If they held a vote today, Tennessee's Albert Haynesworth would walk off with the league's Defensive Player of the Year award. He's good. He's great. He's deserving.
|Albert Haynesworth is a wrecking crew. (Getty Images)|
Haynesworth probably wins because A) he's having a career season and B) he plays for the league's only unbeaten team. So that means the rush is on for second, and I can think of five ... no, six ... wait a minute, seven ... right off the bat who can make cases for themselves.
Here are their stories:
1. James Harrison, linebacker, Pittsburgh: I love how Pittsburgh attacks the edges with its outside linebackers, so take your pick here -- Harrison or teammate LaMarr Woodley. I'll take Harrison because I just watched him take down San Diego with two game-changing plays. One was an interception that led to a field goal; the other was a sack, with Harrison forcing a fumble that caused a safety.
That's five of the Steelers' 11 points, and that, folks, is the difference between a win and a loss.
"He is a great player, and he has a great work ethic," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "His stature works in his favor. He is not a small guy; he is a short guy. I think that his advantage is a game of pad level. He can turn the corner, and he has enough power to run through and lean through contact."
The numbers speak for themselves: Harrison leads the team with 12 sacks, which is 3 1/2 shy of the franchise record and 1 1/2 off the league lead. He also has four forced fumbles, seven quarterback hits and 26 pressures. Plus, he is second to James Farrior in tackles.
He was the team MVP a year ago, and he should be the team MVP again.
2. Joey Porter, linebacker, Miami: He leads the league in sacks and outrageous quotes. Now he's taking on New England again, and that's not good for Matt Cassel. The last time Porter sounded off about the Pats, he turned into an unguided missile, obliterating the New England protection.
|Miami's re-born Joey Porter has often been Lawrence Taylor-esque. (Getty Images)|
But why stop there? His 11 1/2 sacks through the first eight games set a Miami record and ranks as the fourth-best first-half performance since the NFL recognized sacks as an official statistic in 1982.
Miami isn't beating up opponents with its offense, it's beating them with Porter.
"He's playing like a man possessed," Miami defensive lineman Vonnie Holliday told the Palm Beach Post.
Miami offensive coordinator Dan Henning earlier this season described Porter in "the Lawrence Taylor-mode," and I have no reason to question him. First of all, Henning has been coaching in the league for 29 years; second, the San Diego Public Relations Society of America in 1991 voted Henning its Diogenes Award recipient for his integrity and ... you guessed it ... his honesty.
3. Kris Jenkins, defensive tackle, New York Jets: When Carolina gave up on Jenkins after last season it believed a change of scenery was necessary -- both for the well-being of the player and, frankly, for the well-being of the Panthers. So Jenkins moved from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4 and, suddenly, the Jets started shutting down inside rushing lanes.
Funny how that happened. A year ago, the Jets were horrible against the run, worse than all but three clubs; now they're the league's fourth-ranked defense in that department, and look no farther than the 6-foot-4, 349-pound Jenkins for an explanation.
The guy is a load to block, and I call the Buffalo Bills to the witness stand. Jenkins had three tackles, 1 1/2 sacks and three pressures against them in a 26-17 victory. Typical. He has 3 1/2 sacks this season, 28 tackles, eight pressures, eight tackles for losses and one blocked field goal.
Who is the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year through Week 11?
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In short, he's the physical inside presence the Jets missed a year ago when opponents gained 4.2 yards a carry against them. Now they're down to 3.4 yards a try, and, yes, the new nose tackle makes the difference.
"He's more than a space eater," an AFC defensive coordinator said. "He can crush the middle of an offensive line. Some guys just eat up space, but he's explosive and powerful. When you watch him on tape, he's a force -- just like Haynesworth."
4. Justin Tuck, defensive end, N.Y. Giants: I'm sorry, but you can't exclude Tuck from a list of the game's most valuable defensive players. He's having the season we anticipated, only he's doing it without Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora. That means opponents can double-team Tuck, and good luck keeping him off your quarterback. The guy is a human wrecking ball, whether he's rushing off the edge or from a defensive-tackle position.
