Rob Gronkowski and 20 NFL Players You Just Can't Game-Plan for

Eitan Katz@@EitanKatzAnalyst IINovember 18, 2011

Rob Gronkowski and 20 NFL Players You Just Can't Game-Plan for

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    In the NFL there has always been a heavy emphasis on game-planning. All great coaches over time have been praised by fans for having the ability to think outside the box, to be creative and, most importantly, to put their players in a position to succeed.

    When facing certain opponents however, even the NFL's best coaches will come up short. Walter Payton was unstoppable no matter how many guys were in the box. Jerry Rice caught passes no matter who was lined up across from him.

    Amazing players have a way of destroying game plans. 

    No matter how much time a coach or coordinator spends focusing on a specific player during the week, come game day, if that player is too big, too fast, too strong or too good, all that practice time won't mean a damn thing.

    In 2011, there are players all across the league whom we consider dominant. Experts say that Calvin Johnson can't be denied in the end zone and that no matter how hard you try to keep the ball away from Troy Polamalu, he will always figure out a way to make a big play.

    And you know what? The experts are right—that's just the way things are in the NFL.

    Let's analyze 20 players who you just can't game-plan for, with a heavy focus on offense, but with a few defenders and a special teamer sprinkled in (re: greatest return man in NFL history).

Honorable Mention: Darrelle Revis, CB, New York Jets

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    Darrelle Revis might be the best player in the NFL.

    He will never be the MVP; that honor is usually reserved for quarterbacks or impossibly talented skill players, but when your numbers suggest that you could be having the greatest season in the history of cornerbacks, you are probably a top-five player.

    For Revis, unfortunately, that doesn’t translate to being impossible to game-plan against.

    In fact, it’s pretty simple—just don’t throw the ball anywhere near him. Unlike a safety, a linebacker, or a defensive lineman, cornerbacks are often limited to playing their man or playing their zone.

    As long as the quarterback can recognize who Revis is matched up against, that quarterback can avoid No. 24 rather easily.

    If you want a game-plan for Revis, look no further than what Tom Brady did against the New York Jets this past Sunday night—he avoided Revis like the plague, choosing instead to attack the weaker parts of the Jets secondary.

    The game plan worked, as Brady finished with 329 yards and a shiny 3-0 touchdown-to-interception ratio.

Honorable Mention: Mike Wallace, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Mike Wallace is silly fast. The Pittsburgh Steelers receiver is no slouch at catching passes either. With that rare combination of good hands and speed like you can’t imagine, Wallace has become one of the premiere playmakers in the NFL.

    Wallace has expanded his game every season, and this year, finally, coaches around the league are starting to take notice.

    In order to prepare for Wallace’s speed, legendary head coach Bill Belichick threw his team a changeup during practice in the days leading up to their game. He had Matthew Slater, the fastest player on the New England Patriots, don Wallace’s No. 17 and line up two yards past the line of scrimmage.

    Can you even imagine that?

    Wallace was unable to break free for any long gains against the Pats (his long that game was just 16 yards), proving once again that Belichick is probably the NFL’s best at taking away an opposing team’s favorite weapon. Still, there is no denying the immense pressure Wallace puts on defensive coordinators and coaches across the NFL.

    You know what they say: you can’t teach speed.

Honorable Mention: Michael Vick, QB, Philadelphia Eagles

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    When Michael Vick is on the field, he is one of the biggest wild cards in all of sports. He has the arm of a quarterback, mixed with the elusiveness and speed of a running back.

    How do you game-plan for that?

    To be honest, I’m not really sure how teams do it. Hitting him hard and making him pay for leaving the pocket is one tactic I’ve seen used. This method is especially effective because Vick has a history of getting injured and missing games.

    Vick can’t be a problem if he’s sitting on the sidelines, and that is really the only way to slow him down.

    That has happened enough this season to keep Vick off of this list. He was remarkable last season with his 21-6 touchdown-to-interception ratio and his nearly 700 yards rushing (and nine rushing touchdowns), but 2011 has not been kind to the Philadelphia Eagles quarterback.

