NFL Awards Watch, Week 15
Steelers linebacker James Harrison enters MVP race
Saints QB Drew Brees continues to lead Offensive POY
Falcons QB Matt Ryan locks up offensive rookie award
Alan Page and Lawrence Taylor may need to make room in their exclusive club. In a season in which no offensive player is running away with the MVP, Steelers linebacker James Harrison could join the duo as the only defensive players to win the league's coveted award.
"James Harrison continues to make splash play after splash play," Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said.
That succinct quote sums up what opponents are finding out about the Steelers' most disruptive player. Harrison, who earned a Pro Bowl berth in his first season as a starter, has ravaged opponents on the way to 89 tackles, 15 sacks, seven forced fumbles, one interception, one safety and a fumble recovery. His versatility has made him an invaluable part of the Steelers' top-ranked defense, and his proclivity for making game-changing plays has earned him high praise from teammates and opponents alike.
"It's unbelievable what he does," Steelers defensive end Aaron Smith told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "I don't know how to describe it. Every time we need something, it seems like he comes up with it for us. ... I know there are some great players in this league, but find me someone else who does it with his consistency. Find me someone else who does it week in and week out the way that he does it."
The league's MVP award typically goes to an offensive player because of their ability to generate ridiculous numbers weekly, but Harrison's eye-popping stat line has thrust him squarely into contention. Playing in defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau's aggressive 3-4, Harrison has become a force off the edge. Possessing an explosive first step and surprising power, he dominates offensive tackles on the way to punishing the quarterback. Harrison has 23 sacks in the past two seasons, and only three other rushers have exceeded that total in the same span (DeMarcus Ware, Jared Allen and Mario Williams).
More impressive, he has a league-high 14 forced fumbles the past two seasons, having mastered the art of the "strip" that was made famous by the last defensive player to win the MVP award (Lawrence Taylor in 1986).
"It's just something you get used to doing," Harrison told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "When you get to the quarterback, you want to try to sack and strip the ball."
With a host of title contenders seeking to prove that defense wins championships, this may be the year that defense also wins the league MVP award.
1. Adrian Peterson, RB, Vikings (Ranking last week -- 3): The Pro Bowler has almost single-handedly resurrected the Vikings' title hopes. Peterson has led the team to seven wins in the past nine games by topping the century mark six times and rushing for six touchdowns.
2. Kurt Warner, QB, Cardinals (4): The former two-time league MVP has the numbers and team success to merit strong consideration for the award. Warner ranks second in the league in passing yards, passer rating and touchdowns while guiding the Cards to their first-ever NFC West division title.
3. Peyton Manning, QB, Colts (NR): It is not a coincidence that the Colts are on a six-game winning streak now that Manning has rediscovered his rhythm. Since the team's last loss, the eight-time Pro Bowl QB has connected on over 68 percent of his throws with 12 touchdowns and only three interceptions.
4. Eli Manning, QB, Giants (1): For only the second time this season, Manning failed to deliver with timely playmaking in the clutch. With Brandon Jacobs nursing a knee injury and their top receiving threat done for the season, the time is right for Manning to reveal his greatness.
5. James Harrison, LB, Steelers (NR)
Offensive Player of the Year
1. Drew Brees, QB, Saints (1): He continues to take dead aim at Dan Marino's single-season passing mark (5,084). Brees has eight 300-yard passing games and a league-high 26 touchdown passes.
2. Adrian Peterson, RB, Vikings (3)
3. Kurt Warner, QB, Cardinals (2)
4. Michael Turner, RB, Falcons (5): The league's second-leading rusher has been outstanding in his first season in Atlanta. Turner is the league's co-leader (LenDale White) in rushing touchdowns with 14.
5. Jay Cutler, QB, Broncos (NR): The Broncos' gunslinger has been forced to put the team on his back due to a non-existent running game and porous defense. With over 3,600 passing yards and 23 touchdowns, the third-year pro is proving that he is up to the challenge.