AROUND THE NFL

NFC EAST

 

DALLAS

With no market emerging, the Cowboys have cut ties with former first-round pick DE TACO CHARLTON.  Jeremy Bergman of NFL.com:

 

The Taco Charlton truck is being towed out of Dallas.

 

The Cowboys released the former first-round defensive end on Wednesday after two-plus seasons with the club.

 

Charlton’s cut comes after Dallas opened the door for trade talks for the 24-year-old edge rusher. With veteran defensive end Robert Quinn returning from suspension and no bidders on the trade market for Taco’s services, the Cowboys have opted to waive Charlton.

 

Dallas’ 2017 No. 28 overall pick had been unhappy with the organization for some time. After being ruled inactive for Dallas’ first two games of the season, Charlton tweeted “Free me” on Monday before deleting the message.

 

Whereas Dallas has had success with their early draft picks over the last five years — Ezekiel Elliott, Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch all figure to be Dallas stalwarts for years to come — Charlton was a relative disappointment. In two seasons, Charlton started seven of 27 games played, recording four sacks, 11 QB hits and one forced fumble.

 

As a former first-round pick, Charlton should see legitimate interest in waivers this week, but none from Dallas, who is moving on from its rare draft bust.

 

 

NEW YORK GIANTS

In the wake of his benching, QB ELI MANNING is gracious.  Kevin Patra of NFL.com:

 

A day after the New York Giants announced he’d been benched in favor of Daniel Jones, Eli Manning could have elected to avoid the media. But that’s not Manning’s way.

 

For going on 16 seasons, Manning has faced the fire of New York, through ups, downs, wins, losses, good times and dreadful. Come hell or high water, Manning never shrunk, never cowered, never shied away from answering questions.

 

And so it was, Wednesday, as his era of Big Blue football was effectively being put to rest, Manning stood at his locker surrounded by an overflowing frenzied pack of New York media parrying questions about his future.

 

“I knew there was a possibility,” he said when asked about being benched in favor of Jones after just two weeks. “Just said, ‘hey I’ll handle it. And I’ll support Daniel and I’ll be a good teammate and do what I’m told.'”

 

No one could ever accuse Manning of not being a good teammate.

 

The 38-year-old quarterback said he didn’t have a problem with how his benching was handled.

 

“I talked to (co-owner) John Mara yesterday. Everything’s been good. It’s as positive as it can be,” he said.

 

Manning added that he would have still returned this season had he known he’d have been passed on the depth chart by Jones after just two games.

 

“Yeah. I think you give it a shot and worked hard and competed. Did everything I thought I could and it just didn’t work out,” he said. “…I didn’t know how everything was going to shake out this year… You draft a young QB, yeah it’s a possibility they’ll play him when things don’t go well. We didn’t start fast and that’s the situation we’re in now.”

 

Always the soldier, Manning took his benching in stride.

 

“When you’re a football player you do what you’re told. And this is what I’ve been told, and I’ll handle it,” he said matter-of-factly.

 

While a large segment of Big Blue Nation bemoans the end of Manning’s run, which included two Super Bowl MVPs, the quarterback brushed aside any lamenting for his situation.

 

“Again, I’m not dying, and the season’s not over,” he said. “There’s a lot to be positive about. A lot to be grateful for. So, I’ve just got to accept my new role and make the best out of it.”

 

Quibble with the player Manning has been on the field the past half-decade all you want. There is zero questioning his status as a leader and consummate professional. Few could have handled the pressure and flames Manning faced in New York for 15-plus years with such aplomb and gracefulness.

– – –

This from Wallace Matthews at YahooSports.com extolls ELI MANNING for a spot on the Giants version of Mount Rushmore:

 

On Feb. 3, 2008, Eli Manning did something no other quarterback had been able to do for the previous 18 weeks of the NFL season: He beat Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots.

 

And he didn’t do it in some relatively meaningless game on some lazy Sunday afternoon in November. He did it on Super Bowl Sunday, a day that for a good part of the previous seven seasons, Tom and Bill had pretty much claimed as their own national holiday.

 

Manning and the New York Giants, with a big assist from David Tyree’s helmet, dashed the hopes of a 19-0 season for New England and preserved the legacy of the ‘72 Dolphins as the only unbeaten team in NFL history.

 

And four years later, Manning did it again, spoiling another Super Bowl Sunday for Brady, Belichick and an entire Patriots Nation.

 

The New York Giants were a wild-card team in 2007 and, with a 9-7 record, the winners of a weak NFC East in 2011, trying both times to topple a division champion considered unbeatable. Both times, the Giants were double-digit underdogs.

 

Both times, Eli Manning took home the MVP trophy.

 

No matter what you think about the rest of Eli Manning’s career or how hard you were rooting for the Giants to do what they did on Tuesday, benching Manning in favor of rookie Daniel Jones, those two days alone are enough to ensure a place for Manning’s head on the Giants’ Mount Rushmore, if such a thing can be carved out of the toxic landscape of the Jersey Meadowlands.

 

Choose any other three Giants you like — from a suggested list of Lawrence Taylor, Phil Simms, Frank Gifford, Bill Parcells and maybe Michael Strahan — but someone is going to have to move over to make room for Eli. That’s how important he has been to this franchise, and how fondly he is likely to be remembered by its fanbase.

