My AFC East First Half All-Pro Defense

Yesterday was the offense, today is the defense.  Same format, 1 starter for each position (in a 3-4 defense) and 1 back-up on the 2nd team.

Defensive Ends

  • 1st team – Andre Carter, New England Patriots (32 tackles, 4.5 sacks, 2 TFL, 1 FF) – Carter was a great acquisition for the Pats and thus far has outshined big names such as Haynseworth and Ellis.  Carter’s 4.5 sacks is tied for tops among defensive ends in the division.
  • 1st team – Dwan Edwards, Buffalo Bills (34 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 2 TFL, 1 PD) – Edwards, the former Raven, has been a solid force among the Bills new 3-4 D-Line since they signed him back in 2010.  He leads all AFC East DEs in tackles and is a good mentor for young players like Marcell Dareus and Alex Carrington
  • 2nd team – Muhammad Wilkerson, New York Jets (20 tackles, 1 sack, 3 TFL, 1 PD) – Wilkerson has fought off injury to become an effective 3-4 end for the Jets.  His 3 TFL are among the best for AFC East DEs.
  • 2nd team – Mark Anderson, New England Patriots (10 tackles, 4.5 sacks, 1 PD) – Anderson might not have had as many tackles as the rest of the guys on the list but he is tied with teammate Andre Carter with 4.5 sacks.

Defensive Tackles

  • 1st team – Vince Wilfork, New England Patriots (23 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 2 TFL, 3 PD, 2 INTs, 1 FF) – Wilfork has been one of the most versatile defenders in football thanks to his two surprise INTs this year.  It doesn’t matter whatever else is going on around him, big Vince is always a force in the middle for the New England defense.
  • 2nd team – Marcell Dareus, Buffalo Bills (24 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 1 TFL, 1 PD, 1 FF) – Dareus is the first and only rookie named to my All-AFC East team.  He leads all AFCE DTs in sacks with 3.5 and is the Bills best defender against the run on the front line.

Outside Linebackers

  • 1st team – Cameron Wake, Miami Dolphins (20 tackles, 5.5 sacks, 2 TFL, 2 PD) – People might forget that Wake is still a beast due to him playing on the Dolphins below par defense but Wake is the sack leader for the entire AFC East.  Makes you wonder what he was doing in Canada all those years.
  • 1st team – Calvin Pace, New York Jets (35 tackles, 3 sacks, 2 TFL, 1 PD, 1 INT, 2 FF) – Pace does it all for the Jets defense on the outside.  He gets sacks, defends the pass well and is as good as anyone against the run.  He’s the most versatile outside linebacker in the AFC East.
  • 2nd team – Rob Ninkovich, New England Patriots (37 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 2 PD, 1 FF) – Ninkovich has been a solid starter for the Pats this season with a team LB high for tackles and sacks.  Was rewarded with a contract extension.
  • 2nd team – Jerod Mayo, New England Patriots (33 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 FR) – Despite being injured for parts of the first half of the season Mayo is still a tackle machine for the Pats, even after kicking to the outside this season.

Inside Linebackers

  • 1st team – David Harris, New York Jets (42 tackles, 2 sacks, 4 PD, 2 INTs) – Harris might be the best middle linebacker in the game right now.  Equally strong against the pass and the run, Harris can plug up a hole or cover a tight end if need be.
  • 1st team – Nick Barnett, Buffalo Bills (67 tackles, 1 sack, 3 TFL, 3 PD, 2 INTs, 1 FF) – Barnett has been the exact type of versatile linebacker that the Bills envisioned when they signed him to replace the underachieving Paul Posluzny.  One of the few playmakers in the Bills front seven.
  • 2nd team – Bart Scott, New York Jets (39 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 1 TFL, 1 FF) – The loud talking, hard-hitting Scott has been himself this year, yapping up a storm and racking up tackles.
  • 2nd team – Kevin Burnett, Miami Dolphins (46 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 5 TFL, 1 PD) – The former Charger Burnett beats out Brandon Spikes for the last ILB spot due to his play behind the line of scrimmage.

Cornerbacks

  • 1st team – Darrelle Revis, New York Jets (24 tackles, 12 PD, 4 INTs) – This easiest no-brainer on the board.  The numbers are unreal…12 passes defended through 8 games?  4 INTs already and he is hardly thrown to.  Hands down the best Cornerback in the NFL right now and one of the best ever.
  • 1st team – Kyle Arrington, New England Patriots (43 tackles, 1 TFL, 7 PD, 5 INTs) – Arrington has been inconsistent, as has been pretty much every CB in the division besides Revis, but his ball-hawking skills have served him well as he leads all AFCE players in INTs.
  • 2nd team – Antonio Cromartie, New York Jets (23 tackles, 7 PD, 3 INTs, 1 FF) – Cromartie is one of those infuriating players who struggles at times despite having all the talent in the world.  When he’s on, he’s on.
  • 2nd team – Leodis McKelvin, Buffalo Bills (28 tackles, 6 PD, 1 INT, 1 FR) – McKelvin has been the strongest of a talented but inconsistent group of Bills cornerbacks in the early going.

