The Daily Briefing Friday, October 26, 2018
AROUND THE NFL
Matthew Berry says the top QB in Fantasy Football – at this snapshot moment in time – is, of all people, QB MITCHELL TRUBISKY of the Bears:
Mahomes, Shmahomes … As great as young Patrick is, there’s not a hotter QB in fantasy right now than Trubisky. Since Week 4, he is averaging more than 34 fantasy points per game and ranks second with 11 TD passes in that span (despite being on bye one of those weeks). In fact, he has the most points in a three-game span by any QB since 2012 (Cam Newton). He actually has more rushing yards this season than LeSean McCoy and now gets a Jets team that is giving up almost 290 passing yards per game on the road and has allowed multiple TD passes in four straight. Somehow, he’s still not 100 percent rostered.
Don’t assume that DL EVERSON GRIFFIN jumps back into action Sunday. Charean Williams of ProFootballTalk.com:
Defensive end Everson Griffen was not listed on the Vikings’ injury report in his return to practice Wednesday. He remained a full participant Thursday, though the team added him to the report as “not injury related.”
Coach Mike Zimmer said the Vikings have not determined Griffen’s status for Sunday.
“I watched him on tape yesterday. I watched him a little bit today,” Zimmer said, via Chris Tomasson of the Pioneer Press. “He looks fine.’’
Griffen has not played since Week Two.
“Any time you miss four weeks or whatever it was, there’s a little bit of rust,” Zimmer said.
Linebacker Anthony Barr (hamstring) and cornerback Xavier Rhodes (foot) are doing “good,” according to Zimmer, and odds are good both play Sunday.
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ESPN.com has a debate among its contributors as to where to rank WR ADAM THIELEN, who has the best pure numbers, in the current pantheon of top receivers:
Where does Thielen rank among the NFL’s best wide receivers right now?
Matt Bowen, NFL writer: Third. Antonio Brown is still the No. 1 for me, and that’s not going to change. But Thielen has to be mentioned as a top-five guy, given his numbers this season. That’s why I would put the Vikings’ wide receiver at No. 3, behind DeAndre Hopkins.
Mike Clay, NFL writer: Sixth. Though it might seem odd to place him ahead of, or alongside, the league’s superstars, the fact is Thielen has been playing elite ball for 2½ years now. He is seeing a similar target share to players such as Julio Jones, Brown, Hopkins and Odell Beckham Jr., and yet his production and efficiency have been much better and more consistent this season. I’ll dock him slightly for the edge he gets from working from the slot so often and rank him sixth, but there’s a case to be made that he’s currently the best receiver in the league.
Mike Sando, senior NFL writer: Seventh. Well, seventh and gaining. Thielen is the most productive receiver in the league right now, so if you want to say he’s No. 1 right now, I’m not going to protest too loudly. But as Mike Clay alluded to, Thielen is 10th in receiving yards when aligned on the perimeter, where Jones, Mike Evans, Hopkins and Beckham fill the top four spots. I think it’s a stretch to say opponents would rather face Jones, A.J. Green, Brown, Hopkins, Evans or Beckham, but we have to put Thielen on the cusp of that group.
Kevin Seifert, NFL national writer: First. Simply put, he is the best at the moment. This is a production business, and no one has more than his 67 receptions or his 822 yards. He clearly knows how to get open, even against defenses that are fully aware of him, as his league-high 89 targets indicate. He is making those targets count, having converted more first downs (43) than any other receiver. And his streak of seven consecutive 100-yard games speaks to his consistency. Other observers might have a different personal preference, but the objective facts here point to Thielen.
Field Yates, NFL analyst: Second. And that’s at worst right now. I’d take Brown and his masterful skill set over him, but Thielen’s production is simply unmatched right now. In terms of overall body of work, I would select others, including Jones, ahead of Thielen. But right now, Thielen is No. 2 in my book. He’s without a hole in his game.
Dan Graziano, NFL national writer: First. Right now, no one is playing the position better. And given his circumstances — strong QB play, an unreliable run game, a teammate at the position who also commands a defense’s attention — why would we expect his production to tail off as the year goes along? This is a player who has improved every season and is producing at a level that surpasses Brown, Beckham, Jones and Hopkins on a weekly basis. Right now, he’s the best in the league.
Mina Kimes, senior writer: Fifth. Thielen has been the best wide receiver in the NFL this season, but if you asked me point-blank to build a roster for a game next week, I’d turn to him after Brown, Jones, Hopkins and Beckham. He’s rapidly rising the ranks, though. After all, if you had asked me before this year, I’m not sure I would’ve had him in my top 10.
