The Daily Briefing Monday, August 27, 2018

AROUND THE NFL 

NFC NORTH

 

CHICAGO

Has the Bears offense reached a point where it doesn’t need game reps prior to the opener?  Dan Pompei does not think so:

 

@danpompei

 Bears are not playing their starters.  I don’t like it a bit. Football players need to PLAY FOOTBALL to get better at playing football.  You can be smart about trying to minimize injuries, but not scared.  It sends the wrong message to players, and to the fans who bought tickets.

– – –

WR KEVIN WHITE is healthy.  Kevin Patra of NFL.com:

 

Kevin White finally found the end zone.

 

The former first-round pick burned Kansas City Chiefs corner Orlando Scandrick on a nice stutter-and-go move for a 29-yard touchdown catch from backup quarterback Chase Daniel in the first quarter of the Bears’ 27-20 win Saturday. It was the first score for White in the NFL, preseason or regular season.

 

Drafted No. 7 overall in 2015, White has played in just five regular-season games in three years due to a litany of injuries, compiling 21 total receptions for 193 yards.

 

The Bears spent the offseason revamping the receiver corps, adding Allen Robinson and Taylor Gabriel in free agency and rookie Anthony Miller in the second round of the NFL draft. The additions pushed White deep down the depth chart, fighting for snaps and possibly a roster spot.

 

The Bears entered training camp optimistic White could turn his career around now that he’s finally healthy. Despite the skill set, White hadn’t flashed during the preseason. The former first-round pick playing on a day in which coach Matt Nagy benched most of his starters speaks to White’s tenuous spot on the roster.

 

Saturday’s performance will help his cause. White finished with two receptions on two targets for 33 yards and the touchdown in the first half.

 

NFC EAST

 

NEW YORK GIANTS

Here is why C BRETT JONES was traded to the Vikings.  Dan Salomone of Giants.com:

 

Jon Halapio has kept his edge all summer by competing as if he were not the starting center. On Sunday, the Giants traded away Brett Jones, Halapio’s main competition and best friend, and that won’t change his approach.

 

“It still doesn’t cross my mind,” Halapio said about being in line to start the season opener vs. Jacksonville. “I’m still competing like I’m not the starter. I’m just going to keep approaching it that way until Week 1 and focus on trying to get everyone on the same page and get this running game going. Just try to improve one day at a time.”

 

Kevin Abrams, the Giants’ vice president of football operations and assistant general manager, pulled Jones aside as Sunday’s practice got underway at the Quest Diagnostics Training Center. The move the front office had just made sent Jones to the Minnesota Vikings, coach Pat Shurmur’s former team, in exchange for a 2019 draft choice.

 

“I think the trade was good for both (Minnesota and us),” Shurmur said. “We got a pick in return for Brett Jones. He’s one of my favorite guys and he’s going to a really good place. With their situation in the offensive line, he’s going to have a chance to compete to maybe be their starter. I’m pretty familiar with their situation and he’s going to a very good place, so I’m happy for him, because he’s a real likeable guy. He works hard, he’s tough, and I feel like if he can’t be here – I tell the players all the time, we want you all to be here; if you can’t be here, we want you to be somewhere good, and that’s a good place.”

 

Like Halapio, Jones has come a long way in his NFL journey. The former All-Star from the Canadian Football League was just looking to get his foot in the door with the Giants in 2015, and he leaves with 30 games of experience with 14 starts, including 12 at center last season. He clearly left an impression on incoming general manager Dave Gettleman, who re-signed the restricted free agent in April while rebuilding an offensive line that has new starters at all five positions. Jones and Halapio began the spring competing for the job, with Halapio eventually earning the majority of first-team reps by the time training camp rolled around.

– – –

As a result of the move, veteran John Greco’s role increases as a backup on the interior offensive line. Greco, who has 117 games with 70 starts under his belt, was signed in the middle of last season. He has extensive starting experience at both guard positions in addition to center.

 

“Yeah, you want to have centers in the building,” said Shurmur, a former starting center in college. “We do have other guys that can play center in a backup role.”

 

This tweet from Art Stapleton of USA TODAY:

 

@art_stapleton

Brett Jones had gotten a handful of snaps with the 1st team since the spring. It has been Halapio’s job since then. Jones would’ve been making $3 million as backup. They probably would’ve cut him. In this case, they got something. They chose Halapio and in case of emergency Greco

 

 

PHILADELPHIA

Should Eagles fans be worried? This from Peter King:

 

In 14 preseason drives by the first-team offense (albeit with some starters missing), the formerly explosive Eagles have zero touchdowns.

 

An hour after the latest stinker, a 5-0 loss to the Browns (have you heard they were 0-16 last year?), Doug Pederson stood in his locker room for a cross-examination on Wentz, and on his offense. He certainly wasn’t happy about the state of his offense. But he also was not pissy.

 

“We have time to fix it before opening night,” he said. “Our team’s gonna look different. People have to understand that. But I look at what we’ve done, and the mistakes we’ve made, and I see it as totally fixable.”

 

QB NICK FOLES has been unimpressive in preseason and QB CARSON WENTZ is still not good to go.

 

As we near the final week of the preseason, nervous season has begun.

 

Which players are still on the physically unable to perform list? Could they come off it before the — gulp — Saturday deadline?

 

Count Carson Wentz in this group as the most high-profile of the bunch who may face the possibility of missing the first six weeks of the regular season. Eleven days from kickoff, Wentz still isn’t cleared for contact. It’s causing night sweats for Eagles fans everywhere and forcing reporters to ask Doug Pederson about the quarterback’s status every day.

 

Sunday, Pederson finally broke.

 

“I don’t know how many times I can answer this question,” Pederson said. “When they clear him, he’ll be cleared.”

 

This isn’t going to help Eagles fans sleep at night. Press on, scribes.

