AROUND THE NFL

If The Season Ended Today in the NFC, the Saints now have homefield advantage throughout the playoffs as befitting the top season while the 49ers fell from 1st to 5th by virtue of a three-point road loss.

 

And with the loss, the Vikings are within the sights of the Rams although LAR would still have to beat both Seattle and San Francisco to run the table.

 

The NFC:

                                                             Overall      Div Rk      Conf

1      yx -New Orleans   South     10-2             1             8-2

2            Seattle            West       10-2             1             7-1   

3          Green Bay        North        9-3             1             6-2

4          Dallas                East         6-6             1             5-3

5          San Francisco   WC        10-2             2             7-1

6          Minnesota         WC          8-4             2             6-3

7          LA Rams                           7-5             3             5-3

8          Chicago                             6-6             3            5-4

9          Tampa Bay                       5-7              2            4-6

10         Philadelphia                     5-7              2            3-5

11         Carolina                           5-7              3            2-7

 

Do the Rams need to run the table or would they have a shot at 10-6?

 

L.A. finishes Seattle (Sun nt), at Dallas, at SF (Sat), Arizona.  Even if they lose to Seattle on Sunday or SF in Week 16, can they beat out the Vikings at 10-6, 8-4?

 

Minnesota closes with Detroit, at LA Chargers (now off primetime), Green Bay (Mon), Chicago.

 

So if Green Bay gets the job done in Week 16, the Vikings would still have to lose to Detroit or Chicago at home for a sure tiebreaker advantage with Minnesota 7-5 in the conference.  If the other loss was to the Chargers, both team would be 8-4 in the conference.  The Rams would probably still hold the tiebreaker (strength of victory), especially since they would have added a win over either Seattle or San Francisco.

 

NFC NORTH

 

DETROIT

An early end to the season for rookie TE TJ HOCKENSON as the Lions place him on injured reserve with an ankle injury.  Logan Lamorandier of SI.com:

 

With the announcement of Lions rookie tight end T.J. Hockenson being placed on injured reserve Monday, it’s probably fair to say his rookie season will go down as underwhelming.

 

That’s not to say there still isn’t a ton of potential or that it’s fair to prematurely label him as a “bust.”

 

Detroit general manager Bob Quinn selected Hockenson No. 8 overall in this past April’s NFL Draft, and expectations were sky high.

 

Unfortunately, the tight end position historically takes time to develop, and it was always unlikely he would live up to the hype in his first year.

 

Tight ends also don’t typically go as high as Hockenson did in the draft.

 

The pick was no doubt a luxury, especially considering that the Lions rarely even featured him in the offense.

 

Hockenson was the fourth option in terms of targets.

 

Much like another former Lions tight end (Eric Ebron), it’s tough to rack up stats when you aren’t consistently part of the gameplan.

 

Many, like myself, would have gone a different route this past April, but that’s no longer the debate.

 

The discussion is now whether or not Hockenson is on the right trajectory in his career.

 

It’s time to focus on where he stands in comparison to his peers.

 

Yes, I know that plenty of the league’s best tight ends weren’t selected in the first round.

 

That doesn’t mean Hockenson should be compared to fifth-year pros at the position, though.

 

Maybe it’s more realistic to compare Hockenson’s rookie year with others in their inaugural seasons.

 

Hockenson’s rookie campaign will end with 32 catches, 367 yards and just two touchdowns in 12 games.

 

That’s not eye-popping, by any means.

 

In terms of rookie seasons for tight ends, however, it’s actually on par with many of the best players at the position today.

 

Hockenson has averaged more yards per game among all 2019 rookies outside of former Iowa teammate and fellow first-round selection Noah Fant.

 

Fant — now with the Denver Broncos — is averaging one more yard per game.

 

With six catches of 20 or more yards, Hockenson currently sits tied at seventh-best among TEs in the category.

 

The flashes of greatness are there. Further consistency from “Hock” will be key moving forward, though.

 

In no way am I trying to justify Hockenson’s rookie campaign as a success.

 

However, let’s not give up on a talented player because he was drafted higher than we maybe would have liked.

 

At the very least, he demonstrated plenty of potential in a Lions uniform in 2019.

 

Grade for Hockenson’s rookie year: C; Hockenson obviously was in a unique case given the draft capital used on him. To expect him to be a Pro Bowler right out of the gates was just setting yourself up for a letdown. It’s on the Lions to scheme around a top-10 draft pick. Knowing that the position takes time to develop, I’m not worried. It just hurts to have other players drafted after him have bigger first years. Ultimately, it was an average rookie season for a very talented player at a position that requires patience.

