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Football Focus: Top 3 MVP Candidates Through Seven Weeks

Mauricio Rodriguez

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Football Focus: Top 3 MVP Candidates Through Seven Weeks

Once week 8 comes around, it's acceptable to start MVP discussions. Of course, that sort of talk begins even before the season starts, but by the eight week of the season we've seen plenty of NFL action for the conversation to have any sense at all. Having said that, on today's edition of Football Focus, I'll share with you my top three candidates for the MVP award this season. Stick around for some thoughts on the New England Patriots, Andy Dalton, Los Angeles Chargers and more!

Let's get to it.

Russel Wilson, SEA Seahawks

Dangerous Russ is playing absolutely great. Despite a rough outing versus the Baltimore Ravens, Wilson has been playing at MVP level all season. Although the Seahawks are always thought of as a talented team, the truth is they're far from being one of the best rosters in the NFL. Wilson's offensive line is average at best and he still manages to play lights out football.

He has a 122.1 passer rating outside of the pocket, according to PFF. He's led the Seahawks' passing offense to become the second most efficient according to DVOA. Wilson is elevating the players around him. If the Seahawks make the postseason, it'll be thanks to him. He might be the best QB in the NFL right now.

Deshaun Watson, HOU Texans

The Houston Texans are a difficult team to figure out. They're 4-3 and have been somewhat inconsistent this season. They're not the best of teams, but Deshaun Watson is a great QB. Watching him play is unbelievably fun as he slings the ball all over the field. His offensive line is far from great, but he manages to extend plays and get the job done frequently.

Watson is throwing 8.3 yards per attempt (fifth most in the league) and he's racked up 18 total touchdowns (tied for first in the NFL).

Last week wasn't very helpful to his case, but Watson will continue to play well this year. If the Texans win the division, I'll sure consider him an MVP candidate.


Lamar Jackson, BAL Ravens

Baltimore Ravens' QB Lamar Jackson might be a dark-horse candidate in the MVP race, and I'm surely betting on him. He's just a tough quarterback to defend. Many people don't like running signal-callers and I get it. Historically, their careers haven't been very long and they're often injury-prone.

But Jackson is sixth in the league in rushing yards (576). In average rushing yards per attempt, Lamar actually leads the league with 6.9 yards. He makes it look easy even against well-coached defenses such as Pete Carroll's Seahawks. With the Ravens playing aggressively this season on their way to a 5-2 record, Lamar Jackson should be in the MVP conversation.

Football Focus: Top 3 MVP Candidates Through Seven Weeks 1

Cincinnati Bengals QB Andy Dalton (Justin Berl / Getty Images)

Three-And-Out: 3 Quick Thoughts

  • Maybe the New England Patriots haven't faced a tough team yet, but that doesn't mean you should doubt them. They're really good and Bill Belichick might be coaching the best defense of his career. Through seven games, they have allowed 6.9 points per game, 223 yards per game, and have 22 takeaways. In all of those categories (and more), they rank #1 in the NFL. They've allowed three offensive touchdowns while scoring three on defense. This team is remarkable. Don't let lazy "they haven't played anyone" narratives fool you.
  • With the Cincinnati Bengals leading the Jacksonville Jaguars 10-9, things went south for the 0-7 Bengals really fast. Quarterback Andy Dalton would go on to throw three interceptions in the fourth quarter. It truly feels like it's time to move on from Dalton in Cincinnati. Start the rebuild with a new face at the wheel.
  • Oh, the Los Angeles Chargers. Prior to the season, they looked like a serious contender in the AFC West. Now they're 2-5. Last weekend, they were inches away from getting a win over the Tennessee Titans but Melvin Gordon fumbled the ball and the Chargers lost in disappointing fashion. They might not be a bad football team, but there are more issues with Anthony Lynn's team than just health issues. Even if they were completely healthy, this wouldn't be a great team.

Underdog of the Week: Baltimore Ravens

The Seattle Seahawks were 3-point favorites last week against the Baltimore Ravens. The Ravens defeated the Seahawks on the road - which isn't easy in Seattle - 30-16. Lamar Jackson was impressive on the ground as he racked up 116 yards in 14 carries. The guy is special and it's the first time this season when the Ravens have convinced me they're a good team. I had my doubts, but they're gone now.

Player of the Week: QB Aaron Rodgers, GB Packers

This might've been Rodgers' first "elite" performance of the season. Against a bad Oakland Raiders' defense, Rodgers did a fantastic job throwing the football. He completed 25 out of 31 passes for 429 yards and five touchdowns. He was great. Although the Green Bay Packers are 6-1, they're one of those teams that still have a lot to prove. Rodgers having such a good game is a step in the right direction.

College Football Corner: Down Goes Wisconsin

Sooner or later, the Wisconsin Badgers were supposed to fall. They're a good football team and they ranked #6 prior to last week, but they weren't likely to survive a game versus the Ohio State Buckeyes next Saturday. However, their first loss of the season arrived very unexpectedly. As a 31-point underdogs (yes, you read that right), Illinois defeated Wisconsin on a walk-off game winning field goal.