 

This is a franchise that has never been known for its quarterbacks; before Simms arrived to lead the Giants out of the wasteland of Joe Pisarcik and Scott Brunner, the most memorable image of a Giants QB was the famous shot of Y.A. Tittle on his knees, blood streaming down his bald head after another crushing loss.

 

This was a team built on defense, linebackers mostly, that for the past three decades has played in a wind tunnel of a stadium that is a nightmare for passers. At the Meadowlands, the game plan has always been to keep the other team off the scoreboard and try to squeak out enough points to win.

 

But even with so little to beat, Manning is probably the greatest quarterback the Giants have ever known. Although his career record of 116-116 is a distant second to Simms’ 101-68, Simms played on defensive powerhouse teams coached by Parcells, not the likes of Pat Shurmur or his equally overmatched predecessor, Ben McAdoo.

 

And even allowing that today’s game is more passing-oriented than Simms’ NFL was, Manning’s stats are better in every category. He threw nearly twice as many touchdown passes (362-199), a lot fewer interceptions compared to TD passes, and nearly 13 more miles in passing yardage in only two more seasons of play. He had a better completion percentage than Simms (60 vs. 55) and his QB rating, if you’re into that sort of thing, is also higher than Simms’, 84.1 to 78.5.

 

Simms had a great Super Bowl himself in 1987 and deservingly won the MVP. Manning, of course, has won it twice.

 

But where Manning really stood out is in durability — he played in 210 consecutive games, or more than 13 straight years, before McAdoo stupidly benched him in 2017, a blunder that led to his well-deserved firing — and in doing what absolutely no one saw coming, beating the Patriots twice on the day they considered their unassailable property.

 

The only category in which Simms had it over Manning was in his endgame; by releasing him in the 1994 off-season, at least the Giants afforded him the courtesy of a clean break. Twice now, the Giants have botched their farewell to Manning, and there will be no room on that Mount Rushmore for its architects, Shurmur, GM Dave Gettleman or owner John Mara.

 

Considering what Manning did for this franchise, he deserved a whole lot better.

 

Had the Giants, and Manning, not won Super Bowl, Brady and Belichick would have won four of seven Supes; had he not repeated the feat in 2012, the Patriots might have rolled up a record of 7-for-7 on Super Bowl Sunday until the Eagles upset them in 2018.

 

Those wins were a great service for humanity, or at least that portion of humanity that does not live north of Yankee Stadium. In its own way, that first Giants win over the Patriots was even more unbelievable than the Jets upset of the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III.

 

Those Jets, at least, had Joe Namath, the prototype on which a stud quarterback is still modeled today, 50 years later. The Giants had Peyton’s little brother.

 

But little brother came up big both times, winning a second Super Bowl before his big brother did.

 

Now, 15 years after Eli Manning’s debut, the Giants are in precisely the position they were in at the start of the 2004 season — reeling, saddled with a quarterback they no longer had any confidence in, and looking for a reason to hope.

 

Daniel Jones gives them that hope, the same way Manning did and the same way Simms did 25 years before him. But the Giants’ Mount Rushmore is a tough hill to climb.

 

Eli Manning made it to the top. Time to start carving.

 

So Taylor, Gifford, Parcells and Eli?

 

But ELI wasn’t that high in this list from last year:

 

NFL.com has been listing their choices recently for the top 11 players in the history of each NFL franchise, and as is often the case when someone makes their picks for the top New York Giants players of all-time, their selections are up for debate. It’s never easy to select which Giants greats should rank above the others, but here’s what NFL.com came up with (chosen by NFL writer Adam Rank). Let the debate begin.

 

1) Lawrence Taylor, OLB (1981-1993)

2) Frank Gifford, RB/WR (1952-1964)

3) Mel Hein, C (1931-1945)

4) Roosevelt Brown, OT (1953-1965)

5) Sam Huff, LB (1956-1963)

6) Emlen Tunnell, DB (1948-1958)

7) Harry Carson, LB (1976-1988)

8) Michael Strahan, DE (1993-2007)

9) Tuffy Leemans, FB (1936-1943)

10) Andy Robustelli, DE (1956-1964)

11) Eli Manning, QB (2004-present)

Coach: Bill Parcells (1983-1990)

 

No Phil Simms on the Adam Rank list.  No Tiki Barber.  No Y.A. Tittle.  No Charlie Connerly.

 

This is what Rank wrote:

 

“My biggest dilemma was where to put Eli Manning on this list,” Rank wrote. “He clearly belongs. I don’t think anybody is going to dispute the fact that he’s going to the Hall of Fame. That’s just the way these things work. You win two Super Bowls as a starting QB and you’re in. (Unless your name is Jim Plunkett.) I could make a case for him being higher in the rankings. I really could. But I’m comfortable where I have him. My big question: How long will it take for Odell Beckham to make this list? And sorry about Tiki Barber. He’s No. 12 on my list.”

