2009 Midseason Report (cont.)
Most Valuable Player -- Peyton Manning, QB, Indianapolis: There is absolutely no wrong answer when it comes to choosing between the seasons being turned in by Manning, and his fellow quarterbacks Drew Brees and Brett Favre. While Brees has had my vote for most of the season's first half, it's impossible not to notice that Manning has been equally spectacular. He's done so without the existence of a Colts running game and his receiving corps doesn't match the one Brees has at his disposal.
Offensive Player -- Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans: Brees has been the consummate trigger man for an offense that has scored a league-high 303 points -- 59 more than its nearest competitor (Minnesota). He leads the NFL in touchdown passes (17), passer rating (106.1) and absolutely refusing to allow his team to lose. Simply put, Brees played his position as well as anyone in the league in the season's first half.
Defensive Player -- Darren Sharper, FS, New Orleans: Denver outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil and Minnesota defensive end Jared Allen have been superb, but no one has impacted his team's performance more so than the 34-year-old Sharper, who has picked off passes in five of the Saints' eight games, and returned three of his league-leading seven interceptions for touchdowns (with a 45.3-yard average return). Sharper's presence as the Saints centerfielder has been the key ingredient in New Orleans's transformation into an opportunistic, takeaway-minded defense.
Offensive Rookie -- Percy Harvin, WR/KR, Minnesota: The ex-Gator has quickly turned into the X factor in Minnesota, providing an electrifying big-play potential to the Vikings offense and kickoff return unit. Harvin already has a pair of kick return touchdowns -- the first Viking to record more than one in a season -- and he's becoming one of Favre's favorite targets in the passing game as well, with 28 catches for a 13.2-yard average, with three touchdowns.
Defensive Rookie -- Brian Cushing, OLB, Houston: As difficult as it is to overlook Buffalo safety Jairus Byrd, whose seven interceptions are tied for the league lead, Cushing's play has been a difference-maker for 5-4 Houston. He's second in the league in tackles with 78, and his two interceptions, 1½ sacks, two forced fumbles and one safety has helped lift the Texans into playoff contention.
Comeback Player -- Tom Brady, QB, New England: He may not be back to his other-worldly 2007 form just yet, but Brady is starting to look like his old self more each week after missing 2008 with knee surgery. He's thrown for 1,020 yards and 10 touchdowns in the course of New England's three-game winning streak, with three consecutive 300-yard games. His 16 touchdowns and five interceptions are identical to Peyton Manning's numbers, and his 99.2 passer rating ranks sixth in the NFL.
Coach -- Marvin Lewis, Cincinnati: Had the Broncos beaten visiting Pittsburgh Monday night to get to the midpoint at 7-1, I was prepared to go with Denver rookie head coach Josh McDaniels, whose 6-0 start caught the entire league by surprise after the tumult he endured in spring and summer. But in a tougher division, Lewis has done just as much with his 6-2 Bengals, guiding them to first-place record and a 4-0 mark in the AFC North, with a combined three wins over Baltimore and Pittsburgh. After that opening-day heartbreaker against McDaniels' Broncos, Cincinnati has won six of seven.
Assistant coach of the year -- Gregg Williams, Defensive coordinator, New Orleans: So many good choices on this front, with Williams, Denver defensive coordinator Mike Nolan and Cincinnati defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer all doing great things for first-place teams. But I'm going with the job Williams has done in turning the Saints into an aggressive, takeaway-minded defense that is no longer a drag on the team's high-powered offense. The Saints had defensive talent on hand, they just didn't have the scheme or the mentality that worked. With Williams around, that's no longer a problem.
Free-agent signing of the year -- Darren Sharper, FS, New Orleans: How do you do better than adding the play-making Sharper to the Saints defense for a measly $1.7 million, one-year contract? He's been the glue to a Saints secondary that has let New Orleans down in recent years, and his big-play touch has been unrivaled.
Breakout player of the year -- Miles Austin, WR, Dallas: Who needs T.O.? Not the Cowboys. Not when they've got M.A. In the four starts he has made since replacing Patrick Crayton in the Dallas lineup, Austin has exploded for six touchdowns, almost all of them of the long ball variety.
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