Eric Karabell, senior fantasy writer: First. The numbers say Thielen ranks right at the very top of the list. While Brown, Jones, Hopkins and Beckham are certainly flashier, Thielen is on a pace for 153 catches and nearly 1,900 yards. Brown has never done that — nobody has. I don’t want to overreact to half a season, but Thielen was great last year, and this is not going away. He has passed Brown, Jones and all the others. Thielen is No. 1.
WR COLE BEASLEY is thrilled to have WR AMARI COOPER in the house. Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com:
Plenty of people have been critical of the Cowboys wide receivers this season, but Cole Beasley has been adamant that they are not the problem that others make them out to be.
Given that feeling, one might imagine that Beasley would frown on the team’s decision to trade a first-round pick to the Raiders for Amari Cooper. Beasley is welcoming his new teammate with open arms, however.
Beasley said he’s “glad we did something to add to us” and thinks that Cooper will make the offense more dangerous when it returns to the field in Week Nine. Beasley said Cooper’s addition should help running back Ezekiel Elliott, although he’s less sure about what it will mean for him as an individual.
“I don’t know, we will find out. Hopefully, a lot,” Beasley said, via the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “I have been all right without it so … If it’s any easier for me, the defense is going to be in trouble.”
Beasley’s set for free agency after this year, so any boost he gets from Cooper’s presence could help him come the offseason as well.
Albert Breer of The MMQB.com says that even with a heavy workload, RB ADRIAN PETERSON has turned back the clock:
Redskins RB Adrian Peterson: The 33-year-old legend is on pace for 269 carries. That would be the seventh highest total of his 12-year career. He has 41 carries over the last two weeks, and the Giants’ 20th-ranked run defense just lost its best run-stopper, DT Damon Harrison, traded to the Lions. So it seems we’ll see a bunch of Peterson this week. And I, for one, am enjoying watching him this year—the guy somehow very much resembles himself in his prime, which is exceedingly rare for a running back his age.
Peterson only has one 100-yard game so far, but three others have been in the 90s. He’s on a pace for 1,168 rush yards. His 4.3 yards per carry is just a tick below the 4.5 he had in his last 1,000-yard season in 2015.
The Panthers say that QB CAM NEWTON will be playing, but with a sore arm, Sunday. Kevin Patra of NFL.com:
Cam Newton was listed as limited in practice for the second straight day.
The Carolina Panthers quarterback is dealing with arm “soreness,” but the team hasn’t sounded worried in the least he might miss Sunday’s showdown with the Baltimore Ravens.
When asked if Newton would play this week coach Ron Rivera was blunt:
“There is no doubt. None at all,” he said, per Bryan Strickland of the team’s official website.
Rivera’s candor came after offensive coordinator Norv Turner downplayed resting Newton’s arm.
“There is some soreness. He was limited in his reps today but I think he’ll be fine,” Turner said Thursday, via Max Henson of the team’s official website.
Attempting to give the QB rest makes sense with Turner asking Newton to do more with his arm this season. The Panthers are averaging highest pass percent (58.2), pass attempts per game (34.8), and passing first downs per game (13.2) since Newton entered the league, per NFL Research.
Darin Gantt of ProFootballTalk.com on the captaincy and QB JAMEIS WINSTON:
Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston wasn’t there for the first three games of the season.
When he returned, the C on his jersey was missing, the first time in three seasons he wasn’t voted a team captain.
But Winston said he still hoped to lead the team in his own way, even without the traditional symbol of leadership.
Bucs players chose five season-long captains, including wide receiver Mike Evans and tackle Ali Marpet on offense, linebackers Lavonte David and Kwon Alexander from the defense and linebacker Adarius Taylor representing special teams. Winston had been voted a captain each of the last two seasons, but his suspension obviously had a bearing on this year’s selection.
“Ain’t no weight being taken off my shoulders at all,” Winston said, via Eduardo Encina of the Tampa Bay Times. “Just because you don’t have a C on your chest, it doesn’t mean you can’t lead. I’m happy that those two guys have a C on their chest, but I’m going to continue to do my best to lead this team. . . .
“I think especially offensively, you have Mike Evans who is one of the best players in the league. He’s a great leader in his room, and you have Ali Marpet, who is our NFLPA rep, and he’s a great leader in his room. So when you’ve got two great leaders like that on your side of the ball, they can easily, they can both go either way. I think that again, that’s a good situation that we’re in.”
