increasingly difficult to make the case that he hasn't.
Chad Pemberton is a Marshall University graduate who follows the NFL and is writing about it for The Herald-Dispatch. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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