 

“I’m not going to put myself in a box. I’m not going to put my quarterback in a box,” Pederson said when asked when Wentz’s clearing might be expected. “I’m not going to do that. And I’m not going to go on a limb and not going to say that. Either ask it a different way or otherwise you’re going to get the same answer.”

 

Pederson clearly isn’t open for business on this topic. It doesn’t help that backup (and reigning Super Bowl MVP) Nick Foles has looked more like 2015 Foles than 2017, or even 2016, when he was a reliable backup to Alex Smith in Kansas City.

 

So yes, the pressure — of defending a title, and of figuring out how to resemble an NFL offense — is on as the regular season suddenly becomes almost uncomfortably close. It’s understandable, then, that Pederson would get snippy when asked how often Wentz is evaluated.

 

“Every day if that’s what you want,” Pederson said. “He’s part of the rehab process. He’s getting evaluated at practice. He’s getting evaluated by the medical team. He’s getting treatment like Jason Peters, just like Darren Sproles. You guys don’t ask me about those guys. Jordan Hicks, Chris Maragos, those guys are in the same boat and they’re getting evaluated every day.”

 

It’s worth noting that things aren’t quite as dire as they seem from a “he hasn’t been cleared” standpoint, because Wentz has been cleared for 11-on-11 drills. And he looked more than stable while working out before Philadelphia’s eventual Week 3 loss to the Cleveland Browns.

 

He just hasn’t been cleared to get hit, which is kind of important when it comes to Week 1.

 

NFC WEST

 

ARIZONA

Cardinals WR LARRY FITZGERALD had a relationship with John McCain.  This from Bill Goodykoontz in the Arizona Republic:

 

Later, during the game, Tafoya interviewed Fitzgerald on the sideline, asking Fitzgerald what he would remember most about McCain.

 

“His generosity,” Fitzgerald said — as Patrick Peterson intercepted a pass behind him and returned it for a touchdown for the Cardinals, which was in its own way fitting. “Just his beliefs and ideals, things he stood for. I’m at a loss for words for what he’s done for this great state of Arizona, and our nation and internationally. Just his heart, his compassion, his sacrifices as a POW and just the legion of people he’s helped along the way. He’ll be remembered forever.”

 

 

LOS ANGELES RAMS

Rich Hammond in the Orange County Register on DT AARON DONALD:

 

Aaron Donald’s absence from Rams training camp and preseason games has inspired little angst, but with the calendar about to flip to September, the situation could get substantially more tense.

 

Donald remains in search of a new contract and has yet to report to the team. The Rams and Donald are believed to be making progress toward a new deal, but there’s no indication that one is imminent. Donald, it seems, has no interest in playing out the fifth-year option of his rookie contract without a new deal.

 

The Rams’ Sept. 10 season opener at Oakland looms, and in a conference call with reporters Sunday, Coach Sean McVay said he hasn’t set a deadline for Donald would need to show up in order to play.

 

McVay first said that “ideally” Donald would practice for a week and a half or two weeks before he played. Later in the call, McVay said, “You’d like to have him by the end of this week.” Donald is known as one of the most physically fit players on the Rams’ roster, and always shows up in top shape.

 

 “I think you’d like to see him to make sure we’re not putting him in (bad) situations,” McVay said, “just based on an acclimation period.”

 

A year ago, when Donald missed the entire training camp and preseason, he reported to the Rams the day before their season opener. He missed that game but played the following week, then turned in a dominant season that ended with Donald being awarded the NFL’s defensive player of the year award.

 

Will a similar timeline play out this year? The Rams are helped by the fact that the open the season on a Monday night, so they have an extra day. McVay’s “ideal” timeline aside, conventional wisdom suggests that if Donald gets a full week of practices before the opener, he should be able to play.

 

Donald is set to make almost $6.9 million this season, but the Rams are prepared to make him the highest-paid defensive player in league history. That would require a per-year average of at least $20 million, and Donald’s deal likely will be a bit larger.

 

 

SEATTLE

Peter King surveils the new defense in Seattle and proclaims it good.

 

Post-game Friday night, Seahawks-Vikings, bowels of U.S. Bank Stadium. Seattle coach Pete Carroll, interrupted.

 

“Comparing your starting lineup in game one last year,” I began, “to what the starting lineup will be in game one this year, including the kicker and punter, you’re going to have maybe 18 of 24 new starters and—“

 

Carroll: “Isn’t it awesome?!”

 

I’ll get to that attitude in a while—it’s real, and it’s important.

 

For now, for one night no one will remember in October, in the den of the NFC runnersup, the new blueprint of the Seahawks looked smart and well-constructed. Newbies like Barkevious Mingo, Brandon Marshall, Sebastian Janikowski and super-punter Michael Dickson joined a Legion of Whom? The new secondary, on this night anyway: Shaquill Griffin (in Richard Sherman’s left-corner spot) and Dontae Johnson at corner, Delano Hill and Tedric Thompson at safety. Now that was weird.

 

The whole thing is weird. No Kam Chancellor or Sherman or Earl Thomas. No Michael Bennett or Cliff Avril. No Jimmy Graham, no Jon Ryan. No Tom Cable, Darrell Bevell or Kris Richard. For the first seven months of 2018 in Seattle, the sky fell. Now, on the eve of the season, there’s actually some hope that this won’t be just a bridge-to-2019 season, a carry-us-to-six-exciting-wins-Russell-Wilson year. In ones-versus-ones in the final dress rehearsal for the season, for 35 minutes, Seattle’s first units built a 13-6 lead over the Vikings. Writing about moral victories in preseason games is the lowest of sportswriter lows, and I shall not do that. But the Newhawks competing on even ground with a team fresh off a final-four finish last January had the visitors pretty happy as they dressed for the flight home. Without Sherman, the quotes were antiseptic, but that’s a whole other thing Seahawk fans will have to get used to. If the new guys can play, they’ll take boring.

