The Daily Briefing Monday, August 21, 2017

AROUND THE NFL

 

It looks like Roger Goodell will be under contract to be The Commish for seven more years.  Conor Orr at NFL.com:

 

The NFL is close to finalizing a deal that would extend the tenure of commissioner Roger Goodell through the 2024 season, NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo reported Monday, citing a person informed of the talks.

 

Goodell, 58, succeeded Paul Tagliabue in September of 2006. He first joined the league as an intern back in 1982.

 

Goodell’s tenure has been one of the most eventful for a commissioner in recent history. From the continued effort to make football safer to sweeping changes in how the game is officiated, reviewed and even watched on multiple platforms by fans, Goodell has been atop the league’s masthead for a period of booming popularity and change.

 

The deal would make Goodell present through the end of the league’s current collective bargaining agreement, which expires following the end of the 2020 season.

 

Garafolo reported Monday that the deal should be completed following the resolution of a few “minor issues.” Around The NFL will have more on the pact as news becomes available.

 

NFC EAST

 

DALLAS

The Cowboys are not convinced that QB KELLEN MOORE is ready to take over the reins should QB DAK PRESCOTT go down.  Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

The Dallas Cowboys are finally realizing that which many have known for months: Kellen Moore may not be the ideal understudy to Dak Prescott at quarterback.

 

Clarence E. Hill Jr. of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports, citing an unnamed source, that Moore “will be the subject of conversation at personnel meetings this week” after another subpar preseason performance.

 

Moore completed less than 50 percent of his passes (10 for 21) for 131 yards and a quarterback rating of 67.8. He also lost a fumble that was returned for a touchdown.

 

Officially, the Cowboys continue to say all (or at least most) of the right things about the player who could be the wrong man both to replace Prescott if injured and to push Prescott to be as good as he can be.

 

“He’s a very smart player, makes good decisions,” coach Jason Garrett said, per Hill. “I thought he threw the ball to the right guy a lot. I think the biggest thing if you look at his drives is we got behind the chains a little bit, had some holding penalties and you’re looking at some tough down-and-distances. And it’s hard to overcome that. But I thoguht he handled that stuff for the most part pretty well and just kept trying to execute ball plays. He will continue to do that.”

 

If the Cowboys don’t look outside the organization for a backup to Prescott, they could decide to make Cooper Rush the No. 2 option.

 

“I’m just glad to see Rush taking advantage of his opportunities out there,” owner Jerry Jones said, via Hill. “Wouldn’t want to get ahead of ourselves in any way here. And the other thing is that we still have a lot of confidence in [Moore], his ability to be able to get in there when we would call on him with the personnel around him and get the ball in the right places. Make no mistake about it, that Rush, it just gets slow when he gets out there. That’s a compliment.”

 

A compliment for Rush could be an ominous sign for Moore. Ultimately, the best move for Prescott could be the addition of someone with much more experience than he has, who can help him as he continues to try to develop into a true franchise quarterback.

– – –

Peter King thinks RB EZEKIEL ELLIOTT caught a break from The Commish:

 

Elliott’s side had to be thrilled with the appointment of Harold Henderson as appeals officer in the case. The appeal will be heard Aug. 29. Henderson is the guy who reduced Greg Hardy’s Goodell-handed suspension from 10 games to four and clearly was the person neutral observers thought would give Elliott the best chance to see his suspension reduced or vacated.

 

Kathy Wise in D Magazine tries to separate fact from fiction through a thorough reading of the Columbus Police report on Elliott:

 

Tiffany Thompson put herself out there. In a pink bra, black pencil skirt, and black pumps, her hair pulled back in a tight bun, a black choker tied around her neck, she stands in front of a wrought-iron fence on a sidewalk at night. Presumably it is in front of the Short North Carriage House, a vacation rental that Ezekiel Elliott’s father had rented for his 21st birthday in Columbus, Ohio’s equivalent of Uptown. She stands, expressionless, for a series of police photographs of her bruises — on her arms and wrists. There are several shots of her hands, but those don’t appear to be injured in the photos. In the police report there is a diagram, essentially a pencil drawing of a female figure where injuries can be marked. Ten areas are circled and marked with a “V” for “Visible Bruise, Mark or Injury,” from her neck to her knees.

 

Like everyone else, I had been reading snippets about the allegations of domestic violence against the Dallas Cowboys’ star running back in news reports over the past year. Then I called a friend in Columbus on Monday and found out, to my shock, that the entire police report — including the photos of the alleged victim in her bra, her home address, her cell phone number, her employer, and pretty much every other personal identifier other than her social security number — was posted online under the direction of the Columbus City Attorney, Richard C. Pfeiffer Jr., on September 6 of last year.

 

I have spent the last two days doing a deep dive into the 77 pages of the police report, recorded witness interviews, and police photos. And the most surprising thing to me about all of it is that, to my knowledge, no one in the press has provided a full accounting of the allegations. They have generally been referred to as just that — “the allegations” — in a vague way that has made it pretty clear that they had little validity, until the NFL issued Elliott a 6-game suspension on Friday. And now the discussion has become all about Thompson, the vindictive ex-girlfriend who has been out to get the star player ever since he got drafted, made millions, and broke up with her.

 

Yes, there’s a lot of contradictory information, both in the police file and in recent leaked information from the NFL’s 160-page report. Yes, it looks like Thompson lied about what happened the night of her 911 call. Yes, it looks like she threatened to blackmail Elliott with a sex tape. Yes, it looks like she makes very poor choices and suffers from extreme jealousies and likes to send a lot of threatening late-night texts to an ex-boyfriend she can’t quite quit. Yes, there probably was a fair amount of alcohol involved. But none of that means Elliott didn’t choke her, repeatedly, to the point she couldn’t breathe.

 

So here it is. Not a snippet, but the full account from Thompson’s recorded interview and written statements to police. These are the allegations.

