The Daily Briefing Friday, October 19, 2018

AROUND THE NFL 

You think 2018 is big?  You ain’t seen nothing yet as the NFL gets ready to pull out all the stops for its 100th season next year.

 

The NFL will be celebrating its 100th season in 2019, and the league officially revealed the logo that will be used to mark the occasion.

 

The “NFL 100” logo was revealed during halftime of FOX’s broadcast of the Denver Broncos vs. Arizona Cardinals on Thursday Night Football. The logo will be featured on game balls and every player’s jersey near the neck area during the 2019 season, similar to how the league deployed its 75th season logos in 1994.

 

The league plans a year-long series of celebrations in recognition of its 100th season as it salutes the fans, the players — past and present — and the impact the game has made in helping bring communities together.

 

“For nearly 100 years, the NFL has been part of the fabric of America, unifying communities and bringing fans together to support their favorite teams and players,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement. “We have the greatest fans in the world. Next year, we will join our fans in celebrating what this incredible game means to each of us.”

 

As part of the festivities, a panel of former players, general managers, coaches, NFL historians and members of the media will select the All-Time Team and the 10 greatest coaches in history. The All-time team will be celebrated throughout the year.

 

More details about the league’s specific celebration plans will be announced in the months ahead.

 

There are several versions that all look something like this;

 

 

 

 

– – –

 

Colin Kaepernick’s lack of a contract apparently cost the NFL the splendor of Rihanna performing at this year’s Super Bowl.  Frank Schwab of YahooSports.com:

 

When Colin Kaepernick said in an instantly famous Nike commercial, “Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything,” Rihanna listened.

 

According to Us Weekly magazine, Rihanna turned down the opportunity to be the Super Bowl LIII halftime show because she doesn’t agree with the NFL’s treatment of Kaepernick.

 

Kaepernick has been an unsigned free agent since the end of the 2016 season, and that seems directly related to him kneeling during the national anthem to bring attention to social issues. Kaepernick has filed a collusion grievance against the NFL.

 

“The NFL and CBS really wanted Rihanna to be next year’s performer in Atlanta,” a source told Us Weekly. “They offered it to her, but she said no because of the kneeling controversy. She doesn’t agree with the NFL’s stance.”

 

If Us Weekly’s source is accurate, that’s quite a statement from the famous singer. It may not be “sacrificing everything” because her career is going incredibly well with or without the Super Bowl, but the Super Bowl halftime show is a unique opportunity.

 

Super Bowl halftime show is seen by a huge audience

The Super Bowl halftime show is an undeniable boon for practically any artist on the planet. The Super Bowl routinely is the most watched television program in the United States every year, and the NFL has turned the halftime show into a must-watch event for many.

 

Some of the biggest acts in the music industry, like Michael Jackson, Prince, Bruce Springsteen, U2, Katy Perry, and Bruno Mars have done the halftime show even though the performers aren’t paid. It’s just an investment in their careers — the exposure from doing a halftime show in front of that many people is priceless. There’s nothing else quite like it.

 

When Rihanna turned down the offer, the NFL got Maroon 5 to be its halftime show performer at the Super Bowl in Atlanta in February.

 

Rihanna isn’t the first to turn down Super Bowl

There was a similar story last year. Jay-Z reportedly turned down the Super Bowl halftime show and it was rumored to be in support of Kaepernick, according to the Los Angeles Times.

 

Rihanna doesn’t need the exposure. According to a Forbes story in April, she has sold 124 million digital singles in the United States, 10 million more than any other artist. She has money, fame and acclaim as a multiple Grammy-winning artist.

 

Still, it can’t be easy to say no to the Super Bowl and its 100 million-plus viewers. But, according to Us Weekly, Rihanna had a good reason.

 

NFC NORTH

 

MINNESOTA

If RB DALVIN COOK played for Jon Gruden, he would be approaching White Tiger status.  Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

The Vikings have gotten used to playing without running back Dalvin Cook over the last two seasons and they’ll continue to do so again on Sunday.

 

Head coach Mike Zimmer said at his Friday press conference that Cook has been ruled out for the game against the Jets due to the hamstring injury that’s also kept him out of three of the last four games. He got in a full practice session on Wednesday, but left Thursday’s practice early and did the same on Friday as it became clear that he’s not ready to return to action yet.

 

Latavius Murray will continue to work as the lead back in Cook’s absence. Murray ran 24 times for 155 yards and a touchdown in last Sunday’s victory over the Cardinals.

 

Defensive end Everson Griffen is also out for the Vikings this week, but the team did get defensive lineman Linval Joseph and Danielle Hunter back at practice Friday after they missed Wednesday and Thursday.