 

“You know,” holdover linebacker Bobby Wagner told me, “there was one point when nobody knew who Sherm was. Nobody knew who Mike Bennett was. They were able to come out and create names for themselves. The guys behind them can do that. I feel like we’re in great hands.”

 

It seems hard to move ahead that easily. But coaches and players have to—and I believe some in Seattle, Carroll and GM John Schneider mostly, are fine with the sudden reconstruction. For the rest of us, it’s still a head-shaker, this controlled burn of the Seattle Seahawks.

– – –

Entering my camp tour, I thought the NFC West was going to be the Rams up top, the Niners a challenger, then a thick line of demarcation, then the Seahawks and Cards, in that order. Now I think Seattle’s on an even plane with San Francisco, whether Earl Thomas returns from his holdout or not.

 

Six illustrations from Seattle’s game at Minnesota on Friday night:

 

• Slot corner Justin Coleman (acquired in a trade with New England, 2017), on Minnesota’ first series, lines up across from the slot receiver on a disguised blitz, then storms in on Kirk Cousins, causing a throw-away. Looked like a Legion of Boom play.

 

• Outside rusher Barkevious Mingo (free agent, 2018), on the next snap, forces a whiffed block, steams in on Cousins and tips his hurried pass. Cliff Avril-esque.

 

• Left cornerback Shaquill Griffin (third round, 2017), playing Richard Sherman’s spot, runs stride for stride with playoff hero Stefon Diggs and breaks up a pass at the goal line.

 

• New offensive line starters Duane Brown (trade, 2017), Ethan Pocic (second round, 2017) and D.J. Fluker (free agent, 2018) helped keep Russell Wilson clean (zero sacks, 21 pass drops) in his 35 minutes of play.

 

• Wide receiver Brandon Marshall (free agent, 2018), trying to take the big-receiver spot that Jimmy Graham served for Wilson, out-worked star cornerback Xavier Rhodes twice on his second-quarter drive to make tough catches. “He’s never really covered,” Wilson says.

 

• Kicker Sebastian Janikowski (free agent, 2018) kicked a 55-yard field goal, and punter Michael Dickson (fifth round, 2018) did something I’ve never seen before: kicked two 55-yard-plus punts with each dying at the 3-yard line.

 

You’re not supposed to count these games. I get it. So I’m not saying Seattle’s winning the division, or winning 12 games. But this reconstruction job by GM John Schneider looks well thought-out so far, and it’s given Carroll a déjà vu feeling. Carroll, 66 going on 26, is presiding over the biggest one-offseason makeover of any good NFL team in recent years.

 

“This feels like when you’re in college,” Carroll, the former USC coach, told me Friday night. “That senior class graduated—those guys that did all the playing for you. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t have a good team next time around. New players, new coaches. There’s new juice about everything that we’re doing. I go back and do all my teaching again. I’m really happy about it.”

 

In the locker room afterward, Schneider, who’s the anti-GQ GM, looked like he was dressed for a U2 concert. White T-shirt, sneakers, big smile. I said something like: You’re used to tinkering with a top team. What’s a total makeover like?

 

“It’s like…,” Schneider said, searching for words, “I mean, this is what the league is now. We move guys all the time. For a while, we were able to reward guys here at the top of their positions. Then we had to make decisions—who to keep and who not to keep—and we got the bad injury news on Cliff Avril and Kam Chancellor [forced to retire due to injuries]. We didn’t see those coming.

 

“But there’s another thing. You know Pete. He preaches competition, open competition, every single day. It’s hard to preach that when you got the best corner and the best free safety and the best strong safety and the best middle linebacker, all young, and you know those guys are locked in there. They were the youngest team to win it all. You don’t tear that apart.

 

“Now, this. It’s fun. Lots of enthusiasm. So much spirit, so much new. It’s pretty cool.”

 

Of all the things I didn’t expect on my camp trip, I’d put really liking Seattle at the top. And there is an advantageous early slate, starting with four teams (at Denver, at Chicago, Dallas, at Arizona) that combined for a 27-37 record last year. In the first eight games, Seattle plays one 2017 playoff team. I’m not saying it’s set up to be a magic season for the Seahawks. I am saying it’s got a chance to be a very interesting one.

 

AFC WEST

 

DENVER

DB ADAM “PACMAN” JONES is a Bronco.  Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

The Broncos could use some help at defensive back and in the return game. Coincidentally, Pacman Jones could use a job.

 

Per a league source, the Broncos have signed Jones.

 

A top-10 pick of the Titans 13 years ago, Jones has finished an eight-year run with the Bengals. The move reunites Jones with Broncos coach Vance Joseph, who coached defensive backs in Cincinnati in 2014 and 2015.

 

Jones, suspended for all of the 2007 season due to multiple violations of the Personal Conduct Policy, has rebounded to have a solid career. At a time when many thought that career had ended, he at least for now is back in the game.

 

AFC NORTH

 

BALTIMORE

The Ravens are crowing about the play of rookie QB LAMAR JACKSON against Miami (the same team Tampa Bay completed 37 passes against in the first preseason game).  Clifton Brown of BaltimoreRavens.com:

 

Joe Flacco took Saturday night off.

 

Lamar Jackson and Robert Griffin III most definitely did not.

 

Jackson was the catalyst for the Ravens’ second half rally Saturday night, helping them turn a 10-3 halftime deficit into a 27-10 victory over the Miami Dolphins.

 

Jackson started the second half after Griffin played the entire first half. And once Jackson entered the game, the momentum changed. The Ravens scored touchdowns on three of their next four possessions, including a 19-yard touchdown run by Jackson that put the Ravens ahead for good.

 

Jackson did it with his arm, throwing a 21-yard touchdown pass to DeVier Posey. Jackson did it with his legs, running 19 yards for an electrifying touchdown.