 

You can read the entire thing here.  Some lowlights below:

 

– – –

Thompson was sitting on the bed when, she says, Elliott picked her up by her armpits and threw her against the wall, then carried her into the hallway and threw her against a storage closet door. She fell and hit her head. She tried to get back up, but Elliott came and dragged her back into the bedroom, saying, “Don’t play with me.” When she again tried to get up to leave, Elliott asked, “Where’s your phone at? I’ll call Johnny for you.” Johnny is the guy Thompson was seeing after she broke up with Elliott. Elliott called Johnny — he had his number, too — but Johnny didn’t answer.

 

Thompson walked to the laundry room, which was connected to the master bedroom. She says she saw him walking toward her, and as she turned around, he grabbed her neck, throwing her onto the floor. He got on top of her and started shaking her until she was gasping for breath, about 40 to 50 seconds. Then he picked her up by her neck and dragged her across the floor onto the bed, leaving bruises on her arms and wrists, rug burns on her right knee, and bite marks on her right shoulder. According to Thompson, Elliott said, “I’m not dealing with your dumb ass anymore. Try to leave and see what happens.”

 

Thompson says she lay down on the bed. “I was so scared to get out of bed and leave while he was sleeping,” she says. Instead, she stayed awake and lay there.

– – –

One could say that if Elliott is lying about his boyfriend status, that he’s lying about everything. That’s clearly not true. What people are saying is that since Thompson clearly lied about what happened in the street outside the Carriage House, and has sent numerous threatening texts to Elliott and others alleging that she was going to blackmail him and destroy his career, she is therefore lying about the domestic violence. After reviewing the full police report, I no longer think that’s true.

 

It is part of human nature to want to believe that we can recognize monsters, and therefore protect ourselves. That is much of the reason for victim blaming. If, as women, we truly believe that we can prevent rape by dressing modestly and not consuming alcohol and not going into “bad” neighborhoods, it makes us feel safer. It is a whole lot scarier to realize that none of that matters.

 

Because monsters don’t always look like we think they do, and victims don’t either. I learned that early on as a family law attorney, representing domestic violence victims in a rural Ohio county. I learned that the most polite, deferential men, who shook my hand and looked me right in the eye and gave me a wide, welcoming smile, were often the most violent. And that the women, who didn’t always tell me the whole truth and sometimes drank too much and maybe worked as strippers, were often the most abused.

 

When I met Elliott to interview him for our August issue of last year, I was entirely charmed. He walked straight up to me and gave me a huge bear hug, smelling freshly showered and still damp. I brought him Buckeyes, a small tribute to our shared alma mater. I wrote glowingly about the Missouri kid who loved math and his mom.

 

But after reviewing the police report of what happened in July 2016, I want to take that hug back. I will not wear an Elliott jersey. Because although Thompson may be an entirely unlikable and duplicitous human being, I believe her. Her recorded intake statement and her written statement are consistent. The pattern of the abuse described, as incredible as it may seem, fits the classic dance of domestic violence. That’s what makes it so frightening. And that is all that matters.

 

 

WASHINGTON

Oft-injured TE JASON REID has come off PUP.  This time, it was due to a toe injury.

 

NFC SOUTH

 

ATLANTA

In reviewing the Falcons offense against the Steelers on Sunday, Kevin Patra of NFL.com declare it to be in 2016 form despite scoring just 13 points:

 

Replacing Kyle Shanahan with Steve Sarkisian appeared to be the biggest question mark for the Falcons offense entering 2017. Through two preseason games, Sarkisian is soaring. Sunday, Matt Ryan marched the first-team offense down the field for a 10-play, 91-yard touchdown drive. Sark continued the play-action heavy-pass offense that diced up the Steelers secondary. Ryan, Matt Schaub, and Matt Simms combined to go 16-of-26 passing for 211 yards in the first half.

 

Without Julio Jones, the Falcons spread the ball around with 10 players catching at least one pass in the half. Atlanta converted five of its first six third downs and earned 16 first downs in the first two quarters. The first three drives went 10 plays, 14 plays and 13 plays, all producing points. While the Steelers defense was missing a few starters, it’s a positive sign that Atlanta’s high-flying offense doesn’t appear to have had its wings clipped by the coordinator change.

 

 

CAROLINA

An optimistic report on QB CAM NEWTON from David Newton of ESPN.com:

 

Two big moments will happen in Charlotte on Monday.

 

One is the solar eclipse.

 

The other is Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton will begin to increase his repetitions in hopes that he can make his preseason debut in Thursday night’s game at Jacksonville.

 

“With him, it’s going to just be about how’s he feeling, how’s he feeling, how’s he feeling and that’s the biggest thing,” coach Ron Rivera said on whether the 2015 NFL MVP will play against the Jaguars.

 

“Everything is trending up.”

 

Because of the eclipse that will occur early Monday afternoon, the Panthers will practice from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. No need conflicting with a moment so rare it won’t happen again in the Charlotte area for several hundred years based on past history.

 

Charlotte is outside the “zone of totality” but in an area of about 90% solar coverage.

 

 

NEW ORLEANS

With the win in Los Angeles over the Chargers, the Saints ended a 10-game preseason losing streak.

 

The Saints are excited by a new addition to their backfield – one not named ADRIAN PETERSON.  Mike Triplett of ESPN.com on RB ALVIN KAMARA:

 

Disclaimer No. 1: It’s the preseason.

 

Disclaimer No. 2: Mark Ingram, Adrian Peterson and Drew Brees haven’t taken a snap yet, since the New Orleans Saints have decided to rest their veteran starters through the first two games.

 

But that doesn’t take away from the dazzling body of work that Saints rookie running back Alvin Kamara has been putting on tape this summer while taking full advantage of his snaps with the first team.

 

Kamara torched the Los Angeles Chargers’ defense for a 50-yard touchdown run on the Saints’ first offensive snap of Sunday’s 13-7 victory. He followed later with a 22-yard gain on a short reception.

