As millions of Americans rested from their feast on various Thanksgiving dinner goodies Robert Griffin the 3rd gave all of us a reason to not take that well needed nap before desert. In a mere five days the rookie from Baylor provided two flawless victories over divisional opponents. It’s a feat that even the most seasoned of quarterbacks would struggle to complete and yet this kid didn’t seem the least bit phased by the challenge. In fact it appeared as if we were all in for a little early piece of pie.
Immediately after Santana Moss caught Griffin’s third touchdown of the first half (Brandon Carr is still trying to find the ball) I began to wonder if we were watching another candidate throw his hat into the ring for the most valuable player award. All of my thoughts led me down the road to this question: What exactly would it take for the national media pundits who vote for the award to grow a set and select a rookie as the most valuable player in the entire league?
This is indeed a classic what if question as there is still more than a month left in the regular season and opinions on players in the NFL change on an ADHD level week to week, yet I still don’t think that putting Robert Griffin III on the top of a piece of paper labeled “Most Valuable Player award” is that far off.
There are obviously a lot of factors that can and probably will detour voters from making the boldest choice in the history of MVP voting. Peyton Manning is the better story as he is going to be the poster boy of the Broncos divisional title, even though he has a potential defensive player of the year on his team (more on the sophomore phenom in a minute). Tom Brady looks as though he’s on pace to match his 2010 MVP stat line, if you recall that was the year of Michael Vick’s comeback. For two months the race appeared to be neck and neck, but the chatter around voting for Vick died after the Tuesday night stinker in week 16 against the Vikings.
The other signal caller in this discussion is Matt Ryan.
Because this is kind of an odd year in which no one has started to run away with the award, defensive players have earned the right to join the discussion. There are three defensive players who should probably receive some consideration J.J Watt, Von Miller (I didn’t forget about him), and Aldon Smith. Here’s the problem with voting for either of these players: our perception of quarterbacks have vastly overshadowed every position so much that it’s hard to see that teams have actually begun to game plan around J.J Watt because he has become such a problem for offensive coordinators.
It’s actually frightening how good Von Miller has been in his sophomore season. He’s emerged as the heart and soul of the 4th best defense in the league (in terms of yardage). His 14 sacks rank third in the NFL behind only Watt (14.5) and Smith (16.5). Stats only tell so much of the story however, if you want to see how influential he is to Denver’s defense watch the tape of the Carolina game from week 10 on game rewind.
On Sunday, Smith passed Reggie White as the fastest player to reach 30 sacks in NFL history (White did it in 28 games, Smith did it in 27). It’s a ridiculous feat for the 23 year old second year player out of Missouri. Perhaps it’s even more amazing that he’s become the best player on a defense that features Patrick Willis at middle linebacker. If he keeps this sack pace up (he averages 1.5 sacks per game), he’ll break Michael Strahan’s record of 22.5 sacks in 2001. The best part is Smith won’t need Brett Farve to fall down for him to complete the record (Smith would finish with 24 sacks if he stays on this pace).
Here’s what I think the perception in terms of MVP voting will be of those three defensive players at the end of the season: J.J Watt will somehow be undervalued unless he wins the sack title because Andre Johnson has become the media’s face of the Texans. Von Miller is stuck in Peyton Manning’s shadow. Aldon Smith is different though. The 49ers identity lies within their defense and if Smith can break Strahan’s record and the Niners end up with the top seed in the NFC I think there could be a real case made for Smith especially if none of the usual suspects (Brady and Manning) run away with the award in the last month.
The odds of Smith joining Lawrence Taylor (’86) and Alan Page (’71) as the only defensive players to win the award are around .04 percent right now, so that leaves us with four realistic candidates:
Tom Brady: If it appears that Brady is having an eerily similar season to his 2010 MVP campaign you haven’t stepped into a time machine an entered a world in which Black Thursday still takes place on Friday. Here are Brady’s stats through his first 11 games of that 2010 season and his stats through 11 games this season(in order the stats are completion percentage/passing yards/ and TD-INT ratio, in my opinion QB rating is a flawed stat so I will not be using it in any column):
2010: 67.3%/2,703yds/23-4, 1 rushing TD
2012: 65.1%/3,299yds/24-3, 3 rushing TDs
His voting was aided by the Patriots sparkling 14-2 regular season record that gave them the number one seed in the AFC, but I don’t know, maybe more credit should have been given to the eleven guys on the other side of the ball? After all they did finish the 2010 regular season eighth in points allowed per game (19.6), second in defensive TDs (5), and they led the league in interceptions (25). That was way back when Devin McCourty was a pro bowl corner with a ton upside, man those were the days.