Strong Safeties

  • 1st team – George Wilson, Buffalo Bills (71 tackles, 2 TFL, 6 PDs, 4 INTs, 1 FF) – The former undrafted wide receiver has been playing at an unbelievably high level this season.  Like teammate Fred Jackson, an example of what happens when hard work and lots of heart pays off.
  • 2nd team – Yeremiah Bell, Miami Dolphins (64 tackles, 1 sack, 1 PD, 1 FR) – Bell has been one of the few bright spots on the Miami defense.  He’s their most consistent guy in the defensive backfield.

Free Safeties

  • 1st team – Jairus Byrd, Buffalo Bills (56 tackles, 1 sack, 2 TFL, 5 PD, 2 INTs, 1 FF, 1 FR) – Byrd has shaken off a sophomore slump to become one of the most complete safeties in the entire league.  Byrd, who struggled against the run in his rookie season, has become a force in the Bills run defense and is getting a reputation for being a big hitter.
  • 2nd team – Patrick Chung, New England Patriots (55 tackles, 1 sack, 4 PD, 1 INT) – There is no sophomore slump for Chung who has been the most consistent defender in the Pats defensive backfield.

Punters

  • 1st team – Brandon Fields, Miami Dolphins (48.6 avg., 40.7 net, 17 IN20, 70 long) – Fields may have been getting a lot of work in the first half of the season but at least he is making it count.  He has the highest net, the longest punt, and the most pins inside the 20 in the division.
  • 2nd team – Brian Moorman, Buffalo Bills (49.5 avg., 38.5 net, 9 IN20, 66 long) – This was a dog fight with Zoltan Mesko but Moorman has Mesko in everything but the net avg. so the Bills vet gets the nod.

Twitter @ErikVenskus

Thoughts on Bills/Redskins

So Week 8 is in the books, a week away from the official halfway point of the NFL season and the Bills are 5-2 and sitting pretty in a tie atop the AFC East.  Clearly the Bills are one of the surprise teams of the season, if not the surprise team.  The Bills had their annual home away from home game in Toronto on Sunday and for the first time in the four year venture came out on top by a score of 23-0.  Here are some thoughts on the game:

  • Let’s start with Marcell Dareus.  The man is a beast, plain and simple.  You can tell at this early stage in his career that he is going to be one of the best.  Not many guys can say that they can single handedly take over a game in only their 7th game as a pro.  Dareus did just that yesterday.  Even if it was against an inferior opponent in the Redskins Dareus was flat out dominant.  4 tackles, 2.5 sacks and constant pressure on the pocket all game.  If the Bills get more of this the defense will be one of the better ones in the league by the end of the year.
  • Speaking of the defense and their 9 sacks, give credit where credit is due – the Bills cornerbacks finally played a complete game and it showed up front.  Florence, McGee, and McKelvin are all above average cover men and their performances should show more than they have for the first 6 games.  A little pressure goes a long way but at the same time it’s hard to make a hot read with a guy like Dareus bearing down on you when the corners don’t let receivers get a clean break off of the line.  This unit is crucial to the success of the Bills in the second half of the season.
  • The Redskins run game was stopped cold thanks to a smothering defense, again led by Dareus.  It will be interesting to see if that carries over to the Jets game.  The Jets once vaunted run offense has been disappointing thus far this season and the Bills will be smelling blood after their dominant performance this week.
  • There is not much more that you can say about Fred Jackson that hasn’t already been said.  The guy is a bona-fide MVP candidate.  He may be the most complete back in the NFL right now.  That’s saying something for a guy who just turned 30 prior to the season.  He’s got 721 rushing yards and 353 receiving yards through 7 games, giving him a whooping 1,084 yards from scrimmage through the first 7.
  • The newly minted man Ryan Fitzpatrick showed a bit of rust early but brushed it off to to finish with a good day overall.  He was an efficient 21 for 27 for 262 yards, 2 TD, and INT and the team’s first lost fumble of the season.  He didn’t have to do too much and overcame some bad turnovers early.
  • People have been heaping praise on top of the Bills offensive line all year and yesterday’s game was a prime example of why.  They were missing both of their left tackles, Demetrius Bell and Chris Hairston.  They asked Andy Levitre, who has been a Pro-Bowl caliber player at left guard to kick out to left tackle and inserted back-up swing guard Chad Rinehart into the left guard position.  The unit didn’t miss a beat.  The Redskins recorded only two sacks, both in the 4th quarter when Fitzpatrick just held onto the ball rather than risk a bad pass.  This unit has been, and continues to be outstanding despite the malignation that is suffered in the preseason.
  • Nobody ever tell George Wilson that he isn’t one hell of a football player
  • Rian Lindell has become so automatic that you are shocked when he misses, so much so that there is not a doubt in your mind that he is going to hit the next one.
  • Again, kudos to Chan Gailey for being the exception to the rule once again and getting his team ready to play after the bye.  Teams are only 8-10 coming off of the bye this year.
  • Finally we must talk about a bit of karmic justice.  Two years ago, prior to the 2010 season, the Bills were at a breaking point.  They had not been to the playoffs in 10 seasons at that point and had just run through a cavalcade of colossal disappointments at the quarterback and head coaching positions.  Owner Ralph Wilson had seemed to have had enough and showed an interest to opening up his wallet to a big name coach to come in and oversee the operation.  The team first turned to Mike Shanahan, who had been fired by the Broncos the year prior after a long and fruitful run in Denver.  Shanahan took an interview and then casually brushed the Bills off, waiting for Daniel Snyder to offer him the moon to come to Washington, where guys love to go when they want to get paid.  The Bills had to settle for an also-ran, Chan Gailey.  Well on Sunday that also-ran and his team handed Mike Shanahan the first shutout of his long and illustrious coaching career.  If that’s not a sign that the football gods are on their side, I don’t know what is.