    Vick has 11 touchdowns against 11 interceptions, and astonishingly hasn't found the end zone on the ground this year. 

    While the Eagles’ season is all but over in terms of making the playoffs, keeping Vick healthy in the second half should give fans of the “Dream Team” hope for a turnaround in 2012.

20) Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Arizona Cardinals

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    Larry Fitzgerald deserves better.

    One of the NFL’s best receivers, if not the best, Fitz has been in bad-quarterback hell since Kurt Warner retired after the 2009 season.

    Derek Anderson, Max Hall, John Skelton and Kevin Kolb are the quarterbacks Fitzgerald has had to deal with the last two years.

    Anderson was benched twice in 2010—after being handed a two-year contract to take over the starting job—before being released. Hall was disgraceful. Scarily enough, Skelton has probably been Fitzgerald’s best connection. And Kolb, whom the Arizona Cardinals traded their best cornerback and a second-round pick for, has been so pitiful that Cards fans actually want Skelton to remain the starter.

    It’s just not fair. Fitz has all the talent in the world, but no one to throw him the ball.

    If Fitzgerald had a good quarterback, game-planning against him would be a nightmare. However, considering his current situation, teams have found it a lot easier to keep No. 11 in check.

    He has still managed to haul in 11 touchdowns in the past season-and-a-half, but until a legitimate quarterback emerges, Fitzgerald will never be able demonstrate the dominance he displayed back in 2009 when he caught 97 passes for 1,092 yards and 13 touchdowns.

    Three Things You Can't Game-Plan For

    1) His crisp route running.

    2) His otherworldly hands.

    3) His explosiveness.

19) Wes Welker, WR, New England Patriots

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    The fact that Wes Welker is 5'9" and 185 pounds is simply mind-boggling. 

    How the hell does he do it? How does a guy that small lead the NFL in receptions and receiving yards?

    Oh yeah, and he has the second-most first downs in the league among receivers and tight ends. It's shocking, really, how unstoppable Welker is.

    Among all skill players (yes, that includes running backs), Welker ranks fifth in yards per game.

    No matter who you put on him or how you play him, quarterback Tom Brady somehow gets him the ball. Against a man, Welker's quickness leaves him with a linebacker or cornerback trailing in coverage, and against a zone, Welker's smarts guide him to the soft spot.

    Having Brady as his quarterback certainly helps, but you could also say that having Welker as his receiver helps Brady.

    I think both Brady and Welker understand how important each other are to their individual successes.

    The only time Brady and Welker have ever seemed out of sync is when top-tier defenses like the Baltimore Ravens, New York Jets or Pittsburgh Steelers beat up the diminutive receiver at the line of scrimmage. Considering the physical, talented personnel required to play press coverage against Welker, it is more the exception than the rule that Welker can be contained.

    Three Things You Can't Game-Plan For

    1) His quickness/elusiveness.

    2) His ability to read a defense.

    3) His "clutchness" on third downs.

18) Greg Jennings, WR, Green Bay Packers

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    Like Wes Welker, Greg Jennings is a product of insane talent and an elite quarterback.

    The Green Bay Packers have so many weapons on offense, it's amazing they don't score on every possession. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers has been so good and the talent on the Packers' offense runs so deep that Green Bay's quest for a perfect season is well within reach.

    The reason Jennings is on this list is because he has separated himself in an offense that relies on Rodgers' ability to spread the ball around and involve as many players as possible.

    Despite the fact that there are usually 8-10 guys who get receptions every game, it is Jennings who leads the charge week in and week out.

    Dating back to Week 6 of last season, a string of 20 games (playoffs not included), Jennings has caught 113 passes for 1,837 yards and 16 touchdowns. 

    I would say those numbers are the statistics of a top-five wide receiver. If we included the amount of passes he's dropped (a number close to zero), the stats would look even prettier.

    The point is, with Rodgers at the helm, slowing Jennings is a next to impossible task. And if you ever dare to double-team him, expect Jermichael Finley, Jordy Nelson, James Jones, Donald Driver or Randall Cobb to have a big game.

