Jeff Legwold of ESPN.com has some ideas if you think the NFL’s emphasis on offense has gone too far.

 

The video of this NFL season might as well be called: Quarterbacks Gone Wild.

 

The touchdowns have piled up as the concepts and innovations are celebrated along with the newest generation of golden-armed passers and fresh-faced playcallers.

 

There are 31 quarterbacks — THIRTY-ONE — completing at least 60 percent of their passes. Sixteen of them have at least 15 touchdown passes after nine weeks and 16 wide receivers are on pace for 100 receptions. Statistics that were once milestones have become business as usual.

 

The NFL’s decision-makers and rules mavens have set offenses free to the delight of a points-adoring, fantasy-football-playing public. So much so that there might be an August night in 2028 or so in Canton, Ohio, where the Hall of Fame class is two quarterbacks and three wide receivers because, well, they’ve got all the numbers.

 

“[The NFL] made it that way; it’s what they want,” said Champ Bailey, a 12-time Pro Bowl cornerback. “I look at it now and think if you’re on defense, they don’t let you do a damn thing to stop it. It’s not a fair fight anymore.”

 

Former Rams and Titans coach Jeff Fisher, who spent 15 years on the league’s competition committee, including a stint as the committee’s co-chairman, said: “I can’t really recall a significant discussion we had about a rule that would benefit, solely, the defense that wasn’t simply safety related … whatever it’s been … it’s all designed to keep the scoring up. Over time when all those things have been discussed people said, ‘Well, it will all balance out.’ I think we’ve seen, if you look at it objectively, it hasn’t balanced out — at all.”

 

How could the league make it more fair without putting quarterbacks in harm’s way or rolling back safety initiatives? ESPN spoke to dozens of current and former players, former head coaches, defensive coordinators and personnel executives to see what could be done to level the playing field for the defense.

 

From that, here are five proposals either for change or enforcement of rules (current rules are from the rules book circulated by NFL Operations):

 

1. Make illegal contact a five-yard penalty, not an automatic first down

The rule: “Beyond the five-yard zone, if the player who receives the snap remains in the pocket with the ball, a defender cannot initiate contact with a receiver who is attempting to evade him. A defender may use his hands or arms only to defend or protect himself against impending contact caused by a receiver.”

 

The penalty for illegal contact is a five-yard walk-off against the defense and the offense is given an automatic first down, no matter the down-and-distance when the foul occurred.

 

“The punishment doesn’t fit the infraction. You stop somebody on a third-and-12 and a flag goes down for a touch foul 25 yards from the play and it’s an automatic first down. Let defenses play second-and-5, third-and-5,” said ESPN NFL analyst Matt Bowen, a former safety who played in 77 games in his seven-year career with the Rams, Packers, Redskins and Bills.

 

The opportunity to stop an offense that doesn’t get a new set of downs would give defenses a chance in a possession on penalties on second and third downs instead of rewarding the offense for “a touch foul that had nothing to do with the play,” Bowen said.

 

2. Expand the chuck zone to 10 yards

The rule: “Within the area five yards beyond the line of scrimmage, a defensive player may chuck an eligible receiver in front of him. The defender is allowed to maintain continuous and unbroken contact within the five-yard zone, as long as the receiver has not moved beyond a point that is even with the defender.”

 

Denver Broncos defensive back Chris Harris Jr. said “that one would work right now, right this second, but that’s why (the league) will never do it because they know it would work. That’s a fair fight, I’d love that.”

 

Fisher said it would also force offenses to reconsider some of what they’re doing now, but saw a problem in the enforcement.

 

“It’s enforced right now at a soft seven (yards) or so,” Fisher said. “If you move it to 10, maybe it gets enforced at 12 (yards) or so, I think you’d get more pass interference because the ball is going to be in the air a lot when the DB is engaged at the top of the route at 10 (yards).”

 

3. Enforce downfield blocking rules

The rule: “On a scrimmage play during which a legal forward pass is thrown, an ineligible offensive player, including a T-formation quarterback, is not permitted to move more than one yard beyond the line of scrimmage before the pass has been thrown.”

 

Just seek an opinion on this one these days and defensive coaches around the league say — loudly — offenses are repeatedly scoring touchdowns on plays, especially run-pass option plays, that should be flagged as penalties because linemen are “four, five, six yards down the field,” Broncos defensive end Derek Wolfe said.

 

The rule is on the books “and they just need to call it,” Wolfe said. “The linebacker has no chance, he’s playing run because the linemen are run blocking down the field before the throw.”

 

“That’s one that will definitely have to be addressed,” Fisher said. “I have no doubt on that.”

 

4. Enforce offensive pass interference on pick plays

The rule: “It is pass interference by either team when an act by a player more than one yard beyond the line of scrimmage significantly hinders an eligible player’s opportunity to catch the ball … Defensive pass interference rules apply from the time the ball is thrown until the ball is touched.”

 

When the New England Patriots slowed the Rams’ Greatest Show on Turf offense in Super Bowl XXXVI with a decidedly hands-on approach to defense, pass interference and illegal contact each became a “point of emphasis” for the officials and they have clamped down since.

