The Daily Briefing Monday, November 5, 2018

AROUND THE NFL 

One thing you can say about the 2018 NFL so far (knock on wood) is that whether it is the new rules or good luck, the NFL’s quarterbacks are staying healthy.  Of the three QBs who have been hurt, only JIMMY GAROPPOLO would count as a marquee name.  The others we can think of are RYAN TANNEHILL of the Dolphins and JOSH ALLEN of the Bills, and they may be back.  You also have CARSON WENTZ who came back from injury in the third week.   AARON RODGERS played through a scare.

 

But as for the rest – of the top of our head – DREW BREES, TOM BRADY, DESHAUN WATSON, JARED GOFF, MATT RYAN, ANDY DALTON, BEN ROETHLISBERGER, PATRICK MAHOMES, ALEX SMITH, DAK PRESCOTT, MITCHELL TRUBISKY, MATTHEW STAFFORD, BLAKE BORTLES, ANDREW LUCK, etc to even ELI MANNING.  In all, we count 25 QBs who have started every game for their team this year.

 

The exceptions are SF, Philadelphia, Arizona, Buffalo, Cleveland, Tampa Bay and Miami.

 

And that sets things up for this Tweet from Scott Kachsmar:

 

@ScottKachsmar

NFL QBs with 15+ TD passes thru Week 9

2018 – 16

2017 – 6

2016 – 10

2015 – 10

2014 – 12

2013 – 9

2012 – 8

2011 – 7

2010 – 5

2009 – 8

2008 – 5

2007 – 5

2006 – 3

2005 – 3

2004 – 5

2003 – 3

2002 – 6

2001 – 5

2000 – 6

1999 – 3

1998 – 3

1997 – 5

1996 – 3

1995 – 5

1994 – 2

1993 – 0

 

Last year, only three QBs reached 30 TD passes for the entire season.  PATRICK MAHOMES has 29 already.

 

The record for 30-TD passers in a season is 2015 with 11, there were 8 in 2014.

 

In addition to the 16 players who have 15 so far, MATTHEW STAFFORD has 14 in 8 games and CARSON WENTZ has 13 in 6, so that’s at least two more candidates.

 

 

– – –

A Badgers fan on Twitter notices that the Watt brothers have something good going on:

 

@NFLBadgers

Don’t look now but the Watt’s are going streaking…

 

• @_TJWatt – Four straight wins

• @DerekWatt34 – Five straight wins

• @JJWatt – Six straight wins

 

There shouldn’t be a possessive in Watts, but they are correct.

 

TJ WATT is with the Steelers, who last lost on September 30

 

DEREK WATT is with the Chargers, who last lost on September 23

 

JJ WATT’s Texans also last tasted defeat on September 23.

 

Since the start of October, the Watts are 13-0.

 

NFC NORTH

 

GREEN BAY

The Packers have lost emerging WR GERONIMO ALLISON.

 

@Tom Silverstein:

McCarthy said WR Geronimo Allison saw core injury specialist William Meyer in Philadelphia and he has a significant injury. Meyer operated on Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins in recent years and sounds like he will be operating on Allison.

 

 

MINNESOTA

WR ADAM THIELEN’s hot streak came to an end, about the only disappointing thing in Minnesota’s win on Sunday.  Only 4 catches for 22 yards after eight straight games with 100+ yards receiving.

 

NFC EAST

 

WASHINGTON

Bad day for the Redskins – they lost a game and one of their best players.  Ian Rapoport of NFL Network:

 

@RapSheet

#Redskins stellar guard Brandon Scherff is believed to have suffered a torn pec based on the initial diagnosis, sources say. He has an MRI today, but would be a significant loss

– – –

Peter King on how RB ADRIAN PETERSON found his way to Washington:

 

The biggest reason Adrian Peterson has found new life in Washington?

 

Orleans Darkwa.

 

Because of running back injuries, Washington worked out Darkwa, the former Giant, on Aug. 19, and tried to sign him. The team offered Darkwa the NFL minimum salary, and because he started 11 games for the Giants last year, he felt he was worth more. So Darkwa turned down the deal. Still needing a back, senior VP of player personnel Doug Williams and senior VP of football operations Eric Schaffer went over options. Peterson’s agent had been pushing Washington to bring in his 33-year-old client for a workout. Williams and Schaffer were dubious. But now they were pretty far down their list of options, past the Orleans Darkwa stage. So Peterson and two others worked out on Aug. 20. Club officials noticed Peterson in a 30-minute workout not even seem to breathe hard. The other two backs, on a couple of occasions, were bent over, semi-gasping. “I don’t know what his workout would have looked like at 23 or 24, but I know what it looked like at 33,” Williams told me. “And it was really impressive.”

 

Washington offered the veteran minimum, one year at $1.015 million. Peterson grabbed it. After eight weeks, he was fifth in the NFL with 587 rushing yards, for an in-his-prime 4.6-yard average per rush.

 

Would Darkwa have been as productive? Doubtful, but we’ll never know. Peterson is on the perfect team for him—a power-running team with a coach, Jay Gruden, who likes to wear down the opposition late in games when he can with a physical run game. Peterson, for instance, had 18 of his 26 carries and 123 of his 149 rushing yards against the Giants in Week 8 in the second half.

 

One thing is crystal clear: “If we sign Darkwa, we wouldn’t have signed Adrian,” Williams said.