 

 

MINNESOTA

Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com on how one play undermined a good night for QB KIRK COUSINS:

 

Kirk Cousins did plenty of great things on Monday night in Seattle. But with the game on the line, and in the flash of an eye, a not-so-great decision derailed what would have been one of the greatest come-from-behind victories in Monday Night Football history.

 

First, Cousins merits praise. He made multiple good decisions in spreading the ball to nine different receivers. He threw the ball well. The third-quarter fumble that allowed the Seahawks to take the lead for the first time wasn’t his fault. The interception — his first since Week Six — came after blatant defensive pass interference that wasn’t called, a failure by receiver Stefon Diggs (despite the interference) to catch the ball when it him in the hands, and an incredible look-what-I-found play by Seattle defensive back Tre Flowers

 

Down 34-17, Cousins didn’t flinch. He pressed. He made even better throws and even better decisions. He had the sense of urgency that we so often criticize quarterbacks in the fourth quarter of a potentially lost cause for not demonstrating, pushing the Vikings to the line of scrimmage, realizing that every second counted when down 17 and later when down 10.

 

Still, with the game on the line and the ball in his hands, Cousins made a bad decision, and a bad throw.

 

It was fourth and three from the Minnesota 42, with 2:31 to play. In shotgun formation, Cousins got the snap, made a quick read, and fired the ball to tight end Irv Smith, who was running an out route from the left slot. It wasn’t even close to being completed.

 

Kevin Seifert of ESPN.com posted a diagram of the options available to Cousins at the time he threw the ball. Smith was covered. Diggs, split wide to the left, flared deep toward the sideline and was covered. Laquon Treadwell did basically the same thing on the right side, and was covered. Tight end Kyle Rudolph, who ran the same route as Smith on the other side of the formation, also was covered.

 

Running back Alexander Mattison leaked out of the backfield, and based on the graphic posted by Seifert was open.

 

The NFL’s NextGenStats account chimed in with this observation: “For added context, targeting Alexander Mattison had a Completion Probability of 89.9% (Expected Yards = 5.6). Targeting Irv Smith had just a 43.2% Completion Probability at the moment Cousins attempted the pass. Smith also had the highest INT probability (25.8%) of any receiver.”

 

The problem for Cousins is that, because he lacks the mobility to buy time with his legs, he had to make a quick decision. And when making a quick decision, it’s important to make the right decision.

 

In that moment, he didn’t. While it doesn’t take away the very good things that he did last night, it ultimately kept the Vikings from the kind of season-defining win that would have propelled them toward the division title, possibly a bye, and possibly the Super Bowl.

 

While, as coach Mike Zimmer said, the loss isn’t the end of the world, here’s what it is: The start of a path to Miami that will be much more challenging than it otherwise could have been, with a likely trip to Green Bay with the reward for an upset being a trip to New Orleans/Seattle/San Francisco followed by (with another upset) another trip to New Orleans/Seattle/San Francisco.

 

The injury to RB DALVIN COOK is to his clavicle.  Jelani Scott of NFL.com:

 

The timing of Dalvin Cook’s injury couldn’t have been worse for the Minnesota Vikings.

 

Midway through the third quarter against the Seattle Seahawks on “Monday Night Football”, the Vikings star running back was stripped by Seahawks defensive end Rasheem Green on a carry, resulting in a Seattle fumble recovery. Cook was seen favoring his right arm as he walked to the sideline and was escorted by the training staff to the locker room.

 

The Vikings later confirmed that Cook sustained a right shoulder injury on the play and was ruled questionable to return. He would end up not returning to the game, and Minnesota would go on to lose 37-30.

 

Cook ended the night with nine carries for 29 yards and a touchdown, to go with three catches for 35 yards.

 

NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero reported Monday night that Cook’s injury was to his clavicle, though nothing was broken. The running back’s injury does not appear to be serious, as both Cook and coach Mike Zimmer downplayed the issue following the loss.

 

When asked if he’ll be available for Minnesota’s game next week, Cook replied, “I’ll be good to go.”

 

The Vikings (8-4) sit in second place behind the 9-3 Packers in the NFC North, and will now move on to face the Lions (3-8-1) at home in a pivotal Week 14 matchup.

 

NFC EAST

 

DALLAS

Frank Schwab of YahooSports.com says the Cowboys are leading the “worst division ever”.

 

In Week 13, everyone realized how putrid the 2019 NFC East is.

 

The Dallas Cowboys were demolished at home by the Buffalo Bills, a game that is likely to be the final straw for coach Jason Garrett. The Philadelphia Eagles did them one better, somehow losing to the Miami Dolphins, who were 2-9 going in. The New York Giants lost their eighth in a row, falling 31-13 to the Green Bay Packers. It’s a weird day when the Washington Redskins are the bright spot of the division. They won at the Carolina Panthers to improve to 3-9.

