In this era of the pass-happy NFL, sack totals have really climbed but stopping the run is still an important part of the game. Many teams use the run to slow down the pass rush. Still others, like the Minnesota Vikings, rely on the run for their big plays…after all, Adrian Peterson averages more yards per carry than his QB does yards per pass attempt.
Some choices – like (Adrian) Peterson – were obvious ones. Same with Detroit’s Calvin Johnson. Both players smashed record books this season and have a shot at 2,000 yards for the season with a good week 17.
So why isn’t the NFL’s leading tackler part of the group?
Lots of reasons…none of them good ones. Politics. Name recognition. Being on a bad, if improving, team.
The two NFC ILBs both come from the San Francisco 49’ers, Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman. Both players are worthy, yes. Willis especially has been dominant since he made the Pro Bowl HIS rookie season…by leading the NFL in tackles.
Both Niners had nearly identical numbers to Kuechly, trailing him in tackles by a handful or two but remember – Kuechly didn’t even start at the MLB position until about week 3 or 4 when it was evident Jon Beason was injured. Kuechly was also the only player to top 150 tackles.
I also thought the timing was a bit odd since that “vaunted Niner defense” had 34 points hung on them by the Patriots, which is not great but not as bad as it sounds when you consider the source, okay…but the rookie-driven Seahawks slapped 42 on them last week. Willis and Bowman didn’t have any answers for Beast Mode.
Pro-Bowlers are decided in thirds. The fan vote counts a third, the players a third, and the coaches a third. Offensive players cannot vote for any other offensive players; only defenders and vice-versa. That’s good, since they’re voting for the players they actually play against on the field head-to-head.
I have a feeling the fan voting is what let him down. The players and coaches all had to know about the super-rookie in the middle of the Carolina defense. It’s their job to know. Niners’ fans are still engaged in the season as they make their playoff run while the Panthers languish in mediocrity this season. They are a much-improved team since opening day but a very poor first half of the season doomed any playoff chances.
Other than Luke Kuechly, were there any other Panthers deserving of being chosen?
Nah. Not this season. Several other players were impressive, but not quite Pro-Bowl impressive. OLB Thomas Davis should win Comeback Player of the Year if Peyton Manning doesn’t, and frankly deserves it more. Nobody’s ever come back from a knee that’s been rebuilt more than Steve Austin (the bionic guy, not the wrestler) and actually contributed much; Davis played at a high level all season and worthy of starting.
Did Davis play at a Pro-Bowl level? I’d have to say no, and that’s not taking anything away from the guy. I’d have him on my team anytime – I don’t think I know of any player with more guts and heart than he does and he’s a great example for the younger players as well.
What about DEs Charles Johnson with 10.5 sacks? Or Greg Hardy with 11? Those are very nice sacks totals for a pair of DEs even these days. The entire line played well rushing the passer without having to resort to the blitz, and that’s exactly what coaches are looking for when they run the 4-3.
Problem? J.J. Watt had 20.5 after 15 games. Aldon Smith 19.5. Von Miller 17.5. Cameron Wake 15 sacks. Those are glamour numbers at glamour positions and hard to crack through with under a dozen sacks. Like it or not, sacks are what fans vote on. Coaches and players look more at the total effect of the player’s presence and how disruptive they are overall.
On offense, there’s not a single player even that close to being Pro-Bowl caliber. Jordan Gross is probably closest at LT, but didn’t quite play up to the level he did last season. The entire offensive line has had issues until the past month or so when they’ve settled down and are playing a lot more coordinated ball.
Cam’s numbers aren’t gaudy and he isn’t a player known this season for taking the team on his shoulders, but is improving his decision-making. Until an interception on a tipped hot-potato pass last week, he was the QB with the longest consecutive pass attempt streak without an interception, having tossed over 150 tries before that one fell into enemy hands. The 2 passing TD/2 rushing TD game aside, he just hasn’t lit things up this season…and that’s a TEAM offense problem.
The running backs will never make Pro Bowls so long as the carries are divided so much. Mike Tolbert would have the best road there by virtue of being a fullback with skills, but even with Jonathan Stewart’s injury, carries were split between DeAngelo Williams, Cam and Tolbert. Since Newton led the team in rushing yards, there’s just not enough left to go around for anyone to shine in the backfield.
Greg Olson is one of the better TEs in the league – and even in the top-ten I’d say. He’s just in the bottom half of that top ten and out of contention. He’s good for 700-800 yards and 7 TDs in a season, but the star TEs put up around a thousand yards these days and 8-10 TDs, or have a hundred grabs. That’s not the Carolina vertical passing game offense.
WR Steve Smith showed us this year that he’s slowing down. He’s still a danger and I say he’s the strongest WR for his 5’9″ size in the entire NFL and plays with a chip on his shoulder – one that resulted in some costly penalties this season as well. Other than Cam’s run/pass threat, the offense just didn’t have any stars that shined brightly enough to merit consideration.
So, other than the horrible Kuechly slight, I can’t think of any Carolina Panthers that truly deserve to play in Honalulu. If coach Rivera can actually hit the ground running on opening day next year, things should be looking different this time next season.
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