 

NFC SOUTH

 

NEW ORLEANS

Peter King on how the Saints, Rams and Panthers are battling for the high ground in January:

 

Now you know why the Saints want to be home in January

 

It’s not just Seattle that’s a decibel graveyard for visitors in very big games. If you heard the crowd in the Superdome on Sunday for the visit of the previously undefeated Rams, you know why home-field advantage in the NFC is so important.

 

“You could feel it be a factor,” said tight end Benjamin Watson from New Orleans an hour after the Saints’ rollicking 45-35 win over the Rams. “We certainly got energy from it.”

 

Nine years ago, the Saints discovered what home-field in the NFC meant. The Superdome gave them a jolt in a divisional playoff rout of Arizona, and blew away some Vikings in the stunning NFC Championship win a week later. There are three prime contenders for top seed in the NFC—the 8-1 Rams, 7-1 Saints and 6-2 Panthers—but none would have a home-field edge like the Saints would.

 

I think the NFC home-field team will have no more than three losses.

 

• The Rams have the toughest single game left—in Mexico two weeks from tonight against the 8-1 Chiefs. But there’s only one other team with a current winning record, Chicago (5-3). Finishing with the Cards and Niners helps tremendously.

 

• The Saints, obviously, will have the tiebreaker edge against Los Angeles by virtue of Sunday’s head-to-head win. But they have a game against Atlanta and finish with a tough trio (at Carolina, Pittsburgh at home, Carolina at home).

 

• The Panthers have a short-week Thursday-nighter at Pittsburgh, winners of four straight, this week. And they finish thusly: Saints, Falcons, at Saints. And Carolina has to catch up and pass two one-loss teams.

 

“The Rams did a great job of coming back from 18 points down today,” Watson said. “They’re a really good team. We have a lot of weapons too. The one thing I like when I watch our team practice is how hard the young guys work. They know what it takes to be great. Every play in practice, Michael Thomas runs full-speed with the ball, just like it’s a game.”

 

Watching a good bit of that Saints’ win here before Pack-Pats, it’s hard not to wish for a January rematch. Imagine title games of New England at Kansas City, and New Orleans at Los Angeles. There were 83 points in the first game between those AFC foes Oct. 14. There were 80 points scored Sunday in Rams-Saints. That doubleheader would be a referendum on whether the league needs to put defense back in pro football. My guess: The NFL would sign up (and root for) 43-40 and 45-35 conference title games. Right now.

 

 

TAMPA BAY

The Buccaneers have played eight games this year.  In four of them, they have given up 30+ points – at halftime!

 

Rick Stroud with more:

 

They can’t break the mold, the worst one to afflict the Bucs since MRSA.

 

There is pathetic pattern they not only can’t escape, but seem destined to follow.

 

It doesn’t matter who is playing quarterback. Jameis Winston last week. Ryan Fitzpatrick in Sunday’s 42-28 loss to the Panthers. Ryan Griffin in 2020.

 

It doesn’t matter who the defensive coordinator is. Mike Smith got fired for it. Mark Duffner won’t be re-hired for it.

 

What we know about the Bucs is that they are as predictable as sunrise and disappointed by sunset.

 

Halfway through another frustrating season, here’s what we’ve learned:

 

◘ Coach Dirk Koetter’s team falls behind early. Way behind.

 

Three times they have given up at least 30 points in the first half this season, to the Bears, Steelers and Panthers. Three times, they’ve yielded 24 or more points in the first half, to the Saints, Falcons and Bengals.

 

◘ The Bucs fight like hell to crawl back into the game. Fitzpatrick seems to be Captain Comeback. He did it against the Steelers, rallied the Bucs to 18 fourth quarter points last week at Cincinnati and got within a touchdown after trailing the Panthers 35-7 in the second quarter Sunday.

 

◘ They get no takeaways. Sunday marked the fifth straight game without producing a defensive turnover, a club record.

 

◘ Ultimately, the Bucs fall short.

 

◘ And they find their way home to the NFC South cellar. That’s where they are at the midway point of their season. It’s where they have finished six of the previous seven years.

 

“We’re in this pattern, that we go out, we get behind, we get killed in the second quarter, then we rally like hell in the third quarter and then everybody thinks we’re back in it and then we fade off at the end,” Koetter said speaking of the Bucs game — not season — pattern.

 

“That’s definitely the pattern that we’re in. If I knew one thing to fix it, I would do it right now.”

 

And that may be the biggest problem of all. Nobody knows how to fix it.

 

Certainly not Koetter. Since joining the Bucs in 2015 as offensive coordinator, the Bucs have started 3-5, 3-5, 2-6 and 3-5. The last three seasons, he has only himself to blame as head coach.

 

On Sunday, the Bucs lost the coin toss and the Panthers elected to defer. Koetter said he wanted the ball first.

 

“We tried to take the ball first, (not) to try to defer and they got it anyway,” Koetter said. “We put our defense in two holes with the interception and the fake punt.”

 

There is a bright spot, pointed out by the ever-cheerful Scott Smith:

 

TE O.J. Howard’s 10 touchdown receptions tie Cooper Kupp for the most by any player selected in the 2017 NFL Draft.

 

Actually, Smith sent that tweet out before Howard’s 2nd TD yesterday, then Kupp added one in the late game.  So the number now 11 TDs for the dynamic duo.

 

NFC WEST

 

ARIZONA

The Cardinals cut QB SAM BRADFORD on Saturday.  Peter King crunches some numbers:

 

I think $15,937,500 doesn’t buy what it used to. That’s what Sam Bradford made for three starts in Arizona—$5.3-million per start.

