No use burying the lead: Charles Woodson is the Defensive Player of the Year right now.
Six weeks ago it was probably Jared Allen, and 10 weeks ago it was probably Darren Sharper. You could make a case for Elvis Dumervil, James Harrison, and Dwight Freeney over the course of the season as well. We will consider them all here.
Statistics are important, but they aren’t everything (although we will look at them). A player like Bills safety Jairus Byrd, who leads the NFL in interceptions, gets no consideration here because his team is terrible. In order to win DPOY on a mediocre team, your performance has to be so outstanding that it has rarely been duplicated, or you have to single-handedly pull your team together and get them a playoff spot.
Based on that criterion, James Harrison ought to be out as well because the Steelers have lost 5 straight games, with terrible losses to the Chiefs, Raiders, and Browns. Ever since Troy Polamalu went down, this defense has not been the same, and that does not reflect well on Harrison’s case.
Unlike the MVP, the DPOY has to come from a top defense. Vince Young and/or Chris Johnson would have rightfully garnered MVP votes had they reeled off 10 straight wins and snuck into the playoffs. In that case, the MVP could have come from a mediocre team.
That can’t be the case for DPOY.
It is of the utmost important that this player comes from an elite, not just good, defense. For the sake of this argument that will mean meeting two criteria: your team must be in the top 10 in the league in a statistical category you account for, and a top 10 defense overall.
That means Sharper and Freeney are both out.
True, the Colts rely on pressure upfront to hide their inexperience in the secondary, and the Saints rely on takeaways to make up for the fact that their defense is just mediocre.
However, neither is having what you’d call a dominating year. Darren Sharper was unbelievable to start the year with a couple signature performances, but he has been pretty average since his bye with just three interceptions in the last nine games.
In my mind that leaves us where we ought to be, with the three best defensive players in football right now: Woodson, Allen, and Dumervil.
Getting back to the first of two critera it seems these three wash. Woodson is second in the NFL in picks, with the Packers second in the league at intercepting opposing quarterbacks.
Allen ranks second in the NFL in sacks, while his Vikings lead the league in taking down QB’s.
Dumervil leads the league in sacks (by a comfortable margin) and the Broncos are fifth in sacks.
But if you look at the impact these players have on their defense as a whole, Woodson begins to separate himself.
Points Passing Rushing Total
Packers 9th 3rd 4th 1st
Vikings 10th 21st 2nd 8th
Broncos 3rd 2nd 16th 3rd
Without a top 10 pass-rush (by sack totals), the Packers still manage a top-5 ranking in passing yards allowed, not to mention the first overall defensive spot, which certainly must assert particular value.
And when you consider the talent of the Bronco’s offense, the fact that this defense has the numbers it does, becomes staggering. In terms of team defense, the advantage here stands with Woodson, as Dumervil and Allen follow in that order.
Team stats are one thing, but this is an individual award so the player’s stats are also, but not equally important. Just being the best player on the best defense does not qualify you to be player of the year necessarily.
However, I believe it is important to understand Woodson is the best player on the top ranked defense in the NFL.
Allen: 38 Tackles, 12.5 Sacks, one INT, three FF
Dumervil: 42 Tackles, 15 Sacks, three FF
Woodson: 58 Tackles, two Sacks, seven Int’s, 4 FF, two TDs
These statistics are important, but to understand who has the most impressive stats, we have to add additional context and they will be revisited in terms of the next two categories.
A couple big games does not a Defensive Player of the Year make. Ted Ginn Jr. was electric as a returner in one game, but you can’t compare his season stats to a guy like Josh Cribbs who has been electric every time he touches the ball every game.
Jared Allen has 9.5 sacks in three games, 7.5 of which actually came against the Green Bay Packers. Play in marquee games matters, so it is important to point out these were two of the biggest games of the year, but the Packers offensive line was in disarray at the time of these contests and gave up big sack totals to everyone.
Just 3.5 sacks the in the other nine games is unimpressive, and Allen also failed to even record a tackle in three games.
