We have done Roses and Thorns all season and the feature has followed a particular pattern. We have used PFF scores to outline the best and worst from the previous week. We also would grade the quarterbacks according to PFF scores. However, it is time to change the script. The season is virtually over and so this will be the final Roses and Thorns from the 2022 season.
Following the season, we will be breaking down the season in other ways and there will be plenty of time for that. In this space, we will look at the biggest surprise and biggest disappointment for the whole season on offense and defense. We will leave the PFF scores behind as we simply use conventional wisdom and numbers to make out picks. We will also take a look at Davis Mills in the end.
Offensive Surprise— Dameon Pierce
Believe it or not, Pierce is not the offensive MVP. That honor goes to Laremy Tunsil who will be attending his third Pro Bowl in four seasons. That’s why he doesn’t qualify as a surprise. He should be that good. Pierce was a fourth round pick and fourth round picks are not supposed to be the best skill position player on their offense. Of course, we don’t know if that is a feather in his cap or an indictment of the team he is on. Let’s stick with the positive.
Pierce led rookie running backs until he went on injured reserve with 939 yards rushing. He averaged 4.3 yards per attempt. That isn’t great, but it was a revelation for an offense that was last in rushing in 2020 and 2021. He added 165 yards in receiving to give him over 1,100 yards from scrimmage. That’s not half bad considering he achieved all of these numbers in only 13 games. If the Houston Texans were in the playoff hunt I’m certain he would be out there, but there was little use risking further injury in a lost season.
Offensive Disappointment— Kenyon Green
Green was officially the first guard taken in the draft. He played guard in college. So, a lot was expected going into the season and he flashed some early in the season. In particular, he graded well in run blocking for most of the season, but he was manhandled by several defensive tackles in pass blocking. Granted, some of these defenders were Pro Bowlers themselves and they probably manhandled a number of guards in their journey to the Pro Bowl.
Still, a first round pick should at least hold his own and it was disappointing to see him struggle. One year is way too early to give up on anyone. Green can get stronger. He can improve on his technique. Maybe he gets better coaching if and when this coaching staff gets flushed out. If a competent center gets added in free agency or the draft it could also help. 2023 will almost certainly be a better year for Green and he could be one of the keys to a much improved offense.
Defensive Surprise— Jerry Hughes
Okay, I’m basking in the glow of having my Horned Frogs in the national championship game, but I did not expect this kind of season from Hughes. He sits on 9.0 sacks and he hadn’t had that many since 2014. His ten tackles for a loss are the fourth highest total of his illustrious 13 year career. 34 year-olds are not supposed to be on top of their game. Most notably, he was one of the few players to show up against the Jaguars on Sunday. He added a sack when most of the guys phoned it in.
There are two things we need to remember about Hughes. He isn’t a Hall of Famer. Every good team needs guys like Hughes. They aren’t stars, but they make plays when the team needs a play to be made. Secondly, he might not be a part of the future of this team and that is probably a good thing. If he’s not here it means someone younger with more potential is taking his slot. I’m sure he’s okay with that.
Defensive Disappointment— Derek Stingley
I’m not sure what is more disappointing. Having him miss half the season with an ankle injury could be the most disappointing. The fact that he didn’t seem to make much of an impact when he was playing could also be it. The first one is really only a thing because he missed so much time at LSU. It’s not like the fact that he was injury prone was a mystery. Of course, one could also claim that he was being protected just like Pierce. Maybe he is out there battling if the Texans are in the playoff hunt.
The other problem is a huge bone of contention. Was he ineffective because he was disappointing or wasn’t as good as advertised? Was he ineffective because he wasn’t being used correctly? Personally, he is at the very center of why there has to be a coaching change. Good coaches feature their best players doing the things they do best. Bad coaches don’t do those things. It’s really as simple as that.
The Quarterback Question
The season opened with one big question: was Davis Mills good enough to build around for the future. After 17 weeks and 16 games we have found our answer. Usually, franchise quarterbacks end up around 100 in quarterback rating or 60 in ESPN’s QBR. Those are usually bare minimums. Mills wound up with a 78.0 and 30.9 respectively. This is usually where we cue the excuses. He didn’t have a good offensive line in front of him. He didn’t have anyone good to throw to. The offensive staff was subpar.
These are all good enough excuses until you break them down. For one, his numbers were better a year ago when he presumably had less talent around him. That could easily be an indictment of Pep Hamilton and I’m more than happy to give him a lion’s share of the blame, but Mills is nowhere near being a franchise quarterback. If he gets more starts then you are simply delaying the inevitable. It is time to move on.