We’re back with the week two rookie wrap up. David Syversten looks at the first year players who came up big over the weekend.
QB: Mark Sanchez – New York Jets
After a first half in which Mark Sanchez put the Jets in an early hole with a fumble on the opening drive followed by a non-factor contribution, New York’s rookie signal caller stepped up in the second half and led the Jets to their biggest regular season victory in years. While the season is young, that was a major statement game and performance that Sanchez put on display. He was 5-8 on third downs, yet another strong performance in clutch situations. The most important drive of the game is considered to be the opening set following halftime and that tradition held strong on Sunday. Sanchez opened with a 45 yards strike to Jericho Cotchery, followed by the game’s lone touchdown to Dustin Keller for 9 yards just two plays later. Again, Sanchez looked comfortable and confident out there and it translated in to a huge win for the 2-0 Jets.
Honorable Mention: Matthew Stafford
RB: Knowshon Moreno – Denver Broncos
While Moreno’s numbers do not jump off the stat sheet (17 carries-75 yards), his impact on the Broncos second win of the season was apparent. He ran for four first downs and both of his eleven yard receptions also moved the chains. When the Broncos were trying to put away the Cleveland Browns for good, Moreno put forth his two best efforts with his longest runs of the day against a front seven he helped wear down all afternoon. He came into the league with a reputation of being a little too cutback-happy, but on Sunday he got going north-south very quickly, diagnosing the lanes quickly ad bursting through them with violence.
Honorable Mention: Chris Wells – Arizona Cardinals
WR: Johnny Knox – Chicago Bears
Speed kills in the NFL and no matter how experienced a player is or is not, it can be a factor the second you step foot on the field. Knox showed clutch ability in Chicago’s tough home victory against the reigning world champs. The separation Knox was able to get gave Cutler a lot of room to work with when throwing him the ball. He is tough to jam at the line of scrimmage because his first two steps are as quick as anyone in the game right now and the second he gets by you, it’s over. Knox caught 3 passes for first downs, and one of Cutler’s two touchdown passes. With the depth chart in a constant state of flux in Chicago, there is a good shot Knox becomes a go-to-receiver early on in his career if he continues this level of play.
Honorable Mention: Julian Edelman – New England Patriots
TE: Brandon Pettitgrew – Detroit Lions 4-40 Rec Fum
Along with Matthew Stafford’s rookie struggles come the lack of involvement with Pettigrew in the passing game. He has been brought along slowly, but his presence was felt on Sunday in both sectors of the offense. He got off the ball well and threw some key blocks during the Lions impressive first half rushing attack. He struggled to gain separation against man coverage but he showed the knack for finding vacant holes underneath against the zone.
Honorable Mention: Shawn Nelson – Buffalo Bills
OL: Eric Wood – Buffalo Bills
The move to guard may not be a permanent one, but Eric Wood has really started off on the right foot after being transferred from the center position. He helped pave the way for a dominant Fred Jackson rushing performance. He was often left out on an island against the aggressive Bucs’ defensive tackles Chris Hovan and Ryan Sims and won the vast majority of the battles. His initial punch was consistently where it needed to be to stifle his man and his footwork got him in position to finish the blocks. He already proved his ability to deal with stunts and multi-look blitzes as if he were a five year veteran.
Honorable Mention: Phil Loadholt – Minnesota Vikings
DL – Roy Miller – Tampa Bay Buccaneers
On a day where the Tampa Bay defensive line was pushed around by rookies and unproven career back ups, Roy Miller really stood out. He had 3 tackles and a sack, but his presence on the field warranted more playing time in the future. He has taken notes from fellow defensive tackle Chris Hovan when it comes to how much the hustle factor can pay off in the trenches. He constantly fought through the whistle and got the most out of himself play in and play out. Without him, the Bills could have rushed for over 250 yards. While he was far from taking over the line of scrimmage, his presence was certainly felt against both the run and pass.
Honorable Mention: Tyson Jackson – Kansas City Chiefs
LB: Rey Maualuga – Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals have been searching for a physical, intimidating presence at the linebacker position for years and if Sunday is a preview of what is to come out of Rey Maualuga, they have found their man. While he only had three tackles, two of them forced a fumble and one of those resulted in a turnover. Following the turnover, Carson Palmer marched the offense downfield and threw a strike to Chad Ocho Cinco for the score. Maualuga is struggling to diagnose lanes and routes but he is making fast, aggressive, physical mistakes so that, at the very least, his presence is being felt.
Honorable Mention: Brian Cushing – Houston Texans
CB: Sean Smith – Miami Dolphins
While Smith does not stand out on the stat sheet, I was overly impressed with him on Monday night. He was matched up against one of the game’s premier wide receivers in Reggie Wayne whom, by the way, being targeted by one of the greatest quarterbacks the game has ever seen. At 6’3”, Smith already knows how to use his frame to his advantage to make up for his slower than average hip turn. He broke up a pass and allowed Wayne to catch just 3 balls throughout the night. He looked him in the eye all night and came out on top more often than not. Manning wanted to attack him very much like what he did with Jaguars rookie Derek Cox in week one, but Smith answered the call.
Honorable Mention: Captain Munnerlyn – Carolina Panthers
S: Al Afalava – Chicago Bears
Afalava’s reputation at Oregon State was one filled with violence and aggression because of the sound that erupted from the collisions that he was involved in. That physicality netted him a starting job in Chicago’s revamped defense right off the bat. Not only has he been a force against the run, but he took away the middle of the field for Big Ben on Sunday. He was consistently in the right place at the right time, forcing the Steelers passing attack to look elsewhere. He made some big tackles in space and has proven he can handle the physical demands against the run.
Honorable Mention: Louis Delmas – Detroit Lions