Short-yardage passing had a good year, except at the end of the Super Bowl. We look at the return of quarterback runs, the rise in pass-happy strategy, and 2014 success rates for offense and defense.
02 Jan 2008
by Michael David Smith
After a year of watching tape, it's time for the annual Every Play Counts All-Pro Team.
Tom Brady, Patriots
Brian Westbrook, Eagles
I agonized over this selection. When you consider the circumstances, I actually think LaDainian Tomlinson had a better season in 2007 than he did in 2006. Tomlinson lead the league in rushing and became the first player since Barry Sanders in 1994 to finish a season with 300 or more touches and zero fumbles, and he did it with a new coaching staff, a weaker offensive line and a quarterback who regressed.
So why do I choose Westbrook? Mostly because of his consistency. Westbrook had a better Success Rate than Tomlinson, and there were a couple of games this season when teams figured out how to stop L.T., whereas Westbrook had more than 90 total yards from scrimmage in all 15 games he played.
Lawrence Vickers, Browns
Vickers is a very physical blocker, and he's also a smart player who knows where to find holes and where he'll need to be to pick up blitzes. He's only 24 and in his second season, and most people haven't heard his name yet, but recognition is coming.
Antonio Gates, Chargers
A fairly easy decision. Gates leads all NFL tight ends in DPAR. The next best guy, Jason Witten, had a better quarterback passing to him, and a much better No. 1 receiver drawing coverage. Nobody else is close. I'm amazed to find myself saying this about a 27-year-old who didn't even play college football, but Gates is the best tight end of his generation and a serious injury is the only thing that will keep him out of the Hall of Fame.
Terrell Owens, Cowboys
Randy Moss, Patriots
I considered picking someone, like maybe Pittsburgh's Santonio Holmes, who played in an offense that wasn't as conducive to the No. 1 receiver putting up gaudy numbers. But ultimately, there's just no way not to pick either Owens or Moss, who had amazing seasons even though they're on the wrong side of 30.
Joe Thomas, Browns
Jason Peters, Bills
This is the second straight season that I've chosen a rookie tackle for my All-Pro team. Last year it was Marcus McNeill of the Chargers, and this year I've been disappointed in McNeill's effort. I don't think Thomas will have a similar sophomore slump though. Thomas has everything you look for in a tackle: strength, toughness, good technique and a mean streak.
If there was any doubt how important Peters was to the Bills' offense, that doubt was completely erased during Week 16 against the Giants, when Peters was lost with an injury and the Bills' offense completely fell apart.
Chris Snee, Giants
Logan Mankins, Patriots
These are easy choices. I was skeptical of Snee in 2004, when the Giants drafted him, because he's Tom Coughlin's son-in-law. But he's as close to a perfect run-blocking guard as I've seen. Mankins struggled when the Ravens ran a lot of stunts and twists, but in terms of just lining up and blocking the guy in front of him, he's phenomenal.
Dan Koppen, Patriots
I don't think there's a great center in the NFL right now, but Koppen is the closest thing because he's a good pass blocker and has the strength to push the middle of the line in short-yardage situations.
Kelly Gregg, Ravens
Albert Haynesworth, Titans
I vacillated on the Haynesworth choice. Yes, he missed three games and was playing at less than 100 percent in a few others. But when healthy he was the best defensive tackle in football by such a large margin that I felt I had to include him in the All-Pro team.
I didn't have any trouble choosing Gregg, who had his best season. The Ravens' defense has declined against the pass, but it was as good as ever against the run this year, and Gregg was the biggest reason for that.
Jared Allen, Chiefs
Trent Cole, Eagles
I don't feel great about choosing Allen, who missed two games because he was suspended for repeated drunk driving arrests. But the fact is, when the guy is on the field he's just plain awesome.
I'm extremely surprised that Cole, who had 12.5 sacks and has stepped up nicely to fill the void created by the decline of Jevon Kearse, didn't make the Pro Bowl. In fact, my second-favorite NFC defensive end, Marques Douglas of the 49ers, didn't make the Pro Bowl either.
Allen and Cole were the only defensive linemen in the league with more than 30 Defeats, a stat combining turnovers, plays for lost yardage, and plays that prevent conversions on third or fourth down.
Patrick Willis, 49ers
Willis, the 49ers' first-round draft pick, is a great athlete and a sure tackler, and as the season wore on I thought he got better at fighting off blocks on running plays up the middle. There aren't many reasons for optimism on the 49ers' roster, but Willis is the kind of player a defense can be built around.
Michael Boley, Falcons
DeMarcus Ware, Cowboys
One of the things I like about Boley is that on passing plays, he's about equally effective either blitzing or dropping into coverage. That makes it awfully hard for opposing offenses to game-plan for him.
Ware is mostly a blitzer, but I'm really amazed by his speed, his ability to track down running backs from all over the field. I can't remember the last time I watched a Cowboys game and didn't see Ware catching someone from behind.
Bob Sanders, Colts
Jermaine Phillips, Buccaneers
Is there anyone left who thinks Dwight Freeney is the best player on the Colts' defense? Last season the Colts were without Sanders and with Freeney for most of the year. The defense fell apart when Sanders was out and was a totally different unit when he returned. This season the Colts were without Freeney and with Sanders for most of the year. The defense has been great, with or without the league's highest-paid defensive player.
Phillips doesn't make as many highlight-reel hits as Sanders, but I love the way he shuts down opposing tight ends in pass coverage, and the way he helps out in run support.
Rod Hood, Cardinals
Asante Samuel, Patriots
I thought Hood was going to be my sleeper pick, but he's less of a sleeper now that the FO game charters have pointed out how good he is. Hood is a great athlete and a ballhawk, and although interception returns aren't exactly the kind of thing a defense can count on year after year, I love the way he immediately begins to look like a running back when he gets the ball in his hands. (He had five interceptions and 196 return yards, with two touchdowns.)
Samuel, of course, is going to get ridiculously rich this off-season. He'll be one of the most sought-after free agents in league history.
Rob Bironas, Titans
It was a tough year to pick a kicker, but Bironas gets the nod based on the best overall combination of kickoff distance, field goal distance and field goal accuracy.
Andy Lee, 49ers
Lee has the strongest leg in the NFL, and he also does a fairly good job of keeping his punts out of the end zone, with 42 punts inside the 20-yard line and 13 touchbacks. The 49ers just hope that in the future, they won't have to use him so often.
Joshua Cribbs, Browns
Cribbs is speedy, but it's not his sheer athleticism that I love, it's his field vision and intelligence. A college quarterback, Cribbs is probably the best I've ever seen at fielding a kickoff and using that first 20 yards or so before the opposing kickoff team gets downfield to read the coverage and find openings. Although I think the Bears' Devin Hester is a better pure athlete than Cribbs, on kickoffs I think Cribbs does a slightly better job of making plays.
Devin Hester, Bears
148 comments, Last at 13 Jan 2008, 9:40pm by brandon