NFL Stock Watch: Tavon Austin reminds us patience is a virtue
The NFL Stock Watch examines who's up and who's down around the NFL. Tavon Austin headlines this week after an impressive performance.
Plenty of virtual ink's been spilled on Tavon Austin's incredible game -- he had a pair of receiving touchdowns and a breathtaking 98-yard punt return -- during Sunday's shocking blowout of Indianapolis by the Rams. But the biggest remind from Austin's breakout game against the Colts? Half a season a career does not make.
It's part of the deal these days in sports -- just look at the up-and-down reaction to players like Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker Julius Randle on Twitter during Tuesday night's college basketball action -- to get judged instantaneously.
The Rams made the bold move to leap up and grab Austin in the 2013 NFL Draft. He was the space-shredding playmaker, a long-awaited real weapon for Sam Bradford, and the perfect movable chess piece for modern NFL offense.
Along the way, though, something got lost in translation. Austin wasn't exploding for big yards the way we expected. He had six catches in each of his first three games and was averaging 3.55 catches a game. But none of them looked like this:
Is it possible the West Virginia product simply took a few games to get adjusted to the NFL? Sure, why not. It's also possible Indianapolis didn't prepare for exactly what Austin was going to bring to the table.
That seems unlikely, though Vontae Davis acknowledged that the Rams certainly executed better than the Colts.
“They moved him around a lot, put him in mismatch situations, using his speed to run away from coverage and stuff," Davis said. "They executed today better than we did."
He can attest first hand. Davis was covering Austin one-on-one during Tavon's first TD down the left sideline:
That touchdown looks incredibly similar to a near-score that Austin had against the Panthers two weeks before, when the touchdown was called back for holding. Austin also lost a return for a touchdown against the Cowboys earlier in the season.
Here's a theory: Austin got a little bit luckier on Sunday than he had in previous weeks, and, at the same time, the Rams did a better job of getting the ball in his hands in space. The result was a massive outing for the explosive Austin.
He's not going to repeat the numbers he put up on Sunday every week. But he knows now just how important being patient is.
"I mean definitely. That's anybody," Austin said of finally getting opportunity. "I'm just glad that my opportunity came. The coaches and players trust in me, and I'm glad we got the win."
Patrick Peterson, CB, Cardinals -- Peterson wasn't perfect at cornerback his first year, either. Thrown into the fire as the Cardinals top corner from Day 1, he struggled at times. But man has he blossomed quickly into one of the elite defensive backs in the NFL. Sunday was a great example, as Peterson put the Texans top receiver on lockdown for much of the game. Now, Johnson ended up with two touchdown catches. You've definitely seen this one:
But don't sleep on how impossible the FIRST one was either. It's an incredible diving number where Johnson impossibly manages to get his second foot in.
Now these GIFs mainly look Andre Johnson appear amazing. But they should also tell you a little something about how Peterson played. It required nearly super-human effort from Johnson to pick up 12 yards and two scores on Sunday. None of his three other catches or 25 yards came easy either.
"His hand was like over my shoulder, so I knew I had to go up with one hand, and it just barely slipped out of my grasp," Peterson said. "He made a hell of a catch on both of them. Obviously, I didn’t do enough to make the play. He came down with both touchdowns. Tip my hat off to him."
Peterson's the type of cornerback that can shut down one side of the field when he's at his best and he showed that on Sunday.
Nick Fairley, DT, Lions -- Look, kids, another highly-drafted player who didn't come out of the gates firing but is now developing into a legit star. Imagine how that works out. Fairley's actually been struggling some this year with an injured shoulder, but Sunday against the Bears he flashed dominant defensive tackle form.
He came away with four quarterback hurries, a sack, and perhaps the biggest play of all, a snuffing out of Matt Forte on the Bears two-point conversion attempt to tie up the game and send it to overtime. That resulted in this gloriousness:
Fairley egged on that drive by drawing a personal foul for a late hit on Josh McCown. He made up for it with the play on Forte. Fairley was at his best down the stretch in 2012, when he really emerged as a defensive force for Detroit.
“I think he’s trending that way," Jim Schwartz said Monday. "He played really well during that stretch last year. I think he still has a ways to go to get back to that level.
"He still has been inconsistent. He played very well in spurts. I think that was encouraging, but there has also been some inconsistency. I think that’s been one of the things that he’s been working on throughout the course of this season."
It's possible we see him start to do that again in 2013 and if so, maybe Sunday was the start.
Mark Ingram, RB, Saints -- This shouldn't be taken as a full-blown endorsement of Ingram, following the first 100-yard rushing game of his career. It's more of an indictment of the Cowboys defense. But still, Ingram found himself benefiting from the Cowboys inability to tackle during the Saints 49-point bloodbathing of Dallas on Sunday night. He ran hard, he hit holes, he picked up chunks of yardage and he ultimately closed out the game. It should be telling, though, that even fantasy owners -- always desperate for a guy who can rush for 100 yards or even get carries -- aren't flocking his way.
Vincent Rey, LB, Bengals -- The third option for the Bengals at linebacker on Sunday, Rey (weirdly? fittingly?) filled in for Rey Maualuga, who was carted off with an MCL sprain during Cincy's blowout of the Jets. He had a decent game against the Ravens, piling up 13 tackles, three sacks, three tackles for loss, three passes defensed, and an interception. That's an absolutely MASSIVE game. Cincinnati's going to need guys stepping up on the defensive end of things thanks to injuries. Rey did just that, flying all over the field in the crucial division loss.
Monte Kiffin, DC, Cowboys -- As noted above, the Dallas D got shredded against the Saints in a high-profile matchup Sunday night. That doesn't bode well for Kiffin and neither does Jerry Jones stating after the game that the Dallas offseason change on defense "doesn't look good right now." Fortunately for Kiffin, Jones also said he doesn't plan on making any changes, personnel or otherwise, during the bye week. So there's time to get things back. Unfortunately for Kiffin, Sean Lee's out a few weeks and DeMarcus Ware looked hampered. It doesn't matter what kind of defensive scheme you're bringing if all your players are hurt.
But it's not his fault the Dolphins couldn't run. It's not Daniel Thomas' fault. It's not Ryan Tannehill's fault. You can't even pin blame on Jonathan Martin or Richie Incognito -- the absence of whom really helped cause the offensive line problems. Joe Philbin definitely deserves some blame here but the owner's got his back it looks like. The owner isn't backing his GM, who went unnamed during Stephen Ross' statements to the media. Things are not looking up for Ireland these days. Can you blame Ross for dogging him? There's a pretty clear systematic failure of the Dolphins front office to establish a proper work environment. The result was an embarrassing product on the field and, as such, the onus ultimately falls on Ireland. He's the one who built this mess.
Terrelle Pryor, QB, Raiders -- Oakland's still overachieving with their three wins and Pryor isn't working with much offensive talent on the Raiders so there's caveats here. But man he's been horrible the last four weeks, a 1-3 stretch for Oakland. Over that period of time Pryor's completing 50.8 percent of his passes (61/120) and averaging just 5.95 yards per attempt. He's got eight interceptions and just one touchdown and is averaging just 178.5 yards passing per game. The good news is he's averaging 68.8 yards rushing per game and 8.9 yards rushing per attempt. But that might be more indicative of a lack of progression than anything else. It's going to be tough for Pryor to improve as a quarterback in his current situation but Oakland's got to figure out if he's "the guy" in advance of a potentially stacked 2014 NFL Draft. He hasn't looked like it the last month.
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