 

However, while offensive and defensive pass interference are listed together in the NFL rule book, they are not called with the same frequency.

 

“That one is totally off,” Bailey said. “(Offenses) are picking every play in a bunch formation, and in the red zone, and offense and defense are committing the same amount, but for every three or four on defense called, you might get one on offense. Just call it. Especially in the middle of the field where the umpire used to be.”

 

5. Add an eighth official to crew

The rule: “The game shall be played under the supervision of seven officials: the Referee, Umpire, Down Judge, Line Judge, Field Judge, Side Judge, and Back Judge.”

 

Fisher said it’s time to go to an eight-man crew like the major conferences in college football have been doing since 2014. The NFL moved the umpire from the defensive side of the ball to behind the quarterback in 2010 as part of safety concerns for those officials.

 

“But that middle of the field area where the umpire was is where a lot of these fouls are getting missed,” Fisher said. “The eighth official can then handle all that stuff in the middle of the field where the umpire used to be. College puts guys there, they’re used to playing it, we need to put that back, that guy on the defensive side. We have the feeder system, guys are already officiating that area of the field in college.

 

“Also flip the referee and the umpire, put the referee looking into the face of (a right-handed quarterback),” Fisher said. “ … Then the referee has a better view of hits on the quarterback because he’s not looking through the back of the quarterback and the umpire has a better view too. Because right now, once the pocket starts to collapse the referee’s eyes come off the left tackle and go to the quarterback for hits on the quarterback. And time after time we’ve seen on the film that right end on the edge pulled down at the top of the rush because the referee is on the quarterback. Call it, just call it, bring back the edge-rushing component.”

 

In the end even the most hopeful know, deep down, the league wants scoring. But there are those who believe it will cheapen offensive statistics and corrupt historical greatness if defenses don’t get a little help.

 

“Look, when I was with the Bears (1986-1995), we had a goal board — hold a team to less than 17 points, 200 yards passing, 40 percent completions,” said Dave McGinnis, who spent 30 years in the NFL. “Hell, that’s a quarter now, now your board would be 35 points, 500 yards and 65 percent passing. Defensive guys are just hanging on right now and they don’t have tenure, you know. People are going to get fired year after year because their hands are tied.”

 

Bailey said: “You can’t touch the quarterback, you can’t touch the receiver … there isn’t much left … You have to play top down, make tackles in front of you, catch, tackle, catch, tackle, don’t let anything over your head and close it down in the red zone. That’s all you have.”

 

NFC NORTH

 

DETROIT

Usually people wonder why teams practice in indoor warmth when Sunday’s game is going to be outdoors in the cold.  In Detroit this week, they are wondering the opposite.  Michael Rosenstein of ESPN.com:

 

The Detroit Lions don’t play a cold-weather outdoor game for a month, but on a day in Michigan with temperatures in the mid-30s and snow falling throughout the day, the team decided to practice outside.

 

And it left at least one Lions player with questions as to why.

 

“I don’t know. I mean, I’m just out there trying to stay warm, really,” cornerback Darius Slay said. “Like you said, we got indoor games. Obviously, it doesn’t even matter.”

 

The 3-6 Lions play at home — in climate-controlled Ford Field — on Sunday against Carolina, then on Thanksgiving against Chicago and on Dec. 1 against the Los Angeles Rams. Then they travel to Arizona before heading to Buffalo on Dec. 16, a full month — or four games — away from where Detroit is now.

 

Slay said he was able to get his work done for the day, but practicing outside in the snow was “rough.” While he’s accustomed to playing in cold games — Detroit has played in Green Bay and Chicago late in the year during his career — Thursday’s practice was different because of the snow.

 

If Slay were Detroit’s coach, though, he probably would have taken a different approach.

 

“I ain’t the coach, so, yeah,” Slay said. “If I was the coach, yeah, you know what we would be doing.”

– – –

Michael Rothstein of ESPN.com looks at the 2018 struggles of QB MATTHEW STAFFORD:

 

There have been missed throws and missed assignments, a quarterback being pummeled and then sometimes, seemingly, not making decisions quite as fast as he has in the past.

 

While it isn’t all Matthew Stafford’s fault — the struggling offense, the 3-6 record — there is certainly some blame for the quarterback, now in his 10th season, to share. He’ll admit that, too. He knows he needs to be better.

 

Is he regressing, though? It’s tough to say, and Stafford on Thursday wasn’t going to go there.

 

“It’s not over yet, so I think a lot of football to be played,” Stafford said. “I don’t get into comparisons of this year, last year, rookie year, five years ago, whatever it was. Probably a better question for the end of the year.”

 

Barring the unlikely, that’s a month-and-a-half away. But based on what the Lions have done so far and how Stafford has performed, it’s a fair question to ask.

 

As part of an attempt to evade questions about Stafford’s performance this year, offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter said any evaluation of Stafford is “sort of Detroit Lions information.” In other words, it’s in-house and proprietary. What isn’t, though, is what Stafford puts out on the field each Sunday.

 

And it’s confusing.