 

Last week it was runs of 12 and 22 yards against the Cleveland Browns. And it has been more of the same on the practice field for the third-round pick from Tennessee, whom the Saints liked so much that they traded away next year’s second-round pick to grab him.

 

It’s still difficult to project a major role for Kamara in New Orleans’ offense since he is stuck behind Ingram and Peterson in the pecking order — and both of them have looked solid this summer, as well. But the Saints absolutely will find ways to get Kamara on the field as a runner/receiver/returner if he continues to show this level of potential.

 

Over his last two seasons at Tennessee, Kamara had 1,294 yards and 16 touchdowns rushing and 74 catches for 683 yards and seven touchdowns receiving. When the Saints drafted the 5-foot-10, 215-pounder, they said they envisioned him in the type of “joker” role once held by Darren Sproles and Reggie Bush.

 

I thought it might take a year or an injury before Kamara played a significant role. But he looks like he’s trying to speed up the timetable.

 

Here is a little background on Kamara who actually started his college career at Alabama from Jason Reid of ESPN’s The Undefeated:

 

Coming out of high school in Norcross, Georgia, Kamara had baskets full of scholarship offers after starring at Norcross High and signed to play for Alabama. The problem was, head coach Nick Saban’s squad was loaded at running back.

 

Kamara was in the same recruiting class with Derrick Henry. T.J. Yeldon and Kenyan Drake, who were already on campus. It proved to be an incredibly tough group to crack. After undergoing knee surgery in the preseason, Kamara had no chance as a freshman. Then came the off-field issues.

 

Saban prohibited Kamara from practicing with the team for one game because of “behavior reasons.” He was suspended for Alabama’s bowl game. Around that time, he also was arrested for driving with a suspended license. Alabama released Kamara from his scholarship.

 

“It was just one of those things where you know” it was time for a change, Kamara said. He transferred to Hutchinson Community College in Kansas. Kamara did a lot of thinking. He hadn’t handled his time at Alabama as well as he could have, Kamara realized, and he couldn’t waste another opportunity.

 

“I knew I had to get it right,” he said. “I knew I had to show everybody that I could do the things they thought I could.”

 

Refocused, Kamara shined in his one season for Hutchinson and signed with Tennessee. He was highly productive for the Volunteers, averaging 6.96 yards per touch (rushing attempts and receptions) and scoring 23 touchdowns. And Kamara was as stable off the field as he was on it. The only question about Kamara’s two years at Tennessee is this: Why didn’t Volunteers coaches use him more?

 

NFC WEST

 

SAN FRANCISCO

Could veteran QB BRIAN HOYER and Kyle Shanahan be a surprise match?  Peter King with testimony from the Broncos:

 

The Denver defensive backfield, one of the best in football clearly, came away impressed with the San Francisco passing game—and who thought you’d hear that about 31-year-old Brian Hoyer running Kyle Shanahan’s offense with a cast of mostly newbies? “He [Hoyer] runs the offense well,” Aqib Talib told Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area. “Shanahan has a hell of an offense. Hoyer is doing a great job running it. They get the ball out fast. They move you left and right. It takes a polished quarterback to run the offense.”

 

 

LOS ANGELES RAMS

Peter King:

 

Most interesting preseason performance: Jared Goff going 16 of 20 for the Rams, and not just all little dunks either. That’s got to be encouraging for Sean McVay and that coaching staff.

 

Jason LaCanfora of CBSSports.com thinks the Rams have struck gold with McVay.

 

While he hasn’t yet coached an NFL game, McVay has drawn quite a buzz already around the league. He’s something of a phenomenon, a force of coaching nature, who has an innate feel for people and an advance eye for offense. As execs from rival clubs have been around him a bit now, dating back to the spring owner’s meetings, he is making a strong impression — “I kinda wish he wasn’t in our division,” one exec recently told me, adding, “That guy is a gonna be a stud” — and he’s already won over the Rams’ key veterans. McVay can blend the old school philosophies of men like his grandfather, former top NFL exec John McVay, with theories at the vanguard of the modern passing game.

 

“What this opportunity provides is a great platform to be able to learn, and that’s the biggest thing,” McVay told me. “What I’ve been flattered and blessed and humbled about is that these other leaders that you can connect with are so willing to share. Even going back to some of the other coaches that you talk to at the owner’s meeting in the NFL, and being able to reach out to others. And meeting (NBA coach) Doc Rivers and some different guys like that who have had that platform and done it the right way for a long time. It’s still pretty unique.”

 

Besides his bloodlines, McVay has direct coaching ties to Super Bowl winners like Jon Gruden and Mike Shanahan, as well as Don Shula, who for a long time was the youngest coach in NFL history himself after taking over the Baltimore Colts in 1963 at age 33. McVay is always trying to seek that type of knowledge and is open to suggestion from those who have made this walk at a similar age.

 

“I have been able to talk to him about this,” McVay said of Shula, “and really one of my closet friends on our coaching staff is Chris Shula (Don’s grandson and McVay’s college teammate), so Don is a guy who I got know and spend some time with, and Chris’s dad David Shula was a coach at 32 years old, so I think it’s been a great opportunity when you realize how small the network of people is who are involved in this game.

 

“And that’s when you realize what a blessing it was when you get done playing to get in with the Bucs and work for a Jon Gruden, work for (Washington coach) Jay Gruden and Mike Shanahan. So for me, I couldn’t say enough about the mentors who have invested in me, and I’ve been lucky with the timing as well.”

 

Buzz building for McVay and his staff

The Rams’ players and execs are not hesitant to boast about what they believe they have in their head coach. Despite his youth and inexperience, McVay is able to extend outside of the Xs and Os bubble that engulfs so many of his peers. He understands the need to build bonds and express his vision to the entire building and not just retreat to a cocoon of offensive meetings trying to turn Jared Goff into an NFL quarterback. He wants to infuse the entire organization with a young and dynamic energy, which you can see when he’s racing around the field with players in a modified rugby drill.