 

As in this:

 

Jon Gruden on Martavis Bryant “I call Martavis the White Tiger…13 times I went to Busch Gardens and the white tiger was always in his cage. Well, the white tiger came out today…sometimes he comes out to play, sometimes he doesn’t…he’s really special, like the white tiger.”

– – –

Curtis Crabtree notes this on the vision issues still confronting Coach Mike Zimmer:

 

Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer has endured eight surgeries on his damaged right eye over the last two years. While the surgeries have allowed him to keep his eye after a detached retina cause a number of problems, the reality of the situation is that his eyesight won’t improve any further.

 

“I have to read with my left eye, I can’t read anything with my right eye even with (glasses),” Zimmer said, via Chris Tomasson of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

 

“I have to put a drop in every day and then I have to wait for a few hours before I can put a contact in. I don’t see good out of it. It is what is. It won’t get any better.”

 

Following his eight and final surgery, there was a belief that Zimmer could get back to 20/20 vision through the use of contact lenses. It seems as though that hope has come and gone.

 

The eye injuries and subsequent surgeries forced Zimmer to miss a game in 2016 and a couple of weeks of offseason work in 2017.

 

NFC EAST

 

DALLAS

NFL Justice gives WR TERRENCE WILLIAMS three games (the JAMEIS WINSTON suspension) for a drunk driving auto accident.  Todd Archer of ESPN.com:

 

Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Terrance Williams has been suspended three games without pay for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy.

 

A source said the penalty falls under the NFL’s substance abuse policy stemming from a summer intoxication arrest.

 

The Cowboys placed Williams on injured reserve Oct. 6, in part because of a foot injury that required surgery during the offseason.

 

The league said Thursday the suspension will be in effect Sunday when the Cowboys visit Washington. After Dallas’ open week and a home game against Tennessee, the final game of the ban will be Nov. 11 at Philadelphia.

 

But Williams will miss at least three more games after that while on injured reserve. His first possible game is Dec. 9 at home against the Eagles.

 

In August, Williams’ misdemeanor public intoxication charge was dismissed after he attended an alcohol-awareness course and paid the city of Frisco for property damage caused when his Lamborghini knocked over a light pole in May.

 

During training camp, Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones said he did not believe Williams would be punished by the league, although a player does not need to be found guilty in the legal system to face NFL discipline.

 

 

NEW YORK GIANTS

WR ODELL BECKHAM, Jr. with some subdued comments on Friday.  Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham did more talking on Friday, but Lil Wayne was nowhere to be seen and his latest comments about the team aren’t likely to cause further upset for Giants co-owner John Mara.

 

Mara said this week that Beckham should do less talking and more playing and Beckham said Friday that he respects and values Mara’s opinion while adding that the two haven’t had a one-on-one conversation about Mara’s feelings. Beckham then moved on to say that he’s ready to talk about facing the Falcons, although that didn’t stop questions that referenced his ESPN interview.

 

Beckham was asked about reports that other players are frustrated with quarterback Eli Manning‘s play and the wideout said he doesn’t think that’s the case. Beckham said he thinks the frustration is about the team’s record rather than any individual player.

 

“I think that we’re 1-5 and we need to start winning games,” Beckham said, via Ralph Vacchiano of SNY. “Everybody’s got to pick it up. I need to play better. I can’t say that I’ve had my best games. I can’t say I’ve done enough. … We win games together, we lose games together.”

 

Beckham was also asked whether he thinks Manning can turn things around this season.

 

“You gotta ask him,” Beckham said. “I tell him every time we get in the huddle, ‘Take me home, 10.’ Which to me carries weight because he’s been there. He knows how to win. He knows what he’s doing, he’s the most prepared of anyone I’ve ever seen.”

 

We’ll see if this approach leads to better results for the Giants when they hit the field in Atlanta on Monday night.

 

 

WASHINGTON

Peter Prisco of CBSSports.com thinks the Redskins can cover 2.5 points on Sunday:

 

This line looks funny to me. It has to be an overreaction to what the Cowboys did last week against the Jaguars. That’s why I think there is value in laying the points here. The Redskins defense is good and the Cowboys haven’t been great on the road, going 0-3. Take the Redskins.

 

NFC SOUTH

 

TAMPA BAY

The Buccaneers are facing a rookie QB in BAKER MAYFIELD of the Browns on Sunday and that would seem to be a good thing.  But counter-intuitively Tampa Bay is just 1-10 when facing a rookie QB since 2011. 