 

Jackson’s stats were impressive – 7-of-10 passing for 98 yards and a touchdown, along with 39 yards rushing on three carries and another score. The rookie quarterback is still a work in progress, but he is trending in the right direction.

 

“Today was kind of his breakout in a game,” Head Coach John Harbaugh said. “He had done some good things in practice, but we hadn’t really seen it in a game. Today, it just kind of fell in place for him a bit.”

 

Harbaugh noted that Offensive Coordinator Marty Mornhinweg did a nice job of play-calling with the rookie, adding in a lot of no-huddle. Jackson handled it all, getting the Ravens to the line of scrimmage, making the calls and appropriate checks.

 

Jackson wasn’t too efficient passing in the Ravens’ first three preseason games, going 18-of-43 (42 percent) for 201 yards and two touchdowns with one interception. But his quarterback rating has improved every game and was an impressive 134.6 in Miami, where the Florida native played in front of a large group of family and friends.

 

“I hope people know people know I can throw now,” Jackson said after the game.

 

With just one preseason game remaining, the Ravens’ compelling quarterback question remains. Will they keep three quarterbacks for the first time since 2009? Or will they decide they simply can’t afford to keep Griffin, especially with cornerback Jimmy Smith suspended for the first four games and tight end Hayden Hurst reportedly out at least 3-4 weeks with a stress fracture.

 

Griffin was given an opportunity Saturday, starting the game and playing the entire first half, with Flacco one of many starters who did not dress. Griffin completed nine of 15 passes for 66 yards, and rushed five times for 41 yards, as the Ravens produced 11 first downs with Griffin at the helm.

– – –

Peter King really liked former Cardinals WR JOHN BROWN:

 

• John Brown, WR, Baltimore. Three 40-yard-plus deep strikes from Joe Flacco in one practice, two cleanly beating former first-round pick Marlon Humphrey. This is the player Arizona stole from Pittsburg State (Kans.) in 2014, and the player who had a few nicks in Arizona, causing the Cards to not commit to him after last season. The Ravens may have a steal in the young 28-year-old. He owned the practice I saw.

 

 

 

CINCINNATI

QB Bengals QB ANDY DALTON has forged a bond with Buffalo Bills fans.  Frank Schwab of YahooSports.com:

 

One of the best moments of the 2017 season, and one of the most fascinating relationships between a fan base and a player, carried over to Sunday’s preseason game in Buffalo.

 

Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton will be remembered forever by Buffalo Bills fans. Dalton’s fourth-down touchdown pass to Tyler Boyd in Week 17 last season knocked the Baltimore Ravens out of the playoffs, and the Bills got in. That was perhaps the play of the season. It gave the Bills their first playoff berth since 1999, which broke the longest drought in major professional American sports.

 

Bills fans showed their appreciation to Dalton and Boyd via charity, and they got a chance to thank Dalton in person on Sunday.

 

Before Sunday’s game, Dalton was announced to the crowd, and they gave him a standing ovation as he waved and gave a thumbs up.

 

Bills fans might not have loved Dalton so much once the game started and he sliced the defense for two first-quarter touchdowns. But they’ll always fondly remember what he did last New Year’s Eve to get the Bills into the playoffs, and they have shown their appreciation with their wallets.

 

The Daltons give back to the Buffalo community

The neat part of the Dalton-Bills story is that Dalton’s foundation ended up getting a great donation from Buffalo fans.

 

According to Fox, about $450,000 has been given to Dalton’s foundation to date from Bills fans. Also, Bills fans gave $150,000 to Western Pennsylvania Youth Athletic Association on behalf of Boyd, according to Fox.

 

In turn, Dalton and his wife JJ made a donation to the Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center in Buffalo. Dalton made a surprise appearance at a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Sunday morning.

 

“The Buffalo community has given so much to our Foundation,” JJ Dalton said, according to the Bengals’ site. “As soon as the preseason calendar was released, we circled this date and knew we had to do something special. The Hub is going to be a great distraction for young patients and their families, and we’re happy to be able to make an impact in that way.”

 

That’s a great synergy between Bills fans and the Daltons, who gave back to the Buffalo community. Hopefully that’s a template for fans showing appreciation for athletes who help out their teams going forward.

 

 

CLEVELAND

Browns DC Gregg Williams has some words for S DENZEL WARD, the fourth overall pick in the draft, who apparently did not learn the proper way to tackle at The Ohio State University.  Mary Kay Cabot in the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

 

Browns defensive coordinator Gregg Williams attributes Denzel Ward’s back spasms from the Eagles game to the ‘stupid’ way he’s tackling and hopes that the injury is a wake-up call.

 

“I was glad to hear (it wasn’t serious) and maybe he’ll finally listen to me and stop doing those stupid things the way he’s trying to tackle and tackle the way I tell him to tackle and he won’t get hurt,” Williams snapped in his podium press conference Sunday.

 

What has he been telling Ward to do?

 

“You can ask that to Denzel,” he said.

 

Gregg Williams on Denzel Ward’s tackling injuries

 

In this case, he was referring to the 190-pound Ward trying to wrap up 250-pound Eagles tight end Zach Ertz and take him to the ground after a 7-yard catch in the first quarter of the 5-0 Browns victory.

 

In the process, Ward got twisted like a pretzel and crumpled to the ground face down with his arm clutching his back. After a few minutes, he walked gingerly to the sidelines and then to the locker room, where he was done for the night.

 

An MRI the next day revealed no structural damage, just painful spasms. But Ward was back on the practice field for the next session two days later.  

 

“I think this was a good enough shock that maybe he thinks that I might know what I’m talking about,” said Williams.

 

Williams said the 5-11 Ward should’ve cut the 6-5 mountain of a tight end on the short pass to the right, on which Ward stopped him short of a first down.