 

This division is quickly descending into historic awfulness. It could be the third division in NFL history to produce a champion with a losing record. The Cowboys lead at 6-6 and the Eagles are next at 5-7. And, statistically, it’s trending toward being arguably the worst division of the 16-game schedule era that dates back to 1978.

 

The combined record for the four NFC East teams is 16-32. Among divisions that did not have at least one team reach double digits in wins — having one good team should eliminate a group from “worst division ever” status — the 2008 NFC West have the fewest combined wins at 22 (the 2014 NFC South had 22 wins and a tie). That 22-42 combined record is a .344 winning percentage. The 2019 NFC East has a combined .333 winning percentage. There are plenty of divisional games left and someone has to win them. The Cowboys could win out and get to double digits. Still, we don’t need arbitrary figures to inform us the NFC East is bad. We can all see it.

 

It’s rare for a division to not produce at least one team with 10 or more wins. It has happened only 27 times since 1978. Only three times has a division failed to produce a 10-win team or combine to win at least 25 games: 2014 NFC South, 2008 NFC West and 2008 AFC West. The NFC East has to go 9-7 the rest of the way to reach 25 wins, and do you trust these four teams to win nine games the rest of the way? There are six guaranteed wins remaining due to the NFC East teams playing each other, and it still seems they’ll fall short of nine.

 

So yes, the 2019 NFC East is making an argument as the worst division ever. Unless they all get hot — hold your laughter, please — they’ll be on a short list of the WOAT. A quick look at what has gone wrong:

 

Dallas: The Cowboys started 3-0 and have lost six of nine since then. The Cowboys have a positive point differential at plus-74, and they’re the only NFC East team with that distinction. They’re also 2-6 when they’re not playing divisional teams, which says all you need to know.

 

Philadelphia: The Eagles have lost three in a row. Injuries and a tough schedule explains some of Philadelphia’s woes, but they were mostly healthy and playing the Dolphins on Sunday and still lost.

 

Washington: The Redskins started 1-9, are the only team to fire their coach this season, and they’re still not in last place. Washington has won two straight, which seems miraculous. It’s averaging 14.4 points per game, worst in the NFL. It’s also last in the NFL in yards gained.

 

New York: When the Giants beat Washington on Sept. 29, they were 2-2. That was their last win. The Giants didn’t win a game in October or November. They’re 25th in the NFL in points scored and 29th in points allowed.

 

There you have it, four awful teams in one division. The NFC East might be lucky to avoid being the third team to crown a division champ with a losing record, joining the 2010 Seahawks and 2014 Panthers. The NFC East is the highest profile division in the NFL because the teams are in four huge markets, and all the division is doing is giving us a lot of bad football. It’s possible three of the four teams could fire their coaches. Is it too late to petition the NFL to not allow the NFC East a playoff spot this season?

 

NFC WEST

 

SAN FRANCISCO

Frank Schwab of YahooSports.com still has the 49ers in 2nd spot in his ratings, after they lost on the road to his #1 team.

 

The 49ers did just fine in Baltimore. The 49ers had more yards and yards per play than the Ravens, the hottest team in the NFL, and lost a road game on a clutch 49-yard field goal. It was a great win for the Ravens and not a bad loss for the 49ers at all. It’s not like anyone was questioning how good the 49ers were, but Sunday was another reminder that they’re one of the NFL’s best, even in a loss.

 

AFC WEST

 

DENVER

With the loss of DE DEREK WOLFE, the Broncos may not be able to bring much of a rush against the Texans on Sunday.  Jeff Legwold of ESPN.com:

 

Denver Broncos defensive end Derek Wolfe is expected to miss the remainder of the season after he dislocated his left elbow Sunday in the closing minutes of the Broncos’ 23-20 victory over the Los Angeles Chargers.

 

Wolfe suffered the injury with 2 minutes, 22 seconds remaining in the game, on a play that was blown dead because of a false start by Chargers guard Dan Feeney. Broncos defensive tackle Mike Purcell collided with Wolfe as the two moved just after the snap to defend a Chargers running play on a fourth-and-1.

 

Wolfe, who had two sacks in the game, leads the Broncos with seven sacks.

 

“Right now, it’s not official, but I don’t know if he’ll be able to play again this year,” said Broncos coach Vic Fangio. “I don’t think it needs surgery, but he did dislocate his elbow. The time involved with that healing and where we are in the season probably precludes him from playing any more.”

 

Asked whether Wolfe was headed to injured reserve in the coming days, Fangio said: “That’s a good possibility.”

 

With Bradley Chubb already on injured reserve — he tore his ACL in Week 4 against the Jacksonville Jaguars — and Von Miller dealing with a left knee injury, it’s possible the Broncos will face the Houston Texans and quarterback Deshaun Watson this Sunday without the team’s three top pass-rushers. Miller, who injured his knee in the loss to the Buffalo Bills, did not play in the win over the Chargers.