 

If one were to look at Stafford’s raw statistics — 2,385 yards, 16 touchdowns, 8 interceptions, 66.8 completion percentage — they aren’t that far off from most of his other seasons since the offense he was asked to run switched after the 2013 season.

 

But Stafford’s season goes beyond just those numbers, many of which rank in the top half of the league. To say Stafford is having a good season or even an average one by his standards would be a misnomer in 2018.

 

His total QBR at this point — 54.7 — is his lowest since 2014, when he was learning a new offense after the Lions fired Jim Schwartz and Scott Linehan and hired Jim Caldwell and Joe Lombardi. Coincidentally — or perhaps not–– the Lions had their best season under Stafford in 2014, when his QBR of 47.3 was the lowest since his rookie season.

 

Stafford’s potential slide is more glaring because of what’s going on around the league. NFL teams, led by innovative offenses from Kansas City and the Los Angeles Rams, have experienced an explosion of passing. Four quarterbacks — Patrick Mahomes, Jared Goff, Matt Ryan and Ben Roethlisberger — are on pace for 5,000-yard seasons. That’s something only five quarterbacks, including Stafford, have managed in a career.

 

When asked if he wonders why the Lions aren’t doing some of what the Rams, Chiefs and Eagles are doing, Stafford said he believes “every team is built with different players, different schemes, different ways of doing stuff, and we’re our own unique team. We have to find ways to put more points on the board, no question. It starts with me playing better.”

 

Cooter on Tuesday had no interest in defending whether his offense is innovative enough for today’s NFL, considering the quarterback he has. The Lions entered Week 11 ranked No. 19 or lower in every major offensive category except time of possession and goal-to-go efficiency.

 

“I’m going to leave that evaluation up to you,” Cooter said. “That’s all I have to say about that.”

 

The evaluation, statistically, doesn’t look good–– and the 3-6 record doesn’t, either. Stafford is on pace for 14 interceptions — if he reaches that number, it’d be the most since Linehan left town.

 

It could, though, help explain part of his statistical slide comparative to the rest of the league. After ranking in the top 10 in yards every year since 2011, he’s currently No. 16 — and all but three quarterbacks ahead of him have played in nine games as well (three: Mahomes, Goff and Tom Brady have played in 10).

 

After averaging 7.8 air yards per attempt throughout his career, Stafford is averaging 7.0 air yards per attempt this season, confirming that the best downfield passer in the NFL last season has been keeping it shorter this year despite having two high-level outside receivers in Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones Jr. From a single-season perspective, it would be his lowest air yards per attempt since 2015 and the second-lowest of his career (taking out 2010 when he appeared in three games).

 

His yards per completion — 10.79 — is also the second-lowest of his career (taking out 2010) besides 2015.

 

And teams are letting Stafford do this to himself. They are blitzing him less than any season of his career. He has faced a blitz at least 21.1 percent of the time every season of his career. This year, teams are blitzing him just 17.3 percent of the time.

 

That, of course, is not all on Stafford. For the first time in his career, he has a higher pressure rate (22.8) than percentage blitzed. That’s solely on an offensive line that has essentially collapsed the past two weeks, allowing 16 sacks.

 

 “The big thing is, when a team gets behind, the opposing defense can pretty much attack,” Carolina coach Ron Rivera said. “So, again, it’s been a tough thing for those guys. When you’re watching games when they haven’t been behind, they’ve played pretty doggone well protecting the quarterback.

 

“So I think a lot of their situation is really about the situations that they’ve been in.”

 

That’s on everyone: The offense, the defense, the special teams, the coaching and, yes, the quarterback.

 

He’s being sacked at a higher percentage (7.9) than the 5.5 percent of the time the first nine years of his career. Somehow, despite general manager Bob Quinn rebuilding Detroit’s offensive line since taking over before the 2016 season, he is on pace for being sacked 52 times — the most of his career.

 

He has spent, on average, 2.18 seconds in the pocket this season (second-lowest of his career other than 2015) yet averaging 2.7 seconds before passes this year, 0.15 seconds longer than at any point in his career. That’s in part due to Stafford creating extra time with his feet, in part the Lions receivers not getting as open as they need to, and in part because the pocket isn’t holding up.

 

Stafford said he “can do a better job of getting it out, no question I’m trying to get it out as fast as I possibly can.”

 

So is Matthew Stafford regressing? It’s tough to say. The Lions aren’t playing as well as they have in the past with him at quarterback. Some of that is on him. Some of it isn’t. But like so much else with the Lions at this point, how he plays the rest of the season could give an indication as to where he’s headed in the future.

 

None of the above mentions the trade of receiver GOLDEN TATE who is the kind of receiver who can make a QB look good.

 

 

GREEN BAY

The DB watched in amazement as Mike McCarthy punted away his chance to tie or beat the Seahawks on Monday night.

 

He had 4th-and-2 at his own 33, one timeout left, AARON RODGERS at QB.

 

Let’s do the math.  General math.  A team is significantly more likely than not to make a 4th down conversion in that situation.  The DB is thinking about 80%.  So a 20% chance the Seahawks get the ball with a 50-yard FG in play.