Woodson has similarly compound numbers with three games accounting for five picks and three forced fumbles. However, the Packers allowed just two 100 yard receivers all season, Roy Williams and Vernon Davis. Woodson covered Cowboy’s tight end Jason Witten for most of that Cowboys game and essentially eliminated him from the game.
In the 49ers game, most of Davis’ big plays including the touchdown came when Woodson was covering someone else.
Dumervil was impressively consistent tallying six multi-sack games and only failed to record a sack in four games. Unlike Allen, Dumervil failed to make it on the score sheet with a tackle just once this season.
Dumervil, Woodson, Allen in that order.
As with the MVP, the Defensive Player of the Year has to be doing something no one else could be doing. I would argue the very fact that Woodson is the only defensive back in the discussion qualifies him, but let’s be fair and take a closer look.
Neither pass-rusher is having an off the charts year where you’re saying “We can’t block this guy ever.” Neither threatens to break any kind of sack record, and their lines are nearly identical. You can’t say “No one can do what Allen is doing” because Dumervil is and vice versa.
Dumervil hasn’t taken over a game single-handedly the way Allen has on at least two occasions, but as we saw, Dumervil is the more consistent player.
Woodson on the other hand is doing something no one else in the NFL could possibly do. The guy is taking away the opposing team’s best receiving threat every game, whether it’s a receiver, tight end, or running back.
He is the closest thing to a shut down corner as we have in the NFL, not to mention can play safety back, or in the box in run support. In fact, Woodson brings an elite run-stopping corner, a form-tackler, and a player who can make plays in the running game just as deftly as the passing game. Just ask Ray Rice.
The way Jared Allen dominated the Packers, that’s the way Woodson dominated Dallas and Detroit in crucial games for the Packers, a seemingly impossibility in a league that caters to receivers and passing offenses.
His 11 take aways (seven interceptions and four fumbles) are far and away the most in the NFL. In fact, no one else in the top 10 in interceptions has even forced more than one fumble. Likewise no one in the top 10 in fumbles has more than two interceptions EXCEPT Woodson.
And only Darren Sharper has scored more defensive touchdowns.
Now, Woodson has won Defensive Player of the Month honors for the second time this season, a validation of and testament to his consistency over the course of the season.
Woodson, Allen, Dumervil.
This is as important a factor as any. The voting takes place at the end of the season and rightfully so. Defense is about finishing. If you can get stops at the end of the game, you generally win. If your team falters down the stretch, it usually means your defense isn’t doing its job.
Jared Allen has just two sacks and three (Yes THREE) tackles in the last four weeks. He was a complete non-factor is his team’s ugly loss to Arizona and has created just one turnover in the last eight weeks.
Elvis Dumervil has been saved by his team in recent weeks. Losers of four straight, the Broncos have gone out and dominated the last two games. He has 4.5 sacks and a forced fumble in the last four weeks, and the Broncos are squarely back in the playoff race.
In the last month, Woodson has racked up three picks and returning one for a touchdown, forcing three fumbles, and notching both of his sacks. All of that comes in the midst of a four game winning streak to put the Packers in position to make the post-season.
Three of those four games have been nationally televised and the NFL audience is finally getting to see what Packer fans have been talking about.
Jared Allen plays on a team with a better record, and dominated Woodson’s Packers. But that isn’t Wood’s fault.
Dumervil compared to Allen is actually a superior candidate, stacking up better in nearly every category, not to mention his play has elevated the Denver defense from a joke, to an elite unit.
But both do what the other does, rush the passer. Teams can run the ball at either guy to negate their effectiveness.
Throw at Woodson, he will make you pay with a pick or a deflection. Throw away from Woodson, he still can make the play because his versatility and skill allows him to roam all over the field.
They used to say Deion Sanders took away half the field with his speed. At times, to opposing quarterbacks, it must seem like Woodson takes away the entire field. If you don't believe me, talk to Mathew Stafford.
But that's not all he does. Run at Woodson, he will make the play in the backfield. Run away from Woodson, he’ll make the play in the backfield.
He is the most complete defensive player in the NFL, a dynamic turnover machine, and leads the top-ranked defense in the NFL.
Hmmm...that sounds like a dictionary definition of the Defensive Player of the Year (see also: Charles Woodson).