 

It was the first time Miller had missed a game since 2013, when he suffered a torn ACL in the second-to-last game of the regular season and then missed the regular-season finale and the Broncos’ three playoff games, including Super Bowl XLVIII.

 

And here is Legwold on the debut of QB DREW LOCK:

 

The Denver Broncos’ faithful and many within the Broncos’ complex have gotten their wish.

 

Drew Lock is the Broncos’ starting quarterback at least for the near future. As Broncos coach Vic Fangio said just minutes after Sunday’s 23-20 win over the Los Angeles Chargers: “There was no long-term plan other than if he did fine, he would stay in there. I’m telling you now he’s starting next week.”

 

But no matter how quickly some want to proclaim Lock as the team’s first quarterback savior since Peyton Manning retired, the jury is still decidedly out.

 

Because it has to be. The Broncos have seen — to quote Manning’s most hated phrase — “arm talent” before. Deep throws in training camp or one-game snapshots have been used to bang the drum for more than one quarterback discovery.

 

Sunday was good for Lock, awesome even. It was good for his family. It was the first time since John Elway and Gary Kubiak were rookies in 1983 that a Broncos rookie quarterback won his first start.

 

But Sunday doesn’t change the fact the Broncos and this football-obsessed region have chewed up and spit out more than their share of quarterbacks not named Elway or Manning.

 

Elway was once asked what was more difficult as a young player — being the quarterback or handling what comes with the job. He said handling the job was “a lot more difficult, especially when you’re a young guy. To deal with scrutiny, the locker room, expectations and maybe things don’t go your way for the first time at something you think you’ve done your whole life at that point.”

 

The public outcry for Lock to play after 10 full on-field practices, not including walkthroughs, was borderline illogical. As one NFC general manager put it this past week “that’s like saying a rookie quarterback is ready to play two weeks into training camp. It can happen for a running back maybe, but a quarterback? Never seen a quarterback ready to go after a handful of practices. There will be situations where that shows, you have to be willing to accept that.”

 

Saying Lock has what it takes, after one win, is too easy. “Swag” was a popular word in the Broncos’ locker room Sunday evening. Several of Lock’s teammates have said they have seen the guy put in the work. Rookie offensive lineman Dalton Risner, taken one pick ahead of Lock in the second round of last April’s draft, talked about how Lock wrote plays on the mirror of the bathroom when the two roomed together during training camp. Risner said Lock would record and then recite the playcalls, listening to them over and over again.

 

That’s the type of work Lock needs to continue to do instead of getting caught up in talk of “Drewcember.”

 

Lock finished Sunday 18-of-28 passing for 134 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. He looked composed for much of the day, showed some comfort level running the pieces of the playbook he was familiar with and, for the most part, avoided taking too big a bite with throws he’d like to have back later. All in all, an efficient debut.

 

AFC NORTH

 

BALTIMORE

OC Greg Roman is riding high with his fine-tuning of QB LAMAR JACKSON.

 

The Baltimore Ravens installed a play during training camp for a swing pass to a running back, and Joe Callahan felt like it was a flashback.

 

The receivers on the right side of the formation all ran crossing routes over the middle, which left the back wide open for a touchdown. Callahan, the Ravens’ third-string quarterback at the time, who played under offensive coordinator Greg Roman in high school, couldn’t wait to talk about what he saw after practice.

 

“Do you remember when we did this for Holy Spirit?” Callahan asked Roman.

 

“Yeah, we got two touchdowns against Immaculata,” Roman replied.

 

Roman would call that same play for one of the most prolific offenses ever in the NFL. And, just like that New Jersey high school playoff game, Baltimore running back Mark Ingram was left uncovered and scored on a 25-yard catch in this season’s 41-7 win over the Houston Texans.

 

The roots of the NFL’s highest-scoring offense, as well as part of Roman’s unorthodox approach, can be traced back to a small Catholic school outside Atlantic City, New Jersey. The architect of an offense that has quarterback Lamar Jackson performing at an MVP level first called plays against the likes of Lower Cape May and Mainland Regional.

 

Following the 2007 season, Roman was part of Brian Billick’s staff that was let go after the Ravens’ 5-11 campaign. Roman, an offensive line assistant at that point, had spent all 13 years of his coaching at the NFL level but didn’t like any of the opportunities open at the time. He wanted to be a playcaller, and Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti suggested to him that he look at coaching outside the NFL.

 

Roman ultimately chose to become the offensive coordinator at his high school alma mater, where a longtime friend had taken over the program. He went from coaching a future Hall of Fame lineman in Jonathan Ogden to picking up teenage players to make sure they got to practice.