    Three Things You Can't Game-Plan For

    1) His magnificent hands

    2) His breakaway speed.

    3) His deep-play ability.

17) Devin Hester, KR/PR/WR, Chicago Bears

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    There's not really much to say here. Devin Hester is the best return man in the history of the NFL, and it's not even close.

    Game-planning for Hester is a double-edged sword. If you kick to him, well, you know what could happen. If you don't kick to him, then you are kicking kickoffs out of bounds (which automatically gives the opponent the ball at the 40-yard line, or closer if the ball goes out before the 40), or punting punts out of bounds, which is one of the hardest things for a punter to do.

    In essence, no matter what you do with Hester awaiting your kick/punt, you lose.

    I could explain how phenomenal he is, or how insane some of his returns have been, but you should probably watch them if you want to truly understand his power.

    The only special teamer on this list, Hester absolutely deserves a spot. 

    He already has three return touchdowns this year, and we are barely past the halfway mark. This could be yet another career year for the NFL's most terrorizing return man.

    Three Things You Can't Game-Plan For

    1) His speed.

    2) His quickness.

    3) His patience.

16) Ray Rice, RB, Baltimore Ravens

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    Ray Rice doesn't score touchdowns.

    At least, that is what we thought until this season. After scoring a combined 14 touchdowns in his previous three seasons, Rice already has eight total touchdowns this year, plus a throwing touchdown to boot.

    We knew the kid from Rutgers could run and we knew he was lethal out of the backfield, but I don't think we anticipated his LaDainian Tomlinson-esque ability to toss a touchdown pass.

    In all seriousness though, Rice has people around the NFL's attention. He can beat you so many ways, and most of the time he does it without carrying the ball more than 19 times in a game.

    This season, in the games Rice had more than 14 carries (five games), his numbers are astounding. He's rushed for 380 yards and six touchdowns, while catching 23 passes for 245 yards and another touchdown. When he gets less than 14 carries (four games), however, his numbers are rather pedestrian. He has rushed for 179 yards with no touchdowns, while catching 23 passes for 225 yards and a touchdown.

    As you can see, the Baltimore Ravens are shooting themselves in the foot. Give Rice the damn ball, and he will produce.

    Defenses have nothing to game-plan for if head coach John Harbaugh doesn't feed the ball to his best player.

    Three Things You Can't Game-Plan For

    1) His strength.

    2) His reliability out of the backfield.

    3) His breakaway speed.

15) Patrick Willis, LB, San Francisco 49ers

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    Patrick Willis should be an MVP candidate. After all, he is the reason the San Francisco 49ers have a shocking 8-1 record this season.

    Willis, as usual, has been ridiculously good. He is among the league leaders in tackles, forced fumbles and fumbles recovered. For someone who is considered a run-stopping linebacker, Willis' eight passes defensed are pretty remarkable. The two sacks are just gravy.

    The 49ers' run defense is so good that they haven't allowed a 100-yard rusher in 31 games straight, and even crazier, haven't allowed a rushing touchdown this entire season.

    Last year, defensive tackle Aubrayo Franklin was given a ton of the credit for San Fran's run-stopping dominance. However, with Franklin joining the New Orleans Saints this offseason, it has become clear that Willis deserves the credit.

    Franklin jumped ship and has struggled to stabilize a Saints defense that is allowing a league-worst 5.2 yards per carry.

    Willis, on the other hand, is doing just fine. 

    With my apologies to the great Ray Lewis, San Fran's Patrick Willis is the best middle linebacker in the NFL. Unless you plan on punting the ball every time your offense touches the field, there is no way to derail the 52-train. He's coming full speed on every play, run or pass.

    Three Things You Can't Game-Plan For

    1) His speed.

    2) His perfect tackling technique.

    3) His ability to force turnovers.

14) LeSean McCoy, RB, Philadelphia Eagles

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    Whoever thought LeSean McCoy could take the beating of almost 300 rushes (his current pace), please stand up.