 

 “It depends on the size of the person, and also I’m not worried as much about the wrap-up part of it,” said Williams. “It’s about getting the guy to the ground. A lot of times what you do is you cut the guy. He should have cut the guy at that time right there instead of a 290-pound man running over his face.”

 

The Browns can ill-afford to lose the No. 4 overall pick, so they’re not messing around. Ward missed time with a hip flexor in rookie minicamp and an ankle in training camp before the spasms that Hue Jackson said “flares up from time to time.”

 

Were those two injuries related to poor-tackling technique?

 

“I’m not a doctor. I’m not a trainer,” said Williams. “He needs to make sure he’s doing all the things he needs to do to stay on the field. Otherwise, hey, he’s not a football player.”

 

AFC EAST

 

BUFFALO

The Bills are seeing why the Browns made WR COREY COLEMAN available for a song.  Joe Busiglia of WKBW:

 

Since the Bills acquired wide receiver Corey Coleman from the Cleveland Browns, we haven’t seen much from the former first-round pick. Of course, he was getting acclimated to his new surroundings all the while in less than three weeks attempting to master the nuances of a complicated playbook that he’d never seen. Coleman was barely noticeable against Cleveland, other than one seven-yard reception and the fact that he was out there in game action for the first time as a member of the Bills. Now after a long week of practice, and even mixing in with the first-team offense in that work, the game against the Bengals will be the real test. For Coleman, this opportunity is more than just the Bills finding out if he can be an offensive contributor. They have to figure out if Coleman is worthy of a roster spot over the likes of Brandon Reilly, Ray-Ray McCloud, and Rod Streater. Even though he was a former first-round pick, he wasn’t the Bills’ first-round pick. All they gave up for him was a measly future seventh-round pick, which effectively means that the Bills owe Coleman nothing and aren’t forced to keep him if he doesn’t deserve it. As the first-team offense gets plenty of time on Sunday, I’d expect Coleman to mix in quite a bit — perhaps with as high of stakes as you can get.

 

 

NEW ENGLAND

WR ERIC DECKER retired on Sunday.  Peter King:

 

Good for Eric Decker, who retired Sunday, walking away with his health at 31, and with a very nice NFL career: 439 catches (12 more than Paul Warfield) and 53 touchdowns (two more than Lynn Swann).

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

HELMET BRIEFING

From Peter King:

 

In the Hall of Fame game and first two full preseason weekends, officials called 51 of the new helmet fouls in 33 games. This weekend, after the league clarified the rule and eliminated inadvertent or incidental contact as fouls, there were nine fouls in 14 games. Before the change: 1.55 helmet calls per game. After the change: 0.64 calls per game. Seems telling, but neither of these numbers should be taken as gospel because the sample size is too small.

 

In any case, 60 fouls in 47 games—entering the final two games of the weekend Sunday—adds up to 1.28 calls per game. Not really the decline of western civilization, or football.

 

 

 

Last week, the league made it less autocratic and inflexible with VP of officiating Al Riveron saying that inadvertent or incidental calls should not be flagged. That’s something that should have been in the rule in the first place, after seeing the inconsistent way it was applied in early preseason games. That’s my only problem with the rule: It was fairly revolutionary, and the verbiage and application that exist today were not altogether buttoned-up before the games started. There’s one other problem, as told to me by the new NBC rules analyst Terry McAulay. “Officials now have to read intent in real time,” McAulay said. “Officials can’t do that. We have never had to do this before, reading intent. At the officials meeting in Dallas, Al said, ‘This is the first time we have asked you to read intent.’ “

 

That’s a concern, obviously. Officials will be under the harsh glare of the media and fan spotlight now for something they’ve not had to do before. The job is already impossible enough.

 

Here’s the exact rule: Players at any position who lower their heads to initiate contact with a helmet, and then make contact with a foe with the helmet, will be flagged for a foul. Add in the officials reading intent, and add in no calls on indavertant or incidental helmet hits—that’s a tough bunch of rules to apply at full speed.

 

However this rule was to be instituted, it was going to be painful. I’ve felt for a while that the game is on fire, and the league had better be proactive in trying limit concussive head hits. The long-term future of the game may depend on that.

 

Riveron said Saturday: “This is new for the officials, coaches, players. It’s a culture change, and not just for our games on Sundays, Mondays and Thursdays. The is for the college games on Saturdays, the high school games on Friday nights, the youth games on Saturday mornings—the 85-pounders should not be subject to unnecessary risks either.” It’s the parents of those 85-pounders the league is sending a message. It’s easy to say, This is a rough game. If you don’t like it, go play something else.

 

Riveron went to south Florida for the Ravens-Dolphins game Saturday night. He said he stood on the field to see how the players were adjusting to the new helmet rule. He said he watched running backs approaching contact with heads up, and linebackers and defensive backs doing the same. When we spoke again Sunday, he said: “This is football, live speed, and I saw this first-hand. The culture change has begun.”

 

One more number here. Riveron confirmed to me that 40 of the first 51 flags were correct calls after the league’s video review. FOX’s Mike Pereira made a smart point about that. “So it’s 40 legitimate calls in [34] games, with a lot of the fouls made by guys who aren’t going to be on teams when the season starts, the less-skilled players who are more apt to make plays like this because they’re playing so aggressively trying to make the team,” Pereira said. “We’re overreacting here. I think by Week 2 of the regular season we’re going to be more concerned about what is a catch than the helmet thing.”

 

I can’t swear that Pereira’s right, and that this will mostly go away by the middle of September. What I do know is these are dangerous times for football, and for the future of football. The more safety rules there are in the game—applied correctly—the better.

 

 

BROADCAST NEWS

Last year, then-management at ESPN parted ways with reporter Britt McHenry, perhaps motivated because her social media feed exposed her as having Republican leanings.

 

Now, the new sheriff is severing ties with Jemele Hill who boldly took on Donald Trump and those who support him at every opportunity.