They add a sixth weekly captain each week, and Winston accompanied the aforementioned five for the coin toss last week against the Browns.
LOS ANGELES RAMS
Albert Breer of TheMMQB.com looks at the Rams path from 7-0 to 11-0.
Sean McVay got a call from a concerned party this week, worried that the pressure of being 7-0 and barreling toward the stretch run might wind up getting to the Rams coach a little bit, as he works through another week and toward another opponent. He is, after all just 23 games into this head-coaching thing, and expectations couldn’t be much higher than they are right now.
It was his mom, on the other end of that phone call.
“She worries about me,” McVay said over his cell as he wrapped up practice. “So she just says, ‘This is a lot of pressure.’ And I said, ‘It is, but you know, you don’t really feel it, because you got such good people around you, with your players, with your coaches.’ And then, the only thing I know how to do is to work as hard as I possibly can, do the job to the best of my ability, not be afraid to say ‘I don’t know’ or ask questions and keep making sure I’m keeping [myself] accountable.
“If you do that, then that’s all you can really do.”
It sure has been enough thus far. Will it be over the next month?
That’s an open question, and not because of how the Rams are playing—they’re seventh in total defense and fourth in points allowed, second in total offense and third in points scored, and they’ve won four games by double-digit margins—but because of what’s in front of them.
The iron of the schedule is here for McVay’s crew. They get a visit from Aaron Rodgers and the Packers this week, travel to the Superdome to face the Saints on Nov. 4, host the team that played them closest, Seattle, on Nov. 11, then play an electric Chiefs team in Mexico City on a Monday night three days ahead of Thanksgiving.
You have questions about the Rams? We’ll all have plenty of answers four weeks from today. And should they make it through 11-0, then maybe, just maybe, there’s a realistic shot at becoming the second team to make it all way through a 16-game regular season without a blemish.
Don’t bring that up to McVay, though. He won’t be hearing it, mostly because it’s against everything that got the Rams this far.
– – –
In answering my first question—Do you want your guys to embrace this as a defining month?—the reigning Coach of the Year slipped a little something in that brings insight into what he and his staff are putting in front of the team.
“The biggest thing that we do, we try to approach it where we try to have a great week of preparation and try to be the best version of ourselves,” McVay said. “And with the confidence that we have in our guys, I think they feel like that would be enough. And we certainly don’t shy away from the opponent and knowing what’s at stake in going against a quality player like Aaron Rodgers.”
Right there in the first line: the best version of ourselves.
McVay wanted to make sure, of course, he was saying it with all the respect he could muster for Rodgers and Drew Brees and Russell Wilson and Patrick Mahomes, as well as Mike McCarthy, Sean Payton, Pete Carroll and Andy Reid. But as he sees it, and as his team does too now, this really isn’t about those guys. It’s about seeing how far the Rams can take what they’ve already built.
That, as we said, is a team that’s top quarter of the league in yards and points on both sides of the ball. It’s a team with a quarterback completing 70 percent of his throws with a passer rating of 112.7. A team with a running back on pace for nearly 1,600 yards and 25 touchdowns, and a star defensive linemen with eight sacks and four different defensive backs with interceptions.
Can the Rams top what they’ve already done? That’s kind of the idea here.
“It’s heavily influenced by the John Wooden approach, where really all you can do is compete to the best of your ability in every single thing that you do,” McVay continued. “And we feel like if our practice, our preparation, our planning is done with intent, is done with a detail and a precision that is to the best of our ability, then that allows us to go play with a quieted mind and know we’ll have no regrets.”
The cool part for McVay now is seeing, as he has, the players take ownership of it, so he barely has to say anything anymore. It’s happened on offense, with the big bro of the locker room, left tackle Andrew Whitworth, pushing quarterback Jared Goff and running back Todd Gurley to find their voices. It’s happened on D, with injured cornerback Aqib Talib as a guiding light and defensive tackle Aaron Donald, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, setting a high bar in every way without being overly vocal.
From there, things trickle down. One example McVay raised was how veteran wideout Robert Woods took it upon himself in Seattle in Week 5 to instill confidence in young receivers Josh Reynolds and KhaDarel Hodge after Cooper Kupp and Brandin Cooks went down. Another is where certain things, like consistent performance along the offensive line, have come along faster than expected.
And sure enough, that interplay also came up when I asked McVay what he’s most proud of when he looks at the 7-0 start.
“The one thing that you’re proud of is that … you just kind of watch and I’ve had a handful of people say it, you can just tell it’s a connected team,” he said. “The guys enjoy playing together, they play for each other. They’re mentally tough. When bad things happen throughout a game, they support one another. And I feel like our coaching staff represents that too.”