SportsCenter on Twitter

Illinois pulls off the BIGGEST upset of the season over No. 6 Wisconsin! #SCtop10 https://t.co/z3lmx1H7kK

Just like that, Wisconsin's playoff hopes are completely gone. It's tough to see, but it's what makes college football beautiful. The surprises never stop.

Tell me what you think about "Football Focus: Top 3 MVP Candidates Through Seven Weeks" in the comments below, or tweet me @MauNFL and let’s talk football! If you like football and are looking for a Dallas Cowboys show in Spanish, don’t miss my weekly Facebook Live! show, Primero Cowboys!


I love to write, I love football and I love the Dallas Cowboys. I've been rooting for America's team all the way from Mexico ever since I can remember. If you want to talk football, I'm in... You'll find me at @MauNFL.

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Dallas Cowboys CB Chidobe Awuzie Becoming a Red Zone Liability?

Brian Martin

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Cowboys CB Chidobe Awuzie Becoming a Redzone Liability?

Dallas Cowboys Cornerback Chidobe Awuzie is arguably as talented as just about any defensive back in the NFL. He still young and has quite a bit he can do to improve his game, but there's no denying his talent. One of the things he may need to work on right now is his awareness and discipline in the red zone.

In back to back games No. 24 has been caught out of position and as a result surrendered points in the end zone. Just this last Sunday he gave up a two point conversion to Minnesota Vikings Tight End Kyle Rudolph. The week prior he gave up a touchdown catch to New York Giants Wide Receiver Cody Latimer.

Does this make him a liability in the red zone?

I know if I've noticed Chidobe Awuzie getting victimized in back to back weeks in the red zone opposing offensive coordinators around the league have done the same. As a result, they're going to test Awuzie to find out if they can have the same kind of success.


Chidobe Awuzie

Dallas Cowboys CB Chidobe Awuzie

If I'm Kris Richard I'm personally going to be working on making sure Chidobe is fully aware he needs to be more disciplined with his play, especially in the red zone. He's been caught out of position in back to back games and that can't be something that continues from here on out.

I'm sure Awuzie would tell you himself this is something he needs to clean up. He takes pride in his abilities and knows he can still improve. Hopefully he can take it to heart and better prepare for what's to come. Whether that means just executing his assignments better or maybe studying a little more film. It's up to him to figure out what he needs to do.

As far as the Dallas Cowboys are concerned though, they may need to start giving him a little more help over the top if this is something that continues. And if worse comes to worse, they can always see if Jourdan Lewis or Anthony Brown can be more consistent. I doubt it would come to that, but it is an option.

I for one am hoping No. 24 will just hunker down and figure out what he needs to do in order to take his game to the next level. If he can do that the Cowboys defense will be much better for it. I don't know about you, but I will be keeping a close eye on him for the rest of the season.

Do you think CB Chidobe Awuzie has become a red zone liability?


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Maliek Collins has a Breakout Opportunity Against the Minnesota Vikings

John Williams

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Cowboys DT's Maliek Collins, Antwaun Woods Primed for Monster Seasons

It's been a quiet 2019 for one of the Dallas Cowboys' preseason breakout candidates, Maliek Collins. Heading into training camp, and then the regular season, Collins was the healthiest he'd been at any point in his previous three seasons. That combined with another year in the NFL, led many to believe that Collins could become a dominant 3-technique defensive tackle for the Dallas Cowboys. Collins has been good, but perhaps not as productive as many might have predicted.

On the year, Maliek Collins has three sacks, which is third for the Dallas Cowboys behind Robert Quinn and DeMarcus Lawrence. Per Pro Football Focus, Collins is tied for 17th in the NFL among interior defensive linemen. Tied for 17th might not sound very good, but when the league leader in sacks among interior defensive linemen has just six, Collins isn't far off from threatening for the league lead. In fact, Maliek Collins is tied with All-Pro Defensive Tackles Fletcher Cox, Chris Jones, and Geno Atkins in sacks.

In total pressures, Collins is tied for eighth in the NFL per Pro Football Focus with 27 along with Quentin Jefferson and Vita Vea.

Though he's not racking up a ton of tackle this season, Collins has been excellent as a pass rusher. On Sunday Night Football against the Minnesota Vikings, he'll have a tremendous opportunity to build on his first-half numbers.


Against the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday Night Football, Collins has an enormous opportunity. Among quarterbacks with at least 196 drop backs, Minnesota Vikings Quarterback Kirk Cousins has been under pressure at the fourth highest rate in the NFL. His 40.8% pressure rate is only better than Daniel Jones, Russell Wilson, and Sam Darnold.

Vikings Guard Pat Elflein has allowed five sacks on the year, which is tied for the third most in the NFL this season among interior offensive linemen and his 20 pressures allowed is tied for eighth. When Maliek Collins gets an opportunity to line up across from Elflein, he's going to have a chance to get home.