 

Part of Roman’s innovation in the NFL came out of improvisation in high school. There was one game where one tight end was in detention and another was absent from school. Roman used offensive linemen to replace his missing tight ends, which might explain Roman’s current fascination with using as many big-bodied blockers as possible.

 

“It was definitely a risky and outside-the-box move,” Roman said of coaching high school. “But I had never called plays before. I felt like I had a good enough reputation that I’d get hired somewhere.”

 

Not many NFL coaches would take a high school job. But not many coaches have called triple-option plays in the NFL, either.

 

Taking risks and thinking outside the box have been staples of Roman’s offenses. After his one year at Holy Spirit, Roman produced as many creative wrinkles as points in his offenses at Stanford, the San Francisco 49ers and the Buffalo Bills, the team the Ravens face Sunday (1 p.m. ET, CBS).

 

Roman has also built a reputation as the mobile-quarterback whisperer, designing attacks that put Colin Kaepernick in the Super Bowl and Tyrod Taylor in the Pro Bowl. He has worked that same magic with Jackson, constructing an offense that accentuates his unique talents instead of forcing him into a prototypical NFL system.

 

In Roman’s first season as Ravens offensive coordinator, Baltimore is averaging an NFL-best 33.8 points and is on pace to score the eighth-most points in NFL history (541).

 

“Greg Roman has inserted himself into the conversation of one of the great playcallers in the NFL,” said Dan Orlovsky, a former NFL quarterback who is now an ESPN analyst. “I love Sean McVay, I love Kyle Shanahan, I love Gary Kubiak and I love Matt LaFleur. A lot those guys are calling things that are somewhat similar. But the Ravens are doing something that is incredibly unique.”

 

At age 22, Roman found himself on the same coaching staff with Don Breaux, who’d been the right-hand men of former Washington Redskins coach Joe Gibbs; Chick Harris, who had a similar relationship with former Bills, Los Angeles Rams and Seattle Seahawks coach Chuck Knox; and Richard Williamson, who worked alongside Alabama’s Bear Bryant.

 

It was during those seven years with the expansion Carolina Panthers that Roman learned from coaches who began their careers in the 1960s and picked up their vernacular.

 

Roman is teaching an offense that’s never been seen in the NFL, and he’s doing so by using one-liners from generations ago while breaking down film.

 

You’re as soft as medicated cotton

 

Don’t be the turd in the punch bowl

 

He doesn’t know whether to s— or wind his watch

 

Your head is going to be spinning like a knob on s—house door

 

“You can tell they’re super old-school,” offensive lineman James Hurst said. “Even Marshal [Yanda] is like, ‘I’ve never heard that in my life.’”

 

There’s hardly a reaction anymore in the meetings. Roman delivers these sayings as nonchalantly as if it’s a normal sentence.

 

“I don’t know what a lot of them mean,” center Matt Skura said. “It’s like, ‘Yeah, I guess that’s what we’ll do.’”

 

Callahan met up with some former high school teammates, and he was asked if Roman still used the same one-liners in the NFL.

 

“We’re still laughing about them,” Callahan said.

 

Roman said none of the sayings are planned.

 

“I’m big on gut,” Roman said with a smile. “If it feels right, I’m going to use it.”

 

Ask anyone in the Ravens’ locker room to describe Roman and the common response: “He’s a football guy.”

 

Roman grew up going to Philadelphia Eagles games at Veterans Stadium. He even worked as a ball boy for the Cincinnati Bengals for a summer.

 

In his early teenage years, Roman spent some time with his uncle, writer Jack Clary, at Bengals training camp. Clary co-wrote the Bengals founder’s autobiography, “PB: The Paul Brown Story.”

 

Roman once said Brown served as his inspiration to get into coaching (and perhaps his knack for innovation).

 

“He’s all about ball and family,” Ravens offensive tackle Orlando Brown Jr. said. “I feel like if I’ve seen him in the grocery store, the first thing he’d talk to me about is running power and gap schemes and my footwork.”

 

Roman is known for his expertise in formulating next-level run-game strategy. He understands how to gain numbers advantages and how to leverage defenses. The Ravens have totaled 2,494 rushing yards this season, the most by a team through its first 12 games since O.J. Simpson and the 1975 Bills.

 

What hasn’t been as recognized is the way Roman builds up his players. Amid the zingers, he routinely offers words of encouragement, and no one on the Ravens has ever heard him yell.

 

“For me, I almost see him as a dad figure,” fullback Patrick Ricard said. “He doesn’t get mad at you. He’s a disappointed dad. He’s going to get on you. He wants the most out of you. And when you mess up, he’s just like, ‘Come on, man.’”

 

The unpredictability and versatility factors are perhaps Roman’s biggest strengths.