 

Andrew Marchand in the New York Post:

 

Jemele Hill needed to be out at ESPN. Hill knew it. ESPN president Jimmy Pitaro knew it. And, now, Jemele Hill is out at ESPN.

 

The marriage between ESPN and Hill — the controversial sports commentator who waded into politics and sparred with President Donald Trump — has long been stuck in irreconcilable differences. Since leaving “SportsCenter” earlier this year, she has barely worked, making a divorce the obvious conclusion.

 

A buyout of her reported $2.5 million per year contract has been completed and her last day will be Friday, according to sources.

 

On Saturday night, the author James Miller, who wrote a book about ESPN, first tweeted the news of the breakup, calling it “amicable.” The timing, on a Saturday evening, was fortunate for Hill and ESPN in an attempt to lessen the news coverage of what had been a huge national story, both in politics and in sports. There had been rumblings last week of buyout talks between the two sides.

 

It is quite simple as to why the buyout happened: Hill wants to continue her involvement in politics, and ESPN wants out of politics.

 

Pitaro has made it clear ESPN is a sports network and does not want to be associated with politics, so he agreed to a buyout with Hill, according to sources. ESPN had no use for Hill on any of its programs after her ill-fated 6 p.m. “SportsCenter” with her former partner, Michael Smith, failed to deliver ratings. She first left Smith behind by quitting the show before the executive in charge of the program, Norby Williamson, had a chance to replace her. She would have been removed.

 

Nearly one year ago, on Sept. 11, 2017, Hill called Trump “a white supremacist who has largely surrounded himself [with] other white supremacists.” Though it broke ESPN’s social media rules about commenting on politics unrelated to sports, then-network president John Skipper failed to suspend Hill. The White House called for Hill to be fired.

 

A little more than a month later, Skipper decided to suspend Hill after she criticized Cowboys owner Jerry Jones’ anthem stance by tweeting, “Change happens when advertisers are impacted. If you feel strongly about JJ’s statement, boycott his advertisers.” She was off television for two weeks. ESPN called it a second offense. Hill said she regretted that she had “painted ESPN in an unfair light.”

 

Pitaro recently said he thinks the biggest misperception of ESPN is that it is political, and now he is putting action behind his words. Though the network’s on-air programming is mostly apolitical, it is hard to ask viewers to disassociate stances they read on social media when ESPN personalities are on TV, radio or writing for its website.

 

Despite the company’s policy, Hill incessantly tweeted about politics, even as she barely contributed to the network’s content in recent months, save a few columns for ESPN’s Undefeated website and some guest appearances on shows.

 

Now, Hill likely will look to try to go further into politics. ESPN will continue to try to move further away from politics. She had a very loud career at ESPN, but it is ending — quietly.

 

Another ESPN host has a problem watching football – even as ESPN tries to save her show with an emphasis on the gridiron.  More from Marchand:

 

ESPN’s ill-conceived morning program, “Get Up!,” is being given a second chance this fall. The thought is to infuse the program with ESPN’s old, reliable football in hopes of hooking viewers. On Thursday, one of its main hosts, Michelle Beadle, said she won’t be watching college football or the NFL.

 

OK then.

 

Beadle’s reasoning, in light of the Urban Meyer decision and press conference, was passionate and well-reasoned; she called Meyer a “liar,” and said football has “marginalized women.”

 

“I’m just ready for NBA to kick off,” Beadle said.

 

Beadle’s stance is apparently not a new one, as she said she didn’t watch football last fall. That’s her right and could work in some roles, like as the lead host of NBA coverage.

 

Why ex-president John Skipper didn’t take this into consideration when putting Beadle on the show is another mystery of Skipper’s disappointing tenure.

 

If you are a panelist on a sports talk show that is pivoting fully to football — “Get Up!” announced its college and NFL analysts Wednesday — it is hard to see how you can be a regular part of the conversation. At a reported $5 million a year, Beadle maybe doesn’t care.

 

ESPN executives hope “Get Up!” can be saved and are standing behind it for now. They want to tighten the production and feature more insiders so the hosts, Mike Greenberg, Beadle and Jalen Rose, can stay away from areas where they lack expertise. It is sort of a SportsCenter-zation of the program. “Get Up!” replaced “SportsCenter” on ESPN in April.

 

People who work on the show believe the football season will bring higher ratings, giving the show a do-over of sorts.

 

So far, the definitive problem with the program is there is no reason to watch it. This circles back to Skipper, who green-lit the concept in the first place.

 

What is the concept, by the way? Is it “Good Morning America” for sports? “First Take” without the hot takes? You tell me.

 

Whatever it is, it hasn’t worked. On most days, “Get Up!” doesn’t even reach 300,000 viewers, which drags down the potential audience of the rest of ESPN’s day lineup.

 

The three-hour program, in theory, is supposed to be built on chemistry, but Greenberg did not know Beadle or Rose well when it began in April. The idea that Beadle and Greenberg wouldn’t mesh was easier to see than a 3-0 fastball.

 

Greenberg is making $6.5 million, according to The Hollywood Reporter, but besides their nice salaries, they are not very much alike. Greenberg is a perfectly nice, non-offensive sportscaster, while Beadle is a bit more rebellious and free-wheeling, as evidenced by her no-football stance. Watching them, it is unclear if either really wants to be sitting next to the other.

 

Meanwhile, Rose, making $3 million, according to The Hollywood Reporter, seems to talk into every break and over others, like they do on TNT’s “Inside The NBA.” Unlike when Charles Barkley and crew do it, it is too much. Rose has carved himself a nice career, even if his opinions aren’t must-listens.

 

The show has cut down on the byplay among the three and focused, SportsCenter-esque, on having each conduct one-on-one interviews with guests. Their coverage of the Meyer situation on Thursday was pretty good, as it was focused with Greenberg piloting most of it. The hosts need to prove their value.

