I always like to hand out the hardware after each quarter of the NFL season.
However, the players and teams receiving their just due better not forget that there are eight more games to be played this season.
Head Coach of the first half
Indianapolis Colts head coach Jim Caldwell
He became the first rookie head coach since Potsy Clark in 1931 (Portsmouth Spartans started 8-0) to start the season 7-0. Caldwell has done a great job keeping a veteran group of players on track despite numerous injuries.
In speaking of his team’s 7-0 start and tying Clark’s record, Caldwell said, “They’re not handing out anything for whatever record that is. We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us.” You gotta love that type of attitude.
Honorable Mention: Minnesota Vikings head coach Brad Childress, Denver Broncos head coach Josh McDaniels, and New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton
Offensive Player of the first half
Indianapolis Colts QB Peyton Manning
Robo-quarterback (187-of-263, 2,227 yards—second in NFL, 15 TDs, four INTs, and a 109.3 rating) has his team poised for their Week 10 marquee matchup with the New England Patriots. The Colts have a record of 7-0 and have won a franchise record 16 straight games going back to 2008.
The three-time MVP (may soon be four) has thrown for over 300 yards in all but one of the Colts’ seven wins and has made household names of obscure receivers Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie. With 19 passing yards in Week Nine against the Houston Texans, Manning will become the first player in NFL history with 40,000 passing yards in one decade.
Defensive Player of the first half
New Orleans Saints Safety Darren Sharper
What an incredible season for this recently turned 34-year-old former free agent pickup from the Vikings. The Saints are undefeated (7-0), and it has been their defense that has led the way—first in the NFL with six turnovers returned for touchdowns.
Sharper looks like he is sure to be selected to his fifth Pro Bowl as he currently boasts stats of 26 TKLS, 0.5 sacks, seven INTs (three for TDs), and 10 passes defensed.
Honorable Mention: Vikings DE Jared Allen, Eagles CB Asante Samuel, and Colts DE Dwight Freeney
Breakout Player of the first half
Cowboys WR Miles Austin
One of the 2009 NFL season’s best stories, Austin, coming from tiny Monmouth (NJ) College, has risen from a special teamer to finally getting his shot this season.
In a Week Six win over the Chiefs, Austin produced 10 catches for a franchise-record 250 yards and two TDs (both 50-yard-plus bombs) while saving the Cowboys’ hides with a 60-yard, tackle-breaking, game-winning TD reception in overtime. Austin then proved the Chiefs game was no fluke in a Week Seven win over the Atlanta Falcons (team-best six catches for 171 yards and two TDs).
Out of nowhere Austin and his eye-popping numbers (26 catches for 563 yards, 21.7 YPC average, and six TDs) have moved former starter Patrick Crayton to the bench—and almost everyone watching the Cowboys would agree that Austin and not disgruntled WR Roy Williams is Tony Romo’s No. 1 pass-catching option.
Honorable Mention: Eagles WR DeSean Jackson, Niners TE Vernon Davis, Texans RB Ryan Moats, Eagles TE Brent Celek, and Broncos DE Elvis Dumervil
Offensive Rookie of the first half
Minnesota Vikings WR/KR Percy Harvin
An explosive player that can beat you a variety of ways (wildcat QB, kickoff returns, in the slot, and out wide), Harvin is one of the main reasons for veteran quarterback Brett Favre’s rebirth. Though not the biggest guy on the field (5'10", 190), this former Gator has game-breaking skills that have made Vikings head coach Brad Childress extremely excited.
Harvin’s incredible numbers truly do show his versatility (28 catches for 369 yards, 13.2 YPC, and three TDs; eight rushes for 39 yards; and 28 kickoff returns for 860 yards, 30.7 YPR, and two TDs, including a magical 101-yard return for a touchdown against the Ravens in Week Six).
Honorable Mention: Denver Broncos RB Knowshon Moreno, Philadelphia Eagles WR Jeremy Maclin, Baltimore Ravens OT Michael Oher, and Chicago Bears WR Johnny Knox
Defensive Rookie of the first half
Buffalo Bills Safety Jairus Byrd
This former second-rounder from Oregon has been a regular starter at free safety and has made a huge impact on one of the NFL’s most underrated defenses.