 

If you punt, you are banking on a 3-and-out.  Coming into the game, the Packers had forced opponent 3-and-outs on 20% of their drives.  So you are giving up something that would have an 80% chance of success for something that has a 20% chance of success.

 

If you fail on the 4th down, but get the stop, the Seahawks might kick a field goal if you get the stop, so you still get the ball back with 2 minutes left down 6.  So you still have a chance.

 

If you succeed on the punt and 3-and-out, only a 20% chance, you get the ball back in your own territory down 3 with no time outs and 2 minutes left.  So even if you “succeed” in getting the stop, the 20% chance, you still are not in an advantageous position.

 

We would guarantee you that the Seahawks were thrilled to see Rodgers head off the field and the punting unit come on.

 

Pete Carroll said so.  Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

When assessing the wisdom of a coaching decision, perhaps the best evidence comes from the reaction of the opposing coach. If it’s glee, then the decision may have been ill-advised.

 

And that accurately describes Seahawks coach Pete Carroll’s reaction to Packers coach Mike McCarthy’s decision to punt the ball on fourth and two from his own 33 with 4:20 to play.

 

“I was a little relieved,” Carroll told reporters after the 27-24 win. “I really did like that they punted the ball to us right there, because we knew we had a shot to kill the game if we could, and kill the clock, and we did it. The thing about that that’s important is our belief in the running game, and we get the ball in that situation. It was like, oh here we go, this is our time.  It’s four-minute time. Thrilled to see that happen. The mentality that’s coming around in those guys up front and the runners and all that, it’s really important, it’s obviously really valuable too, and it’s great to see that happen.”

 

It happened because McCarthy chose to take the ball out of the hands of a quarterback to whom the Packers are paying $33.5 million per year. McCarthy justified the move in part by pointing out that defensive linemen Kenny Clark and Mike Daniels were injured. But that only makes the decision to punt more curious. Aaron Rodgers wasn’t injured, and Aaron Rodgers is one of the best players in league history.

 

That “galvanizing moment” to which Rodgers referred after the game could have come on that fourth-down play. Or maybe, if the Seahawks had been forced to kick a field goal after a failed shot at fourth-and-two, the “galvanizing moment” could have come on a last-second Hail Mary touchdown pass.

 

But that’s crazy, right? Hail Mary throws never work.

 

Let’s give McCarthy a chance to explain himself.  John Breech of CBSSports.com:

 

With the Packers trailing 27-24 and facing a fourth-and-2 from their own 33-yard line, McCarthy had the option of keeping Aaron Rodgers on the field to go for it or he could punt.

 

Of course, this is Mike McCarthy we’re talking about, so you probably already know what he did. The Packers ended up punting the ball to the Seahawks, who then proceeded to melt away the final 4:11 of the game to give Seattle a 27-24 win.

 

With the Packers trailing by three points and only holding one timeout, the choice here seemed pretty simple: You put the ball in Rodgers’ hands with the expectation that he can get two yards. If you’re going to gamble, it makes sense to gamble on one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. Rodgers had thrown for 332 yards up to that point and the Packers were averaging an impressive 7.5 yards per play.

 

Instead, McCarty decided to gamble on his defense, which was a weird decision for two reasons: The Packers hadn’t been able to stop the run the entire game, and they were going to have to play the final drive without two of their star defensive linemen — Mike Daniels and Kenny Clark — who both left the game with an injury. With those two out, the Seahawks ran for 24 yards on four carries to ice the game.

 

After the loss, McCarthy was asked if he thought about going for it on fourth down.

 

“We have the injuries to Kenny Clark and Mike Daniels, so yeah, it was definitely a consideration there,” McCarthy said, via the team’s Twitter account. “But with the one timeout and the ability to stop the clock at the two-minute [warning], we played the numbers.”

 

McCarthy might want to re-think his numbers, because they don’t see add up. Also, let’s not forget that if the Packers had gone for it, McCarthy was apparently going to use the team’s final timeout to think things over.

 

“We considered taking a timeout there and going for it on fourth-and-2,” McCarthy said.

 

Obviously, you want to make sure you get the right call on the field for a fourth down, but you probably don’t want to waste your final timeout in that situation, especially with 4:20 still left in the game. That would have left the Packers unable to stop the clock or challenge anything for 2:20.

 

It’s almost fitting that McCarthy was thinking about blowing a timeout because the Packers didn’t do a great job with their timeouts during the entire second half. They used one in the third quarter and they used one with 10:31 left in the game, which left them with just one timeout for the final stretch of the game.

 

Packers fans were definitely upset with the way McCarthy coached in Seattle, and it seems he might have finally run out of goodwill. After the loss McCarthy was trending on Twitter, and it was mostly because fans really want to see him fired.

 

@JoshVanDykeGHT

 If Mike McCarthy choosing to punt on 4th-and-2 with one timeout left and a defense on empty with 4 min left on the road isn’t enough to get him fired then I don’t know when it’s going to happen.

 

We didn’t even mention that the defense was depleted on the DL!  He did, and he still punted.

 

It wasn’t 4th-and-9 or 4th-and-17.  It was 4th-and-2.

 

Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Packers head coach Mike McCarthy’s job security has been a story all season, but the final chapter may have begun with Thursday night’s loss in Seattle.