 

We believe that Bergman made some notable omissions on his rankings list. Considering the importance of the quarterback position, it’s questionable to create a top-11 rankings list and exclude Phil Simms from it. To this day, Simms still holds the title for having the greatest individual performance in Super Bowl history for the franchise when he completed 22-of-25 passes with three touchdowns and a nearly-perfect quarterback rating during the team’s championship win over the Denver Broncos. In that same light, Y.A. Tittle may not have played the majority of his career with the Giants, but he made his years with the team count in a big way. The Giants quarterback led the franchise to the Eastern title in three consecutive seasons (1961-1963) while winning MVP recognition in each of the three seasons. Tittle tossed 96 touchdown passes in just four seasons with the Giants in an era before the passing game exploded.

 

NFC WEST

 

LOS ANGELES RAMS

Are the Browns going to catch a break against the Rams?  Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

The Browns are preparing to face the best player in the league. But he’s not in the best possible physical condition.

 

Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald was limited in practice on Wednesday with a back injury.

 

Donald briefly exited Sunday’s win over the Saints with a back injury, but he returned to action.

 

Donald has missed only two games during his career. There’s no reason to think he won’t be available for the Rams on Sunday night at Cleveland, but it’s a situation that merits attention over the next few days.

 

AFC WEST

 

DENVER

Jeff Legwold of ESPN.com on the extremely penalty prone T GARRETT BOLLES:

 

The Denver Broncos have tried patience, constructive criticism and a sliver of tough love for penalty-prone left tackle Garett Bolles. And now, after another rash of yellow flags in the Broncos’ first two games, the clock is ticking on the former first-round pick’s place in the lineup.

 

Teammates have tried to help Bolles. Denver hired one of the best offensive line coaches in football, Mike Munchak, to, among everything else on his to-do list, help out the former first-round selection.

 

Bolles, the 20th pick of the 2017 draft, is really the only one who can fix it.

 

“Obviously it hurts us [Sunday] at different points in the game. … You know a lot of times, even though we overcame a couple of them, they’re a drive-stopper,” Broncos coach Vic Fangio said. “We’ve got to be able to block our guy without holding.”

 

Even the guy who drafted Bolles and has been one of his biggest supporters — Broncos president of football operations/general manager John Elway — has had enough.

 

“Well, it’s got to stop. Period,” Elway said on his weekly appearance on KOA NewsRadio. “There are no more excuses for it. He’s had 26 holding penalties in the last two years and two games, so it’s got to stop. The bottom line is if he thinks he’s getting singled out, he is. He’s got to understand that. He’s got to understand what he’s doing. And that was my question [Sunday], ‘Does he know what holding is?’ Does he know what he can and can’t do?’ If he thinks he’s getting targeted, he’s got to realize he isn’t. We’ll keep working for it and he’s still a talented guy. He cannot do that because it’s beating us.”

 

Bolles has indeed been flagged for 26 holding penalties in 34 career games, including four times in the Broncos’ 16-14 loss to the Chicago Bears last Sunday. And this is certainly not a new issue with Bolles, who was highly penalized player in his one year at Utah.

 

He was flagged 15 times overall (three were declined) as a rookie in 2011, 14 times overall in 2018 (four were declined) and five times already this season (three have been declined). That’s 34 penalties and almost 450 yards walked off against the Broncos’ offense.

 

There is some feeling in the Broncos’ complex that if Elijah Wilkinson, who is Bolles’ backup and who worked with the starting offense plenty in training camp, was not already filling in for the injured Ja’Wuan James at right tackle, a move would have already been made in the Broncos’ lineup.

 

When asked Monday if Bolles could be taken out for a series or two in games at times when he was clearly struggling, Fangio said: “With our depth the way it is at this point, that’s probably not an option.”

 

 

THE RAIDERS

The Raiders have acquired returner and WR TREVOR DAVIS from the Packers, presumably for his skills at the former.  That said, he has fielded 10 punts in the first two games with 1 yard total in returns (including 7 fair catches).  Jerry McDonald in the East Bay Times:

 

Trevor Davis is coming back home.

 

Davis, a wide receiver and return specialist who played in high school at Alhambra High in Martinez and finished his college career at Cal, was acquired by the Raiders from the Green Bay Packers Wednesday for a sixth-round draft pick.

 

The trade was first reported by the NFL Network and confirmed by the Bay Area News Group.

 

Included among injuries at wide receiver is Dwayne Harris, a veteran who returns both punts and kickoffs. Before the Davis deal was finalized, coach Jon Gruden said Wednesday that Harris had not practiced and that both Hunter Renfrow and Jalen Richard could end up returning kicks Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings.

 

Other wide receivers who are hurting include J.J. Nelson (ankle) and Tyrell Williams (hip), both of whom were limited in practice.

 

Davis was a fifth-round pick out of Cal by the Packers in 2016. He played in just two games last year, going on injured reserve list early in the season with a hamstring injury, coming back for a game, and then injuring it again.

 

AFC NORTH

 

BALTIMORE

Terez Paylor of YahooSports.com on the Ravens and their crazy success so far with play action:

 

Lamar Jackson is ripping it up right now, passing for 596 yards, seven touchdowns and zero interceptions as the Baltimore Ravens are off to a 2-0 start.

 

After beating up on the Arizona Cardinals and Miami Dolphins, two of the NFL’s worst teams, the Ravens will face a tougher test Sunday, when they take on one of the favorites to win the AFC, the Kansas City Chiefs.