In Week Eight, the October Rookie of the Month picked off two more passes against the Houston Texans, tying an NFL record with three straight games of at least two interceptions (first rookie). Byrd now has seven INTs in eight games (tied for NFL lead) and is inching closer to Mark Carrier’s rookie record of 10 picks.
Honorable Mention: Houston Texans LB Brian Cushing, Detroit Lions S Louis Delmas, Green Bay Packers LB Clay Matthews, and St. Louis Rams LB James Laurinaitis
Comeback Player of the first half
Denver Broncos Safety Brian Dawkins
I wonder if the Eagles front office wants to rethink their contract negotiation strategy with Dawkins from this past offseason. The Broncos, youthful head coach Josh McDaniels, and new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan all thought that the 14-year veteran had more left in the tank, and they were right.
Dawkins (36) has more than rewarded the Broncos for their faith, as they have gotten off to an AFC West-leading 6-1 start, and the seven-time Pro Bowl player has been the quarterback of the Broncos defense (leads the NFL with 266.7 yards allowed per game). Dawk’s stats thus far are 46 tackles, seven passes defensed, and two fumble recoveries.
Honorable Mention: Minnesota Vikings QB Brett Favre, Philadelphia Eagles MLB Will Witherspoon, Tampa Bay Buccaneers TE Kellen Winslow, and Minnesota Vikings WR Sidney Rice.
Team of the first half
New Orleans Saints
The NFC’s lone unbeaten team (7-0), the Saints are putting up record numbers offensively. Sean Payton’s team has scored an NFL-best 36 touchdowns—tied for the third most through the first seven games in league history—and they don’t look they are going to slow down anytime soon.
While averaging an amazing NFL-leading 39 points and 428.7 yards per game, quarterback Drew Brees is on pace for another 4,500-yard plus season, and 11 different Saints players have scored at least one rushing or receiving touchdown this season (led by WR Marques Colston—six TDs).
The Saints have had success running the football too, as they lead the NFC with an average of 153.3 rush yards per game.
On defense, new coordinator Gregg Williams has brought some swagger to a unit that struggled allowing big plays in the past, and their numbers show it (154 points allowed, 17 sacks, and plus-seven in turnover ratio).
Honorable Mention: Indianapolis Colts, Denver Broncos, and Minnesota Vikings
Most Disappointing Player of the first half
Dallas Cowboys WR Roy Williams
It has been one year since the Cowboys traded for the former Lions star, and he has not lived up to expectations, to say the least. Since joining the Cowboys 16 games ago, Williams’ numbers are nowhere near what was expected of him when the Cowboys gave up a No. 1 draft pick for him (33 receptions, 447 yards, three touchdowns).
Williams only has 14 catches for 249 yards and two TDs this season, and I don’t want to hear any excuses about his ribs.
Clearly breakout player Miles Austin has passed him as the Cowboys' go-to receiver, and the former University of Texas star better work on regaining the confidence of QB Tony Romo and dropping fewer passes (just 14 catches on 35 targets—40 percent catch rate).
The delusional Williams said of him being the Cowboys' No. 1 receiver, “It’s just not even close. It’s not even funny. Not even close. I’m the No. 1 receiver. But things are just going No. 2’s way.”
Dishonorable Mention: Oakland Raiders QB JaMarcus Russell, Cleveland Browns QB Derek Anderson, and Tennessee Titans QB Kerry Collins
Most Disappointing Team of the first half
The NFL’s most dysfunctional team becomes a greater laughingstock weekly. The Redskins (2-5) have lost to formerly winless teams the Kansas City Chiefs (1-6), Carolina Panthers (3-4), and Detroit Lions (1-6).
Their offense is only averaging 13.7 points per game this season and hasn’t scored more than 17 in any game despite playing facing six consecutive winless opponents (first team in NFL history). They are 4-11 in their last 15 games, and owner Daniel Snyder inserted offensive consultant Sherman Lewis (hasn’t coached in the NFL in over five years) to call the plays over dead man walking head coach Jim Zorn.
You have to feel for a defensive group that has allowed only 283.4 yards per game to rank second in the NFC, but this team is in need of a house cleaning at the end of the season. Stay tuned, as something stinks in the Nation’s Capital, and it has nothing to do with politics.
Dishonorable Mention: Oakland Raiders, Cleveland Browns, Jacksonville Jaguars, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA).