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THE CHALKBOARD

2014 Year End Awards

GAME PLAN OF THE YEAR: Arizona 14 Detroit 6. Bruce Arians is not QC's COY, but Arians was "Coach of the Day" so frequently that the Cardinals won 3.5 more games than the 7.5 games the linemakers in Las Vegas set in the pre-season as the Red-Birds season total over-under. Arians and his staff won the design battle 8 times, which is the league average, but he did so with a roster that was depleted by injury and suspension. His game plan design against Detroit was quintessential Arians. In the prior week against the Rams, Arizona lost QB Carson Palmer to a knee injury and the Lions were bringing the NFL's top-rated D to the desert. During the week, QC received the following text from a well-respected NFL handicapper: "What do you make of ARI with no Palmer? Stanton completed <50% of his passes on year. DET D line is going to cause problems against ARI…. Team that struggles to run the ball. Forces Stanton to throw…. DET overcame far better D in Mia. ARI win [against St. Louis] looks better with 2 late Def TDs…. Reality is they struggled to be productive for most of game against STL. DET going to cause headaches." QC responded: "Arizona protects the passer pretty well & Stanton is mobile. Low complete % means nothing. Arians throws downfield so will be low. Cards have great playmakers outside & Arians will keep 7 in to block & his athletes at WR can still win." Sure enough, Stanton was not sacked and hit WR Michael Floyd with TD passes (42, 12) on the Cardinals' first two possessions in a 14-6 win. Further, late in the game, Detroit punt returner Jeremy Ross appeared to make a heads up play when he picked up a casually downed punt at this own 1-yard line and ran it all the way to the Arizona 45-yard lines. But an alert Arians challenged the play and the replay official ruled the Cardinals' Justin Bethel had possessed the ball just long enough to end the play and the ball was brought back to the Lions 1-yard line. The great Bill Walsh considered "being alert" a skill and nobody displayed that skill better than Arians did against Detroit.

PAST WINNERS:
2009: New Orleans 38 New England 17
2010: Cleveland 30 New Orleans 17
2011: Denver 38 Oakland 24
2012: Atlanta 30 Seattle 28 (NFC Divisional Playoff)
2013: Philadelphia 33 Washington 27

COACH OF THE YEAR: Jason Garrett (Dallas). Garrett entered 2014 sharing the hottest seat in the NFL with Oakland's Dennis Allen and New York's Rex Ryan. While the Raiders and the Jets collapsed, the Cowboys thrived. Dallas finished fourth in the NFL in play design differential and won the design battle in 11 of 16 games. How did they do it? Garrett and OC Scott Linehan did what QC thought they would never do: They ran the football. Behind All-Pros Tyron Smith and Zack Martin, RB DeMarco Murray became the most effective ground threat in the league, which made QB Tony Romo's job a lot easier. On defense, DC Rod Marinelli plugged Rolando McClain into the middle of his Tampa-2 principles and the Cowboys' D played competently after a rough start. At the pre-season "Super Contest Weekend" in Las Vegas, the so-called "sharps" expected the worst and advised "power fading" Dallas. By the end of the year, the Cowboys had won 4.5 more games than the 7.5 games the Vegas linemakers set in the pre-season as the Cowboys season total over-under.

PAST WINNERS:
2009: Norv Turner (San Diego)
2010: Bill Belichick (New England)
2011: Wade Phillips (Houston Defensive Coordinator)
2012: Jim Harbaugh (San Francisco)
2013: Pete Carroll (Seattle)

MOST VALUABLE PLAYER: J.J. Watt (Houston). No defensive player has ever had a defensive year like Watt. He sacked opposing quarterbacks 20.5 times, blocked 10 passes, recovered 5 fumbles, forced 4 fumbles, caught 2 TD passes, returned an interception and a fumble for a TD, registered a safety, and blocked and extra point. With a shaky QB situation, Houston relied upon the running game and playing conservatively on offense. The Texans had to get their big plays from someone and they got them from Watt.

PAST WINNERS:
2009: Dallas Clark (Indianapolis)
2010: Tom Brady (New England)
2011: Aaron Rogers (Green Bay)
2012: P-rex Manning (Denver)
2013: P-rex Manning (Denver)

ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: Teddy Bridgewater (Minnesota). Giants' electrifying WR Odell Beckham, Jr. led the league in sizzle, but Bridgewater bettered his team better than any other rookie. New York's QCYPA increased from 7.302 to 7.601 after Beckham joined the lineup in Week 5. But that increase paled in comparison to the increase from 5.252 QCYPA to 6.990 that Minnesota enjoyed in games Bridgewater started.

PAST WINNERS:
2009: Brian Cushing (Houston)
2010: RobAaron Gronkowski-Hernandez (New England)
2011: Patrick Peterson (Arizona)
2012: Robert Griffin, III (Washington)
2013: Kenny Vaccarro (New Orleans)

SPECIAL TEAMS PLAYERS OF THE YEAR: Adam Vinatieri and Pat McAfee (Indianapolis) . Nothing allows an NFL head coach to sleep easier at night than being solid in the kicking game and Indianapolis was as solid as a team can be in 2014. Because field goal and PAT design essentially has been perfected, theoretically an NFL kicker should make every kick. Vinatieri almost pulled it off, missing just 1 field goal in the last game of the year. McAfee ranked third in net punting and touchback percentage and was 3 for 3 on onside kickoffs, including one he recovered himself. Philadelphia's entire special teams unit receives an honorable mention for dyanmic play throughout the year that likely provided the Eagles a couple of extra wins.

PAST WINNERS:
2009: Josh Cribbs (Cleveland)
2010: Devin Hester (Chicago)
2011: David Akers (San Francisco)
2012: Matt Bryant (Atlanta)
2013: Justin Tucker (Baltimore)

JERRY JONES PATIENT OWNER OF THE YEAR AWARD. Jerry Jones (Dallas). After an 8-8 year in 2013 in which the Cowboys ranked 22nd in the NFL in play design differential, it would not have been surprising if Jones had cut Jason Garrett loose. Before the 2014 season started, some in the blogosphere ranked Garrett 30th among the NFL's 32 head coaches. But Jones stuck with Garrett and was rewarded with 12 wins, a division championship, and a dramatic come-from-behind victory. And if Dez Bryant could have squeezed that fourth down pass in Green Bay a little tighter, who knows what else Dallas might have achieved in 2014.

PAST WINNERS:
2009: Jerry Jones (Dallas)
2010: Arthur Blank (Atlanta)
2011: Bob McNair (Houston)
2012: Jerry Richardson (Carolina)
2013: Jerry Richardson (Carolina)

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