After leading the NFL in sacks and forced fumbles this year, Indianapolis Colts outside linebacker Robert Mathis was ultimately pipped to the post by Carolina Panthers starlet Luke Kuechly in the race for Defensive Player of the Year.
There is no question Mathis produced the best football of his illustrious 11-year career in 2013, recording 19.5 sacks and forcing eight fumbles. On a defense ranked 13th against the pass and 26th against the run, the 32 year old’s big-play ability and leadership kept the Colts’ below average defense afloat for much of the season. It is also important to remember that Indianapolis doesn’t beat the Kansas City Chiefs on Wild Card Weekend without Mathis’ strip-sack of quarterback Alex Smith early in the third quarter.
Kuechly, on the other hand, was a part of one of the best defensive units in the league. Ranked second in points allowed, second in yards allowed, and second against the run, Kuechly had the likes of Greg Hardy, Charles Johnson and Thomas Davis assisting him along the way. To put things in perspective, the Panthers’ second highest sack total was 11, belonging to Johnson. Jerrell Freeman had the second highest total on the Colts’ roster with 5.5.
Kuechly undoubtedly had a great year with 156 combined tackles and four interceptions, however, several other players posted better numbers this season. Buffalo Bills linebacker Kiko Alonso made 159 tackles, caught four interceptions, and also recovered two fumbles, while San Francisco 49ers’ NaVarro Bowman had 145 tackles, scored on a 93-yard interception return, forced four fumbles, and recovered two more.
The result of the voting highlights the fact that these end-of-season awards are nothing more than popularity contests where Kuechly was the “fashionable” pick. Playing on a much maligned Bills team ruled Alonso out of the picture immediately and giving the award to a fresh-faced 22 year old was deemed a more attractive proposition than offering it to Mathis or Bowman, two established veterans. We saw the same thing happen last year with Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt and it appears Kuechly has been crowned the media darling of 2014.
Let’s just hope that Joe Buck, Troy Aikman and friends can come up with a more creative nickname than “J.J Swatt” by the start of preseason.
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