 

“I don’t know exactly how to describe it, but I do know this, about eight minutes into the first interview you knew the guy was special,” Rams general manager Les Snead said. “And then probably every day since then he’s exceeded those expectations. He’s legit. And you know what I found most interesting — you can be a smart offensive coordinator, and we’ve seen a lot of young, bright guys get the chance (to be a head coach), but I do think that Sean has that ability also to see the bigger picture and be a real leader in the organization and not just to your players, but the way he develops his staff, the way he collaborates, the way he include the building in things. There are some bigger-picture leadership skills he has that you don’t often find.

 

“We always joke around here that we don’t have any life skills, but we’ve got football skills. But there is an intelligence there of football and beyond, and especially of football recall. I mean this guy, he can talk about a play from three years ago in a certain game, go to the video, and go right to play 58, and bam, there it is. And it’s like, ‘How did you just do that?’ And he’s like, ‘I just remember that play.’ And it might not even be his team, he might have just been studying something.”

 

McVay also already had a network of highly qualified assistant coaches who wanted to join his staff, and he has assembled an overall group far superior to the prior regime. Jeff Fisher, who has struggled to develop quarterbacks, was never one to agonize over advancements in the passing game, and he churned through coordinators after the great Mike Heimerdinger passed away from cancer. Last year’s Rams staff was weak on that side of the ball — figuring out who would work with Goff seemed almost an afterthought — and McVay’s staff is much better equipped to cultivate an offense.

 

McVay kept highly-regarded special teams coach John Fassel from the former staff and landed Wade Phillips to run his defense, with Gregg Williams leaving for the Browns job (McVay is very close with Phillips’ son, Wes, who was also on Washington’s staff). The offensive staff also includes Matt LaFleur, a fast-rising young coach who was also with McVay in Washington and who was Matt Ryan’s quarterback coach during his 2016 MVP campaign.

 

McVay said the most overwhelming thing about his new gig is the sheer volume of issues, requests and queries that come across his desk each day, but his peers are trying to help as much as they can.

 

“Before you get the chance to be the head coach, you can only imagine what it’s like,” said Fassel, who took over as the Rams’ interim head coach when Fisher was fired in-season. “And then having opportunity to do it even for only three weeks, start to see all the different things that come across the table of a head coach.

 

“So really what I’ve done for Sean is just say, ‘I only did it for a couple of weeks, but if there is any burden I can carry for you, no matter how insignificant, I think that’s an important thing. Because you have so many responsibilities, and it’s hard to do any of them’. I told him, ‘If you want me to get you dinner, and you forgot to eat because you have so much stuff going on. I’ll bring you a (Styrofoam) box to eat.’ Anything. Because it becomes pretty heavy, and I’ve learned that if there is anything I can do to help him, that’s what I’m going to do.”

– – –

Rams players told me they could sense, early in the spring, that McVay was someone who would be working as hard as he could to put them in the right spots. They believe in his offensive mind, and he’s shown an ability to connect with defensive players as well.

 

Whitworth, a critical offseason addition to what was a horrible offensive line, is five years older than his coach but said he doesn’t make a big deal about or bust McVay’s chops much.

“I’m sure he hears that stuff a little bit,” said Whitworth, who stayed 30 minutes after a recent walkthrough diligently working on footwork and hand placement with three young linemen despite his wife and children milling about the practice field, a coach-on-the-field vitally imperative to a young coach. “But I’m not one of those people who just keeps saying things that you hear every day to people. 

 

“But I really haven’t heard a lot that stuff, because the reality is, if you hear him in front of a group of people or in front of a room of players, age kind of goes out the window when you hear him speak. And he handles himself in a way that you realize quickly that he’s a guy who is so sharp and ahead of the game and you give him that instant respect.”

 

Whitworth, who played for Nick Saban at LSU, sees a lot of that legendary coach in McVay. The dedication to their process and their work ethic and the consistency of their message cuts through the clutter. High praise and comparisons for a man who has yet to coach a regular season NFL game, but one who I fully expect to be doing just that for the next 20 or 30 years of his life if he so chooses.

 

“Nick Saban is one of those guys that epitomizes that, day-in and day-out being the same guy and having the same process,” Whitworth said. “Nick is very successful with that, and I think Sean is a lot like that, with who he is and the way he handles communication. It’s the same every day.

 

“Those kinds of people, they earn a lot of respect from a locker room because that’s one of the biggest things that guys want. You know as a player you want to be as consistent as possible, and you want coaching and everything else in the building to be consistent to where you know what to expect and you know what’s expected of you. That’s the best thing you can do, and that’s what Sean does.”

 

 

SEATTLE

Peter King with a name to know in Seattle:

 

Speaking of surprise impact players, there’s Seattle wideout Kasen Williams. The practice-squad native of Sammamish, Wash., and Washington Husky alum made two difficult catches from Russell Wilson, one for a touchdown, against Minnesota. That plus his special-teams play make him very likely to make the 53-man roster and be active on game days for the Seahawks.

 

AFC WEST

 

DENVER

Former WR Brandon Stokely, now a Denver camp observer, tries to say something nice about QB PAXTON LYNCH:

 

“His strengths are, he has a strong arm. He’s a mobile quarterback. Other than that, I’m lost. I have to stop at two. I haven’t seen anything else as a big strength right now … Has he gotten better from last training camp to this training camp? Yes he has, but he’s just not ready to be a starting quarterback in the NFL.”

 

 

THE RAIDERS

A show of unity during the Anthem on the Raiders sideline.

 

Raiders quarterback Derek Carr placed his right hand on defensive end Khalil Mack’s left shoulder as a show of solidarity during the national anthem before the team’s 24-21 exhibition loss to the Los Angeles Rams on Saturday night.

 

Carr said the players were not “protesting” anything with the action.

 

“What we wanted to do was show all the kids that look up to me, look up to him, that white kids, blue kids, brown kids, blue, green, doesn’t matter, can all be loving to each other,” Carr said. “And that’s what me and Khalil are — we’re best friends and we love one another.