    OK, now sit down because you're a damn liar.

    Quietly, McCoy has emerged as a top-five running back in the NFL. Long thought of as a guy who couldn't handle a full load, McCoy is tied for sixth in the league in rushes, and out of those top six, his 5.5 yards per carry is the highest.

    I think it's time to include this guy in any discussions about the top running backs in the NFL. When you think about the Philadelphia Eagles, it is hard not to focus on Michael Vick. Vick is the quarterback, and he placed second in the NFL MVP voting last season.

    Things have changed in 2011. This year, McCoy is the guy you should be game-planning against. He has the most touchdowns in the league this year among skill players (he has 12), and yes, that includes super-human wide receiver Calvin Johnson.

    Philadelphia's failure to meet its sky-high expectations is putting a shadow on Shady's season. 

    In fact, if the Eagles had a few more wins under their belt, McCoy would probably be higher on this list. And don't forget, Shady is doing this all with one of the weaker offensive lines in football.

    Just ask Michael Vick's ribs.

    Three Things You Can't Game-Plan For

    1) His quickness/elusiveness.

    2) His speed.

    3) His big-play ability.

13) Matt Forte, RB, Chicago Bears

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    I think I'm obligated to discuss Matt Forte's contract situation first. I don't think he should get a monster contract.


    Well, why don't you go ask the Tennessee Titans how that worked out with Chris Johnson. By the way, it's not that I don't think Forte deserves a boatload of money. He does. He's the only reason the Chicago Bears are able to move down the field despite their putrid offensive line play.

    That being said, giving running backs big, long-term contracts is a silly thing to do within the context of today's NFL. 

    But enough about contracts, let's talk game plans. With Forte, it seems simple: if you eliminate him, the Bears offense will crumble.

    Easier said than done.

    Forte has continued his meteoric rise this season, coming in third among all non-quarterbacks in yards per game (145, which is 23 more than the next guy, LeSean McCoy). He can beat you in the running game and the passing game, and he does it all with an offensive line made of paper mache (definition on Wikipedia: "A composite material consisting of paper pieces or pulp, sometimes reinforced with textiles, bound with an adhesive, such as glue, starch or wallpaper paste").

    Three Things You Can't Game-Plan For

    1) His breakaway speed.

    2) His ability to break big gains.

    3) His success as a receiver.

12) DeMarcus Ware, LB, Dallas Cowboys

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    DeMarcus Ware is a flat-out beast.

    This season he is wreaking havoc in stadiums across America to the tune of 13 sacks in just nine games. That means he is projected to get 23 sacks this season, which would be an NFL record.

    Forget about the sacks and the forced fumbles for a second.

    Try and imagine yourself as an offensive coordinator. Now try and imagine that your team is facing the Dallas Cowboys, and you have to come up with a way to neutralize No. 94.

    What do you do?

    You send extra blockers, you use draw plays and misdirections, and you tell your quarterback to always know where Ware lines up. Now, if that isn't changing an entire offensive game plan for one player, I'm not sure what is.

    By trying to stop Ware you've basically taken out every spread formation in your offense, and on top of that, your quarterback is worried sick about his blind side. 

    So while your game-plan may limit Ware's effectiveness, your game plan has also been tailor-fit to stop him. You tell me who wins that matchup.

    Three Things You Can't Game-Plan For

    1) His athleticism.

    2) His non-stop motor.

    3) His propensity to knock the ball loose.

11) Fred Jackson, RB, Buffalo Bills

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    At 30 years old, Fred Jackson's stellar play this season is nothing short of miraculous.

    I guess the Buffalo Bills knew what they were doing when they shipped Marshawn Lynch out of town last season. Many people second-guessed the move, wondering why they would trade a workhorse like Lynch when the only other relevant running back on the roster was Jackson.

    Jackson had shown flashes of greatness, but people thought he wouldn't be able to shoulder the load, and that over the course of a 16-game season, he would break down.

    Instead of breaking down, Jackson broke out.