Through the first eleven games this season the Patriots are second in the league in defensive TDs (5), fifth in interceptions (14), and 13th in points per game (22.2). Brady does it all by himself doesn’t he?
Peyton Manning: I think this is the year that Manning takes home his 5th MVP trophy and we begin to discuss naming the award after him. The storyline is just too good for most to pass up, which is okay with me because it means that Adrian Peterson will win the comeback player of the year award even though he only missed one game last season.
Let’s compare Manning’s stats of this season to his last MVP season in 2009:
With the Broncos running away with the division it sure feels like Manning is beginning to gain momentum at the right time needed to win the award, but don’t forget how important the defense has been to the Broncos success. As I stated above Von Miller is a potential defensive player of the year and possibly MVP candidate in his own right. Denver is third in forced fumbles this season (15) and they lead the league in sacks (37).
Matt Ryan: Remember when this season looked like it was going to be the year that Joe Flacco emerged as a member of the media created elite quarterback club? Well Matt Ryan photoshopped his name on Flacco’s invitation to the club and walked in without getting his ID checked at the door. He was almost thrown out when he dropped five shots at the bar, but the bouncer decided that everyone makes mistakes so he let him stay.
That five interception game in week 11 against the Cardinals plummeted Ryan’s MVP stock quicker than Apple a couple weeks ago. What once looked like a sure thing has now become a true toss up due to a combination of bad decisions and bad luck. Out of all of the MVP candidates Ryan has one number that grabs attention for all of the wrong reasons. Let’s see if you can point it out (I triple whammed it with a BIU (bold, italicized, underline):
In the 54 years that the MVP award has been given out only once has a quarterback thrown five interceptions in a game and won the trophy, Boomer Esiason in 1988.
There is one last candidate that I believe could sneak into the race, become a fan favorite darkhorse, and then make voters think long and hard (cue Peter Griffin laughing) about the perception of the word value. Before I name the last candidate let me run down a list of players that it is not:
Aaron Rodgers– The whatever the hell that was game this past Sunday in New York crushed any hopes Rodgers had of repeating. The 80s porn star mustache didn’t help his case even though it did provide the subject for a great tweet. It was along the lines of if NBC pipes in salsa music for Victor Cruz, why isn’t porno music played when Rodgers throws a touchdown pass?
Eli Manning- Look at his game log in weeks 8-10, ouch.
Adrian Peterson- Minnesota needed to win the NFC North for this to happen and their lethargic performance this past Sunday at Soldier Field killed any chance of Peterson ending the reign of MVP QBs.
Jay Cutler- I’ve supported Cutler through thick and thin because of his ability to throw passes that no one else in the league would even dare to try. I do think that he plays a huge role in energizing the Bears, but please do not tell me that he is more valuable that Charles Tillman, Tim Jennings, the artist formally known as Brian Urlacher, and the rest of the third ranked defense in the league.
So without further ado, the other candidate is…
Robert Griffin the 3rd! (If you didn’t see that coming why have you spent so much time reading all of this?)
Let me get this out of the way before I make the argument for him, the Redskins would have to win their last five games and win the NFC East for this seemly preposterous scenario to unfold. Their remaining schedule isn’t exactly murderer’s row:
Week 13 vs. NY Giants: Remember how exciting that week 7 battle was between the ‘Skins and Giants? Remember how Washington was one blown coverage play away from potentially beating the Giants 23-21? This is the Redskins toughest test down the stretch of the regular season.
Week 14 vs. Baltimore: The Ravens’ slow starts on offense are eventually going to catch up to them and this could very well be the week that John Harbaugh can’t escape dodge with a W.
Week 15 @ Cleveland: The Browns have played surprisingly good football in the last two weeks. They should have beaten Dallas in Jerryworld, but when you’re the Browns a moral victory is just as good as a W. Could be a sneaky tough game, but the Redskins should win.
Week 16 @ Philadelphia: The Eagles are nothing more than a doormat right now. If you put Philly and Kansas City on a neutral field right now I would put a paycheck on the Chiefs.
Week 17 vs. Dallas: Rob Ryan had no answer for RG3 on Thanksgiving, with a playoff spot and potentially the division on the line for the ‘Skins I can totally envision the ‘Boys coming up short yet again. Can’t you?