 

“The only reason we did that is to unify people, and to unify the people that look up to us because, obviously, we see what’s going on in the world and, obviously, everyone pays attention to the national anthem nowadays, and so we just said this was the best time to do it while still honoring our country. Because I love this country, more than anything. We’re free to live here and play this game, but we’re also free to show each other that we love one another. And I think that that’s the message, and that’s the only message we were trying to get out.”

 

Mack said he wanted to use his “platform” to get out his message.

 

“To show [that] different races can get along, white, black, whatever you are, get along and be friends and … just show unity,” Mack said. “Show togetherness. It’s discussed a lot. It’s one of the things I feel passionately about, but I just don’t like the attention, the attention that comes with it. But at the same time, just using my platform for positivity is what’s important for me.”

 

Carr, who grew up in Texas and California and played his college ball at Fresno State, said he and Mack, who grew up in South Florida and played collegiately at Buffalo, knew eyes would be on them as leaders of the team during the anthem.

 

“We wanted to show them that it’s OK for a white kid and a black kid that come from two different neighborhoods [can] grow up and love one another and be best friends,” Carr said.

– – –

The gesture seemed to echo actions seen by other players around the league. Eagles defensive end Chris Long placed his hand on the shoulder of safety Malcolm Jenkins as he held a raised fist during the anthem in Philadelphia on Thursday night. Seattle Seahawks center Justin Britt put his arm on teammate Michael Bennett’s shoulder Friday night, days after Bennett had called for a white player to join the protest.

 

 

LOS ANGELES CHARGERS

Kevin Patra sends out an S.O.S. after the Chargers are stung by poor offensive line play against the Saints:

 

The Chargers’ offensive line, meanwhile, was a catastrophe. The injuries continue. With starting offensive tackles Russell Okung and Joe Barksdale sitting out to nurse injuries, L.A. saw backup tackle Tyreek Burnwell break his hand, NFL Network’s Alex Flanagan reported. The players on the field weren’t good. Running back Melvin Gordon was hit in the backfield on the first play from scrimmage. He lost nine yards. It didn’t get much better from there. The Chargers first and second groups averaged a measly 2.2 yards per carry in the first half — quarterback Kellen Clemens led the way with 26 yards on three scrambles. The Chargers have the weapons on offense, but the offensive line looks like it could cripple the operation. The Los Angeles offensive line played so poorly Sunday it made a limp Saints pass rush (sans its best pass rusher) look lively.

 

This from Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

The Chargers will spend the first three seasons of their return to Los Angeles playing in a 27,000-seat soccer stadium (it was originally characterized as 30,000; apparently, they rounded up). The Chargers may have a hard time filling it up with Chargers fans.

 

Via Ryan Phillips of TheBigLead.com, both of the preseason games played at the StubHub Center failed to come close to selling out. Last Sunday, 21,054 tickets were sold for a game against the Seahawks. This Sunday, 21,197 tickets were sold for a game against the Saints.

 

Ticket sales and actual attendance are two different things, especially since season-ticket holders typically must buy seats to the preseason games in order to get seats for all of the regular-season games. But wouldn’t the curiosity factor draw fans to the venue for the first two games there, regardless of whether the games count?

 

None of this means that the Chargers will have empty seats starting in September, when the games do count. But there’s a chance that the fans of the opposing teams will be seen in relatively large numbers — and that given the size of the venue and the proximity of the seating area to the field they’ll be heard, too.

 

AFC NORTH

 

PITTSBURGH

RB Le’VEON BELL will be ending his holdout next week according to a report emenating from within Pittsburgh’s offensive line.  Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com:

 

Le’Veon Bell is expected to stay away from the Pittsburgh Steelers for Week 3 of the preseason, a source tells ESPN.

 

The source would be surprised, however, if Bell isn’t back with the Steelers shortly after that, citing his love for football.

 

Bell can always rearrange his plans, but currently he’s slated to remain training on his own for at least the next few days.

 

The two sides tried to hash out a long-term deal before the July 17 deadline expired for players with franchise tags to sign extensions. Instead, Bell skipped training camp and hasn’t signed his $12.1 million franchise tender. He has been in South Florida for most of August.

 

The Steelers play their third preseason game Saturday against the Indianapolis Colts, with the first-team offense set to play well into the first half. The third preseason game is traditionally where starters receive their most preseason game action.

 

Filling in for Bell Sunday, third-round pick James Conner had 98 yards on 20 carries against Atlanta.

 

One Steelers player privately told ESPN that he expects Bell to return shortly before Labor Day.

 

One potential good sign for Pittsburgh is that Bell has been in communication with his offensive line via text messages.

 

Peter King notices something different at Steelers camp, the sound of pads thumping and bodies falling to the ground:

 

I had something of a revelation on my annual summer training camp trip, which covered 17 camps and two games and 22 teams in 20 locales. It happened on the last stop, in the Laurel Highlands of west-central Pennsylvania. On a hot Thursday with no breeze, in the place where Joe Greene and Mike Webster and Jack Lambert and Mel Blount and Alan Faneca and Levon Kirkland and Hines Ward and Casey Hampton once jousted, the 2017 Steelers took shape under the very physical direction of coach Mike Tomlin.

 

The receivers and defensive backs, in full pads, did the Oklahoma drill—the ultra-physical one-on-one blocking drill in which the defensive player tries to fight off the offensive player and get to the ballcarrier, and the offensive player tries to block the defensive player to the ground. That’s exceedingly rare. One snap: 211-pound wideout Martavis Bryant fired across the line at 198-pound cornerback Artie Burns. Burns threw Bryant aside, then thudded the ballcarrier, Sammie Coates, to the earth.

 

“GOOD!!!!!” yelled Tomlin, standing right there.