 

I think—and I don’t mean to beat a dead Cardinal—this was an insane contract from the start. The oft-injured Bradford started only 38 of his teams’ 80 games over the previous five years. He was 19-19. He finished 2017 as a healthy scratch to Case Keenum. Who knows what the competition was for him in the offseason, but if Bradford had someone offering him more than $5 million, Arizona GM Steve Keim should have walked away and said good luck. Instead, Keim guaranteed him $15 million, plus another $5 million in per-game, active-roster bonuses. Bradford was active for three games. For that money, he went 0-3 and got yanked for rookie Josh Rosen.

 

AFC WEST

 

DENVER

So near and yet so far for Vance Joseph and the Broncos who have now lost three of their last four games – by 12 points – all to teams aligned to make the playoffs.  Ryan O’Halloran of the Denver Post as the 3-6 team heads to the bye week:

 

If general manager John Elway believed firing coach Vance Joseph was the elixir to spark a turnaround, he would have done it last month.

 

Back then, more than half the season remained, injuries to multiple starters had yet to arise and expressing hope wasn’t met with a guffaw.

 

But what’s the point now?

 

Making the playoffs after starting 3-6 isn’t impossible, but Sunday’s 19-17 loss to the Houston Texans sure felt like the end.

 

The end of the season: Locker clean-out day is Dec. 31.

 

The end of Joseph: Ever since the Week 5 loss at the New York Jets, his dismissal felt inevitable. The “noise” he refers to will not — and should not — go away.

 

Beat Houston and the task would have remained difficult, but countered with a flicker of hope.

 

Not anymore. Not after Brandon McManus was wide right with a 51-yard field goal as time expired.

 

Elway’s best move right now is to ride out the season with Joseph and spend his time planning for free agency and the draft — and casting out lines to third parties about interested replacements.

 

If the players were not showing effort and laying down, Elway would be given little choice. But the Broncos’ last three losses, to the Rams, Chiefs and Texans, have been by a combined 12 points. They play hard. They sometimes play well. But they still do too much stupid stuff (penalties, mistakes, etc.).

 

“The (margin for) error is so small for our team, we can’t mess up like we did (Sunday) and have a chance to win,” cornerback Chris Harris said. “We have to damn-near play perfect. We have to figure out what we can do to eliminate those little mistakes that kill us every game.”

 

Most of Harris’ analysis is on-point. Talent-deficient rosters have to do everything right. But the Broncos are not being done in by “little mistakes.”

 

When the Broncos error, it’s large in scale and impact. Sunday was no different:

 

A busted coverage by safety Justin Simmons that equaled a 16-yard DeAndre Hopkins touchdown catch.

 

A holding penalty on safety Su’a Cravens that allowed the Texans to convert a third-and-11 and eventually kick a field goal.

 

Penalties by right tackle Jared Veldheer (false start) and left guard Max Garcia (holding) on consecutive snaps that robbed the Broncos of yards and time during their final possession.

 

And finally, after two fourth-down conversions, McManus’ missed field goal.

 

“Both kicks were terrible,” McManus said. “I didn’t even give them a chance. It’s tough for these guys to fight so hard and then have two terrible kicks.”

 

Terrible is how the Broncos continually gift the opponent free yards, free points and free escapes.

 

The Texans didn’t have a carry longer than nine yards, allowed four sacks, converted only four of 13 third-down chances and were out-gained by 58 yards — but won for the sixth consecutive time.

 

Average teams like Houston find ways to win.

 

Teams like the Broncos find ways to lose.

 

“We’ve been in some tight games that we haven’t finished and that’s the heart-breaking part,” Joseph said.

 

McManus had been Joseph’s most reliable player through seven games, making all 11 of his field-goal attempts and delivering kickoffs that sailed through the end zone or allowed for his coverage team to get down the field. The Broncos got an all-world game from tight end Jeff Heuerman (10 catches), no turnovers from quarterback Case Keenum and serviceable offensive line play after center Matt Paradis exited with a fractured fibula.

 

“I thought that was going to be the one to get us over the hump,” nose tackle Domata Peko said of McManus’ kick. “It would have been a huge win.”

 

But McManus’ misfire was just another chapter in a season of huge missed opportunities. They blew a 10-point lead against Kansas City in Week 4. They turtled against the Jets in Week 5. They couldn’t freeze out the Rams in sub-freezing temperatures. And they couldn’t hold a 17-16 lead against the Texans.

 

The usual playoff cutoff is nine wins. Forget about that for the Broncos. But can they reach five? They play the 6-2 Chargers twice. They the 5-2-1 Steelers. And they play at the 5-3 Bengals. They won’t be favored to win any of those games.

 

It would be surprising if Elway pulls the plug on Joseph at any point during the bye week. But the focus should be squarely on old No. 7 moving forward. Who he hires. Who he signs and cuts. Who he drafts. All eyes on John.

 

 

THE RAIDERS

Peter King:

 

I think I have not seen a team dissolve in two months of a season the way the Raiders from Sept. 1 to Saturday, when the news came down that Bruce Irvin got whacked. Last year’s top two pass-rushers, Khalil Mack (traded) and Irvin, gone. Top receiver Amari Cooper, gone. Top back Marshawn Lynch, gone (injured). Offensive line, in tatters. Jon Gruden has an immense amount of pressure on him after getting the biggest coaching contract in NFL history last January.

 

 

LOS ANGELES CHARGERS

The Chargers are on a roll – and they may be getting an offensive weapon back soon.

Adam Schefter of ESPN.com:

 

As the Los Angeles Chargers get ready to make a second-half postseason push, they could get an unexpected boost from a player they were not counting on.