 

This summer, there has been a recurring theme as the trio has taken vacations. Nearly every fill-in, from Ryen Russillo to Taylor Twellman to Maria Taylor to Mina Kimes, has been more enthusiastic and more compelling than the person he or she replaced. The show had a little more energy and was a bit more engaging.

 

This brings us to the fundamental flaw in how Skipper & company began “Get Up!” Besides making the three-hour show an hour too long, what they should’ve done from the start is tried it out on ESPN2 — out of the main spotlight and for less money.

 

Maybe a crew of Twellman, Taylor and Kimes could have been on the Deuce for a year to find out how to make the program work. Instead of telling an audience to come watch it, viewers could have found it. It would have been cheaper and likely better.

 

Then, after the show got going, they could have switched it to ESPN and pushed “SportsCenter” to ESPN2. This should have come up in one of the brainstorming meetings.

 

Now, Greenberg, Beadle and Rose are getting another shot to make it work before the program could be ripped to shreds. It is football season — a new start for the show, but with a new problem.

 

 

 

 

 

GOOD ODDS

Anyone can bet on the Patriots at 5-to-1, but Sam Chase of SI.com has three teams he likes to win the Super Bowl at better odds (obviously no more than one can).

 

August is the month of optimism for NFL bettors, and perhaps no preseason wager offers more hope than the Super Bowl futures bet. If you can just predict this season’s champion five or six months ahead of time, a handsome payout awaits in February. But making a smart futures bet isn’t as simple as taking the Patriots at +500 (although it could be). Finding a worthy bet requires digging through each team’s odds and seeing who’s undervalued, and sometimes backing a pick that might seem counterintuitive. After all, nothing’s off the table in America’s most parity-rich major pro sports league—just ask anyone who grabbed the Rams at 200-1 to win Super Bowl XXXIV back in 2000. Here are each NFL team’s preseason odds to win the Super Bowl, and three bets that could make you look awfully smart come 2019.

 

Odds to win Super Bowl:

 

New England Patriots       +500

Philadelphia Eagles          +900

Green Bay Packers        +1000

Los Angeles Rams         +1000

Pittsburgh Steelers         +1000

Minnesota Vikings          +1200

New Orleans Saints       +1600

Dallas Cowboys             +2000

Jacksonville Jaguars      +2000

San Francisco 49ers      +2000

Atlanta Falcons              +2200

Houston Texans             +2200

Los Angeles Chargers    +2200

Kansas City Chiefs          +2800

Carolina Panthers           +3300

Seattle Seahawks           +3300

Baltimore Ravens            +4000

Denver Broncos               +4000

Oakland Raiders              +4000

Tennessee Titans            +4000

Detroit Lions                    +5000

New York Giants             +5000

Tampa Bay Buccaneers  +5000

Indianapolis Colts            +6600

Washington Redskins      +6600

Cleveland Browns            +8000

Arizona Cardinals          +10000

Buffalo Bills                   +10000

Chicago Bears              +10000

Cincinnati Bengals        +10000

Miami Dolphins             +10000

New York Jets              +15000

 

New Orleans Saints +1600

A costly error by a rookie on defense sent the Saints home in heartbreak in the playoffs last year, but it’s that same defensive youth that could vault New Orleans to greater heights by the time the 2019 postseason rolls around. Players like Sheldon Rankins, Vonn Bell, Marshon Lattimore and Marcus Williams—the culprit on Stefon Diggs’s infamous touchdown—are all set to enter their primes and transform a good defense into a great one. On the other side of the ball, few offenses are as scary as the Saints’. Drew Brees is as precise a thrower as ever as his 40th birthday approaches, and Michael Thomas is one of the five best receivers in the NFL—and perhaps the most overlooked. But it’s the backfield of Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram, which was historically great in 2017, that will have opposing defensive coordinators up at night. Ingram will serve a four-game suspension to start the season, but that preemptive rest could help keep him fresh come playoff time, when the ground game becomes all the more important.

 

Los Angeles Chargers +2200

A series of nail-biting early-season losses ultimately cost the Chargers a playoff spot last year, but they still managed nine wins and appear positioned to improve upon that mark in 2018. Philip Rivers is still sharp as a passer, throwing only 10 interceptions last season, and he’ll have plenty of targets to throw to in his pro 15th season. Keenan Allen has finally been recognized as one of the league’s best wideouts, Tyrell Williams is a worthy sidekick and Mike Williams appears poised for a breakout sophomore campaign. Plus, star running back Melvin Gordon joins Rivers in the backfield. And the defense in Los Angeles is just as star-studded. Joey Bosa—already one of the NFL’s top pass rushers at 23 years old—headlines the group, and Melvin Ingram nearly matched Bosa’s 12.5 sacks last season with 10.5 of his own. In the instances when opposing QBs are able to get off passes against the Chargers, Casey Hayward and the rest of a ball-hawking secondary will be eager to make some highlight plays of their own. If the Bolts can survive a treacherous AFC West—which they’re favored to win at +150—they can match their talent with anyone in the playoffs.

 

Washington Redskins +6600

If you project a few things breaking right for Washington, it’s not too hard to envision the team going 9-7, grabbing a Wild Card spot and then perhaps making a run in the playoffs. Imagine this: Alex Smith’s consistency makes him an upgrade over Kirk Cousins, and his underrated mobility gives the Redskins a few key first downs over the course of the season. Jordan Reed stays on the field, Josh Doctson finds his first-round form, and Adrian Peterson is rejuvenated in a new environment. On defense, Ryan Kerrigan and Josh Norman play like All-Pros, and less-proven pieces like Ryan Anderson and Montae Nicholson step up as reliable playmakers. Of course, there’s a good chance Washington doesn’t even reach its Vegas preseason win total of 7 this season, but that’s the risk with longshot bets. At +6600, the Redskins are the best play this far down the board.