 

The Steelers had two other live tackling periods during practice. That’s two more than I saw all summer. When I went to Minnesota and asked veteran defensive end Everson Griffen what it would be like to tackle former Viking legend Adrian Peterson when the Vikes and Saints played opening night, he said he relished being able to tackle Peterson because, in seven years of practice, he’d never tackled him—not once. That’s the NFL these days. The most physical teams I saw, by far, in my 17 camps visited were Seattle and Pittsburgh. Pete Carroll told me it was important to go “right to the edge” of full-scale tackling and bruising hitting to get ready for the season. After practice, Tomlin stood by the side of the camp field and told me more about why he practices like it was 1990.

 

 “Preparing to play without the physical part,” the 11th-year coach said, “is like asking a boxer to go in and fight without sparring. There is a certain hardening that has to happen to your group individually and collectively, I believe, through this process. I believe live tackling not only aids in that, but is kind of central to that. That’s why we made the conscious effort to have at least 12 to 15 snaps a day of live football. It provides an opportunity, it sets the pace, it gives a certain urgency, in your group.”

 

Regarding the risk of injury in those snaps, Tomlin said: “I think there is probably a propensity for increased injury in the stadium if you haven’t done this. So from that perspective, I am willing to present an argument that one approach is not any more safe. The bottom line is, you better find ways to impose your will on your opponent. Sometimes that’s physical, but sometimes it’s conditioning, sometimes it’s mental.”

 

It’s so counter to the logic we’ve grown to accept in the modern NFL. The vast majority of drills, even in camp, involve some sort of exhortation from coaches like this: “Stay up! Stay up! Don’t take ’em to the ground!” And then there’s Pittsburgh, and overtly physical Seattle. Who’s right? Who’s wrong? It’s hard to criticize the two programs that appear to me to be the most physical in the preseason, those run by Tomlin and Carroll, when you see their NFL coaching victories stats (including playoffs):

 

Coach   Years    W-L-T   Avg. Wins/Year

Tomlin  10         111-63-0            11.1

Carroll   11         113-79-1            10.2

 

AFC SOUTH

 

HOUSTON

Coach Bill O’Brien is expecting even greater things from DE J.J. WATT.  Michael David Smith at ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Texans defensive tackle J.J. Watt was, before missing 13 games with a back injury last season, the best defensive player in the NFL. So will Watt be as good a player this year as he was before?

 

No. According to Texans coach Bill O’Brien, he’ll be better.

 

“I can tell you right now the guy’s going to be at the top of his game,” O’Brien told Peter King of TheMMQB.com. “He’s had a great training camp. I think he’ll be better than he was.”

 

 

JACKSONVILLE

The media’s Kaep Watch is now circling the BLAKE BORTLES drain in Jacksonville.  The drumbeat extends to Jeffrey Arnold of The Oregonian:

 

Colin Kaepernick remains unemployed by an NFL team, but the latest team to be connected with the quarterback is the Jacksonville Jaguars.

 

Starting Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles, already on thin ice with first-year coach Doug Marrone, struggled badly Thursday night against Tampa Bay in a nationally televised preseason game. Bortles was subject to boos from the fans and one fans had already seen enough of Bortles and yearned for Kaepernick.

 

Chris @kublock

My dude

 

 

 

Marrone told reporters the starting quarterback position is “up for grabs” after Bortles dismal performance.

 

Wide receiver Allen Robinson seems to have soured on Bortles. Robinson cussed in frustration after a Bortles pass sailed so far out of bounds that Robinson ran into a reporter trying to catch the football during a practice this week.

 

“Keep that s— inbounds, bro,” Robinson muttered.

 

Marrone declined to discuss Kaepernick or any other quarterback not on the Jaguars roster, telling reporters he doesn’t work with “outside the roster stuff.”

 

Bortles has posted a record on 11-34 as a starter with the Jaguars. Backup Chad Henne performed far better than Bortles in the game, but Henne is 18-35 as a starter, he has thrown 58 touchdown passes and 63 interceptions during his eight-year career.

 

Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman cited Bortles as one quarterback who is less talented and doesn’t possess the winning pedigree compared to Kaepernick.  Kaepernick has played reached the NFC Championship game twice and played in a Super Bowl.

 

Kaepernick is unsigned while Bortles is under contract for $6.5 million in 2017.

 

“Blake Bortles has shown you enough to where you don’t think Kaep would be a solid fit? Kaep has won games,” Sherman said Aug. 2.

 

Sherman is probably saying, “I told you.”

 

The hiring of Kaepernick would have to run through Tom Coughlin.  Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com ponders whether that is a roadblock.

 

Forget about last year’s anthem protests, which Colin Kaepernick has made clear through intermediaries he won’t repeat. Focus only on his skills, and how they would fit with a team that hopes build an offense around running the football.

 

That’s what the Jaguars want to do. And Kaepernick, who averaged 6.8 yards per attempt a year ago, allows them to do that. (On PFT Live, Josh Norris referred to Kaepernick as a fantasy-football “cheat code,” given his ability to consistently pick up extra points with his legs.)

 

Yes, plenty of work would have to happen on the fly to adapt the offense to Kaepernick, with the zone read and other Kaepernick-friendly plays being added and other plays being scrapped. Coach Doug Marrone doesn’t seem to care about that, if it means getting him someone who will lead the offense. Given Kaepernick’s accomplishments and the career accomplishments of Blake Bortles and Chad Henne combined, isn’t Kaepernick the obvious choice?

 

Before assessing whether he’d be the right choice, it’s important to know who’d be making it. Marrone made it clear last night that, when it comes to options not on the roster, his hands are tied. A year ago, G.M. Dave Caldwell would have been the one making the call, without question. Now, it appears that executive V.P. of football operations Tom Coughlin is running the show.

 

Would Coughlin want Kaepernick? Before the draft, few would have expected Coughlin to provide a second chance to troubled Oklahoma receiver Dede Westbrook, but Coughlin did. So maybe he’d give a second chance to a guy who shouldn’t need one. Especially since that could be the team’s best chance to win games in 2017.

