Nov. 9, 2011
By Currie McFayden, WakeForestSports.com
With the NFL season officially at its midpoint for most teams, the NFC has established itself as the more impressive conference in the season's first half. The Green Bay Packers remain undefeated and have given rise to the belief that they could challenge for a perfect season, while the San Francisco 49ers and rookie head coach Jim Harbaugh are the league's only one-loss team despite having plenty of naysayers at the beginning of the year.
For former Demon Deacons, Weeks 8 and 9 provided some great performances. Calvin Pace, although overshadowed by more well-known players on the Jets defense, continued his high level of play with an interception against Buffalo. Fred Robbins recorded his first sack of the season in a surprising win over the Saints, and Joe Zelenka has helped to make Atlanta's field goal unit one of the best in the league thus far on the season.
Here is a player-by-player look at how the former Deacons fared in Weeks 8 and 9.
OT Tyson Clabo, Atlanta Falcons
LB Aaron Curry, Oakland Raiders
The Falcons' offense line was off with the rest of the team in Week 8, but returned to action by blasting the winless Colts 31-7 this past Sunday. Clabo anchored the line at right tackle with his 67th consecutive start and helped to provide superb protection for QB Matt Ryan throughout the entire game. Ryan was sacked just once and threw for 275 yards and three touchdowns on the day. The running game also had a field day against the hapless Indianapolis defense as five different rushers combined for 163 yards and a touchdown on 41 carries, good for an average of four yards per rush. Rookie RB Jacquizz Rodgers had the best game of his career to date with 10 carries for 44 yards behind the strong line. Atlanta (5-3) will face a potentially season-defining game as it hosts the New Orleans Saints (6-3) in Week 10. With a win, the Falcons will move into first place in the NFC South.
Curry and the Raiders also enjoyed a bye during Week 8 before being downed by the Broncos 38-24 in Week 9. The third-year linebacker tied for second on the team with six tackles in the contest, which also matched his season-high mark for a single game. One of those was a tackle for loss, and Curry also had a quarterback hit against QB Tim Tebow. He seemed much more comfortable with the defense after having the bye week to become fully adjusted, which should bode well for his numbers as the season progresses. At the midway point of the season, he has 35 tackles and two pass breakups. Oakland (4-4) will look to rebound after consecutive division losses as they take on the San Diego Chargers (4-4) in Week 10's Thursday night matchup. The winner will move into first place in the AFC West.
LB Calvin Pace, New York Jets
The red-hot Jets took a week off in Week 8 and traveled to Buffalo for a 27-11 victory to create a three-way tie atop the AFC East in Week 9. Pace provided more defensive fireworks in much the same way as his two-sack performance in Week 6 as he picked off a pass from QB Ryan Fitzpatrick as the Bills were driving just before halftime. The interception was just the third of Pace's career and his first since January 2, 2011, in a game that was also against Buffalo. In addition to the pick, the linebacker also notched a pair of tackles to give him 35 for the season. New York (5-3) will have revenge on its mind as it hosts the New England Patriots (5-3) in Week 10. The Jets dropped their first meeting to the Pats 30-21, but a win in this key game would help to break the logjam atop the division.
DT Fred Robbins, St. Louis Rams
Robbins has emerged in the past two weeks after moving quietly through the first six games of the season for St. Louis. In Week 8's shocking 31-21 win over New Orleans, the Rams earned their first win of the year and the former Deacon defensive tackle racked up four tackles (a season-high) and a sack, his first of 2011. Unfortunately, the team was unable to push forward with the momentum as they dropped an overtime heartbreaker to Arizona in Week 9 by a 19-13 margin. Robbins recorded a pair of tackles against the Cardinals and now has 14 through eight games, putting him on pace to match his 28 from last season. The 12th-year lineman also has four straight multi-tackle games, his first such feat since Weeks 4-7 of the 2009 season when he was a member of the Giants. The Rams (1-7) will travel to Cleveland (3-5) for an early afternoon game in Week 10.
CB Alphonso Smith, Detroit Lions
The third-year cornerback helped Detroit's defense to batter Tim Tebow and the Broncos, his former team, in a 45-10 blowout victory in Week 8 before heading into their Week 9 bye. Smith, who missed the Lions' first three games, made two tackles against Denver, his first multi-tackle game since returning from his broken foot. He seems to have settled into his role as the extra corner in nickel packages quite well and should maintain that position for the second half of the season. Detroit (6-2) will travel to Soldier Field and face the Chicago Bears (5-3) in Week 10 for an important NFC North showdown.
OT Steve Vallos, Cleveland Browns
Vallos has been inactive for the last two weeks and has gotten onto the field just once this season, in Week 6 against Oakland. The Browns dropped both games against San Francisco (20-10) and Houston (30-12) and currently sit in fourth place in the AFC North. In Week 10, they will play host to the St. Louis Rams and will look to avoid a three-game losing streak.
LS Joe Zelenka, Atlanta Falcons
The anchor of the special teams unit, Zelenka has helped kicker Matt Bryant become one of just three kickers remaining in the league who have yet to miss a field goal this season. Mason Crosby of Green Bay and Josh Scobee in Jacksonville complete the trio. Bryant added a 20-yarder in Week 9 along with four successful extra points. He is now 12-for-12 on field goals this season and has hit all 21 of his PAT attempts.
Deacons on NFL Practice Squads
OG Chris DeGeare, Minnesota Vikings
CB Brandon Ghee, Cincinnati Bengals
Deacons on Injured Reserve (out for the season)
FB Ovie Mughelli, Atlanta Falcons