 

If Jackson and the Ravens plan on taking the next step and vaulting themselves into the “contender” discussion, the first thing I noticed while reviewing film is their play-action game.

 

The Ravens’ heavy (and successful) use of play-action has been a revelation (as you can see in the video above).

 

Football Outsiders has the Ravens using play-action at a rate of 48 percent — the second-highest in the league — with the league-wide average sitting in the neighborhood of 26 percent. What’s more, they’re averaging 10.2 yards per play-action play, which ranks a solid 11th in the league, considering how much they use it.

 

The Ravens have been able to lean on these concepts thanks to the spryness of 29-year-old running back Mark Ingram and Jackson’s improved accuracy. And when the Ravens are feeling frisky, they even incorporate run-pass options — plays where Jackson can hand off or throw — to add an extra layer of difficulty for the defense.

 

Expect play-action to again play an important role in the Ravens’ gameplan. As I detailed in the video above, the Chiefs’ play-action defense has left something to be desired, as it’s surrendering 16 yards per play on such concepts, the fifth-most in the league, according to Football Outsiders.

 

 

CLEVELAND

The Browns have lost TE DAVID NJOKU to a broken wrist.  Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer on a disastrous play for Njoku:

 

Browns starting tight end David Njoku suffered a broken wrist during the Jets game that could require surgery, a source confirmed for cleveland.com.

 

92.3 The Fan’s Anthony Lima first reported that Njoku’s wrist injury could be serious and that he was seeking a second opinion. Njoku will likely be out at least a month, but it could be longer if he needs surgery, a source told cleveland.com.

 

The source said that Njoku is seeking a second opinion. He suffered the injury on the same play he did a concussion, when Nate Hairston upended him in the first quarter on a high pass from Baker Mayfield. Njoku leaped and was hit in the legs by Hairston, forcing him to drop the pass and execute the wrong kind of Chief Slam. His right wrist hit the ground first, bending awkwardly, and then his head and neck hit the turf.

 

Njoku wobbled off the field and into the locker room, where he was diagnosed with the concussion. The wrist injury wasn’t revealed until the injury report came out Wednesday afternoon.

– – –

DE MYLES GARRETT insists he doesn’t want to be the next NDAMUKONG SUH.  Charean Williams of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Myles Garrett leads the NFL with five sacks. He also is tied for the NFL lead with four penalties, three of them 15-yarders, and had an offsides negated by his own roughing penalty.

 

One of his roughing the passer penalties fractured the ankle of Trevor Siemian, knocking the Jets quarterback out for the year.

 

“You do not want to put anybody out for the season,” Garrett told reporters Wednesday. “That is their job. That is something that you do not do unless you love it, and you do not want to take that away from anybody. I hope he comes back faster and stronger than he ever has. I wish the best for him.”

 

The NFL fined Garrett $10,527 last week for hitting Titans tight end Delanie Walker in the facemask with an open hand. That drew his first 15-yard penalty of the season.

 

He had two roughing the passer penalties Monday night and likely will lose even more money this week. But Garrett said he is not concerned about any perception he’s a dirty player.

 

“It is hurting right now because you want to play aggressive, you want to play passionate, and you just want to finish the play,” Garrett said. “I am going to keep on playing with the same aggression. I just have to be smarter, better with my strike zone and try to pull off so I do not land with all my weight. That was the main point of emphasis when the refs talked to me, so I just have to be better at that. I am not going to pull off on a one-step and hit on the quarterback like that. If I know I have to be two steps or more, I am going to pull off. I am not trying to do anything dirty. I am not trying to injure anybody.”

 

Garrett said he will try to balance finishing “violently” while staying “within the rules.”

 

“Make sure I get the guy down, try and strip the ball from him but nothing late or anything illegal,” Garrett said.

 

 

PITTSBURGH

The Steelers are going to acquiesce to the wishes of CB MINKAH FITZPATRICK.  Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

After the Steelers acquired Minkah Fitzpatrick earlier this week, head coach Mike Tomlin said that the team was going to “anchor” him at free safety to kick off his time in Pittsburgh.

 

That’s a significant difference to Fitzpatrick’s time in Miami as the Dolphins used him as a cornerback, safety and hybrid safety/linebacker at various points in his year-plus with the team. Fitzpatrick felt there were points when the Dolphins played him in the wrong spot, but said on Wednesday that he’s happy with the approach that the Steelers are taking with him as he begins his run with the team.

 

“Right now I think it’s important to anchor me down because I’m learning an entire new system,” Fitzpatrick said, via PennLive.com. “Once I learn the system more I’m willing to move around because I think that’s a vital part of my game, is versatility, being able to move around.”

 

The Steelers will surely look to get as much out of Fitzpatrick as possible after dealing a first-round pick for him, but a slimmer portfolio off the bat would seem to be the best way to start seeing a return on their investment immediately.

 

AFC SOUTH

 

JACKSONVILLE

We are not sure why this is so, and the NFL may be making it up as it goes along, but CB JALEN RAMSEY can’t play Thursday for the Jaguars and Sunday for someone else.  Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

The Jaguars are planning to play Jalen Ramsey tonight, amid reports that they also could trade him as soon as tomorrow. But if that happens, Ramsey can’t play for his new team on Sunday.