 

If the Jaguars want Kaepernick, they may need to move quickly. For the Ravens, Ryan Mallett‘s latest preseason performance could be the thing that gets Baltimore to finally close the deal with Kaepernick.

 

Word that Kaepernick would abandon his anthem protest came from someone close to Kaepernick (agent?), but was not communicated directly by the social activist.  With other players around the NFL still in high dudgeon and making demonstrations, would Kaepernick really take a pass even as the movement he founded grows?

 

 

TENNESSEE

Peter King says he does like the Titans to step up in 2017, but then he points out the recent history they have to overcome:

 

Since 2009:

 

• The Titans are 14-34 in AFC South games.

 

• The Titans have not swept a season series with Jacksonville, Houston or Indianapolis in any season.

 

• The Titans are 1-15 against the Colts.

 

• One more thing: Marcus Mariota has never beaten Houston or Indianapolis in four career starts.

 

AFC EAST

 

BUFFALO

Peter King on the greatness of WR ANQUAN BOLDIN who announced his retirement over the weekend:

 

Every year, the information packets would come in the middle of December, with the nominations of all 32 teams for their NFL Man of the Year. Each team could pick one. I lost count how often Anquan Boldin was in the packet. I was one of the voters for the award, and I’d read through each of the bios of guys who would donate X per sack to X charity, or who would give out turkeys to families and backpacks to children before the school year … all tremendous gestures, illustrative of the scores of fine people, generous people, selfless people, who play in the NFL. But there was something about Anquan Boldin’s candidacy, over several years, that jumped off the page. In 2014, he and his wife endowed a long-term scholarship fund for needy high-school seniors with $1 million in seed money. He went to Ethiopia for Oxfam in 2012 to bring attention to a severe drought. He established an eight-week summer program for kids struggling academically in his needy community of Pahokee, Fla. He was a solid and influential voice among NFL players angry at the treatment of black citizens in some police incidents. I voted for Boldin because he was such a good player on the field and so valuable off it. He won the award in 2015.

 

Boldin, 36, told the Bills over the weekend he was retiring from football, and he told Jim Trotter of ESPN that he would be focusing on humanitarian work in his retirement. When Boldin accepted his 2015 Man of the Year award, he said he discovered soon after arriving in the league in 2003, “I realized my purpose in life was not to make it to the NFL and score touchdowns.” So good for him that he’ll give the planet more consistent good deeds than he could have as a backup Buffalo wideout.

 

But appreciate what Boldin did with his talent. He was a slow receiver coming out of Florida State—a plodding 4.71 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the ’03 combine—but he worked for 14 years to prove speed isn’t everything. Precise route-running is, and toughness is, and durability is. Boldin played 14 years and finished ninth in NFL history with 1,076 receptions. He caught 94 more passes than Randy Moss, had seven more touchdown catches than James Lofton, and amassed more receiving yards than Torry Holt and Andre Reed. He’ll join a crowded receiver field and be a candidate for the Pro Football Hall of Fame in February 2023. If he ever makes it to Canton, I can assure you this: It won’t be his life’s crowning achievement.

 

We note that Bolding played for Bobby Bowden at Florida State.

 

 

NEW YORK JETS

The Jets are fooling around with other QBs while presumed starter JOSH McCOWN waits in the wings.  Will Brinson at CBSSports.com:

 

Things are going really well for the Jets, presuming the plan is to go 0-16 this season and secure the No. 1 pick. New York’s least lovable franchise managed to produce an uninspiring performance yet again on Saturday as second-year quarterback Christian Hackenberg led the team to exactly zero points before being mercifully pulled at halftime.

 

Many folks were wondering why Josh McCown, who did not receive much playing time last week either, didn’t play during the second preseason game. McCown is the presumptive starter for New York this season, yet he’s not getting reps, despite Todd Bowles telling the media last week McCown needed them.

 

Asked where McCown was Saturday, Bowles said the team decided “last minute” that McCown didn’t need the reps.

 

“Thursday night, we just decided that he didn’t need it,” Bowles said via the New York Daily News. “We wanted to see the other two guys. Josh has played in a million preseason games. At the last minute, we decided to make that decision.”

 

There is some logic to playing Hackenberg and Bryce Petty. McCown is not the long-term answer with New York. He’s a veteran designed to bridge the gap to whatever unimaginable future the Jets are staring at. Maybe Petty can be a future backup and maybe Hackenberg can show enough to convince the Jets they should not invest in another quarterback in the upcoming draft.

But the way McCown is being treated is odd. According to Manish Mehta of the Daily News, when reporters approached McCown — one of the nicest guys in the entire NFL and a team player if there ever was one — after the game to ask what he thought about his playing time, the Jets apparently told him not to talk. From Mehta:

 

McCown was approached by two reporters just outside the locker room after the game. Although the veteran was amenable to chatting, he said that a media relations official told him: “Don’t talk.”

Classic Jets here. The reporters were going to ask McCown about not playing and McCown was going to give a team-friendly answer about needing to get the young kids playing time and how he’s seen plenty of preseason reps and yada yada yada it’s not a big deal. Instead, by drawing attention to the Jets interest in McCown NOT TALKING, the Jets are causing people to talk about him not talking.

 

There was nothing before this incident that suggested the Jets were going to handle the quarterback situation well, and there is nothing in the preseason approach that suggests the Jets know what they’re doing at the position, or with the roster in general. The only thing the Jets could do that would be more Jets would be managing not to secure a top-three pick in the upcoming draft and missing a shot at the top QB prospects.

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

COPS FOR KAEP

Colin Kaepernick finds some surprising support in his fight against poor law enforcement.  From YahooSports.com:

 

The Colin Kaepernick story has gotten seemingly endless attention because its reach goes far beyond football.