That, of course, is why you go for it on fourth down in Seattle to win the game. It’s why you’re able to avoid a potential pothole in Week 7 in San Francisco against a team without its starting quarterback. And it’s why McVay still feels like the best version of the Rams hasn’t hit the field yet.
“The goal is to continuously improve,” McVay said. “I think if there’s one thing that’s consistent that I’ve learned in the short time I’ve been coaching, it’s that the really good teams get better as the season progresses. And we’ve got, for sure, nine opportunities to get better in a game-type setting. And for us, now, it’s doing a great job with our game this week. “
Safe to say, McVay’s mom doesn’t have much to worry about. Sure, there’s pressure to maintaining a perfect record. There’s stress associated with preparing to take on Rodgers.
But all in all, her son feels pretty good about where he’s at.
If the Rams get to 11-0, the path to 16-0 still has some potholes, particularly to 14-0 with road games at Chicago and Detroit and a home game with Philadelphia. The last two should be doable if the Rams want it – at Arizona and home to San Francisco.
Not only do the Chiefs score like crazy on everyone – they exhaust their foes into a bad game the next week as well. This from Jeremy Bergman at NFL.com:
In a comprehensive article posted Thursday, The Athletic’s Lindsay Jones noted that four of Kansas City’s first six opponents surrendered more than their average yardage the week after playing the Chiefs, “several of them dramatically so,” Jones added.
This was the case with last year’s top three AFC seeds: Patriots (453 yards allowed the week after playing K.C., 389.9 avg. yards allowed), Steelers (455, 380.2), Jaguars (378, 301).
What the Patrick Mahomes-led Chiefs offense is wreaking is not so different in 2018 than what the Seattle Seahawks’ defense was doing to opponents in 2013, their Super Bowl season. Through seven weeks in 2013, Seattle’s opponents were 0-6 and were outscored 172-62 the week after playing the Seahawks. The theory then was that the Legion of Boom was leaving opponents with a “hangover,” as NFL.com‘s Chris Wesseling described it.
So is Kansas City’s ability through seven games to wear clubs down and adversely affect their play in ensuing weeks a statistical anomaly or a real trend that portends a Super Bowl title, like that of Seattle’s?
According to testimony from Chiefs opponents, Jones learned, the latter.
“In that game, that was the worst I’ve ever felt,” Denver Broncos cornerback Chris Harris told Jones this week. “Just physically, I was drained. I had no burst, I was just done.” Harris noted that his Fitbit told him he ran 15 miles on the day Denver played the Chiefs, four more than usual.
The Broncos surrendered 446 yards and a 10-point lead to the Chiefs in that game, a 27-23 loss on Monday night. For their rematch this week, Harris told Jones he hopes he’s better prepared for K.C. this time around.
Harris added: “I don’t want to play like how I played in that fourth quarter last game. I was just hanging by a thread, just out there running. I want to be peaking, coming at my best in the fourth quarter this game.”
It’s not just the collective team speed that Kansas City boasts on offense — Tyreek Hill, Kareem Hunt, Sammy Watkins — that has defenses bothered. It’s the Chiefs’ variety of play-calling, pre-snap motions and roster depth, too, as Jones learned from Harris’ coach Vance Joseph.
“This team is in two-tight ends, they’re in two-backs, they’re in three-wides, they’re in no-backs, they’re in four-wides with one back — that’s challenging to obviously match every group they have. As far as the players, everything’s vertical and it’s deep-over,” Joseph said. “For the corners, it’s a marathon of a game. They have to be mentally ready to be challenged vertically every play. If you’re not, they can score 50 points on you. Our guys get it.”
Todd Haley is still in command/control of the Browns offense as he heads back to Pittsburgh. Pat McManamon of ESPN.com:
Todd Haley attributed coach Hue Jackson’s comments about becoming more involved in the Cleveland Browns’ offense to the emotions that come after a loss.
“That’s what it sounded like,” Haley, the offensive coordinator, said Thursday. “And we talked about it. This is an emotional game. It is not for everyone. Coaching in the NFL, especially being in that spot, it’s not for everyone.
“It is a high pressure, high-stress job. We just got to keep doing what we know is right.”
Jackson initially said he had to jump in to try to fix the offense, and said he would do it because he’s “the head coach of the football team, period.” He backed off those comments Monday, and said he made a point to explain himself to Haley on Monday.