 

Chargers tight end Hunter Henry, who tore his ACL during OTAs this past May, has a chance to return to action next month, league sources tell ESPN.

 

Henry’s return still would be a longshot, according to sources, but it is a shot — and it is more than most were expecting when he initially suffered the knee injury it in a non-contact drill last spring.

 

Henry is running and squatting, his strength is returning, he has not suffered any setbacks and his attitude is good because he feels so good, according to sources.

 

Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn would only say recently that “anything’s possible — he’s looked a lot better than I thought he would,” when asked about Henry.

 

But sources say that if the Chargers (5-2) can make a postseason push that the organization is counting on, the chances of Henry returning at the end of the regular season should not be dismissed.

 

Henry, who currently is on the Chargers’ reserve-physically unable to perform list, had 81 receptions for 1,057 yards and 12 touchdowns in his first two seasons with the Chargers.

 

The Chargers will be making another move at kicker.  Eric Williams of ESPN.com:

 

After another poor performance, the Los Angeles Chargers released Caleb Sturgis on Monday, the team announced.

 

The 29-year-old kicker missed two extra points and a 42-yard field goal in a 25-17 win over the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday, pushing all three kicks wide left.

 

Anthony Lynn risked losing locker room by keeping kicker Caleb Sturgis

A “frustrated” Chargers team narrowly escaped Seattle with a win after Caleb Sturgis missed two extra points and a field goal attempt.

 

Michael Badgley was signed from the practice squad to the active roster.

 

Sturgis made 9 of 13 field goal attempts and 9 of 15 PATs in six games this season.

 

Health had been a concern for Sturgis going into the 2018 season — he missed all but one game for the Philadelphia Eagles last year, spending most of 2017 on the injured reserve with a hip issue.

 

For the Chargers, Sturgis missed two games with a strained quad. In those games, Badgley replaced him and made all three of his field goal attempts, including a long of 44 yards, and all seven of his extra point attempts in wins over the Cleveland Browns and the Tennessee Titans.

 

The Chargers waived Badgley last week when Sturgis was deemed healthy enough to play. However, the Chargers brought Badgley back on the practice squad once he cleared waivers.

 

AFC NORTH

 

BALTIMORE

The reeling Ravens go to bye insisting they will stick with QB JOE FLACCO.  Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

The Ravens have lost four of their last five games and they’ve missed the playoffs in four of the last five seasons, which has led to questions about head coach John Harbaugh’s future with the organization.

 

Harbaugh fielded those questions after Sunday’s loss and Monday’s press conference had him moving on to the team’s plans during the bye week. They don’t include moving Lamar Jackson ahead of Joe Flacco on the depth chart at quarterback.

 

“Joe’s played well, so I don’t want to get into all of that,” Harbaugh said, via Jonas Shaffer of the Baltimore Sun. “We’re rolling right now with what we got. Of course, at some point in time, this guy’s a quarterback. … He’s improving all the time. He’s getting better as a quarterback, an NFL quarterback, all the time. … I want to see Lamar on the field too. How to do that is kind of what we’re working though, so that’s what we’ve got to figure out.”

 

Harbaugh did leave open the possibility of playing Jackson for a full series at a time while leaving Flacco in place as the starter. Should that plan and any others Harbaugh draws up over the next couple of weeks fail to change the team’s fortunes, Jackson’s time as a starter will be even closer to beginning.

 

Of course, there are questions about whether or not Harbaugh will be making that decision.  Nate Davis of USA TODAY:

 

The Ravens are entering their bye week but may also be on the verge of far more painful goodbyes.

 

This is an organization headed toward inevitable transition, one perhaps accelerated in the wake of Sunday’s 23-16 defeat to the archrival Pittsburgh Steelers.

 

Baltimore coach John Harbaugh, whose team has lost four of five — and, bigger picture, is in jeopardy of missing postseason for the fourth consecutive year — was asked following the game about a report from NFL Media suggesting he could be fired in the coming days. (Team owner Steve Bisciotti admitted in February that he weighed dismissing Harbaugh after last season, when a loss in the regular-season finale extended the Ravens’ playoff drought.)

 

“I haven’t seen that, I don’t know,” Harbaugh replied when asked if he’s on the hot seat. “I’ve never been somebody that worried about keeping a job.

 

“We’ll keep fighting, and that’s what we do.”

 

Yet beyond that, Harbaugh seemed like a man grasping for answers.

 

“I just told (the players), ‘You know, we lost three games in a row. What does that mean we need to do?’ They all said, ‘We gotta win three games in a row,’ ” he said. “That’s what we need to do. There are seven games left in the season. There’s a lot of football left to be played.”

 

Harbaugh cited the need for a week off, hoping a roster that had 10 players on the injury report emerges healthier after the break. Starting tackles Ronnie Stanley and James Hurst were both out against the Steelers, who limited the Ravens to a season-low 268 yards and 23:31 time of possession.

 

Defensively, Baltimore couldn’t get off the field, allowing Pittsburgh to convert 10 of 16 third-down attempts on the way to surrendering 395 yards, in excess of 100 more than it concedes on average. The Ravens’ top-ranked defense hadn’t allowed more than six third-down conversions in any other game this season.

 

“We’re gonna look hard at what we can do,” added Harbaugh, who lost to a division opponent at home in November for the first time in his career (previously 7-0). “We’ve got to score more points, get more yards — especially — score in the red zone. We were scoring in the red zone really well early in the year, and that’s dried up.”

 

All true certainly, especially in regard to a team that began the season by scoring a record 12 touchdowns in its first 12 trips inside the opposing 20-yard line. The Ravens were 1-for-4 inside the red zone Sunday while Pittsburgh was 3-for-4.