 

The Ravens can spread defenses out and line up Jackson in an empty backfield. They can also go “medieval” with five offensive linemen, three tight ends and a fullback.

 

“He’s got the biggest playbook I’ve ever seen,” offensive lineman Yanda said.

 

The difficulty isn’t just trying to tackle Jackson and Ingram. It’s trying to find the ball.

 

Baltimore runs the sprint option, the run-pass option, the triple option with pitch. There’s misdirection with jet sweeps and the “Heisman package.” That’s not even including the fact no team uses more pre-snap motion than the Ravens.

 

With all that, defenses have had problems trying to figure out the Ravens’ offense. The Ravens scored 37 points on the New England Patriots despite Bill Belichick having a bye week to prepare for them. Baltimore put up 45 points on the Rams and limited two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald to one tackle.

 

“What he’s (Roman) done such a great job of, is he’s adjusted the scheme to fit the personnel and to maximize guys’ opportunities to make plays and do what they do best,” Rams coach McVay said. “That’s a sign of a great coach.”

 

Another sign of a great coach is Baltimore’s preparation and efficiency. The Ravens lead the NFL in scoring a touchdown on 37% of their drives and reaching the end zone on 58% of their opening drives.

 

“He’s been about business,” Jackson said. “We want to come smack the defenses in the mouth; that’s what he’s been telling us. Not just certain teams, but he’s been saying that all year. That’s what he wanted to do. He wanted to be aggressive this year. He’s been showing it, and I love it right now …”

 

One of the bigger offseason questions is whether the Ravens will be able to keep it going. If teams continue to seek out innovative, offensive playcallers, Roman should be a hot name in head coaching searches.

 

“Honestly, I’ve been through this thing before,” said Roman, who was a head coaching candidate after helping take the 49ers to the Super Bowl in 2012. “The best thing to do is keep blinders and do your job the best you can. Somebody once said to me, ‘Do a great job with the job you got and don’t worry about anything else, no matter what. Do the best job you can do every day and love the job you got’ — which I do.”

 

 

PITTSBURGH

Without egos to balance and stroke, Mike Tomlin is coaching his butt off in 2019.  No byline here from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

 

The text came in from a good pal Sunday afternoon just as Duck Hodges was taking a knee in the victory formation to wrap up the Steelers’ unlikely 20-13 win against the Browns.

 

“Is Mike Tomlin still winning with Bill Cowher’s players?” Scott Kossick asked.

 

I laughed out loud.

 

I’ve been fighting the nonsense for years that the only reason Tomlin led the Steelers to a win in Super Bowl XLIII after the 2008 season is because he took over a talented team left by Cowher. What is conveniently forgotten is that Cowher went 8-8 in 2006, his final season before Tomlin became coach. Kossick and I have a running joke about it, to the point that he texts me every time the Steelers lose, “Fire Tomlin!”

 

It’s nice to think that a lot of Steelers fans are coming around to our way of thinking. This might just be Tomlin’s best coaching job considering his team has been without Antonio Brown this season, without Ben Roethlisberger since the second game, without Stephon Tuitt since the sixth game, without James Conner for four games and parts of three others, and without JuJu Smith-Schuster and Maurkice Pouncey for the past two games. The Steelers are 7-5 and have the AFC’s sixth playoff seed. They are 6-1 in their past seven games. They have won two games with Hodges at quarterback, for goodness’ sake.

 

Maybe the success won’t last the rest of the season. I get that. But only a fool won’t give Tomlin credit for getting the Steelers to this point. He deserves Coach of the Year consideration.

 

I thought the 16-10 win Nov. 24 at Cincinnati was impressive. The Steelers won with Hodges leading a second-half comeback, with running backs Kerrith Whyte Jr. and Trey Edmunds getting carries and with receivers Deon Cain and Tevin Jones making catches. That prompted David DeCastro to say, “I’m still learning some of the names of the guys. … [Whyte] is just No. 40 to me.” It also prompted Tomlin to say, “We struck a blow for team today. I’m proud of ’em. It’s a cool thing.”

 

Tomlin’s work Sunday against the Browns — the only team to beat the Steelers in the past seven games — was even more remarkable. It’s still hard to believe the Steelers won.

 

It started last week when Tomlin treated Hodges — a fourth-stringer during the preseason — the same way he would treat Mason Rudolph or even Roethlisberger during game week. So what if Hodges was making his first start at Heinz Field? So what if a loss would do perhaps irreparable damage to the Steelers’ playoff hopes?

 

“I wanted him to know I had confidence in him and I thought extra time and extra points of emphasis and more dialogue than normal would prove to him that I didn’t,” Tomlin said. “I was very conscious of my interactions with him. It was no more than normal because I wanted him to know that we had real confidence in him.”

