Halfway: Half an award is bet­ter than none

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - SPORTS - By Barry Wil­ner

It’s only November and The As­so­ci­ated Press NFL in­di­vid­ual awards won’t be handed out un­til the NFL Honors show on Feb. 4. That doesn’t stop us from eval­u­at­ing the field halfway through the sched­ule.

That field looks mighty slim when it comes to one award: top de­fen­sive player. Von Miller was rid­ing high in an in­for­mal poll of sev­eral vot­ers who reg­u­larly cover the NFL.

Noth­ing shock­ing there. Den­ver’s star line­backer and the Su­per Bowl MVP in Fe­bru­ary has been just as dom­i­nant thus far in 2016.

“Miller re­mains the most dis­rup­tive de­fender in the game,” Don Banks of Sports Il­lus­trated says.

“The suc­cess­ful tran­si­tion from an ag­ing Pey­ton Man­ning to an in­ex­pe­ri­enced Trevor Siemian is done in large part be­cause of Den­ver’s great de­fense,” adds News­day’s Bob Glauber. “Miller is a gen­er­a­tional de­fen­sive player who makes it all work.”

While that award ap­pears lop­sided right now, top coach­ing honors are as wide open as At­lanta’s of­fense.

Among those men­tioned: Oak­land’s Jack Del Rio, Min­nesota’s Mike Zim­mer, New Eng­land’s Bill Belichick, Kansas City’s Andy Reid, Dal­las’ Ja­son Gar­rett and At­lanta’s Dan Quinn.

Con­sider that their teams are a com­bined 3812 head­ing into this week­end.

“Del Rio has re­stored pride and poise to the Raiders, who are 5-0 on the road and over­came an NFL-record 23 penal­ties in Tampa,” says Ira Kauf­man of the Pro Foot­ball Hall of Fame.

Zim­mer and Gar­rett have been with­out their No. 1 quar­ter­back all sea­son. In­juries also have beaten up the Chiefs.

The rel­a­tively new top as­sis­tant coach award tends to at­tract the most var­ied se­lec­tions.

Among the sug­ges­tions at this point in 2016 have been both Pa­tri­ots co­or­di­na­tors, Josh McDaniels (of­fense) and Matt Pa­tri­cia (de­fense); Ea­gles DC Jim Schwartz; Cow­boys OC Scott Line­han; and Chiefs DC Bob Sut­ton.

“It’s hard to win with a rookie quar­ter­back and a rookie run­ning back,” says Charean Wil­liams of the Fort Worth Star Tele­gram, “but the Cow­boys have made it work, rank­ing fourth in to­tal of­fense.”

That rookie QB, Zak Prescott, and fresh­man RB, Ezekiel El­liott, top the in­for­mal halfway poll for of­fen­sive rookie honors. And why wouldn’t they? Dal­las is 7-1, El­liott leads the league in rush­ing and, in a year marked by NFC un­der­achiev­ers, the Cow­boys have been a con­fer­ence sen­sa­tion.

They are not alone in the run­ning, of course, with Philadel­phia QB Car­son Wentz, de­spite some re­cent re­gres­sion, Chicago run­ning back Jor­dan Howard, Ten­nessee tackle Jack Con­klin, San Diego tight end Hunter Henry, New Or­leans re­ceiver Michael Thomas and Kansas City re­ceiver Tyreek Hill all get­ting some love.

“Sorry, Dak Prescott,” Banks says. “Zeke is on pace to set the NFL’s rookie sin­gle-sea­son rush­ing record, and his league-lead­ing 891 yards rush­ing have helped the Cow­boys string to­gether a seven-game win­ning streak and per­fectly com­ple­ment Prescott’s pass­ing game.”

Adds Nick Pavlatos of Sir­iusXM: “Dak han­dles the ball ev­ery snap, but Ezekiel is some­thing spe­cial, run­ning, catch­ing, and block­ing.”

There aren’t so many out­stand­ing can­di­dates for De­fen­sive Rookie of the Year halfway through the sched­ule. That is not un­usual, though, as first-year play­ers on de­fense tend to im­prove through­out the sea­son.

Top con­tenders at this point ap­pear to be San Diego DE Joey Bosa, de­spite miss­ing Septem­ber with an in­jury af­ter hold­ing out all pre­sea­son; At­lanta safety Keanu Neal; and Browns DE Em­manuel Og­bah.

“Like Tom Brady, he wasn’t there from the start,” Tom Pelis­sero of USA To­day says of Bosa. “Who cares? Bosa has four sacks ... and that only be­gins to il­lus­trate the im­pact he’s had on San Diego’s de­fense.”

Many vot­ers chose a 2014 All-Pro and Of­fen­sive Player of the Year with Dal­las, the Ti­tans’ DeMarco Mur­ray, as the front-run­ner for Come­back Player honors. Mur­ray is sec­ond in rush­ing in the league be­hind El­liott, os­ten­si­bly his re­place­ment with the Cow­boys. And Mur­ray doesn’t op­er­ate be­hind any­thing close to the Dal­las of­fen­sive line.

“Af­ter a for­get­table sea­son in Philadel­phia, he has re­gained his place among the league’s rush­ing lead­ers for an emerg­ing Ten­nessee club,” Kauf­man says.

Oth­ers get­ting sup­port in­clude Bills LB Lorenzo Alexan­der, Pack­ers WR Jordy Nel­son, Gi­ants WR Vic­tor Cruz, and Pan­thers WR Kelvin Ben­jamin.

As for the head­line award, Most Valu­able Player, it would be in­trigu­ing to see Miller in the mix with Brady, Oak­land QB Derek Carr and At­lanta QB Matt Ryan. Un­for­tu­nately, a de­fen­sive player hasn’t walked off with the award since Lawrence Tay­lor in 1986.

“Tom Brady may wind up with the award by the end of the sea­son, but Carr has earned the nod halfway through,” Glauber says. “He’s car­ry­ing the Raiders on his back with 17 touch­downs and three in­ter­cep­tions and a bunch of clutch per­for­mances.”

And that’s usu­ally what it takes.

AP FILE

Pa­tri­ots quar­ter­back Tom Brady, de­spite miss­ing the first four games due to ‘De­flate­gate’ sus­pen­sion and Bron­cos line­backer Von Miller are in the hunt for AP’s Most Valu­able Player Award at the halfway point of the sea­son.

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