 

The only rookie QB the Buccaneers have beaten in that span is EJ Manuel of the Bills in 2013.  They have lost to a list that includes the motley crew of Blaine Gabbert, Geno Smith and Paxton Lynch (the only victory of Lynch’s career).  The others are Nick Foles, Robert Griffin III, Dak Prescott, Teddy Bridgewater, Marcus Mariota and Cam Newton (twice).

 

And then there is the matter of 2013 Heisman Trophy winner JAMEIS WINSTON sporting a 1-7 record when matched up against a fellow member of the Heisman club.  Most of that involves matchups with Cam Newton though.

 

That said, Matthew Berry of ESPN.com thinks you should play Winston in your Fantasy League:

 

Great matchup here, as the Browns have allowed at least 298 passing yards OR multiple TDs in five of six games this season. (The lone exception was Sam Darnold, in Cleveland, on a short week.) The three times QBs have attempted more than 35 passes against the Browns, they’ve averaged 356.7 passing yards. Dating back to 2017, Winston has at least 35 attempts in four of his past five starts. And as a position this season, Tampa Bay QBs are second in fantasy points per game (27.57).

 

NFC WEST

 

ARIZONA

The Cardinals were so awful, yet again, on offense on Thursday night, that Wikipedia had OC Mike McCoy fired by halftime.  By Friday morning, it was true.

 

Josh Weinfuss of ESPN.com:

 

Mike McCoy was fired by the Arizona Cardinals on Friday morning, the second straight year he has been relieved of his duties as offensive coordinator in the middle of the season.

 

He will be replaced by quarterbacks coach Byron Leftwich, the team announced Friday.

 

The Cardinals (1-6) made the move hours after losing 45-10 in prime time to the Denver Broncos, the team that fired McCoy after Week 11 in 2017.

 

Under McCoy’s direction, the Cardinals’ offense was among the worst in the NFL — and in some categories it was the worst. Arizona did not gain 300 yards in any of its seven games this season and did not boast a 100-yard rusher.

 

The offense was ranked last in 15 categories heading into Week 4 and has gotten slightly better. Heading into Week 7, the offense was ranked last in yards per game, first downs per game, third down conversions, third down conversion percentage, red zone dives and time of possession; 31st in points, receiving yards per game, net yards per pass attempt and offensive efficiency; 30th in point margin; and 27th in interceptions per pass attempt and red zone touchdowns.

 

Kevin Patra of NFL.com penned this after the game.

 

Outmanned. Unprepared. Sloppy. Outworked. Lousy. Deplorable.

 

Pick any negative word, and you could probably use it to describe the Arizona Cardinals’ performance Thursday night in a 45-10 shellacking versus the Denver Broncos.

 

“Definitely embarrassing effort tonight,” coach Steve Wilks conceded after the loss. “Our fans deserve better than that. …unacceptable. We’ve got to find ways to get this thing corrected, and correct it soon.”

 

Both sides of the ball for Wilks’ squad were manhandled.

 

The defense — Wilks’ side of the ball — gave up a trick-play touchdown pass to Emmanuel Sanders, and allowed 309 total yards, including 131 rushing yards. Outside of Patrick Peterson’s gorgeous interception of Case Keenum, there weren’t many positive plays for the Cards’ D. Running back Phillip Lindsay’s gallop to the end zone in the third quarter displayed an uninspired, run-down defense missing tackles and playing out the string.

 

The Arizona defense was worn down and put in horrific positions by an offense that couldn’t move the ball and coughed it up seemingly every other possession. Rookie quarterback Josh Rosen got rattled after two early pick-sixes and turned the ball over five times on the night.

 

Rosen became the first rookie to throw two pick-sixes in the first quarter of a game in NFL history, per NFL Research. He is also the first player to throw two pick-sixes in the first quarter of a game since Week 3, 2015 (Colin Kaepernick). Yes, the protection was poor all game (some of that was on the rookie QB not seeing where the pressure was coming from). Rosen was under pressure on 42.2 percent of his dropbacks, per Next Gen Stats. However, all three of his interceptions came when he was not pressured.

 

Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com wonders if Wilks can survive.

 

On one hand, Cardinals coach Steve Wilks deserves credit for realizing that offensive coordinator Mike McCoy needed to go. On the other hand, Wilks hired him.

 

Yes, for the second straight year, a first-year head coach with a defensive background has decided in the first season after hiring McCoy to run the offense that he should be fired. (Broncos coach Vance Joseph did it in 2017.) For Wilks, whose 1-6 Cardinals were blown off the field last night, the question becomes whether he’s next.

 

One-and-done firings aren’t all that rare, and if Cardinals president Michael Bidwill decides to hire a new G.M. after the season, Bidwill may decide to let the new G.M. hire a new coach. Given the stunning decline of the franchise in the aftermath of the retirements of quarterback Carson Palmer and coach Bruce Arians, could Bidwill decide to fire Wilks during his first season?