Haley said preparation for Sunday’s game in Pittsburgh has “been the same as it’s always been” and “we’re all on the same page.” He said he’s happy to take good ideas, no matter where they originate.
“I’ve a long time been in this league around a lot of personalities,” he said. “One thing I’ll never be is reactionary. I’m here for one purpose and that’s to help this offense, continue to grow this offense, continue to develop this offense.”
Haley said it was “all perception” when asked specifically about Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger saying Haley wouldn’t like the comments from the Browns coach.
“I’m misunderstood a lot of time,” Haley said. “I’ve learned to accept it.”
Haley was hired by the Browns after the Steelers did not renew his contract. Haley, a Pittsburgh native whose father Richard worked for the Steelers, is in his 23rd season coaching in the NFL, but this will be his first trip to Heinz Field as a member of an opposing team.
“My first time coaching at Heinz Field was as part of their [Pittsburgh’s] coaching staff,” Haley said. “So this will be my first visit to Heinz Field as a visitor, and I grew up there. It’s a neat thing to me.”
While pounding the Dolphins, the Texans may have lost a key receiver. Sarah Barshop of ESPN.com:
The Texans fear that wide receiver Will Fuller tore his ACL during Thursday’s game against the Miami Dolphins, a source confirmed to ESPN.
Fuller injured his knee midway through the fourth quarter while attempting to catch a deep pass from Deshaun Watson in the end zone. He was checked out on the field but was able to walk off under his own power.
An MRI is scheduled for Friday to confirm the diagnosis. The Houston Chronicle first reported the Texans’ concern about Fuller’s injury.
Fuller left the game with five catches for 124 yards, including a 73-yard touchdown. On the touchdown, Fuller easily beat his defender across the middle and down the right sideline, trotting the final five yards into the end zone. The pass was the longest touchdown of both Watson’s and Fuller’s careers. The pair have now connected for 11 touchdowns in 11 games played together.
The wide receiver missed a game earlier this season because of a hamstring injury.
Matthew Berry of ESPN.com on why QB ANDREW LUCK should be in your Fantasy lineup this week:
Andrew Luck at Raiders (ESPN projection: 20.5): Luck is tied for the league lead with 329 dropbacks. Oakland allows a league-high 8.42 yards per dropback (and it’s not all that close, as it’s a quarter-yard more than any other defense). In fact, the Raiders allow a touchdown pass on 7.1 percent of pass attempts (second-highest rate). That’s important because Luck leads the NFL with 311 pass attempts. He might throw less because Marlon Mack has given them a running game, but he’s not throwing that much less.
The perils of taking a team to England. Darin Gantt of ProFootballTalk.com:
The Jaguars may want to have a word with the assistant to the traveling secretary.
According to Daniel Popper of The Athletic, Jags wide receiver Donte Moncrief wasn’t able to make the team flight to London because of a passport issue.
He has since joined the team in England after taking a commercial flight, and got back with his teammates on the practice field.
And while it’s perhaps a minor mishap, it does point to some of the potential logistical issues the NFL will have to deal with as they increase inventory overseas, as trying to move 53 players plus staffs into another country on a regular basis requires paperwork teams don’t have to handle on a weekly basis.
THIS AND THAT
BIG INTERNATIONAL GAMES
Dan Wetzel of YahooSports.com may be stretching things with his praise of Philadelphia-Jacksonville, but there is no doubt that Kansas City-Rams is a huge game on an international stage.
It began as an experiment and developed into a curiosity. The NFL’s international push found festive environments overseas, but where it was headed and just how committed the league was to it remained in question.
The NFL could say that it saw London and elsewhere as priorities, but more often than not, it was feeding those places a steady stream of less-than-thrilling matchups. Bills-Jags in Wembley was one thing. A Tom Brady-Peyton Manning showdown was staying stateside.
Well, here comes Sunday (9:30 a.m. ET) and the defending Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles are in London to take on a Jacksonville Jaguars team that played in the AFC championship game last season. It’s about as high profile as you can get. That both teams are desperate for a victory only adds to the intensity.
Then on Nov. 19, the Los Angeles Rams and the Kansas City Chiefs will meet in Mexico City in what is arguably the best, and most anticipated, game of the regular season. It would surprise no one if it’s a Super Bowl preview.
Some of this is unplanned, of course. The NFL can’t fully predict who is going to have a good season. Plus, having the Jaguars, who play one game in London each season, shake off years of futility to become contenders is a big part of this.
That said, for NFL fans abroad, it is also a sign that the league isn’t opposed to giving them the very best games possible.