 

At least one team has asked the league office if it could acquire Ramsey in a trade and play him in Week Three, and the league said a player can’t play two games in one week, according to Adam Schefter of ESPN. So if Ramsey plays tonight, he’s not playing Sunday (or Monday).

 

The big question is whether the Jaguars are really serious about trading Ramsey, and if so, why would they play him tonight? An injury in tonight’s game could make him impossible to trade.

 

If the Jaguars and some other team are really as far along in trade talks as some reports have suggested, it would seem to make more sense to get that trade done now, rather than have Ramsey play one more game as a lame duck Jaguar, and then get traded to a new team after the game. But from all indications Ramsey will play tonight, and wouldn’t be able to play for another team until Week Four.

 

Terez Paylor of YahooSports.com thinks Ramsey is whatever the cost.

 

For contending teams, there’s one player available who can potentially be the final chess piece for a Super Bowl run, and it’s Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey.

 

Ramsey is an elite talent, someone who would give a contender a Deion-Sanders-to-the-49ers boost with his premium cover skills and swagger. He was hard to miss in the things I noticed while reviewing Week 2 of the NFL slate.

 

Ramsey has not made any game-changing plays yet this season — he dropped a pick in Week 2 in which he showed excellent burst and athleticism — but he has continued to play hard while showing a chippy side against the Texans and Chiefs, finishing tackles with an insane amount of zeal.

 

It’s reasonable to understand why Ramsey is frustrated by the way the Jaguars are using him, with so much zone coverage. As a phenomenally gifted cover man, he wants to play man and shadow opponents’ best receivers. And even if a team leans toward playing more zone, there’s a good argument to be made that Ramsey is a player a coordinator should change his proclivities for.

 

His man coverage ability could wipe out any No. 1 receiver in the NFL. A team could even put him on the opponent’s No. 2 receiver and devote extra resources to a No. 1 guy, like the 49ers did with Deion at his zenith.

 

And if the risk of the trade was lessened somehow — Jacksonville reportedly wants premium compensation (two first-round picks) while Ramsey, who is still on a cheap rookie deal, arrived for training camp in a Brinks truck and rightfully wants to be paid — teams would be foolish not to jump into the fray.

 

The man is highly quotable and outspoken. He may have worn out his welcome in Jacksonville (and vice versa), but there’s only a handful of men who are 6-foot-1, 208 pounds and can run a 4.3 40 while sticking close with the world’s best athletes.

 

Ramsey is also a fierce competitor, someone I’d argue might be a good soldier on a winning team, especially one with a coach and quarterback he respects and a looming payday down the road for acclimating himself on the field and off with little drama.

 

Amid the trade request drama, he is currently slated to play for the Jaguars on Thursday night against Tennessee. If any contender who fits the criteria listed above — here’s looking at you Chiefs, Eagles, Patriots and Seahawks — can mitigate their risk and feel comfortable with Ramsey’s ability to fit into the locker room, there’s lots of potential for him to be a Super Bowl-swinging game changer.

 

AFC EAST

 

MIAMI

This is from Bill Barnwell’s ranking of the 0-2 teams:

 

The Dolphins have been outscored 102-10 so far. That minus-92 point differential is tied with the 1973 Saints for the worst by any team through two games in NFL history.

 

It’s one thing to point out that the Dolphins are the first team since 1949 to lose consecutive games by 40 or more points. It’s another to point out that they’ve lost those two games at home. No team had ever lost two home games by 40 or more points in a single season. The Dolphins pulled that feat off in consecutive weeks.

 

 

NEW ENGLAND

Could be something, but probably nothing.  QB TOM BRADY is “limited” in practice this week with a calf injury.

 

But even with that news, the Patriots are favored immensely Sunday against LUKE FALK and the Jets.  The line opened at about 20, but bettors have driven it up to 24 in some quarters.  Even with that amount, some are saying that 90% of the money is coming down on New England to cover.

 

This from Chris Cwik of YahooSports.com:

 

The NFL has made it no secret it wants to protect quarterbacks in recent seasons. But if one Miami Dolphins player is to be believed, the league may have gone too far when it comes to keeping its stars safe.

 

Dolphins linebacker Raekwon McMillan says a ref told him to take it easy on New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady during Sunday’s game. McMillan claims the ref went so far as to say “stay off Tom.”

 

Barry Jackson

@flasportsbuzz

Raekwon McMillan told me when he hit Brady on Sunday – a perfectly legit hit –  the referee told him “Stay off Tom.” NFL still protecting those QBs amid several early season injuries to marquee ones

 

That’s quite the accusation, which, if true, casts the NFL in a bad light. If the refs are giving stars preferential treatment, that’s a huge problem. Some fans already believe this to be the case, so if refs are actually vocalizing it to players, that’s even more damning.

 

It’s possible McMillan is exaggerating the point. Perhaps the ref told him to “stay off the quarterback.” That’s not as bad as the ref singling out Brady.

 

Given the Patriots and Brady’s success, some fans are eager to accept the NFL is going out of its way to help the franchise. While that might make it tempting to believe McMillan, we’re going to need other players to step forward with similar stories before we suggest this is a vast conspiracy.

 

Veteran referee Bill Vinovich worked the game.