 

Tomlin’s impact continued during halftime when he made a series of defensive adjustments to stop the Browns’ run game, adjustments that all but shut down the Browns. They scored 10 points in the first half, 3 in the second. They had 92 rushing yards in the first half, 14 in the second. They had 183 total yards in the first half, 96 in the second. Quarterback Baker Mayfield was 10-of-17 for 98 yards and a touchdown in the first half, 8-of-15 for 98 yards and an interception in the second. “He saved the game for us,” one Steelers player said of Tomlin to ESPN’s Dianna Russini.

 

Joe Haden might be Tomlin’s biggest fan in the locker room. At one point after the game, he said, “I appreciate him.” Later, he said, “I love him.”

 

“He definitely always has the next-man-up mentality, but he practices what he preaches,” Haden said. “He always says he doesn’t have backup players, he has starters-in-waiting. I really feel like he feels that way. When he bumps up guys, he expects them to play the same way the other guys did. …

 

“Coach T gives us great nuggets, gives us great film study. He meets with the DBs and linebackers twice a week. That is something I have never done with any other coach. Your head coach telling you what the game plan is, what you have going on. He’s very hands on with everything on the team. I appreciate him.”

 

Haden was asked why he believes Tomlin’s message doesn’t get stale with the players even though Tomlin is in his 13th season with the Steelers.

 

“You wouldn’t tune out Coach T because he is giving you great knowledge, great information. The only thing you want from your coach is he is bluntly honest with you. He will let you know where you stand, if you are making plays, if you are not, if he is going shopping for another guy. Just his transparency. And then he really believes in us and really feels like we can do it until we show him otherwise. I love him.”

 

Tomlin turned the praise right back on the players Sunday for dealing with overwhelming injury adversity.

 

“They made the necessary plays. We are looking to strike a blow for team in these circumstances, to stand up for the game of football and prove that guys can make plays when given an opportunity. One man’s misfortune is another man’s opportunity. …

 

“There’s just less margin for error. Not that we feel like we are incapable. We just realize we have to play closer to optimum level. They did what they needed to do.”

 

The Steelers have been doing it since Roethlisberger went down.

 

They have been doing it since they lost an overtime game to the Ravens — the best team in football — to fall to 1-4.

 

Yes, they have been doing it with the next man up.

 

All of it is tribute to Tomlin.

 

AFC SOUTH

 

TENNESSEE

Frank Schwab on WR COREY DAVIS who was once a high draft pick:

 

Not to rain on the Titans’ win streak, but Corey Davis is shaping up as an enormous draft bust. The Titans can pass with Ryan Tannehill all of a sudden, but Davis isn’t part of it. Over the past two games he has three catches for 52 yards. He has zero 100-yard games this season, and two games with 9 yards or less. He has played 11 games and failed to top 48 yards in nine of them. This is not what the Titans expected when they took Davis fifth overall.

 

AFC EAST

 

BUFFALO

Frank Schwab of YahooSports.com with some factoids on rising star QB JOSH ALLEN:

 

Josh Allen looked really good carving up the Cowboys. In eight games since a disastrous start against New England, Allen has 1,688 yards, 13 touchdowns, two interceptions and a 98.7 passer rating. And he’s dangerous with his legs. I’m not sure the Texans or Chiefs want to see the Bills on wild-card weekend.

 

 

 

 

MIAMI

A payday for S ERIC ROWE. Jelani Scott of NFL.com:

 

The Miami Dolphins have locked down a member of their secondary.

 

Starting defensive back Eric Rowe has agreed to a contract extension through the 2022 season, the team announced Monday. According to NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport via an informed source, the deal is for three years and worth $18 million with $7 million guaranteed.

 

Rowe, 27, inked a one-year, $3.5 million contract with the Dolphins in March after spending the previous three seasons with the Patriots, where he was a part of two Super Bowl-winning teams. Rowe has played the majority of his career at cornerback but switched to safety six weeks ago in the wake of safeties Bobby McCain and Reshad Jones going down to injuries.

 

A 2015 Eagles’ second-round draft pick out of Utah, Rowe has appeared in 12 games this season (11 starts) and has accumulated 59 total tackles and seven pass deflections.

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

2020 DRAFT ORDER BATTLE

The Giants are now a leading contender for the first overall pick as Dan Parr of NFL.com brings us the current standings.  (Tampa Bay is nowhere to be found in the top 10, having surged to 14th):

 

What if the Bengals have figured out a winning formula at a time when the Giants seem to have no hope of discovering their own? Cincy holds a one-game lead over the G-Men for the first overall pick with four games to go. That’s plenty of time for the two teams to flip in the order and give the Giants a chance to sell the rights to the first selection (a.k.a. Burrow) to the highest bidder.