 

Game. Set. Match.

 

But it may be time to hope for more than better execution in crucial situations, rejuvenated troops and fanciful win streaks.

 

Would firing Harbaugh in a bid to spark the team work? Seems doubtful at this juncture given that kind of gambit rarely pays dividends in the NFL. The players also broadly seem to support a coach who led the franchise to its second Super Bowl victory to cap the 2012 season.

 

“This team believes in him,” said safety Eric Weddle — who is clearly open to new ideas himself given the drastic trim to his trademark beard.

 

“He’s an unbelievable man.”

 

Maybe it’s time to try Ty Montgomery, inactive Sunday after being acquired from the Packers at the trade deadline, to spark a largely dormant ground attack (61 yards Sunday).

 

The more drastic move would be to bench struggling quarterback Joe Flacco in favor of rookie Lamar Jackson, the final first-round pick made by outgoing general manager Ozzie Newsome.

 

“I’d like to see him out there more,” Harbaugh said of Jackson, citing the success New Orleans had in Baltimore two weeks ago while using quarterbacks Drew Brees and multi-dimensional Taysom Hill.

 

This from Peter King:

 

What would hurt Harbaugh is a fourth straight non-playoff season, along with his chief ally Ozzie Newsome walking away as team architect after the season. It hurts, too, that over the last three-and-a-half seasons, Baltimore is just 26-32. But I’ll give you the big matzo ball hanging over this decision: Can you imagine if the Ravens fire Harbaugh the day after the regular season ends, and the Cleveland Browns scoop him up and make him their coach of the future, with a promising young quarterback and four or five franchise pieces on defense? Do not ignore that as you ponder what the Ravens should do about Harbaugh in the wake of such a dispiriting loss as the one to Pittsburgh on Sunday

 

 

CINCINNATI

WR A.J. GREEN received a good doctor’s report on his bad toe.  Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

The Bengals were off on Sunday, but their wide receiver A.J. Green was the subject of a report before the day’s games got underway.

 

Green went to a specialist for another look at the toe injury he suffered late in the Bengals’ Week Eight win over the Buccaneer and word was that surgery was one of the possibilities under consideration. That no longer remained the case on Monday afternoon.

 

Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis said that Green does not need surgery to repair the injury. Lewis said, via Jeff Morrison of The Athletic, Green will be “fine” without shedding light on whether he would be fine in time to face the Saints in Week 10. Adam Schefter of ESPN reports that Green is expected to miss games.

 

Green has not missed a game this year. He has 45 catches for 687 yards and six touchdowns this season.

 

 

CLEVELAND

Would this be a good team for the next Browns coach and OC?  Bruce Arians talks about his interest in Cleveland with Steve Doerschuk of the Canton Repository:

 

Back in the days when Bruce Arians was offensive coordinator of a Browns team that forged a 17-point lead in a playoff game at Pittsburgh, he would joke about growing old.

 

“It has been a long time since I was the ‘boy wonder’ head coach at Temple,” he would say. He was 30 when the Owls hired him in 1983.

 

When Arians visited Cleveland on Sunday as a TV analyst, it had been a long time since he was fired after the Browns’ 2003 season, only to resurface in Pittsburgh and eventually coordinate the offense in the Steelers’ run to Super Bowls capping the 2008 and 2010 seasons.

 

Then, after Pittsburgh’s 2011 season, in a haunting reminder of Cleveland, in a move first presented (to his dismay) as a retirement, the Steelers fired him.

 

The “retiree” was on his way to being one of the more colorful head coaching personalities in recent NFL history. While that cycle ran its course in Indianapolis and Arizona, Cleveland remains a serious topic to him.

 

During a break from the CBS booth Sunday, in a conversation in the press box, we asked Arians if he would consider becoming a head coach again.

 

“Cleveland is the only job I would consider,” he said, and it was no surprise if you know his background.

 

Arians has made it clear Cleveland is the one head coaching job he really wanted. He has been around, seeing with his own eyes how it was when the old Browns were winners. His first NFL boss was Marty Schottenheimer, who told him stories.

 

Current Browns general manager John Dorsey has vowed to awaken this “sleeping giant.”

 

In 2002, Arians helped splash water on the giant’s face. The Browns reached the playoffs. They had a big lead at Pittsburgh. It got away. Years later, the giant snores.

 

Arians has told us his view of why the lone playoff game of the expansion era got away. Namely: Defensive coordinator Foge Fazio wanted to go for the jugular, attacking Pittsburgh, seizing the day. Davis wanted to play a prevent, and, being the head coach, prevent it was.

 

Davis relieved Fazio of his command during the second half.

 

Internal discord is not new. Fazio was fired immediately after Davis’ prevent didn’t work (the Browns lost 36-33). The 2003 season sagged. The day after it ended, Arians was fired and replaced by wideouts coach Terry Robiskie, who a year later became interim head coach after Davis quit late in the season.

 

Now, the Browns’ head coaching job again is in interim status. Gregg Williams is 0-1 after a 37-21 loss to Kansas City.

 

What does Arians imagine the Browns will do if they opt not to stay with Williams? Arians opined that the pool of candidates with a chance to succeed is “thin.”

 

Amid a clamor to hire a boy wonder, Arians says Cleveland instead needs an experienced NFL coach who would embrace Cleveland’s unique challenges.

 

Arians smiled when asked his age.

 

“Sixty-six,” he said.