– – –

WR ANTONIO BROWN is available for a shoe deal.  Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

He still has a job. But his revenue has taken another hit.

 

Nike has ended its relationship with Patriots receiver Antonio Brown.

 

“Antonio Brown is not a Nike athlete,” a company spokesman told the Boston Globe.

 

Per a source with knowledge of the situation, the wheels were in motion to terminate the relationship with Brown before last week’s civil lawsuit accusing Brown of sexual assault and rape. There were concerns about Brown fulfilling his duties under the agreement, specifically as it relates to personal appearances.

 

The lawsuit filed by Britney Taylor against Brown makes reference to Brown “having trouble balancing the responsibilities he had arising out of his many endorsement deals, including with Campbell’s Soup, Nike, Pepsi, Pizza Hut, AT&T/DirecTV, and Rite Aid, among others.” Taylor claims that Brown “showed up late to events he was required to attend for those sponsors or otherwise failed to hold up his contractual obligations,” and that Taylor helped ensure that he would honor those requirements under his endorsement deals.

 

Via the Globe, Brown’s deal with Pepsi ended earlier this year. His relationship with Pizza Hut and Campbell’s Soup expired earlier this year.

 

Last week, Xenith ended a relationship with Brown that had begun only a week earlier.

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

RATING THE 0-2 TEAMS

Bill Barnwell of ESPN.com ranks the chances of the nine 0-2 teams making the playoffs, from Miami up to Pittsburgh.  Edited version below:

 

I’ll run through the nine winless teams and try to identify what has cost them victories over the first two weeks of the season; if I have any hope they’ll turn things around, I’ll also detail why. I’ll even throw in each team’s estimated current chances of making it to the playoffs from ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI). Let’s start with the team I have as the least likely to make it to the postseason and work our way up:

 

9. Miami Dolphins

FPI chance to make the playoffs: Less than 0.1%

 

The Dolphins are bad, which is fine; they clearly aren’t trying to win games. Is it scary to think that they might get worse as the season goes along? Injuries will hit, and after trading away cornerback Minkah Fitzpatrick, it’s not difficult to imagine the Dolphins shopping players such as receiver Albert Wilson, running back Kenyan Drake and quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick in the weeks to come. I’ll write about the Dolphins at length later on this season, but they’re safely ensconced as the worst team in football. FPI projects the Dolphins with a 5.9% chance of finishing 0-16.

 

8. Washington

FPI chance to make the playoffs: 1.8%

 

Washington pieced together a great half to start the season, as it led the Eagles 20-7 in Philadelphia after 30 minutes of Week 1. From that point forward, Washington has been outscored 56-28, and that includes two garbage-time touchdown passes from Case Keenum. You might give Jay Gruden’s team some credit for going up against a pair of 2018 playoff teams in the Cowboys and Eagles, but this defense simply isn’t playing well.

 

In likely related news, Washington isn’t getting pressure on opposing quarterbacks. It has faced two excellent offensive lines so far, but Ryan Kerrigan & Co. rank 29th in sack rate (2.8%) and 31st in pressure rate (15.3%) through eight quarters of football. Losing Jonathan Allen has hurt, but Washington has invested too much in its front seven with Kerrigan, Matt Ioannidis, Ryan Anderson and three consecutive first-round picks. If it wants to contend for a postseason berth, the push has to come from this front seven.

 

Its schedule is about to get easier — three of its next four games are against the Bears, Giants and Dolphins — but this is a team built to win by controlling the line of scrimmage. Right now, it simply isn’t.

 

7. New York Giants

FPI chance to make the playoffs: 0.6%

 

The Giants finally made their move Tuesday and benched quarterback Eli Manning for first-round pick Daniel Jones, who will make his debut Sunday against the Buccaneers. It’s a logical time to insert Jones into the lineup, given that the Giants face a pair of subpar defenses over the next two weekends in Tampa Bay and Washington.

 

At the very least, Jones should offer the Giants an added element of mobility and keep defenses from stacking the box against running back Saquon Barkley

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Honestly, though, I’m more concerned about the Giants’ defense through two weeks. Janoris Jenkins blamed the pass rush after the Bills loss by saying he couldn’t cover receivers for 10 seconds, but the rush isn’t the only problem.

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Until the Giants stop blowing coverages (or develop a ferocious pass rush overnight), they’re going to be a disaster on defense.

 

6. Cincinnati Bengals

FPI chance to make the playoffs: 3.6%

 

Let’s start with the good: Zac Taylor’s offense has mostly looked impressive through two weeks, although penalties and subpar offensive-line play killed the Bengals against the 49ers. They scored on their second possession, but across the ensuing five drives, they kicked a field goal, threw an interception and faced three third downs with 15 or more yards to go. By that time, the 49ers were up 34-10. The Bengals finished the day with six offensive holding calls during a week in which the NFL threw more flags for holding than any point since the beginning of 2012.

 

It would be nice to see Taylor’s offense with the offensive line the Bengals planned heading into the season, but first-round pick Jonah Williams is on injured reserve and Cordy Glenn is recovering from a concussion. Star wideout A.J. Green remains out indefinitely, and while the popular timeline suggested he would miss six to eight weeks after surgery in late July, he repudiated that estimate this week.

