As I was re-watching the TV copy of all the wild card games with the NFL GamePass app (shitty on all devices except ... my Microsoft Surface tablet, you know, the official tablet of all the NFL) before the all-22 was posted, I considered coming up with a Hoss Of The Week recipient for the first week of the playoffs. Then, I noticed that a lot of the teams that lost had defensive lineman who had big days (Whitney Mercilus, I'm looking at you). For the teams that won, several of the best performances were right around the same amount of outstanding. That made it untenable for me to try to choose just one.
Then Tuesday morning a light bulb came on ... I woke up and turned on the light like I always do so I can find my Surface and get to watching the all-22. A while after that, another light bulb came on! Well, this one was more of an idea rather than an actual light bulb.
What I noticed was that in each game one guy on each of the teams that didn't have to clean out their lockers this week not only had a good game, but they also had a specific play or plays that made a huge impact on the outcome of game, plays that likely won't even show their name on most standard stat sheets. These guys became my "Unsung Heroes" of the Wild Card Weekend. Unsung in this instance doesn't necessarily mean they aren't already big name guys or that they don't normally get credit for what they do.
It points to the fact that they all had big games this weekend, but I haven't seen a lot of people talking about what they did to help their team win the game because other things or other players overshadowed their performance. I wondered if perhaps for a lot of football fans, even in 2016, in their minds if it didn't show up on the stat sheet, then it didn't happen. That's not to say any of these guys had pitiful stats, it's just that to truly understand their impact you need to look deeper than that.
First up is ...
Chiefs nose tackle Dontari Poe
I'm on record stating that I would never draft a true 3-4 nose tackle in the first round. I just believe you can always find a couple of lazy, outta shape three-techniques later in the draft and turn them into nose tackles if need be. A dude who has to come out of the game on third-and-medium or longer just will never be worth that high of a draft pick to me. That partially has to do with my big belief about getting constant pressure on opposing quarterbacks being correlated with winning.
Or as Al Davis used to say, "the quarterback must go down and he must go down hard!"
Poe, however, was worth his first-round slot because he is the rare enormous human being who can also run like a deer, really fat deer, but a deer all the same. He doesn't have to come out on passing downs because even though his listed weight is 346 pounds -- which probably means he is a lot closer to 360 by this point of the season -- he is still explosive enough and quick enough to be able to get pressure with power, as well as with finesse.
Against the Texans last Saturday, Poe was in for eight out of 10 third downs before the Chiefs put in their backups on defense. That underscores how they view him as much more than just a run stuffer.
Let's be clear, for a true nose tackle in a 3-4 defense, even one that stunts and blitzes as much Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton likes him to, the name of the game is kicking ass against the running game. Poe did just that against the Chiefs, holding up well against numerous double teams and slip blocks. He also was productive with five tackles on the day.
That's pretty damn good for a nose tackle, by the way.
Poe's biggest play of the game came as a pass rusher, but if you didn't see the game you might not realize that. I'm sure you probably remember the play itself.
The Texans offense, in particular the running game, had finally shown signs of life about half way through the second quarter after having fallen behind to the Chiefs 13-0. Alfred Blue popped for a big 49-yard gain on second-and-9 from the Texans' 36-yard line that took them all the way down to the Chiefs' 13-yard line. Eventually, Blue and his backup Jonathan Grimes would get the Texans set up with a first-and-goal from the 2-yard line. That gave them at least three plays to cut into Kansas City's lead.
Then the J.J. Watt wildcat debacle ensued on first-and-goal. Don't ask me why a team that just had success running with their, ya know, running backs decided to turn to Watt instead of Blue and Grimes on first down because I have no idea. But they did, and that wasted a precious goal line play on bullshit in a situation on a stage that called for a non-bullshit play.
Second-and-goal saw comedy turn into disaster when Brian Hoyer -- lined up in shotgun to advertise "Hey, we as a team are about to make another bad decision!" -- was intercepted for the third time (!) in the first half, this time by Chiefs linebacker Josh Mauga in the end zone. Had he just thrown the ball away, the Texans had another down to try to get it in the end zone. Even if they failed on third down, they could've at least cut the Chiefs' lead to 10 right before halftime. That could've been huge seeing as how the Texans were getting the ball to start the second half. The one thing he could not do in that situation was throw it to the other team.
But he did.
Everybody remembers that play because it was so indicative of Houston's overall epic failure, but do you remember who it was that pressured Hoyer into that interception in the first place? That's right, it was that big ass nose tackle Poe who was coming for him.
How did he get there? I'm glad you asked. Poe was head up on center Ben Jones and executed what we like to call a "jab ole." That is when an interior pass rusher steps in one direction first with the foot closest to that direction before the other foot slides over too to get the blocker to step in the same direction with him. The defender quickly steps back in the opposite direction and executes an arm over to beat the blocker before he can react and change directions, too.
With Poe crushing fools on the regular with his bull rush, it's easy to forget how quickly he can move laterally. Jones had to be bracing for Poe's power. By the time he tried to react to the jab ole, it was like his feet were stuck in cement. Jones wasn't able to match Poe's quickness and that left him in the dust as Poe continued to the quarterback.
Hoyer barely had time to blink, let alone get away, before this behemoth of a man was bearing down on him. If he actually had time to scan the field, Hoyer probably would have seen that Blue hadn't run a great angle route in the first place and wasn't all that open after trying to cut back across the middle. Maybe he would've tried to throw the ball elsewhere. Or maybe he would have thrown it away and lived to fight another day. Hell, maybe Hoyer's next throw on third down would've been a touchdown. That could've been the start to getting his shitty day turned around heading into halftime.
Unfortunately for Hoyer and the Texans, we will never know what might have happened. What we do know is that bad went to even worse after that play. They squandered their best opportunity to score and ended up with a goose egg on the day.
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Later today, we'll have a look at the Steelers defensive lineman who barely got a mention in his team's win over the Bengals. On Friday, we'll switch over to the NFC.
I'm sure many of you will object to one or maybe even all of my choices, cuz hey this is the Internet, I just ask that y'all give me your own choices for Unsung Heroes last week in the comments section. That should be a hoot!