 

It would be stunning if not unprecedented. But with a home game looming in nine days against the 49ers followed by the annual bye, the bell could soon be tolling for Wilks, in theory.

 

Ultimately, the question could hinge on how the Cardinals respond to the 35-point home loss and the appointment of Byron Leftwich to run the offense on an interim basis. A blowout loss to a team that likely will be 1-6 when it arrives in Arizona next weekend (a team the Cardinals beat earlier this year) could be the last straw for a franchise that had good reason to be brimming with pride over its accomplishments not that long ago.

 

Think of it this way: If it’s fair for Wilks to decide after seven games that he hired the wrong guy to run the offense, it would be fair for the Cardinals to make the same decision about Wilks after eight. And maybe they will.

 

The DB would be curious to know how much Wilks was involved in hiring McCoy in the first place.  Sometimes these things are package deals forged by management – i.e. we will let you be a head coach for the first time, but we would like you to hire this guy to run the offense, the side of the ball you aren’t familiar with.

 

Wilks and McCoy both have the Panthers and Chargers in their coaching history, but they never overlapped on the same staff as far as the DB could see with a quick glance.

 

 

LOS ANGELES RAMS

Nick Wagoner of ESPN.com on the bond between Sean McVay and Niners coach Kyle Shanahan:

 

“Any time that we cross paths at the combine or whatever it might be, we always enjoy talking ball and it doesn’t have to be anything where you’re giving your secrets away,” McVay said. “But so much of what I’ve learned, it’s really, we’re operating in a very similar manner. … I wish he wasn’t in our division and we didn’t have to play twice a year so that we could be a little bit more open with our dialogue and I feel the same way with a lot of those coaches I have close relationships with on (the 49ers staff). But, we’re fortunate to even be in these roles. So we’ll take it, but I would prefer not to have Kyle Shanahan in our division.”

 

While Shanahan and McVay haven’t coached together since Shanahan departed Washington in 2013, much of what they did there is popping up all over the league, particularly on the heels of McVay’s masterful turnaround of the Rams’ offense in 2017.

 

Shanahan and McVay’s shared offensive approach actually began when each took a turn learning under Jon Gruden in their first NFL jobs in the mid-2000s. When Shanahan and McVay moved on to Washington after Mike Shanahan became head coach in 2010, it set the stage for a more free-flowing exchange of ideas. It was in those Redskins meeting rooms where many of the basic principles were refined.

 

Now, for anyone who closely watches the Rams and 49ers, their similarities are hard to ignore. A few calling cards — such as the use of play-action, pre-snap motion and deceptive use of “minus” splits — permeate both offenses. But those are smaller pieces of the larger philosophy that makes a Shanahan and McVay offense go: creating down-to-down deception while presenting the same look.

 

“It’s all about not creating tendencies,” said running back Alfred Morris, who played for Washington under Shanahan and McVay. “It’s ‘Oh, they’ll never do this and this out of this set or this formation’ and then you try to game plan and it’s like ‘No, they actually will.’”

 

Coincidentally, while the Niners and Rams look the same offensively in terms of concepts, they mostly look different when it comes to personnel. The Niners favor ’21’ personnel, which features two running backs, a tight end and two wide receivers. The Rams prefer ’11’ personnel, which features one running back, one tight end and three receivers.

 

That’s not a product of belief in either set so much as a reaction to the specific talent each team has in place. For the Niners, ’21’ makes sense because they have Kyle Juszczyk, one of the most versatile and dangerous fullbacks in the league. For the Rams, ’11’ is the easy choice because they boast a dynamic trio of wideouts in Brandin Cooks, Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods.

 

“It’s a key philosophy that they have offensively, and something that we’ve taken that I really learned from coach Shanahan,” McVay said. “And I think when you look at successful offenses throughout the league, or people that have been doing it for a while, there’s a clear-cut identity but there’s also a level of uncertainty with regards to what’s coming next.”

 

AFC WEST

 

LOS ANGELES CHARGERS

To play RB MELVIN GORDON in Fantasy, or not?  Sound like a yes.  Herbie Teope of NFL.com:

 

Los Angeles Chargers running back Melvin Gordon showed up on Friday’s injury report ahead of Sunday’s game against the Tennessee Titans in London.

 

Gordon is officially listed as limited in practice with a hamstring injury, but coach Anthony Lynn told NFL Network’s Melissa Stark that the running back was also dealing with dehydration.

 

“You know, I think it was just dehydration to be honest with you” Lynn said. “Eight-hour plane ride. He didn’t drink enough water. So just playing the safe side today, and just kept him out of practice.”