“It definitely adds to the excitement,” said Mark Waller, the NFL’s executive vice president of international. “It shows fans how committed we are to the agenda. Teams are willing to give home dates for games of that caliber. Fans know that it matters.”
The growth in England has been incredible since the league first staged a New York Giants-Miami Dolphins game there in 2007. It went from one game a year to as many as four. In 2016, the league added Mexico City’s Estadio Azteca to the rotation, tapping into a rabid NFL market without the challenges of overseas travel.
Ticket demand, merchandising sales and television viewership have all grown internationally, not just for the game staged locally, but for regular ones back in the U.S. The BBC now broadcasts the London games on its main channel in the United Kingdom, a huge milestone for the NFL. In Mexico, there’s never been a problem getting a TV audience.
The population of the metro regions of Mexico City (22.2 million) and London (13.6 million) are both greater than Los Angeles (13.1 million).
Waller has declared that in London the fan base is there for a full-time franchise, although no moves have yet been made. The fact that the NFL can create new fans in such huge markets has been a boon, and the big games will only add to it.
StubHub declared the Eagles-Jags game as this season’s most in-demand ticket for a regular-season game and has compared it to a Beyonce concert. As of Thursday morning, the cheapest you could get two lower-bowl seats between the 40-yard lines was about $1,020 U.S.
It’s easy to see how this could move to eight international games a year (a full home slate), with expansion to more contests in Mexico or even other locales such as mainland Europe or Brazil, where the NFL is very popular.
“We’re seeing an increase in local coverage here in London for this Sunday’s game,” Waller said. “Having the Super Bowl champions here brings in more people who will say, ‘I should watch that game.’ It’s great for our avid fans and also for our more casual fans.”
The NFL has done its part, too. It’s always staged pep rallies, parades and fan events. For Eagles-Jags, it sent its NFL Network “Good Morning Football” show to England to broadcast live.
The downside, of course, is that loyal fans back in the states can’t attend the big game. There is always a trade-off. There are fans everywhere, though.
The London games are still often what Waller calls “a gathering of the clans” and a chance for Europe’s NFL community to get together and celebrate its love of football. No matter who is playing, you can find jerseys of just about every team in the stands – Brady and Odell Beckham Jr. most often. Eagles-Jags will feel more like a neutral site game.
In Mexico City, though, Waller said the fans are devotees of specific teams, mainly because it is easier for them to watch all regular-season games.
“The Rams are slightly more popular than the Chiefs there, but you’ll see fan bases of both teams there,” Waller said.
If anything, the teams see it as a chance to not just build a fan base in Mexico City, but connect with Mexican-American communities back home.
“Southern California and Mexico share strong historic and cultural ties,” Rams owner Stan Kroenke said in a statement. “And this game will provide an opportunity to celebrate the special connection between these two regions.”
Does all of this speed the timetable for a full-time franchise somewhere? Perhaps. Waller is most pleased that teams have come to embrace these trips as opportunities and realize that they can still be competitive the week after the lengthy travel.
If not, it just further bolsters the NFL’s gamble to give this a try. In 2007, the idea of a regular-season game being played in London or Mexico City was considered outrageous by some. Now some of the biggest games of the year are happening there.
The international experiment is here to stay, and getting bigger every year.
The NFL has fired an official in midseason for the first time in memory. Barry Petchesky of Deadspin.com:
Outside of the confusion about roughing-the-passer calls (which falls as much on the diktat from New York as on those tasked with enforcing it), it feels like NFL officiating has generally been pretty good this year—that is to say, it’s been largely unnoticeable. Which made this blatantly missed false start in Week 6, that should have nullified a Chargers touchdown against the Browns, so glaring.
That call was the responsibility of the down judge (a position that was renamed from head linesman beginning in 2017), who is positioned at the line of scrimmage on the near sideline. The down judge in that game was Hugo Cruz. It would be the last NFL game Cruz ever worked.
Football Zebras reports that Cruz has been fired by the NFL, effective immediately. And it’s wasn’t just that missed call.
One of the sources confirmed that Cruz was not “maintaining a very high level of performance over a sustained period,” while another told Football Zebras in March that Cruz’s future with the league was already in jeopardy. This is partially borne out by his lack of postseason assignments for the two seasons he would have qualified for, not counting assignment as an alternate last season.
Cruz, a former Conference USA official, was recruited by Gerry Austin and joined the NFL in 2015. He was assigned to Carl Cheffers’s crew this year, but weirdly, worked on other crews for three of his six games. I am totally guessing, but it’s possible that he was shuffled around as a “last chance” to see if he would perform any better with different crewmates.
