Blake Bortles, QB (Jaguars)

JAX 33 at SF 44

Yes, I was surprised to see Bortles as the Week 16 passing leader, too.  The 25-year old is not devoid of talent, but his 2017 season is muddled with mistakes and below average play, similar to his previous 3 years in the league.  And, even though Bortles went 32-50, 382 yards and 2 TDs last week, he threw 3 interceptions and only registered a 75.6 passer rating.  Fellow Jags players seem to still have “confidence” in him like cornerback Aaron Colvin who said this week, I have all the confidence in the world [in Bortles]. I know he’s going to play perfect when we need him to play perfect. Everybody has a bad game.”  The problem is, Bortles has had too many “bad games” this season.  For instance, he has had a passer rate below 64 in 5 games, threw 2+ interceptions in 3 games, fumbled the football at least once in 7 games and in 2 games, he fumbled it twice.  He also lost the football in 3 games and comes into Week 17 with a ratio of 22 TDs to 11 interceptions.  All this, and he’s only been sacked 22 times.  That’s a pretty low amount given the fact that Alex Smith and Tom Brady have been sacked 35 and 33 times and maintain the 2 highest passer ratings in the league. Personally, I would like to see the Jaguars find another QB to man the helm next year.  With that championship caliber defense they have built up, the team should have a championship caliber QB too.

Bilal Powell, RB (Jets)

LAC 14 at NYJ 7

One of the bright spots for NY during their Week 16 loss to the Chargers was the performance of this 29-year-old RB who rushed for 145 yards on 19 carries, including 3 big runs of 57, 41, and 21 yards and had 1 TD.  With that 57-yarder, Powell became the first back in franchise history to break three 50-yard runs in 1 season. On Christmas Eve, Powell benefitted from the limited play of Matt Forte (knee) and the absence of Elijah McGuire (illness).  In previous contests this season, all three RBs have shared snaps limiting Powell’s play. But, when given the chance, the 7-year veteran (all with NYJ) has shown the ability to consistently shine.  LT Kelvin Beachum said of Powell’s performance, “He’s just kind of under the radar. You don’t expect it, but he’s one of those guys that puts in the work every single day. He’s had multiple great weeks of practice and he does his job. He’s a true pro, a pro’s pro and when his number is called, he finds a way to convert.” Hopefully Powell will continue to be productive, as the 5-10 Jets head to Foxboro to play the Patriots for the season finale on Sunday.  Word is that Coach Bellichick plans to play most Patriots starters in order to fight for the No. 1 spot in the AFC with a win.

Todd Gurley, RB (Rams)

LA 27 at TEN 23

This 23-year-old may technically be listed as a RB, but he was Week 16’s receiving leader with 10 receptions, 158 yards and 2 TDs.  Incredibly, he also rushed for 118 yards on 22 attempts last week.  As expected, the NFL awarded him for his performance with the 2nd consecutive NFL Offensive Player of the Week award.  What can’t this player do?  Overall, Gurley leads the league with 1,305 rushing yards, has 788 receiving yards and 19 overall TDs through the first 15 games. With those numbers, he could very well take the rushing title (and potentially MVP award), but Rams Head Coach Sean McVay has already indicated that he would sit Gurley (along with several other Rams starters) during the team’s last game of the regular season against San Francisco on Sunday.  The 3rd year back/receiver said he is ok with that: “You’ve just got to look at the bigger picture.  Coach has a plan and he’s done nothing but right things since we’ve been in here, so you’ve got to trust him on this decision as well.”  That statement couldn’t be any truer.  During the preseason, Coach McVay apparently predicted that Gurley would have “1300 rushing yards (1305) and 800 receiving (788)” among other stats.  Pretty omniscient, Coach.