 

Hire experience. We mentioned to Arians that a Mike Mularkey type might appeal to Dorsey. Mularkey has had three NFL head coaching jobs, most recently with a Titans team that beat the Chiefs in a playoff game in January.

 

“My guy would be Chuck Pagano,” Arians said.

 

Pagano, 58, was hired in Cleveland the same year as Arians, 2001. He lasted through the 2004 season, eventually became defensive coordinator in Baltimore, then was hired as head coach of the Colts. Pagano hired the “retired” Arians as offensive coordinator for rookie No. 1 overall pick Andrew Luck (Arians had been Colts “OC” in 1998, when Peyton Manning was a rookie No. 1 overall pick).

 

After Pagano was diagnosed with leukemia. Arians became interim head coach in Week 5, and the Colts had a 9-3 record on his watch.

 

Pagano healed and was Indy’s head coach through 2017, fired with a record of 56-46, including 3-3 in the playoffs.

 

The 2012 Colts were the talk of the league. The Pagano-Arians tag team took over a team that had gone 2-14 and, under great duress, went 11-5.

 

Cleveland had an opening in 2013. Arians wanted in. After the new Browns owners appointed Rob Chudzinski, Arians took his first full-time NFL head coaching job with the Cardinals, who had posted one 10-win season in the previous 25 years.

 

Arians put up records of 10-6, 11-5, 13-3, 7-8-1 and 8-8. After the 2017 season, he actually did retire.

 

As he mentioned, there is one job for which he would consider coming out of retirement.

 

What about Pagano? His background is on defense, in a league that has been taken over by offense.

 

Hiring Pagano might be a means of securing a certain former boy wonder as offensive coordinator.

 

Freddie Kitchens, now the OC of the Browns, knows Arians.  This from Peter King:

 

“How to make a cocktail.”

—Newly appointed Cleveland offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens, asked what he learned from Bruce Arians in five years on the Arizona staff with Arians.

 

Peter King on what the next coach (and GM?) of the Browns is getting into:

 

The last six Browns coaches to be fired have this in common: They were fired within 24 hours of losing by double-digits to Pittsburgh.

 

That sounds preposterous, which it is. Impossible, which it almost is.

 

But I’ll prove it to you. One decade, six really bad post-Steeler hangovers:

 

• Dec. 29, 2008: Pittsburgh 31, Cleveland 0. The next day, owner Randy Lerner fired Romeo Crennel after four playoff-less seasons and a 24-40 record. “I would like to think we’re a more compelling organization to be a part of now,” Lerner said (whatever that means) in making the announcement.

 

• Jan. 2, 2011: Pittsburgh 41, Cleveland 9. The next day, owner Randy Lerner fired Eric Mangini after two playoff-less seasons and a 10-22 record. Mangini said: “Our goal was to build a team for long-term success. The core characteristics we were dedicated to, I believe, will help achieve that goal.”

 

• Dec. 30, 2012: Pittsburgh 24, Cleveland 10. The next day, owner Jimmy Haslam fired Pat Shurmur after two playoff-less seasons and a 9-23 record. Shurmur said: “This group of players will achieve success soon, and part of me will feel very good when that happens.”

 

• Dec. 29, 2013: Pittsburgh 20, Cleveland 7. That night, after word of a coaching change leaked via text messages and solid rumors on the Browns’ bus back from Pittsburgh, owner Jimmy Haslam fired coach Rob Chudzinski after one playoff-less season and a 4-12 record. “One year? One year? C’mon. You don’t fire a coach after one year,” linebacker D’Qwell Jackson said.

 

• Jan. 3, 2016: Pittsburgh 29, Cleveland 12. That night, owner Jimmy Haslam fired Mike Pettine after two playoff-less seasons and a 10-22 record. A team statement said: “We don’t believe our team was positioned well for the future.”

 

• Oct. 28, 2018: Pittsburgh 33, Cleveland 18. The next day, owner Jimmy Haslam fired Hue Jackson after 2.5 playoff-less years and a 3-36-1 record. Jackson told Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer: “Cleveland is currently the Mount Everest of the NFL.”

 

Truest words of the last decade.

 

By the way, the Browns are believed to be the only team in NFL history to employ seven coaches and seven general managers in a 10-year period.

 

 

PITTSBURGH

Can this possibly be true?

 

@ESPNStatsInfo

James Conner has 4 games with at least 100 rushing yards, 50 receiving yards and a TD this season.

 

We did our own sort – and it appears to be true:

 

Player                            Year      Tm               Count

James Conner               2018     PIT              4

Tiki Barber                     2004     NYG            3

Marshall Faulk*             1999      STL             3

Arian Foster                  2010      HOU            3

Priest Holmes                2002     KAN             3

Chris Johnson               2009      TEN             3

Robert Smith                 2000      MIN             3

LaDainian Tomlinson*   2006      SDG            3

Herschel Walker            1987     DAL             3                                 

 

This from Peter King:

 

One thing has become pretty obvious about the bizarre holdout of Le’Veon Bell, and the resulting impact on the Steelers’ season: It’s not having much of an effect on the team he hoped would miss him terribly.

 

The easy thing to say about Bell’s decision to stay away from the team through the first nine weeks of the season is that he’s preserving himself for his run at free agency in 2019, when he will be a 27-year-old player in search of the biggest contract an NFL running back has ever received. Some team may well pay him handsomely. But the Steelers so far have saved more than $7 million (Bell’s missed pay: $7.68 million; James Conner’s entire salary this year; $578,000) by Bell not being on the team.

