AN energetic season in the NFL is just under three weeks from conclusion at Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans. With that in mind, here are just a few talking points worth reflecting on…
The Tight-End can enhance an offence significantly
The mobility and effectiveness of the TE position in the NFL has been illustrated to great effect this season by a number of players across the league. In the AFC North, Heath Miller caught, juked and blocked his way to eight touchdowns and 71 receptions for the Steelers.
Elsewhere, Rob ‘The Gronk’ Gronkowski compensated for his absence through injury with a more than respectable 11 touchdowns and 55 receptions for AFC East title winners New England. In the AFC West, Antonio Gates earned seven touchdowns and 43 completed catches, which is some consolation to the Chargers in what was a tough season.
In the NFC, Atlanta were assisted in their run to the number one seed and furthermore the NFC championship game in no small part thanks to the endeavour of Tony Gonzalez. The 16-year veteran garnered an enviable 8 touchdowns and 93 successful catches, yet he could still add to these figures in the NFC championship and perhaps the SuperBowl. At their AFC South divisional rivals, Jimmy Graham hauled in nine touchdowns and 85 takes for New Orleans.
While Adrian Peterson was running up yards and touchdowns (more of that later), his Vikings team-mate Kyle Rudolph was clocking up 9 touchdowns and 53 receptions at TE. In Dallas it was a productive season of receiving for Jason Witten with 110 catches and 1,039 yards, though he only managed to make it to the end-zone on three occasions.
In all, another seven players in TE position managed to score at least five touchdowns this season, including Scott Chandler (BUF; 6 TD; 43 Rec) and Owen Daniels (HOU; 6 TD; 62 Rec) thus emphasising their value to the signal-callers of the NFL.
What’s in a name when it comes to Quarterbacks?
Perhaps a better analogy would be ‘what’s in a reputation if you’re a quarterback?’ Apart from the seemingly genius move by the Harbaugh on the West Coast to substitute the well-regarded Alex D Smith for the now even greater regarded Colin Kaepernick, there have been a few mishaps for the main-men of the NFL this season. While some big name players have escaped the ire, others may wish to rewind a few weeks back to atone for their mistakes.
For the Manning brothers, it may well be another solid season of hard work, but both Eli and Peyton will be disappointed. It was always going to be a challenge for both of them, one perhaps more so than the other. Peyton was returning from a period of serious injury, with doubts circulating over whether he could recall the ‘greatness’ attributed to him by observers and insiders of the game alike. Arguably he answered with resounding vigour, leading his charges to a playoff berth. However, the debate continues as to what degree that is a suitable achievement for the man brought in to replace Tim Tebow, who also saw his team safely to the divisional stage of the post-season. The argument from some quarters appears to be, ‘well, this is Peyton Manning we are talking about here.’ To be fair to him, it was likely a questionable coaching call which cost the Broncos a spot in the AFC championship game, more than anything Peyton himself did.
As for Eli, the reliable receiving core he had at his disposal in the SuperBowl run of 2011/12 was depleted both by injuries and by players moving to greener pastures. He was still able to rely on his star targets of Cruz and Nicks, but not with the same intensity. Ahmad Bradshaw and Martellus Bennett also chipped in to help the Giants’ number 10, but there were it seems just too many factors troubling the offence for him to have a chance of lifting a second successive Lombardi Trophy. An example, if you will, that even big names cannot rely on their prestige or reputations to make it all the way to the top. Unless you are Tom Brady, I suppose?
It was a frustrating conclusion to the season for a number of other ‘big fish’ from the QB pool, as Ben Roethilisberger, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and Jay Cutler saw their seasons end relatively sooner than they would have expected, with only Rodgers making the playoffs.
Rookies showed their worth
Much was expected of the two highest picks in the 2012 NFL Draft. Both Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III justified that expectation, and answered it in abundance, finishing the season with statistics of 23 and 20 touchdowns respectively. For his part, Luck showed his throwing and rushing capability, clocking up 4,000 plus passing yards and 255 rushing yards. In the case of RGIII, more than 800 rushing yards combined with upwards of 3000 passing yards and a 102.4 QB rating altogether make it a remarkable debut season.
Yet there were plenty more rookies excelling this season. Perhaps the most notable was Seattle QB Russell Wilson, who was still in contention for the NFC championship game with less than a minute to play on Sunday against Atlanta. Wilson combined elements of the ‘read option’ offence with a canny running game and intelligent distribution to shock audiences week after week. Wilson combined well with Marshawn Lynch and a reliable receiving setup to record an unbeaten season at home, and at one stage made history with successive scores of 50 or more points. In the process of it all, Wilson won admirers and this is likely to see him and his team start the 2013 season heavily favoured to repeat their success. If he continues to improve at the alarming rate exhibited this season, he may be a worthy candidate for a SuperBowl in his second season.
Noteworthy offensive rookies also included Josh Gordon (WR; 805 yds; 5 TD) and Trent Richardson (RB; 267 rush yds; 11 TD) at the Cleveland Browns.
In terms of defence, Tampa Bay linebacker David Lavonte (112 tackles) impressed in the tackling stats, while in interception terms, Green Bay cornerback Casey Howard successfully engineered six takeaways and 35 tackles. Finally, Seattle defensive-end Bruce Irvin made the most of his season among a strong defensive unit with eight sacks.
Further observations from the season can be expected in part II of this retrospective. Foremost in our minds, however, will be finding out who makes it to New Orleans to compete for the title of Super Bowl winner, and perhaps more remarkably ‘World Champions.’
Statistics courtesy of NFL.com and SI.com