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NFL Africa Zone: Dirty Bird Edition

Ed Mulholland/Getty Images

We've reached the halfway point of the NFL season, and while the Philadelphia Eagles are running away with things in the NFC, the Pittsburgh Steelers and New England Patriots are quietly coming into form in the AFC.

The African pass rushers in the league couldn't replicate the performances put up over the past few weeks, but African defensive backs maintained their steady play this weekend.

Let's get into the zone.

Player of the week

Mohamed Sanu (Atlanta Falcons #12) Wide Receiver

Playing in his second game back after missing the Falcons' loss to the Dolphins in week 6 with a hamstring injury, Sanu was back in form for the Dirty Birds on Sunday. The New Jersey-born Sierra Leonean caught six passes for 74 yards, and one very important touchdown in the Falcons' win over the Jets.

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Sanu TD puts Falcons in front

Falcons QB Matt Ryan works the pocket until WR Mohamed Sanu gets loose in the end zone for an 8-yard score, giving Atlanta a late 22-17 lead over New York.

Sanu's touchdown was very timely as the Falcons were trailing by a point at the time. The touchdown gave the Falcons their first lead of the game, which they would not relinquish as the New Jersey kid got a win in front of friends and family.

Notable Performances

Jahleel Addae (Los Angeles Chargers #37) Strong Safety

The Chargers safety has stepped up this season and is fast becoming a tackling machine. Leading the Chargers in tackling this season with 56 tackles so far, the Ghanaian-American from Florida had eight tackles, including two tackles for a loss, in the Chargers' 21-13 loss to the New England Patriots.

Addae wasn't perfect as he had a couple of badly blown tackles (after over-celebrating tackles he had made) that extended Patriots drives. But he stayed active and involved as he played all 86 snaps on defense and did play a key role in keeping the Patriots under 100 yards rushing as a team. Unfortunately for them, the Chargers' key errors in all three phases of the game led them to defeat.

David Onyemata (New Orleans Saints #93) Defensive Tackle

The New Orleans Saints' big man from the University of Manitoba via Nigeria is showing more confidence each game, as he gets more snaps during his second season in the league. Onyemata had five tackles, including 1.5 tackles for a loss in the Saints' 20-12 win over the Chicago Bears.

Onyemata has been particularly effective in stopping the run for the revamped Saints defense. Despite allowing 157 yards on the ground to the Bears, if you remove the 46 yards gained by Bears quarterback Mitch Trubisky on a 4th quarter scramble, the Bears running backs were held to just 3.7 yards per carry against the Saints on Sunday, and Onyemata was a big reason for that.

Tevin Coleman (Atlanta Falcons #26) Running Back

Liberian-American running back Coleman picked up the slack for the Atlanta Falcons' running game on a rainy Sunday in New New Jersey. In the Falcons' win over the Jets in East Rutherford, NJ, Coleman ran for 82 yards on 14 carries.

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Coleman leads Jets on a 52-yard chase

Atlanta RB Tevin Coleman takes the handoff from QB Matt Ryan up the field for an impressive 52-yard gain.

The third year player broke off a highlight 52-yard run early in the fourth quarter, which helped take his yards per carry average to 5.2 for the game. Coleman also added one reception for 22 yards as he continues showing his ability to catch passes out of the backfield.

Post game quotes

Mo Sanu on playing the NY Jets:

"This is home for me, so it was a homecoming for me.It felt great to play in (New) Jersey. I haven't played in (New) Jersey since college, so it was awesome."

Coach Dan Quinn on Sanu's touchdown catch:

"Not only was the catch fantastic, we expect that from him. He's got such a big catching radius, he's 6-foot-3 with long arms and he has aggressive hands, so when the ball is in that area, he's someone that really goes after it. He also had a good third-down conversion at the end of the game to extend one of the drives. It's good to have him back and all that he brings to our team."

Via AtlantaFalcons.com

Players to watch in Week 9

Cedric Ogbuehi (Cincinnati Bengals #70) Left Tackle

The Bengals left tackle will be up against it on Sunday when he faces the Jacksonville Jaguars defense. The Jaguars boast one of the best defensive units in the league this season and just added another top defensive tackle to the mix in Marcell Dareus. Ogbuehi will find himself trying to protect his quarterback Andy Dalton from the talented Yannick Ngakoue, the disruptive Calais Campbell, as well as Dante Fowler. Any chance for a Bengals win will depend on how much time Ogbuehi and his teammates on the Bengals offensive line can give Dalton in the pocket.

Robert Nkemdiche (Arizona Cardinals #90 ) Defensive Tackle

Much was expected of second-year tackle Nkemdiche, especially after the Cardinals let the veteran Calais Campbell leave in free agency. Nkemdiche was expected to take over the position and show development in his play as the season went on. Unfortunately for the Cardinals and Nkemdiche, that hasn't been the case. With four games missed already due to a calf injury, and a combination of limited snaps plus ineffective pressure (and various offside penalties he has received), Nkemdiche has been a non-factor for the Cardinals so far.

On Sunday the Cardinals will be facing the winless San Francisco 49ers and Nkemdiche (if healthy) will get to go up against the below-par offensive line the 49ers are trotting out. There's no better time or opponent for Nkemdiche to ball out and cause havoc. If he fails to do so, Nkemdiche might find himself falling behind on the Cardinals' depth chart.

Jay Ajayi (Miami Dolphins #23) Running Back

The J-Train (and the entire Dolphins run game) got shut down by the Baltimore Ravens last Thursday night. The Dolphins need Ajayi, more than ever this season, to grind out tough yards and find his way to the end zone (no rushing touchdowns so far this season). On the other hand, Ajayi also needs the Dolphins' offensive line to actually win their battles at the line of scrimmage more frequently than they've been doing.

The Raiders won't make it easy for the Dolphins' offensive line on Sunday, and the addition of former 49ers linebacker NaVorro Bowman will add to the degree of difficulty for Ajayi and the co. on Sunday. If the Dolphins are to stay competitive at all, they'll need more than the paltry 45 yards rushing they produced last week.