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Ben Roethlisberger’s season-ending injury helps Cincinnati’s chances of making a run in the AFC North, but its slate over the next few weeks is difficult. With no timetable for a Green return, Cincy has road games against the Bills, Steelers and Ravens, plus a home game against the Rams before their Week 9 bye, albeit with winnable home games against the Cardinals and Jaguars. If the Bengals can win those two and snatch two victories on the road, they’ll be in play for a second-half burst at 4-4, especially if one of those road wins comes against an AFC North rival.

 

5. Jacksonville Jaguars

FPI chance to make the playoffs: 6.9%

 

The Jaguars actually have the third-best odds of any team on this list, but it’s tough to feel like they’re heading in the right direction. While rookie quarterback Gardner Minshew was excellent in relief against the Chiefs and nearly led the Jaguars to a comeback win over the Texans last week, the Mustachioed One went 23-of-33 for just 213 yards, an average of 6.5 yards per attempt, and posted a Total QBR of 30.6. While he completed more than two-thirds of his passes, the Washington State product was running a remarkably conservative scheme. NFL Next Gen Stats predict that a typical quarterback who threw the same passes as Minshew last Sunday would expect to complete 70.9% of those throws, slightly ahead of Minshew’s 69.6 mark against Houston.

 

With Nick Foles on injured reserve, the Jaguars have to get by with Minshew for the next two months. They also might not have Jalen Ramsey on the roster for much longer, given that the wildly talented cornerback asked for a trade from the organization this week.

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Every other AFC South team is 1-1, which helps Jacksonville’s chances of making a run. It also has gotten its game against Kansas City out of the way, and it will face the Saints without Drew Brees in Week 6. If the Jags can start forcing takeaways against a schedule that includes Marcus Mariota, Joe Flacco, Andy Dalton and as many as three backup quarterbacks over the next six weeks, they could push their way into contention. They’ll need Minshew to look more like the quarterback from Week 1, and, as much as Marrone and Coughlin won’t want to hear it, they’ll probably also need their wantaway cornerback to stick around.

 

4. Denver Broncos

FPI chance to make the playoffs: 6.6%

 

The Bears would be on this list if it weren’t for the last-second heroics of struggling quarterback Mitchell Trubisky and new King of Chicago Eddy Pineiro. The Bears had a win expectancy of just 6% when they took the ball back trailing Denver 14-12 with 31 seconds left, but a roughing the passer call and a fourth-and-15 completion to Allen Robinson set up kicker Pineiro for a game-winning 53-yard field goal. It’s hard to imagine Vic Fangio looking any more deflated than the Broncos coach did after seeing his old charges steal a victory in Denver.

 

Fangio’s defense was more impressive in his second week at the helm than it was in Oakland in Week 1. His offense can’t say the same. No unit is going to look great against the Bears, and Denver is already down free-agent addition Ja’Wuan James at right tackle, but Garett Bolles is on the verge of becoming a punchline.

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Owing in part to both his middling offensive line and his innate Flacconess, the former Super Bowl MVP has averaged just 5.9 air yards per pass this season, which ranks 30th out of 33 qualifying quarterbacks. Offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello’s scheme was supposed to be an offshoot of the Mike Shanahan attack, but Flacco has just 10 play-action pass attempts over two weeks, and those passes have generated a total of 34 yards.

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The Broncos are also the only team in football without a sack through their first two weeks, although they’ve faced two teams that went out of their way to get the ball out of their quarterbacks’ hands quickly. History tells us that Bradley Chubb and Von Miller will get theirs as the season goes along. With the Jaguars, an injury-riddled Chargers team and the Titans coming up over the next three weeks, now would be a good time for the star pass-rushers to get hot.

 

3. New York Jets

FPI chance to make the playoffs: 3.2%

 

The Jets? The team that looked abysmal on Monday Night Football and is a 23-point underdog against the Patriots this weekend? This line would make the Jets just the ninth team since 1978 to enter a game as an underdog of 20 points or more. Given that the Patriots have looked virtually unbeatable and the Jets will start third-stringer Luke Falk at quarterback, it’s almost a sure thing that they will start 0-3. Even if they get Sam Darnold back during the bye week, New York has a trip to Philadelphia before home games against the Cowboys and Patriots. FPI projects that the Jets have close to a 38% chance of starting 0-6. No team has ever started 0-6 and made the playoffs.

 

Two teams have made it into the postseason after starting 1-5, though, and that list includes the 2018 Colts. You can also infer that FPI believes the Jets are going to pull one upset over that four-week span, with the home game against the Cowboys as the most likely culprit. If they can get Darnold back at close to 100% after their Monday night game against the Patriots in Week 7, they’re going to be more competitive than their record suggests.

 

Why? Consider that the Jets have the second-easiest schedule in football over the final 14 games of the season, and that includes what looks to be a hellish upcoming four games. What does that tell you about the last 10? They will have two games against the Dolphins, a rematch with the Bills, home matchups against the Giants, Raiders and Steelers, and road trips to face the Jags, Bengals, Ravens and Washington. Three of those teams have already made quarterback changes, and it wouldn’t be shocking to see three more of those games come against backups by the time New York faces Miami and Washington.

