* The Miami Dolphins are having a better year than some people expected, especially after the Martin-Incognito situation. One of the keys has been a stingy defense. Miami is only 20th in yards allowed, but they are 8th in points allowed. They are tied for 9th in the NFL in sacks with 42.
Cam Wake is having a good year and has 8.5 sacks. He draws a lot of attention so that total is misleading. Olivier Vernon has 11.5 sacks and has been a revelation this year. He’s showing the potential to be a complete DE.
Some people have wondered if the emergence of Vernon could make rookie Dion Jordan expendable in the offseason. I doubt it. Wake will turn 32 in January. He’s still a good player now, but only has limited time left as a top rusher. Vernon is young and is now a key part of the future. Jordan has been quiet as a rookie, but he’s still got a bright future. As the Giants proved in 2007 and 2011, you can never have too many pass rushers.
* Skins ILB London Fletcher is going to retire after Sunday’s game. Fletcher has had a great career. The first thing to discuss is longevity. Fletcher was a rookie in 1998. Think about that for a moment. 1998. I was using my first computer. It was a crappy Compaq that I spent almost $2000 on. It ran on Windows ’95 and had a dial-up connection. That made downloading the Pam & Tommy video a lengthy, frustrating process. But I digress.
Fletcher didn’t just play a long time. He played really well. Fletcher has 39 sacks, 20 FFs and 23 INTs in his career. Ray Lewis had 41.5 sacks, 19 FFs and 31 INTs. Brian Urlacher had 41.5 sacks, 12 FFs and 22 INTs. Fletcher doesn’t come across as that much of a playmaker, but he really is.
The highlight game for me came a few years back. Eagles C Jamaal Jackson, who was 330 pounds (or more), went to block Fletcher. Bad idea. Fletcher shed the block easily and went and tackled the RB. Later in the game Fletcher covered RB Brian Westbrook down the sideline on a wheel route. He was stride for stride with Westbrook. How do you beat a man who can best your giant and your most gifted skill player?
Kudos to Fletcher for a great career. You can argue whether he was ever a great player or whether he should go to the HOF, but you can’t argue with his durability and his career production. In that regard, he’s special.
* It is almost certain that Lions coach Jim Schwartz will be fired. Who should they hire to replace him?
I think the Lions should look for a Mike McCoy or Bruce Arians type. Those coaches were veteran NFL assistants who didn’t need to rebuild a team from the ground up. They had talent to work with and were able to fix some key problems and get immediate results.
The Lions have plenty of talent. They need the right guy to run the team, but they don’t need a complete overhaul. Pete Carmichael of the Saints and Jay Gruden of the Bengals would be a couple of interesting names.
If the Lions want to roll the dice on a defensive coach, Mike Zimmer could be a great hire. He’s not the safest guy for some teams because Zimmer tends to speak his mind and that could be “interesting” in the right media market. Detroit doesn’t have an adversarial press and the Lions aren’t the key to the city. Zimmer could fit that situation.
Schwartz did some good things for the Lions. He got that franchise turned around and made them relevant. The problem is that he couldn’t get them to perform at a consistent level. The team lacked discipline. When things were good, they could be very good. But when things went wrong, they could go very wrong.
* Thomas Davis has had a great year for the Carolina Panthers. Luke Kuechly and Greg Hardy are the headliners on the defense, but Davis is still a key player for them. He’s got 117 total tackles, 4 sacks, 1 FF, 2 INTs, 8 PDs and 9 TFLs on the year. That is a complete LB.
Davis is a physical presence for the defense. He’s been that way going all the way back to his days at Georgia. Davis is one of the most physical, rugged players I ever scouted. He was flat out mean. And a joy to watch.
It is great that he’s overcome a horrible injury situation to have a great season and help the Panthers get back to the playoffs for the first time since 2008.
* Where is RB Chris Johnson going to be next year? It’s hard to believe he ran for 2,000 yards back in 2009 and now is largely irrelevant. He had 34 rushing TDs in his first 3 years. He’s got 15 in the last 3 seasons.
Johnson would be an interesting player in the right offense. He would be interesting in Indy and Atlanta. I don’t know about the logistics of those situations, but each team could use a RB with speed and big play ability.
* How the heck does Hakeem Nicks have no TDs?
* The Cowboys OL has been a mess in recent years, but there is real hope moving forward. Tyron Smith is becoming a great LT. He is a gifted pass protector. I love the fact that he doesn’t have to sell out to block edge rushers. He cam move backward in a balanced fashion, which keeps rushers from taking a hard inside move. Smith is also an excellent run blocker.
Rookie C Travis Frederick has proven to be a good player. You can still argue whether or not he was worth a 1st round pick, but the guy can play.
The line still needs help, but those are 2 young building blocks and that’s a good start.