 

With the extra day before Sunday, Gordon has plenty of time to replenish his body with fluids.

 

As for the hamstring injury, Lynn told reporters the team was being cautious, leading to Gordon’s limited practice.

 

The Chargers also expect Gordon to play, given he was not assigned a game designation of out, doubtful or questionable on Friday’s injury report.

– – –

Through their pricing, the Chargers reveal that they know they will always be second behind the Rams in LA.  Darin Gantt of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Since the Chargers will be in Los Angeles for a few decades, they’re positioning themselves as the affordable option.

 

According to Sam Farmer of the Los Angeles Times, the Chargers’ ticket-pricing plan for 2020 (when they move into the Rams stadium in Inglewood) shows a much more affordable price structure than their landlords.

 

The Chargers will have more than 26,000 seats priced between $50 and $90 per ticket, with personal seat license fees of $100. The least expensive Rams PSL is $1,000.

 

The Chargers have the league’s most-expensive tickets now (averaging $199 per seat) and charge $100 for parking, but that’s because they play in a 27,000-seat soccer stadium and they have to balance the lack of supply. They also play in front of what look like road crowds often, as their success on the field hasn’t translated to a rabid following.

 

And announcing cheap seats now is another tacit admission that things aren’t going well for them financially, and a bad sign for a league that values maximizing profit at every turn.

 

Everything is set up for the Spanos clan to reap a multi-billion windfall by selling the team their father bought for a song to London interests as the DB has foreseen.  Except for this little thing called a lease contract with the Rams.  Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

In the wake of the news that owners have concerns about the Chargers in L.A., some in the media have started throwing darts at the map in search of a new home for the team.

 

Don’t bother. They aren’t leaving Los Angeles. Not for at least 20 years after the opening of the new stadium they’ll share with the Rams in Inglewood.

 

Per a source with knowledge of the situation, the Chargers have a firm 20-year lease at the venue being built by Rams owner Stan Kroenke. The Chargers also hold a pair of exclusive 10-year options after the first 20-year term.

 

Don’t shrug at the existence of a 20-year lease and say, “Contracts were made to be broken.” Everything currently being sold at the venue — from naming rights to luxury boxes to sponsorships to advertising — hinges on at least 20 NFL games per year, for at least 20 years. Thus, a premature exit by the Chargers would be the first domino in a cascade of contractual breaches.

 

The first breach would surely be the biggest. Kroenke didn’t amass his fortune by not holding his business partners to their commitments. He’s shelling out billions to build the stadium, and the return on his investment relies on the Chargers honoring their commitment to play roughly 200 total games there over two decades. There’s no way Kroenke would look the other way on a way out for the Chargers absent significant compensation, from someone.

 

Then there’s the question of whether the Chargers want out. They don’t, and they’re not expected to. The Chargers get to play in the new stadium without paying any construction costs, including cost overruns. The Spanos family took on no debt to make the move, with the only expense being the $650 million relocation fee, paid out over 10 years.

 

Given the ongoing increase in TV revenue and franchise value, it’s a drop in the bucket to have partial long-term dibs on the nation’s No. 2 market.

 

And by the time the 20-year lease matures to the point where the Chargers can exercise their first 10-year option to renew it, a generation of Angelenos will have grown up with a pair of NFL teams in town, in contrast to the generation that grew up with none. So, yes, as time goes by, more people will embrace the Rams or the Chargers, or both. While that unfolds, the Chargers will be playing in the best stadium in the league, on favorable terms.

 

Maybe the first two years have been rockier than expected, but this is a 20-to-40-year play. At a minimum, it’s a 20-year venture beyond the opening of the stadium in 2020, with little or no chance of a re-relocation.

 

AFC NORTH

 

CLEVELAND

Mathew Berry of ESPN.com says you should play both QBs in Sunday’s Browns-Bucs game:

 

You know who chucks it deep? Baker Mayfield chucks it deep. Among QBs currently starting, he ranks top five in terms of air yards per target (9.24). Among the many things the Bucs’ defense struggles with is the deep ball. They are tied with the Saints for the highest deep completion percentage against (59 percent; league average: 44.8 percent) and deep completions allowed per game (4.60; league average: 3.24). Mayfield has the fourth-most pass attempts over the past three weeks (trailing only Luck, Aaron Rodgers and Joe Flacco), which makes him my favorite streamer this week.

 

 

PITTSBURGH

Emerging star RB JAMES CONNER says nice things about RB Le’VEON BELL.  Sean Gentille of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

 

The Le’Veon Bell will he/won’t he/when will it happen thing isn’t getting resolved today. It isn’t getting resolved this week at all, actually, as Ed Bouchette reported Monday.