The firing of an NFL official is a rare thing. Football Zebras says Cruz is the first official to be fired mid-season since the merger, and just two officials have been fired over the last decade. (Those two are side judge Keith Parham, in the 2014 offseason, and side judge Jimmy DeBell in 2015. Though this obviously doesn’t count those officials who have been encouraged to step down or retire than be outright fired.)
Ben Austro, the editor-in-chief of Football Zebras, had previously written that this is a crucial season for Al Riveron, the NFL senior VP of officiating, for reasons related both to a series of officiating controversies and an unprecedentedly inexperienced roster of officials. Austro went so far as to say Riveron could be on the hot seat if it’s a bad year for the zebras. A midseason firing could very likely be Riveron trying to prove to his bosses that he’s in control.
This from Kevin Seifert:
“The NFL has a troubling history of knee-jerk reactions with an eye on public relations, and clearly it has not learned from past mistakes,” said Scott Green, executive director of the NFL Referees Association. “The NFLRA will protect the collectively bargained rights of all officials and will challenge this reckless decision through the grievance process.”
The NFLRA, as allowed by its collective bargaining agreement with the NFL, has up to 90 days to file the grievance.
Sources reached by ESPN insisted there was no indication that Cruz committed an off-field mistake or that his firing was in any way disciplinary.
The NFL grades officials on their performance on every play of every game. The league has occasionally suspended or reassigned officials for mistakes of game administration, but it evaluates their careers on a yearly basis by placing each in one of three tiers.
Tier I is for the top performers, Tier II is for midlevel grades and Tier III is for the lowest-performing officials in a given year. Historically, two consecutive seasons in the third tier makes an official vulnerable to termination.
That system is designed to prevent instant evaluations based on a single mistake or a series of closely timed mistakes.
The NFL’s quick decision on Cruz will send shock waves through the officiating ranks. Officials who once could be assured that their season would be evaluated through a larger lens will now be left to wonder if they could receive a career-ending phone call after one bad game.
FootballZebras.com first reported news of Cruz’s firing.
Connor Orr at SI.com looks at the last-minute trade market:
The NFL trade deadline is upon us. While we may not see the same avalanche of deals as we did a year ago, we’re off to a good start with Carlos Hyde, Eli Apple and Damon Harrison all changing teams in recent days. What is left to take place? That depends on how many of these teams logjammed at 3–4 or 4–3 believe they are truly contenders, or if they have some excess fat that they could turn into something to benefit them down the road.
Here are five deals we might actually see, and five that we’d really like to see.
Five trades we might see
1. Janoris Jenkins to the Chiefs
Patrick Peterson’s announcement that he would stay with Arizona took both the most enticing and practical trade deadline maneuver off the board before this weekend’s action hit. That being said, the Chiefs are probably not finished yet. It would be foolish to imagine that the team could not win the Super Bowl in Patrick Mahomes’s first season as a starter. It would also be foolish to think that teams won’t eventually catch up to what they’re doing. In short, this is the season to strike. Jenkins has not been playing like a top-tier cornerback this season, but he has the ability. The Chiefs are in need of some patchwork in the secondary. Might that extra second-rounder they got for Marcus Peters come in handy?
2. Chandler Jones to the AFC South
While the Cardinals seem to be recoiling from the idea of a rebuild, which is something you do when the coach and general manager are fighting for their jobs, their 28-year-old pass rusher would make an awfully nice chip for a few teams fighting for playoff positioning. Why the AFC South in particular, you ask? I think there are a lot of teams there built on a defense-first philosophy—a construction that could take a huge hit if one of their marquis pass rushers went down. Jones could be protection and a wonderful change of pace for Jacksonville (Campbell, Fowler, Ngakoue). The same goes for the Texans, who are relying on excellent but injury-prone rushers across the board. Then, there is Mike Vrabel in Tennessee, who has spent year working in a Bill Belichick-inspired system with the Texans. Jones could be a nice addition to their young core, who are still relying heavily on Jurrell Casey to provide quarterback pressure. Jones’s contract is prohibitive, but can be wriggled out of after the end of next season.