    He is running like a man possessed, averaging over 100 yards per game on the ground and over 40 yards per game on receptions.

    The thing that impresses me most about Jackson is that he does so much damage despite getting an average of only 18 carries a game. Most running backs require 20-plus carries in order to succeed. Jackson has run the ball 20-plus times in only three games this season (all for over 100 yards rushing), but even more spectacular, he has rushed for over 100 yards with under 20 carries in three of the other six games.

    Jackson is a yardage machine.

    Despite Buffalo's downward spiral, Jackson's name should remain in the discussion for the NFL MVP award.

    Three Things You Can't Game-Plan For

    1) His speed.

    2) His quickness/elusiveness.

    3) His ability to shake off would-be tacklers.

10) Jared Allen, DE, Minnesota Vikings

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    Jared Allen can't be stopped in 2011. 

    On pace to have one of the greatest seasons in NFL history, you could say that Allen is one of the best players in football today. He can pressure the quarterback like it's nobody's business, and he somehow remains a factor in both the running game and passing game.

    Check the DeMarcus Ware slide to see how Allen alters game plans. Here, we will just discuss just how good Allen has been this year.

    His 14 sacks are best in the league and put him on pace to smash Michael Strahan's NFL record of 22.5 sacks in a single season. Allen's three forced fumbles are almost a given, considering his history of forcing fumbles (he's had three in six of the last seven years). 

    As if he's showing off, Allen's three passes defensed and one interception give you an idea of how active he is on every single down.

    Whether it's a running play or a passing play, Allen is the primary focus on defense.

    The Minnesota Vikings might be playing like garbage this season, but at least fans can watch Vikings football and admire Allen's complete dominance in what is turning into a season for the ages.

    Three Things You Can't Game-Plan For

    1) His motor.

    2) His speed.

    3) His ability to read an offense.

9) Arian Foster, RB, Houston Texans

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    Arian Foster isn't only an assassin in your fantasy football league; he's an assassin in real life too.

    The Houston Texans running back shouldn't be surprising people this season after what he did last year (namely, score 18 touchdowns and compile more than 2,200 total yards). Still, it amazes me how little respect Foster is given among non-fantasy football enthusiasts.

    He puts up 148 total yards per game, the highest among all skill position players, and he has eight touchdowns despite missing the first two-and-a-half games of the season (he played sparingly in Week 2).

    What really stands out, however, is the fact that the Texans are 7-3 even though wide receiving weapon Andre Johnson has been out for weeks with an injury.

    This tells me one thing: Foster is carrying the offense.

    Sure, Matt Schaub was having a solid year (before we learned that he was done for the season), but it is impossible not to single out Foster as Houston's offensive key thus far.

    With Schaub out, Foster's numbers are most likely going to take a hit, but don't expect this workhorse to give up easily—the man was made for contact.

    Three Things You Can't Game-Plan For

    1) His size/strength.

    2) His speed.

    3) His ability to be a factor no matter the situation.

8) Ed Reed, S, Baltimore Ravens

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    Ed Reed's uncanny ability to make plays in all three phases of the game is what lands him on this list.

    2011 hasn't been Reed's best year, stats-wise, but don't make the mistake of thinking Reed is no longer elite. 

    Reed spoiled his fans last season when he picked off eight passes in only 10 games, an exceptional feat. This season, Reed has only two interceptions through nine games, but still must be accounted for every time the quarterback walks up to the line of scrimmage.

    He's a ball hawk of the highest degree, and he's barely lost a step in his old age (Reed is 33).

    The Baltimore Ravens are still one of the best defenses in the NFL, and they have Reed and Ray Lewis to thank for that. I chose Reed to represent the dynamic duo, simply because I believe Reed needs a lot more game-planning against.

    With Lewis, you are getting one of the best run-stoppers and tacklers in the league. With Reed, you are getting one of the best playmakers in the league. Period.

    Expect a few more interceptions along the way as Reed's legend continues to grow.

    Three Things You Can't Game-Plan For

    1) His instincts.

    2) His speed/elusiveness.