 

Specifically, McCarthy’s decision to punt on fourth-and-2 with the Packers trailing 27-24 with 4:20 left in the fourth quarter is being heavily scrutinized after the Seahawks ran out the clock from there and won the game. Although McCarthy said after the game that he “played the numbers” when he decided to punt, it’s hard to imagine what numbers he was thinking of. Anyone with a passing understanding of analytics would say he should have gone for it.

 

The Packers were down to one timeout at the time, and McCarthy blowing his timeouts early in the game has been a longstanding issue. Perhaps if the Packers still had all three timeouts, punting would have been more justifiable. But with one timeout, the decision was inexcusable.

 

McCarthy acknowledged that it was a game the 4-5-1 Packers needed.

 

“I think it’s obvious. We have five losses and we have not won on the road yet,” McCarthy said.

 

This may have been the loss that sealed McCarthy’s fate.

 

Not only did the Packers lose the game, they lost TE JIMMY GRAHAM to a thumb injury that is “believed to be serious” per a tweet from Michael Silver of The NFL Network.

 

 

MINNESOTA

Matthew Berry doesn’t think that QB KIRK COUSINS will get things done for his Fantasy coaches this week:

 

Kirk Cousins at Bears (ESPN projection: 17.7): Since Week 5, Cousins is just QB19 on a per-game basis. And now that Dalvin Cook is back, I expect a more balanced attack from the Vikings. Cousins also has to face a Bears defense that, since the beginning of last season, has given up only 15 TD passes in 13 home games. During that stretch, the Bears are also a top-10 defense in sack percentage. Opposing QBs are averaging less than 14 points in those games, so yeah, gimme the under on Cousins this week.

 

NFC EAST

 

PHILADELPHIA

Matthew Berry of ESPN.com says that DREW BREES will drag CARSON WENTZ to Fantasy highs:

 

Carson Wentz at Saints (ESPN projection: 20.3): Don’t think the Eagles are grinding out a win in this one. Wentz will have to outscore Brees and he has a shot in what should be a very high-scoring game. Since Week 11 of 2016, the Saints are giving up the most QB PPG when playing at home (19.7). Wentz has six straight games with at least 275 passing yards and multiple TD passes. Since 2012, only Peyton Manning (twice) and Tom Brady have done that. I like his chances at keeping the streak going against a Saints squad giving up the third-most yards per dropback this season. It’s worth noting that Wentz ranks fourth in dropbacks per game this season (43.4).

 

NFC SOUTH

 

NEW ORLEANS

It’s not surprising that a Fantasy tout would like DREW BREES, but Matthew Berry of ESPN.com has some special reasons to like the Saints QB this week:

 

Drew Brees vs. Eagles (ESPN projection: 19.7): Who dat in the secondary? Seriously, I’m asking. Since Week 7, the Eagles are giving up the fifth-most points per game to QBs (22.37), and their banged-up secondary just lost corner Ronald Darby for the season and is likely to be without Jalen Mills as well. So it’s a good matchup regardless of who is playing the Eagles. And in this case, it’s a home game for a red-hot Brees, who is completing 79 percent of his passes since Mark Ingram II came back, with 11.5 percent of those completions resulting in a touchdown.

 

NFC WEST

 

ARIZONA

With RB DAVID JOHNSON starting to hit his stride under OC Byron Leftwich, the Cardinals could win some games down the stretch.  Josh Weinfuss of ESPN.com:

 

David Johnson is starting to play like it’s 2016.

 

And it’s been a long time coming.

 

Coming into 2018, and off a season in which he missed 15 games with a fractured wrist, Johnson shouldered the expectation that he’d return to his 2016 level with the Arizona Cardinals. That season the running back led the NFL with 2,118 all-purpose yards and 20 touchdowns, rushing for 1,239 yards to go along with 879 yards receiving. He was an All-Pro and a Pro Bowler.

 

The bar was set. And it was high.

 

But through the first seven games of this season, Johnson’s performance dipped. He was a casualty of offensive coordinator Mike McCoy’s stagnant offense, producing just one game with 100 yards from scrimmage. In the other six games he never got above 71. He never caught more than five passes in a game. His runs were becoming predictable. He wasn’t used like he had been in the past.

 

Johnson — and everybody, he said — was frustrated. But growing up a triplet with two sisters taught him to be patient.

 

Everything changed almost immediately in Week 8, when Byron Leftwich replaced McCoy as offensive coordinator and was charged with resurrecting Johnson’s season.

 

“Byron said the first thing he was going to try to do is to have me be utilized more as a receiver and a running back,” Johnson said.

 

To do that, Leftwich dusted off the Cardinals’ 2016 playbook and borrowed plays from former Cardinals coach Bruce Arians.

 

So far it’s worked.

 

Johnson had 100 yards from scrimmage against the San Francisco 49ers in Week 8 and then topped that in the next game. Johnson had the best game of his season Sunday in Kansas City, running for 98 yards and a touchdown in addition to 85 receiving yards and a score. The 183 all-purpose yards on a season-high 28 touches were his most since Oct. 6, 2016.