It’s a big week ahead, the biggest game of the year to date takes place this Sunday at Ralph Wilson Stadium when the Jets come to town to take on the Bills.  This one will tell us a lot about where we will go from here.

Twitter @ErikVenskus

For Bills’ Wilson path to success has been well-traveled

George Wilson may quickly be turning into a household name among football circles but the Buffalo Bills starting safety in his eighth year in the National Football League, his first as a starter, hasn’t taken the most conventional path.

Born in Paducah, KY, a town of all of 25,000, Wilson starred in football, baseball, basketball and track.  He was an honorable mention All-American during his senior season at Paducah Tilman High School, tallying 81 catches for 1,723 yards and 24 touchdowns.  He was accepted to Arkansas on an academic scholarship and walked on the football team.  By his red-shirt sophomore season he was starting at Wide Receiver for the Razorbacks, breaking the record for receptions by a UA player in their first year with 40.  Wilson tallied 145 receptions for 2,158 yards and 16 TDs in four years at Arkansas.

When it was time to go to the next level interest in Wilson’s services were tempered.  Wilson went un-drafted, signing with the Detroit Lions as a free agent.  He didn’t stick and he got the call from the Buffalo Bills to join their practice squad on October 18, 2004.  Wilson toiled on the Bills practice squad for the next three seasons, being activated for only three games and not seeing any significant action.  In the 2007 off-season the Bills took a bold step and transitioned Wilson, a lifelong Wide Receiver, to the Safety position.  Wilson wore the change well and due to injury was inserting into the starting lineup for the first time in his career that season in a game against the Dallas Cowboys on Monday Night Football.  All he did that night was pick off Cowboys’ QB Tomy Romo and return it for a TD.  Wilson became entrenched as one of the team’s Special Teams Aces and a situational Safety.

Wilson’s hard work paid off in the 2008 pre-season when he was voted as one of the Special Teams captains by his teammates, an honor that was bestowed on him in each of the three ensuing seasons.  Wilson was a leader in the locker room and a guy who would play in a pinch when the defense needed him in the next few years.  It wasn’t until the Bills opted not to re-sign former first round draft pick before the 2011 season that Wilson finally got his chance to be a full-time starter.  Wilson has made the most of his opportunity.  He has played the game like one of the NFL’s elite safeties in the first five weeks of the 2011 season, topped off by an AFC Defensive Player of the Week performance this past Sunday against the Eagles.  In addition to that he has positioned himself as the heart of a tough Buffalo defense, as evidenced by his emotional post game speech on Sunday (http://www.buffalobills.com/media-lounge/videos#?id=dad99e49-6e7e-44dd-9ed6-869f2720f73a&channelName=Recent).

It may have taken him 8 years to get into that press room but the people of Buffalo are surely glad that he did.  And if Wilson can play as well as he did last weekend, a feat no doubt attainable with his attitude and work ethic, he may find his way to a game in Hawaii at the end of the year.  And perhaps more important to him, and no doubt his teammates, he’ll get a chance to play some meaning football for the fans of Buffalo in January, something that hasn’t been done in eleven years.

Twitter @ErikVenskus