 

Through eight games—half a season—since Bell entered the league in 2013, the relative production of Conner versus Bell is just about a wash. There is one asterisk, as noted on Bell’s 2016 and 2013 totals. He was suspended for the first three games in 2016 for violating the league’s substance abuse policy; in 2013, he missed the first three games of the seasons with a mid-foot sprain. In each season, I chose to use the totals from his first eight games of the season (games four through 11).

 

The results:

 

Conner, 2018     189 touches, 1,085 yards, 5.74 yards per touch, 10 TD.

Bell, 2017           229 touches, 979 yards, 4.28 yards per touch, 5 TD.

Bell, 2016           208 touches, 1,136 yards, 5.46 yards per touch, 4 TD.*

Bell, 2015           Active for only six games.

Bell, 2014           183 touches, 1,086 yards, 5.93 yards per touch, 2 TDs.

Bell, 2013           169 touches, 711 yards, 4.21 yards per rush, 4 TDs*

 

On average, Bell’s first eight games of the four seasons: 197 touches, 978 yards, 4.96 yards per touch, 3.8 touchdowns.

 

Conner’s first eight games this season: 189 touches, 1,085 yards, 5.74 yards per touch, 10 touchdowns.

 

In essence, Bell has gambled $7.68 million to prove his worth. Other than keeping him fresher for free agency in 2019, which is certainly part of this, Bell has lost his gamble.

 

AFC SOUTH

 

HOUSTON

Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle is ready to give DE J.J. WATT the Comeback Player of the Year Award:

 

The epic comeback of Texans veteran defensive end J.J. Watt has placed him firmly in the conversation for NFL honors.

 

Limited to eight games, 1 1/2 sacks and 23 tackles over the previous two seasons due to a gruesome broken leg and a herniated disk, Watt is making a strong bid for NFL Comeback Player of the Year.

 

Watt is also in the running for a fourth NFL Defensive Player of the Year crown and Pro Bowl recognition.

 

Watt leads the Texans with nine sacks and has five tackles for losses and four forced fumbles.

 

“If you start with J.J. Watt, I’ve never seen anything like it,” Texans coach Bill O’Brien said. “To come back from what he’s come back from, from some really serious injuries and to play at the level he’s playing, it says all you need to know about him and how much he cares about the team and how much he wants to help this organization win.”

 

AFC EAST

 

MIAMI

S RASHAD JONES talks it out with Coach Adam Gase about Sunday’s flareup.  Cameron Wolfe of ESPN.com:

 

Hours after mysteriously pulling himself out of Sunday’s 13-6 win over the Jets after just 10 snaps, Miami Dolphins safety Reshad Jones came to coach Adam Gase’s office voluntarily to discuss the situation and why he made that decision.

 

Gase came out of the conversation with a better understanding of exactly what happened and warned the public to be “slow to rush” to judgment because “there’s other factors involved.”

 

“I’m still kind of going through a couple of things. I need to talk to a couple other people, but me and him are on the same page right now,” Gase said Monday. “That conversation between him and me, that’s where it will stay.”

 

Gase said Jones will play next Sunday at Green Bay after “a lot of things got cleaned up” Sunday night. He said discipline, if there is any, will be kept internal. There were several moments during Monday’s news conference when Gase referenced defensive coordinator Matt Burke’s communication skills with players and indicated that the Jones issue is “less me and him.”

 

Gase said he did not know Jones was unhappy before Sunday. When asked if Burke knew that Jones was unhappy, Gase said: “I can’t speak on that, but I’m a little more involved now.”

 

Burke started platooning his safeties, having Jones and T.J. McDonald sit on the bench for a series at a time in place of rookie defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick, to change things up for a defense that had allowed 74 points to Detroit and Houston over the previous two games.

 

Gase said he did not talk to Burke on Sunday night. He also has not talked to Jones about speaking to the team about Sunday yet.

 

One Dolphins player told ESPN on Sunday that those rotations were known during the week, but they weren’t universally accepted. But this player also said, “Like it or not, you’ve got to do what the coaches ask.”

 

Jones, who has been a Dolphins starting safety since 2011, made the Pro Bowl in 2015 and 2017. Gase was adamant that the Jones issue wouldn’t linger and that they’ll “move on,” but he also indicated he had to do more digging on the incident as a whole.

 

“I’ll have more of an idea here throughout the day and tomorrow,” Gase said. “I’ll figure out a lot of the things what happened throughout the week, toward the end of the week or on game day.”

 

Jones was not in the locker room to speak with media after the game on Sunday. Players were not available on Monday. Burke typically speaks every Thursday afternoon.

 

Gase said he will have a bigger role with the defense moving forward.

 

“I’ve been more involved. That’s part of my job, to make sure I communicate and they communicate back,” Gase said. “We’re all on the same page. When I want to do something, that’s what we need to do.”

 

 

NEW ENGLAND

A tweet from Will Brinson points out the restorative powers of Bill Belichick, TOM BRADY and the Patriots culture:

 

@WillBrinson

Josh Gordon now has more receiving yards with the Patriots in six games (381) than he had with the Browns from 2015 through 2018 (352).

 

Mike Reiss of ESPN.com with more on WR JOSH GORDON:

 

New England Patriots wide receiver Josh Gordon said one of his fingers was dislocated in Sunday night’s 31-17 win over the Green Bay Packers.

 

Gordon, who finished with five catches for 130 yards and a touchdown, left the game briefly two different times.

 

“I guess it’s like a freak accident, nothing too crazy,” he said. “One of the slant routes, I think some pressure fell on it and it dislocated, so I popped it back into place a couple of times during the game. It’s fine.”