 

“It made me feel like it was back to … two years ago — the 2016 offense,” Johnson said after Sunday’s game. “We got some momentum going as an offense running the ball. We got some good confidence going, as well.”

 

As the Cardinals prepare to play the Oakland Raiders this Sunday, coach Steve Wilks didn’t mind one bit that Johnson was taken back in time against the Chiefs.

 

“As long as David is getting yardage and he’s getting in the end zone, I don’t care what it feels like,” Wilks said.

 

Getting Johnson involved is the only thing Leftwich said he knows to do. Against the Chiefs, Johnson had his second-most carries this season (21) and most catches (seven) on his most targets (nine).

 

“I know what he is,” Leftwich said. “I’m just trying to put these guys in position. I’m not really thinking about 2016. I’m just trying to use the guys and what I know of the playmakers and just put them in position to make plays and if it turns out to be him playing like he was in 2016, that’d be good for us.”

 

Johnson has been implored by running backs coach Kirby Wilson to run more downhill and not bounce outside as much. The goal, Johnson said, is to turn 1-yard runs into 3-yard gains. While he did it more Sunday in Kansas City, it wasn’t easy. One of Johnson’s favorite moves is the jump-cut. Lowering his shoulder and bulldozing a defender isn’t natural for him, he added. He’d prefer to create with cuts, moves and jukes.

 

To some of those Cardinals who were on the team in 2016, Sunday brought back old memories.

 

“When he’s playing like that and making plays in the screen game, in the passing game, in the running game, he makes it look easy,” Fitzgerald said.

– – –

Against the Chiefs, Johnson got into a “good rhythm,” he said, which came with the more touches he had.

 

That’s not expected to change this week against the Raiders.

 

His role, actually, is expected to continue to grow. That could be good news for the Cardinals but bad for the Raiders, whose coach, Jon Gruden, called Johnson a “joker” this week because Johnson’s ability allows him to be used in “any hand.”

 

“He’s a complete, modern-day back,” Gruden said. “He’s what we’re all looking for.”

 

And Gruden will be seeing plenty of Johnson this weekend.

 

Fitzgerald said Johnson will be “a big piece of what we’re trying to do, again.”

 

Johnson wouldn’t mind it if every week is like 2016.

 

“I definitely hope so,” Johnson said. “I think it will. As Leftwich gets more comfortable being an offensive coordinator and everyone gets more comfortable playing together and hopefully staying healthy, we’ll definitely get to that.”

 

 

SAN FRANCISCO

There were extenuating circumstances to a critical final penalty on the 49ers on Monday night.  Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

The 49ers’ last chance to come from behind and beat the Giants on Monday night was dealt a blow when a costly offside penalty was called on San Francisco’s offense. And the 49ers are unhappy with the officials for the way that penalty came about.

 

The penalty came with 32 seconds left, when offensive lineman Mike McGlinchey was lined up across the line of scrimmage. That’s a clear and obvious penalty, but McGlinchey only lined up across the line of scrimmage because the officials moved the ball just before the snap. McGlinchey was lined up legally according to where the officials initially spotted the ball, but just a second before the snap the ball was moved back, and McGlinchey was offside.

 

San Francisco head coach Kyle Shanahan said he would have liked an explanation for why the ball was moved after McGlinchey was already lined up.

 

“Usually they spot the ball in the right spot and don’t change their mind right before the ball is snapped,” Shanahan said. “I don’t know if there’s supposed to be a rule. I think you’ve just got to do it right the first time. But, yeah, if that’s going to happen, I think there should be something. But, you try to yell and get an answer in the heat of the battle while the time clock’s going, eventually you’ve got to call a play and move on with your life.”

 

The 49ers took a timeout after the penalty to avoid a 10-second runoff. That was a timeout they would have liked to have back as they ran out of time on their last-gasp drive.

 

 

LOS ANGELES RAMS

Sean McVay admits to stealing plays, legally, from the Chiefs.  Lindsay Thiry of ESPN.com:

 

Sean McVay is always looking for a new wrinkle to add to the Los Angeles Rams’ offense.

 

This season, the Kansas City Chiefs (9-1) have provided plenty of content. So much, in fact, that the Chiefs might recognize a few plays Monday night when they play the Rams (9-1).

 

“I’d be lying if I said we have haven’t stolen some of their stuff this year,” McVay said Thursday. “They do a great job.”

 

Asked whether he planned to use any of the Chiefs’ plays against them, McVay said: “You’ll have to wait and see.”

 

McVay and his coaching staff regularly review film from across the league, but the Chiefs, who average 35.3 points per game, are a must-watch team.

 

“There’s so much tape and with the ability to easily access it week in and week out, it would be silly for us not to be able to look and see what the heck they’re doing,” McVay said. “Every single week they do something and you say, ‘That’s pretty good.'”

 

Patrick Mahomes has passed for a league-high 31 touchdowns, with 7 interceptions, as Kareem Hunt ranks third in the league with 13 touchdowns and Tyreek Hill is averaging 89 receiving yards per game. The Chiefs average 423 yards per game.

 

But keep in mind, the Rams’ offense is pretty good, too.