3. Demaryius Thomas to the Jets or Eagles
If the Jets defeat the Bears this Sunday in Soldier Field, evening their record at 4–4 for the season, I don’t think it would be difficult to see Mike Maccagnan getting in the mix for someone to help out Sam Darnold. Thomas is still relatively sure-handed and could replace (and upgrade) the big-bodied receiver role the team has been missing since Terrelle Pryor went down with an injury (but really, since Pryor played himself out of the lineup). While it’s not optimal, he may be available for the right price and could win some 50–50 balls for a young quarterback searching for dependable hands. The Eagles, meanwhile, were in the mix for Amari Cooper. Does that mean they’re looking for help now, or did they see the advantage of gobbling up a 24-year-old on his rookie deal? If the answer is now, Thomas would make Philadelphia a devastating offense for the second half of 2018—a team that could reinvent itself mid-season.
4. LeSean McCoy to the Eagles/Buccaneers
It’s foolish to keep McCoy in Buffalo only to have his remaining years wither away on a rebuilding football team. The Eagles, who have already lost Jay Ajayi for the season and are waiting for word on Darren Sproles, could use the security of an established dual-threat back and would ride the boon of unimaginable fan delirium. Reacquiring McCoy would be one of the last hammer drops in Howie Roseman’s arsenal to undo the Chip Kelly era, and it would probably be surprisingly affordable.
As for the Buccaneers, don’t be surprised to see them make moves. Dirk Koetter and Jason Licht want to hang around, and the only way to do so at this point would be reaching the postseason, it seems.
5. Tyrod Taylor to a competitor (DAL, HOU, TEN, CAR)
Baker Mayfield has “won” the Browns’ quarterback position and won’t be giving it up amid a rough patch this season. Taylor was there to start in 2018 and challenge Mayfield in the summer. Now, fellow backup Drew Stanton is the valuable one, as he can teach Mayfield how to prepare and handle the various pitfalls of the position without threatening to take the job. Taylor, on the other hand, would be gold for an NFL team that suffers an injury at the quarterback position. Dallas, Houston, Tennessee and Carolina could all use a major upgrade at the backup position and could all theoretically win games with their current infrastructure and Taylor behind center if an injury occurred. Trading for a backup is the least sexy trade deadline swap…until you need one. Then, you’re pragmatic.
Five trades we’d love to see, but won’t happen
1. Larry Fitzgerald to anywhere
It’s a well-worn trope to suggest a retiring legend would chase one more championship elsewhere at the trade deadline. For some valuable perspective here, I’d re-read Jenny Vrentas’s interview with Joe Thomas about what it was like rebuilding in Cleveland, and the prospect of chasing a ring at the end. Larry Fitzgerald may not want to go anywhere. The idea of retiring a Cardinal may be more attractive than, say, joining the Patriots and losing in the AFC title game. But if that’s not the case, a move makes sense from a strategic standpoint. Fitzgerald is a great route runner who blocks well down field and doesn’t drop many balls. What is more valuable in January?
2. Le’Veon Bell to the Jaguars
Worried about the effectiveness of your running game? Concerned you won’t be able to capitalize on this window of aging veteran stars and young cornerbacks who are about to become wildly expensive? Make a three-headed monster that is nearly impossible to stop in November and December. You worry not about Fournette injuring himself again and you give Blake Bortles the ultimate gift: A dependable, mid-range receiving option.
3. Derek Carr to the Giants:
The move makes zero sense from a cap perspective if you’re Oakland. In addition, if Gruden traded his Pro Bowl quarterback, players would begin voluntarily walking out of the facility. There would be no reason to show up for work and sacrifice a career-ending injury for a teardown that transparent and heinous. But it would be nice to see the Giants not have to go through a three-year rebuild on the shoulders of a rookie quarterback. The real concern I have with the Giants’ current roster construction is that, by the time any drafted passer is capable enough to lead them, Odell Beckham will be too old and Saquon Barkley too high in milage.
4. Richard Sherman to the Rams
Aqib Talib is coming back from ankle surgery, so why not hedge your bets? The combination of Talib, Richard Sherman and Marcus Peters would be so beautifully gluttonous. There would be a fair number of receivers who would refuse to take the field on principal. In a chilly January game, imagine the effort offensive coordinators would go through in order to escape press man coverage. Yes, Sherman and Talib are at the end of their careers. But this is a chance for the Rams to go full Rams. It’s all leading to a Super Bowl-or-bust atmosphere before the new stadium is built, anyway.
5. Landon Collins bidding war
Again, this will probably not happen even though Collins is going to seriously hamstring the Giants on the free agent market next year. There are a dozen playoff-hopeful NFL teams out there right now who could use a versatile, hard-hitting safety like Collins. He is the Giants’ best coverage option right now and dealing him would essentially disinvite anyone interested in attending a home game for the remainder of the season. Still, dangling him out there for the Patriots, Chiefs, Saints and a few others searching for versatility would be entertaining.