 

And even when Bell completes Step 1 — signing his one-year, $14.5 million franchise tender and showing up for work — this whole deal won’t be any closer to settled in any meaningful sense. What kind of shape will he be in? How will the Steelers incorporate him into the offense? Will his teammates have any residual saltiness toward him for the last few months, or vice versa?

 

Making a list of questions would be easy, and the list would be long. Based on what James Conner said Thursday morning, though, his relationship with the dude he has (at least temporarily) replaced is solid. So you can tentatively scratch that one off.

 

“Anytime I do something good on the field, I always come back to the locker room [to] a text from him saying ‘good game’ or ‘nice move right there,’” Conner said Thursday  on FS1’s “First Things First.”

 

“Me and Le’Veon are super cool. He’s a great person. With him holding out, people are going to call him selfish, but that’s not the case at all. It’s just business, and that’s my guy.”

 

That’s in line with Bell’s decision, postgame on Sunday, to shout Conner out on Twitter. He had reason to; Conner had just become the fifth NFL player to rush for at least 100 yards and two touchdowns in three of his team’s first six games of the season. The others are Chris Johnson (2010), Shaun Alexander (2005), Priest Holmes (2004) and Emmitt Smith (1995).

 

Whether Bell and Conner are this cool in, say, four weeks is anyone’s guess, but that’s another question for another day. Maybe we’ll never get the answer. Meantime, Conner appreciates the support he’s gotten from his teammates, which starts with Ben Roethlisberger and works its way down. With this, at least, they’re all on the same page.

 

“All those guys have my back. In the interviews that they [give], they believe in me every day, whether they say it on camera or not,” Conner said. “Just go in the locker room and they’re like, ‘Bro, you run hard, you’re the real deal,’ stuff like that.”

 

Beyond that, Conner talked about his relationship with Mike Tomlin. Also, if you’re keeping track, it looks like he dialed back the mullet. Also, there are 10 more days without actual Steelers football.

 

AFC SOUTH

 

TENNESSEE

A couple of weeks ago, Matt LaFleur was a rising star, trained by Kyle Shanahan and Sean McVay, the Titans starting to get things done on offense after a big win over the Eagles.  But that was two weeks ago, an eternity in the NFL.  Joe Rexrode in The Tennessean:

 

Go back 12 days. An even dozen, less than two weeks, the Saturday before the 3-1 Titans took on the Buffalo Bills.

 

On that day, ask me about Matt LaFleur and I tell you he’ll be an NFL head coach somewhere next season. He was a prospect a year ago. He’s been raised in the hottest offense in the league. And he had just used it to beat the Philadelphia Eagles in a 26-23 overtime thriller.

 

On Thursday, ask me about LaFleur and I tell you there’s no way any other coordinator in this league is taking as much flak as he is (now that Tampa Bay has fired defensive coordinator Mike Smith, anyway).

 

I tell you he should probably get his resume together for the next Conference USA opening.

 

No, not really!

 

Plenty of journey remains for LaFleur, and for this Titans offense under LaFleur. But he had a lot of answering to do Thursday for two straight games with no touchdowns, including Sunday’s 106-yard-gaining, 11-sack-allowing, 21-0 debacle against Baltimore.

 

The 12-day journey from hot name to grumbled name is a lesson in NFL fluctuations. LaFleur needs to engineer a reversal of course Sunday (8:30 a.m., CBS) in London against the Los Angeles Chargers (4-2). A few hours before the Titans’ flight across the Atlantic, he answered questions about the past two games, the offense as a whole, Marcus Mariota and more. Here’s a sampling of his most interesting comments:

 

On how to return to touchdown scoring: “I don’t really know the answer to that. But it’s a new week, a new plan, and our guys, they came to work this week. There’s no doubt about it. … Unfortunately, this is a humbling league, and we’ve been humbled the past two weeks.”

 

On whether an overall intangible has been missing: “No, I think every game is different, and I think last week unfortunately we got outcoached and we got outplayed. And that starts with me. Like I said, pretty humbling experience.”

 

On 11 sacks and whether early sacks can get a quarterback thinking too much about the pass rush: “Yeah I think any time that happens, that’s a tendency throughout the game. And that’s where I’ve got to step in and do a better job of making sure we’ve got some throws that get the ball out of his hands. Or scheme up some different protections. You know, credit to Baltimore; they did a good job and I think there’s a reason they’re the No. 1 defense right now. They’re a talented group. But bottom line, we’ve got to be better. We expect better, and we know we can be better.”