 

They’re averaging 448 yards per game — second in the NFL behind Tampa Bay — and Jared Goff has passed for 22 touchdowns with 6 interceptions.

 

Todd Gurley is at the forefront of the MVP conversation and leads the league in rushing yards, averaging 98.8 per game, and touchdowns, with 17.

 

The Rams average 33.5 points per game.

 

AFC WEST

 

KANSAS CITY

Heinz reacts to the news that QB PATRICK MAHOMES loves ketchup.  Adam Wells of Bleacher Report:

 

Patrick Mahomes’ love of ketchup has prompted Heinz to present the Kansas City Chiefs quarterback with some additional motivation for the final stretch of the 2018 season.

 

After learning Mahomes puts ketchup on his steak, Heinz offered to give him a lifetime supply of the condiment if he finishes this season with 57 touchdown passes:

 

@HeinzKetchup_US

 Hey @patrickmahomes5, you give us 57 touchdowns, we’ll give you Heinz on your steak for life.

 

@YahooSports

We’ve found Pat Mahomes’ only flaw: He likes ketchup on his steak 😭

 

ESPN The Magazine’s Seth Wickersham recently uncovered Mahomes’ deep love of ketchup during an interaction with Mahomes’ mother at a restaurant.

 

“At a restaurant recently, his mom, Randi, recognized an unfilled desire as he dove into a steak,” Wickersham wrote. “‘Just ask for it,’ Randi said. ‘I know you want it.’ Patrick wouldn’t. So she asked for the ketchup and slipped it to him.”

 

Per Brooke Pryor of the Kansas City Star, Mahomes also puts ketchup on macaroni and cheese.

 

Among the many takeaways from this bombshell, has anyone proven Mahomes isn’t the long-lost sibling of Julian McGrath from the Adam Sandler movie Big Daddy?

 

There’s also the potential conflict for Heinz in this situation. How will Pittsburgh Steelers fans feel walking through the gates at Heinz Field if the company is giving free ketchup to a quarterback their team could possibly face in the AFC playoffs?

 

The good news for Heinz is Mahomes isn’t likely to pull it off. He would need to throw 26 touchdown passes in the final six games to hit 57 this season.

 

Does he get the ketchup if he finishes with 58 or more TD passes?  Or does he have to stop at 57.

 

 

LOS ANGELES CHARGERS

DE JOEY BOSA is back at practice, but he’s not ready to declare himself healed.

 

The waiting and watching was the hardest part for Los Angeles Chargers defensive end Joey Bosa.

 

Bosa practiced as a limited participant for a second straight day Thursday and could be available for Sunday’s game against the Denver Broncos after missing the first nine games of the season with a bruised left foot.

 

Bosa first injured his foot Aug. 7. He then aggravated the injury during practice on the Wednesday before the team’s season-opening loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.

 

“When I walked into the locker room before the KC game, it just hit me that I wasn’t playing,” Bosa told reporters Thursday. “I remember almost choking up and had to walk out of the locker room. But after that moment, I didn’t let it get to me like that.”

 

Asked whether he’ll play Sunday, Bosa said he’s still in wait-and-see mode.

 

“It’s really not decided yet,” Bosa said. “We’re just continuing with the plan, and that’s to practice this week. And we’ll see how it feels on Sunday.”

 

Chargers defensive coordinator Gus Bradley said he likes what he has seen so far in limited time on the field from Bosa. However, until the medical staff gives the Ohio State product the green light, Bradley is preaching patience like Bosa.

 

AFC NORTH

 

CLEVELAND

GM John Dorsey says his search for a head coach will be inclusive.  Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

On Wednesday, Browns G.M. John Dorsey listed three important factors for the team’s next head coach: “I would like to see a man of character. I would like to see a man who can lead young men. I would like to see a man who has high football acumen.”

 

He actually may not necessarily be looking for a man.

 

Asked specifically whether age will be a factor in the search, Dorsey said this:  “I just want the best possible head coach to move this thing forward regardless of age. It could be a woman, too. Do not look at me like that. I am serious. Who knows? We will look at everything is what I am trying to tell you all.”

 

On one hand, it’s great that Dorsey would publicly articulate a move that not long ago would have been inconceivable. But females are making inroads when it comes to coaching and officiating and in time (maybe a long time, but still in time) there will be enough female assistant coaches to necessarily result in one developing the skills and demonstrating the abilities necessary to run a team of her own.

 

When it comes to females in coaching, the college game will be an important proving ground. Given the NCAA’s abysmal record when it comes to minority hiring, however, it could be too much to expect the college game to give opportunities to deserving female candidates.

 

The Browns undoubtedly won’t be hiring a female during this cycle. Whether he intended it or not, however, Dorsey’s willingness to acknowledge the possibility could get more teams to think about hiring female assistant coaches — and it could inspire more females to get into football coaching.

 

There’s another factor to consider in this regard. From Kim Pegula in Buffalo to Dee Haslam in Cleveland to Amy Adams Strunk in Tennessee to Martha Firestone Ford in Detroit to Gayle Benson in New Orleans to, possibly in the future, Carlie Irsay-Gordon in Indianapolis to Brittany Bowlen in Denver to Jody Allen in Seattle, a growing number of NFL teams have female owners or co-owners. And if a female can own an NFL team, why can’t a female coach an NFL team?

