As the final bye week approaches we’re starting to get a good idea of the great and the good in this year’s league, but still every week throws up a few surprises. Week 11 was no difference, with big performances from rookies and practice squad players to go along with the established stars. This week promised some of the biggest matchups of the season and didn’t disappoint, so without further ado here’s our NFL Ireland Team of the Week!
Offense | Defense
Quarterback: Aaron Rodgers – Green Bay Packers
It’s been six weeks of dominance from the Packers’ QB as he continues to put up the kind of numbers that get him benched (in a good way). The Packers Defense and Special teams got a lot of the plaudits but Rodgers’ performance was exemplary, going 22 of 36 for 341 yards, 3 TDs and no interceptions. It’s getting harder by the week to see anybody else take the MVP crown this year.
Running Back: Jonas Gray – New England Patriots
Belichick seems to do this every now and then. An unheralded running back comes in to take the place of the injured starter (Ridley, Vereen or both) and has a career day. The Colts gave up 4 TDs to LeGarrette Blount in the playoffs last season as the Patriots marched their way to the AFC title game, and this week the same team gave up another 4 scores to New England’s newest backfield sensation Jonas Gray. The Pats leaned on the former practice squad player all game, and he took full advantage as he romped into the end zone again and again, racking up 199 yards from scrimmage in the process. Regardless of whether or not he can produce like this again, this was a career day for Gray.
Tight End: Coby Fleener – Indianapolis Colts
In a season where the returning Dwayne Allen has hogged both touchdowns and headlines for the Colts, Fleener has seemed somewhat overshadowed. He made up for it on Sunday night as he hauled in all seven passes thrown in his direction, totalling 144 yards through the air. Even though the Colts were eventually worn down, Fleener was a bright spark in the offense and this performance was a timely reminder of the Stanford product’s ability and importance.
Wide Receiver: Mike Evans – Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Evans is now making it a weekly habit. Big plays downfield just go his way, and the no.7 overall draft pick is proving to be everything the Bucs had hoped for. His size, speed and safe hands were all on display as he torched the Redskins secondary, grabbing seven passes for 209 yards and a pair of scores. It doesn’t matter if it’s Mike Glennon or Josh McCown throwing him the ball, Evans is producing week-in, week-out.
Wide Receiver: A.J. Green – Cincinnati Bengals
Welcome back A.J. Green! After missing time through a niggling foot injury and being visibly frustrated as Andy Dalton imploded last week against the Browns, the Bengals superstar wideout returned to form with a vengeance this week. He took the inconsistent Saints defense to task as he caught six passes for 127 yards and a touchdown, which was about as classic an A.J. Green score as you’ll see.
Offensive Line: New England Patriots
After the Broncos surprise loss to the Rams on Sunday afternoon the AFC matchup between the Colts and the Patriots took on extra importance as the race for home-field advantage in the playoffs began. The Patriots drew away from the Colts in the second half, and this game was won at the line of scrimmage. The Pats O-line is now settled after early-season experimentation saw the offense sputter and stumble, and on Sunday they didn’t allow a single sack on Tom Brady while also creating the holes for Jonas Gray’s breakout 4-TD performance. This unit is currently the best in the AFC by some distance.
Defense | Offense
Defensive Line: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Maybe Lovie Smith isn’t done in Tampa. In what has been a dreadful season so far the Bucs have been poor on both sides of the ball, but things are starting to click and, incredibly for a team with only two wins, they’re not out of the NFC South title race just yet. Breaking a 5-game losing streak against the hapless Redskins, the Bucs D-line got to Robert Griffin III on no fewer than 6 occasions, spreading the sacks around between the excellent Gerald McCoy, Jacquies Smith, Michael Johnson and Clinton McDonald. This is the fearsome front people expected to see this season, and it might be coming good at just the right time.
Linebackers: Kansas City Chiefs
In a week when your team gives up over 200 rushing yards it might seem that your front seven are to blame, but the Chiefs linebackers corps were all over the field against one of the strongest rushing attacks in the game. Tamba Hali and Justin Houston are closing in on All-Pro years and they could yet be joined by the increasingly impressive Josh Mauga. Their performances this season so far are making this unit look like the best linebacking corps in football. The numbers put up were a case of volume as Seattle’s poor passing attack meant they leaned on Lynch and Wilson time and again, and time and again the Chiefs had the World Champions under control.
Cornerback: Darrelle Revis – New England Patriots
Revis may not be the best defensive player in the league anymore, but he’s still a top corner in this league. On a day when Andrew Luck saw no help on the ground and was forced to throw again and again, Revis kept everyone he was asked to cover in check, throwing in two pass breakups. Reggie Wayne said before the game that this is the best Patriots secondary he’s ever faced, and they showed it with Revis leading the way on Sunday.
Cornerback: Johnathan Joseph – Houston Texans
People will look to Ryan Mallett, J.J. Watt and Alfred Blue as the reasons the Texans romped to victory in Cleveland on Sunday afternoon, but don’t forget about Joseph. On a day when Brian Hoyer threw for 330 yards, he slung seven passes into Joseph’s area of coverage. Per PFF, Joseph allowed just one catch for zero yards and broke up another two of those passes. That’s about as good a day in the secondary as you can ask for.
Free Safety: Husain Abdullah – Kansas City Chiefs
Abdullah makes his second appearance of the season on these pages, following another big game against big-name opponents. He was solid in coverage against the Seahawks, breaking up a pass and batting down another, and he also managed five combined tackles to keep the Super Bowl winners in check anytime they broke the line of scrimmage. Abdullah is another of the supposed small-name players having big years in Kansas City this year, as this defense keeps making plays and winning games.
Strong Safety T.J. McDonald – St. Louis Rams
The Rams D had a big day on Sunday, shutting down Peyton Manning’s Broncos attack and making big plays time and again. While the plaudits will go to the star-studded front seven, safety T.J. McDonald managed a pass defensed while giving up just ten yards on 8 balls throw into his area. This is the second strong game in a row for the second-year starter, and his improving form is a boon for the Rams’ inconsistent secondary.