    3) His hands.

7) Rob Gronkowski, TE, New England Patriots

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    Rob Gronkowski shouldn't be allowed to catch passes.

    With the way he blocks, he would still be considered a terrific tight end. But alas, he is allowed to catch passes. And the way he catches passes mixed in with the way he blocks, Gronkowski has quickly become the best tight end in the NFL.

    At 6'6" and 265 pounds, guarding Gronk is near impossible. 

    It's gotten to the point where teams will double- or triple-team him in the end zone, practically begging quarterback Tom Brady to throw elsewhere. The double and triple teams don't matter. Gronk is tough to guard anywhere on the field, but in the red zone, he is unstoppable.

    He leads the NFL in red-zone touchdowns since the beginning of last season with 16, and he isn't slowing down any time soon.

    Don't assume that the big guy has no talent either. Gronk catches a little more than 70 percent of the passes thrown his way (52 catches from 73 targets), and is ninth in the NFL in receiving yards. Not too shabby considering the fact that he is expected to be one of the team's top blockers on all running plays.

    With Gronk and Brady's connection getting stronger each and every game, expect the gigantic tight end to get even better over the second half of the season.

    Three Things You Can't Game-Plan For

    1) His immense size/strength.

    2) His remarkably soft hands.

    3) His route running.

6) Troy Polamalu, S, Pittsburgh Steelers

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    At this point, I think everyone knows the drill with Troy Polamalu.

    He is essential to the Pittsburgh Steelers' success, and he only gets better when the stage gets bigger. This year, for some reason, the interceptions aren't there.

    Who cares?

    Is there anyone you'd rather have manning your secondary more than TP43?

    I didn't think so.

    Polamalu has such a unique style which is what separates him. He's a force against the run like he's a linebacker. He's exceptional in coverage like a safety or cornerback. And lastly, he gets after the quarterback like a speed rusher.

    There is no one like him, there never was anyone like him, and there will never be someone like him.

    The next time someone does this, let me know. Then, and only then, we will talk. Until then, Polamalu will continue giving offensive coordinators nightmares and carrying an aging Steelers defense into the playoffs year after year.

    Three Things You Can't Game-Plan For

    1) His instincts.

    2) His ferocity.

    3) His closing speed.

5) Peyton Manning, QB, Indianapolis Colts

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    Honestly, I don't care that he's rotting away on the bench. Peyton Manning is still in the NFL, and if he were healthy, he would probably be No. 1 on this list.

    Maybe it's because I have so much respect for what he can do on the field, or maybe it's because I'm holding on to hope that Manning will return to the NFL next season as if nothing ever happened to his neck.

    I doubt it, but I can dream.

    Listen, if Manning is on the field, he is the game plan. He is the defensive game plan (stop Manning), and he is the offensive game plan (keep Manning off the field).

    Take a look at the Indianapolis Colts' record this season without him, and you'll see just how important he is.

    Manning is so good at what he does, Bill Simmons actually ranked him the 25th best quarterback in the NFL (injury and all) for this piece in Grantland earlier this year:

    Question: If your life depended on winning one game, wouldn't you rather have a semi-crippled Manning over anyone else on this list? Just have him stand seven yards behind center, shotgun every snap and dump the ball anytime any pass-rusher gets close.

    Fact: the Colts should try this, because they can't get any worse than they are right now.

    Three Things You Can't Game-Plan For

    1) His football knowledge.

    2) His precision.

    3) His ability to control the entire pace of the game.

4) Calvin Johnson, WR, Detroit Lions

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    Calvin Johnson is the most athletically and physically imposing player in the NFL (sorry, Haloti Ngata).

    At 6'5" and 236 pounds, Johnson is built more like a small tight end than a receiver. He is the LeBron James of the NFL, minus the fourth-quarter woes. He runs with grace, jumps with power and rarely drops passes.

    The only flaw in his game is crisp route running, and even that has improved significantly since last season.

    We are watching the development of a player never seen before in this league. Gone are the times where receivers needed to be elusive, gone are the times that receivers needed to get open. Nowadays, it is all about the hops.