The key game in the stretch is the Monday nighter next week against the Giants as it would not only give Washington a sparkling 4-0 record against divisional opponents, but it would force the Giants to win two out of three games with these teams coming up in weeks 14-16: New Orleans(home), Atlanta (road, Matt Ryan has only lost four regular season games in the Georgia Dome), Baltimore (road). New York wraps the season up in Philadelphia, fitting way for Andy to go out eh?
Black Jesus has not only become a problem for every defensive coordinator, he’s especially become a thorn in the side of the three defensive coordinators in the NFC East. In one game against each of his divisional rivals Griffin has combined for a 78.7 completion percentage, 769 passing yards, 202 rushing yards, and an eye popping 10-2 touchdown to interception ratio. He did lose one fumble against the Giants.
If the most valuable player award is supposed to be given to a player that provides the most value to his franchise, how can Griffin not be a consideration right now? He’s raised his level of play against what is supposed to be his toughest competition. Thanks to the help of the Shanahan’s, Griffin has made the Redskins a team that opponents with hopes of making the playoffs don’t want to face. Most importantly he’s taken the team on his back after the loss of potential all-pro linebacker Brian Orakpo way back in week 2.
Griffin has transformed a team that has no business being in contention for the playoffs, to a team that is one win away from making things very, very interesting in a division that his team had no business contending for when the season began. The Redskins currently rank 28th in total team defense, while the Broncos are currently 4th in the same chart. Sure the Patriots might be 27th, but their lethal ability to take the ball away and score on defense and special teams gives Tom Brady chances to take shots against defenses that have had their spirits broken. Griffin has to break the spirits of defenses.
Through 11 games here are Griffin’s stats:
67.5/2,504/16-4/99 rushing attempts-642 yards 6 TDs/ 2 fumbles
The magical number there is four as the last two MVPs (Brady & Rodgers) finished the season with four interceptions. Griffin is such a different animal because of his ability to move the ball on the ground. Michael Vick is the only quarterback in the history of the league to rush for over 1,000 yards in a season (1,039 on 123 attempts with 6 touchdowns on a 7-9 Falcons team in 2006), however look at Vick’s passing stats that year: 52.6/2,474/20-13. Pedestrian at best.
Griffin is currently on pace to finish the season with a 68.1 completion percentage, 3,710 passing yards, a 24-6 TD-INT ratio, 960 yards on 144 attempts (the most ever by a quarterback), 9 rushing touchdowns, and 3 lost fumbles.
So if we combine the passing and rushing touchdowns and turnovers we’re looking at a player with a 33-9 touchdown to turnover ratio that has accounted for 4,670 yards of total offense. Let’s compare that to the projected final stats of the other MVP candidates based on their season averages:
Peyton Manning 68.3/4,741/38-12
Tom Brady: 65.7/4,798/35-4
Matt Ryan: 68.4/4,982/31-19
Robert Griffin III: 68.1/4,670/33-9
It’s hard for the eyes to not immediately look at the four in Tom Brady’s line. Four interceptions in 612 projected pass attempts is just absurd, but we’ve seen this storyline with Brady before. We’ve seen this same old song and dance with Ryan before only this time with better numbers. Manning is the favorite because of the two year long injury storyline and the performance of the Broncos through eleven games this season.
Yet Griffin is changing the way that we view the mobile quarterback. He’s the first of his kind, he can extend plays with his legs; Shanahan draws up read option plays for Griffin to advance the ball on the ground, but what sets him apart from the rest is his ability to make great decisions when airing the ball out to his mediocre group of receivers. He made Leonard Hankerson a fantasy waver wire add this year. He vaulted Pierre Garcon into breakout territory before the former Colt missed six games with an injured foot.
Merriam Webster’s second definition of valuable is: having desirable or esteemed characteristics or qualities. The energy of RG3 has engulfed the locker room of the Redskins in a way that no one could have ever imagined. Sure there is still time for the rookie wall to suddenly appear on the field and stop Griffin’s Adidas’ in his tracks, but there is also the chance that five weeks from now we’re debating if the award should go to the guy who has had the greatest comeback season in history, or the guy who has already begun to change the way we view the quarterback position.
Who would you vote for?
Thanks to pro-football-reference.com for all of the stats.
Follow me on twitter @scottdargis.
Email me firstname.lastname@example.org