 

The DB always finds it interesting that Katie Brown Blackburn of the Bengals (presumably with an ownership interest as the heir of the aging owner) never makes these lists.

 

 

PITTSBURGH

For the record, the social media posting of Steelers players “raiding” the deserted locker of RB Le’VEON BELL was somewhat overblown.  Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com:

 

Multiple Pittsburgh Steelers players say Le’Veon Bell’s locker room items were packed up and placed in the back of team headquarters, with former teammates scoring a few pairs of cleats and not much more during Wednesday’s raid.

 

Bell forfeited the season and $14.5 million when he failed to report to the team by Tuesday’s franchise tag deadline to play in 2018.

 

Center and team captain Maurkice Pouncey said Bell’s items will likely be shipped directly to the player, as is customary with such roster turnover.

 

Bell’s locker went untouched for more than two months but is now completely empty a day after a handful of players sifted through his stuff for cleats, shirts and even mixtape CDs.

 

The ransack was not at all malicious but might have been therapeutic, said cornerback Mike Hilton, who added that everyone in the locker room likes Bell.

 

“Everybody was tired of talking about it and wondering when he was going to show up or not,” Hilton said. “[You’d see the locker] and think, OK, maybe he’s going to show up. Now it’s all understood, and everybody can really get past it.”

 

Hilton, who secured one pair of Jordan cleats, said lockers are typically full of free football apparel that Bell probably wouldn’t have needed.

 

In a video published by ESPN on Wednesday, linebacker Bud Dupree held up two pairs of Bell’s Jordan cleats and said into the camera, “Appreciate the cleats, my guy. I wish you success, my guy.”

 

The team was upset with Bell when he didn’t show Week 1 but moved on with James Conner, who is among the league leaders in rushing yards and touchdowns.

 

Guard David DeCastro appreciates Bell’s greatness as a Steeler — averaging 128.9 total yards per game over five seasons — and hopes he scores a massive contract in free agency. Bell is sitting out the year to preserve his health.

 

“It’s a team sport and a business. It’s tough. You can see both sides,” DeCastro said. “No one’s really wrong or right. That’s what’s really tough. I wish Le’Veon all the best, and I hope he gets all the money he can.”

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

ABANDONING MEXICO

Jason Owens of YahooSports.com on the aftermath of the NFL’s decision to play Monday night’s big game in the U.S. of A.

 

The shock over the NFL moving a game from Mexico City on less than a week’s notice is wearing off, replaced with shame, anger and disappointment for those involved.

 

The Los Angeles Rams and Kansas City Chiefs will now play Monday in L.A., removing the marquee game of the NFL season and a golden opportunity from Mexico City after field conditions at Estadio Azteca were deemed too poor to host a game.

 

The result has been a black eye for the city and frustration for fans who made plans to watch the game in person.

 

Fans stuck with travel costs

Chiefs fan Eli Medina told KMBC 9 that she spent around $2,300 on travel plans to see the game. With an Airbnb and flight booked, she’s not canceling her trip and expects to watch the game on TV in Mexico City.

 

The worst part for her: She booked her travel plans Monday. The move was announced Tuesday.

 

“Surely the field looked like this a week ago,” Medina told KMBC. “Have they not been checking in on the field? Why was the NFL so out of the loop until a week before? That’s so last-minute.”

 

The NFL has promised to reveal reimbursement plans in the coming days for game tickets, an announcement that is still pending. Whatever happens on that front, people’s travel costs are theirs to deal with. 

 

Shame for Mexico City

While fans with travel plans are angry, shame has been a theme in Mexico after losing out such a big event.

 

Wednesday’s cover of the Mexican sports paper Record read “Colosal Vergüenza” in massive font over a photo of Estadio Azteca.

 

Translation? “Colossal Shame.”

 

Former NFL kicker Raul Allegre, a Mexico native, echoed that sentiment in a statement to the Associated Press.

 

“I feel devastated, angered and ashamed, all of that together,” Allegre said. “I’m still trying to figure out how small minds were so irresponsible in the preparations for a game of this magnitude. I know that the world does not revolve around the NFL, but this is a great event not only for the sport but for the country, and it is inconceivable how it was taken so lightly.”

 

Revenue lost

The AP reports that an NFL study showed a $45 million influx into the economy of the Mexican capital for 2016’s matchup between the Houston Texans and Oakland Raiders.

 

Reason dictates that a game of the magnitude of Rams-Chiefs would stand to draw more interest and more money.

 

What’s next?

The NFL has a deal with Mexico City to stage games at Estadio Azteca through 2021. It has successfully staged games there before. What happens moving forward is uncertain.

 

A repeat of this week’s debacle is obviously not a reasonable option. The NFL should and likely will require guarantees long in advance that grounds crew mismanagement that wouldn’t fly on most high school fields won’t occur again.

 

It’s not fair to the fans, it’s not fair to the teams and it’s not fair to Mexico City.