This week's award goes to a man whose presence on the field was a surprise after a recent injury. He's followed by two more pass rushers, and two unexpected names in the secondary.
DeMarcus Ware(notes), DE, Dallas Cowboys -- Six days after suffering a frightening neck injury against the San Diego Chargers, Ware came back to face the New Orleans Saints and picked up two sacks and two forced fumbles, despite the fact that he played only in nickel and dime situations early in the game. Saints left tackle Jermon Bushrod(notes) may need counseling after the job Dallas did on him, but the bigger story for the Cowboys is that their blue-ribbon pass rusher is back in fine form.
Elbert Mack(notes), CB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers -- Sometimes, who you're facing does matter when rating performances. Four different players had two interceptions in Week 15, but all did so against bad passing offenses -- the Jets, Bears, Seahawks, and Lions. And when you look at tackle stats for cornerbacks, you're frequently seeing blown coverages in those numbers. Of the two-pick class, Mack gets the nod for his ability to box Seahawks receiver Deion Branch(notes) out of plays. Branch was targeted 10 times against the Bucs. He caught four. The Bucs caught three.
Louis Delmas(notes), S, Detroit Lions -- He's been an under-the-radar story on a defense struggling to do much right, but the Western Michigan rookie has excelled and impressed. His 100-yard interception return against Kurt Warner(notes) and the Cardinals made him the first player in NFL history to return an interception for a touchdown, return a fumble for a touchdown and make a tackle in the end zone for a safety in his rookie season. All-Rookie now, All-Pro later. Book it.
Will Smith(notes), DE, New Orleans Saints -- Yes, his Saints were dropped from the ranks of the undefeated by the Cowboys, but it wasn't due to Smith's efforts. Smith not only matched Ware's two-sack effort, he also led all Week 15 defenders with five quarterback hits. He's an active disruptor on a defense that's starting to draw consistency concerns.
Tully Banta-Cain(notes), OLB, New England Patriots -- Why is a guy with three sacks and three quarterback hits not the DPOW over DeMarcus Ware? Again, context. The Patriots were wise to bring Banta-Cain back into the fold after he spent two years in San Francisco; their pass rush needed help and the veteran has delivered. But the Bills run a different offensive line combination out there every week -- they're so desperate, they actually pulled the trigger on Richie Incognito(notes) after the Rams cut him. Meanwhile, Drew Brees(notes) rarely gets sacked, and Ware was in his kitchen non-stop. Banta-Cain's day is still worth honorable mention, though it may have felt like a second-team scrimmage.
- New Orleans Saints