 

On the offensive line’s role in the sacks: “Oh, it’s a collective group. And again, it starts with me. But certainly, everybody had their spots. Whether it was, you know, up front. Whether it was quarterback. Running backs, receivers maybe not getting open and the timing of the play. So everybody played a part in that. It’s never one person. But again, I take responsibility for that, and I’ve got to be better for our guys.”

 

On whether the plan vs. Baltimore had fewer quick-hit passes: “No, we called a couple quick (passes), but they did a good job of covering us pretty tightly. So unfortunately it was a game that kind of like got out of hand a little bit in the second half and it became a drop-back game for us. And you know, that’s not necessarily the way we wanted it to go, going into the game, and it went that way, and they took advantage of it.”

 

AFC EAST

 

MIAMI

The Dolphins don’t think surgery will be needed for the shoulder of QB RYAN TANNEHILL even as he is ruled out for Sunday with the Lions.  Herbie Teope of NFL.com:

 

The specifics on Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill’s right shoulder injury haven’t been disclosed to the public.

 

But at least the Dolphins don’t expect a long-term absence for Tannehill, who has already been ruled out for Week 7’s game against the Detroit Lions.

 

Dolphins coach Adam Gase told reporters Thursday that Tannehill is not on a rest plan and the team is not exploring surgery as an option.

 

“He could throw tomorrow if he wanted to,” Gase said, per The Miami Herald.

 

Providing more reason for optimism on Tannehill’s status: Gase said his quarterback’s injury should not be compared to what Indianapolis Colts signal-caller Andrew Luck endured.

 

“We’re not looking at that,” Gase said.

 

That’s a good a thing, considering Luck missed the 2017 season with a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder. The Dolphins continue to view Tannehill as day to day and will rely on Brock Osweiler to start a second consecutive game.

 

With Tannehill not playing in Week 6, Osweiler stepped up and completed 28 of 44 passes for 380 yards and three touchdowns against two interceptions in the Dolphins’ 31-28 overtime win over the Chicago Bears.

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

UNDERUTILIZED PLAYERS

ProFootballFocus.com has a list of some players who could and should see more snaps going forward:

 

There are only so many chances in a game for a player to make his mark. So, who’s taken the most advantage of his limited opportunities and should be in line for more?

 

Pro Football Focus grades every player on every play of every game. PFF picks players at every position — except for quarterback, where the sample size is too small — making an impact and grading out well in limited opportunities. These are the most underutilized players based on snap counts.

 

Running back

 

Nick Chubb, Cleveland Browns

 

Overall grade: 91.3 | Offensive snaps: 33

 

The Browns’ backfield is crowded, and while it’s unlikely that Chubb will take much away from Duke Johnson in the passing game, there’s a strong case to be made that he should be eating into Carlos Hyde’s carries. Hyde is averaging just 3.4 yards per carry, with 2.3 of those yards coming after contact. As Chubb’s three-carry, 105-yard performance against the Raiders suggests, he’s more than capable of finding big plays. So far this season, four of his 16 carries have gone for 15-plus yards, and with that performance in a small sample, it’s time for him to see more work.

 

Honorable mention: Aaron Jones, Green Bay Packers (82.1 overall grade, 68 offensive snaps)

 

Wide receiver

 

D.J. Moore, Carolina Panthers

 

Overall grade: 78.5 | Offensive snaps:108 (13 targets)

 

Antonio Brown complained about wanting more targets, but the 71 passes that have gone his way trail only Adam Thielen for the league lead through six weeks of the season. Twenty-one of those have fallen incomplete because of a miss by Ben Roethlisberger — by far the most in the league. A player that is legitimately being underutilized by his offense is Moore — a Carolina rookie whose overall PFF grade heading into Week 6 was 78.1, which would have been a top-20 mark if he had enough snaps to qualify for the rankings. This week he saw five targets, catching four of them, but made a critical mistake in fumbling the ball after a nice catch-and-run. Over the season, Moore has now caught 10 passes on 13 targets, moving the chains five times and notching eight “explosive plays” (receptions of 15 or more yards).

 

Honorable mention: Ryan Switzer, Pittsburgh Steelers (71.1 overall grade, 54 offensive snaps, 15 targets)

 

Tight end

 

O.J. Howard, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

 

Overall grade: 87.7 | Offensive snaps: 185 (21 targets)

 

The Buccaneers have plenty of talent on offense, but Howard has shown so far this year that he should be a focal point going forward. Howard is averaging 2.84 yards per route run, the highest mark among tight ends to be on the field for at least 100 snaps as a receiver so far this season. Despite that, he is averaging just over four targets per game, while other top performers, like George Kittle in San Francisco and Travis Kelce in Kansas City, have averaged seven or more. It’s time for Howard to start seeing more of the ball in Tampa Bay.

