Yesterday was the offence, now Lauren Draper-Wood gives you the verdict on the other side of the ball, and her opinion on who ran the winner close.
Luke Kuechly, LB Carolina Panthers
On Saturday the NFL announced Panther linebacker Luke Kuechly to be the Defensive Player of the Year; this just a year after he won Rookie of the Year award. Unlike the Offensive award however this wasn’t such a cut and dry decision. Kuechly took the award with 1.5 more votes than Colts Linebacker Robert Mathis. It’s easy to overlook players on the defence; after all, they do the dirty work whilst the offense gets the points and the glory. But as the saying goes; offense win games, the defence wins championships.
Over the season Kuechly made 96 tackles, 2 sacks and had 4 INT’s, stats that aren’t table topping at all. What Kuechly did though was drive a Panthers defence throughout the year to make them the second best defence in the league. Allowing a miserly 300 yards and 15 points per game they can be bettered only by the Seahawks who on the back of their Super Bowl victory look like a record setting D. After a 7-9 season in 2012 and a 1-3 start to 2013 it would have been hard to foresee the Panthers making a postseason run and least of all Kuechly making the step from rookie to pro bowler.
You could argue this award was won purely on Kuechly’s week 16 destruction of New Orleans Saints. With 9 tackles, 15 assisted tackles and an interception he had easily his best game in his short Panthers career and helped ensure the team clinched their division.
My personal vote would’ve been for Robert Quinn of the St Louis Rams. With 19 sacks and 57 combined tackles the DE was a dominant threat against any offense he faced. He can be explosive when pass rushing but is equally impressive when defending the run. The fact he plays for a mediocre 7-9 Rams team cost him in the same way it cost JJ Watts for playing for the awful 2-14 Texans. Watts is possibly the most admired defenseman currently playing within the NFL and his eagerness and desire to close down the rush at any given opportunity is commendable, particularly when there wasn’t support elsewhere within the team!
It was disappointing to see 49ers Navarro Bowman not receive a single vote. A case could be fought that Bowman was the best Linebacker in the league this year and not Kuechly. The 49ers Linebacker made 145 tackles, 5 sacks, 2 interceptions and a quite brilliant return to score vs. Atlanta Falcons. When the 49ers lost Patrick Willis for a couple of games in the early season, Bowman stepped up and didn’t ease off until going down injured in the Championship game vs. Seahawks. With Bowman looking at a substantial stretch on IR an acknowledgment of just 1 or 2 people of the heroic season he had would’ve been apt to say the least.
We’ve yet to mention Colts DE Robert Mathis who marginally lost out to Kuechly. Mathis ability is easily lost within a team dominated by their impressive young QB- Andrew Luck. Mathis topped the sack stats this year with 19.5 and had 64 combined tackles. Tom Brady was quoted saying ‘You try to put guys around him and double-team him, but he still seems to be making all the plays’. High praise indeed from one of the finest QB’s in NFL history.
So with huge sacks and copious tackles by Mathis, Wattt and Bowman, what gave Kuechly the edge? Kuechly is a great talent and possibly the best young defenseman in the league, but winning the award has more to do with his insane week 16 game and the fact he’s been imperative in the overturning of the Panthers abilities. With a Rookie of the Year and now Defensive Player of the Year awards now sitting on his shelf the pressure will be on to improve for a third successive year.