Dec 23, 2012; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) is sacked by Cincinnati Bengals defensive tackle Geno Atkins (97) during the second half of the game at Heinz Field. The Bengals won the game, 13-10. Mandatory Credit: Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports
Another year, another Pro Bowl filled with over-hyped players and members of teams located in the major media markets. Don’t get me wrong, there are a fair amount of first-timers on the list that are more than deserving to have the title of “Pro Bowler” next to their name, especially the J.J. Watts of the league. However, there are always 5-10 players that make it onto the roster simply because the voters, a majority of which are everyday, casual fans of the NFL, have heard that particular players’ name more than others. Of course, the St. Louis Rams are again left without a single player heading to Hawaii, while teams like the Kansas City Chiefs send five guys, and San Francisco and Seattle will send a combined 14 players. Instead of going through every player, Ramblin’ Fan is just going to break down some of the hits and misses in the roster, and give the St. Louis Rams players that, arguably, should have made the cut on the defensive side of the football.
Hit: J.J. Watt and Geno Atkins
Both of these players are having breakout seasons, and have arguably been the most destructive defensive lineman in the league this season. Between Watt’s 20.5 sacks and Atkins’ 13.0, the duo has taken down the quarterback more times than 16 teams have managed with their entire defensive roster. Both Cincinnati and Houston would undoubtedly be out of the playoffs without these studs in the middle, especially after Houston lost Cushing around mid-season. These types of picks are a good example of what being elected to the Pro Bowl should be; being rewarded for the body of work that you have amassed over the current, singular season.
Miss: Jason Pierre-Paul and Gerald McCoy
I cannot even image the number of delusional fans in New York it took to get Pierre-Paul to the top of the voting list in the NFC, but the figures have to be astounding. The sack-sensation from last season dropped in production this year, similar to his teams play on the field. His 6.5 sacks in 2012 are a far cry from the 16.5 he tallied in 2011, ranking him 22nd in quarterback takedowns in the NFC alone, and 37th overall. He has played “well” in the run game, and did manage to snag an interception, but players like Greg Hardy and Charles Johnson from the Carolina Panthers have vastly outplayed Pierre-Paul, and likely received little to no vote.
Gerald McCoy is as baffling a selection as Pierre-Paul, but made worse by the fact that the St. Louis Rams, arguably, have a better interior lineman on their roster, putting up similar numbers in a quarter less games. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have managed to compile the top rated rushing defense, which McCoy plays a big part in, but have consequently been the worst defense against the pass. The defensive line has gotten little to no pressure on the quarterback the entire season, tallying only 25.0 sacks the entire year, only 4.5 more than J.J. Watt has BY HIMSELF! McCoy’s play solely against the run should not constitute a Pro Bowl bid, especially for player with mediocre statistics on a mediocre team.
Rams Players: Michael Brockers, Jo-Lonn Dunbar, and James Laurinaitis
For the second season in a row, James Laurinaitis will finish the season in the Top 10 in tackles. Currently, Laurinaitis leads the NFL with 115 solo tackles, while also tacking on 22 assisted tackles, 2 interceptions, 6 pass deflections, and a fumble recovery. It is hard to argue against the season that Navorro Bowman is having this year for the 49ers, especially with his consistency in tackling and his vast improvement in coverage. However, his teammate, Patrick Willis, has clearly made the Pro Bowl simply off the power of name recognition. Willis will likely not crack the 100-solo tackle mark this season, but will still fly to Hawaii over players in smaller markets, like James Laurinaitis and Daryl Washington. The Cardinals’ Washington, who leads all interior linebackers with 9.0 sacks and sits right at 100 solo tackles, is having one of the best single season performances from a 4-3 middle linebacker in several years. So, even if Willis was out, Washington likely deserves the spot over Laurinaitis. Sucks to be in the NFC West…
Whoever designates a players’ position for voting in the Pro Bowl needs to go back to the drawing board, since Justin Smith was elected as an interior lineman, even though he plays on the “end” of the San Francisco 49ers 3-4 base defensive front. There is little argument that Henry Melton is having a spectacular season in the interior of the Bears’ defensive line, but Michael Brockers performance over the last three quarters of the season is second to no player in the league. Brockers has yet to “miss” a tackle in the regular season, and has tallied 28 tackles, 4.0 sacks, and a forced fumble in essentially a 10-games, “healthy” season. Still, he trails only Ndamukong Suh, Dwan Edwards, Fletcher Cox, Nick Fairley, Gerald McCoy and Junior Galette in sacks by “true” interior defensive lineman. More importantly, the St. Louis Rams, prior to the Adrian Peterson rampage, had allowed less than 100 rushing per game since Brockers’ return to the middle of the line, after giving up 6 rushing touchdowns in the first 4 games without him. Brockers play is Pro-Bowl caliber, but missing the opening quarter of the season should (and likely did) knock the St. Louis Rams rookie out of contention this year. Still, players like Carolina’s Dwan Edwards should have got the nod for Hawaii over Gerald McCoy or the non-interior lineman, Justin Smith.
Last, but likely the best candidate for the St. Louis Rams, is Jo-Lonn Dunbar for one of the NFC outside linebacker spots. Sadly, the 3-4 OLB is the new fling of the NFL; a defensive scheme that allows pure pass rushers to pin their ears back and rush the passer without having to be competent in pass coverage, outside containment, or in run support at all, for that matter. DeMarcus Ware, Clay Matthews, and Aldon Smith all benefit from this type of scheme, and all are on the Pro Bowl roster for this season. Interesting enough, none of those three players are in the Top 135 in solo tackles this season… I’ll let that number soak in for a moment. More impressive, is that Matthews has only played in 11 games this season, and, given his “specialty” in pass rushing, only accumulated 4.0 sacks in his last six games for the Packers. Jo-Lonn Dunbar, on the other hand, has numbers that can go side-by-side with any outside linebacker in the league. He has 86 solo tackles (11th in NFL), 3.5 sacks (more than any linebacker in the Top 25 in solo tackles, aside from Daryl Washington), 4 pass deflections, 2 interceptions, and a forced fumble. Dunbar is constantly in the backfield, with over 15% of tackles being behind the line of scrimmage, player above average in coverage, and is personally responsible for the benching of Alex Smith. The raw number of sacks and forced fumbles that DeMarcus Ware and Aldon Smith have created are enough to get them into the Pro Bowl, but Clay Matthews being on roster is a joke, and a bad one at that.
Other potential names: Chris Long, Robert Quinn, Cortland Finnagen