 

Gordon capped off the Patriots’ scoring with a 55-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown in the fourth quarter — a play that he said seemed to catch the Packers off balance.

 

“Usually it goes to [Julian Edelman]. The corner just flew up on the fake. I just saw Josh so I threw it,” said Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. “Julian thought I missed him and Josh made a great catch and run. It was a big play in the game. We needed a big play like that.”

 

That helped Gordon top the 100-yard mark in a game for the 12th time in his career.

 

“He’s extremely tough,” said running back James White, one of the team’s captains. “He’s big, strong, a fast guy who can catch the ball and run routes. He’s came into the building willing to work each and every day. Him building a rapport with Tom is getting better and better each week. He’s an explosive guy.”

 

 

NEW YORK JETS

Peter King, picking a Goat of the Week, on the recession of QB SAM DARNOLD from his Week One high water mark:

 

Sam Darnold, quarterback, New York Jets. Took the ball with 11 minutes left at Miami, down 6-3, and these were his last four drives: pick-six, field goal, interception, interception. That fourth quarter could well have sealed the fate of coach Todd Bowles as head coach in a 3-6 season, and Darnold has to take a big part of the responsibility. In 25 possessions against Miami this year, Darnold drove for one touchdown.

 

Kimberley Martin of YahooSports.com blames it on the Jets’ coaches:

 

The most damning thing about this loss wasn’t the pathetic final score, or the fact New York has now dropped to 3-6 overall and 0-2 in the AFC East division. It’s that the Jets – an organization that has spent decades searching for a legitimate, lasting face for its franchise – finally might have a long-term option in Darnold. And this coaching staff is finding new ways to impede his development.

 

Nine games into his rookie season, Darnold is regressing. The rookie leads the league with 14 interceptions, and has seven sacks, seven interceptions and only two touchdowns over the past three games.

 

And that’s a big problem for a defensive coach who is 13-27 (with no playoff appearances) over the past three years.

 

In the aftermath of this seven-point defeat, irritated players offered blunt assessments for their individual and collective failings. A dismayed veteran center, apologizing for not being able to properly snap a football due to a finger injury that has plagued him for three weeks. Darnold lamenting his wildly inaccurate throws, including a career-high four interceptions. And a pissed-off second-year safety who insisted his defense didn’t do enough to create turnovers.

 

“It’s the same, same, same stuff. … I’m sick of losing,” said 23-year-old defensive leader Jamal Adams. “Enough is enough.”

 

“First of all, I think it starts with me,” said a dejected Darnold. “I think I’ve just got to be sharper. … I’ve just got to have a better plan.”

 

At the center of this debacle was Bowles, whose postgame comments offered no explanation for the lack of urgency his team has consistently displayed over his past four years; the absence of halftime, in-game or any-time adjustments each week; and, worse, a practical reason for Spencer Long – and his dislocated middle finger – to be in the game after launching repeated shotgun snaps out of the reach of his 6-foot-3 rookie quarterback.

 

“I go by whatever they think is best for me and this team,” Long said. “If they think we have a better chance with me in there, then I’m playing.”

 

The players all admitted they should have been better on Sunday. But the one person who didn’t was the man responsible for developing Darnold and configuring a coaching staff that can improve a 29th-ranked offense.

 

Asked if his defense was “a bright spot” on an otherwise bleak afternoon, Bowles inexplicably said: “Still got to get turnovers. You don’t play well when you lose ballgames, so we got to get turnovers and do a little more.”

 

Excuse me?

 

Asked if he gave any thought to taking out Long before he re-injured his dislocated finger, Bowles stunningly said: “No, I didn’t. We were fine. We didn’t play well on offense, period. This is not the thing. We didn’t execute anything.”

 

I’m sorry – What???

 

Bowles, ever so deadpan, went on to explain that this season is not slipping away, that the Jets – losers of three straight – are, in fact, not spiraling out of control.

 

“It’s not a spiral thing,” he said. “It was a tough loss and we’ll go back to the drawing board and fight. Our team is together and we understand where we are and we just got to get back to work tomorrow.”

 

Hopefully, someone will show Bowles the footage from his postgame locker room. His players are furious and frustrated, and in need of answers and direction. And they need more than mere reminders to “execute better” and “create turnovers.”

 

The Jets are in danger of damaging the young quarterback they worked so hard to secure so early in this year’s draft. And if Bowles isn’t careful, he won’t just be on the hot seat.

 

He’ll be out of a job.

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

BROADCAST NEWS

NBC bailed on the Steelers for Week 11.  They dumped Pittsburgh’s visit to Jacksonville and instead took the first meeting of the season between the Vikings and the Bears, in Chicago, out of FOX’s inventory. 

 

Unlike the first flex of the season in Week when Rams at San Francisco went to CBS when NBC took Cincinnati at Kansas City, CBS gets Pittsburgh at JAX in Week 11 (and it might be their big early game).

 

NBC is also likely to be jettisoning the Steelers in Week 14 when they are now scheduled to host the Raiders on Sunday night.  But in Week 13, it wouldn’t shock to see Pittsburgh get a Sunday night incoming FLEX when they host the Chargers.  That would be at the expense of San Francisco at Seattle which is now scheduled.

– – –

It’s never too early to look at the Week 17 Flex possibilities.  Last year they were so thin than NBC just opted not to do a final primetime game.  This year, they are pretty juicy with three NFC games that could each be division title showdown matches – Carolina at New Orleans, Philadelphia at Washington and Chicago at Minnesota.  The best game in the AFC world might be Cincinnati at Pittsburgh.