MVP candidates and breakout performers discussed in Week 15's roundtable
Kurt Warner, Drew Brees or Peyton Manning for MVP? Which head coach has done the best job? Scouts Inc.'s roundtable discusses these topics and more.
Which head coach has done the best job and who should be the offensive and defensive MVPs? After watching all the film, Scouts Inc.'s pro scouts answer these questions and debate the hot topics heading into Week 15.
1. Who is your offensive MVP?
Gary Horton: Warner's numbers certainly warrant consideration, but I think he deserves the MVP right now for what he has meant to this franchise. At age 37, he is running one of the most sophisticated pass offenses in the NFL and he is putting up huge numbers, without the benefit of a reliable run game. This is an organization that has not hosted a playoff game in forever, but Warner has excited an entire city and state. Without Warner, the Cardinals would be a mediocre team.
Keith Kidd: This is totally up in the air because so many players are well deserving of this award. But, has anybody been more important to their team than Peyton Manning? While watching Manning throughout the year, it was obvious to me that he is the main reason the Colts keep winning in spite of all their injuries. On top of that, he is on fire right now with the playoffs on the horizon, which should be a concern for the rest of the NFL. Manning places so much pressure on opposing defenses due to his ability to consistently find weakness while attacking all levels in the passing game.
Doug Kretz: I'd go with Saints QB Drew Brees, who has had to play with a depleted group of weapons. RB Reggie Bush missed four games in the middle of the season, TE Jeremy Shockey missed three games, last year's top receiver, Marques Colston, missed five games and the Saints' third-leading receiver in 2007, David Patten, missed eight games. Brees consistently does a great job of spreading the wealth around to whoever is on the field.
Ken Moll: There have been several outstanding performers that could fit the offensive MVP title, but I'll have to go with Warner. He is the most impressive player thus far, but numbers are secondary to the fact that he has led his team to a divisional championship. Warner might be one of the best stories of this season because he came to the Cardinals competing for a chance to be the starting signal-caller. Yes, he has some dynamic targets to distribute the ball to, but he has been nothing less than spectacular.
Tag Ribary: Brees is my offensive MVP because he has been consistent all season and he means so much to the Saints. Every week it seems like the Saints are forced to deal with the loss of one of their key contributors on offense, due to injury, but Brees continues to put up consistent numbers and give his team a chance. It's hard to imagine where the Saints would be without him.
Matt Williamson: Peyton Manning doesn't throw the football all over the field or put up incredible numbers that we have been accustomed to, but the Colts have won six in a row and should have no problem getting into the postseason. Manning has pulled games out in crunch time and has led his team. I can't say that I love this selection, but I don't see anyone else who really jumps out at me. Incidentally, RB Adrian Peterson would get my second-place vote, and I can't understand why no one is talking about him for this honor.
2. Who is your defensive MVP?
Horton: Harrison may be the most unblockable pass-rusher in the league. He is not real big, but he has explosiveness, excellent lower-body strength and is relentless. He has a great knack of stripping the ball out of the quarterback's hands from the back side. Because he is so dangerous on the edge, it forces offenses to alter their pass-blocking schemes, and if they double Harrison, that usually means LOLB LaMarr Woodley is single blocked, which is partly why he has 11.5 sacks. When you put together an offensive game plan versus Pittsburgh, you must account for Harrison.
Kidd: No player in the NFL has been as dominant as Haynesworth in the interior of the Titans' run defense. Everything starts up front when building a championship defense, and Haynesworth has all the physical traits and skills you look for when evaluating defensive tackles in the NFL. Offensive coordinators must account for two blockers on him in all situations, which creates mismatches for the rest of the Titans' defensive line.
Kretz: I narrowed it down to three candidates, based on production and ability to raise their teammates' play. Harrison, Haynesworth and Steelers SS Troy Polamalu all make great candidates, but I'm going with Haynesworth, who leads one of the stingiest defenses in the NFL. Interior defensive lineman rarely get the kind of attention that warrant MVP consideration, but he has simply played at a level that is impossible to ignore. He has forced offenses to plan around his skills, yet he still manages to produce at an extremely high level. Tennessee uses Haynesworth in a variety of ways, including rushing off the edge and eating up space on the inside to free up his linebackers to make plays.
Moll: I'll go with the best player on the best defense in the league: Harrison. He has had an outstanding year for the Steelers' defense, racking up 15 sacks, but has also been one of the most disruptive players in the NFL, forcing seven fumbles. His ability to rush the passer as well as make plays versus the run lets defensive coordinator Dick Lebeau have the flexibility to bring effective pressure from a variety of areas on the defense, while still playing combination man and zone coverages. Harrison has been a dominating force that offensive coordinators have to account for on every play.
Ribary: My defensive MVP would be Haynesworth. Not only is he the anchor of the Titans' defense, but he's a player who needs to be accounted for on every snap. Haynesworth plays stout against the run and is an explosive pass-rusher. The fact that he has already put up better numbers than last year is very impressive.
Williamson: Harrison is playing out of his mind and is arguably the best player on the best defense in the league. He has 15 sacks, seven forced fumbles and is nearly unblockable. His motor is tremendous and not only is he incredibly quick off the ball, but he is much stronger than many realize. He isn't very tall, but uses that to his advantage as he gets under the pads of much bigger men and pushes them all over the field. But his best attributes are his tenacity and nastiness.