 

Given how bad the Giants — losers of eight straight — look, all it might take for that top pick to slip from the Bengals’ grasp is a win over the beatable Browns in Weeks 14 or 17 or a victory over the 3-9 Dolphins in Week 16.

 

Now, the needs for each team listed below offer just a snapshot of the areas that project to require the most attention as of today. Draft needs for NFL teams don’t crystallize until the spring, after free agency plugs some holes and creates others, but we are firm believers that it’s not too soon to see what might be coming around the corner.

 

1 Bengals

Record: 1-11 (.608 strength of schedule)

Previous week: No. 1

This week’s game: at Browns

Biggest needs: QB, OL, LB

 

Andy Dalton will not go down without a fight. I don’t see how this franchise can enter next season selling Dalton as the answer under center, but he did just save the Bengals from a winless season. He has a chance to boost his stock — and knock Cincinnati from the top of the 2020 NFL Draft order — with a strong finish.

 

2 Giants

Record: 2-10 (.507)

Previous week: No. 2

This week’s game: at Eagles

Biggest needs: OT, edge rusher, DB

 

The Giants’ weaknesses vs. the pass were fully exposed by Aaron Rodgers in snowy New Jersey on Sunday. They managed to pressure the Packers’ QB on just five of his 36 dropbacks, per Next Gen Stats. New York is one of six teams (combined record of 18-53-1) who have allowed a passer rating of 100 or better in 2019.

 

3 Redskins

Record: 3-9 (.497)

Previous week: No. 3

This week’s game: at Packers

Biggest needs: OL, CB, pass catcher

 

It’s always nice to win a game and NOT lose positioning in the draft order, which is exactly what happened to Washington this week. A Week 16 home game against the Giants looms large in determining how the top five picks shake out.

 

4 Dolphins

Record: 3-9 (.542)

Previous week: No. 4

This week’s game: at Jets

Biggest needs: QB, OT, edge rusher

 

Beware a fall outside of the top 10 picks, Dolphins fans. After upsetting the Eagles on Sunday, Miami now gets the 4-8 Jets (a team it defeated last month), 2-10 Giants and 1-11 Bengals in consecutive weeks. Seriously. A 6-10 season seems within reach for a team that many expected to go winless in 2019. Brian Flores for Coach of the Year!

 

5 Falcons

Record: 3-9 (.587)

Previous week: No. 6

This week’s game: vs. Panthers

Biggest needs: Edge rusher, DB, OL

 

Nothing like a game in which Atlanta’s quarterback was sacked nine times (tying a career high) while it failed to sack the other team’s QB even once to bring the team’s needs in the trenches into clear focus. The pass rush, which seemed to be finding its way just a few weeks ago, has now registered zero sacks and a grand total of two QB hits in the last two outings.

 

6 Lions

Record: 3-8-1 (.462)

Previous week: No. 7

This week’s game: at Vikings

Biggest needs: CB, OL, edge rusher

 

Is it the kiss of death when Mitchell Trubisky has his best two games of the season against you? The pass defense continues to crush the Lions and has to be the team’s focus — along with protecting Matthew Stafford — this offseason.

 

7 Cardinals

Record: 3-8-1 (.531)

Previous week: No. 8

This week’s game: vs. Steelers

Biggest needs: Defensive playmaker, OL, pass catcher

 

The shredding of the Arizona pass defense continues. The Cardinals have given up 424 passing yards in each of the last two games, and only the Dolphins have allowed more points this season. Coordinator Steve Wilks’ unit had no answer for Jared Goff, who was lost prior to Sunday’s visit to State Farm Stadium.

 

8 Jets

Record: 4-8 (.444)

Previous week: No. 10

This week’s game: vs. Dolphins

Biggest needs: OL, edge rusher, CB

 

With Sunday’s loss to previously winless Cincinnati, the Jets are the first team in NFL history that has lost twice in one season to teams that entered their matchup 0-7 or worse (New York lost to 0-7 Miami in Week 9). Oof. The problems here start (but certainly don’t end) with the O-line, which allowed four sacks and nine QB hits against the Bengals.

 

9 Chargers

Record: 4-8 (.497)

Previous week: No. 9

This week’s game: at Jaguars

Biggest needs: OL, QB, CB

 

Heartbreak strikes the Bolts again. All eight of their losses have been by seven points or fewer, and a porous O-line — the league’s fourth-worst in pass protection and run blocking, per Pro Football Focus — couldn’t keep Philip Rivers upright even though the Broncos were without top pass rushers Von Miller and Bradley Chubb.

 

10 Jaguars

Record: 4-8 (.507)

Previous week: No. 11

This week’s game: vs. Chargers

Biggest needs: CB, front-seven playmaker, OL