 

A pretty good reminder of that came Saturday afternoon in New York City, which is far removed from Kaepernick’s former NFL home of San Francisco. At a rally in Brooklyn, dozens of current and former New York police officers wore shirts that said “#WeStandWithKap” and at the end of the rally they took a knee and raised their fist, according to the New York Daily News.

 

Kaepernick became a household name when he took a knee for the national anthem last season to bring attention to racial injustice, including police brutality. It also appears to be one reason he has not been signed by any NFL team this offseason.

 

The police officers noted to the Daily News that they were speaking out against their belief that NFL teams aren’t signing Kaepernick as punishment for his protest.

 

“What Colin Kaepernick did is try to bring awareness that this nation unfortunately has ignored for far too long,” said NYPD Sgt. Edwin Raymond, an organizer of the rally, according to the Daily News. “And that’s the issue of racism in America and policing in America. We decided to gather here today because of the way he’s being railroaded for speaking the obvious truth.”

 

 

ACCURACY 101

Scott Kacsmar, writing at ESPN.com, breaks down who is truly are the most accurate QBs in the NFL.  And the winner is not the guy with the record completion percentage:

 

In 2016, Sam Bradford set a single-season NFL record for completion percentage (71.6 percent) but finished 17th in Total QBR. Clearly, completion percentage can be a misleading stat, boosted by short passes that don’t lead to successful plays for an offense.

 

Football Outsiders has used game-charting data to create a better way of quantifying accuracy and completion percentage. The core idea is passing plus-minus, which estimates how many passes a quarterback completed compared to what an average quarterback would have completed based on each throw’s distance, the yards needed for a first down, and which side of the field the pass was thrown to.

 

This is turned into a rate stat, denoted as C%+, that shows how many percentage points better than average the quarterback was at completing passes. Here is a look at the top 10 quarterbacks in C%+ from the 2016 regular season. Come back Tuesday for the other side of the list — the bottom 10 quarterbacks in C%+ from last season:

 

1. Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons

C%+: 6.6 percent

 

Ryan’s MVP season was historically strong, and he led the league in many major statistical categories, including Total QBR, passing DVOA, yards per attempt, passer rating and C%+. Ryan did his most damage on slant routes, which he completed a league-best 83 percent of his passes. Ryan’s previous career high in C%+ was 5.7 percent in 2012, so some regression is to be expected in 2017.

 

2. Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints

C%+: 5.8 percent

 

Brees has three of the top seven seasons in C%+ since 2006, so his mark of 5.8 percent from 2016 only ranks as his fifth-best season in that time. Still, Brees showed no signs of slowing down in his age-37 season with his fifth career 5,000-yard passing season. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, Brees was off target on 9.9 percent of his passes, the lowest rate of any passer in 2016.

 

3. Sam Bradford, Minnesota Vikings

C%+: 5.5 percent

 

Bradford really ate up the short passes (throws that traveled no more than five yards beyond the line of scrimmage) with the highest ranking in C%+, but he ranked only 13th on throws deeper than that. He has been trending in the right direction, posting a minus-1.9 percent C%+ with the Rams (2010-2013) and a plus-0.6 percent C%+ with the Eagles in 2015 before last season’s career-best mark.

 

4. Kirk Cousins, Washington Redskins

C%+: 4.9 percent

 

Cousins ranked in the top five in C%+ for the second season in a row, but he will have to make do without wide receivers Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson in 2017. Cousins’ C%+ dropped from 6.6 percent when throwing to those two receivers to 3.9 percent on targets to other players, however, so he still would have ranked fourth without them.

 

5. Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks

C%+: 3.6 percent

 

A year after leading the NFL in C%+ in 2015 (6.2 percent), leg injuries affected Wilson’s playmaking ability last season. He actually finished with the least value (minus-96 DYAR) on broken plays where his creativity usually excels. Wilson’s 3.6 percent C%+ is the second lowest of his career, ahead of only his 3.4 percent C%+ in 2014.

 

6. Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys

C%+: 3.5 percent

 

Prescott had an all-around impressive rookie season. He was the top quarterback on out routes, completing 78.4 percent of them, and one of three quarterbacks to complete at least 50 percent of his go/fly routes where the average throw was 30.4 yards down the field.

 

7. Tom Brady, New England Patriots

C%+: 3.4 percent

 

Brady is not penalized for his four-game suspension since C%+ is a rate stat. One of the main reasons for Brady’s lower ranking compared to where he ranks in other 2016 stats is the impact that pressure had on his accuracy. When pressured, Brady was off-target on 45.2 percent of his passes, the only quarterback in the NFL above 40 percent last season.

 

8. Ryan Tannehill, Miami Dolphins

C%+: 3.4 percent

 

While Tannehill ranked fourth in off-target pass rate (13.4 percent), he had the least amount of success with vertical shots to Kenny Stills (minus-2.7 percent C%+) and short passes to running back Jay Ajayi (minus-2.8 percent C%+). Unfortunately, we won’t see Tannehill get a second season in Adam Gase’s offense until at least 2018 because another knee injury has placed him on injured reserve. His replacement, Jay Cutler, had a 0.1 percent C%+ while playing under Gase in 2015 with the Bears. Without Gase in Chicago last season, Cutler posted a minus-4.1 percent C%+, though injuries limited Cutler to only 137 passing attempts.

 

9. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers

C%+: 3.3 percent

 

Rodgers is remembered for finishing the regular season on a tear, but in Weeks 1-11, Rodgers’ C%+ was minus-0.3 percent. In the final six games — all Green Bay wins — Rodgers’ C%+ was plus-10.5 percent, which would easily be a record since 2006 had he sustained that type of success for the full season.

 

10. Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals

C%+: 3.0 percent

 

Believe it or not, Dalton has ranked in the top 15 in C%+ for each of the past five seasons. His 2015 season was his best in many ways (4.1 percent C%+), but he was still solid last season despite A.J. Green and Tyler Eifert effectively missing half of the season. Dalton’s 2016 C%+ was a respectable plus-1.2 percent to receivers not named Eifert or Green.