I remember talking to New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels before Super Bowl XLII, and when he analyzed the Giants he kept coming back to Tuck. McDaniels was worried about Tuck's athleticism, essentially conceding he was a matchup nightmare as the Giants moved him up and down the defensive line.
McDaniels' concerns were legit. Tom Brady was sacked a season-high five times and absorbed the worst beating -- and I'm not talking scoreboard -- in years.
Tuck this season not only leads the Giants in sacks with 8.5 and in tackles for losses with 13; he's tied for first with eight quarterback hurries and is second with eight quarterback hits. He also has two forced fumbles, an interception return for a touchdown and an unofficial role as co-leader (along with linebacker Antonio Pierce) of the league's second-ranked defense.
"He is a Pro Bowl player," Philadelphia coach Andy Reid said, "and he is right at the top of his game right now and his position."
(tie) 5. Julius Peppers, defensive end, Carolina: Mike Rucker retires, the Panthers move Peppers from left to right defensive end and look what happens: Peppers becomes himself again. In essence, he is the disruptive force he was before a disastrous 2007, leading the team with nine sacks, 17 hurries and five forced fumbles.
You want to beat the Panthers? You better figure out where Peppers is, then find a way to block him. Against Oakland in Week 10, he had eight tackles, three sacks, two forced fumbles, three hurries and one deflected pass.
"And he's playing better than his numbers," one NFC general manager said. "He can make plays against the run, he pressures the pocket and he makes plays that change the course of a game."
Sounds like the Julius Peppers of old.
"He is," our GM said.
(tie) 5. Ray Lewis, linebacker, Baltimore: When the Ravens held a charity event this week, wide receiver Derrick Mason stood up to acknowledge the best player in franchise history.
"Ray Lewis," he said, "is Baltimore. He is the Ravens."
At 34, Lewis is also an aberration. When most guys his age are starting to wind down, Lewis is in the midst of one of the best seasons of his career. He leads the team in tackles with 106, has a sack, three interceptions, eight pass deflections and a forced fumble.
But this is the stat I like best: He hasn't missed a play in 10 games.
The guy has a non-stop motor racing from sideline to sideline, and he serves as the leader of a rough, tough defense that has Baltimore second in the AFC North. OK, so the Giants won some ground last weekend by going at the guy. They are the exception. The Ravens are the league's third-ranked run defense for a reason, and no explanation begins without first mentioning Ray Lewis.
"He's the same guy I remember when I first came here in '99," defensive coordinator Rex Ryan said. "His will and determination are incredible. But he's taken it on himself to get others to play at his level -- which is to take the game over."
(tie) 5. John Abraham, defensive end, Atlanta: Abraham is more of an edge pass rusher than he is an every-down defensive end, which is why he's having the best season of his career. That might need some explaining. When Smith took over, he told Abraham he wanted him to take fewer snaps -- say, 40 a game -- to increase his productivity. Smith's logic was this: Fewer snaps meant fewer chances of injury, and he needed a healthy Abraham to run a successful defense.
Ten games through the season, Smith looks like a genius. Abraham is attacking the pocket, the Falcons are better than anyone imagined and, yes, the two are related. Not only does Abraham have an NFC-best 11 sacks, he has two games of three sacks each and sacks from both ends of the defensive line.
He also blocked his first career punt against Carolina and leads the team in tackles among defensive linemen. Smith is not surprised.
"When John has been healthy throughout his career," Smith said, "he's put up some big, big numbers."
At no time, however, has he put up bigger numbers than he is now.
"I applaud Mike Smith," an AFC defensive assistant said. "He doesn't have him playing more than 30-35 snaps, which is smart. Abraham is a force; he's just not an every-down force, and that's not bad. His body was not meant to last 70 snaps a game."