There are few true “Difference-Makers” in the NFL nowadays. People look at the NFL draft and get exciting about players who may be able to come in and be decent contributors but everybody knows they’ll never be “Difference-Makers”.
When I say “Difference-Maker” I’m talking about a player who is the target of the opponent’s strategy, but they still find a way to dominate. They are double-teamed but they still get their numbers and help make their teammates better. It’s like Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant being doubled when possible but everyone knows they’re going to get at least 30.
It’s like trying to pitch around Albert Pujols but realizing that he will hurt you with the long ball, so you walk him with runners on base.
The opposing coaches spend all weeks constructing strategies to stop them but eventually a “Diffrence-Maker” takes over the game anyway and that sends next week’s opposing coaches into early morning and late night video sessions.
The Steelers have a number of those players on their football team and that’s why they continue to collect Super Bowl titles.
Teams try to scheme to stop safety Troy Polamalu but before you know it he’ll blitz or get his hands on a pass or force a fumble that will turn the game around. He will line up any and everywhere, yet make plays time and time again. Polamalu will lineup on the line of scrimmage but get to the deep third and make a play on a post route. He will start out deep and before the ball is snapped sneak up to the line of scrimmage, blitz and cause a fumble, after sacking the quarterback.
Polamalu does some of his best work with the season on the line. He ended the AFC Championship game against the Ravens a couple of years ago by picking off a pass and returning it for a touchdown with the game on the line and a couple of minutes left to play in the fourth quarter.
Outside linebacker James Harrison is capable of the same. He can take over a game, knock the ball loose on a sack, force a fumble on a tackle downfield or pick off a pass in the end zone and return it over 100 yards for a touchdown, the way he did in the Super Bowl. Teams try to make sure Harrison is accounted for but he can dominate an offensive lineman and get to the quarterback or put a crunching hit on a ball carrier that separates them from the ball.
Jets corner Darrelle Revis can eliminate the other team’s best receiver by covering him like a blanket. He can run with the fastest of receivers, battle with the biggest and toughest of wide outs, then deal with double moves and jump balls to no avail.
He can take a receiver to Revis Island whether he’s playing him in bump and run or backed off of him and getting into his back pedal. The former Pitt Panther is great at playing the ball in the air and knocking a pass down as it’s about to reach the receivers hands.
Revis is a human eraser, who can put his invisible paint on any wide out on two legs. His ability to cast his spell on a receiver makes Rex Ryan even smarter and the rest of his Jets defensive teammates better.
Bears defensive end Julius Peppers can take over a game with his speed and power by dominating an offensive lineman and putting constant pressure on the quarterback. Peppers can shut down the running game on his side of the line or by running down plays from the backside. He’s an outstanding athlete who has been known for picking off screens and hitches and running them back for touchdowns. The big defensive end makes the rest of teammates better because offenses focus on him.
At times Brian Urlacher can seem like he’s every place at once. The Bears were one of the few teams in the league who could play the Tampa Two because they had a middle linebacker who could get to the deep middle after a play fake. He could run down running backs and wide receivers after taking on 330-pound offensive guards. The key to playing the Tampa Two is the pursuit by the entire defensive team especially the linebackers with Urlacher and Lance Briggs leading the way.
Eagles quarterback Kevin Kolb is still trying to figure out what happened when he was rolling to his left and looking down field for an open receiver. Packers outside linebacker Clay Matthews assaulted him in front of a stadium full of Eagles fans and turned the Birds season upside down. The second-year NFL linebacker with the amazing bloodline let the rest of the NFL know that he was loose and prowling the league in search of quarterbacks.
They line him up everywhere and he can overpower blockers and run down ball carriers. Matthews was a Pro Bowler last year, but he’s stepped up his game and become a dominating force, who has to be accounted for and game planned to stop.
The special thing about the Packers defense is that they have two difference makers and a number of players on the way. Charles Woodson was the NFL Defensive Player of the Year a year ago because they’re nothing that he can’t do on the defensive side of the ball. I’ve seen Woodson blitz through the A gap between a 320-pound center and a 340-pound guard. He slid through the gap, got his hands to stop the quarterback from throwing the ball then came down with the sack.
On the next play he’s lined up outside in a man-to-man situation with one of the best receivers in the league. A few plays later Woodson is lined up as a linebacker and shooting through a gap in the offensive line to make a play in the backfield on a quick hitter up the middle. Woodson pulls balls loose from experienced running backs and picks off passes thrown by Pro Bowl quarterbacks. He does it all and that’s why Dom Capers knew he had something when he was able to line up Tramone Williams and Sam Shields outside at cornerback then free Woodson up to play linebacker, safety and corner and work his magic.
These are the guys who will likely make the difference in which teams go to the Super Bowl and which teams go home. They are also the type of players, who the Eagles need to add to the roster if they want to playing next year at this time of the season.