Ezekiel Ansah, DE (Lions)

DET 17 at CIN 26

It may not have been the best season of this 28-year old’s 5-career year due to multiple injuries, but during Week 16, “Ziggy” Ansah put on a show.  The former Brigham Young defensive end tied his season high 3 sacks, had 5 tackles, 2 assists, 2 QB hits and a total of 16.0 sack yards.  Lions defensive coordinator, Teryl Austin, thinks Ansah is “as good as you get”, when he is healthy.  But, so far this season, he has been battling a knee, bad back, and ankle injury.  It’ll be interesting to see what the team will do when Ansah’s contract is up at the end of the season. Will they sign him to a long-term contract, or slap a franchise tag on him?  The talented pass rusher had been a first round selection by Detroit and 5th overall in the 2013 NFL Draft.  2015 was Ansah’s best season when he was named to his only Pro Bowl after recording 14.5 sacks, 39 total tackles, 8 assists and 4 forced fumbles in 16 games.  This season he has only sacked 9 times through 13 games.  But, first Detroit will likely need to figure out if their Head Coach Jim Caldwell will be back before deciding on which players to keep.  Unfortunately, after 4 years of treading water with Caldwell at the reins (35-28 overall; 0-2 playoffs), GM Bob Quinn may decide to move on.

Mike Hilton, DB (Steelers)

PIT 34 at HOU 6

This 5’9, 184-pound rookie had his best game of the season during Week 16 when his Steelers took on the ailing Texans on the road Christmas Day.  He had 6 tackles (all solo) including 3 sacks and a forced fumble which helped him to garner his first AFC Defensive Player of the Week award.  He became the first defensive back to earn the honor since Troy Polamalu did it in 2013 and his 3 sacks made him the first CB to get that many “since sacks became official in 1982” (as reported by NFL Research).  Hilton’s performance also contributed towards the Steelers clinching a first round bye in the playoffs.  The former Ole Miss alum said, “It feels good. It’s going to give time to for everyone healthy… Everybody can take a mental break and get rejuvenated for the playoffs. We feel like, with everybody coming back, we feel like we have a legit shot.”  Hilton was intended to be part-time after he was brought in as an undrafted free agent this year, but the 23-year old became a “pleasant surprise” and is now an integral part of the Steel City’s defense.

Dallas Cowboys

SEA 21 at DAL 12

For both Seattle and Dallas, Week 16’s game was a crucial one.  More so for the Cowboys who had to win out in order to make it to the playoffs.  But, the Seahawks had something to prove, too.  And, that was their legitimacy after getting pounded by the Rams last week 42-7.  I fault Dallas for not seeing that coming.  Jerry Jones’ team should have braced themselves for a Seattle team that was going to come in there and try to prove their worth with only weeks to go before the playoffs. Dallas just didn’t seem to be ready for that.  Its defense did not take advantage of Seattle’s poor offense.  And, their offense got beat by Seattle’s excellent defense.

Think about this:  Seattle only had 136 total yards of offense in this game, averaged only 2.5 yards per play and Russell Wilson was sacked 3 times.  Yet, Dallas still lost this game by 9 points.  The Dallas defense did not generate any takeaways for the 5th time this season.  In those 5 games, the Cowboys went 1-4.  Meanwhile, the Seattle Defense had 3 takeaways (2 interceptions and a pick six).  And, once again, Wilson and his offense came through when they needed to and it made all the difference.

The bottom-line to me is that this game once again highlights the difference in how great coaches rally the troops and never let their team lose confidence.  Pete Carroll seems to be able to do this, even with injury-ravaged teams, but Jason Garrett does not.  When is Jerry Jones going to see that what he needs is a real leader to galvanize his team and not a yes-man?

In the 8 years that Garrett has coached the Cowboys (since 2010), his teams have had only 2 winning seasons (2014, 2016) and did not make it past the divisional round in the playoffs those years. Garrett may be solid and consistent, but in this league, a head coach needs to do more.  They need to motivate their players to come up bigger than their talent level may allude to, inspire their team to come together with a purpose, and energize them to fight for the big moments.  Coaches like Sean McVay, Mike Zimmer and Bill Bellichick are people who seem to be capable of doing that this season.  But, Garrett is not and he’s proven that time and time again.

It seems that Jones will need to step outside of his comfort zone and try to find a head coach who may not agree with him all the time, but has the pulse of the locker room and the leadership skills required to move the needle.  If not, he’ll be in for more of the same: Teams with great promise, but who end up with lackluster results…


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