 

Honorable mention: Marcus Davenport, New Orleans Saints (77.9 overall grade, 49 total offensive snaps, 7 targets)

 

Offensive tackle

 

Brian O’Neill, Minnesota Vikings

 

Overall grade: 70.2 | Offensive snaps: 191

 

O’Neill was pushed into starting action this past week due to injuries along the Vikings’ offensive line, a position he should likely hold down even when Riley Reiff is back and healthy. Rashod Hill, who moved over to fill in for the injured Reiff, opened up the right tackle spot for O’Neill, rewarding the Vikings with a 73.0 overall game grade (highest along the offensive line) and he is now their highest-graded offensive lineman on the season. In more of a plug-and-play role, O’Neill has logged 191 snaps on the season including 140 in pass protection, allowing 10 total pressures but no sacks on Kirk Cousins. For comparison, Hill has allowed 21 pressures including four sacks on his 231 snaps in pass protection.

 

Honorable mention: Braden Smith, Indianapolis Colts (76.1 overall grade, 162 total offensive snaps)

 

Interior offensive line

 

James Daniels, Chicago Bears

 

Overall grade: 71.1 | Offensive snaps: 66

 

A center during his final two seasons at Iowa, Daniels has plenty of experience at guard as he logged a combined 230 snaps at both right and left guard in 2015 for the Hawkeyes. His play so far with the Bears has prompted the proverbial changing of the guard as he got the start at left guard for Chicago in Week 6 against Miami. He’s allowed just one pressure on 31 pass-blocking snaps and is currently the team’s highest-graded offensive lineman (71.1), a grade that would rank 15th if he had enough snaps to qualify among the league’s guards.

 

Honorable mention: Scott Quessenberry, Los Angeles Chargers (62.5 overall grade, 18 total offensive snaps)

 

Defensive line

 

Poona Ford, Seattle Seahawks

 

Overall grade: 79.9 | Defensive snaps: 70

 

While Seattle has seen a bit of a (possibly schedule-induced) resurgence defensively the past few weeks, getting the efficient Ford on the field more than the 70 snaps he’s seen so far this year could even exacerbate that trend. In that small sample, he’s graded in the top four among all Seahawks defenders in both run defense and pass rushing. At Texas, Ford was one of the best run defenders in the nation, piling up 33 stops while chipping in 22 total pressures his final season as an amateur.

 

Honorable mention: Marcus Davenport, New Orleans Saints (76.0 overall grade, 145 total defensive snaps)

 

Linebacker

 

Josey Jewell, Denver Broncos

 

Overall grade: 81.7 | Defensive snaps: 129

 

While the reputation of Denver’s defense is strong, it has allowed positive expected points on early downs both against the run and the pass so far this year. This isn’t Jewell’s fault, as he’s made seven stops, has not missed a tackle and has broken up a pass in coverage so far in his role as a base and nickel linebacker for a team that plays a lot of dime. It might take a lot to remove team captain Todd Davis (and his 61.2 PFF grade), but the time is now for a youth movement for the Broncos on that side of the ball.

 

Honorable mention: Ben Gedeon, Minnesota Vikings (77.2 overall grade, 81 total defensive snaps)

 

Cornerback

 

Isaac Yiadom, Denver Broncos

 

Overall grade: 71.0 | Defensive snaps: 62

 

Speaking of the Denver defense again, it has allowed almost half of early-down passes to be successful so far this year. In a passing league, this is not a recipe for success. Despite this, the Broncos are still mostly going with veterans Bradley Roby (51.8 grade) and Adam Jones (59.2) in their nickel look. While Yiadom struggled a bit in his first work against the Ravens, he’s allowed only 24 yards on three targets since. For a team squarely behind the Chiefs and the Chargers in their division, start the youth movement now.

 

Honorable mention: Jaire Alexander, Green Bay Packers (75.4 overall grade, 199 total defensive snaps)

 

Safety

 

Clayton Fejedelem, Cincinnati Bengals

 

Overall grade: 91.0 | Defensive snaps: 126

 

The Bengals moved on from George Iloka this preseason to play rookie Jessie Bates and Shawn Williams. While Bates (79.3) and Williams (65.5) have graded fine, it’s been Fejedelem (91.0) who has taken advantage of his opportunity on 126 snaps. He’s generated four stops, a quarterback hurry and allowed only 37 yards into his coverage for the surprise 4-2 Bengals. In a league increasingly moving toward three-safety looks in both the nickel and dime, here’s to seeing more of the former seventh-round pick from Illinois.

 

Honorable mention: Anthony Levine, Baltimore Ravens (84.2 overall grade, 123 total defensive snaps)