The NFL’s Defensive Player of the Quarter-Year
J.J. Watt is out for what will likely be the remainder of the season with a back injury. Khalil Mack has been a lot quieter than anybody expected. The race for the league’s best defender is wide open.
After another monster game, including 18 total tackles and a sack, Brown is the NFL’s leader in tackles, and he’s up 11 on anybody not named Luke Kuechly. National awards require national recognition, so it would help a great deal if the Bills kept winning and putting up strong across-the-board performances defensively, but has there been a better defender in the league over the first four weeks of the season?
The “Rose to the Occasion” Award
Sammy Watkins is out for a while, possibly the rest of the season. The offense features a top-tier running back and a whole lot of unheralded talent. There was a definite need for someone to step up, and Woods absolutely filled that role yesterday.
Here’s a breakdown of Woods’ catches yesterday. See if you can find the pattern:
Catch 1: 3rd and 7, 11 yards
Catch 2: 2nd and 8, 10 yards
Catch 3: 2nd and 2, 14 yards
Catch 4: 1st and 10, 6 yards
Catch 5: 2nd and 20, 22 yards
Catch 6: 1st and 10, 23 yards
Catch 7: 2nd and 6, 3 yards
Five of his catches went for first downs, yet none of them went longer than 23 yards. Woods is never going to be a home run threat on the level of Watkins or Marquise Goodwin, but he can keep drives alive and take time off the clock. That’s an element that was sorely missing through the first two weeks of the season, where quick drives could net seven points but put the defense right back on the field with only a couple minutes’ worth of rest. Time of possession is an important element of the game, and if Woods can keep doing what he’s doing, the Bills should win that battle a lot going forward.
The “I Threw Over 30 Passes and My Team Won” Award
Yesterday’s game was the seventh time in 17 starts that Taylor broke the 30-attempt barrier, but the first time that the Bills won when he did. Interestingly (but probably not coincidentally), he’s topped that mark in all three of the Patriots games he’s played in, which also represent his three lowest yardage totals at that volume.
Taylor made it work this time by largely abandoning the home run ball that’s become his trademark for a more methodical approach that takes time off the clock while picking up yards in nice, even chunks. He took a few shots down the field, but overthrew Goodwin and Walt Powell. He also had a few passes that required great plays from the receivers (the first pass to Clay and the O’Leary sideline grab, in particular). Still, it was probably the best start-to-finish performance of Taylor’s career, aside from the first Dolphins game from last season.
Least Valuable Player
I’ve milked Bush for a lot of mileage in this column over the season, but I’m fairly certain this is going to be my final opportunity, and since I couldn’t really single out a true LVP (it probably would’ve been Richie Incognito, but he had a good game aside from the personal foul call) I’m going to take this opportunity to say goodbye.
In case you didn’t notice, Bush’s role continually shrank over the course of the last four weeks, and somehow managed to shrink even further from last week’s DNP against the Cardinals:
Goes from 21 snaps, to 2, to active/DNP, to inactive...if he's on the roster after Monday I'll be stunned https://t.co/UtHUmpacBe— Jeff Hunter (@hunteriffic86) October 2, 2016
He may survive today, given that the Bills have a few days to actually activate Marcell Dareus and Seantrel Henderson to the active roster. Still, he really has no role on the team going forward. Mike Gillislee has locked down the backup running back spot, and rookie Jonathan Williams has seen action in consecutive games. Brandon Tate is the return man.
If Bush is flying to LA this week, he’s going commercial.
Most Valuable Player
I try not to repeat myself, but seriously: Zach Brown is the best defender in the NFL right now. There are big names with flashy numbers that would probably win the award if voting happened today (Marcus Peters and Von Miller come to mind) that are playing great in their own right.
In all honesty, though, Brown is playing as well as any of them. He’s evolved from the coverage specialist he was with the Titans to an all-around thumper that’s playing better than anyone could have ever hoped. The preseason injury to Reggie Ragland still stings, because he should have a solid career, but at this point Brown (a former second round pick, himself) is almost assuredly playing better than Ragland would have been able to this season.
Now, it’s on him to keep it going. If he can, the recognition will follow.