 

Even with their odds down to 80-to-1 (or lower), the Browns could still clean out Vegas if they are the Cinderella story.  Gabrielle McMillan of Omniprint:

 

So much so that bettors are flocking to Las Vegas sportsbooks to place bets on the Browns not only having a winning season, but taking the AFC North title and even the Super Bowl.

 

“There are more bets on the Browns to win the AFC North than the other three teams combined,” a sportsbook manager for Caesars Palace told ESPN. “Only the Raiders and Steelers have more bets to win the AFC [than the Browns]. The public likes the Browns, and I’m not sure why.”

 

At MGM sportsbooks, the Browns are listed at 60-1 odds to win the Super Bowl. Surprisingly, those odds are better than the Falcons, Chiefs and Jaguars, even though those teams were in the playoffs last season.

 

“The Browns are our only liability right now,” Jay Rood, MGM’s vice president of race and sports, said. “We’re sitting pretty well on every other team except Cleveland.”

 

Despite winning just one game over the past two seasons, the Browns’ offseason roster moves have attracted attention. Cleveland drafted quarterback Baker Mayfield with the No. 1 overall pick and tacked on cornerback Denzel Ward with the No. 4 overall pick.

 

The Browns also added quarterback Tyrod Taylor, wide receiver Jarvis Landry and running back Carlos Hyde.

 

“I almost guarantee you that is going to flip this year,” Rood said. “I think we’re going to see more sharp money come against the Browns this year and maybe more public money on the Browns this time around.”

 

It should be noted that while the Browns have better Super Bowl odds than you could possibly believe, most sports books still have the Falcons, Chiefs and Jaguars as better bets than MGM (if McMillan got the odds right there):

 

Joe Buck must have read McMillan’s story – and the odds for the Falcons, Chiefs and Jaguars are being disputed:

 

Somewhere you might be able to get the Browns at 60-1, but according to OddsShark, their odds are currently sitting at 75-1 … and all three of the teams named have significantly better odds. The Chiefs are the closest at 33-1. The Jaguars and Falcons are both at 20-1.

 

In fact, only eight teams have longer odds to win it all. They are the Colts, Bears, Buccaneers, Bengals, Bills, Cardinals, Dolphins and Jets.

 

“Only” eight teams? That’s a lot for a club coming off 1-31.

 

 

BIG GAME

A New York Times political writer has been ”in and around the NFL” for four years.  Now, his book is on the cusp of release.  Peter King promotes:

 

Mark Leibovich, author of “Big Game: The NFL in Dangerous Times” (Penguin Press, out Sept. 4), spent four years in and around the NFL documenting owners, players, media and the culture of the league. He is a political writer for the New York Times based in Washington, and a football fan. Here he is, in his own words, on what he’s learned about the NFL:

 

“The first thing I learned is there was no escaping politics by embedding myself in the NFL. The politics in the NFL are as thick and backbiting and petty as they are in Washington. One of the reasons I did this was to get a respite—one of Jerry Jones’ favorite words—from the Washington life. But there has been a political culture war raging in the NFL for a long time, and now Donald Trump has turned a good part of the right against the NFL. Much of the left was suspicious of it already. So there was no respite, really.

 

“I learned that Roger Goodell is very damaged, a deeply unpopular leader not only among players and fans but in the country at large. That is a big problem for the league, and every owner knows it. Roger is capable of incredible humanity, but there is a huge gap between the Roger Goodell as a human being and the cold Roger Goodell at the podium. He’s sort of straightjacketed, and he creates this very scared dynamic around the league. I don’t think he realizes how jarring it is. The league has no clue how to deal with it. I don’t think he wants to hear that, though. He can be diplomatic, like with the anthem issue last year. The league basically rode that thing out. They knew Trump would pipe up again, but Goodell brought players and owners together. Then for whatever reason, he flipped in May and ham-handed a solution no one but a handful of the owners was happy with.

 

 “I learned many people around the league would love to get the Redskins to change their name. But it’s one man’s decision, and Dan Snyder is not going to let it happen. Snyder is as popular among the owners as he is with the public at large, which is to say he’s not beloved. He is stubborn on this, obviously.

 

“I learned the Jerry Richardson problem is not over. There is real concern that Jerry Richardson is the tip of the iceberg. With obscenely rich and powerful and aggressive people like NFL owners, there can be a commonness of not only acting in a brutish and entitled way, but also, simply, of being able to pay people off when they try to speak out. Needless to say, Richardson has no monopoly inside the membership on having engaged in outdated behavior. I think there will be other cases. The league fears there will be others.

 

“I learned that the Patriots’ shaky alignment at the top—Robert Kraft, Bill Belichick, Tom Brady—could come apart. That seemed pretty evident during and after last season. It seems really close to coming apart to me. Tom is the one I like the most. He gets the whole thing. I learned that empires crumble. Brady probably wouldn’t have minded being thrown out into the wilderness of free agency after last season.

 

“I learned that journalism is basically the same in Washington and in covering the NFL. It’s pack journalism. In Washington, it’s something that’s caused us to make huge errors. ‘We’ll never elect an African-American president.’ ‘We’ll never elect Donald Trump.’ That’s because the reporters become part of the insider group, part of the swamp. It’s one big club of political operatives, including journalists. Same with football. You go to these NFL meetings, and it is tough to step beyond the pack. Everyone is part of the same club. That’s why it’s always good to get a fresh set of eyes on the institution you’re covering. It is something all of us journalists need to fight again: Comfort can make you older quicker.

 

“I learned that I’m definitely closer to ‘the game will prevail’ argument than ‘the game is doomed’ argument. [Hall of Fame president] David Baker says if the game fails, America will fail. Malcolm Gladwell says the game will be dead in 25 years. I don’t believe either one. Football will survive because of the greatness of the game, and in spite of the people who run it. The NFL knows they’ve got us. The league operates like a drug lord, and we’re a nation of football junkies.”