 

It would be foolish to project the Jets to win all of those games, but crazier things have happened than a team going 8-2 or 9-1 against bad opposition. There are one or two teams that make the playoffs with that sort of run every year, with the Colts and Cowboys as the closest examples from a year ago. It would be easier to make this sort of run in a division in which the Jets had a plausible path to a division title, and it really would have helped if Adam Gase’s team had held onto its lead against the Bills in Week 1, but as ugly as the Jets are about to look, their season will come down to what starts happening a month from now.

 

2. Carolina Panthers

FPI chance to make the playoffs: 4.3%

 

I wrote about Cam Newton after Week 1 and thought the quarterback was still struggling with his preseason foot injury and battling new mechanics. In Week 2, we saw a quarterback who was injured struggle his way through a loss to the Buccaneers. Newton aggravated his foot injury during the game and couldn’t complete simple throws. As The Athletic’s Joe Person noted, Newton was 7-of-8 against the Bucs before seemingly reinjuring his foot. The former league MVP went just 18-of-42 afterward.

 

It’s difficult to imagine the Panthers making it to the postseason without a healthy Newton, and we’ve yet to see the old Cam this season. The good news, I suppose, is that the offense should be working. There are open receivers here. When you look at the expected completion percentage figures from NFL Next Gen Stats, Newton has completed just 56.2% of his passes against an expected completion percentage of 65.5%. The 9.3% difference between those two marks is the largest in football through two games.

 

Enter backup Kyle Allen, and while I doubt that the quarterback who once fended off Kyler Murray at Texas A&M has Newton’s upside, the Panthers would benefit from having a healthy quarterback who can hit open receivers right now. We saw Newton’s floor in the Bucs game, and that guy was barely playable. Allen’s floor is likely to be higher sheerly through his health.

 

The Panthers’ defense is playing pretty well when you consider that they’ve faced 26 drives so far, second only to the Packers. Carolina’s pass defense has allowed just 6.2 yards per attempt through two games, which is impressive considering that it has faced the Rams and Bucs. It is probably going to force more than one takeaway every two weeks, too. Opposing teams have recovered five of the seven fumbles in Panthers games this season.

 

The Drew Brees injury and the slow start each of the NFC South teams has gone through also help the Panthers, although they’ve now lost two home games to start the season and don’t get to play the Saints until late November, when Brees will likely be back in the lineup. Four of Carolina’s next five games are on the road, but its upcoming slate includes the Cardinals, Texans, Jaguars, Buccaneers, 49ers and Titans. It should be able to come out of that run with a few wins.

 

If the Panthers can get a healthy Newton back into the fold, they should still be in the NFC South race come the second half of the campaign.

 

1. Pittsburgh Steelers

FPI chance to make the playoffs: 7.1%

 

This has not been a fun week to be a Steelers fan, but I’m not trying to throw them a bone by putting them at the top of these rankings. Nobody could have anticipated that Pittsburgh would start 0-2 and lose Ben Roethlisberger for the rest of the season, but I still think the Steelers have a viable shot at pursuing a postseason berth in the AFC. As horrifically as these first two weeks have gone, this team is too talented to give up on with so much of the season left to go.

 

My decision here has little to do with Mason Rudolph, who I’m valuing as a below-average starter, given his draft status and height. (As I mentioned in my Roethlisberger piece on Tuesday, if a 6-foot-5 quarterback has NFL-caliber talent, he doesn’t fall into the third round.) My hope is that the Steelers have surrounded Rudolph with enough talent on offense to get by, likely with a heavier dose of their running game. It helps that tailback James Conner’s Week 2 injury has turned out to be relatively minor. And if the team moves on from wide receiver Donte Moncrief, the move could turn out to be addition by subtraction.

 

I also simply find it tough to believe that a defense that ranked 13th in DVOA in 2018 and addressed its two biggest weaknesses (cornerback and inside linebacker) this offseason is going to be the league’s fourth-worst defense by DVOA moving forward. I don’t love the trade for cornerback Minkah Fitzpatrick as a use of a first-round pick, but he’s going to be a valuable addition as the Steelers replace Sean Davis, who hit injured reserve this week. Don’t give up on this defense just yet.

 

New Steelers starter Mason Rudolph, a third-round pick in 2018, threw for 4,904 yards and 37 touchdowns as a senior at Oklahoma State in 2017. Joe Sargent/Getty Images

Five of Pittsburgh’s next seven games are at home, which should give Rudolph time to develop in front of a friendlier crowd. One of those games comes in Week 5 against the Ravens, who lead the Steelers by two games in the North. Losing that game would be deleterious to the Steelers’ chances of winning the division. Given that the Ravens are 6.5-point underdogs at the Chiefs this week and then play Cleveland in Week 4, the Steelers could pick up a vital tiebreaker if they beat their archrivals.

 

Baltimore’s defense looked great against Miami in Week 1, but it shed five starters during the offseason and has already lost starting cornerbacks Jimmy Smith and Tavon Young to injuries. Kyler Murray averaged 8.7 yards per attempt against the Ravens in Week 2, and better passing teams are going to test Baltimore in the weeks to come. If Rudolph can exceed expectations quickly, the Steelers could be back on track quicker than it seems now.