    And believe you me, CJ81 has mad hops.

    Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford can gently loft the ball skyward and expect his favorite receiver to come down with it. Johnson's catch against the Dallas Cowboys was one of the most dominating plays in recent NFL history.

    How do you game-plan for that?

    Unless there's a way to teach your players to get stronger and jump higher, game-planning against Calvin Johnson is a fool's errand.

    Three Things You Can't Game-Plan For

    1) His size/strength.

    2) His leaping ability.

    3) His big-play ability.

3) Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota Vikings

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    The Minnesota Vikings locked up Adrian Peterson at the beginning of this season for seven years and upward of $100 million.

    Peterson, unlike Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson, has continued his torrid pace. Peterson is averaging 94 yards per game on the ground, a number that becomes a lot more impressive after a close examination of the Vikings' putrid quarterback play this year.

    Forget the yards, how about the touchdowns?

    In just nine games, Peterson has found pay dirt 11 times. He is a touchdown machine by any measure, and again, considering the offense he plays in, it's a wonder he's even broken double digits.

    The fumbles that used to haunt Vikings fans are gone—Peterson has lost only one fumble in the last two years.   

    As rookie quarterback Christian Ponder develops, and defenses stop stacking the box with up to eight guys, expect Peterson's production to skyrocket. 

    Three Things You Can't Game-Plan For

    1) His size/strength.

    2) His speed/elusiveness.

    3) His determination.

2) Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots

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    Tom Brady and the New England Patriots aren't going away any time soon.

    Despite playing with one of the worst defenses in the NFL year after year, Brady and head coach Bill Belichick find a way to make it work. 

    Last season may have been Brady's best—even better than his record-breaking 2007—as he threw for 36 touchdowns against just four interceptions, breaking the record for most passes completed without an interception. He did it with Wes Welker, and a bunch of castoffs and rookies.

    This season, he's still doing it with Welker, but the emergence of Rob Gronkowski has made things easier for the Hall of Fame lock.

    Nevertheless, Brady's reign as the NFL's best player is over. His decision making isn't what it used to be, and, well, it's pretty hard to match Aaron Rodgers at this point.

    Brady is still the second-best player in the league, and game-planning against him is next to impossible. His stable of weapons may be stale, but he is so good that it doesn't really matter. Brady has the Pats headed for another AFC East title, and possibly a fifth Super Bowl berth in the last 10 seasons.

    No matter what you think can stop Brady (jamming his receivers at the line, getting pressure on him), teams still fail to contain him nine times out of 10. Just ask the New York Jets—a team that thought they had the recipe to shut down Brady's offense—how that all worked out.

    Three Things You Can't Game-Plan For

    1) His ability to read any defense.

    2) His pin-point accuracy.

    3) His pocket presence.

1) Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers

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    Aaron Rodgers is the best player in the NFL, and he runs an offense that can't be stopped.

    With the best numbers you will ever see from a quarterback, Rodgers has the Green Bay Packers primed for a perfect 16-0 regular season and another deep run into the playoffs.

    His completion percentage is out of this universe (72.9), the amount of passing yards is plain silly (2,869—a pace which would smash Dan Marino's record) and the touchdown-to-interception ratio makes this whole thing look like a joke (28:3).

    Rodgers is on absolute fire, in case you missed that whole last paragraph.

    He can hit Greg Jennings any time, Jordy Nelson for a long play, John Kuhn or Jermichael Finley when he needs those tough extra yards, and he still has Donald Driver, James Jones and Randall Cobb in reserves.

    Oh yeah, I almost forgot, Rodgers can take off running too. He has a great feel for when the pocket is collapsing—which happens a lot with his offensive line—and can throw on the move better than any quarterback I've ever seen.

    How do you game-plan for Aaron Rodgers?

    You don't.

    Three Things You Can't Game-Plan Against

    1) His perfect passes.

    2) His ability to scramble and throw on the run.

    3) His unlimited arsenal of weapons.