3. Who is your coach of the year?
Horton: The Titans may be the most resilient team in the NFL and you just don't see a lot of highs and lows from this team, which can be directly attributed to the steady hand of coach Jeff Fisher. He made a risky quarterback change early in the season and handled QB Vince Young's saga with class. Fisher is an excellent teacher, his players love him and and he has a knack of getting his team well prepared each week. The Titans are sound in every area and what is most impressive is their plus-11 turnover differential, which is a good example of a team that pays attention to detail and plays smart football every week.
Kidd: It has to be Tony Sparano in Miami. He took over the 1-15 Dolphins last year and has them in the thick of the AFC East divisional race, which could come down to the final game of the regular season. Sparano has learned from the best and has a proven plan that works in the NFL when building a foundation that leads to championship football.
Kretz: I'm going with Fisher. He has taken a team that barely made the playoffs in 2007, won eight games in 2006 and four games in 2005 and has led them to a league-leading 12-1 record. He understands the need to unload huge contracts when necessary and knows how to rebuild a team with a good combination of youth and veteran players. To top it off, Fisher is taking this team through this magical carpet ride with their "franchise" quarterback on the bench and a career journeyman under center.
Moll: Several coaches are deserving, but I'll go with the very surprising Titans and Fisher. Most experts didn't have the Titans with a 12-1 record at this point of the season and people shouldn't underestimate the outstanding coaching job he and his staff has done. Winning games with a backup signal-caller and no explosive perimeter receivers is tough to do in this league, but the Titans rarely make mistakes or themselves and appear to be extremely focused whenever they take the field.
Ribary: Panthers coach John Fox has done an excellent job of revamping his roster and quickly adjusting to the changes in personnel to make the Panthers a playoff caliber team once again. Last year, the Panthers had one of highest turnover rates, so they were aggressive in free agency and in the draft to target the players Fox felt would get them over the hump. His plan has worked and now the Panthers are one of the best teams in the league within a short amount of time.
Williamson: Give me Mike Smith in Atlanta, but there are lot of good candidates this season. The mess he took over in Atlanta was as bad of a situation that I can remember, considering Michael Vick's and Bobby Petrino's fiascoes. Not to mention, the Falcons were simply awful on the field in 2007. Of course, GM Tom Dimitroff deserves a lot of credit for acquiring QB Matt Ryan, OT Sam Baker, MLB Curtis Lofton, RB Michael Turner and others, but Smith is getting the group to play very well on game day.
4. Based on matchups, who should have a huge game?
Horton: Both the Steelers' and Ravens' defenses play a 3-4 scheme, blitz at any time from anywhere on the field, are very physical and impose their will on opposing offenses. Baltimore has the No. 2-ranked overall defense, giving up only 253 yards per game, with a sparkling 22 interceptions. Pittsburgh is No. 1 in almost every defensive category, but the Steelers are better at sacking the quarterback rather than intercepting passes. If you want a great look inside this game, watch the two safeties, Polamalu (Pittsburgh) and Ed Reed (Baltimore). Both are the best in the league at their position, and both are capable of making game-changing plays. This will be an old-fashioned, physical December football game.
Kidd: Westbrook is the straw that stirs the drink within the Eagles' West Coast offense. Coordinator Marty Mornhinweg has really gotten Westbrook involved in the game plan over the past few weeks, which has made this offense very explosive. Defensively, you must account for him on every snap in any situation and the Eagles do a great job creating mismatches within their personnel groupings. Look for Westbrook to have a huge night on the national stage.
Kretz: I'm going to go with Redskins RB Clinton Portis. Washington is playing the Bengals this Sunday and Cincinnati's defense is starting to look like it's just going through the motions as the season winds down. The Redskins are currently on the outside of the playoff picture, but head coach Jim Zorn knows he needs his weapons hitting on all cylinders because they can't afford to lose any more games. Portis gives the Redskins their best shot at moving the chains and putting up points. Against one of the league's most porous run defenses, Portis should put up huge numbers.
Moll: I'll go with Westbrook because Cleveland has one of the worst defenses in the league and is short handed on offense, which will likely give Westbrook a chance to touch the ball often in this matchup. The Eagles have their backs against the wall and Coach Andy Reid will get it to his moneymaker a bunch in this game (both running the ball and in the passing game). When Westbrook is healthy, he is one of the most dynamic players in the league.
Ribary: I like Colts QB Peyton Manning at home against the Lions' defense. Manning has been playing extremely well and the Lions are the 31st ranked defense in the league. With all the weapons Manning has at his disposal, he can force the defense to defend all areas of the field, which should give the Lions plenty of trouble.
Williamson: I am going with the entire Eagles' offense at home against the Browns, and specifically Westbrook. Philly has a lot to play for, and the wheels are off in Cleveland. The Browns will not be able to generate an ounce of offense, and the Eagles' offense will spend around 40 minutes on the field. Westbrook is healthy and the Eagles may have finally learned their lesson to stay balanced -- which means a very long day for the Browns.
Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.
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