Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Case For James Harrison

James Harrison was once again voted to the Pro Bowl. Congratulations, James.

Hopefully, we don't see you playing in Hawaii.

We'd much rather see you playing the next weekend in Dallas.

Defensively, the Steelers are playing their best football since the 2008 season. Coincidentally, James Harrison won Defensive Player of the Year that year.

Is there a chance he'll win the award again this year? To be honest, probably not, given that he has been the poster boy for Roger Goodell's power trip. But the award is given by the AP, not the NFL Front Office.

But let's be objective about things for a moment and take a look at the stats. How does James Harrison compare with the other contenders for Defensive Player of the Year?

First, let's figure out who the contenders are.

Since the award was first handed out by the Associated Press in 1971, it has only gone to a player on a team that did not make the playoffs 6 times. 3 of those 6 times were in the last 10 years. Only once in the past 14 years did the award go to a player that was on a defense not ranked in the Top 10 in Total Defense.

The current Top 10 in Total Defense are: San Diego, Pittsburgh, Miami, NY Jets, New Orleans, NY Giants, Minnesota, Baltimore, Green Bay, Chicago

Linebackers

James Harrison
94 Tackles
11 Sacks (T-8th in NFL)
2 INT
6 Forced Fumbles (T-2nd in NFL)
Team Defense Rank: 2nd
Harrison should be the clear favorite for the award. He has more tackles than any of the other Sack Leaders. His 2 INTs is tied for the 4th most amongst Linebackers and his 6 forced fumbles leads all Linebackers.

Cameron Wake
53 Tackles
14 Sacks (1st in NFL)
0 INT
3 Forced Fumbles
Team Defense Rank: 3rd
Wake is leading the league in sacks, but is somewhat of a one-trick pony. He has about half the tackles Harrison does, with no interceptions and half the forced fumbles.

Clay Matthews
58 Tackles 
12.5 Sacks (T-3rd in NFL)
1 INT
2 Forced Fumbles
1 TD (INT return)
Team Defense Rank: 9th
Clay Matthews has gotten a lot of press this year for the season he has had, and honestly he deserves it. He's a hell of a player, but has about 2/3 the total tackles Harrison does, with 1/3 the forced fumbles.

Tamba Hali
46 Tackles
12 Sacks (6th in NFL)
0 INT
4 Forced Fumbles
Team Defense Rank: 11th

Terrell Suggs
65 Tackles
11 Sacks (T-8th in NFL)
0 INT
2 Forced Fumbles
Team Defense Rank: 8th
Suggs has been a monster in some games and completely a non-factor in others. His 11 sacks puts him in the "elite" class in the league, but he hasn't created turnovers like Harrison has.

Jerod Mayo
169 Tackles (1st in NFL)
1 Sack
0 INT
1 Forced Fumble
Team Defense Rank: 27th
Mayo has been a tackling machine, but let's face it: he hasn't made the splash plays that you would expect out of a DPOY. Also, New England's 27th-ranked defense won't help his chances.

Defensive Ends

John Abraham
38 Tackles
13 Sacks (2nd in NFL)
1 INT
2 Forced Fumbles
Team Defense Rank: 17th
Abraham has been a sack monster, but the Falcons 17th-ranked defense will hurt him. If you're looking objectively, he has 1/3 of the tackles and forced fumbles James Harrison does.

Robert Mathis
56 Tackles
11 Sacks (T-8th in NFL)
0 INT
1 Forced Fumbles
Team Defense Rank: 20th
The same amount of sacks as Harrison, with half as many tackles, no INTs and only 1 forced fumble. Plus, he plays on the 20th-ranked defense in the league.

Osi Umenyiora
43 Tackles
10 Sacks (T-14th in NFL)
0 INT
8 Forced Fumbles (1st in NFL)
Team Defense Rank: 6th
Umenyiora and Justin Tuck have both had great seasons rushing the passer. Osi has forced more fumbles than any other player and double-digit sacks are nothing to sneeze at. Osi had a huge 3-game streak in the middle of the season where he rung up 7 sacks. The Giants making the playoffs would help Osi's chances.

Justin Tuck
74 Tackles
11 Sacks
0 INT
6 Forced Fumbles (T-2nd in NFL)
Team Defense Rank: 6th
Tuck has simply been too inconsistent to win the award. He has 3 games with only 1 tackle, but also has 6 games with 7+ tackles. He has 2 games with 3 sacks, but also been shut out in 8 games.

Defensive Backs

Troy Polamalu
62 Tackles
1 Sacks
6 INT (T-2nd in NFL)
1 Forced Fumbles
1 TD (INT Return)
Team Defense Rank: 2nd
When you talk about big plays at big moments in games, the guy you want on your side is Troy Polamalu. For a three-week stretch, Troy put the Steelers on his back and made plays that led the Steelers to victory. His interception at the goal line against Buffalo, Sack-fumble against Baltimore, and Pick-6 against Cincinnati powered the Steelers to victory. No player in the league this year has made bigger plays in crunch time than Troy. Missing two games with an injury might hurt his chances though.

Asante Samuel
26 Tackles
0 Sacks
7 INT (1st in NFL)
0 Forced Fumbles
Team Defense Rank: 12th
Samuel leads the league in interceptions, but that probably won't be enough to win him the award, particularly considering Harrison has 8 turnovers forced (2 INT, 6 FF) and Samuel has 7.

Ed Reed
35 Tackles
0 Sacks
6 INT (T-2nd in NFL)
1 Forced Fumble
Team Defense Rank: 8th
Reed missed 6 games this year but has been on a tear with 6 picks since he got back. It won't help his case that he was no where to be found when the Steelers visited town and took control of the division from the Ravens.

With all the evidence in front of you, the choice should really come down to just a few players. Assuming the Dolphins and Giants don't make the playoffs, that takes Wake, Umenyiora, and Tuck off the board. Hali, Mayo, Abraham, Mathis, and Samuel play on defenses not ranked in the Top 10.

That leaves us with James Harrison, Clay Matthews, Terrell Suggs, Troy Polamalu, and Ed Reed.

Of these 5 players, Harrison has the most tackles (94), most turnovers created (8 - 6 forced fumbles & 2 INT), and plays on the best defense (2nd ranked). Arguably, Polamalu has made more impact plays this season that have directly affected the outcome of games, but he has also missed 2 games due to injury.

Based on all of the above statistical evidence (and not even counting the fact that he gets held on nearly every play), I would say that Harrison should be one of the leading candidates for Defensive Player of the Year.

To be honest, if we were voting we would probably pick Troy as our Defensive Player of the Year because he has made more big plays at key moments in games than any other defensive player this year. But since he'll likely miss his 3rd game this weekend due to injury, we don't think the AP voters will have him on their radar.

Therefore, Vote James Harrison for Defensive Player of the Year.


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