With teams having to pay so much attention to DeMarcus Lawrence, Robert Quinn, and newcomer Michael Bennett, Collins should be freed up to face more one-on-one blockers.

Collins hasn't had a bad season by any stretch of the imagination, but he hasn't necessarily been the dominant player we thought he could be after his strong preseason. That perception could change when the Dallas Cowboys play the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday Night Football. The opportunity is there for Collins, he just has to seize it.


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Cowboys LB Jaylon Smith Quietly Having a Good Season

Matthew Lenix

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Cowboys LB Jaylon Smith Quietly Having a Good Season

The Dallas Cowboys started to get the return on their investment of Jaylon Smith in a major way in 2018. He finished with 121 tackles (six tackles for loss), four sacks, four passes defended, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, and a touchdown.

With that type of production comes lofty expectations. Dak Prescott is off to the best start of his career, All-Pro Ezekiel Elliott has found his groove with three consecutive 100-yard performances, and Amari Cooper is on pace for his best season as a pro. However, quietly, Smith is on pace to have the best season of his young career so far.

In the season opener vs the New York Giants, the Cowboys completely dominated the game virtually from the start defensively. After a touchdown on their first possession, the Giants were shut down and only scored 10 points the rest of the game. Smith would register only six tackles for the game but the Cowboys were up as much as 25 points so it wasn't really necessary for him to ball out in this contest.

Week 2 vs the Washington Redskins on the road was another solid effort defensively for the Cowboys. They held the Redskins in check behind Smith's team-leading 11 tackles as the Cowboys only allowed 255 yards of offense and two conversions on nine third downs.

The Miami Dolphins came to town in Week 3 as the Cowboys looked to improve to 3-0. The Dolphins offense never got on track as they only managed 283 total yards, went a pedestrian three of 15 on third down, gave up three sacks, and scored six points. Smith once again led the team in tackles with 10 and also forced a fumble in the red zone that was recovered by All-Pro DeMarcus Lawrence when the Dolphins were driving to take the lead before halftime. Very productive game for Smith in this one.

Week 4 was a defensive battle between the Cowboys and the New Orleans Saints on Sunday Night Football. The Saints came out on top 12-10 giving the Cowboys their first loss but one of the bright spots was the play of Smith. All around it was one of his better performances of the season with nine tackles (two tackles for loss), one quarterback hit, and a sack. This performance gave him 30 tackles over a three-game span which is his best stretch of the 2019 season.


The Green Bay Packers arrived at AT&T Stadium in Week 5 having won three consecutive games there, and it was quickly apparent they would win their fourth straight. The Cowboys had two turnovers on their first three possessions that led to two touchdowns for the Packers and the Cowboys never recovered. Despite holding Aaron Rodgers to zero touchdowns the Cowboys gave up a career day to Aaron Jones with 182 all-purpose yards (107 rushing, 75 receiving) and lost 34-24. Smith finished with nine tackles (tied Leighton Vander Esch for the team lead), one quarterback hit, one pass defended, and a sack. In a game that wasn't as close as the score indicated Smith was one of the few bright spots for Dallas.

The Cowboys entered Metlife Stadium for their Week 6 matchup with the New York Jets completely spiraling and it wouldn't get any better. Defensively, the Cowboys started flat by allowing 21 points in the first half. Even though they only allowed three points in the second half, Sam Darnold had a career-high 338 yards and the Jets handed the Cowboys their third consecutive loss. This would be Smith's most underwhelming performance of the season with a pedestrian four tackles. None of the impactful plays we saw from the previous three games showed up in this one.

Before the bye week, the Cowboys hosted the Philadelphia Eagles in a battle for first place in the NFC East. Smith wasted no time making an impact in this game as he forced a fumble by Tight End Dallas Goedert on the Eagles first possession near midfield which set up the Cowboys first touchdown. This set the tone for the entire defense as they held the Eagles to 283 yards total yards, only allowed 10 points and forced four turnovers. Smith tied Sean Lee and Jeff Heath for the team lead with seven tackles while also registering a pass defended and a forced fumble. Just the type of performance you'd hope for from Smith after his worst game of the season.

This past Monday night saw the Cowboys return to Metlife Stadium but this time they would take on the arch-rival New York Giants. Smith spearheaded a dominant performance by the Cowboys defense as they held the Giants to 271 total yards, five out of 16 on third down, and forced three turnovers. He finished tied with Lee for the team lead with 12 tackles while also adding a half-sack and a quarterback hit. With the Eagles on the Cowboys heels for the division lead, they needed their best players to perform vs the Giants and Smith definitely delivered on his end.

Jaylon Smith is currently on pace for 136 tackles and five sacks which would both be career highs. In five of the Cowboys eight games, he's either led or been tied for the team lead in tackles. He has continued to show that he's worth every penny of the five-year 64 million dollar extension with 35.5 million in guarantees he signed in August. His "Clear Eye View" has him playing the best football of his career in 2019.

 


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